FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY
THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE
In ninth century Wessex, a chronicle was compiled – written in Old English, rather than Latin – perhaps at the instigation of King Alfred the Great (871–899).* It drew together material derived from a diverse collection of earlier sources, and was expanded with contemporary material. This, no longer extant, chronicle then underwent an evolutionary process, whereby copies were distributed, amended and extended (often with local material), recopied and redistributed. The surviving manuscripts, each identified by a letter of the alphabet, comprise the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
A Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 173
This is the oldest surviving manuscript. The copy was probably originally produced in 891, where the first hand finishes, and was then continued by various writers. It was evidently written at the Old Minster, Winchester (it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Winchester Manuscript’), to the end of the entry for 1001. In the 11th century it was taken to Christ Church, Canterbury,* where a few additions and various alterations and interpolations were made. The chronicle proper ends with the annal for 1070, but a Latin extension, dealing with church events, continues to 1093. (This extension is known as the ‘Acta Lanfranci’ – after Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, 1070–89). Having once been owned by Matthew Parker (archbishop of Canterbury, 1559–75), Manuscript A is occasionally called the ‘Parker Chronicle’
B London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A vi
A lost chronicle similar to Manuscript A, but including (as a block after 915) a set of annals (902–924) known as the ‘Mercian Register’, was copied by a single scribe, probably at Abingdon, to form Manuscript B. Manuscript B ends at 977. Curiously, after 652 the annals are usually not dated. A list of popes was added to both Manuscript A and Manuscript B, about 1100, by the same scribe – so Manuscript B must have made the journey to Canterbury by that time.
C London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B i
Manuscript C is an 11th century copy of the same, non extant, manuscript used as a source for Manuscript B (it is possible that the section 491–652 was actually copied from Manuscript B), but continued to 1066. The manuscript ends, mutilated, during its description of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. A later (12th century) scribe added a supplementary page, and completed the description. Manuscripts B and C are sometimes referred to as the ‘Abingdon Manuscripts’.
D London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B iv
Apparently written in the second half of the 11th century and early-12th century, Manuscript D is based on a northern development of the original chronicle, most likely made at York, which had been expanded with material from Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’ and other northern sources. The inclusion of records concerning Worcester, from 1033, suggest Manuscript D was produced there (it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Worcester Manuscript’). An attempt (not entirely successful) has been made to amalgamate the ‘Mercian Register’ with other entries. The manuscript ends imperfectly, the bottom half of the folio being cut away, during the annal 1079. It seems, however, that very little has been lost, since the other side of the folio remained blank until a late-12th century hand made an addition at the top. Though this additional entry is dated 1080 (mlxxx), it actually applies to 1130 (mcxxx). The section covering the years 190–692 is also missing.
E Oxford, Bodleian MS Laud 636
Around the mid-11th century, a chronicle, similar to Manuscript D's northern ancestor, apparently found its way to St Augustine's, Canterbury, where it was continued (it stopped being a northern version about 1031). Manuscript E was copied from this, at Peterborough.* It was written en bloc to 1121 – during the copying process, several Peterborough related insertions were made. The chronicle was continued to 1154 – the furthest of any version. Manuscript E, sometimes referred to as the ‘Peterborough Manuscript’, is also, occasionally, called the ‘Laud Chronicle’ – having once been owned by William Laud (archbishop of Canterbury, 1633–45).
F London, British Library MS Cotton Domitian A viii
Manuscript F is an abridgment of the same chronicle from which Manuscript E was originally copied, with some additional entries from Manuscript A. It was written at Christ Church, Canterbury, probably during the first decade of the 12th century, but in both Old English and Latin. It ends during the entry for 1058. Incidentally, the scribe responsible for Manuscript F was one of the scribes who made modifications to Manuscript A.
G London, British Library MS Cotton Otho B xi
Almost completely destroyed by fire in 1731, Manuscript G was a copy of Manuscript A, made, probably at Winchester, before Manuscript A was modified at Canterbury. Its last annal was for 1001. The contents of Manuscript G are known from a 16th century transcript by Laurence Nowell and from Abraham Wheloc's edition (1644). Manuscript G may also be referred to as A² or W (after Wheloc).
There is also a fragment – actually a single leaf – which covers 1113 and 1114, but independently from Manuscript E, and this is known as Manuscript H (London, British Library MS Cotton Domitian A ix). Additionally, a set of terse historical margin notes, spanning the period 925–1268, on an Easter-table (London, British Library MS Cotton Caligula A xv), is sometimes designated as Manuscript I. (The notes, which occur at irregular time intervals, are written in Old English until 1109, and then, with the exception of one entry, for 1130, are in Latin.)
Geffrei Gaimar ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’ translated by Sir T.D. Hardy and C.T. Martin
Geffrei Gaimar notes that:
“He [Alfred] caused to be written a book in English
Of adventures, and of laws;
And of battles in the land,
And of kings who made war.”  (Lines 3451–3454)
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’ (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, in about 1136–37. The earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, it is based on a now lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets).
Three likely opportunities for the manuscript's journey to Canterbury are:
1. It was taken by Ælfheah, bishop of Winchester, when he became archbishop of Canterbury in 1006.
2. It was sent to repair losses suffered by the Christ Church library during the Viking sack of Canterbury in 1011.
3. It was sent to repair losses suffered by the Christ Church library in the fire of 1067.
A fire destroyed most of the monastery at Peterborough in 1116. It seems reasonable to suppose that Manuscript E was produced to replace material lost in the fire.