The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annuals written in Old English chronicling the history of England.
In Part 5 of this 9 part series, I discussed Nennius and the Historia Brittonuum written about 828. In Part 6, I will discuss the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The first entries of the Chronicle (down to the year 891) were prepared around 892, and then copied and distributed to monastic libraries throughout Anglo-Saxon England. After distribution, many of the copies were separately maintained over the following centuries. As with Bede’s history, the original scholar chose to synthesise multiple sources to construct a history of the island back to the beginning of Roman Britain. However, unlike Bede, the unknown scholar wrote mainly in Old English – explicitly giving legitimacy to the history of the Anglo-Saxons in their own tongue.
‘In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Vortigern, king of the Britons, came to Britain at a place which is called Ebbsfleet at first to help the Britons, but later they fought against them’ (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Parker Chronicle edition, Year 449).
The first body of entries (up to 891) are notable for several reasons:
- Firstly, the original scholar followed a tradition that possibly began with Bede to place English history in its wider Christian and Roman context.
- Secondly, the original scholar did not simply imitate Bede. He drew upon sources that Bede did not use. For example, he included accounts of St Patrick (a British saint) that Bede had ignored; Bede discounted St Patrick’s life because in his history, it was the Anglo-Saxons not the British who had more to offer.
- Thirdly, the entries preserve many local traditions about the first Anglo-Saxon settlements. For example, that the first Anglo-Saxons settled in Kent (Hengest and Horsa), in Sussex (story of Aelle) and in Hampshire (the story of ‘Port’). In each case, the new arrivals fought many battles with the local British before finally being victorious. In each case, the Chronicle scholar (or his sources) drew upon oral traditions or retrospectively created stories for places thought to have early Anglo-Saxon origins – and colourfully expanded upon them.
In Part 7, I will discuss the distinction between Form and Matter, a philosophical concept that became embedded in historical writing in the 19th Century.
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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.|