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  • Pauline Stafford

Between c. 900 and the mid-twelfth century, a series of Old English vernacular chronicles were produced, growing out of the text produced at the court of King Alfred. These chronicles are collectively known as ‘the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. They have long been accorded fundamental status in the English national story. No others have shaped our view of the origins of England between the fifth and eleventh centuries to the same extent. They provide between them the only continuous narrative of this period. They are the story that has made England. This paper deals with the relationship between that story, these texts and England: how they have been read and edited – made – in the context of the English national story since the sixteenth century; but also their relationship to, the part they may have played in, the original making of the English kingdom. The focus is on developments during the tenth and eleventh centuries, when a political unit more or less equivalent to the England we now know emerged. It is argued that these texts were the ideological possession and expression of the southern English elite, especially of bishops and archbishops, at this critical period of kingdom-making. Special attention is given to their possible role in the incorporation of Northumbria into that kingdom. These chronicles were made by scribes a millennium ago, and to some extent have been reworked by modern editors from the sixteenth century on. They are daunting in their complexity. The differences between them are as important as the common ground they share. Understanding the making of these foundational texts has its own light to shed on the making of England.

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1 English Historical Documents, i, ed. D. Whitelock (1955), and ii, ed. D. C. Douglas and G. Greenaway (1953), quotations from ii, iii and 97.

2 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Revised Translation, ed. D. Whitelock, D. C. Douglas and S. Tucker (1961), xi. This volume brought together the English Historical Document translations.

3 Scharer, Anton, ‘The Writing of History at King Alfred's Court’, Early Medieval Europe, 5 (1996), 177–89.

4 Southern, Richard, ‘Aspects of the European Tradition of Historical Writing: 4. The Sense of the Past’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (TRHS), fifth series, 23 (1973), 243–63; Campbell, James, ‘Some Twelfth-Century Views of the Anglo-Saxon Past’, Peritia, 3 (1984), 209–28; Williams, A., The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge, 1995), especially 155–86.

5 Wright, C. E., ‘The Dispersal of the Monastic Libraries and the Beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Studies’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 1 (1949–53), 208–37, at 212–13; Correspondence of Matthew Parker D.D., Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. Bruce, John and Perowne, Thomas Thomason (Cambridge, 1853), 327–8; see also Page, R. I., Matthew Parker and his Books (Kalamazoo, MI, 1993), 2 .

6 Indispensable guide is Lutz, Angelika, ‘The Study of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the Seventeenth Century and the Establishment of Old English Studies in the Universities’, in The Recovery of Old English. Anglo-Saxon Studies in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, ed. Graham, Timothy (Kalamazoo, MI, 2000), 182 .

7 On Joscelyn's work, Page, Matthew Parker and his Books; and Graham, T., ‘The Beginnings of Old English Studies: Evidence from the Manuscripts of Matthew Parker’, in Back to the Manuscripts: Papers from the Symposium ‘The Integrated Approach to Manuscript Studies: A New Horizon’ Held at the Eighth Meeting of the Japan Society for Medieval English Studies, Tokyo, December, 1992, ed. Sato, Shuji (Tokyo, 1997), 2950 .

8 Graham, T., ‘Anglo-Saxon Studies: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries’, in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature, ed. Pulsiano, P. and Treharne, E. (Oxford, 2001), 415–33, at 422.

9 As argued by Lutz, ‘The Study’.

10 Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others. A Revised Text, Edited, with Introduction, Notes, Appendices and Glossary by C. Plummer, on the basis of an edition by Earle, J. (Oxford, 1889) (the edition normally used is that of 1892/9), at e.g. ii, civ – at n. 3 specifically contrasting it with the Latin Gesta Northanhymbrorum.

11 The Saxon Chronicle with an English Translation and Notes, Critical and Explanatory. To Which Are Added Chronological, Topographical, and Glossarial Indices, a Short Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Language, etc. by J. Ingram (1823), ii–v. His gendered vocabulary would repay analysis.

