Æthelweard, a descendant of the West Saxon king Æthelred (older brother and predecessor of Alfred the Great), wrote, round about the year 980, in Latin, a chronicle to educate his “sweet cousin Matilda”, abbess of Essen (she was a descendant of Alfred the Great) in the history of the English and their family’s place in it. This chronicler Æthelweard is confidently identified as the ealdorman of the same name who features in the witness-lists of charters from the mid-970s until 998. From 993 he is senior ealdorman (appearing first in the lists), and in a charter of 997 (S891) he is titled ‘ealdorman of the Western Provinces’ (Occidentalium Prouinciarum dux). Presumably he died in or soon after 998.[*]
Æthelweard’s Chronicon, which ends with the year 975, is mainly a translation into Latin of material sourced from a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which has not itself survived – coverage of the years 893 to 946 being independent of the existing manuscripts 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 continuous narrative which is divided into four books. Unfortunately, his peculiar grammar and ostentatious style tends to obscure his meaning. William of Malmesbury comments:
… it is better to be silent about Elwardus [i.e. Æthelweard], a distinguished and out-standing man, who attempted to explain those chronicles in Latin, and whose purpose would have my approval, if his language did not disgust me.Gesta Regum Anglorum Book I Preface
Later, William hopes that, in his own undertaking, Devine favour will carry him “past the cliffs of rugged language, against which Elwardus miserably dashed, as he hunted resounding and recondite words”.
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 pretensions.
All translations by A. Campbell