The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are a collection of historical records recounting the history of the Anglo-Saxons. They were mostly written in the 9th century, during the reign of King Alfred the Great.

  • They cover different subjects, including farming and agriculture, the economy, laws of the time, and  wars and battles. The chronicles also include several long poems.
  • One poem, the Battle of Brunanburh, features in four of the surviving chronicles. It tells the story of a 10th century battle between Saxons, Scots and Vikings.
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are the most important and complete account of Britain between the 1st and 12th centuries. They also provide information on the development of the English language.
  • The chronicles are written in Old English, the oldest form of the English language. It is derived from dialects spoken by tribes in northern Europe and was brought to Britain by 5th century settlers.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

  • One entry in the Chronicles recounts one of the most famous events in British history, the Battle of Hastings in 1066. King Harold died at the battle, which marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule.
  • Today, nine of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts survive, yet none of them are the original version. Most are in the British Library in London, although one is in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and one in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
  • The Winchester Chronicle is the oldest of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles. It includes information about Alfred the Great, as well as the laws of Alfred, a guide to the rules and regulations of the period.
  • Alfred encouraged the use of English during his reign, and realized the importance of culture and education. The Winchester Chronicle may have been a result of his efforts to introduce these changes.
  • The chronicles were all written in different places and at different times, and can sometimes be seen as inaccurate. In some places, names and dates are not recorded accurately, and some of the passages are considered to be more legend than fact.

What next? Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our Anglo-Saxons resources page.

The Venerable Bede: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Venerable Bede.

  • The Venerable Bede, or Saint Bede, was an English monk who lived in a monastery in Northumberland. He is best known for writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English.

  • He was born in 673 and taken to a monastery at 7 years old. Bede learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew and became one of the most learned men in England, although he never left the country.
  • Bede wrote at least three Latin hymns. He also wrote several biographies, books on natural history, poetry and books designed to teach Latin grammar to monks.

The Venerable Bede

  • Bede’s most well known work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English was finished in 732. It is an account of British history from 54 BC to 597 AD
  • He was a strong supporter of using the term ‘anno domini’, or AD, to denote dates after the birth of Christ. It is largely because of the Venerable Bede that we still often use the method today.
  • The Venerable Bede was a scientist too. He worked out that the moon affected the tides, and he believed that the world was round, a major achievement for the time.
  • Bede calculated the date of Easter and stated that the creation of the earth occurred in 3952 BC. However, he was accused of blasphemy, as at the time, the accepted date was 4000 BC.
  • The Venerable Bede died in 735. He was buried in Jarrow, although his remains were later moved to Durham Cathedral, where his tomb can be seen today.
  • The Church declared Bede to be ‘venerable’ in 836. He was made a saint in 1899, as well as a Doctor of the Church, the only English man to hold that title.
  • Bede’s World is a museum in Jarrow, northern England which details his life and work. It contains a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon farm and coins, pottery and stained glass from the time.

What next? Discover more Anglo-Saxon facts by visiting the Primary Facts resources page.

Who were the Anglo-Saxons?

  • The term Anglo-Saxons refers to the people living in Britain from 550 to 1066 who were in part related to the Germanic tribes who settled in southern and eastern Britain during the 5th century, following the end of Roman rule.
  • Traditionally, the Germanic tribes were thought to include the Angles (from modern Germany), the Saxons (from modern day Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) and the Jutes (from Denmark), but it is believed that some Franks and Frisians settled too.

  • The Anglo-Saxon language (commonly called Old English) is closely linked to early Germanic languages. Old English was originally written in runes but was later recorded using characters from the Latin alphabet. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written in Old English as was the famous poem, Beowulf.

Anglo-Saxon Settlement
Anglo-Saxon Settlement (Source)

  • Alfred the Great called himself rex Angul-Saxonum (King of the English Saxons).
  • Harold Godwinson (King Harold II) was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He was defeated by William the Conqueror (a Norman) in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
  • Following the Norman victory and their conquest of Britain, the Anglo-Saxon nobility was replaced by a Norman nobility. The general population, however, was still mostly made up of Anglo-Saxons.

What next? Discover more Anglo-Saxon facts by visiting our Anglo-Saxon resources page.

