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Source Manuscripts and their Evolution (work in progress)

[Image: Scribe monks, fol. 1v. from Alfonso X's 1283 'Book of Chess, Dice and Tables'.  Royal Library of the Monastery of El Escorial, Spain.]

Work in progress

In studying the history of Montacute I'm searching for facts, but I am always relying on what others have written. If the same fact has independently been written multiple times then I have more confidence in the truth of it than if I only encounter a fact once. This is of particular concern when looking at the earliest records as many borrow from others. In addition, manuscripts were hand-copied for distribution, so errors could creep in and also modifications.

De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) by Gildas, c.500 AD

Gildas' 'On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain' is a manuscript I see referenced often as a source of information for many subsequent histories. However there isn't that much content in its few pages. Gildas himself says he was born in the year of the Battle of Mount Bladon, when the Britons defended themselves against the Saxons in a battle 44 years after they first arrived; his birth date is reckoned to be towards the end of the 5th century. Gildas was probably born in Scotland, educated in South Wales, and ordained in Ireland. After many years of missionary work he then opted to become a hermit in Brittany but failed because he attracted too many followers. In Gildas' time England was divided into the seven Kingdoms (the Heptarchy) of Wessex, Sussex, Essex, Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Kent. Although his work is considered to be a source for subsequent authors, it contains few historical facts. Mostly, Gildas rants against the departure of the Romans, indolent unGodly Britons, and cruel usurpers. Datable information includes the names (with his opinion) of Roman emperors Tiberius Caesar (r. 42 BC-32 AD), Diocletian (r. 284-305) and Maximus (r. 383-388), as well as the pre-saxon martyrs St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius. He mentions incursions of Picts and Scots prompting King 'Gurthrigern' (Vortigern) to invite aid from the Saxons, and the subsequent British defence led by Ambrosius Aurelianus that lasts until the Battle of Mount Badon. Although written around 500 AD the oldest copy in existence is an 11th century manuscript, MS. Vitellius A. VI in the Cotton collection of the British Library (; this copy is too fire-damaged to read. A 12th century copy in Cambridge University Library, MS Ff. I. 27, has been digitised. For an earlier example, Bede's 731 AD Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) includes quotations from Gildas' work, and the earliest manuscripts of this date to the 8th century. 

Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) by Bede, 731 AD

The Northumbrian monk 'the Venerable Bede' (673-735) was a prolific writer of the early 8th century. His approx. 400 page Ecclesiastical History of the English People gives a chronological history divided into 5 books; from the departure of the Romans until 603 AD, 604-633, 633-665, 664-698 and 687-731 AD. An early, fire-damaged 8th century copy in the British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV, has been digitised (

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (The Early English Annals) 

The main written record concerning Saxon England is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, originally written in the early 890s (at the time of King Alfred) by a scribe "not far from the boundary between Somerset and Dorset". It is basically a chronologically-ordered history starting with events in Roman times; Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum will have been a major source of information for the Chronicle, with additional detail about Wessex derived from more local knowledge. The original manuscript, written in the vernacular, will have been copied and distributed. Some scribes may have copied accurately while others may have 'improved' the original text. Subsequent events were added to these copies and sometimes events (maybe of local significance) were interpolated into the original text. So the content of the extant chronicles diverges after the 890s; the MS maintained longest was continued until 1154. The MS containing the earliest entries is the 'Parker' chronicle originally from Winchester (Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 173), which was updated in different hands from around 891 (ref Hayward lecture notes).

Wikipedia gives a comprehensive analysis of the provenance of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Swanton's examination of 9 surviving early manuscripts of the Chronicle indicates likely inter-relationships (diagram accessed 2022 from Wikipedia):

A: The Winchester or Parker Chronicle. Digitised MS Cambridge Corpus Christi College 173, preceded in its binding by a West Saxon Regnal table and including in the same binding other earlier MS including King Ine's laws. Written at Winchester until 1001, then at Canterbury until 1099. 

