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Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891–1154). Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings To 20th Century

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of manuscripts
detailing British history from the beginning
of the Christian era to A.D. 1154. Translator
M. J. Swanton speculates that “the Chronicle, as
we know it, had its origins towards the end of the
ninth century: a reflection of both the ‘revival of
learning’ and revival of English national awareness
during the reign of King Alfred” (ALFRED THE
GREAT, 849–899). For information on events beginning
with Julius CAESAR’s first Roman invasion, the
clerics in charge of the work drew their material
from documents already in circulation, such as Ecclesiastical
History of the English People written by
The Venerable BEDE. The Chronicle was maintained
and added to by generations of anonymous
scribes until the middle of the 12th century. The
final entry in 1154 describes the death of Stephen
and the coronation of Henry II:
In this year died the King Stephen; and he was
buried where his wife and his son were buried, at
Faversham . . . Then when he [Henry] came to
England, he was received with great honour and
was blessed as king in London on the Sunday before
midwinter day, and there held a great court.
Four distinct manuscripts exist, named by the
religious houses where they were kept:Winchester,
Abingdon,Worcester, and Peterborough. The Winchester
manuscript is the oldest, while the Peterborough
manuscript was the longest maintained
and is considered the most complete. Variations
between the individual manuscripts show that they
circulated among religious houses, and recorders
made note not only of national events but also doings
of more local concern.
The Chronicle remains a crucial historical document,
not only because it dates from a time when
few other records exist, but it is also significant, as
Swanton observes, “that so fundamental a cultural
document of English history should have been
composed in English.” In addition to their historical
importance, the Chronicle serves as a literary
text. Several passages contain vivid prose, and in
the 937 entry, the account of the Battle of Brunanburh
stands as one of the finer examples of Anglo-
Saxon poetry, reminiscent of the heroic motifs in
the epic poem BEOWULF.
A Modern Version of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Translated and edited by
M. J. Swanton. London: J. M. Dent, 1996.
A Work about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Bredehoft, Thomas A. Textual Histories: Readings in
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 2001.

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