16.01.01, Home, The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

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Jacqueline A. Fay

The Medieval Review 16.01.01

Home, Malasree. The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Rewriting Post-Conquest History. Anglo-Saxon Studies, 27. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2015. pp. 196. ISBN: 978-1-78327-001-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Jacqueline A. Fay
University of Texas at Arlington

When I first read the introduction to Malasree Home's The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, I thought perhaps she was working harder than she needed to justify her focus on the Peterborough manuscript in particular. Home's introduction places some weight on Alice Sheppard's and Thomas Bredehoft's book-length studies of the Chronicle as representing a trend of study of the text as a single cultural construct, which her study breaks by examining one manuscript in depth. But given the attentiveness of scholars such as Sheppard and Bredehoft to the individual manuscript versions within their studies, I thought Home might be overemphasizing the difference between an analysis based on one manuscript and an approach to the Chronicle project in its entirety. And I am still not sure, for instance, that I agree with her assessment that "any generalisations regarding the nature of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a whole may not be valid upon a close consideration of the individual Chronicle manuscripts" (11). The simple fact that every individual Chronicle manuscript has local history and relevance does not obviate its simultaneous participation in broader cultural narratives, for instance of lordship; nor does every Chronicle version have to manifest a project-wide meaning or topos to the same degree. And in fact, when Home gets into the meat of her analysis, many of her assertions prove this fact. For example, she finds that the E text's tendency towards localization, the "appropriation of a text traditionally regarded as a record of national matters," is typical of the late-continuing Chronicle versions in general (59), although probably the E text is the most distinctive and observable manifestation of this phenomenon (one reason why I'm not sure that Home's approach would be equally effective for every manuscript). That all being said, by the time I had finished the book I realized that not only was her methodology deeply novel in its focus on one manuscript, but that I wished she had begun with a much stronger statement of the argument's implications for post-Conquest text production. So in short, my main critique of this book is a small and complimentary one: Home is too modest in the way she positions her claims at the outset.

Chapter 1, "Textualising the Past," examines the interpolations made to the proto-manuscript of E in the 1120s after it arrived at Peterborough. As Home points out, E is somewhat unusual in being a fair copy of a manuscript in which local interpolations had already been made; thus the additions are indistinguishable visually from the received text. This chapter makes a convincing argument for "the Interpolations not as later embellishments for a text belonging to a tradition of vernacular historiography, but as a coherent articulation of local identity," and strong evidence for the continuing vitality of the Chronicle tradition into the twelfth century (29). In a series of close readings of the interpolations, she demonstrates the self-conscious way that the chronicler used Latin source material and developed a coherent narrative of the abbey's founding and development through time. This positions the E text as part of the twelfth-century bolstering and reinvention of the origins of monastic foundations. Two key points emerge from this chapter: the extensive dialogue between Latin and vernacular texts at Peterborough; and the resulting generic "hybridity" of the E text. These are both interesting and significant developments in Chronicle scholarship. My only critique of this chapter is the relegation of close reading of the primary text to the footnotes, which not only produces some unwieldy annotations but also seems unbalanced given that therein lies the proof of Home's points about artifice and narrative shaping. I would have enjoyed at least one extended close examination of a passage from the E text itself in the course of the argument, especially to mitigate the sense of disjointedness that sometimes creeps from the Chronicle itself into scholarly examinations of it. Home could also point out here the degree to which her analysis of the prose of the Interpolations as rhetorical is indebted to earlier scholarship such as Cecily Clark's seminal 1971 essay "The Narrative Mode of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle before the Conquest," an approach which Home could claim she is extending to the post-Conquest material.

