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Reporting Scotland in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Reporting Scotland in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

By Alex Woolf

Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, edited by Alice Jorgensen (Brepols, 2010)

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection.

Introduction: The aim of this paper is to explore the changing way in which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports events in northern Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon territories, in the hope of gaining a better understanding both of events in that region and, perhaps more interestingly, the way in which the Chronicle was constructed. Since the Chronicle is principally a West Saxon text, produced at the southern end of the island, the transformation in its own perspective may reflect the changing horizons of the West Saxon learned elite. As in any such study of the Chronicle this exploration must begin with an examination of MS A, widely, if not universally, regarded as the closest witness we have to the chronicle’s earliest, and most thoroughly West Saxon, form. For this initial analysis the interpolations of Hand 8, the principal scribe of MS F, will be ignored since these, for the most part, represent material derived from the Northern Recension of the Chronicle which I hope to discuss at a later occasion.

The earliest ‘Scottish’ reference found in MS A is the mention of the Emperor Claudius’s conquest of Orkney at 46A which was probably derived from Bede who had obtained the erroneous date of  AD46 from Eutropius. The point of the allusion here, as in the texts from which it derives, seems simply to have been to emphasize the completeness of Roman hegemony in Britain rather than to reflect any real interest in the far north. A more fruitful and systematic analysis can be  pursued with regard to the ethnonyms applied to northern peoples: Cumbere, Peohtas, Stræcledwalas, and Scottas.


Of these peoples the first mentioned are the Scottas, who appear in entries for the years 430, 565, 597, 891, 902, 920, 937, 945, and 946. The first of these entries for 430A (‘Her Paladius se biscep wæs onsended to Scottum þæt he hiera geleafantrymede from Cêlestino þam papan’) again derives from Bede. Ultimately Bede’s information came from Prosper of Aquitaine who clearly intended the Irish as the recipients of Palladius’s ministry. The entry for 565, recording the mission of Columba, is likewise derived from Bede. The entry for 597A is, on the other hand, particularly curious. It reads:

Her ongon Ceolwulf ricsian on Wesseaxum 7 simle he feaht 7 won, oþþe wiþ Angelcyn,oþþe uuiþ Walas, oþþe wiþ Peohtas, oþþe wiþ Scottas.

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