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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by James Ingram

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

by James Ingram

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In the late 9th Century, under King Alfred the Great of England, scholars compiled a history of the island from the invasion by Julius Caesar to 891. The narrative, drawn from many historical accounts, was known as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. After Alfred's death, the Chronicles were continued, with some versions being updated yearly until 1154. Today, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles are the most important source for early English history. Among the events described in the Chronicles are the Roman withdrawal from England, the first Viking raids on the island, and the Battle of Hastings that led to Norman rule.… (more)



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Scope is from the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons till the fall of their kingdom to William the Conqueror in 1066. Particular emphasis on the remarkable King Alfred, probably because he may have initiated it (as well as written English). Based on several mss collected over the centuries to update the chronicle, Ingram's translation is very clear reading though the references to names and places from time to time might stump even Google. A major British document without which the Dark Ages would have been much darker. Willard's useful review (below) is a good start, then Wiki, if you want to get further. I imagine the Gutenberg Project has a copy available for free if you want to glance in. ( )
  ecasebeer2 | Oct 19, 2011 |
This is an annal. It has one entry per year, though some years are skipped over. It was started during the time of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (849-899) in southwest England. However, the authors started with 60 BCE, relying on earlier annals from the ancient world. It is very thin up until about the eighth century CE, when there is some living memory to go on. It mainly tells the story of Anglo-Saxon England from the time the Germanic tribes from the Low Countries and Denmark started raiding the Roman Province of Britain until the conquest by William of Normandy (William the Conqueror, AKA William I of England) in 1066 at the epochal Battle of Hastings. Still, the Chronicle continues for almost a century after that, until 1154, detailing the brutal reigns of William I, William II, and Henry I before breaking off abruptly during the reign of King Stephen.

It is a pretty sad and violent story overall, kings and battles, more kings and battles, Viking raids, Danish invasions, and a lot of bishops thrown in for good measure, many of whom were happy to lead troops into battle side by side with the kings. It contains a lot of historical information that is available nowhere else, though its reliability is questionable. The entries, however, are only one per year, so they are pretty sketchy, usually just the high points, deaths of important people in church and state, battles, raids, comets, eclipses and so forth. Toward the end the entries get longer and more detailed, and this is the part I found most interesting, especially the reigns of the early Norman kings after Hastings. My biggest frustration throughout was that the entries were so brief that they left me with more questions than answers. Since it was written over several centuries, there are many authors, some of whom have a definite individual character, and different focuses of interest. For example, there are a couple who are interested almost entirely in church politics and give short shrift to anything else. And numerous personal biases are evident in different sections.

Since the Chronicle was written in Old English, I read it in translation. The translation I had was an old one from the early nineteenth century, with an appropriately antique tone to the prose style. However, it offered no footnotes or commentary of any kind, which added to my frustration with wanting to know more, but undoubtedly sped up the reading process. I enjoyed this book, especially when it got a little more detailed, and I learned a lot from it, not so much about specific events as about what it must have been like to live in such times, how the political chaos that was common was more or less taken for granted, and how devastatingly destructive the Viking raids were. Still, I don't really recommend the book to anyone except those with a serious interest in the period. With the exception of a few poems that found their way in, one or two of them very good ones, it is not literature, and because of its sketchy annalistic nature and unreliability, it is not particularly good history either. ( )
1 vote anthonywillard | Jan 29, 2011 |
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The Rev. James Ingram was a fellow of Oxford College in the early 19th Century and professor of Anglo-Saxon. He is not to be confused with James C. Ingram, the author of International Economics. His 1823 translation of The Anglo Saxon Chronicle is not the same translation as that of Anne Savage (1982) or that of Michael Swanton (1996), though it is a translation of the same work, more or less (various manuscript traditions).

The translation by James Ingram is not the translation by Anne Savage.
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