Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Last updated

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle Peterborough.Chronicle.firstpage.jpg
The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English, chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons.


The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the ninth century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great (r. 871–899). Its content, which incorporated sources now otherwise lost dating from as early as the seventh century, is known as the "Common Stock" of the Chronicle. [2] Multiple copies were made of that one original and then distributed to monasteries across England, where they were updated, partly independently. These manuscripts collectively are known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Almost all of the material in the Chronicle is in the form of annals, by year; the earliest is dated at 60 BC (the annals' date for Caesar's invasions of Britain). In one case, the Chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154.

Nine manuscripts of the Chronicle, none of which is the original, survive in whole or in part. Seven are held in the British Library, one in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the oldest in the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The oldest seems to have been started towards the end of Alfred's reign, while the most recent was copied at Peterborough Abbey after a fire at that monastery in 1116. Some later medieval chronicles deriving from lost manuscripts contribute occasional further hints concerning Chronicle material.

Both because much of the information given in the Chronicle is not recorded elsewhere and because of the relatively clear chronological framework it provides for understanding events, the Chronicle is among the most influential historical sources for England between the collapse of Roman authority and the decades following the Norman Conquest; [3] Nicholas Howe called it and Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People "the two great Anglo-Saxon works of history". [4] The Chronicle's accounts tend to be highly politicised, with the Common Stock intended primarily to legitimise the dynasty and reign of Alfred the Great. Comparison between Chronicle manuscripts and with other medieval sources demonstrates that the scribes who copied or added to them omitted events or told one-sided versions of them, often providing useful insights into early medieval English politics.

The Chronicle manuscripts are also important sources for the history of the English language; [3] in particular, in annals from 1131 onwards, the later Peterborough text provides key evidence for the transition from the standard Old English literary language to early Middle English, containing some of the earliest known Middle English text. [5]

Sources and composition of the Common Stock

Place and date of composition

Historians agree that the Common Stock of the Chronicle (sometimes also known as the Early English Annals) [6] was edited into its present form between 890 and 892 (ahead of Bishop Asser's use of a version of the Common Stock in his 893 Life of King Alfred), [7] but there is debate about precisely which year, and when subsequent continuations began to be added. [8] [9] :15 [10] :350–52

It is not known for certain where the Common Stock was compiled, not least because the archetype is lost, but it is agreed to have been in Wessex. [11] [9] :15 [12] [13] [14] The patron might or might not have been King Alfred himself (Frank Stenton, for example, argued for a secular household outside the court), [13] and Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge commented that we should "resist the temptation to regard it as a form of West Saxon dynastic propaganda". [15] Yet there is no doubt that the Common Stock systematically promotes Alfred's dynasty and rule, as well as his enthusiasm for learning and the use of English as a written language. It seems partly to have been inspired by the Royal Frankish Annals, and its wide distribution is also consistent with Alfredian policies. [16] [10] :347–54 Its publication was perhaps prompted by renewed Scandinavian attacks on Wessex. [12]

Sources and reliability

The Common Stock incorporates material from multiple sources, including annals relating to Kentish, South Saxon, Mercian and, particularly, West Saxon history. [17] It is unclear how far this material was first drawn together by the editor(s) of the Common Stock and how far it had already been combined before the late ninth century: there are no obvious shifts in language features in the Common Stock that could help indicate different sources. [18] Where the Common Stock draws on other known sources its main value to modern historians is as an index of the works and themes that were important to its compilers; where it offers unique material it is of especial historical interest.

The "world history annals"

From the first annal, for 60BC, down to 449, the Common Stock mostly presents key events from beyond Britain, a body of material known as the "world history annals". These drew on Jerome's De Viris Illustribus , the Liber Pontificalis , the translation of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History by Rufinus, and Isidore of Seville's Chronicon. [19] [10] :348–49 Alongside these, down to the early eighth century, the Common Stock makes extensive use of the chronological summary from the end of Bede's Ecclesiastical History (and perhaps occasionally the History itself). [20] [10] :348 Scholars have read these annals as functioning to present England as part of the Roman and Christian world and its history. [4] [21]

Fifth and sixth centuries

Sixth- and seventh-century battles of West-Saxon kings according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Sixth- and seventh-century battles of West-Saxon kings according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.png
Sixth- and seventh-century battles of West-Saxon kings according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

From 449 coverage of non-British history largely vanishes, and extensive material about the parts of England which by the ninth century were in Wessex, often unique to the Chronicle, appears. The Chronicle offers an ostensibly coherent account of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of southern Britain by seafarers who, through a series of battles, establish the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. This material was once supposed by many historians to be reliable evidence, and formed the backbone of a canonical narrative of early English history; but its unreliability was exposed in the 1980s. [22] [23]

The earliest non-Bedan material here seems to be based primarily on royal genealogies and lists of bishops that were perhaps first being put into writing around 600, as English kings converted to Christianity, and more certainly by the end of the reign of Ine of Wessex (r. 689–726). [24] [25] [10] :349 Such sources are best represented by the Anglian King-list and the probably derived West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List. Detailed comparison of these sources with the Common Stock has helped to show the degree of invention in the Common Stock's vision of the fifth and sixth centuries. For example, perhaps due to edits in intermediary annals, the beginning of the reign of Cerdic, supposedly the founder of the West-Saxon dynasty, seems to have been pushed back from 538AD in the earliest reconstructable version of the List to 500AD in the Common Stock. [25] At times, invention, usually through folk-etymological origin-myths based on place-names, is even more obvious. For example, between 514 and 544 the Chronicle makes reference to Wihtgar, who was supposedly buried on the Isle of Wight at Wihtgaræsbyrg ("Wihtgar's stronghold") and gave his name to the island. However, the name of the Isle of Wight derives from the Latin Vectis, not from Wihtgar. The actual name of the fortress was probably Wihtwarabyrg ("the stronghold of the inhabitants of Wight"), and either the Common Stock editor(s) or an earlier source misinterpreted this as referring to Wihtgar. [26]

