The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) is a set of annals initially compiled at the court of Alfred the Great in the late ninth century. This 'common stock' was continued and expanded at various times and places, up to 1154. Nine different versions of the text ("recensions") survive, with complex inter-relationships. It seems likely that the core text (the 'A' recension up to 891) was disseminated from the court of King Alfred as a way to control the historical record, almost certainly modelled on the 'Royal Frankish Annals' produced at the court of Charlemagne a century before. It is possible that, during the earlier tenth century, updates to the ASC were issued by the court at royal assemblies, given similarities in the phrasing from otherwise independent manuscripts. The 'common stock' of the ASC was also used extensively by Asser in his 'Life of King Alfred', in the 'Chronicle of Aethelweard' (which translated ASC into Latin in the mid-tenth century) and the 'Annals of St Neots'.
Despite the name, the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" is not a single 'chronicle'. When reading the ASC, each set of continuations (a "recension") needs to be treated as a distinct text - editions which combine or reconcile them into a single set of annals should be avoided.
Useful information on the ASC can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_Chronicle. Untranslated texts of some of the ASC recensions can be found at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_Chronicle.
A number of manuscripts containing recensions of the ASC survive:
- A-Prime The Parker Chronicle (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173)
- A Cottonian Fragment (British Museum, Cotton MS. Otho B xi, 2)
- B The Abingdon Chronicle I (British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius A vi.)
- C The Abingdon Chronicle II (British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius B i.)
- D The Worcester Chronicle (British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius B iv.)
- E The Laud (or "Peterborough") Chronicle (Bodleian, MS. Laud 636) - translated at https://classesv2.yale.edu/access/content/user/haw6/Vikings/AS%20Chronicle%20Peterborough%20MS.html
- F The Bilingual Canterbury Epitome (British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A viii.) NOTE: Entries in English and Latin.
- H Cottonian Fragment (British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A ix.)
- I An Easter Table Chronicle (British Museum, Cotton MS. Caligula A xv.)
A: The Winchester (or Parker) Chronicle is the oldest manuscript of the Chronicle that survives. It was begun at Old Minster, Winchester, towards the end of Alfred's reign. The manuscript begins with a genealogy of Alfred, and the first chronicle entry is for the year 60 BC. The main scribe's hand is dateable to the late 9th or very early 10th century; his entries cease in late 891, and the following entries were made at intervals throughout the 10th century by several scribes. The eighth scribe wrote the annals for the years 925–955, and was clearly at Winchester when he wrote them since he adds some material related to events there; he also uses ceaster, or "city", to mean Winchester. The manuscript becomes independent of the other recensions after the entry for 975. The manuscript, which also had a copy of the Laws of Alfred and Ine bound in after the entry for 924, was transferred to Canterbury some time in the early 11th century, where additional entries were made, apparently taken from a version of the manuscript from which [E] descends. The last entry in the vernacular is for 1070. After this comes the Latin Acta Lanfranci, which covers church events from 1070–1093, and then a list of popes and the Archbishops of Canterbury to whom they sent the pallium.
B: The Abingdon Chronicle I was written by a single scribe in the second half of the 10th century. It begins with an entry for 60 BC and ends with the entry for 977. A manuscript that is now separate (British Library MS. Cotton Tiberius Aiii, f. 178) was originally the introduction to this chronicle; it contains a genealogy, as does A, but extends it to the late 10th century. B was at Abingdon in the mid-11th century, because it was used in the composition of C. Shortly after this it went to Canterbury, where interpolations and corrections were made. As with A, it ends with a list of popes and the archbishops of Canterbury to whom they sent the pallium.
C: The Abingdon Chronicle II includes additional material from local annals at Abingdon, where it was composed. The copy of the chronicle begins with 60 BC; the first scribe copied up to the entry for 490, and a second scribe took over up to the entry for 1048. B and C are identical between 491 and 652, but differences thereafter make it clear that the second scribe was also using another copy of the Chronicle. This scribe also inserted, after the annal for 915, the "Mercian Register", which covers the years 902–924, and which focuses on Æthelflæd. The manuscript continues to 1066 and stops in the middle of the description of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. In the 12th century a few lines were added to complete the account.
