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BR 746 .C58 v. 2:2

The Church historians of

























The Chronicle op Fabius Ethelwerd. from the Creation of the World

TO A.D. 975 405

Annals of the Exploits of Alfred the Great, from a.d. 849 to a.d. 887.

BY AssER, OF St. David's 441

The Book of Hyde 481

The Chronicles of John Wallingford 521

The History op Ingulf 565

The History of the English, according to the Translation of Master

Geoffrey Gaimar ' 727


§ 1. Our remarks respecting the character and value of the
Chronicle of Ethelwerd must be premised by an attempt to identify
its author.

In this inquiry we naturally adopt as our basis the information
respecting himself with which the author has furnished us.

§ 2. The " Patricius Consul Fabius Qusestor Ethelwerdus," as
he styles himself at the beginning of his work, was of the royal
family of England. Although the name which he bears is of very
frequent occurrence in our early history, yet the position which our
author occupied in its pedigree may be ascertained with tolerable
precision if we can succeed in discovering who was the Matilda
whom he addresses" as a relative, and to whom he dedicates his
Chronicle. The details with which he furnishes us respecting her
are sufficiently definite to warrant the inquiry, in the hope that
her identification (and through her, his) will he attended with no
great difficulty.

§ 3. This Matilda, as Ethelwerd himself tells us (p. 408), was
descended from king Alfred, through his grand -daughter Eadgytha,
the wife of Otho I., the emperor of Germany. So far, all is clear;
but at this part of the inquiry, two candidates, each bearing the
name of Matilda, present themselves, and their claims, as has been
already remarked, might appear at first sight to be nearly balanced.
From a few incidental expressions, and from the general tone of the
several dedications in which Ethelwerd addresses this lady, it might
at first sight be inferred that she was at this time the inmate of
some monastic establishment ; we should be led therefore to termi-
nate our inquiries by deciding that Matilda the daughter of the
emperor Otho, who became abbess of Quedlinburg, and died in
A.D. 999, was the individual here addressed by Ethelwerd.

§ 4. This theory, however, has to contend with difficulties which
appear to be insuperable. Tliis Matilda was not the daughter of
Eadgytha, but was the issue of Otho's second marriage with Adel-
haid ; consequently she stood in no degree of relationship whatever
with the royal family of England, nor did one drop of the blood of
Alfred flow through her veins. And were this difficulty removed,
the position which the abbess of Quedlinburg occupies in the
pedigree, (and from which no ingenuity can displace her,) is incon-
sistent with the plain statement of Ethelwerd, which shows that his
dedication is addressed to an individual who was one descent
turther removed from their common ancestor.

§ 5. Dismissing then the claims of this Matilda, abbess of Qued-
linburg, and returning to Eadgytha, the daughter of Edward the


Elder, we find that by her husband Otho she had a son named .•
Liuduh', whose daughter Matilda was born in a.d. 949, and was
married to Obizzo, count of Milan.' She appears to be the indi-
vidual mentioned by Ethelwerd. Of her it could be affirmed —
which it could not be of her aunt, the abbess of Quedlinburg — that
king Alfred was her grandfather's grandfather (p. 427). These
details will be better understood by a reference to the Pedigree which
follows this Preface.

§ 6. The position of Ethelwerd himself in the royal genealogy
may now be ascertained without much difficulty. We are thus
enabled, in the first place, to reject — on the one hand the theory^
of those who identify him with either of his namesakes, the son of
king Alfred, who died in a.d. 922, or the son of king Edward, who
died two years afterwards, — and on the other hand, the attempt
made by Pits, Vossius, bishop Nicholson and others, to extend his
life to A. D. 1090, which becomes even more untenable. He tells us
himself that king Ethelred (pp. 408, 427) was his grandfather's
grandfather. In tracing this pedigree downwards with the object
of connecting its extreme points, we find that Ethelred had two
sons, Ethelhelm and Ethelwold. Of the marriage of the former
we know nothing; but we learn from the Saxon Chronicle (a. d. 901)
that the latter had married a nun, and that he was slain in
905, when fighting on the side of the Danes, by whom he had
been appointed king of Northumbria. Through him then we
conjecture that the descent was carried on to the Ethelwerd
who was killed, according to the Saxon Chronicle, in a.d. 1016 ;
and in him we are inclined to recognise the author of the history
now under our notice. The Pedigree^ which has already been
referred to, may here be consulted with advantage. Yet whatever
be the genealogical difficulties which attend this part of our inquirj^
they do not aii'ect the point at issue, the period, namely, at which
this work was composed ; for without regard to the details which
Ethelwerd has given us respecting himself, we can arrive at the
conclusion upon independent grounds. We are enabled to fix the
limits within which it must have been written, namely, between
A.D. 975, the year at which it terminates, and 1011, the year in
which Matilda died.*

