Little is known about Robert himself; the key reason for attributing the Chronicle to a person of this name is a mention in the continuation of the longer version that 'roberd / þat verst þis boc made' ('Robert / that first this book made', lines 11748-49) personally witnessed an eclipse that accompanied the Battle of Evesham (1265). The appellation 'of Gloucester' was added by early modern antiquarians on the basis of the perspective taken in later sections of the longer version of the chronicle.
The chronicle survives in two versions; there are seven manuscripts of each. Up to 1135 (the death of Henry I, line 9137 in Wright's edition of the longer version), the versions are 'broadly identical', 'but they then have wholly different continuations'. The longer version contains almost 3000 more lines, is more detailed, and ends (in the least incomplete manuscript) in 1271. The shorter version only contains a further 592 lines, and ends in the 1280s. However, this shorter version adds about 800 lines earlier in the text, some of them deriving from Laȝamon's Brut. The manuscripts of the longer version are:
The chronicle is similar to the South English Legendary (probably first composed c. 1270-85), and between them they comprise 'two huge momuments of later thirteenth-century literary activity' in England:
The South English Legendary and the historical chronicle that goes under the name of Robert of Gloucester, have long been known to be intimately related. They are written in the same septenary couplet metre, and are closely similar in dialect, vocabulary, phrasing, choice of rhyme words, overall narrative technique, and 'outlook': a Christian piety which places them on the side of the oppressed and suffering individual, and in opposition to corrupt and wicked lords of whatever estate. They also have numerous actual lines in common.