Seventh and eighth centuries

In addition to the sources listed above, it is thought that the Common Stock draws on contemporary annals that began to be kept in Wessex during the seventh century, perhaps as annotations of Easter Tables, drawn up to help clergy determine the dates of upcoming Christian feasts, which might be annotated with short notes of memorable events to distinguish one year from another. [27] [10] :348 The annal for 648 may mark the point after which entries that were written as a contemporary record begin to appear, and the annal for 661 records a battle fought by Cenwalh that is said to have been fought "at Easter", a precision which implies a contemporary record. [28] [27] :132–35 [29] [30] Similar but separate sources would explain the dates and genealogies for Northumbrian and Mercian kings. [31]

The entry for 755, describing how Cynewulf took the kingship of Wessex from Sigebehrt, is far longer than the surrounding entries, and includes direct speech quotations from the participants in those events. It seems likely that this was taken by the scribe from existing saga material. [32] [33] :39–60

Ninth century

From the late eighth century onwards, a period coinciding in the text with the beginning of Scandinavian raids on England, the Chronicle gathers momentum. [17] As the Chronicle proceeds, it loses its list-like appearance, and annals become longer and more narrative in content. Many later entries contain a great deal of historical narrative in each annal. [34]

Development after the Common Stock

After the original Chronicle was compiled, copies were made and distributed to various monasteries. Additional copies were made, for further distribution or to replace lost manuscripts, and some copies were updated independently of each other. It is copies of this sort that constitute our surviving Chronicle manuscripts.

The manuscripts were produced in different places, and at times adaptations made to the Common Stock in the course of copying reflect the agendas of the copyists, providing valuable alternative perspectives. These colour both the description of interactions between Wessex and other kingdoms, and the descriptions of the Vikings' depredations. For example, the Common Stock's annal for 829 describes Egbert's invasion of Northumbria with the comment that the Northumbrians offered him "submission and peace". The Northumbrian chronicles incorporated into Roger of Wendover's thirteenth-century history give a different picture, however: "When Egbert had obtained all the southern kingdoms, he led a large army into Northumbria, and laid waste that province with severe pillaging, and made King Eanred pay tribute." [35] [36]

Similar divergences are apparent in how different manuscripts copy post-Common Stock continuations of the Chronicle. For example, Ælfgar, earl of East Anglia, and son of Leofric, the earl of Mercia, was exiled briefly in 1055. The [C], [D] and [E] manuscripts say the following: [37] [38]

Scribes might also omit material, sometimes accidentally, but also for ideological reasons. Ælfgar was Earl of Mercia by 1058, and in that year was exiled again. This time only [D] has anything to say: "Here Earl Ælfgar was expelled, but he soon came back again, with violence, through the help of Gruffydd. And here came a raiding ship-army from Norway; it is tedious to tell how it all happened." [37] In this case other sources exist to clarify the picture: a major Norwegian attempt was made on England, but [E] says nothing at all, and [D] scarcely mentions it. It has sometimes been argued that when the Chronicle is silent, other sources that report major events must be mistaken, but this example demonstrates that the Chronicle does omit important events. [38]

Errors in dating

The process of manual copying introduced accidental errors in dates; such errors were sometimes compounded in the chain of transmission. The whole of the Common Stock has a chronological dislocation of two years for the period 756–845 due to two years being missed out in the archetype. [39] In the [D] manuscript, the scribe omits the year 1044 from the list on the left hand side. The annals copied down are therefore incorrect from 1045 to 1052, which has two entries. [40]

A more difficult problem is the question of the date at which a new year began, since the modern custom of starting the year on 1 January was not universal at that time. The entry for 1091 in [E] begins at Christmas and continues throughout the year; it is clear that this entry follows the old custom of starting the year at Christmas. Some other entries appear to begin the year on 25 March, such as the year 1044 in the [C] manuscript, which ends with Edward the Confessor's marriage on 23 January, while the entry for 22 April is recorded under 1045. There are also years which appear to start in September. [40]

Surviving manuscripts

A map showing the places where the various chronicles were written, and where they are now kept. ASC.svg
A map showing the places where the various chronicles were written, and where they are now kept.

Of the nine surviving manuscripts, seven are written entirely in Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon). One, known as the Bilingual Canterbury Epitome, is in Old English with a translation of each annal into Latin. Another, the Peterborough Chronicle , is in Old English except for the last entry, which is in early Middle English. The oldest (Corp. Chris. MS 173) is known as the Winchester Chronicle or the Parker Chronicle (after Matthew Parker, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who once owned it), and is written in Old English until 1070, then Latin to 1075. Six of the manuscripts were printed in an 1861 edition for the Rolls Series by Benjamin Thorpe with the text laid out in columns labelled A to F. He also included the few readable remnants of a burned seventh manuscript, which he referred to as [G], partially destroyed in a fire at Ashburnham House in 1731. Following this convention, the two additional manuscripts are often called [H] and [I]. [5]

The surviving manuscripts are listed below; though manuscript G was burned in a fire in 1731, and only a few leaves remain. [5]