§ 7- The chief value of the present work consists in this, — that
it represents a copy of the Saxon Chronicle which no longer exists,
and enables us to ascertain, with tolerable precision, what was the
state of that important document as it existed towards the close of
the tenth century. Assuming that Ethelwerd's version is a full

' Hence we perceive why Ethelwerd referred to her for information respecting
a, relative who resided near the Great St. Bernard, — information which (as he
remarks) she could easily supply, in consequence of the local influence which she
could exercise.

^ See Leland, with whom Tanner appears to coincide, in the Bibliotheca of the
latter of these authors, p. 268.

^ In the investigation of the genealogical details connected with this portion
of the inquiry, considerable assistance has been derived from the remarks of
Lappenburg, i. xlvi. ed. 1845.

* Annales Quedlinburg. ad an. 1011, ap. Pertz, torn. v. p 80.


rendering of his original, and not an abridged selection of extracts, it
would appear that the copy which he used was much scantier in its
details than those with which we are acquainted. It approximated
upon the whole more closely to A (the copy preserved in the library
of Corpus Christi College at Cambridge) than to any other existing
text, omitting not only numerous details which occur in other copies,
but also, like A, passing over in silence many consecutive years, of
which full details are supplied by these manuscripts. Yet, although
it corresponds so far, there are important points of variation between
this lost manuscript and the Cambridge copy. Many years are
totally blank in Ethelwerd's Chronicle, as to the events of which A
is explicit ; and when we descend to a minuter investigation, we
find that, on the other hand, this lost manuscript contained details
whicli find no record in any existing copy. A few of these might
possibly be additions made by the translator himself to the text from
which he was translating, either for the purpose of exhibiting his
classical knowledge,' or derived from local information ;^ but with
all these concessions, there still remains a large body of supplemental
matter which clearly indicates the former existence of a distinct
recension of the text with which we are at present acquainted only
through the medium of Ethelwerd's labours. Illustrations suffici-
ently numerous and definite to establish the accuracy of this state-
ment have been pointed out in the notes ; and if a more critical
investigation required their production, many others could be

§ 8. Subject to such omissions and additions as those which
have been specified, there is (as has been already mentioned) a
general correspondence between the Cambridge copy of the Saxon
Chronicle and that which was employed by Ethelwerd, as far as
A.D. 893; but at this point the similarity ends. Whether the
period extending from that date to the close of the work, in 973, be
original, or based upon some other text of those annals equally
unknown to us, is not easy to decide. This much, however, may
be deduced from the fact already mentioned, namely, that the year
893 is an important era in the literary history of the Saxon Chro-
nicle ; and it seems to confirm the conjecture already hazarded in
the introductory remarks (§ 15) prefixed to the edition of that
historical document contained in the present volume.

§ 9. Ethelwerd's Latin style is marked by all the worst peculi-
arities^ of the worst period of Anglo-Saxon literature; it is generally
obscure, and sometimes unintelligible. A list of his violations of
the commonest principles of grammar is given by Hardy in his
Introduction, p. 83. Some few of these may, perhaps, be attributed
to the carelessness of the original scribe, the editor, or the printer.

^ The additions, for instance, at p. 411 and at p. 414 respecting Cecrops and

- Such, for instance, as that Cerdices-ford was upon the river Avon (p. 412),
that Eanulf -was buried at Glastonbury (p. 425), that Adiilf was buried at Derby
and Burhred at Bury St. Edmunds (p 426), and several other notes of the same
chai-acter. This, although possible, is by no means certain.

