Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 by Old English Period

General information

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals (historical stories) in Old English. It’s about the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The annals were created in the 9th century, probably in Wessex. Wessex was one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, during the 6th century until the 10th. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are the ancestor of the English United Kingdom.


Nine manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survived in whole or in part, though none of them is the original version. Almost all of the material in the chronicle is in the form of annals, that means by year; the earliest are dated at 60 Before Christ, and historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written. These manuscripts collectively are known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The Chronicle is the most important historical source for the period in England between the departure of the Romans and the decades following the Norman Conquest (decennia na de Nomandische verovering). 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. 

Seven of the nine surviving manuscripts are now in the British Library  in London. The remaining two are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the Parker Library at Cambridge.

However all of the surviving manuscripts are copies, it is generally agreed the original version was written in the 9th century in Wessex. After the original Chronicle was composed, copies were made and distributed to various monasteries. Extra copies were made, for further distribution or to replace lost manuscripts, and some copies were updated independently of each other. Because of that there came difference between some of the copies.

The Surviving Manuscripts
Of the nine surviving manuscripts, seven are written in Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon). One is in Old English with a translation into Latin. Two others are written in Middle Engish.

Version Chronicle name Location Manuscript
A The Parker Chronicle or The Winchester Chronicle Parker Library, Corpus Christi College MS. 173
B The Abingdon Chronicle I British Library Cotton MS.
Tiberius A vi.
C The Abingdon Chronicle II British Library Cotton MS. Tiberius B i.
D The Worcester Chronicle British Library Cotton MS. Tiberius B iv.
E The Laud Chronicle or The Peterborough Chronicle Bodleain Library MS Laud 636
F The Bilingual Canterbury Epitome British Library Cotton MS. Domitian A viii.
G A copy of The Winchester Chronicle British Library Cotton MS. Otho B xi., 2
H Cottonian Fragment British Library Cotton MS. Domitian A ix.
I An Easter Table Chronicle British Library Cotton MS. Caligula A xv.

[A]: The Winchester Chronicle

The Winchester Chronicle is the oldest of the Chronicle that still survives. They begun written it at the end of King Alfred’s reign. So that was at the end of the 9th century. The manuscript begins with a family tree of Alfred and has also a copy of the Laws of Alfred. It’s now in the Parker Library, which is in Cambridge.

[B] The Abingdon Chronicle I

The second manuscript was written at the end of the 10th century. It begins with an entry for 60 BC and ends with the entry for 977. The [B] manuscript was in the 11th century in Abingdon and shortly after this it went to Canterbury, where they made corrections. Like seven others it is now in the British Library in London.

[C] The Abingdon Chronicle II

The Abingdon Chronicle Two was written while battles between kingdom Wessex and the Vikings (in 871). This manuscript includes material from local annals, an translation of Orosius’s world history and some verses of laws of humanity and the natural world. It is now in the British Library.

[D] The Worcester Chronicle

The forth manuscript has been written in the 11th century. It is generally thought it has been composed in Worcestor, because it includes some records (notulen) from that town. The text includes material from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and Northumbrian annals from the 8th century. D contains a lot of information about Scottish affairs. This manuscript is also in the British Library.

[E] The Peterborough Chronicle

After a fire at the monastery at Peterborough in the 12th century, it was thought that the Chronicle had been lost. But shortly after that they found copies, so the Peterborough Chronicle still exist. The copy of this one is not similar to the original version, because the Mercian Register and a poem about the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 doesn’t appear in the copies. It starts with annals/chronicles from 1121 till 1131. In 1554 a second scribe wrote annals of the years 1132 till 1154. The last entry is written in Middle English, rather than Old English. E is also known as Laud Chronicle, because William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 till 1654, owned it. It is now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

[F] The Canterbury Bilingual Epitome

At about 1100 a copy of the Chronicle was written at Christ Church, Canterbury, probably by one of the scribes who made notes in [A]. This version is written in both Old English and Latin; each entry in Old English was followed by the Latin version. The version the scribe copied is similar to the version used by the scribe in Peterborough who wrote [E], though it seems to have been abridged. It includes the same introductory material as [D] and, along with [E], is one of the two chronicles that does not include the “Battle of Brunanburh” poem. The manuscript has many annotations and interlineations, some made by the original scribe and some by later scribes.

