Talk:Peterborough Chronicle

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I really resent this being classified as a dubious historical source. It's first class as a historical source, in fact. There is 0% chance that the material comes from later than the period it describes, so it is an absolutely invaluable first hand record of the Anarchy. From the point of view of historicity, it's perfect. Secondly, it is also an absolutely priceless historical document from the point of view of understanding early Middle English. For understanding the patterns of literacy, the persistence of Anglo-Saxon in the Norman era, and for figuring out how the language was changing in the midlands, the Peterborough Chronicle is without parallel. Finally, as a philosophical and intellectual history source, this is unimpeachable. There is no "doubt" about it whatsoever. This Chronicle shows, first, ecclesiastic affairs in minutia. Secondly, it shows the persistence of history itself when it had been brought to a halt elsewhere by the Northmen from France. Finally, it is a record that shows us the existence of ecclesiastical parties in the court and how the monks felt about bishops who were, in fact, entirely secular. It is, in short, very, very wrong to label this a source of "doubtful" historical value. Scholars have to be sane and realize that it's first hand, but that's not the same thing as saying they should be doubtful. That's why I'm going to revert the category that Neutrality put on this article. Geogre 19:12, 6 Oct 2004 (UTC) Issues resolved by removal of the category tag. Geogre 14:46, 8 August 2005 (UTC)

Sorry to come to this one late, but Peterborough Chronicle does have some doubtful passages. I'm thinking particularly of the final paragraph of 1137, which alleges that Jews tortured a Christian child as a blasphemy of the passion, and which subsequently developed into a whole collection of legends. This is analysed in 'La Question du meutre rituel chez les Juifs' (E. Vacandard, in Etudes de critique d'histoire religiues III, 1912, 313-77), and others. It's generally accepted that, even if an incident did occur, the chronicler fundamentally misunderstood it.Martin Turner 12:04, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

  • Well, I don't doubt that there are mistakes and absolute inventions, but there is a difference between saying, "The account this article is about is factually suspect" and saying, "This is a dubious historical source." From the point of view of a historian, it's a primary historical document, and history is the narrative we create about the past, not the facts of the past. In other words, primary sources are never good or bad history, because they're primaries: the history comes from historians, not eye witnesses and gossips. The monks were dubious in some other areas, too, like the Wild Hunt. I don't believe that the devil was really out hunting, but the monks did, and neither do I believe that there were black masses being performed by Jews, but the monks did. As the material of a history all the Chronicles are invaluable and not doubtful at all. As histories...well, they're highly limited. In an eleventh century or twelfth century mind, a dragon or wild hunt or black mass was a rational narrative to explain cause and effect, although we think it's ridiculous. So, as historians, they were acting with limitations of time and perspective and knowledge, but I really hope no one would be tempted to read them as good historians of the things that their perspectives blind them to. (Isn't it Winchester that has dragons showing up before the Norse raids?) We take the parts of their accounts that satisfy our historical method and reject (I hope) the nutty stuff, the same way we would Samuel Pepys's diary. Geogre 12:33, 10 December 2006 (UTC)


Initially, I had not inserted any ashes, thorns, or eths. Since one editor very properly inserted an ash in "scæ," I have decided to go back and be precise (as I should have been all along). Therefore, I have gone back to the Bennett and Smithers text, which, although not definitive, is reliable, and followed their text exactly. If I miss any, please let me know, as there shouldn't be any more. I.e. at this point, if a th appears instead of an eth, the th is supposed to be the monk's intent and not my laxity (I hope). Geogre 12:47, 4 October 2005 (UTC)

Why are we using Bennett and Smithers, not Cecily Clarke (1958 and 1970)? I understand there's a new diplomatic edition in preparation, but, for the rest, Clarke has been considered __the__ critical text for at least tweny years now. MartinTurner 20:50, 2 December 2006 (UTC)

  • Bennett and Smithers is what I had access to. <shrug> If these citations, and there are few of them, have substantive reading differences in another edition, then, by all means, change the quotations. If one were going to do an in depth article on the Chronicle rather than an introduction or overview, then one would need a scholarly edition with superior apparatus, but I shouldn't imagine there is sufficient difference for making an objection for the passage in question. I welcome a better text, but I own B&S and the poor library near me had no edition at all. Geogre 21:05, 2 December 2006 (UTC)

Fair comment. I'll go through Cecily Clarke some time this week to check if there are substantive differences.MartinTurner 19:25, 3 December 2006 (UTC) Now done. Mostly eths and thorns, but there were a couple of substantive changes which affect the sense. MartinTurner 18:32, 4 December 2006 (UTC)