^ The peculiarities of his diction had already provoked the censures of William
of Malmesbury in the Prologue prefixed to his History of the Kings of England.
VOL. II. b


We are unable to coi : ect these by manuscript autliority, for the
only copy^ which had descended to modern times (the Cottonian
MS, Otho, A. X.) entirely perished in the fire which consumed so
large a portion of that valuable collection in the year 1731. Smith,
in his catalogue of that library, describes it as being an early and
exceedingly beautiful manuscript ; and from the nature of some
mistakes committed by the transcriber who copied it for Saville's
edition, Hardy conjectures, upon veiy sound principles, that it was
not later than the eleventh century.

§ 10. This work was first printed by Sir Henry Saville, forming
part of his collection, entitled " Scriptores post Bedam," fol. Lond.
1596. The editor does not inform us from what manuscript his
text was derived ; but, in all probability, he used the Cottonian
copy already referred to (§ 9). This edition was reprinted, with
some additional mistakes, at Frankfort, in 1601. Our present
translation is made from Petrie's edition, in which Saville's text is
cleared from many of the errors by which it had hitherto been

§11. The system of chronology adopted by Ethehverd is per-
plexing and unsatisfactory. Instead of telling us in what year the
events which he is narrating occurred, he satisfies himself with
noting how many years had elapsed from the incident which he had
last recorded. Saville attempted to rectify this faulty system, by
adding a succession of dates in his margin ; but these are so incorrect,
that they involve us in still greater difficulty: and as they do not
appear to have been introduced by him into his edition upon the
authority of the manuscript, they have here been omitted.

' Leland had never seen a copy of this work, but Thomas Allen, of Gloucestei-
Hall, mentions that in A. D. 1588 he had inspected one which he describes as
having been written in very ancient characters. It is impossible to decide
M'hether this was, or was not, the manuscript which afterwards found its way
into the Cottonian Library. See Tanner, p. 268.

I!- —

I Lii ; I Li L s




§ 1 . The literary history and the historical value of " The Annals
of the Exploits of Alfred the Great," have formed the subject of
some recent critical inquiries.

In an Essay addressed to the Society of Antiquaries, and after-
wards embodied in the Anglo-Saxon period of his Biographia
Britannica Literaria, Mr. Wright declares his conviction (p. 411)
that " the life of Alfred attributed to Asser cannot have been
written before the end of the tenth century, and it was probably
the work of a monk, who, with no great knowledge of history,
collected some of the numerous traditions relating to king Alfred
which were then current, and joined them with the legends in the
life of St. Neot and the historical entries in the Saxon Chronicle ;
and, to give o^reater authenticity to his work, published it under
the name of Asser." These sentiments Mr. Wright has repeated
and attempted to enforce in his recently published preface to Dr.
Pauli's Life of King Alfred.

§ 2. On the other hand, it is the united opinion of Lingard,
Pertz, Lappenberg, Petrie, Hardy, Kemble, Thorpe, and Pauli, that
this theory is untenable : and that though here some questions
may arise which we cannot satisfactorily solve, and some diffi-
culties present themselves which we are unable entirely to remove,
yet on the whole the work is to be accepted by us as being what
its title professes.^

§ 3. According to his own statements, Asser enjoyed abundant
opportunities for becoming well informed respecting the actions
and the motives of that eminent individual whose biography he
had undertaken to record. The acquaintance, which seems to have
originated about a.d. 884 (p. 466), ripened into confidential inter-
course after a short period, and (with a few occasional interrup-
tions) continued up to 893,^ in which year Asser wrote the present

' We cannot follow Mr. Wright through all his objections, nor point out how
they have been met by those who have joined issue with him upon this question;
nor, indeed, is it necessary for our present purpose that we should. The reader
who desires further information may find a short and clear sketch of the whole
controversy in Lingard's Anglo-Saxon Church, ii. 420 — 428. He thus states the
conclusion at which he has arrived : " On the whole, five of the difficulties sug-
gested by Mr. Wright appear to mc to be imaginary ; the last is susceptible of the
explanation just given, and therefore cannot be of sufficient weight to deprive
Asser of his claim to a work which has gone under his name for eight centuries,
and which bears indisputable evidence of having been written by a foreign
scholar, high in the confidence and frequently resident in the court of king
Alfred ; such, in fact, as Asser represents himself to have been."