VersionChronicle nameLocationManuscript
AWinchester (or Parker) Chronicle Parker Library, Corpus Christi College 173
BAbingdon Chronicle I British Library Cotton Tiberius A. vi
CAbingdon Chronicle IIBritish Library Cotton Tiberius B. i
DWorcester ChronicleBritish LibraryCotton Tiberius B. iv
E Peterborough (or Laud) Chronicle Bodleian Library Laud misc. 636
FBilingual Canterbury EpitomeBritish Library Cotton Domitian A. viii
G or A2 or WA copy of the Winchester ChronicleBritish Library Cotton Otho B. xi + Otho B. x
HCottonian FragmentBritish Library Cotton Domitian A. ix
IAn Easter Table ChronicleBritish Library Cotton Caligula A. xv

Relationships between the manuscripts

The relationships between seven of the different manuscripts of the Chronicle. The fragment [H] cannot be reliably positioned in the chart. Other related texts are also shown. The diagram shows a putative original, and also gives the relationships of the manuscripts to a version produced in the north of England that did not survive but which is thought to have existed. ASC schematic.svg
The relationships between seven of the different manuscripts of the Chronicle. The fragment [H] cannot be reliably positioned in the chart. Other related texts are also shown. The diagram shows a putative original, and also gives the relationships of the manuscripts to a version produced in the north of England that did not survive but which is thought to have existed.

The manuscripts are all thought to derive from a common original, but the connections between the texts are more complex than simple inheritance via copying. [41] The diagram at right gives an overview of the relationships between the manuscripts. The following is a summary of the relationships that are known. [5]

All the manuscripts described above share a chronological error between the years 756 and 845, but it is apparent that the composer of the Annals of St Neots was using a copy that did not have this error and which must have preceded them. Æthelweard's copy did have the chronological error but it had not lost a whole sentence from annal 885; all the surviving manuscripts have lost this sentence. Hence the error and the missing sentence must have been introduced in separate copying steps, implying that none of the surviving manuscripts are closer than two removes from the original version. [44]

History of the manuscripts

Winchester Chronicle

A page from the Winchester, or Parker, Chronicle, showing the genealogical preface ASC Parker page.png
A page from the Winchester, or Parker, Chronicle, showing the genealogical preface

[A]: The Winchester (or Parker) Chronicle is the oldest manuscript of the Chronicle that survives. It was begun at Old Minster, Winchester, towards the end of Alfred's reign. The manuscript begins with a genealogy of Alfred, and the first chronicle entry is for the year 60 BC. [5] The section containing the Chronicle takes up folios 1–32. [45] Unlike the other manuscripts, [A] is of early enough composition to show entries dating back to the late 9th century in the hands of different scribes as the entries were made. The first scribe's hand is dateable to the late 9th or very early 10th century; his entries cease in late 891, and the following entries were made at intervals throughout the 10th century by several scribes. The eighth scribe wrote the annals for the years 925–955, and was clearly at Winchester when he wrote them since he adds some material related to events there; he also uses ceaster, or "city", to mean Winchester. [46] The manuscript becomes independent of the other recensions after the entry for 975. The book, which also had a copy of the Laws of Alfred and Ine bound in after the entry for 924, was transferred to Canterbury some time in the early 11th century, [5] as evidenced by a list of books that Archbishop Parker gave to Corpus Christi. [45] While at Canterbury, some interpolations were made; this required some erasures in the manuscript. The additional entries appear to have been taken from a version of the manuscript from which [E] descends. [46] The last entry in the vernacular is for 1070. After this comes the Latin Acta Lanfranci, which covers church events from 1070 to 1093. This is followed by a list of popes and the Archbishops of Canterbury to whom they sent the pallium. The manuscript was acquired by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1559–1575) and is in the collection of the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College. [5]

Abingdon Chronicle I

[B] The Abingdon Chronicle I was written by a single scribe in the second half of the 10th century. The Chronicle takes up folios 1–34. [47] It begins with an entry for 60 BC and ends with the entry for 977. A manuscript that is now separate (British Library MS. Cotton Tiberius Aiii, f. 178) was originally the introduction to this chronicle; it contains a genealogy, as does [A], but extends it to the late 10th century. [B] was at Abingdon in the mid-11th century, because it was used in the composition of [C]. Shortly after this it went to Canterbury, where interpolations and corrections were made. As with [A], it ends with a list of popes and the archbishops of Canterbury to whom they sent the pallium. [5]

Abingdon Chronicle II

A page from the [C] Abingdon II text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This entry is for 871, a year of battles between Wessex and the Vikings. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - C - 871.jpg
A page from the [C] Abingdon II text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This entry is for 871, a year of battles between Wessex and the Vikings.

[C] includes additional material from local annals at Abingdon, where it was composed. [5] The section containing the Chronicle (folios 115–64) is preceded by King Alfred's Old English translation of Orosius's world history, followed by a menologium and some gnomic verses of the laws of the natural world and of humanity. [48] Then follows a copy of the chronicle, beginning with 60 BC; the first scribe copied up to the entry for 490, and a second scribe took over up to the entry for 1048. [B] and [C] are identical between 491 and 652, but differences thereafter make it clear that the second scribe was also using another copy of the Chronicle. This scribe also inserted, after the annal for 915, the Mercian Register, which covers the years 902–924, and which focuses on Æthelflæd. The manuscript continues to 1066 and stops in the middle of the description of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. In the 12th century a few lines were added to complete the account. [5]