[G] or [A2] Copy of the Winchester Chronicle

[G] is also known is [A2] because it is a copy of [A]. and an episcopal (bisschoppelijke) list added to [A2] suggests that the copy was made by 1013. A fire at Ashburnham House in 1731 destroyed [A2] almost completely. This manuscript is sometimes knows as [W], because Abraham Wheloc used the manuscript in an edition of the Chronicle printed in 1643. It is now in the British Library.

[H] Cottonian Fragment

The Cottonian Fragment contains annals for 1113 and 1114. It is thought that [H] was written at Winchester, because it includes the phrase “he came to Winchester”. It’s now in the British Library.

[I] Easter Table Chronicle

Part of [I] was written by a scribe soon after 1073. After 1085, the annals are in various hands and it is thought that it have been written at Christ Church, Canterbury. At one point this manuscript was at St. Agustine’s Abbey, Canterbury.

– Jeroen van Poppel


Focus on language

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 by Old English Period

Engels literatuur

The island of Britain has not been successfully invaded since 1066 A.D. Before that date, however, the island had been occupied by Rome, the Anglo-Saxons and the Danish. The first incursions by Julius Caesar into Britain in 55 and 54 B.C. The dominant group in Britain were a Celtic people whose language is the ancestor of modern Welsh and Breton. When the British Celts were finally subdued by the Roman Emperor, Claudius, 43 A.D. ; Britain nominally became part of the Roman Empire , though it was not fully brought in line until 78 A.D. under the governor Agricola. Roman influence never penetrated the culture of the British Celts the way it did their continental neighbors, and Rome’s influence was negligible in the Pictish north and Celtic west.

When Rome found itself under attack in the early fifth century the legions were recalled. Britain, after more than three centuries of dependence on Rome’s military might, found herself vulnerable, first to the northern Picts, then to the Saxon mercenaries hired to defeat the Picts. Over the next one hundred years the invasions gave way to a period of settlement. The Celtic view of this period is immortalized in literature as the Arthurian cycle.

The native Celts were either killed by the invaders, or pushed back into Wales, Cornwall, and across the English channel into Brittany, taking their Celtic language with them. The dominant language of southern Britain (now England, from Angle-land) came to be that spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. The three main dialects, Northumbrian, Mercian, and West Saxon, corresponded with the three major kingdoms that vied for ascendancy. The first to exert its influence was Northumbria, followed by Mercia and finally Wessex. It is the West Saxon dialect that is most often referred to as Old English and that was the most prominent dialect at the time of the Norman conquest in 1066. At the time of the original Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the fifth century, the language contained approximately 100 Latin words that had been taken into the language before the Anglo-Saxons left the continent, mainly terms dealing with trade or the military. By the time of the Norman Conquest, Old English had been further enriched by words drawn from ecclesiastical Latin brought in by the conversion of the English to Christianity by St. Augustine in 597 A.D

After England was converted to Christianity the Anglo-Saxons which hasn’t  got a real literature. Only an oral form of literature,  began to develop an written form of literature. The poetry of the time was written in the vernacular of Anglo-Saxon which we now call Old English. In the old English period the main subject was often religion or things that had to do with religion.

This age gave “Beowulf” the greatest Germanic epic in the world of literature. There were two major poets Caedmon and Cynewulf contributed to literary writing.

The leading scholars in the time were the churchmen Bede and Alcuin. They wrote in Latin which was considered the standered language of international scholarship. How was reluctantly persuaded to join Charlemagne’s court.

Alfred the Great, a West Saxon king, loved literature very much. He translated various books of Latin prose into Old English and instituted the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as the contemporary record of important issues in England.

Old English / Anglo-Saxon was sometimes written with a version of the Runic alphabet, brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxons until about the 11th century.

Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewellery, weapons, stones and other objects. Very few examples of Runic writing on manuscripts have survived.

Caedmon’s Hymn

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 by Old English Period

Caedmon was a shepherd and later a monk of the Whitby Abbey who lived in the late seventh century. He is also the first English poet whose name is known. Caedmon wasn’t good in singing and making music so he always stayed on the background at parties so he wouldn’t be asked to sing a song. At one of those parties he fell asleep at a stable. In a dream he was asked by a man if he could sing a song but Caedmon said he couldn’t sing. The man kept pressing on Caedmon so Caedmon asked where he should sing about. The man said that it should deal with ‘the beginning of things’ and Caedmon sung his song.

