Robert Mannyng, judging by his name, most probably came from the town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, then known as Brunne. He entered Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire in 1288 to train to become a monk in the Gilbertine order, spending periods at the sister priories of Sixhills in West Lindsey, Lincolnshire, and one in Cambridge.
He was appointed canon at Semprington in 1302 where he produced his two major works, Handlyng Synne and a chronicle, The Story of England, which he completed in the last year of his life. The latter, written in rhyming couplets, was based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of England and should not be regarded as reliable history.
The Handlyng of Synne, a twelve-thousand line devotional piece, is an adaptation of the Manuel des Peches (Handbook of Sins) ascribed to William of Waddington. The work deals with the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the requirements of confession. Although possessing no great poetic merit, it is full of lively, colourful anecdotes and its main value is as social history with its comments on the living conditions and values of the clergy and peasantry in the early Middle Ages.
Robert Mannyng was one of the first to write in Middle English as opposed to Latin or Anglo-Norman and as such can be seen as a true forerunner of Geoffrey Chaucer who was born a few years after Mannyng’s death. The English in his poem Praise of Women is still intelligible today with a few archaic words such as “nevene" meaning “name”, “glew” meaning “gladden”, and “hurde” meaning “flock”
Handlyng Synne (Early English Text Society,Original S.)
Robert of Brunne