chapter  9
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Anonymous, early Christian Era to 1154)
Pages 5

In England the chronicle emerged as a fusion of annals (Latin annus, or year) drawn from several monasteries. An annal records selected facts about events and persons in a succession of years without providing narrative connections or causal relations. Instead there is simply a bare record of facts jotted down from year to year pretty much according to a scribe’s discretion and judgment, overseen no doubt by his superior. A monastery abbot was obliged at Easter to build a calendar for the coming year to note Sundays, feast days, saint’s days, and other religious observances. In the margins or in spaces left blank a scribe recorded events and might include other material like popular songs, folklore, and phenomena of nature. The oldest surviving annals

come from the sixth-century monastery at Lindisfarne, a tidal island opposite Northumberland in north east England. The practice of keeping annals spread to other English monasteries

and was carried by missionaries to the European continent in the seventh century. In the eighth century, Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, ordered monasteries to keep annals as part of his program to encourage learning and culture. In time, such brief, atomistic notices accumulated and were combined into narrow but recognizable chronicles, which are more elaborate historical records retaining a chronology of events but with a semblance of continuity and style. In England, enlightened Alfred the Great (871-91) also encouraged learning and specifically promoted the use of English instead of Latin, but went a step further. He had a chronicle compiled from available monastic annals, which were then distributed to monasteries throughout his domain, where they were expanded, amended, and updated. As a collection of annals stitched into continuity, the resulting

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle exists in nine handwritten manuscripts containing events from early Christian times to 1154 (200 pages plus notes in the Whitelock edition). Year one records two events: “Octavian reigned 66 years and in the 52nd year of his reign Christ was born” (6). Year 1154 ends with installation of an abbot:

“That same day that Abbot Martin of Petersborough was to have gone there [London], he fell ill, and died on 2 January, and the monks within the day chose another from among themselves, whose name is William of Walterville, a good cleric and a good man, and well loved by the king and by all good men … and soon the abbot-elect … went shortly to Lincoln and was there consecrated abbot before he came home, and was then received with great ceremony at Peterborough with a great procession … and has now made a fine beginning, Christ grant him to end thus.”