Page images

death is recorded, after a considerable chasm, in the year 1006. After this period the notices of events and transactions are very scanty and defective. The royal donation of the haven of Sandwich to Christ Church, Canterbury, is placed to the year 1031, but evidently written after the conquest, and left unfinished. The Saxon part ends in the year 1070, with the words, bletsungan underfeng; after describing at full length the dispute between the archbishops cf Canterbury and York."*


II. The second copy of the Saxon Chronicle is in the British Museum. [MS. COTTON, TIBERIUS A. vi.] It is "written in the same hand with much neatness and accuracy, from the beginning to the end," and "is of very high authority and antiquity. It was probably written c. 977, where it terminates. The hand-writing resembles that ascribed to St. Dunstan. It narrowly escaped destruction in the fire at Westminster, previous to its removal to its present place of custody, being one of Sir R. Cotton's MSS., formerly belonging to the monastery of St. Augustine's, Canterbury."†

III. A third MS. is also in the British Museum. [Cott. Tib. B. i.]

"This MS., though frequently quoted by Somner in his Dictionary under the title of Chronica Abbendoniæ,' or the Abingdon Chronicle, and said to have been transcribed by him, seems not to have been known to Gibson, though noticed by Nicolson within a few years after the appearance of his edition. It contains many important additions to the former Chronicles, some of which are confirmed by C.T. B. iv.; but many are not to be found in any other MS., particularly those in the latter part of it. These are now incorporated with the old materials. Wanley considers the handwriting to be the same to the end of the year 1048. The orthography, however, varies about the year 890 (889 of the printed Chronicle). The writer seems to have been startled at Offæ for Oththan, i. e. Othoni, A.D. 925; for there is a chasm from that place to the year 934, when a slight notice is introduced of the expedition of Athelstan into Scotland.§

* Dr. Ingram's preface, p. xx.

English Historical Library, Part I. p. 116.


§ Most of the MSS. are defective here; and the thread of history, during this turbulent period, appears to have been often disturbed. But

In the year 982 are some curious particulars respecting the wars of Otho II. in Greece, and his victories there over the Saracens, now first printed. From the same source, and from C.T. B. iv., we have been enabled to present to the reader of English history a more copious and accurate account than has hitherto appeared, of the Danish invasions, the civil wars in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and the battles of Harold previous to the Norman Conquest. The MS. terminates imperfectly in 1066, after describing most minutely the battle of Stanford-bridge; the few lines which appear in the last page being supplied by a much later hand." IV. A fourth copy of the Saxon Chronicle occurs also in the British Museum. [Cott. Tiberius B. iv.]

"This MS. like the preceding, though of invaluable authority, was unknown to Gibson. It is written in a plain and beautiful hand, with few abbreviations, and apparently copied in the early part, with the exception of the introductory description of Britain, from a very ancient MS. The defective parts, from A.D. 261 to 693, were long since supplied from four excellent MSS. by Josselyn; who also collated it throughout with the same; inserting from them, both in the text and in the margin, such passages as came within his notice; which are so numerous, that very few seem to have eluded his vigilant search. A smaller but elegant hand commences fol. 68, A.D. 1016; and it is continued to the end, A.D. 1079, in a similar hand, though by different writers. Wanley notices a difference in the year 1052. The value and importance of this MS., as well as of the preceding, will be best exemplified by a reference to the notes and various readings in the present edition. The last notice of it will be found in page 456."

V. The fifth MS. is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. [Laud E, 80.]

It is so "well known, from being made the basis of Gibson's edition where Wheloc's was deficient, that it will not be so necessary to enlarge on it here. It is a fair copy of older Chronicles, with a few inaccuracies, omissions, and interpolations, to the year 1122; therefore no part of it was written

poetry took advantage of the circumstance, and occasiorally filled a chasm with some of the earliest specimens of the northern mus; the preservation. of which we owe exclusively to the Saxon Chronicle.


before that period. The next ten years rather exhibit differ. ent ink than a different writer. From 1132 to the end, A.D. 1154, the language and orthography became gradually more Normanized, particularly in the reign of king Stephen; the account of which was not written till the close of it. The dates not being regularly affixed to the last ten years, Wanley has inadvertently described this MS. as ending A.D. 1143; whereas it is continued eleven years afterwards."