12 On nineteenth-century government-backed editions, see Knowles, D. M., ‘Great Historical Enterprises, iv. The Rolls Series’, TRHS, fifth series, 11 (1961), 137–59.

13 Monumenta historica Britannica, or, Materials for the History of Britain from the Earliest Period, ed. Petrie, H. and Sharpe, J. (London, published by command of Her Majesty, 1848).

14 General Preface to Rolls Series, cf. Knowles, ‘The Rolls Series’, 141–2.

15 Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles, ii, cxxxvi, commenting on B. Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, According to the Several Original Authorities, published by the authority of the lords commissioners of Her Majesty's treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls (2 vols., 1861).

16 William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, ed. and trans. Mynors, R. A. B., Thomson, R. M. and Winterbottom, M., i (Oxford, 1998), 14 .

17 Thomson, R., ‘William of Malmesbury's Diatribe against the Normans’, in The Long Twelfth-Century View of the Anglo-Saxon Past, ed. Brett, M. and Woodman, D. A. (Farnham, 2015), 113–21, for tensions in Malmesbury.

18 The Saxon Chronicle with an English Translation, iii.

19 First edition was Whelock, Abraham, Historiae Ecclesiasticae gentis Anglorum Libri V (Cambridge 1643), to which the Chronologia Saxonica – essentially an edition of Chronicle G – was appended. The second appeared in 1692 in Oxford, Chronicon Saxonicum, seu Annales rerum in Anglia præcipue gestarum, a Christo nato ad annum usque 1154 deducti, ac jam demum Latinitate donate. . .accedunt regulæ ad investigandas nominum locorum origines; et nominum locorum ac virorum in chronico memoratorum explicatio. Opera et studio E. Gibson.

20 A Literal Translation of the Saxon Chronicle, by Miss Anna Gurney, for private circulation (Norwich, 1819). See G. C. Boase, ‘Gurney, Anna (1795–1857)’, rev. John D. Haigh, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (, accessed 1 July 2016).

21 Under the general editorship of Dumville, David and Keynes, Simon, published as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A Collaborative Edition (Cambridge, 1983–). MS A, ed. Janet Bately (1986); MS B, ed. Simon Taylor (1983); MS C, ed. Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe (2001); MS D, ed. George Cubbin (1996); MS E, ed. Susan Irvine (2004); MS F, ed. Peter Baker (2000). Chronicle G edited separately, Lutz, Angelika, Die Version G der angelsächsischen Chronik (Munich, 1981).

22 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated G. N. Garmonsway (1953).

23 Joscelyn e.g. replaced a lost section of D, MS D, ed. Cubbin, x, added bits to B from A, MS B, ed. Taylor, xiii, and to C from D, MS C, ed. O'Brien O'Keeffe, xvii–xviii. Thorpe's translation is, as he puts it ‘formed from those of the original which, coinciding in matter, are susceptible to collation; all deviations [an interesting choice of word] from which are placed beneath the line’, Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, i, xv.

24 Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles, ii, xxiii.

25 Ibid. , cxxxvi

26 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, Douglas and Tucker, xi; English Historical Documents, ed. Whitelock, i, 135.

27 See e.g. Pohl, Walter, ‘Memory, Identity and Power in Lombard Italy’, in The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Hen, Yitzhak and Innes, Matthew (Cambridge, 2000), 928, especially 11–12; De Jong, M., McKitterick, R., Pohl, W. and Wood, I., ‘Introduction’, in Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Corradini, R., Meens, R. and Pössel, C. (Vienna, 2006); on problems of editions, R. Corradini, ‘Die Annales Fuldenses – Identitätskonstruktionen im ostfrankischen Raum am Ende der Karolingerzeit’, in ibid., 121–36.

28 On the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Corradini, ‘Die Annales Fuldenses’; Townsend, David, ‘Alcuin's Willibrord, Wilhelm Levison and the MGH’, in The Politics of Editing Medieval Texts, ed. Frank, Roberta (New York, 1993), 107–30; Alan Frantzen, ‘The Living and the Dead: Responses to Papers on the Politics of Editing Medieval Texts’, in ibid., 159–81.