Linking God and Christ[edit]

I disagree with unlinking these. Although it's arguable that everyone knows what the terms refer to, that argument would imply that the terms would never be linked, and therefore there would be no linking of similarly common terms, such as English Civil War or Wars of the Roses or American Civil War or Henry VIII of England. If the "link only what is necessary" project were truly underway, we'd be unhooking a number of obvious terms. I felt that the two should be linked because the references show a medieval understanding of God and Jesus. The monks believe that the harvest, for example, fails when "Christ slept." They accept the horrors of the civil war as a scourge of God's. This is not so different from Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, by Wulfstan, where he argued that the Viking raiders were a scourge to an impious generation. The links to God and Jesus were not really meant to tell a reader of this article what the terms mean, but rather to tell them a different way of reading those articles because of what they know from this one. Geogre 00:47, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

That's cool, though I still think they'd be better unlinked. I didn't say link only what's necessary, I said link only what's relevant to the context. That does not by any means imply that the terms would not be linked in other contexts. They're both most appropriately linked in Monotheism, for example. And I doubt that readers would deliberately click on the links for the purpose you outline, I for instance wouldn't wilfully interrupt an interesting read to chase after new ways of reading other articles. I'd only click if I reckoned I'd be likely to find something that threw light on this article. And if I didn't find it, I'd be disappointed, because I have come to regard the bluelink as an implicit promise of something helpful.
You really think Wars of the Roses etc. are "similarly common" as Jesus?

Oh, blue links helpful? Well, that's a concept. No, I'm not sure I think of blue links as helpful, except when I want to chase down an alley or find out what is meant by an obscure term. Basically, my position on "link only when relevant" would be, "I will if everybody else does." After all, I began, way back when, thinking that the articles were ridiculously overlinked and thinking it offensive to expect a reader to not know what "God" means even in Monotheism. I regard Jesus and God as relevant here in a number of ways. First, the account I give kind of lets people forget that these are monks writing, that everything is in terms of God and Jesus, and the link's color sort of reminds folks of that. Second, I think it is important to know who Jesus is, as He's under discussion, in that line. No, though, of course Wars of the Roses isn't as well known as the others. I was being a bit irritable. (And that because I felt like I was being subjected to a reform. There have been many reforms lately, and I'm feeling older and crankier by the day.) Geogre 01:37, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

Henry VIII vs. Reformation[edit]

I had "dispersal of the monasteries under Henry VIII." That, to me, is far more precise than "during the Protestant Reformation," because the Reformation had nothing to do with books getting destroyed anywhere else. Specifically, Henry seized the lands and possessions of the monasteries. As a result, monastic libraries fell into private hands or were destroyed. This created an enormous bout of Old English amnesia, and that has everything to do with discussing the sources of the Peterborough Chronicle's accounts of the early 12th century. The Protestants weren't against early Middle English, but Henry was against the Roman Church owning land, and so he nationalized and broke it up, and that destroyed our hopes of knowing enough about OE and eME literature. England had a better vernacular literature than any nation in Europe until Henry VIII, and it suddenly had a worse one after him. Some collectors like Laud would snatch up volumes indiscriminately (because they couldn't read the contents), and that was possible as late as Harley and Percy in the 18th century, but it was the act of closing monasteries that did it. Geogre 01:25, 6 October 2005 (UTC) :I didn't catch that it was a person who knew all that who made the change. Sorry for being pedantic to one who doesn't need it. My apologies. I think it would be cool if the Henry VIII article had a section on the effects of closing the monasteries, or if Old English literature or Middle English literature had a section on why specimens are hard to come by, or if there were an article on Loss of medieval English texts (but with a title that could actually be found by someone) so that there would be a concise way of referring to the whole complex of historical events that resulted in English "beginning" with Chaucer and the courtly poets. We need something that can separate the literary practicalities of anti-Catholicism from the general effects of the Reformation in England. Geogre 01:41, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

Well, this is what happens when I don't honor our glorious forebearers. The whole issue is mooted by the discovery of Dissolution of the Monasteries, which I found, incidentally, in Winchester Cathedral. :-) Geogre 01:52, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

Somebody must have changed it by the time I got there, then, because at that point it read only "The Peterborough copyists probably used multiple sources for their chronicle, but the destruction of many of the chronicles during the reign of Henry VIII makes it impossible to tell." No monasteries. I wouldn't have changed it if the monasteries had been in there, but I thought "during the reign of Henry VIII" demanded a little historical knowledge from the reader, which it would be better if the text supplied. Hence my "Reformation" change. -Bishonen | talk 07:31, 6 October 2005 (UTC)
PS. But the unlinking and the Reformation weren't meant as reforms; changing them in the article just seemed the simplest way of making suggestions. Changing back is easy. Bishonen | talk 10:06, 6 October 2005 (UTC).

