The next historian worth notice here is Nennius, who is supposed to have flourished in the seventh century: but the work ascribed to him is so full of interpolations and corruptions, introduced by his transcribers, and particularly by a simpleton who is called Samuel, or his master Beulanus, or both, who appear to have lived in the ninth century, that it is difficult to say how much of this motley production is original and authentic. Be that as it may, the writer of the copy printed by Gale bears ample testimony to the "Saxon Chronicle", and says expressly, that he compiled his history partly from the records of the Scots and Saxons (8). At the end is a confused but very curious appendix, containing that very genealogy, with some brief notices of Saxon affairs, which the fastidiousness of Beulanus, or of his amanuensis, the aforesaid Samuel, would not allow him to transcribe. This writer, although he professes to be the first historiographer (9) of the Britons, has sometimes repeated the very words of Gildas (10); whose name is even prefixed to some copies of the work. It is a puerile composition, without judgment, selection, or method (11); filled with legendary tales of Trojan antiquity, of magical delusion, and of the miraculous exploits of St. Germain and St. Patrick: not to mention those of the valiant Arthur, who is said to have felled to the ground in one day, single-handed, eight hundred and forty Saxons! It is remarkable, that this taste for the marvelous, which does not seem to be adapted to the sober sense of Englishmen, was afterwards revived in all its glory by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Norman age of credulity and romance.

We come now to a more cheering prospect; and behold a steady light reflected on the "Saxon Chronicle" by the "Ecclesiastical History" of Bede; a writer who, without the intervention of any legendary tale, truly deserves the title of Venerable (12). With a store of classical learning not very common in that age, and with a simplicity of language seldom found in monastic Latinity, he has moulded into something like a regular form the scattered fragments of Roman, British, Scottish, and Saxon history. His work, indeed. is professedly ecclesiastical; but, when we consider the prominent station which the Church had at this time assumed in England, we need not be surprised if we find therein the same intermixture of civil, military, and ecclesiastical affairs, which forms so remarkable a feature in the "Saxon Chronicle". Hence Gibson concludes, that many passages of the latter description were derived from the work of Bede (13). He thinks the same of the description of Britain, the notices of the Roman emperors, and the detail of the first arrival of the Saxons. But, it may be observed, those passages to which he alludes are not to be found in the earlier MSS. The description of Britain, which forms the introduction, and refers us to a period antecedent to the invasion of Julius Caesar; appears only in three copies of the "Chronicle"; two of which are of so late a date as the Norman Conquest, and both derived from the same source. Whatever relates to the succession of the Roman emperors was so universally known, that it must be considered as common property: and so short was the interval between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Saxons, that the latter must have preserved amongst them sufficient memorials and traditions to connect their own history with that of their predecessors. Like all rude nations, they were particularly attentive to genealogies; and these, together with the succession of their kings, their battles, and their conquests, must be derived originally from the Saxons themselves. and not from Gildas, or Nennius, or Bede (14). Gibson himself was so convinced of this, that he afterwards attributes to the "Saxon Chronicle" all the knowledge we have of those early times (15). Moreover, we might ask, if our whole dependence had been centered in Bede, what would have become of us after his death? (16) Malmsbury indeed asserts, with some degree of vanity, that you will not easily find a Latin historian of English affairs between Bede and himself (17); and in the fulness of self-complacency professes his determination, "to season with Roman salt the barbarisms of his native tongue!" He affects great contempt for Ethelwerd, whose work will be considered hereafter; and he well knew how unacceptable any praise of the "Saxon Annals" would be to the Normans, with whom he was connected (18). He thinks it necessary to give his reasons, on one occasion, for inserting from these very "Annals" what he did not find in Bede; though it is obvious, that the best part of his materials, almost to his own times, is derived from the same source.

The object of Bishop Asser, the biographer of Alfred, who comes next in order, was to deliver to posterity a complete memorial of that sovereign, and of the transactions of his reign. To him alone are we indebted for the detail of many interesting circumstances in the life and character of his royal patron (19); but most of the public transactions will be found in the pages of the "Saxon Chronicle": some passages of which he appears to have translated so literally, that the modern version of Gibson does not more closely represent the original. In the editions of Parker, Camden, and Wise, the last notice of any public event refers to the year 887. The interpolated copy of Gale, called by some Pseudo-Asserius, and by others the Chronicle of St. Neot's, is extended to the year 914 (20). Much difference of opinion exists respecting this work; into the discussion of which it is not our present purpose to enter. One thing is remarkable: it contains the vision of Drihtelm, copied from Bede, and that of Charles King of the Franks, which Malmsbury thought it worth while to repeat in his "History of the Kings of England". What Gale observes concerning the "fidelity" with which these annals of Asser are copied by Marianus, is easily explained. They both translated from the "Saxon Chronicle", as did also Florence of Worcester, who interpolated Marianus; of whom we shall speak hereafter.

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After Rome

Arthur and the Kings of Britain: The Historical Truth Behind the Myths

By Dr Miles Russell

The chapters in this volume, each written by a leading scholar of the period, analyse in turn the different nationalities and kingdoms that existed in the British Isles from the end of the Roman empire to the coming of the Vikings, the process of conversion to Christianity, the development of art and of a written culture, and the interaction between this written culture and the societies of the day. Available from:  

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