Sutton Hoo: Facts About the Anglo-Saxon Burial Site

Here are some facts about Sutton Hoo, the burial site of an important Anglo-Saxon warrior.

  • Sutton Hoo is near the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, England. The site was excavated in the 1930s and it has revealed some incredibly important finds and helped to further our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain.

  • The items discovered at Sutton Hoo date from the 7th century. One of the items discovered in a burial chamber was an entire ship and its contents. The ship almost certainly belonged to an important warrior or leader and it was hauled up the River Deben to the burial site.
  • Buried with the ship were weapons, clothing, coins and valuable gold and silver items, some from the eastern Roman Empire.
  • The remains of a body did not survive because of the acidic soil, but phosphate analysis has indicated that there was once one present.
  • Many historians have concluded that Raedwald, the ruler of the East Angles, was the person who was buried with the ship. However, some believe it might be the final resting place of the warlord Aethelhere, Raedwald’s nephew, who died in 655 while fighting for Penda.
  • With a length of 90 feet, the ship was larger than many of today’s ocean going yachts. Although much of the ship had decomposed, archaeologists found many of the iron rivets still intact.
  • Fragments of various textiles were found in the chamber. These included cloaks and blankets, as well as brightly coloured cloth, possibly imported from overseas.
  • The most iconic item found at Sutton Hoo was the elaborate helmet. Wrapped in cloth and placed next to the head of the body, the helemt is one of the most important artefacts ever discoverd in England.

Sutton Hoo

  • The helmet has an iron crest decorated with two snake heads, and the helmet’s entire surface would have been covered with plaques showing scenes of warriors, battle and animals.
  • The helmet is encrusted with garnets (a semi-precious stone very popular in Anglo-Saxon times).
  • The shape of the helmet has similarities to those found in ship burials in eastern Sweden, but it also shares some features with helmets worn in the Roman Empire.
  • It is estimated that the Sutton Hoo helmet would have weight approximately 2.5 kg. It is not known whether the helmet would have been used in battle or whether it was only ceremonial.
  • There are 18 burial mounds in total at Sutton Hoo. Most were ransacked before they could be excavated by trained archaeologists. The majority of the important Anglo-Saxon artifacts were found in only a couple of mounds. Today, visitors are not allowed to stand on the mounds without a guide.
  • The area around Sutton Hoo, near to the River Deben estuary, was occupied as long ago as 3,000 BC.
  • Many of the treasures from Sutton Hoo are on permanent display in the British Museum in London. Some can also be seen in the National Trust visitor’s centre near the site.
  • The burial of the ship and its contents have been likened to those in the epic English poem Beowulf, which includes a description of a funeral in a treasure filled ship. There are also similarities with burials in Scandinavian countries.
  • The Sutton Hoo site was located on land owned by Edith Pretty, and the archaeological investigations there were begun by Basil Brown in 1938 and 1939.
  • John Preston’s historical novel The Dig focuses on Basil Brown’s 1939 excavations. In 2021 The Dig was turned into a film starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and Carey Mulligan.
  • Archaeologist Dr Sue Brunning has carried out a study of the sword found at Sutton Hoo. She has discoved that it is likely that the owner was left-handed, and that the sword was worn on the right of the body.
  • In 2021 a viewing tower was opened on the National Trust Sutton Hoo site. It is 17 metres high and made from wood and metal. It gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the site, and allows them to better identify the location of the ship burial.
  • Every year between 100,000 and 200,000 people visit the Sutton Hoo site.
  • The Sutton Hoo ship burial is the inspiration for Keven Crossley-Holland’s 1997 play The Wuffings.
  • The landscape of the Sutton Hoo site features in the 2020 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla videogame.
  • The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company is currently building a reconstruction of the wooden ship buried at Sutton Hoo. They are hoping to have the project completed by 2024, and are intending to sail from the River Deben to the Thames, and then want to go to the mouth of the River Trent, and on to Hartlepool and Whitby.
  • Pauline M. Sabin Moore has written a series of historical novels set in the 7th century and based around the Sutton Hoo site. The titles include Storm Frost and Brightfire.
  • The Darkness (a UK rock band) included a song titled Sutton Hoo on their 2019 Easter is Cancelled album.
  • Harriet Goodwin’s children’s book Gravenhunger is said to have been inspired by the Sutton Hoo site.