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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia

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ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE. It is usual to speak of "the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"; it would be more correct to say that there are four Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. It is true that these all grow out of a common stock, that in some even of their later entries two or more of them use common materials; but the same may be said of several groups of medieval chronicles, which no one dreams of treating as single chronicles. Of this fourfold Chronicle there are seven MSS. in existence; C.C.C. Cant. 173 (A); Cott. Tib. A vi. (B); Cott. Tib. B i. (C); Cott. Tib. B iv. (D); Bodl. Laud. Misc. 636 (E); Cott. Domitian A viii. (F); Cott. Otho B xi. (G). Of these G is now a mere fragment, and it is known to have been a transcript of A. F is bilingual, the entries being given both in Saxon and Latin. It is interesting as a stage in the transition from the vernacular to the Latin chronicle; but it has little independent value, being a mere epitome, made at Canterbury in the 11th or 12 th century, of a chronicle akin to E. B, as far as it goes (to 977), is identical with C, both having been copied from a common original, but A, C, D, E have every right to be treated as independent chronicles. The relations between the four vary very greatly in different parts, and the neglect of this consideration has led to much error and confusion. The common stock, out of which all grow, extends to 892. The present writer sees no reason to doubt that the idea of a national, as opposed to earlier local chronicles, was inspired by Alfred, who may even have dictated, or at least revised, the entries relating to his own campaigns; while for the earlier parts pre-existing materials, both oral and written, were utilized. Among the latter the chronological epitome appended to Bede's Ecclesiastical History may be specially mentioned. But even this common stock exists in two different recensions, in A, B, C, on the one hand, and D, E on the other. The main points of difference are that in D, E (1) a series of northern annals have been incorporated; (2) the Bede entries are taken, not from the brief epitome, but from the main body of the Eccl. Hist. The inference is that, shortly after the compiling of this Alfredian chronicle, a copy of it was sent to some northern monastery, probably Ripon, where it was expanded in the way indicated. Copies of this northernized Chronicle afterwards found their way to the south. The impulse given by Alfred was continued under Edward, and we have what may be called an official continuation of the history of the Danish wars, which, in B, C, D extends to 915, and in A to 924. After 915 B, C insert as a separate document a short register of Mercian affairs during the same period (902-924), which might be called the acts of Æthelflaed, the famous " Lady of the Mercians," while D has incorporated it, not very skilfully, with the official continuation. Neither of these documents exists in E. From 925 to 975 all the chronicles are very fragmentary; a few obits, three or four poems, among them the famous ballad on the battle of Brunanburh, make up the meagre tale of their common materials, which each has tried to supplement in its own way. A has inserted a number of Winchester entries, which prove that A is a Winchester book. And this local and scrappy character it retains to ioor, where it practically ends. At some subsequent time it was transferred bodily to Canterbury, where it received numerous interpolations in the earlier part, and a few later local entries which finally tail off into the Latin acts of Lanfranc. A may therefore be dismissed.

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