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AngloSaxon Chronicles
 Recording the events of September 1066
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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Precedence among the sources must go to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC). Six major manuscripts and two fragments make up what we recognise collectively as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. (One of the manuscripts was severely damaged but happily after some scholars had examined it.)

Each version tells the story in a different way so they are recognised as the work of independent scribes. They include events and material which are relevant to, and known, at the place where they were prepared.

The provenance of the component parts of the ASC has some relevance to how their information should be interpreted. The chronicle contains manuscripts that are known by letters of the alphabet:

  • A. (The Parker MS aka ‘C.C.C. Cant173’ because of its location at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) It may have been written at Winchester where it was stored until the mid 11th century when it was moved to Christ Church, Canterbury. It is written by one hand until 891 and extends to 1093 but with no substantive entries after 1002. Later alterations and additions were made in the same hand as the F manuscript.

  • (B. Ends in 977.)

  • C. (The Cotton Tiberius Bi) The MS extends to 1066 and has been mutilated, suggesting some crude form of censorship.

  • Versions B and C survive as copies of lost documents which include the ‘Mercian Register’ covering the years 902 to 924.

  • D. (The Cotton Tiberius Biv) The text from the Mercian Register is also incorporated into this manuscript rather than keeping it as a separate narrative (as in B and C). D records more events that are relevant to northern England.

  • E. (The Laud Misc. 636)  The manuscript from Peterborough[i] is copied in one hand until 1121; the originals probably decayed and are lost. It has several additions of local events and was updated until 1154, making it the last of the surviving chronicles to be maintained. It is now located at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and is also known as the Abingdon Chronicle.

  • Versions D and E are often known as the "northern recession" because they incorporate more material of northern English history.

  • F. (The Cotton Domitian Aviii) An abridgement of Version E plus some material from Version A. Probably prepared in the late 11th or early 12th century.

  • G. (The Cotton Otho Bxi) It appears to be a copy of Version A and is a transcript made in the 15th/16th Century. It was almost destroyed by fire in 1731.

  • H. (Cotton Domitian) A fragment which covers the years 1113 and 1114.

Scholarship continues to shed light on the copying and provenance of the various copies[ii].

It was normal to make copies of the manuscripts when the original materials deteriorated. But scholars believe these were copies and not rewrites or indeed edits of the original. The original content is believed to be a near contemporaneous record of the limited range of events that were deemed relevant by the scribe and their master. The ASC is, without question, an invaluable historic record but it is, for the most part, a dull read.

The A and B Chronicles were either not maintained until 1066 or have nothing to say about the battle at Fulford. It is the chronicles written in the north that provide the story of 1066.


“; . . and when his [Harold’s] fleet was gathered together, then went he into the Isle of Wight, and there lay all the summer and the harvest; and a land-force was kept everywhere by the sea, though in the end it was of no benefit. When it was the Nativity of St. Mary [8th September], then were the men's provisions gone, and no man could any longer keep them there. Then were the men allowed to go home, and the king rode up, and the ships were dispatched to London; and many perished before they came thither. When the ships had reached home, then came King Harald from Norway, north into Tyne, and unawares, with a very large ship-force - no small one; it might be [text is corrupt but John of Worcester who copied this passage inserts the number 500], or more. And Tosty the earl came to him with all that he had gotten, all as they had before agreed; and then they went both, with all the fleet, along the Ouse, up towards York. Then was it made known to King Harold in the south, as he was come from on ship-board, that Harald King of Norway and Tosty the Earl were landed near York. Then went he [King Harold of England] northward, day and night, as quickly as he could gather his forces. Then, before that King Harold could come thither, then gathered Edwin the Earl and Morcar the Earl from their earldom as great a force as they could get together; and they fought against the army, and made great slaughter: and there was much of the English people slain, and drowned, and driven away in flight; and the Northmen had possession of the place of carnage. And this fight was on the vigil of St. Matthew the apostle, and it was Wednesday [20th September]. And then, after the fight, went Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl, into York, with as many people as seemed meet to them. And they delivered hostages to them from the city, and also assisted them with provisions; and so they went thence to their ships, and they agreed upon a full peace, so that they should all go with him south, and subdue this land. Then, during this, came Harold, King of the Angles, with all his forces, on the Sunday, to Tadcaster, and there drew up his force, and went then on Monday throughout York; and Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl, and their forces, were gone from their ships beyond York to Stanfordbridge, because it had been promised them for a certainty, that there, from all the shire, hostages should be brought to meet them. Then came Harold, King of the English, against them, unawares, beyond the bridge, and they there joined battle, and very strenuously, for a long time of the day, continued fighting: and there was Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl slain, and numberless of the people with them, as well of the Northmen as of the English: and the Northmen fled from the English. Then was there one of the Norwegians who withstood the English people, so that they might not pass over the bridge, nor obtain the victory. Then an Englishman aimed at him with a javelin, but availed nothing; and then came another under the bridge, and pierced him terribly inwards under the coat of mail. Then came Harold, king of the English, over the bridge, and his forces onward with him, and there made great slaughter, as well of Norwegians as of Flemings. And the King's son, Hetmundus [Olaf], Harold let go home to Norway, with all the ships.”

