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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the earliest known history of England and the oldest history of any European country in a vernacular language. It was probably first compiled at the inspiration of King Alfred (848/9 to 899) by a patron based in the south-west of England as it is knowledgable about events in Dorset and Somerset. Alfred was keen to encourage the use of written English and to set down his right to kingship. The initial version ended perhaps at A.D. 891. It was distributed to monasteries throughout the land for copying around 892, after which each copy was kept up to date by a member of the monastic community. The original language is Anglo-Saxon (Old English) but later entries, notably in the Peterborough Chronicle, have developed into Middle English.
The court origins of the Chronicle mean that its early entries are essentially an official history of the West Saxon royal dynasty but. from the late 10th century, the entries made in different monasteries became increasingly independent.
Eight manuscripts of the Chronicle survive, six are in the British Library. They were collected at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571 - 1631). His library was given to the nation by his grandson and kept at Ashburnham House, Westminster. On 23 October 1731, there was a fire and many manuscripts were lost or damaged hence two of them are described as ‘Cottonian fragments’.
The “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” MS. are:
A-Prime The Parker Chronicle (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173)
A Cottonian Fragment (British Library, Cotton MS. Otho B xi, 2)
B The Abingdon Chronicle I (British Library, Cotton MSS. Tiberius A iii f.178 + A vi ff.1-34 vi.)
C The Abingdon Chronicle II (British Library, Cotton MS. Tiberius B i ff.115-64)
D The Worcester Chronicle (British Library, Cotton MS. Tiberius B iv ff.3-86)
E The Laud (or “Peterborough”) Chronicle (Bodleian, MS. Laud 636)
F The Canterbury Bilingual [Latin and English] Epitome (British Library, Cotton MS. Domitian A viii ff.30-70)
H Cottonian Fragment (British Library, Cotton MS. Domitian A ix f.9)
The oldest manuscript is A-Prime, written in Winchester and completed in Canterbury. It was lately owned by Matthew Parker who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575. It is believed that Version C was written in Abingdon near Oxford and compiled using Version B, Version D in the eleventh century at Worcester and later York or Ripon, and Version E in Canterbury and completed in Peterborough. This last was once owned by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1633 to 1645.