29 Thormann, Janet, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Poems and the making of the English Nation’, in Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity, ed. Frantzen, A. J. and Niles, J. D. (Gainesville, FA, 1997), 6085 ; Bredehoft, T., Textual Histories: Readings in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Toronto, Buffalo and London, 2001).

30 Thormann, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Poems’, 62–3.

31 Foot, Sarah, ‘The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest’, TRHS, sixth series, 6 (1996), 2549 ; eadem, The Historiography of the Anglo-Saxon “Nation-State”’, in Power and the Nation in European History, ed. Scales, L. and Zimmer, O. (Cambridge, 2005), 125–42.

32 Foot, ‘The Historiography’, 132.

33 Literary scholars have been at the forefront of exposing their apparent naivety as ‘artful’, thus Stodnick, Jacqueline, ‘Second-Rate Stories? Changing Approaches to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Literary Compass, 3/6 (2006), 1254–65, at 1254–5; Jorgensen, Alice, ‘Introduction: Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, in Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Language, Literature, History, ed. Jorgensen, A. (Turnhout, 2010), 128, at 27.

34 Hayward, Paul, The Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles: Hitherto Unnoticed Witnesses to the Work of John of Worcester (Tempe, AZ, 2010), Intro., especially 1828 .

35 E.g. Clark, Cecily, ‘The Narrative Mode of “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”’, in England before the Conquest. Studies in Primary Sources Presented to Dorothy Whitelock, ed. Clemoes, Peter and Hughes, Kathleen (Cambridge, 1971), 215–35, at 220–1.

36 Stafford, P., ‘“The Annals of Æthelflæd”: Annals, History and Politics in Early Tenth-Century England’, in Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters. Essays in Honour of Nicholas Brooks, ed. Barrow, Julia and Wareham, Andrew (Aldershot, 2008), 101–16.

37 This is the lost BC, identified by Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles, ii, lxxxviii–lxxxix, discussed in MS C, ed. O'Brien O'Keeffe, lvii–lxii. The last common annal in B and C is for 977; for an updating c. 977 see Conner, P., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 10: The Abingdon Chronicle ad 956–1066 (Woodbridge, 1996), xxxix and n. 80, lxx. One of the last entries in BC was a long, and thus unusual, obit on Archbishop Oscytel – bishop of Dorchester, archbishop of York, and relative of Archbishops Oda and Oswald.

38 On A's development c. 1000 ad: Dumville, David, Wessex and England, from Alfred to Edgar (Woodbridge, 1992), especially 5662 ; MS A, ed. Bately, xxxvii–viii; Wormald, Patrick, Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, i: Legislation and its Limits (Oxford, 1999), 172–81. Chronicle A was at Canterbury by the end of the eleventh century, but the evidence of the state of its episcopal lists and their relationship to those of Chronicle G suggests no further work on it at Winchester after c. 1001; the G lists were updated 1001x1012/13, those in A were not.

39 On Wulfstan and the evolving D: Jost, K., ‘Wulfstan und die Angelsächsische Chronik’, Anglia, 47 (1923), 105–23; Hollis, Stephanie, ‘The Protection of God and the King: Wulfstan's Legislation on Widows’, in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, ed. Townend, Matthew (Turnhout, 2004), 443–60, especially at 450; Pons-Sanz, Sara M., ‘A Paw in Every Pie: Wulfstan and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Again’, Leeds Studies in English, new series, 38 (2007), 3152 . Wulfstan tended to annotate MSS in his possession, sometimes arguably to signal ownership: N. Ker, ‘The Handwriting of Archbishop Wulfstan’, in England before the Conquest, ed. Clemoes and Hughes, 315–31; T. Heslop, ‘Art and the Man: Archbishop Wulfstan and the York Gospel Book’, in Wulfstan, ed. Townend, 279–308, at 282–4 and 308.

