The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Old English Prose - Summary

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      The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the most important land-mark of Anglo-Saxon prose that came into existence in the reign of King Alfred. It may be said to be the first historical treatise in English and the Chronicle is carried from the beginning of the Christian era beyond the conquest down to the reign of King Stephen in the twelfth century. Though not the King's own work, it was inspired and sponsored by him and he himself dictated some of the passages that deal particularly with his own campaigns against the Danes in the earlier part of the Chronicle. It was compiled by the monks working at different centres and times. It is extant in several manuscripts. It is not merely a dry record of historical events and dates. In many of its passages occur vivid detailed descriptions of the conditions of the common people. The pictures of the wars, too, have a poetic beauty and vigour. For instance, the descriptions of the common people during the civil wars of the reign of King Stephen rival those of many modern historians in English and show a curiously modern historical sense. Again, in the portion relating to the tenth century are inserted some important poems. The Battle of Brunanburh, for instance, occurs there. The continuity of English prose from the old English period to the middle English period is demonstrated by the chronicle more clearly than anywhere else, and its different manuscripts are of prime importance for the students of the English language. The chronicle is the best monument of early English that is left to the English. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is of immense value as an authority for the history of the Anglo-Saxon period. The events and incidents are revised in an impersonal way.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

      There are a few monuments which are more precious than the chronicle: "for no people in Europe can pride itself on having chronicles so ancient written in its natural language" (Jusserand).

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