1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
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 12th 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 1001, 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. C has added to the common stock one or two Abingdon entries, with which place the history of C is closely connected; while D and E have a second group of northern annals 901-966, E being however much more fragmentary than D, omitting, or not having access to, much both of the common and of the northern material which is found in D. From 983 to 1018 C, D and E are practically identical, and give a connected history of the Danish struggles under Æthelred II. This section was probably composed at Canterbury. From 1018 the relations of C, D, E become too complicated to be expressed by any formula; sometimes all three agree together, sometimes all three are independent; in other places each pair in turn agree against the third. It may be noted that C is strongly anti-Godwinist, while E is equally pro-Godwinist, D occupying an intermediate position. C extends to 1066, where it ends abruptly, and probably mutilated. D ends at 1079 and is certainly mutilated. In its later history D is associated with some place in the diocese of Worcester, probably Evesham. In its present form D is a comparatively late MS., none of it probably much earlier, and some of it later, than 1100. In the case of entries in the earlier part of the chronicles, which are peculiar to D, we cannot exclude the possibility that they may be late interpolations. E is continued to 1154. In its present form it is unquestionably a Peterborough book. The earlier part is full of Peterborough interpolations, to which place many of the later entries also refer. But (apart from the interpolations) it is only the entries after 1121, where the first hand in the MS. ends, which were actually composed at Peterborough. The section 1023-1067 certainly, and possibly also the section 1068-1121, was composed at St Augustine's, Canterbury; and the former is of extreme interest and value, the writer being in close contact with the events which he describes. The later parts of E show a great degeneration in language, and a querulous tone due to the sufferings of the native population under the harsh Norman rule; “but our debt to it is inestimable; and we can hardly measure what the loss to English history would have been, if it had not been written; or if, having been written, it had, like so many another English chronicle, been lost.”
Bibliography.—The above account is based on the introduction in vol. ii. of the Rev. C. Plummer's edition of Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel (Clarendon Press, 1892, 1899); to which the student may be referred for detailed arguments. The editio princeps of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was by Abraham Wheloc, professor of Arabic at Cambridge, where the work was printed (1643-1644). It was based mainly on the MS. called G above, and is the chief source of our knowledge of that MS. which perished, all but three leaves, in the Cottonian fire of 1723. Edmund Gibson of Queen's College, Oxford, afterwards bishop of London, published an edition in 1692. He used Wheloc's edition, and E, with collations or transcripts of B and F. Both Wheloc and Gibson give Latin translations. In 1823 appeared an edition by Dr Ingram, of Trinity College, Oxford, with an English translation. Besides A, B, E, F, Ingram used C and D for the first time. But both he and Gibson made the fatal error of trying to combine the disparate materials contained in the various chronicles in a single text. An improvement in this respect is seen in the edition made by Richard Price (d. 1833) for the first (and only) volume of Monumenta Historica Britannica (folio 1848). There is still, however, too much conflation, and owing to the plan of the volume, the edition only extends to 1066. A translation is appended. In 1861 appeared Benjamin Thorpe's six-text edition in the Rolls Series. Though not free from defects, this edition is absolutely indispensable for the study of the chronicles and the mutual relations of the different MSS. A second volume contains the translation. In 1865 the Clarendon Press published Two Saxon Chronicles (A and E) Parallel, with supplementary extracts from the others, by the Rev. John Earle. This edition has no translation, but in the notes and introduction a very considerable advance was made. On this edition is partly based the later edition by the Rev. C. Plummer, already cited above. In addition to the translations contained in the editions already mentioned, the following have been issued separately. The first translation into modern English was by Miss Anna Gurney, privately printed in 1819. This was largely based on Gibson's edition, and was in turn the basis of Dr Giles' translation, published in 1847, and often reprinted. The best translation is that by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, in his series of Church Historians of England (1853). Up to the Conquest it is a revision of the translation contained in Mon. Hist. Brit. From that point it is an independent translation.