The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals concerning different events in the British Isles until 1154 AD. The annals go sporadically back to the invasion of Britannia by Julius Caesar (which the Chronicle dates to 60 BC), but they only become substantial around the second half of the 5th century AD. Most of the versions of the Chronicle are written in Old or Middle English, although some are in Latin or bilingually Latin and English.
The Chronicle as a Historic Source
The Chronicle is significant for its treatment of the history of the British Isles between the time of the Romans and the Norman Conquest. Without the Chronicle and the Ecclesiastical History by Bede, almost nothing would be known about this period beyond what can be found through archeology. Being one of the important works of literature from this period, the Chronicle is also an essential source for the early development of the English language.
As the earliest version of the Chronicle only dates to the late ninth century at the earliest, it is not a primary source for events before that time, and must be treated with some care. It is not know which earlier sources, if any, the authors have drawn upon for information about the preceding centuries.
For the later part of the Chronicle, the entries are often more or less contemporary. However, as with any source, the biases of the authors need to be considered. In particular, some versions of the Chronicle display quite strong clerical or regional biases, either through their description of certain events or through omission of important events. However, the fact that the entries from different versions can often be compared adds considerably to the usefulness of the Chronicle as a source for the events.
Versions of the Chronicle
Rather than being a single work, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle actually consists of a number of different version. Seven versions and two fragments have survived, and several more are known to have existed. These versions are similar in content for long stretches, but also differ in many ways. Some versions include entries that are missing in others, or describe the same event in lesser or greater detail than other versions. The overall impression is one of a collection of different chronicles. Later versions have been copied from earlier ones at some point, then continued with local events. The earliest version, called 'A' or the 'Parker MS.', dates back to the late ninth or very early tenth century.
Different versions have also formed the basis for other medieval historical works that are not properly considered part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, such as the works of Florence of Worcester or William of Malmesbury.
- Plummer, Charles & John Earle (eds.): Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel (Oxford, 1892-99)
- Thorpe, Benjamin (ed.): The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London, 1861)
- Whitelock, Dorothy, et al. (eds.): The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Revised Translation (New Jersey, 1961)