A History of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a series of chronological histories, dating from the ninth century to the twelfth century.

Although only nine copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, at one time, there were multiple copies of the Chronicle, which were distributed to religious houses throughout England, with further copies being made by monks. Once copies had been made of the original, the documents were then independently updated at the monastery where they were housed. This means that there were many different versions in existence, each of which had initially been copied from the original.

A History of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is widely believed to be the most useful and reliable history of England from the Roman conquest, through to the eleventh century. Despite its sometimes contradictory accounts, and evidence of occasional bias, it is one of the most important resources for the history of England in the early Middle Ages.

The original Chronicle, which is no longer in existence was created early in the ninth century in Wessex. A number of copies were created from this original, with further copies of copies made as the document became more popular. The original may have been created during the reign of Alfred the Great, (871 – 899AD).

The Contents of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

In their day, the various copies of the Chronicle were living documents; added to as and when events occurred. One scribe would finish his work on the manuscript, another might add to it years later. The Chronicle appears to draw from earlier works, which are no longer in existence,

The Chronicle tells of both major and minor events in pre-Norman conquest England. For example, an entry from 878AD tells of the Viking invasions, and how King Alfred was forced to hide from the invaders in the woods.

Early entries in the Chronicle are presented in simple list form, with events listed chronologically. Later, other information is included, including a list of popes, astronomical data (to help interpret calendars) and poems celebrating the lives and deeds of members of the ruling families of the early Middle Ages, including King Aethelstan and King Edgar.

The Surviving Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

The Chronicles are written in different languages, to meet the needs of the communities for which they were created. Both Old and Middle English versions exist, together with a copy in Latin, the language of the Church. Of the nine that survive, seven are written entirely in Old English, one (the Peterborough Chronicle) in Old English with Middle English at the end of the document, and another is written in old English with translations into Latin.

Where is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Kept?

Seven copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are kept at the British Library in London, and one each at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Sources

British Library website

Swanton, Michael The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (Phoenix Press, 2000)

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