A2: Cottonian Fragment (British Museum, digitised, Cotton MS. Otho B xi, 2)

B: Abingdon I.  MS London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius A vi, digitised, ff1-35 ( Continues to 977 AD with a list of Archbishops of Canterbury added around approx. 1100. Same MS includes (ff 121r–199v) a Chronicle of English history, AD 1042–1346 (incomplete)

C: Abingdon II. London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius B I, digitised, ff 115v–165r. ( Updated to 1066. 

D: The Worcester Chronicle. London, British Museum, Cotton MS.Tiberius B iv,  digitised,, ff 3r-86v ( Covers 60 BC–AD 261, 409–633, 693–1079, 1080 (recte 1130?). Mostly mid 11th century - early 12th century. Greater focus on northern/Scottish events, possibly intended for Anglicised Scottish court?

E: The Laud or Peterborough Chronicle;  (Bodleian, MS. Laud 636)  created after fire destroyed their library in 1120. Copied from the Winchester Chronicle to the 11th Century, then copied from multiple sources through 12th Century to 1122/1154? Greater focus on northern/Scottish events (as above).

F: The Bilingual Canterbury Epitome; British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A viii, digitised, ff 30r–70v. (  English and Latin, extends to 1058.

H: Cottonian Fragment; British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A ix. ( Entries for 1113 and 1114.

I: An Easter Table Chronicle (British Museum, Cotton MS.Caligula A XV ff 133 - 137)

Gesta Regum Anglorum ("Deeds of the English Kings") by William of Malmesbury

William of Malmesbury first wrote the history of the Kings of England around 1924-26 and Mynors et al (1998) describe the evolution of the manuscripts still in existence. By 1126 William had probably written an original version (version T) which was copied and distributed, and then a corrected copy was also copied and distributed (version A). Around 1135 he wrote a full revision of the document which was also copied and distributed (version C). A corrected C version was further copied and distributed (version B). He was writing his history of Glastonbury Church (De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesie) and The Deeds of the Bishops of the English (Gesta pontificum Anglorum) concurrently; research for these may have brought new material to light after he had produced his first draft of Gesta Regum Anglorum. It is likely that in his final revision he also moderated some of his opinions for political reasons. Oxford, Magdalen College, MS 172 is probably original (written in Malmesbury's hand) and includes many revisions. Copies of this manuscript were made during its revision enabling a chronology of the process to be deduced. (ref. Michael Winterbottom).

Note also check Mirabile website

'T' version 

British Library Add. 39646 ff. 54v-55v: Excerpts from Gesta Regum Anglorum  and ff. 106v-114r: Libellus de Gestis Anglorum (The Little Book on the Deeds of the English) containing extracts from Books 1-3 of Gesta Regum Anglorum by William of Malmesbury and various other texts. (Also ff. 114r-150v: William of Jumièges (d. c. 1087), Gesta Normannorum Ducum (Deeds of the Dukes of Normandy), beginning: ‘[E]x quo Francorum gens’.)

New York, H.P. Kraus Rare Books and Manuscripts, 19 (Phillipps 237)

A version 

Oxford, Magdalen College, MS lat. 172 (is this Winterbottom A?)

Cambridge, Trinity College, Ms. R.7.10 (748) (c.1170 Gesta Regum Anglorum and Historia Novella); 

British Library, Arundel 35 ( 1130 Winchester cathedral or Hyde abbey); ff. 1r-153v: Gesta regum Anglorum (imperfect). This is the earliest version of the text. The text in Additional MS 23147 is believed to have been copied from this manuscript (Winterbottom, Gesta Regum (1998))

British Library, Add. 23147; 12th centuryderives from Arundel 35?

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud misc. 548 (S.C. 1377) (ca. 1200, Gesta regum Anglorum and Historia novella);

London, British Library, Cotton Claudius C. IX, ff. 18r-102v, sec. XII ex; 

British Library, Harley 261. ( quarter of the 12th century-1st quarter of the 13th century, cathedral priory of St Andrew in Rochester?; ff. 4r-103v: Gesta regum Anglorum (Books I-V).ff. 108r-167r: Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Book I-III).

