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PREFACE TO THE SAXON CHRONICLE.
§ 1. THIS first portion of the second volume contains two historical documents of considerable value, the Saxon Chronicle and the Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, with its Continuation and Appendices; upon each of which it is necessary for us to make a few observations.
§ 2. Inferior, perhaps, in general importance to the Ecclesiastical History of the Venerable Beda, yet possessing an interest which is in some respects superior to that document, is the Saxon Chronicle. Each of these two great authorities has its own distinct value. The former claims to itself a more remote antiquity; it exhibits a regular continuity of narrative, and a systematic attempt to present a connected history of the introduction of Christianity into England, and its progress up to the time at which its author wrote-none of which characteristics belong to the Saxon Chronicle. Its authorship, too, is an undisputed fact. We know when, where, and by whom it was written; and we can trace with remarkable precision the materials out of which Beda constructed his narrative. And it has been transmitted to us in a degree of completeness and purity which enables us to decide that we have it nearly as it was left by its venerable author.
§3. But with the Saxon Chronicle the case is widely different. We are left in some uncertainty as to almost every question connected with its date, its origin, its progress, and its component parts; and the consequence naturally is, that its value is hereby seriously affected. We very rarely can affirm that the statements which it makes are those of a contemporary; we can only say that such is probably the case. It has come down to us through various MSS., each of which is in some degree independent of the other; while all of them exhibit sufficient uniformity of structure and language to lead to the conviction that they must have proceeded from a common original. We have to regret that this prototype of the Saxon Chronicle has not reached us; for, could it be recovered, the results to be derived from its examination would be most important. In its absence, however, we must endeavour to satisfy ourselves by throwing together the few inferences which may be gleaned from an inquiry into the condition of the existing copiesciting them by the designations which they respectively bear in the notes and various readings to the present edition.
§4. A. In many respects this is one of the most important copies which has come down to our times. It is preserved in the
Library of Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, having formed a portion of the valuable collections of Archbishop Parker which he presented to that society. It is now numbered clxxiii. It is written upon vellum, in double columns, as far as A.D. 417, at folio 9; but after that date, in a single column. It extends from the time of Julius Cæsar to the year 1070. The original handwriting ends with the year 891; and from that point onwards the entries have been made from time to time by a variety of scribes, specimens of whose writing may be seen in plates xxiii. and xxiv. of Petrie and Hardy's Monumenta Historica. From the fact of the first portion of this copy exhibiting some philological peculiarities which indicate a modified Anglian dialect, we may assume that it had its origin in the kingdom of Mercia, although, at the same time, its earlier entries relate chiefly to incidents which have no exclusive connexion with that kingdom. An alteration in the range of its information takes place about A.D. 806, after which date it becomes much more general. Many passages have been inserted from a copy corresponding with MS. E, and in several places it agrees closely with that marked G. Its uniformity with C in some points is also worthy of notice.
§ 5. B. The Cottonian MS., Tiberius A. vi., in small folio. It suffered slightly in the disastrous fire of October, 1731. Apparently it represents a copy which was compiled in the year 977, to which period it extends from the incarnation of our Lord. It is written in one uniform hand, which may be referred to about the latter half of the tenth century, and of which a specimen is given in Petrie and Hardy's volume, plate xxii. It is faulty (or, perhaps, imperfect), by frequently omitting dates at the beginning of its narrative of the respective years to which they refer. As far as the year 918 it agrees very closely with MS. G, as represented by Whelock's edition; from that point to 934 there is a considerable variation between these two texts; but the similarity is again perceptible from 934 to 977, where B ends. It has many points of correspondence with MS. C, and these so minute as to argue either a common origin, or that one has been constructed upon, or at least influenced by, the other. It is interesting as embodying what appears to have been an independent Mercian Chronicle, having for its object a narrative of the exploits of the lady Aethelfled.
§ 6. C. This copy is likewise one of the Cottonian MSS., being distinguished by the press-mark, Tiberius B. i. Before it became the property of Sir Robert Cotton it belonged to Bowyer, the Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London. Like its predecessors, it is written upon vellum, in folio. It extends from the invasion of Julius Cæsar to A.D. 1066, the original scribe carrying it on from the beginning to 1047. Various hands have been employed upon it from that point to its conclusion. A fac simile. of the writing may be seen in Petrie and Hardy, plate xxi. There is a marked degree of similarity between this copy and B, as far as the latter extends (that is, to A.D. 977), with this difference, however, that in the present copy the chronology is complete; after this date it coincides with D, E, and F, to the end of the year 1056, from
which point to 1065 it is blank. It ends with a narrative of the exploits of the Danish soldier at Stamford bridge, in 1066; but this portion has been added by a hand of the twelfth century.