At any rate, it should work now. In most cases, when someone makes a change, I think about it a lot before changing back. I'm just glad that there is an article on Wikipedia that describes the events that led to so many works being lost. It's a blue link that can actually be helpful. Geogre 10:31, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

I only made the addition because there wasn't anything there about the Reformation or the dispersal of the monasteries. Sorry if it caused trouble. Bishonen | talk 17:30, 9 October 2005 (UTC)


The word "dearth" appears twice in the article. Is the first one supposed to be "death"? Or if "dearth" is the intended meaning, maybe "famine" would be stronger as well as avoiding the appearance of a typo.

Stephen Turner 14:43, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

Thanks. You're right. I haven't checked to see if either is a typo, but, supposing both were intended, it's too unusual a word to use twice in such a short article. I'll make the change. Geogre 17:33, 6 October 2005 (UTC)

And, once it got on the main page, someone decided that "dearth" must have been a typo and changed it to "death." <sigh> O tempore O mores! (Oh, and the links grew positively incontinent.) So it goes. Non-ownership of one's words and all that. Geogre 12:51, 11 November 2005 (UTC)
At least I asked rather than changing it. :-) I have long thought that featured articles should be protected for the one day they're on the front page. I assume there's some long series of arguments about this somewhere... Stephen Turner 13:09, 11 November 2005 (UTC)
Nah. It's no big deal, really. I mean I figure that the real work on an FA is the day after it has been on the main page, because that's when you have to determine if any non-vandalism was actually helpful. I understand the instinct of people who want to link everything in the world, and I don't mind. I figure it's the thought that counts, but I will put "dearth" back in there. After all, it's a cool word, but you were right that it's too cool to be there twice. Geogre 13:56, 11 November 2005 (UTC)


Congratulations! Bishonen | talk 17:30, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

Chronicles' End[edit]

I was dissapointed that there wasn't more discussion of why the chronicle ended, or what happend to it between the time it ceased being updated and the time it ended up in the hands of William Laud. -- 18:48, 11 November 2005 (UTC)

Largely, we don't know. We know about Laud's acquisition, but not about why the chronicle ended. We assume that the new abbot stopped it, but the fact is that there simply are no words beyond that spot to tell us. The monastic authors wouldn't have said, being obedient monks, and other sources are few, in Latin, and unconcerned with some "trivial" matters. As for the acquisition by Laud, that had to do with the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII closed the monasteries. The program was not completed overnight, and it continued all the way to the time of Laud himself. Each monastery's holdings were seized, supposedly by the crown, and that meant, often, that local lords and church officials got the documents. Laud is a good part of this story, because he preserved what he got and gave it to Oxford. Other people were not so good. One Anglo-Saxon poem, for example (Waltherus), was discovered as a wadded up padding for a book binding. Once people ceased being able to read Old English, they started lighting fires with manuscript pages, scraping off text and reusing the paper, and using the paper as wadding. Geogre 19:30, 11 November 2005 (UTC)

The final entries look beyond the years 1137 and 1138, so they were clearly completed substantially after this time. This, of course, makes it all the more mysterious, because if the new abbot stopped them writing, why didn't he stop them when he became abbot, and, if not, why did they only date their entries so far, but continue beyond? I don't have an answer, btw.Martin Turner 00:00, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

No, nor I. It seems like it's the new abbot (because the last entries are not concurrent), but no one knows. They wouldn't talk about why they weren't talking, after all, and they wouldn't complain in a Chronicle, if they were good monks. The supporters of the Abbot-did-it camp argue that the last entries were done during brief abbotcies or in disobedience, surreptitiously or when there was a change in administration. Other one knows. However, they come to a grinding halt all around the isle at about the same spot well before Peterborough, so it would seem to be something at least marginally coordinated among the Norman headmen. Certainly, they had a different view of history, but that's not enough to explain it by itself. Geogre 03:28, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Why not a lax monastery?[edit]

