Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal historical value and none of them is the original version.  Seven of the nine surviving manuscripts and fragments now reside in the British Library. The remaining two are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

All of the surviving manuscripts are copies, so it is not known for certain where or when the first version of the Chronicle was composed.  It is generally agreed that the original version was written in the late 9th century by a scribe in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great.   King Alfred the Great may have ordered the compilation although there is nothing to prove this.  The scribe compiled a list of significant events in British history with the earliest date being 60 BC, Caesar’s invasions of Britain.  The early entries skipped many years and sometimes decades, but by the 7th century the writer provided entries every year.

The early writings were penned by one scribe up to the year 891. The scribe wrote the year number, DCCCXCII, in the margin of the next line; subsequent material was written by other scribes.  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.   The most recent was written at Peterborough Abbey after a fire at that monastery in 1116.  Some of these later copies are those that have survived.

The Chronicle is not unbiased: there are occasions when comparison with other medieval sources makes it clear that the scribes who wrote it omitted events or told one-sided versions of stories; there are also places where the different versions contradict each other. Taken as a whole, however, the Chronicle is the single most important historical source for the period in England between the departure of the Romans and the decades following the Norman Conquest. Much of the information given in the Chronicle is not recorded elsewhere. In addition, the manuscripts are important sources for the history of the English language; in particular, the later Peterborough text is one of the earliest examples of Middle English in existence.

As with any historical source, the Chronicle has to be treated with some caution due to misinterpretations by the chronicler, inaccurate dating, biases and other errors made by the scribes.

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