FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY
ÆTHELWEARD (d.c.998), ealdorman of the Western Shires, and a descendant of the West Saxon king Æthelred (older brother and predecessor of Alfred the Great), wrote his ‘Chronicon’ for his “beloved cousin Matilda”, abbess of Essen (she was a descendant of Alfred the Great), round about the year 980. It is, in effect, a translation into Latin of a now lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, though the, increasingly meagre, coverage of the years 893 to 975 (at which point the work, in the form it has survived, ends) is independent of the ‘Chronicle’.
Æthelweard does not adopt the annalistic format of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Instead, he strings events together, mentioning the number of years that have elapsed between consecutive events, to produce a coherent narrative which is divided into four books. Unfortunately, his faulty grammar and pretentious style tends to obscure his meaning. William of Malmesbury comments:
“... of Æthelweard [Elwardus], a noble and illustrious character, who attempted to arrange these chronicles in Latin, and whose intention I could applaud if his language did not disgust me, it were better to be silent.”
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ Book I Preface (translation by John Sharpe, revised by Joseph Stevenson)
Sadly, only a few scorched leaves of the only known manuscript (apparently dating from the early-11th century) of the ‘Chronicon’ survived the fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton in 1731. Fortuitously, in 1596, Henry Savile had produced a printed edition. As it exists, however, the text is often corrupt, exacerbating the problems caused by Æthelweard's literary shortcomings.