Worcester Chronicle

[D] The Worcester Chronicle appears to have been written in the middle of the 11th century. After 1033 it includes some records from Worcester, so it is generally thought to have been composed there. Five different scribes can be identified for the entries up to 1054, after which it appears to have been worked on at intervals. The text includes material from Bede's Ecclesiastical History and from a set of 8th-century Northumbrian annals. It is thought that some of the entries may have been composed by Archbishop Wulfstan. [D] contains more information than other manuscripts on northern and Scottish affairs, and it has been speculated that it was a copy intended for the Anglicised Scottish court. From 972 to 1016, the sees of York and Worcester were both held by the same person—Oswald from 972, Ealdwulf from 992, and Wulfstan from 1003, and this may explain why a northern recension was to be found at Worcester. By the 16th century, parts of the manuscript were lost; eighteen pages were inserted containing substitute entries from other sources, [5] including [A], [B], [C] and [E]. These pages were written by John Joscelyn, who was secretary to Matthew Parker. [49]

Peterborough Chronicle

[E] The Peterborough Chronicle: In 1116, a fire at the monastery at Peterborough destroyed most of the buildings. The copy of the Chronicle kept there may have been lost at that time or later, but in either case shortly thereafter a fresh copy was made, apparently copied from a Kentish version—most likely to have been from Canterbury. [5] The manuscript was written at one time and by a single scribe, down to the annal for 1121. [50] The scribe added material relating to Peterborough Abbey which is not in other versions. The Canterbury original which he copied was similar, but not identical, to [D]: the Mercian Register does not appear, and a poem about the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, which appears in most of the other surviving copies of the Chronicle, is not recorded. The same scribe then continued the annals through to 1131; these entries were made at intervals, and thus are presumably contemporary records. Finally, a second scribe, in 1154, wrote an account of the years 1132–1154, though his dating is known to be unreliable. This last entry is in Middle English, rather than Old English. [E] was once owned by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury 1633–1645, so is also known as the Laud Chronicle. [5] The manuscript contains occasional glosses in Latin, and is referred to (as "the Saxon storye of Peterborowe church") in an antiquarian book from 1566. [50] According to Joscelyn, Nowell had a transcript of the manuscript. Previous owners include William Camden [51] and William L'Isle; the latter probably passed the manuscript on to Laud. [52]

Canterbury Bilingual Epitome

[F] The Canterbury Bilingual Epitome: In about 1100, a copy of the Chronicle was written at Christ Church, Canterbury, [53] probably by one of the scribes who made notes in [A]. This version is written in both Old English and Latin; each entry in Old English was followed by the Latin version. The version the scribe copied (on folios 30–70 [54] ) is similar to the version used by the scribe in Peterborough who wrote [E], though it seems to have been abridged. It includes the same introductory material as [D] and, along with [E], is one of the two chronicles that does not include the "Battle of Brunanburh" poem. The manuscript has many annotations and interlineations, some made by the original scribe and some by later scribes, [5] including Robert Talbot. [54]

Copy of the Winchester Chronicle

[A2]/[G] Copy of the Winchester Chronicle: [A2] was copied from [A] at Winchester in the eleventh century and follows a 10th-century copy of an Old English translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History. [45] The last annal copied was 1001, so the copy was made no earlier than that; an episcopal list appended to [A2] suggests that the copy was made by 1013. This manuscript was almost completely destroyed in the 1731 fire at Ashburnham House, where the Cotton Library was housed. [5] Of the original 34 leaves, seven remain, ff. 39–47 in the manuscript. [55] However, a transcript had been made by Laurence Nowell, a 16th-century antiquary, which was used by Abraham Wheelocke in an edition of the Chronicle printed in 1643. [5] Because of this, it is also sometimes known as [W], after Wheelocke. [5] Nowell's transcript copied the genealogical introduction detached from [B] (the page now British Library MS. Cotton Tiberius Aiii, f. 178), rather than that originally part of this document. The original [A2] introduction would later be removed prior to the fire and survives as British Library Add MS 34652, f. 2. [56] The appellations [A], [A2] and [G] derive from Plummer, Smith and Thorpe, respectively. [55]

Cottonian Fragment

The Cottonian Fragment [H] consists of a single leaf, containing annals for 1113 and 1114. In the entry for 1113 it includes the phrase "he came to Winchester"; hence it is thought likely that the manuscript was written at Winchester. There is not enough of this manuscript for reliable relationships to other manuscripts to be established. [5] Ker notes that the entries may have been written contemporarily. [57]

Easter Table Chronicle

[I] Easter Table Chronicle: A list of Chronicle entries accompanies a table of years, found on folios 133–37 in a badly burned manuscript containing miscellaneous notes on charms, the calculation of dates for church services, and annals pertaining to Christ Church, Canterbury. [58] Most of the Chronicle's entries pertain to Christ Church, Canterbury. Until 1109 (the death of Anselm of Canterbury) they are in English; all but one of the following entries are in Latin. [59] Part of [I] was written by a scribe soon after 1073, [5] in the same hand and ink as the rest of the Caligula MS. After 1085, the annals are in various contemporary hands. The original annalist's entry for the Norman conquest is limited to "Her forðferde eadward kyng"; a later hand added the coming of William the Conqueror, "7 her com willelm." [59] At one point this manuscript was at St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. [5] [60]

Lost manuscripts

Two manuscripts are recorded in an old catalogue of the library of Durham; they are described as cronica duo Anglica. In addition, Parker included a manuscript called Hist. Angliae Saxonica in his gifts but the manuscript that included this, now Cambridge University Library MS. Hh.1.10, has lost 52 of its leaves, including all of this copy of the chronicle. [44] [61]