Oxford, All Souls College, 35 (Gesta Regum Anglorum and Historia Novella); 

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodl. 712 (S.C. 2619) (sec. XIV med. Gesta regum Anglorum, Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, and
Historia novella); 

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 54 (S.C. 4072) (sec. XIV in. Gesta pontificum Anglorum and Gesta regum Anglorum);

B version 

London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius A.V (Winterbotton B but check, is this same as Mynors B?)

Cambridge, Trinity College, Ms. R.7.1 (739) (Gesta Regum Anglorum and Historia Novella), 

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud misc. 729 (S.C. 30593); (sec. XII Gesta regum Anglorum and Gesta pontificum Anglorum);

British Library, Harley 447, c. 1212, (ff. 103-33 Gesta Regum Anglorum ) 

London, British Library, Royal 13.B.XIX

C version 

London, British Library, MS Harley 3641 (Winterbotton C but check, is this same as Mynors C?)

Cambridge, University Library, Ii.2.3, 

London, British Library, Add. 38129, (De gestis regum anglorum" (f. 1) and "Historia Novella" (f. 181))

British Library, Royal 13.D.II, 2nd half of the 12th century (De gestis regum Anglorum; (ff. 4-110); Historia Novella, (ff. 110-123v); Historia Regum Britanniae (ff. 124-173v)). 

British Library, Royal 13.D.V, 1st quarter of the 13th century, after 1206, the Benedictine abbey of St Albans. Gesta regum Anglorum, with the Historia Novella added as the sixth book (ff. 51-142) 

British Library, Arundel 161 last quarter of the 13th or 1st quarter of the 14th century (Ref Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi, De gesta regum Anglorum, ed. by William Stubbs, 2 vols, Rolls Series, 90 (London: Rolls Commission, 1887-1888), I, pp. lxxxi-lxxxii.  and Catalogue of Manuscripts in The British Museum, New Series, 1 vol. in 2 parts (London: British Museum, 1834-1840), I, part I: The Arundel Manuscripts, p. 44.)

Oxford, All Souls College, 33,


Oxford, All Souls College, MS 34 (Winterbottom E)

London, British Library, MS Arundel 222 (Winterbottom G)


Cotton MS Vespasian B VI, ff 111–182 William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum.
These folios contain an imperfect copy of the Historia rerum Anglicarum of William of Newburgh (b. 1135/6, d. c. 1198) Augustinian canon and historian. Although the last chapter is now missing, it is mentioned in the table of contents (f.111v). A quire is lacking as the catchword at the bottom of the leaf testifies (f. 182v). The Historia is divided into 5 books, covering the period from 1066 to 1198, from William the Conqueror to Richard the Lionheart. This particular copy, made in the 1st half of the 13th-century copy, was probably owned by the Augustinian abbey of Oseney in the Oxfordshire. The work ends imperfectly, a chapter is missing, f. 111r: William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum, Dedicatory letter to Ernaldus of Rielvaux. ff. 111r-v: Table of contents. ff. 111v-113r: Prologue of the Historia rerum Anglicarum. ff. 113r-182v: William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum with several nearly contemporary marginal glosses in Latin. The last one is dated to 1201 (f. 182v). Decoration: Initials in red and green, some with pen flourishing decoration. Letters in red and green. Rubrics in red. Line-fillers in red at the end of some rubrics.

Anselm 1033-1109

Historia Novorum 1066 to  1122. then MS.  Anselmi by Eadmer (1060-~1126),  (monk  of Christ-Church,  Canterbury,  pupil of  Archbishop  Anselm)

Peter Abelard (1079-1142)?

William of Malmesbury's Historia Novella (approx 1140)

Henry of Huntingdon's Historia Anglorum (1129–1154) Huntingdon Historia Analorum. The History of the English People, ed. and trans. Diana Greenway (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 6.24.381.

Simeon/Symeon of Durham 1090-1128

Aelred of Rievaulx (Northumbria) Genealogia Regum Anglorum 

Florence/John of worcester (1095-1140)

William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum

William of Poitiers 1020-1087)

Gesta Stephani (approx 1150)

Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage (Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1904-1914),1. 2.