I do not understand this sentence in section Peterborough Chronicle#Unique authorial voice: It does not seem likely that Peterborough was in any sense a lax or secular monastery, as the description of drunkenness causing the fire would not have made the abbey singular in the age. - drunken monks were not unusual then, therefore the monastery was likely to have been strict? I cannot follow the logic here. -Wikibob | Talk 10:16, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

I think it means "the drunkenness doesn't necessarily imply that the monastery was lax". But I agree it's not very well phrased. Stephen Turner 10:35, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

Essentially, the account of the fire in the Chronicle is a bit ambiguous. It was caused by drunkenness, but whether that was on the part of the brothers or the laity in the town is ambiguous. However, supposing that it was due to the brothers, fires themselves were common. In an age before fire departments and of wooden buildings, any fire could destroy a whole complex. Therefore, a single forgetful or drunken person could conceivably be the "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" of Peterborough. There is no reason to say that the incident indicates a bacchanal or some golliardism. Their admission in the Chronicle that drinking caused the fire could be 1) taking the blame unnecessarily (as the monks would say that the reign of Stephen was "for our sins"), 2) just an attribution of cause and not self-flagellation, 3) just an accident. In other words, it wasn't a bad house, and the fire isn't any evidence of moral weakness. The monks were liable to blame themselves for everything, and yet they don't blame themselves for the fire. If they don't, then we shouldn't, either. Geogre 13:27, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

Not clear to me[edit]

I had a difficulty with the following paragraph, though it may just be me:

"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. While the Peterborough Chronicle is not professional history, and one still needs Latin histories (e.g. William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum Anglorum), it is one of the few first-hand accounts of the period from 1070 to 1154 in England written in English and from a non-courtly point of view."

Since there was a fire, one would suppose that Peterborough's entire version of the Chronicle was destroyed. Indeed, it says later in the article that other versions were copied to make up the missing years and that this version doesn't become unique until 1122. If it was copied from other versions, it cannot therefore be a first-hand account of the period from 1070 to 1122. Also, if there were versions available to copy for that period, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles could not have generally ceased: perhaps most versions ceased but some obviously continued, though they may now be lost.

Even so, it's a fascinating article. qp10qp 14:45, 25 May 2007 (UTC)

Well, are we at a loggerheads with the exact dates? I got the range of dates from Bennett, but they do have troubles. The fire occurs 1122. From 1122 - 1154, this is the sole source for non-courtly, English history. The question is 1066 - 1122? I think that can be answered the following way, but here I'm trying to explain Bennett and not myself. Winchester's goes to around 1080 or 1100, and Peterborough copied it. From 1080 - 1122, Peterborough contains new (to us) material that the "first continuation" author put in from a putative "Kentish chronicle." It has all sorts of things that we find here and there, but it puts it into its own order, and the first continuation author also puts in things from his memory (we guess), so it becomes, as Bennett says.
The rest of your 2nd paragraph is absolutely right. The Chronicles petered out (so to speak), and there is a supposed lost one that might have gone a little later than Parker. The hard core "I can't believe they kept going" stuff is The Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda.
Your problem isn't just you, but I was more or less quoting, and Bennett cannot be asked. I could and perhaps should edit, though, to make it more precise than Bennett was. It's just that his is one of those grandee names that inspires awe and fear in medievalists. He could contradict himself all day long, and yet he would probably be right in the end. Geogre 20:37, 25 May 2007 (UTC)
Bearing in mind what you have said, I have changed "of the period" to "from the period". This covers a multitude of possibilities, I think. qp10qp 01:44, 26 May 2007 (UTC)

MS links[edit]

I've linked a couple of the specific manuscript redlinks to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle#Surviving manuscripts section of the ASC article. I haven't done this for the Kentish Chronicle redlink, as there isn't much mention of such a chronicle there, though perhaps there should be. Mike Christie (talk) 09:38, 25 June 2007 (UTC)

No indeed. In fact, I would have always preferred that there be no link, but I was trying not to WP:OWN and all that. During FAC or during its time on the main page, one, someone came along and "helped" by bracketing Kentish Chronicle. Since the dang thing is purely hypothetical, and not really an hypothesis with any strength to it, we can never have an article there. What would we say, "A proposed but lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that could help explain some of the localisms found in surviving Kentish MSS?" That would be a definition, and the article that sent them there (this one), would have already explained it. I didn't want to seem ungrateful for the editing attention or hurt anyone's feelings, so I've left it red all this time, but no longer. Geogre 11:43, 25 June 2007 (UTC)