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Medieval Sourcebook: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on Alfred the Great


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is one of the few literary sources we have for England during the time period following the Roman presence and preceding the Norman invasion. Written by different monastic houses, the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offer us a unique picture of the Anglo-Saxons and their world. Although written by monks, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is relatively unbiased in its portrayal of events. This particular variant chronicles the events Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, experienced during the Viking invasions of the ninth century.

878. In this year, at Midwinter, after Twelfthnight, the army stole itselfaway to Chippenham, and harried the West Saxons' land, and settled there, anddrove many of the people over sea, and of the remainder the greater portionthey harried, and the people submitted to them, save the king, Alfred, and he,with a little band, withdrew to the woods and moor-fastnesses. And in the samewinter the brother of Inwar and Halfdene was in Wessex, in Devonshire, withtwenty-three ships, and he was there slain, and with him eight hundred andforty men of his force. And there was the standard taken which they call theRaven. And the Easter after, Alfred, with a little band, wrought a fortress atAthelney, and from that work warred on the army, with that portion of the menof Somerset that was nearest. Then in the seventh week after Easter he rode toEgbert's stone, on the east of Selwood, and there came to meet him all theSomersetshire men, and the Wiltshire men, and that part of Hampshire whichremained of it on this side of the sea; after, he went from the campt toAeglea, and one night after that to Edington, and there fought against all thearmy, and put it to flight, and rode after it, as far as the works, and theresat fourteen nights. And then the army gave him hostages with great oaths thatthey would depart from his kingdom; and also promised him that their king wouldreceive baptism; and that they so fulfilled; and three weeks after, KingGuthrum came to him, with thirty of the men who were most honorable in thearmy, at Aller, which is opposite to Athelney; and the king received him thereat baptism; and his chrism-loosing was at Wedmore; and he was twelve nightswith the king; and he largely gifted him and his companions with money.

879. In this year the army went to Cirencester from Chippenham, and sat thereone year. And in that year a body of vikings assembled, and sat down at Fulhamon the Thames. And that same year the sun was eclipsed one hour of the day.

880. In this year the army went from Cirencester to East Anglia, and occupiedand divided the land. And in the same year the army, which had sat down atFulham, went over sea to Ghent in France, and sat there one year.

881. In this year the army went up into France, and the French fought againstthem; and there was the army horsed after the fight.

882. In this year the army went up along the Meuse far into France, and theresat one year. And that same year King Alfred went out to sea with ships, andfought against four ship-crews of Danish men, and took two of the ships, andthe men were slain that were therein; and the two ship-crews surrendered tohim; and they were sorely fatigued and wounded before they surrendered.

883. In this year the army went up the Scheldt to Conde, and there sat oneyear. And Marinus the pope then sent lignum domini [of Christ's cross] to KingAlfred. And in the same year Sighelm and Athelstan conveyed to Rome the almswhich the king had vowed [to send] thither, and also to India, to St. Thomas,and to St. Bartholomew, when they sat down against the army at London; andthere, God be thanked, their prayer was very successful after that vow.

884. In this year the army went up the Somme to Amiens, and there sat oneyear. In this year died the benvolent Bishop Aethelwold. [Evidently acopyist's error; Aethelwold died in 984.]

885. In this year the fore-mentioned army separated into two; one part [went]east, the other part to Rochester, and besieged the city, and wrought anotherfastness about themselves; but they, nevertheless, defended the city until KingAlfred came without with his force. Then the army went to their ships, andabandoned the fastness; and they were there deprived of their horses, andforthwith, in the same summer, withdrew over sea. And the same year KingAlfred sent a naval force from Kent to East Anglia. As soon as they came tothe mouth of the Stour, then met them sixteen ships of vikings, and they foughtagainst them, and captured all the ships, and slew the men. When they werereturning homeward with the booty, a great naval force of vikings met them, andthen fought against them on the same day, and the Danish gained the victory. In the same year, before midwinter, Carloman, king of the Franks, died, and awild boar killed him; and one year before his brother died; he also had thewestern kingdom;and they were both sons of Lewis, who also had the westernkingdom, and died in the year when the sun was eclipsed, who was the son ofCharles, whose daughter Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons, had for his queen. And in the same year a larger naval force assembled among the Old Saxons; andthere was a great fight twice in that year, and the Saxons had the victory; andthere were Frisians with them. In that same year Charles succeeded to thewestern kingdom, and to all the kingdom on this side of the Mediterranean Sea,and beyond this sea, as his great-grandfather had it, excepting the Lidwiccas[Brittany]. Charles was the son of Lewis, Lewis was brother of Charles, whowas father of Judith, whom King Ethelwulf had; and they were sons of Lewis;Lewis was son of the old Charles; Charles was the son of Pepin. And in thesame year the good Pope Marinus died, who freed the Angle race's school, at theprayer of Alfred, king of the West Saxons; and he sent him great gifts, andpart of the rood on which Christ suffered. And in the same year the army inEast Anglia brake peace with King Alfred.

886. In this year the army again went west, which had before landed in theeast, and then up the Seine, and there took winter quarters at the city ofParis. In the same year King Alfred restored London; and all the Angle raceturned to him that were not in the bondage of the Danish men; and he thencommitted the burgh to the keeping of the ealdorman Ethered.

note

translated in Albert Beebe White and Wallce Notestein, eds., Source Problems in English History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915).

Other works referred to in preparartion:

Elton, Geoffrey, The English (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992).

Maitland, F. W., The Constitutional History of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).

Smith, Lacey Baldwin and Jean Reeder Smith, eds., The Past Speaks: Sources and Problems in English History, vol. 1 (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1993).

 


Text prepared by Seth Seyfried of the University of Utah.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu