Phoebe Clothier

Phoebe Clothier


Personal profile

Research interests

My current research project is entitled ‘Wonderful and Astonishing Occurrences’: The Miraculous and Wondrous in William of Newburgh’s Historia rerum Anglicarum. This PhD examines the function, deployment and presentation of the weird, the wonderful and the miraculous in William’s narrative. It will explore how William engages with strange episodes such as the sweating blood at Battle and Ramsey, magical automaton heads and the miraculous life of Malcolm IV, king of Scots, in order to better understand the significance and narratological purposes of stories such as these. With a particular emphasis placed upon close textual and language analysis, this PhD looks at how the weird and wonderful, stories which push at the thin veil between history and ‘fiction’, co-exist with and are placed alongside what is considered orthodox and miraculous. Rather than focussing exclusively upon his well-known stories such as the green children of Woolpit, this thesis will examine William’s weird and wonderful episodes in context and alongside one and other. Indeed, the sheer range of bizarre, unsettling and divine episodes is an aspect of William’s writing which has often been overlooked by modern scholarship.

Taking the themes of authority, power, legitimacy, authenticity and perception as its core structure, this project will examine how William deploys, bends and manipulates the weird and the wonderful as narrative tools to reflect or engage with the abovementioned themes. It will address issues of categorisation surrounding terminology such as prodigium, signum and portentum, as well as the sophisticated nature of William’s discussion of what should and should not be considered a true miracle. Although the main focus of this thesis remains upon William’ Historia, these episodes are also examined and discussed in light of the influence of Classical, early Christian and Angevin writing practices. By engaging with the full range of strange episodes offered up to the reader in the Historia and focussing upon William’s narrative as a whole, this thesis will be one of the first comprehensive examinations of the Historia since Rudolph Jahnke’s Guilelmus Neubrigensis: Ein Pragmatischer Geschichtsschreiber des Zwölften Jahrhunderts published in 1912.

William’s Historia was once regarded as a gold-standard against which other works of Angevin history writing was judged. More recently, however, the author and his work have been subjected to renewed criticism by modern scholarship. No longer considered, as Howlett referred to him, a man of ‘unusual moral elevation, mental power, and eloquence’, William is often regarded as unimaginative and dour. This could not be further from the truth, however. When subjected to re-examination, it becomes clear that William was and should still be regarded as a writer of great literary skill and deftness.

Education/Academic qualification

Ancient and Medieval History BA, First Class Honours, Royal Holloway, University of London

Crusader Studies MA, Distinction, Royal Holloway, University of London