The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - an Introduction

This document will describe what manuscripts survive, the history of these MSS, and how these Manuscripts have been transmitted.

The Manuscripts

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a complex set of interrelated manuscripts, of which the earliest is known as the Parker Chronicle.

There are seven major manuscripts comprising what is generally termed The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

Parker MS; Corpus Christ College, Cambridge MS 173 ff. 1-32
British Museum, Cotton Tiberius A VI
British Museum, Cotton Tiberius B I
British Museum, Cotton Tiberius B IV
Laud MS; Bodlean MS, Laud 636
British Museum, Cotton Domitian A VIII
British Museum, Cotton Otho B XI

It is believed that the history of these documents is roughly as follows.

Sometime in the 9th century a chronicle was drawn up in Wessex. Some of the sources used to compile this chronicle have been identified: Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, and its chronological summary; A continuation of this summary down to Ecgbryht (Egbert); Northumbrian and Mercian genealogical lists; etc.

Other (non-extant) sources have been suggested for other material in the chronicles, for example an earlier set of West Saxon annals down to 754 have been postulated to account for the relative frequency of West Saxon references to this point. There are very few (5) entries between 755 and 823 that refer specifically to Wessex, and these are thought to come from an oral tradition. After 823 the material is contemporary with the compilation. The date when this original (non-extant) chronicle was compiled is uncertain, but it is thought that there was a chronicle up to 855, as the genealogy for Æthelwulf in 855 look like a termination.

Copies of this chronicle were then copied to become the various extant manuscripts roughly as follows.

  1. The first part of the Parker MS (MS A) was probably written in 891 (where the first hand finishes), this was then continued to 1093. MS G (almost completely destroyed by fire in 1731) is an 11th century transcript of MS A probably made at Winchester. Interestingly, all the evidence for the growth and alteration of MS A has been ironed out in MS G so if only this had survived we would have little idea of the underlying complexity of the transmission of these chronicles.
  2. II.
  3. A lost chronicle similar to MS A, sent possibly to Abingdon was copied to form:
  4. A copy of the original chronicle was sent to the North where it was expanded with material from Bede and other northern sources and continued with northern material. MS D is a mid-11th century copy of this which was then continued to 1179.
  5. A chronicle similar to the northern ancestor to MS D was compiled and sent to Canterbury where it was kept until after 1066. MS E (the Laud manuscript) was copied from this in 1122 and continued to 1154. MS F is another bilingual (Latin and OE) copy of this Canterbury chronicle.

The transmission of these manuscripts will be discussed in more detail below.

The Transmission of the Chronicle


Post-Conquest History of the Manuscripts


Related Manuscripts

There are a number of manuscripts, which though they are not part of the core of the Chronicle, must be examined for a full understanding of the Chronicle.

Asser's Life of Ælfred
This is in part derived from a Chronicle similar to MS A which terminates in 887--at least this is when Asser last utilises it in his "Life".

Copyright © 1994, Tony Jebson <>, all rights reserved. Last modified 21/12/94.