VI. The sixth and last copy is in the British Museum. [Cotton, Domitian A. viii.]

"This is a singularly curious MS., attributed generally to a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, on account of the monastic interpolations. It is often quoted and commended by H. Wharton, in his Anglia Sacra, because it contains much ecclesiastical and local information. We consider it, however, of the least authority among the Cotton MSS., because the writer has taken greater liberties in abridging former Chronicles, and inserting translations of Latin documents in his own Normanized dialect. Frithstan, bishop of Winchester, who died A.D. 931 according to this Chronicle, is called biscop Wentanus; and Byrnstanus [Brinstan] is said to have been consecrated on his loh-in ejus locum. lieu, Fr. Its very peculiarities, nevertheless, stamp a great value on it; and its frauds are harmless, if possible, because they are easily detected. Towards the end the writer intended to say something about prince Edward, the father of Edgar and Margaret; but it is nearly obliterated, and the MS. soon after concludes, A.D. 1058. It is remarkable for being written both in Latin and Saxon; but for what purpose it is now needless to conjecture. It is said to have been given to Sir Robert Cotton by Camden. The passages printed from it by Gibson, and the variations in the margin, marked Cot., are from the collations of Junius inserted in his copy of Wheloc. There does not appear to have been any entire transcript of the MS., as we find it sometimes stated.* Gibson takes no notice of the introductory description of Britain as being in this MS., and he dates its termination in the wrong place. We have therefore had recourse to it again i the British Museum, where it is deposited."

* Vid. Wanl. Cat. p. 220.

Besides these six, no other ancient copy is known to exist; but there is a single leaf of an ancient copy in the British Museum. [Cotton, Tiberius A iii.] There are also three modern transcripts, two of which are in the Bodleian library, [Junian MSS. and Laud G. 36,] and one in the Dublin library. [E 5, 15.] The Bodleian transcripts are taken from two of the Cotton MSS., and therefore are of little critical value; but the Dublin transcript appears to be taken from an original, now lost, [Cott. Otho B. xi.] and therefore it possesses an independent authority.

"At the end of the Dublin transcript is this note, in the hand-writing of archbishop Usher: These Annales are extant in S R. Cotton's Librarye at the ende of Bede's Historye in the Saxon Tongue.' This accords with the description of the MS. in Wanley's Catalogue, p. 219; to which the reader is referred for more minute particulars. As this MS. was therefore in existence so late as 1705, when Warley published his Catalogue, there can be little doubt. that it perished in the lamentable fire of 1731, which either destroyed or damaged so many of the Cotton MSS. while deposited in a house in Little Dean's Yard, Westminster."

"This transcript is become more valuable from the loss of the original. It appears from dates by Lambard himself, at the beginning and end, that it was begun by him in 1563, and finished in 1564, when he was about the age of twentyfive. In the front is this inscription in Saxon characters: Willm lambarde, 1563; and, wulfhelm lambheord; with this addition, wæccath thine leoht-fæt; which may be us translated:

'Lambard, arise; awake thy lamp.'

At the end is the following memorandum: Finis: 9 Aprilis, 1564. W. L. propria manu.' I am informed by several gentlemen of Trinity College, Dublin, to whom I am indebted for most of the particulars relating to this transcript, that it was once in the possession of archbishop Usher, and is the same mentioned in his Ecclesiastical History, p. 182, which Nicolson says 'is worth the inquiring after.'* It came into the Dublin Library with the other MSS. of the archbishop, according to his original intention, after the restoration of Charles II."

* English Historical Library, Part I. p. 117.

To these six, or if we include the Dublin MS., seven, copies of the Saxon Chronicle, must our inquiry therefore be confined; and the first point worthy of notice, is the fact, that no two of them agree in the date at which they termiThus :


No. 2. comes down no later than A.D. 977.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

This diversity can hardly be accounted for on any other view of the case, than that which applies to a large number of other ancient writings, and is peculiarly forcible as applied to a series of annals like the work before us.

Almost every monastery had its own historiographer or historian, whose business or at least whose general practice it was to copy the history of preceding times from those who were already known to have written of them with success, and to continue the narrative, during his own times, in his own words, to the best of his ability. Now in the case of the Saxon Chronicle we may reasonably suppose that its original groundwork consisted of little more than a meagre string of events, arranged chronologically with a few genealogies and notices of the deaths and births of the kings and other distinguished personages. In the limited dimensions within which learning was confined during the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, and in consequence also of the paucity of scholars, it is more likely that such a record would become generally used than that new ones would be written, and most of the monasteries would probably possess a copy of the early part of these annals, which afterwards they would bring down to their own times. Consistent with this theory is the evident fact that the existing MSS. coming from different religious houses, all differ in the year at which they terminate, as if the last transcriber of the shortest had not been aware that the copy which he followed was less complete than these which existed elsewhere.*

* A case exactly in point to illustrate this suggestion occurs in the letters of Arnulf bishop of Lisieux under Henry II. Seven MSS. only exist :

« PreviousContinue »