Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were composed and maintained between the various monasteries of Anglo-Saxon England and were an attempt to record the history of the world. Each Chronicle began with the Creation, went through the Bible history, Rome, and then up to its current time. Whenever a monastery's chronicle was damaged, or when a new monastery began a chronicle, nearby monasteries would lend out their chronicles for copying.
When William the Conqueror took England and Anglo-Norman became the official language, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles generally ceased. The monks of Peterborough Abbey , however, continued to compile events in theirs. Thus, the Peterborough Chronicle is one of the few first-hand accounts of the period 1070 to 1154 in England written in English and from a non-courtly point of view. It is also a valuable source of information about early Middle English itself.
The Fire and the Continuations
There was a fire at Peterborough that destroyed the monastery's chronicle, and so the early part of the document is a copy. The document usually called "The Peterborough Chronicle" is divided into the "first continuation" and the "second continuation." These are continuations from the time of the fire and contain unique entries. The first continuation (after the fire) runs to just before the reign of King Stephen and provides information on ecclesiastical affairs that affected the monks. While this continuation is interesting, it is the second continuation that holds the most importance. The second, or final, continuation is remarkable for being in one authorial voice, and it relates the events of The Anarchy in England. Scholars speculate that the second continuation is dictated (because the language may reflect a version of early Middle English that scholars place later than Stephen and Matilda) or written as the recollections of a single elderly monk. It is a highly moving account of torture, fear, confusion, and dearth.
The author of the second continuation describes the rebellion of the barons against Stephen, the escape of Matilda, and the tortures that the soldiers of the baronial powers inflicted upon the people. The author blames Stephen for the Anarchy for being "soft and good," when firmness and harshness was needed, and he describes an horrific stretch of years when the barons, constantly needing money to build castles (which the author regards as still somewhat novel and rare), robbed everyone they met of all property and goods of value. Dearth and famine followed, as the farms were depleted and farmers murdered. The author says that "all this and more we suffered 19 winters for our sins."
The manuscript of the Chronicle is known as Laud Misc. 636 in the Bodleian Library.
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