Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk who wrote his ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) around 731. His work synthesised into a single narrative historical events from many different sources, including Biblical, Classical, British and Anglo-Saxon sources.
In Part 3 of this 9 part series, I discussed Gildas and his history written in the 6th Century. In Part 4, I will discuss Bede’s history written in the 8th Century.
‘These new-comers were from the three most formidable races of Germany, the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes…Their first chieftains are said to have been the brothers Hengist and Horsa’ (Bede I.15).
As the title of the Bede’s history indicates, the work is religious in nature and concerns the English people and the land they settled (‘Engla land’, Land of the Angles). Bede’s intention was to demonstrate that his people (the Anglo-Saxons) were more than wandering brigands without a home or a national heritage; instead, the Anglo-Saxons were a noble people that had been chosen by God to rule the land that they had claimed from the British Christians who had lost God’s favour. Bede’s work is notable for several reasons:
- Firstly, Bede synthesised many different sources to trace a history of the island claimed by the Anglo-Saxons back to the first Roman invasion under Julius Caesar (in 55 and 54BC). Bede created a masterly work in this respect.
- Secondly, Bede wanted to create a sense of shared nation-hood for the Anglo-Saxons. Previously, the Anglo-Saxons had been proud of their warrior past, their achievements in seizing a sizable chunk of the former Roman Britain, and their descent from the Germanic gods. However, now that they had an established a civilisation and they had become Christian, these traditions were no longer sufficient – or appropriate, in the case of their former pagan heritage.
- Thirdly, Bede, possibly representing a broader generation of Anglo-Saxon scholars, also wanted to legitimate the adoption of Classical learning (in history, science, philosophy, and for the close associations of Classical Learning with the development of Christianity) – as Christians, Latin was the language of worship and the Bible (as commonly distributed at this time); and Latin also gave the reader access to the rich intellectual heritage of the Roman World.
- Fourthly, Bede wanted to construct an intellectual framework for his religious and secular politics. Bede was pro-Christian (obviously) and anti-pagan; he was pro-Anglo-Saxon and anti-British; and he favoured his Northumbrian compatriots over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
In Part 5, I will discuss Nennius and the Historia Brittonuum written about 828.
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|Title: Sutton Hoo helmet reconstructed Description: Replica of the helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. Source: Wikipedia Commons Author: Gernot Keller Copyright Statement: This is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: brighten & crop. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.|