Use by Latin and Anglo-Norman historians

The three main Anglo-Norman historians, John of Worcester, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon, each had a copy of the Chronicle, which they adapted for their own purposes. [62] Symeon of Durham also had a copy of the Chronicle. [44] Some later medieval historians also used the Chronicle, and others took their material from those who had used it, and so the Chronicle became "central to the mainstream of English historical tradition". [62]

Henry of Huntingdon used a copy of the Chronicle that was very similar to [E]. There is no evidence in his work of any of the entries in [E] after 1121, so although his manuscript may actually have been [E], it may also have been a copy—either one taken of [E] prior to the entries he makes no use of, or a manuscript from which [E] was copied, with the copying taking place prior to the date of the last annal he uses. Henry also made use of the [C] manuscript. [44]

The Waverley Annals made use of a manuscript that was similar to [E], though it appears that it did not contain the entries focused on Peterborough. The manuscript of the chronicle translated by Geoffrey Gaimar cannot be identified accurately, though according to historian Dorothy Whitelock it was "a rather better text than 'E' or 'F'". Gaimar implies that there was a copy at Winchester in his day (the middle of the 12th century); Whitelock suggests that there is evidence that a manuscript that has not survived to the present day was at Winchester in the mid-tenth century. If it survived to Gaimar's time that would explain why [A] was not kept up to date, and why [A] could be given to the monastery at Canterbury. [44]

John of Worcester's Chronicon ex chronicis appears to have had a manuscript that was either [A] or similar to it; he makes use of annals that do not appear in other versions, such as entries concerning Edward the Elder's campaigns and information about Winchester towards the end of the chronicle. His account is often similar to that of [D], though there is less attention paid to Margaret of Scotland, an identifying characteristic of [D]. He had the Mercian register, which appears only in [C] and [D]; and he includes material from annals 979–982 which only appears in [C]. It is possible he had a manuscript that was an ancestor of [D]. He also had sources which have not been identified, and some of his statements have no earlier surviving source. [44]

A manuscript similar to [E] was available to William of Malmesbury, though it is unlikely to have been [E] as that manuscript is known to have still been in Peterborough after the time William was working, and he does not make use of any of the entries in [E] that are specifically related to Peterborough. It is likely he had either the original from which [E] was copied, or a copy of that original. He mentions that the chronicles do not give any information on the murder of Alfred Aetheling, but since this is covered in both [C] and [D] it is apparent he had no access to those manuscripts. On occasion he appears to show some knowledge of [D], but it is possible that his information was taken from John of Worcester's account. He also omits any reference to a battle fought by Cenwealh in 652; this battle is mentioned in [A], [B] and [C], but not in [E]. He does mention a battle fought by Cenwealh at Wirtgernesburg, which is not in any of the extant manuscripts, so it is possible he had a copy now lost. [44]

Editions and translations

Early history

An important early printed edition of the Chronicle appeared in 1692, by Edmund Gibson, an English jurist and divine who later (1716) became Bishop of Lincoln. Titled Chronicon Saxonicum, it printed the Old English text in parallel columns with Gibson's own Latin version and became the standard edition until the 19th century. Gibson used three manuscripts of which the chief was the Peterborough Chronicle. [63] It was superseded in 1861 by Benjamin Thorpe's Rolls Series edition, which printed six versions in columns, labelled A to F, thus giving the manuscripts the letters which are now used to refer to them.

John Earle edited Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel (1865). [64] Charles Plummer revised this edition, providing notes, appendices, and glossary in two volumes in 1892 and 1899. [65] [66] This edition of the A and E texts, with material from other versions, was widely used; it was reprinted in 1952. [66]

Modern translations

The standard modern English translations are by Dorothy Whitelock, who produced a translation showing all the main manuscript variants, [67] and Michael Swanton. [68]

Modern editions

Beginning in the 1980s, a set of scholarly editions of the text in Old English have been printed under the series title "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition". They are published by D. S. Brewer under the general editorship of David Dumville and Simon Keynes. [69] As of 2021, the volumes published are:

Other modern scholarly editions of different Chronicle manuscripts are as follows. A facsimile edition of [A], The Parker Chronicle and Laws, appeared in 1941 from the Oxford University Press, edited by Robin Flower and Hugh Smith. [66] The [C] manuscript has been edited by H. A. Rositzke as "The C-Text of the Old English Chronicles", in Beiträge zur Englischen Philologie, XXXIV, Bochum-Langendreer, 1940. [66] A scholarly edition of the [D] manuscript is in An Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from British Museum Cotton MS., Tiberius B. iv, edited by E. Classen and F. E. Harmer, Manchester, 1926. [66] Rositzke also published a translation of the [E] text in The Peterborough Chronicle (New York, 1951). The [F] text was printed in F. P. Magoun, Jr., Annales Domitiani Latini: an Edition in "Mediaeval Studies of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies", IX, 1947, pp. 235–295. [66] The first edition of [G] was Abraham Whelock's 1644 Venerabilis Bedae Historia Ecclesiastica, printed in Cambridge; [66] there is also an edition by Angelica Lutz, Die Version G der angelsächsischen Chronik: Rekonstruktion und Edition (Munich, 1981). [5]


  1. For example, Asser omits Esla from Alfred's genealogy; [A] includes Esla but [D] does not. [42]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alfred the Great</span> King of Wessex (871 – c. 886); King of the Anglo-Saxons (c. 886 – 899)

Alfred the Great was King of the West Saxons from 871 to 886, and King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 until his death in 899. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf and his first wife Osburh, who both died when Alfred was young. Three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred, reigned in turn before him. Under Alfred's rule, considerable administrative and military reforms were introduced, prompting lasting change in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ceawlin of Wessex</span> King of Wessex (560–592)