* Alth(jugh Asser mentions this date, he gives no details respecting it, nor of
several preceding years. It may here be remarked, that we dismiss at once as a
palpable error the statement of Florence of Worcester, who tells us (p. 224) that
in A. D. 883 Asser bishop (>f Sherborne died.


work. At this period tlie narrative ends, and ends abruptly,
though not imperfectly. But as Alfred survived until a.d. 901, it
may be asked. Why did not Asser (who did not die until eight or
ten years after') continue his work until the death of his patron?
To this question we cannot give any satisfactory answer. We
have no proof that the biography was ever extended beyond the
year 893 ; on the contrary, there are many reasons for believing
that (allowance being made for a few obvious interpolations^) we
now possess the work as Asser left it. But, however much we
may regret the omission, this very circumstance would appear to
give additional interest to the portion of which we are possessed,
since it invests it all the more closely with the interest which
attaches to a contemporaneous narrative.

§ 4. The particulars respecting himself which Asser has recorded
(p. 466), (and to which the reader is referred,) are all in harmony
with the other personal details incidentally scattered through the
narrative ; and there occur a few minute coincidences which
strengthen our confidence in its general credibility. Asser states
that he was by birth a Briton, and he seems to have been inti-
mately connected wdth the archbishopric of St. David's. Regarding
then his work as the production of a Briton, and intended chiefly
for the use of his British countrymen, we can understand why he
gives the Latin explanation of Saxon proper names, ^ and employs
expressions* which show that to him and his readers the phraseo-
logy of that nation was by no means familiar. Hence also his
frequent use of British terms ^ as being more intelligible than their
Saxon equivalent. It was probably in consequence of this British
origin that king Alfred appointed him bishop over the Celtic
inhabitants of Devonshire and Cornw^all (p. 468), a circumstance
to which we may possibly trace his more detailed account of some
incidents which occurred within the limits of that district (pp.
467, 468), and which are known to us only from Asser.

§ 5. Asser does not excel as a biographer, and seems never to
have realized to himself the honour to which he had attained in
being selected to become the channel through which posterity
should be made acquainted with the outer and inner life of

' His deatli is recorded under a.d. 908, by the Annales Cambria) (Petrie,
p. 836), and by the Chronicle of the Princes of Wales under 906 (Id. p. 847).
According to the Saxon Chronicle he sm-vived until a.d. 910. He attested
charters dated a.d, 904 (Cod. Diplom. No. ccccxxxvii. mlxxxii. ralxxxv.)

^ These interpolations are from a work which passes under the name of the
" Chronicon fani S. Neoti, sive Annales Johannis Asserii, ut nonnullis videtur."
(Gale, i. 141.) The title is in a modern hand, and has been prefixed in con-
sequence of several extracts from Asser's Life of Alfred having been incorporated
in these Annals. As a passage from Abbo (who died a.d. 1004, see Cave, Hist.
Lit. ii. 104) occurs, the work cannot be ascribed to Asser. The chief of these
interpolations are pointed out in the notes.

^ Thus " Aescesdune, which means in Latin, The hill of the Ash," p. 453.

* " The city called in Saxon Hrofeceaster," p. 461 ... " the country of the
Saxons dwelling on the right-hand, which is called in Saxon Suth-seaxum," p. 466.

^ Nottingham is joined with its British name Tigguocobauc (p. 451); Exeter, in
British Cair-Wisc (p. 436); the district called by the Britons Durngueis, but by
the Saxons Thornsa5ta (ib.) ; the river which the Britons term Abon (p. 457) ;
the wood called Selwudu, but in British Coitmaur (p. 459) ; Cirencester, named
Cairceri in the British language (460) : to which other instances might be added.