D: The Worcester Chronicle appears to have been written in the middle of the 11th century. After 1033 it includes some records from Worcester, so it is generally thought to have been composed there. The text includes material from Bede's Ecclesiastical History and from a set of 8th-century Northumbrian annals. D contains more information than other manuscripts on northern and Scottish affairs. This may reflect the fact that bishops of Worcester were successively promoted also to hold the archbishopric of York for almost a century (972-1061). By the 16th century, parts of the manuscript were lost; eighteen pages were inserted containing substitute entries from other sources, including A, B, C and E.
E The Peterborough Chronicle was written shortly after 1116, when a fire destroyed most of the monastic buildings at Peterborough. Presumably their copy of ASC was lost, since a fresh copy was made, apparently copied from a Kentish version, most likely to have been from Canterbury. The manuscript was written at one time and by a single scribe, down to the annal for 1121. The scribe added material relating to Peterborough Abbey which is not in other versions. The Canterbury original which he copied was similar, but not identical, to D: the "Mercian Register" does not appear, and a poem about the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, which appears in most of the other surviving copies of the Chronicle, is not recorded. The same scribe then continued the annals through to 1131; these entries were made at intervals, and thus are presumably contemporary records. Finally, a second scribe, in 1154, wrote an account of the years 1132–1154; but his dating is known to be unreliable. This last entry is in Middle English, rather than Old English.
F: The Canterbury Bilingual Epitome was written at Christ Church, Canterbury c.1100, 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, like E, 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.
A2/G/W Copy of the Winchester Chronicle, an early eleventh-century copy of A, made at Winchester, added to a 10th-century copy of an Old English translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History. The last annal copied was 1001, so the copy was made no earlier than that; an episcopal list appended to A2 suggests that the copy was made by 1013. manuscript was almost completely destroyed in the 1731 fire which devastated the Cottonian library. A transcript had been made by Laurence Nowell, a 16th-century antiquary, which was used by Abraham Wheelocke in an edition of the Chronicle printed in 1643; as a result, it is also sometimes known as W, after Wheelocke.
H: The Cottonian Fragment consists of a single leaf, containing annals for 1113 and 1114. In the entry for 1113 it includes the phrase "he came to Winchester"; hence it is thought likely that the manuscript was written at Winchester. There is not enough of this manuscript for reliable relationships to other manuscripts to be established.
I: Easter Table Chronicle: A list of Chronicle entries accompanies a table of years in a badly burned manuscript containing miscellaneous notes on charms, the calculation of dates for church services, and annals pertaining to Christ Church, Canterbury. Most of the Chronicle's entries pertain to Christ Church, Canterbury. Until 1109 (the death of Anselm of Canterbury) they are in English; all but one of the following entries are in Latin. Part of I was written by a scribe soon after 1073, but after 1085 the annals are in various contemporary hands. At one point this manuscript was at St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury.
Asser's "Life" of Alfred: the Welsh scholar Asser came to the court of Alfred the Great from St David's, and was subsequently made bishop of Sherborne. His "Life" is a highly flattering biography of his patron which presents a number of questionable episodes in a deliberately (if sometimes improbably) favourable light.
The "Chronicle" of Æthelweard: this is a version of the Chronicle translated into Latin in the later tenth century by Ealdorman Æthelweard for abbess Matilda of Essen, granddaughter of an Anglo-Saxon princess descended from Alfred.
The Annals of St Neots: a Latin chronicle compiled at Bury St Edmunds c.1120-40. It draws on much of the material in the ASC, but adds a distinctively East Anglian flavour and takes a strong interest in Frankish affairs.
The ASC is translated in 'English Historical Documents':
- English Historical Documents I, c.500-1042, D. Whitelock (ed and trans) (London, 1955, second ed. 1979, reprinted 1999).
- English Historical Documents II, c.1042-1189, D.C. Douglas and G.W. Greenaway (ed and trans) (London, 1953)
Untranslated texts of some of the ASC recensions can be found at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_Chronicle.
When reading the ASC, each set of continuations (a "recension") needs to be treated as a distinct text - editions which combine or reconcile them into a single set of annals should be avoided.