40 M. Lapidge, ‘Byrhtferth and Oswald’, in St Oswald of Worcester. Life and Influence, ed. N. Brooks and C. Cubitt (1996), 64–83, at 73–8; Hart, C., ‘The Early Section of the Worcester Chronicle ’, Journal of Medieval History, 9 (1983), 251315 .

41 Whitelock, D., The Peterborough Chronicle. The Bodleian Manuscript Laud Misc. 636, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, vol. 4 (Copenhagen, 1954), Introduction; Dumville, D., ‘Textual Archaeology and Northumbrian History Subsequent to Bede’, in Coinage in Ninth-Century Northumbria, ed. Metcalf, D. M., BAR, vol. 180 (Oxford, 1987), 4355, at 48–9.

42 MS C, ed. O'Brien O'Keeffe, xc–xci; Dumville, D., ‘Some Aspects of Annalistic Writing at Canterbury in the Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries’, Peritia, 2 (1983), 2357, especially 28–9.

43 Wormald, P., How Do We Know So Much About Anglo-Saxon Deerhurst?, Deerhurst lecture 1991 (Friends of Deerhurst Church, 1993); Stafford, P., ‘Archbishop Ealdred and the D Chronicle’, in Normandy and its Neighbours, 900–1250. Essays for David Bates, ed. Crouch, D. and Thompson, K. (Turnhout, 2011), 135–56.

44 Dumville, ‘Some Aspects of Annalistic Writing’.

45 The Chronicle of Æthelweard, ed. Campbell, A. (Edinburgh and London, 1962); Ashley, S., ‘The Lay Intellectual in Anglo-Saxon England: Ealdorman Æthelweard, and the Politics of History’, in Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World, ed. Wormald, P. and Nelson, J. L. (Cambridge, 2007), 218–45; Gretsch, M., ‘Historiography and Literary Patronage in Late Anglo-Saxon England: The Evidence of Æthelweard's Chronicon ’, Anglo-Saxon England, 41 (2013), 205–48.

46 Baxter, S., ‘MS C of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Politics of Mid-Eleventh-Century England’, English Historical Review, 122 (2007), 1189–227.

47 Whitelock, The Peterborough Chronicle, Introduction; MS E, ed. Irvine, xiii, xc–ci; eadem, ‘The Production of the Peterborough Chronicle’, in Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Jorgensen, 49–66; Home, Malasree, The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Rewriting Post-Conquest History (Woodbridge, 2015), 15 .

48 Stafford, ‘Archbishop Ealdred and the D Chronicle’. On the possibly lowland Scots annal, MS D, ed. Cubbin, cli.

49 D. Whitelock, ‘Dealings of the Kings of England with Northumbria in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’, in The Anglo-Saxons. Studies in Some Aspects of their History and Culture Presented to Bruce Dickins, ed. P. Clemoes (1959), 70–88; Rollason, D., Northumbria 500–1100. Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom (Cambridge, 2003), 202–8, 228–30.

50 See witness lists of southern royal charters in S. Keynes, An Atlas of Attestations in Anglo-Saxon Charters c. 670–1066,

51 Both E and F have additional material, largely in Latin, added into Alfred's chronicle almost certainly post-1066, mostly derived from a Norman set of annals, see MS E, ed. Irvine, lxxxviii–xc, and MS F, ed. Baker, l–liv.

52 ‘Nationalization’, thus Bredehoft, Textual Histories, 67–71.

53 E.g. Chronicle E s.a. 625 and 721 extending coverage of Archbishop John – using both Bede and, probably, northern episcopal lists for e.g. precise lengths and dates of his episcopate.

54 Story, J., Carolingian Connections: Anglo-Saxon England and Carolingian Francia c. 750–870 (Aldershot, 2003), ch. 4, especially 116–33; eadem, After Bede: Continuing the Ecclesiastical History ’, in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, ed. Baxter, S., Karkov, C., Nelson, J. L. and Pelteret, D. (Farnham, 2009), 165–84; Blair, Peter Hunter, ‘Some Observations on the Historia Regum Attributed to Symeon of Durham’, in Celt and Saxon: Studies in the Early British Border, ed. Chadwick, N. K. (Cambridge, 1963), 63118, remains important.