This translation retains the note-taking, almost breathless, style of the original. Modern translations are easier to read because they adjust the word order to suit the way English is written and spoken today. But a part of the exercise, which is not documented here, was to compare available versions as the sense can be changed when the language is modernised.[iii] 



“And the while, came Tosty the earl into Humber with sixty ships. Edwin the earl came with a land-force and drove him out; and the boatmen deserted him. And he went to Scotland with twelve small vessels; and Harald, the King of Norway, met him with three hundred ships, and Tosty submitted to him; and they both went into Humber, until they came to York. And Morcar the earl, and Edwin the earl, fought against them; and the king of the Norwegians had the victory. And it was made known to King Harold how it there was done, and had happened; and it happened on the Vigil of St Matthew [20th September]:


“[Tosty] went to Scotland with twelve small vessels and Harald, the Norse king, met him with three hundred ships, and Tosty submitted to him; and both went up the Humber until they reached York. And Earl Morcar and Earl Edwin fought against them and the king of Norway had the victory.”

Both D & E relate versions of the Stamford Bridge battle.

The absence of any mention of the battle at Fulford in the southern chronicles, as opposed to the northern chronicles, might indicate that the southerners were either unaware of the northern events or did not feel it was part of their mandate to record both battles ‘up north’. Perhaps the northern events were not seen as relevant, given what followed at Hastings. It might represent an act of censorship but there is no evidence at all for this.

The ASC is not a daily diary. The events of a single year are normally compacted into a few words and many years have no entry. Version A has a single line for 1043, another for 1050. There appears to be nothing for these chroniclers to report in 1060 or 1064. What was recorded for the year 1066 is wordy by the frugal standards of these chroniclers. Fortunately, they provided a framework for subsequent historians who expanded the chronicles in their work. Happily, the style changed after 1066 and they become more informative.

The work of Ian Howard and others has shown that care must be exercised when assessing some dates as some of the early annalists took September as the start of the year. News of the northern events could have reached them before they made their record. He has also highlighted the geographical bias and some instances of what we would now recognise as political spin within the ASC.[iv]

[i] According to Frank Barlow, the E version was written at St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

[ii] An example is appendix 2 of  Ian Howard ‘Swein Forkbeard’s invasion and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017’ Boydell 2003

[iii] One example would be the way the events after the battle at Stamford Bridge are presented which range from ‘the Saxons took the seamen in the rear’ to ‘A force then attacked the Norse army from behind’.

[iv] Ian Howard ‘Swein Forkbeard’s invasion and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017

[v] For example, Eadmer and the unnamed Waltham scribe who was author of Harold of Godwinson.


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The author of the content is Charles Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com   Last updated April 2015

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