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Why is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle About Kings?

Nicholas Brooks

Anglo-Saxon England / Volume 39 / December 2010

Research into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the last generation has concentrated upon editing the different versions found in the extant manuscripts and on interpreting their differences. That has caused some neglect of the features that all manuscripts share, namely their remarkable preoccupation with the deeds of English kings and with the assertion of English identity – features characteristic both of the Chronicle’s ‘common stock’ down to c. 892 and of subsequent continuations. That shared agenda may most readily be explained by supposing that from the 890s until 1131 sections of the annals continued to be disseminated intermittently from the royal household. The sustained royal focus would reflect the career interests of those in the king’s service; and the local continuation of Chronicle manuscripts would reflect such men’s role in abbatial or episcopal office. The traditional assumption that the Chronicle was being composed in the churches to which copies had been distributed by King Alfred requires an interpretation of the manuscript transmission of improbable complexity.

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