When Caedmon woke up he remembered the song and worked the song out. This song is now known as Caedmon’s hymn, a song in which Caedmon praises his god. The hymn is Caedmon’s only known work and it belongs to the first poetry written in old-English together with the Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions.

Modern English translation of Ceadmon’s hymn

          ‘Now let me praise the keeper of Heaven’s kingdom,

          the might of the Creator, and his thought,

          the work of the Father of glory, how each of wonders

          the Eternal Lord established in the beginning.

          He first created for the sons of men

          Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,

          then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,

          the Eternal Lord, afterwards made,

          the earth for men, the Almighty Lord.’

The story about Caedmon is still known because it is mentioned in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which is a book written by saint Bede in 731.

-Felix van der Weijst

Alfred the Great

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 by Old English Period

About Alfred the Great:

Alfred the Great (849 – 26 October 899), was king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English king to be given the addition “the Great”.[1] Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself “King of the Anglo-Saxons”. Details of his life are described in a work by the Welsh scholar and bishop, Asser. Alfred was a learned man who encouraged education and improved his kingdom’s legal system and military structure.


Alfred was born in 849 at Wantage, Oxfordshire (in the historic county of Berkshire). He was the youngest son of King Aethelwulf of Wessex, by his first wife, Osburga.[2] In 868 Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucil.[3]

At the age of five years, Alfred is said to have been sent to Rome where, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,[4] he was confirmed by Pope Leo IV who “anointed him as king”. Victorian writers interpreted this as an anticipatory coronation in preparation for his ultimate succession to the throne of Wessex. However, his succession could not have been foreseen at the time, as Alfred had three living elder brothers. A letter of Leo IV shows that Alfred was made a “consul”; a misinterpretation of this investiture, deliberate or accidental, could explain later confusion.[5] It may also be based on Alfred’s later having accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Rome where he spent some time at the court of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, around 854–855. On their return from Rome in 856, Aethelwulf was deposed by his son Aethelbald. With civil war looming, the magnates of the realm met in council to hammer out a compromise. Aethelbald would retain the western shires (i.e., traditional Wessex), and Aethelwulf would rule in the east. King Aethelwulf died in 858; meanwhile Wessex was ruled by three of Alfred’s brothers in succession.

Bishop Asser tells the story of how as a child Alfred won a prize of a volume of poetry in English, offered by his mother to the first of her children able to memorise it. This story may be true, or it may be a myth intended to illustrate the young Alfred’s love of learning.

Alfred at war:

In 868, Alfred is recorded as fighting beside Aethelred in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the invading Danes out of the adjoining Kingdom of Mercia.[4] For nearly two years, Wessex was spared attacks because Alfred paid the Vikings to leave him alone. However, at the end of 870, the Danes arrived in his homeland. The year which followed has been called “Alfred’s year of battles”. Nine engagements were fought with varying outcomes, though the place and date of two of these battles have not been recorded. In Berkshire, a successful skirmish at the Battle of Englefield on 31 December 870 was followed by a severe defeat at the siege and Battle of Reading on 5 January 871; then, four days later, Alfred won a brilliant victory at the Battle of Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs, possibly near Compton or Aldworth. Alfred is particularly credited with the success of this latter battle. However, later that month, on 22 January, the English were defeated at Basing and, on the 22 March at the Battle of Merton (perhaps Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset), in which Aethelred was killed. The two unidentified battles may also have occurred in between.

Early struggles, defeat and flight:

Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex in April 871 and the burden of its defence, despite the fact that Aethelred left two under-age sons, Aethelhelm and Aethelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Aethelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Aethelwulf in his will had left jointly to his sons. The deceased’s sons would receive only whatever property and riches their father had settled upon them and whatever additional lands their uncle had acquired. The unstated premise was that the surviving brother would be king. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the youth of his nephews, Alfred’s succession probably went uncontested. Tensions between Alfred and his nephews, however, would arise later in his reign.While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the English in his absence at an unnamed spot, and then again in his presence at Wilton in May. The defeat at Wilton smashed any remaining hope that Alfred could drive the invaders from his kingdom. He was forced, instead, to ‘make peace’ with them.
Restoration of London, King of the English

Plaque in the City of London noting the restoration of the Roman walled city by Alfred
For the next few years there was peace, the Danes being preoccupied in Francia. A raid on Kent in 884 or 885 close to Plucks Gutter, though successfully repelled, encouraged the East Anglian Danes to rise up. The measures taken by Alfred to repress this uprising culminated in the taking (or more probably, retaking) of London in 886. Alfred apparently regarded this as a turning point in his reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that “all of the English people (all Angelcyn) not subject to the Danes submitted themselves to King Alfred.”[4] Asser added that “Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons, restored the city of London splendidly … and made it habitable once more.”[11] Alfred’s “restoration” entailed reoccupying and refurbishing the nearly deserted Roman walled city, building quays along the Thames, and laying a new city street plan.[12] It is probably at this point that Alfred assumed the new royal style ‘King of the Anglo-Saxons.’