Ceawlin was a King of Wessex. He may have been the son of Cynric of Wessex and the grandson of Cerdic of Wessex, whom the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle represents as the leader of the first group of Saxons to come to the land which later became Wessex. Ceawlin was active during the last years of the Anglo-Saxon expansion, with little of southern England remaining in the control of the native Britons by the time of his death.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edmund I</span> King of the English from 939 to 946

Edmund I or Eadmund I was King of the English from 27 October 939 until his death. He was the elder son of King Edward the Elder and his third wife, Queen Eadgifu, and a grandson of King Alfred the Great. After Edward died in 924, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund's half-brother Æthelstan. Edmund was crowned after Æthelstan died childless in 939. He had two sons, Eadwig and Edgar, by his first wife Ælfgifu, and none by his second wife Æthelflæd. His sons were young children when he was killed in a brawl with an outlaw at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire, and he was succeeded by his younger brother Eadred, who died in 955 and was followed by Edmund's sons in succession.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Offa of Mercia</span> Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia from 757 to 796

Offa was King of Mercia, a kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England, from 757 until his death. The son of Thingfrith and a descendant of Eowa, Offa came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald. Offa defeated the other claimant, Beornred. In the early years of Offa's reign, it is likely that he consolidated his control of Midland peoples such as the Hwicce and the Magonsæte. Taking advantage of instability in the kingdom of Kent to establish himself as overlord, Offa also controlled Sussex by 771, though his authority did not remain unchallenged in either territory. In the 780s he extended Mercian Supremacy over most of southern England, allying with Beorhtric of Wessex, who married Offa's daughter Eadburh, and regained complete control of the southeast. He also became the overlord of East Anglia and had King Æthelberht II of East Anglia beheaded in 794, perhaps for rebelling against him.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ecgberht, King of Wessex</span> King of Wessex (802–839)

Ecgberht, also spelled Egbert, Ecgbert, Ecgbriht, Ecgbeorht, and Ecbert, was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was King Ealhmund of Kent. In the 780s, Ecgberht was forced into exile to Charlemagne's court in the Frankish Empire by the kings Offa of Mercia and Beorhtric of Wessex, but on Beorhtric's death in 802, Ecgberht returned and took the throne.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Æthelberht, King of Wessex</span> King of Wessex from 860 to 865

Æthelberht was the King of Wessex from 860 until his death in 865. He was the third son of King Æthelwulf by his first wife, Osburh. Æthelberht was first recorded as a witness to a charter in 854. The following year Æthelwulf went on pilgrimage to Rome and appointed his oldest surviving son, Æthelbald, as king of Wessex while Æthelberht became king of the recently conquered territory of Kent. Æthelberht may have surrendered his position to his father when he returned from pilgrimage, but resumed the south-eastern kingship when his father died in 858.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eadred</span> King of the English (946–955)

Eadred was King of the English from 26 May 946 until his death. He was the younger son of Edward the Elder and his third wife Eadgifu, and a grandson of Alfred the Great. His elder brother, Edmund, was killed trying to protect his seneschal from an attack by a violent thief. Edmund's two sons, Eadwig and Edgar, were then young children, so Eadred became king. He suffered from ill health in the last years of his life and he died at the age of a little over thirty, having never married. He was succeeded successively by his nephews, Eadwig and Edgar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Deorham</span> Supposed 577 battle between West Saxons and Britons

The Battle of Deorham is portrayed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as an important military encounter between the West Saxons and the Britons in the West Country in 577. The Chronicle depicts the battle as a major victory for Wessex's forces, led by Ceawlin and one Cuthwine, resulting in the capture of the Romano-British towns of Glevum (Gloucester), Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester), and Aquae Sulis (Bath).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Æthelbald of Mercia</span> 8th-century King of Mercia

Æthelbald was the King of Mercia, in what is now the English Midlands from 716 until he was killed in 757. Æthelbald was the son of Alweo and thus a grandson of King Eowa. Æthelbald came to the throne after the death of his cousin, King Ceolred, who had driven him into exile. During his long reign, Mercia became the dominant kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons, and recovered the position of pre-eminence it had enjoyed during the strong reigns of Mercian kings Penda and Wulfhere between about 628 and 675.

Asser was a Welsh monk from St David's, Dyfed, who became Bishop of Sherborne in the 890s. About 885 he was asked by Alfred the Great to leave St David's and join the circle of learned men whom Alfred was recruiting for his court. After spending a year at Caerwent because of illness, Asser accepted.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coenwulf of Mercia</span> King of Mercia from 796 to 821

Coenwulf was the King of Mercia from December 796 until his death in 821. He was a descendant of King Pybba, who ruled Mercia in the early 7th century. He succeeded Ecgfrith, the son of Offa; Ecgfrith only reigned for five months, and Coenwulf ascended the throne in the same year that Offa died. In the early years of Coenwulf's reign he had to deal with a revolt in Kent, which had been under Offa's control. Eadberht Præn returned from exile in Francia to claim the Kentish throne, and Coenwulf was forced to wait for papal support before he could intervene. When Pope Leo III agreed to anathematise Eadberht, Coenwulf invaded and retook the kingdom; Eadberht was taken prisoner, was blinded, and had his hands cut off. Coenwulf also appears to have lost control of the kingdom of East Anglia during the early part of his reign, as an independent coinage appears under King Eadwald. Coenwulf's coinage reappears in 805, indicating that the kingdom was again under Mercian control. Several campaigns of Coenwulf's against the Welsh are recorded, but only one conflict with Northumbria, in 801, though it is likely that Coenwulf continued to support the opponents of the Northumbrian king Eardwulf.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ine of Wessex</span> King of Wessex

Ine or Ini, was King of Wessex from 689 to 726. At Ine's accession, his kingdom dominated much of southern England. However, he was unable to retain the territorial gains of his predecessor, Cædwalla, who had expanded West Saxon territory substantially. By the end of Ine's reign, the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, and Essex were no longer under West Saxon sway; however, Ine maintained control of what is now Hampshire, and consolidated and extended Wessex's territory in the western peninsula.

