The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

In the late 800’s, Alfred the Great ordered the making of a history, or Chronicle, of England and the English. The history was back-dated to Roman times, and was maintained for over two hundred years after Alfred’s death in 899 CE until 1154.

It isn’t a single document but is made up form a number of different copies which were written at Winchester, Canterbury, Peterborough, Abingdon and Worcester, and were all based on a common core which is now lost. Each manuscript has some extra information added to this core text and each covers a different range of years depending on what has survived.

It’s a major source for historians of the Anglo-Saxon period, and was written in ‘Old English’, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, from which modern English is derived. Two extracts are given below as examples.

Britain and the coming of the English
Image of a manuscript written in Old English.

Figure 1: Manuscript design © MW Love 2010

This example has been adapted and abridged from the opening entry of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle followed by part of the entry for the year 449 AD. Much of the early sections of the Chronicle, before Alfred’s time, were copied form Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”.

brittene igland is ehta hund mila lang and twa hund brad. And her sind on þis iglande fif geþeode: englisc and brittisc and wilsc and scyttisc and pyhtisc and boc leden. erest weron bugend þises landes brittes.

of iotum comon cantwara and wihtwara. of eald seaxum coman east seaxa and suð sexa and west sexa. of angle comon est angla, middel angla, mearca and ealle norðhymbra. heora heretogan  wæron twegen gebroðra: hengest and horsa.

The island of Britain is eight hundred miles long and two hundred broad. And there are on this island five languages: English and British and Welsh* and Scottish and Pictish and book-Latin. First inhabiting this land were Britons.

From Jutes came Kent-people and Wight-people. From old Saxony came east-Saxons and south-Saxons and west-Saxons. From Angle** came east Angles, middle Angles, Mercians and all Northumbrians. Their leaders were Two brothers: Hengest and Horsa.

Part of the entry for 1066 from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
image of a manuscript written in old english

Figure 2: Manuscript design © MW Love 2010

Our second example from the entry for 1066 describes the Battle of Hastings. At the time the English Church believed that the defeat was God’s punishment for the sins of the people.

Þa com Wyllelm eorl of Normandige into Pefnesea on Sancte Michæles mæsseæfen, and sona þær hi fere wæron, worhton castel æt Hæstingaport. Þis wearþ þa Harolde cynge gecydd, and he gaderade þa mycelne here, and com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran, and Wyllelm him com ongean on unwær, ær þis folc gefylced wære. ac se kyng þeah him swiðe heardlice wiþ feaht mid þam mannum þe him gelæsten woldon, and þær wearð micel wæl geslægen on ægðre healfe. þær wearð ofslægen Harold kyng, and Leofwine eorl his broðor and Gyrð eorl his broðor and fela godra manna, and þa  Frenciscan ahton wælstowe geweald, eallswa heom God uðe for folces synnon.

Then came William earl of Normandy into Pevensey on Michaelmas eve, and as soon as they were prepared they built a castle at Hastings. This was then made known to King Harold, and he then gathered a great army and came against him at the ancient apple-tree, and William came at him unawares, before his force was deployed. But the king still fought back hard with the men who would stay with him, and there were many battle-losses on both sides. There King Harold was slain, and earl Leofwine his brother, earl Gyrth his brother, and many good men, and the French held the battlefield, as God granted them for the people’s sins.