The second chapter, "Continuing the Chronicle," examines the two continuations to the E text, the first of which is written in six blocks and covers the years 1122-31 and the second of which is written in one stint around 1154/5 and extends to the end of the text in 1154. Home argues that the first continuation, which is one of the few parts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to represent somewhat contemporary active chronicling, shares strong formal and rhetorical similarities with the interpolations and was likely the work of a single author/compiler/scribe. The second continuation, written some twenty years later, is clearly the work of a second individual but one well-versed in the narrative strategies of the preceding sections, especially the ways that these have been used to write and promote abbey history. However, the later continuator followed a different course to achieving this aim: he develops a much more flexible treatment of the chronological structure of annals and also includes extended, subjective and lurid accounts of violence. Nevertheless, in this fine analysis of the prose and preoccupations of the continuations, Home shows that when "[s]een as a unit, rather than as separate phases, the Peterborough Chronicle is a powerful expression of the abbey's origins, identity, and fortunes, integrated within a document of national historiography in the vernacular" (99).

In "Making the Chronicle: Form, Genre, Identity," the third chapter, Home examines the compilation of the E text in relation to historiographical production at Peterborough and in twelfth-century England in general. Since no evidence survives about how the Chronicle was put together, the analysis must proceed inductively by examining: other manuscripts that may have been copied by the same scribe; the "compilatory and authorial stance," especially as it compares to the F text; the relationship of the E text to contemporaneous Latin historiography; and the generic identity of the Chronicle in the twelfth century. Home generates many fascinating potential conclusions from this four-pronged analysis, all contributing to the overall point that the E text has a place within a "thriving output of historiography at Peterborough" and that the Chronicle was used by a relatively wide network of twelfth-century historians, rather than being "the last gasp of vernacular historiography" as has usually been asserted (105). More particularly, Home shows that the E text was one project emerging from a lively scriptorium where scribes and compilers of both Latin and vernacular texts shared source material. The sophistication with which the E version was copied and continued at Peterborough, which produced a very clean and consistent text, suggest scribe-compilers of great skill, and the ultimate demise of the text may have been due to a dearth of such individuals after a certain point in time. In another interesting section of this chapter, Home considers whether the E text was influenced by version F, since proto-E likely came to Peterborough via Canterbury, where F was created. Although the details of this relationship are difficult to establish, Home makes the interesting point that the similarities between E and F could represent an editorial stance shared between two monastic centers, and perhaps a tradition of twelfth-century Chronicle adaptation and continuation. Other highlights of this chapter are Home's demonstration of how widely the Chronicle is used as a source in the twelfth century, and her argument that the E text hybridizes into a sort of "chronicle-cartulary" (135).

The final chapter looks "Beyond the Chronicle" by examining the Latin historiography that post-dates the Chronicle at Peterborough in order to deduce why vernacular production declined. By comparing the E text with the house history written in the late twelfth-century by Hugh Candidus, Home finds that the liberal inclusion of hagiography in the latter ultimately made it a more effective vehicle for monastic history than the Chronicle which, while generically adaptive to the degree of including charters and land grants, "was parsimonious with regard to the inclusion of hagiographic material" (165).

The close of this final chapter reiterates the main argument of the book, and then makes clear its broader significance. As Home writes, "the importance of this version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for Peterborough Abbey, and (in retrospect), for our critical perception of medieval texts, cannot be overestimated" (168). While her study tells us much about the E text of the Chronicle and about textual culture at Peterborough, it also reevaluates "the dynamics between Latin and vernacular historiography in the twelfth century, both at a local level and beyond," indicating a post-Conquest "textual culture...that was vibrant and symbiotic, as well as fluid and flexible in terms of form and genre" (171). I was very glad to hear this claim made for the book, because its importance extends well beyond the world of Chronicle enthusiasts, and could be better advertised in the title, which unfortunately might suggest that the volume is only relevant to that relatively small audience of people who enjoy wrangling over the relationships between Chronicle manuscripts and debating chronological dislocations. This finely-researched and well-argued study not only represents a new departure in Chronicle studies, but also makes a deep impact on that neglected and unglamorous realm of text production in the 150 years after the Conquest. I hope it finds the wider audience it deserves.

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