" England's darling." Passages certainly here and there occur which
are not devoid of elegance of expression — due allowance being
made for the doubtful taste of the age in which he wrote ; but
their inspiration does not spring from the hero of the narrative,
with whom they have not any immediate or necessary connexion.
As a whole the w'ork is disappointing ; for, interesting and valuable
as it is, it ought to have been more interesting and more valuable
when we remember the advantages possessed by its author. It is
deficient in conception as \vell as execution ; there is an obvious
want of artistic skill in its construction ; and it presents a strange
admixture of general history and biography.'

§ 6. The coincidence between the Saxon Chronicle and Asser is
so striking that it cannot pass unnoticed. Whence did it arise ?
Did Asser copy from the Chronicle, or the compiler of the
Chronicle from Asser, or are both derived from one common
authority? It would appear that Asser had the Saxon Chronicle
before him when he wTote, and so closely did he translate it that
his Latin version preserves many of the peculiar idioms of his
Saxon original. The copy which he used appears to have extended
no further than a.d. 887, and corresponded more closely with the
Cambridge manuscript A. than with any other existing text.
Either accidentally or intentionally he has departed from its chro-
nology in a few instances.

§ 7. No ancient copy of Asser has descended to our time ; but
we possess an edition which fairly represents the text of the lost
Cottonian manuscript Otho, A. xii., which appears to have been
written in the eleventh century, and from this text, as edited by
Petrie, cur translation has been made. Archbishop Parker, whose
edition of Asser appeared in 1574, in speaking of the manuscript
which he used, describes it as being of great antiquity," and adds
that he had deposited it in the library of Corpus Christi College at
Cambridge. The only manuscript copy of this waiter, however,
which is now found in that noble collection is a modern transcript
upon paper, not older than Parker's own time, and corresponding so
closely with the Cottonian Otho A. xii., as to lead to the belief
that it has been made from that source. When Camden reprinted
this collection of historians in 1603, he made no mention of
having altered the text ; but when inquiry arose as to the authority
upon which he had inserted into it the celebrated passage respect-
ing the foundation of the University of Oxford, he evaded the in-
quiry, and it was not until 1622 that he stated toTwyne, the Oxford
antiquary, that " he caused the whole history to be transcribed out
of a manuscript copy which he had then in his hands, and which
he took to have been written about tlie time of Richard the

^ The first portion of the work, from a.d. 847, the year of Alfred's birth, to
887, is founded upon the Saxon Chronicle, from 887 to 893 is original matter, the
result of Asser's own ob.9ervation.

^ Speaking of this manuscript, he expresses his belief that it was written
during the life of king Alfred, and he tells us that his opinion was strengthened
by noticing the exact resemblance between its style of writing and the copies of
the Pastoralia which Alfred himself had caused to be transcribed and sent to
various churches in England.


Second." None of his contemporaries were permitted to see this
manuscript, nor is it known what became of it after his death.
By the " whole histoiy " it is presumed that he meant the whole of
that portion which relates to Oxford ; for the exact conformity
which exists between his edition and Parker's, even to errors, is a
sufficient proof that in all other respects it is a reprint. Thus,
then, the only ancient copy respecting which we have any trust-
worthy information is the Cottonian manuscript Otho A. xii.

§ 8. The greater portion of Asser is incorporated into his history
by Florence of Worcester, who nowhere mentions the author to
whom he was under such important obligations.

The Life of Alfred has gone through many editions. Those of
Parker and Camden have been already mentioned (§ 7). It was
edited at Oxford (8vo, 1722) by Wise, who bestowed considerable
pains upon it, but was so deficient in critical skill as to append to
his otherwise creditable work a vindication of the paragraph inter-
polated by Camden.'

And, lastly, it is included in the " Monumenta Historica Britan-
nica" of Petrie and Hardy (p. 467), from which text, as by far
the most convenient, the version here given has been translated.


§ 1. Although the Book of Hyde in many respects corresponds
closely with Asser's Life of King Alfred, the influence of which is
frequently perceptible, yet in some respects it is a collateral, if
not an independent authority, and as such is entitled to our notice.
Hitherto, however, it has not secured the attention Y>'hich it deserves,
and the Latin text, whence our translation has been made, is still

§ 2. In forming our estimate of this document, we must not lose

Online LibraryJoseph StevensonThe Church historians of England : Pre-Reformation period (Volume 2, p2) → online text (page 1 of 54)