Ealhmund was King of Kent in 784. He is reputed to be the father of King Egbert who was King of Wessex and, later, King of Kent. Asser's The Life of King Alfred identifies him as the son of Eafa.

Wihtred was king of Kent from about 690 or 691 until his death. He was a son of Ecgberht I and a brother of Eadric. Wihtred ascended to the throne after a confused period in the 680s, which included a brief conquest of Kent by Cædwalla of Wessex, and subsequent dynastic conflicts. His immediate predecessor was Oswine, who was probably descended from Eadbald, though not through the same line as Wihtred. Shortly after the start of his reign, Wihtred issued a code of laws—the Law of Wihtred—that has been preserved in a manuscript known as the Textus Roffensis. The laws pay a great deal of attention to the rights of the Church, including punishment for irregular marriages and for pagan worship. Wihtred's long reign had few incidents recorded in the annals of the day. He was succeeded in 725 by his sons, Æthelberht II, Eadberht I, and Alric.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beorhtwulf of Mercia</span> 9th-century King of the Mercians

Beorhtwulf was King of Mercia, a kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England, from 839 or 840 to 852. His ancestry is unknown, though he may have been connected to Beornwulf, who ruled Mercia in the 820s. Almost no coins were issued by Beorhtwulf's predecessor, Wiglaf, but a Mercian coinage was restarted by Beorhtwulf early in his reign, initially with strong similarities to the coins of Æthelwulf of Wessex, and later with independent designs. The Vikings attacked within a year or two of Beorhtwulf's accession: the province of Lindsey was raided in 841, and London, a key centre of Mercian commerce, was attacked the following year. Another Viking assault on London in 851 "put Beorhtwulf to flight", according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the Vikings were subsequently defeated by Æthelwulf. This raid may have had a significant economic impact on Mercia, as London coinage is much reduced after 851.

<i>Ecclesiastical History of the English People</i> 8th-century Latin history of England by Bede

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written by Bede in about AD 731, is a history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between the pre-Schism Roman Rite and Celtic Christianity. It was composed in Latin, and is believed to have been completed in 731 when Bede was approximately 59 years old. It is considered one of the most important original references on Anglo-Saxon history, and has played a key role in the development of an English national identity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plegmund</span> 9th and 10th-century Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury and saint

Plegmund was a medieval English Archbishop of Canterbury. He may have been a hermit before he became archbishop in 890. As archbishop, he reorganised the Diocese of Winchester, creating four new sees, and worked with other scholars in translating religious works. He was canonised after his death.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medeshamstede</span> Anglo-Saxon name of Peterborough, England

Medeshamstede was the name of Peterborough in the Anglo-Saxon period. It was the site of a monastery founded around the middle of the 7th century, which was an important feature in the kingdom of Mercia from the outset. Little is known of its founder and first abbot, Sexwulf, though he was himself an important figure, and later became bishop of Mercia. Medeshamstede soon acquired a string of daughter churches, and was a centre for an Anglo-Saxon sculptural style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bagsecg</span> Viking king and leader of the Great Army

Bagsecg, also known as Bacgsecg, was a viking and a leader of the Great Army, which invaded England. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bagsecg and Healfdene were joint commanders of the Great Army that invaded the Kingdom of Wessex during the northern winter of 870/71.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Brunanburh (poem)</span> Old English poem

The "Battle of Brunanburh" is an Old English poem. It is preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a historical record of events in Anglo-Saxon England which was kept from the late ninth to the mid-twelfth century. The poem records the Battle of Brunanburh, a battle fought in 937 between an English army and a combined army of Scots, Vikings, and Britons. The battle resulted in an English victory, celebrated by the poem in style and language like that of traditional Old English battle poetry. The poem is notable because of those traditional elements and has been praised for its authentic tone, but it is also remarkable for its fiercely nationalistic tone, which documents the development of a unified England ruled by the House of Wessex.