55 It was at this point that the ‘York Annals’ apparently petered out, though there were at least fragmentary Northumbrian annals for the ninth century.

56 On the importance and defensibility of seeking out such lost texts, Dumville, David, ‘Editing Old English Texts for Historians and Other Trouble Makers’, in The Editing of Old English, ed. Scragg, D. and Szarmach, P. (Woodbridge, 1994), 4552, at 48.

57 Probably known at Durham, Piper, A. J., ‘The Historical Interests of the Monks of Durham’, in Symeon of Durham, Historian of Durham and the North, ed. Rollason, D. (Stamford, 1998), 301–32, at 312, 321 and n 107. On the Latin compilation, Lapidge, M., ‘Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the Early Sections of the Historia Regum Attributed to Symeon of Durham’, Anglo-Saxon England, 10 (1981), 97122 ; Hunter Blair, ‘Some Observations on the Historia Regum. For its twelfth-century significance, Taylor, John, Medieval Historical Writing in Yorkshire (York, 1961), 46 .

58 Whitelock, The Peterborough Chronicle, 28; Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles, ii, lxx–lxxi.

59 The manuscripts from which the ‘Northern Recension’ can be reconstructed are all later. Without the scribes’ autograph, we cannot see what dialect of Old English they were using. Chronicle D was the result of collation with other chronicles, whose language could have affected it. In the later manuscripts, there are some few signs of northern English usage: MS D, ed. Cubbin, at e.g. lxxxix; S. M. Pons-Sanz, ‘Norse-Derived Vocabulary in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, in Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Jorgensen, 275–304. In general, the language of D is Late West Saxon, MS D, ed. Cubbin, lxxxiv–cli.

60 Chronicle D and Chronicle E s.a. 785.

61 Chronicle E s.a. 449. The sense of ‘us-ness’ which recognition of a common past could fuel and feed is discussed by Eggert, W. and Pätzold, B., Wir-Gefühl und regnum Saxonum bei frühmittelalterlichen Geschichtsschreibern (Berlin, 1984).

62 E.g. Chronicle E s.a 626, Edwin leading an expedition against the West Saxons and killing five kings.

63 E.g. Chronicle E s.a. 603, adding extra detail on the Battle of Degsastane.

64 On Earl Godwine and his actions, differing lines in different chronicles have long been recognised, e.g. F. Barlow, Edward the Confessor (1970), xxii.

65 Stafford, P., ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Identity and the Making of England’, Haskins Society Journal, 19 (2008 for 2007), 2850, at 32–6.

66 Stafford, P., ‘Noting Relations and Tracking Relationships in English Vernacular Chronicles, Late Ninth to Early Twelfth Century’, in The Medieval Chronicle X, ed. Afanasyev, I., Dresvina, J. and Kooper, E. (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2015), 2348 .

67 Williams, , The English, 95. Further discussed in my forthcoming ‘Fathers and Daughters: The Case of Æthelred II’, in Writing, Kingship, and Power in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Naismith, Rory and Woodman, David A. (Cambridge, 2017).

68 Brooks, N., ‘Why is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle about Kings?’, Anglo-Saxon England, 39 (2010), 4370 ; and idem, ‘“Anglo-Saxon Chronicle(s)” or “Old English Royal Annals”?’, in Gender and Historiography. Studies in the Earlier Middle Ages in Honour of Pauline Stafford, ed. J. L. Nelson, S. Reynolds and S. M. Johns (2012), 35–48, takes a different line.

69 Barrow, Julia, The Clergy in the Medieval World. Secular Clerics, their Families and Careers in North-Western Europe, c. 800–c. 1200 (Cambridge, 2015), at 139–46.

70 Reuter, T., ‘Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms’, in Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000–1025, ed. Hartmann, W., Kirchengeschichte, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen, 100 (Mainz, 2000), 128 .

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