§ 7. D. The Cottonian MS., Tiberius B. iv., a folio volume, written upon vellum, extending from the Incarnation of our Lord to the year 1079. The original hand carries the narrative on to 1016, after which several scribes have been occupied upon its continuation. A specimen of the writing of the earlier portion of this copy is given by Petrie and Hardy, in plate xx. of the work already cited. Sometimes (though neither so frequently nor so decidedly as E) it gives indications of a northern influence, touching upon the affairs of Northumbria or Mercia, respecting which A, B, and C are either silent or comparatively uninformed, and this chiefly about the middle of the tenth century. In one place the writer speaks of himself as an inhabitant of the earldom of earl Siward, which he calls "this north end," (A.D. 1052;) now we know that Siward obtained possession of the earldom of Northumbria, extending from the Humber to the Tweed.' Its compiler appears to have had before him two texts, of which the chronology did not exactly correspond; and in order to remove the difficulty thus occasioned, he has, in several instances, introduced the same entry under two different years. The continuation, after 1016, bears internal evidence of being, in some places, the work of a contemporary. Thus, in the year 1036, the annalist does not venture to speak openly of earl Godwine and his party, but contents himself with designating them as "those persons who have much power in the land." It is also worthy of notice that during this period the year commences with Easter, contrary to the usual mode of Anglo-Saxon reckoning; thereby strengthening the presumption that we have here the narrative of a contemporary writer.
§ 8. E. The Bodleian MS. 636 (formerly known as E. 80, and as such quoted by Ingram), written upon vellum, in quarto, extends from the Incarnation of our Lord to 1154. As far as A.D. 476 it is written in double columns, afterwards in single. It appears to have been transcribed as far as 1122 by a contemporary scribe, from which date to the end various hands are perceptible. The latter portion is much defaced, and at least one leaf, possibly more, is lost at the end. Between the years 891 and 975 its information is very scanty; several years being blank. Its connexion with copies resembling A, C, D, and F can be traced. It frequently agrees
with D in cases where these two texts deviate from F. It exhibits proofs of a Northumbrian origin, speaking of "our royal families," (A.D. 449,) as distinguished from "those of the South-humbrians;" inserting passages which relate to the history of that kingdom and the pedigree of its sovereigns, and omitting events which have reference to Mercia and Wessex, although introduced into other copies. It is open to inquiry, however, how far these passages are to be accepted as of primary authority.
'Simeon Dunelm. ap. Petrie and Hardy, p. 687. Dugd. Baron. i. 4.
§ 9. This text of the Chronicle, as we now have it, was reduced to its present shape by the monks of Peterborough, to whom we are indebted for the local information given, A.D. 665, 657, 675, 686, 777, 852, 963, &c. In the latter portion of this manuscript we find a succession of proofs indicating contemporaneous authorship. In one place an expression points to Edward the Confessor as being on the throne when it was penned (A.D. 1041). In another the author gives a minute and graphic description of William the Conqueror from personal observation (A.D. 1087). A pious ejaculation for the welfare of Ernost, bishop of Rochester, upon his accession to that dignity in 1114, shows that the passage in which it occurs must probably have been written at the time, certainly before his death in 1124. A sentence which may be seen at the end of the year 1127, proves that the writer when he penned it was ignorant of the issue of a transaction, which however he presently enters, as concluded in 1128. This portion of the Chronicle bears indisputable marks of a contemporary hand on every page; the hopes and fears, affections and antipathies of the writer being all distinctly recorded. It was not reduced to its present form, however, until after the death of king Stephen, whose reign is mentioned as having extended to nineteen years (A.D. 1137). Again, abbot Martin is spoken of as dead when the narrative assumed its present form, an event which we know did not occur until A.D. 1155.1 The writer or writers, whoever they were, seem to have been well informed upon the transactions of the period, and at the same time cautious in introducing statements, of the veracity of which they had not reasonable evidence. In one place (A.D. 1106) they say, speaking of some strange appearances in the sky, "But we do not write more fully about it, because we saw it not ourselves." Upon another occasion they express themselves with a degree of independence of thought upon the delicate subject of the venality of the court of Rome, which shows them to have been men who would not scruple honestly to express their convictions. Upon the whole, we may perhaps consider this manuscript as the most valuable copy of the Saxon Chronicle.
§ 10. F. The Cottonian MS., Domitian A. vii., written in quarto or octavo, upon vellum, in a continuous hand of the latter end of the eleventh, or beginning of the twelfth century, and extending from the Incarnation of our Lord to 1056. It is much mutilated towards the end, and concludes abruptly: in its complete state it probably extended considerably further. It frequently betrays its Kentish origin, and appears to have belonged to Christ Church, Canterbury, within the walls of which it was probably compiled. (See A.D. 694, 796, 797, 995.) Some of these Kentish additions occur in the margin of the manuscript, having been added after the period of its first transcription. (See A.D. 870.) Its correspondence with D and E is frequent and remarkable. This uniformity holds good more particularly up to 891, from which date to 975 the entries are few and unimportant. It also
1 See Chron. Petroburgense, p. 2; ed. Camden Society: and another Chronicle bearing the same title, edited by Dr. Giles, p. 97.