  1. Bosworth, The Elements of Anglo-Saxon Grammar, p. 277.
  2. Hunter Blair, Roman Britain, p. 11.
  3. 1 2 Hunter Blair, An Introduction, p. 355.
  4. 1 2 Howe, Nicholas (2004). "Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England". Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies . 34 (1): 147–72. doi:10.1215/10829636-34-1-147. S2CID   170978121.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. xxi–xxviii.
  6. G. O Sayles, The Medieval Foundations of England (London 1966), p. 7.
  7. Keynes and Lapidge, Alfred the Great, p. 55.
  8. Janet Bately, 'The Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Once More', Leeds Studies in English, new series, 16 (1985), 7–26.
  9. 1 2 Abels, Richard (2005). Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England. Longman. p. 15. ISBN   0-582-04047-7..
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Susan Irvine, 'The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle', in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. by Nicole G. Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach, Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition, 58 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), pp. 344–67; {DOI|10.1163/9789004283763_014}}.
  11. Wormald, "Alfredian Manuscripts", p. 158, in Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons.
  12. 1 2 Keynes and Lapidge, Alfred the Great, p. 41.
  13. 1 2 F. M. Stenton, 'The South-Western Element in the Old English Chronicle', in A. G. Little ed, Essays in Medieval History presented to T. F. Tout (Manchester 1925) p. 22
  14. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. xx–xxi.
  15. Keynes and Lapidge, Alfred the Great, p. 55.
  16. Campbell,The Anglo-Saxon State, p. 144.
  17. 1 2 Lapidge, Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 35.
  18. Janet Bately, 'The Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 60 BC to AD 890: Vocabulary as Evidence', Proceedings of the British Academy, 64 (1978), 93—129.
  19. Janet M. Bately, 'World History in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Its Sources and its Separateness from the Old English Orosius', Anglo-Saxon England, 8 (1979), 177–94.
  20. Janet Bately, 'Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle', in Saints, Scholars and Heroes: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Charles W. Jones, ed. by Margot H. King and Wesley M. Stevens, 2 vols (Collegeville: 1979), I 233–54.
  21. Courtnay Konshuh, 'Constructing Early Anglo-Saxon Identity in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles', in The Land of the English Kin: Studies in Wessex and Anglo-Saxon England in Honour of Professor Barbara Yorke, ed. by Alexander Langlands and Ryan Lavelle (Leiden: Brill, 2020), pp. 154–80.
  22. Sims-Williams, Patrick (1983). "The Settlement of England in Bede and the Chronicle". Anglo-Saxon England. 12: 1–41. doi:10.1017/S0263675100003331. JSTOR   44510771.
  23. Barbara Yorke, 'Fact or Fiction? The Written Evidence for the Fifth and Sixth Centuries AD', Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, 6 (1993), 45–50.
  24. David N. Dumville, 'The Anglian Collection of Royal Genealogies and Regnal Lists', Anglo-Saxon England, 5 (1976), 23–50.
  25. 1 2 David N. Dumville, 'The West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List and the Chronology of Early Wessex', Peritia, 4 (1985), 21–66 [repr. David N. Dumville, Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the Early Middle Ages (Aldershot: Variorum, 1993), item VIII.
  26. Ekwall, Dictionary of English Place-Names.
  27. 1 2 Kenneth Harrison, The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to A.D. 900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
  28. F. M. Stenton, Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England, ed. by D. M. Stenton (1970), pp. 116–26 [repr. from 'The Foundations of English History', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, 9 (1926), 159–73].
  29. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms, p. 128.
  30. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. xviii–xix.
  31. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 16.
  32. Greenfield, A New Critical History, p. 60.
  33. Thomas A. Bredehoft, Textual Histories: Reading in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).
  34. Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia, 15.
  35. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. 60–61.
  36. P. Wormald, "The Ninth Century", p. 139, in Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons.
  37. 1 2 Translations from Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. 184–18.
  38. 1 2 Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons, p. 222.
  39. Simon Keynes, 'The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Hypothetical Reconstruction of its Development from the Alfredian "Common Stock" of c. 892' (2015).
  40. 1 2 Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. xiv–xvi.
  41. Janet Bately, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Texts and Textual Telationships , Reading Medieval Studies, Monograph 3 (Reading: Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Reading, 1991); ISBN 704904497.
  42. Keynes and Lapidge, Alfred the Great, pp. 228–229, n. 4.
  43. 1 2 Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. xix–xx.
  44. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Whitelock, English Historical Documents, pp. 113–114.
  45. 1 2 3 Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 57.
  46. 1 2 Whitelock, English Historical Documents, pp. 109–112.
  47. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 249.
  48. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, pp. 251–52.
  49. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, 254.
  50. 1 2 Ker 424–26.
  51. Harrison, "William Camden and the F-Text", p. 222.
  52. Howorth, "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", p. 155.
  53. Gneuss, Handlist, p. 63.
  54. 1 2 Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 187.
  55. 1 2 Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 231.
  56. Raymond J. S. Grant (1996), Laurence Nowell, William Lambarde, and the Laws of the Anglo-Saxons, Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, p. 25
  57. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 188.
  58. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 174.
  59. 1 2 Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts, p. 175.
  60. "Cotton Catalogue". Archived from the original on 23 April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007. See Caligula A.15, under "Provenance", which gives a description of the manuscript and some of its history.
  61. "Cambridge, University Library, Hh. 1. 10 – The Production and Use of English Manuscripts:1060 to 1220" . Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  62. 1 2 Lapidge, Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 36.
  63. The title in full is Chronicon Saxonicum; seu Annales Rerum in Anglia Praecipue Gestarum, a Christo nato ad Annum Usque MCLIV. deducti, ac jam demum Latinitate donati. Cum Indice Rerum Chronologico. Accedunt Regulae ad Investigandas Nominum Locorum Origines. Et Nominum Locorum ac Virorum in Chronico Memoratorum Explicatio. A detailed description of a first edition is listed at "Law Books – October 2002 List". Archived from the original on 28 November 2007. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  64. John Earle (1865). Two of the Saxon chronicles parallel: with supplementary extracts from the others. Clarendon Press.
  65. John Earle; Charles Plummer (1892). Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel: Text, appendices and glossary. Clarendon Press.
  66. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Whitelock, English Historical Documents, p. 129.
  67. Whitelock, English Historical Documents, 2nd edition, 1979, pp. 145–261
  68. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, 2nd edition, 2000
  69. Cyril Hart, "Some recent editions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", Medium Ævum, vol. 66, no. 2 (1997), pp. 293–301.