Posted in Beowulf on January 13, 2010 by Old English Period

 Short summary of Beowulf

Hrotgar, King of the Danes, and descendant of the famous Danish king Scyld, has built a great Hall, Heorot. For 12 years the monster Grendel has disturbed the peace of the hall by killing and eating some of the king’s warriors every night. Hrotgar calls in the help of Beowulf, a Swedish hero and nephew of Hygelac, King of the Geats.

Beowulf fights Grendel with his hands, since no weapon can pierce the monster’s skin and because Grendel does not use any weapons either, so God will have to decide who should win. In their struggle Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm and the monster flees mortally wounded.

The next day the monster’s defeat is celebrated with a great feast  held in Heorot. During the night when everyone is asleep Grendel’s mother, who is not only more terrifying than her son, but is also a witch, comes to the hall and takes some more of Hrotgar’s people.

Once again Beowulf is send to deal with the threat. The next day he sets out to track down the “Sea Wolf” (Grendel’s mother) and kills her in her lair on the bottom of a lake connected to the sea. Another feast is held and Beowulf receives many gifts and commendations for his bravery. he returns to Sweden with an even greater reputation.

In several wars between the Geats, the Frisians, the Merovingians and the Franks (other Germanic tribes) Hygelac and his sons are killed so Beowulf becomes King of the Geats and rules for 50 years until a fire-breathing dragon attacks his kingdom.

By now Beowulf is a very old man but since none of his followers dare to take on the dragon, he once again has to face a terrible trait without support of his followers who don’t dare to face the serpent. Shamed by the old king’s courage Wiglaf, his cousin, decides to help. Although they manage to kill the dragon, Beowulf is mortally wounded. Before he dies Beowulf makes Wiglaf his heir since he was the only one brave enough to come to his aid.

The end of the poem describes Beowulf’s magnificent funeral.

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

Beowulf – Beowulf is a Geatish hero who fought the monsters Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a fire-breathing dragon. This reveals him to be the strongest and greatest warrior around. In his youth he is the best warrior around and in his old age, he proves to be a good and wise ruler.

King Hrothgar – He is the king of the Danes. Hrothgar enjoys military success until Grendel attacks his realm. The wise ruler Hrothgar represents a young and strong warrior, named Beowulf. Beowulf sees Hrothgar as a farther and comes to help.

Grendel – a monster from Cain who looks more or less like a human, but than bigger Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s warriors, but is later killed by Beowulf.

Grendel’s mother – An unnamed swamp-monster, Grendel’s mother looks nothing like a human. She attacks the king’s realm, because she wants vengeance – a human motivation.

The dragon – An ancient, powerful dragon, the dragon guards a number of treasures in a hidden mound. Beowulf’s fight with the dragon is in the third and final part of the epic.

Other Danes

Shield Sheafson – the legendary king from whom Hrothgar is descended, Shield Sheafson is the mythical founder of a long line of Danish rulers

Beow – Beow is the son of Shield Sheafson and father of Halfdane. The narrator of Beowulf represents Beow as a gift from god to people in need of a leader.

Halfdane – father of Hrothgar, Heorogar, Halga and an unnamed daughter who married the king of the Swedes. Halfdane took over the throne from Beow.

Unferth – A Danish warrior who is jealous of Beowulf, Unferth is unwilling to fight Grendel, thus proving that Beowulf is a better warrior than him.

Hrothulf – nephew of Hrothgar, Hrothulf betrays his cousin, Hrethic, the rightful heir to the Danish throne.

Other Geats

Wiglaf – the youngest family member of Beowulf. Wiglaf helps Beowulf in the fight against the dragon while all other warriors are freighted. Wiglaf proves himself to Beowulf to be a good heir of the throne.

– Geert Verhees –