Kings & Dates -
1 Capture of the Five Boroughs
The re-capture of the Midlands from the Danes celebrated in verse.
2 Alfred on Athelney - ASC 878
The story of the king's rout by the Danes in a surprise midwinter attack,
his retreat to the marshes and his triumphant return in the spring of
the following year.
3 Cynewulf and Cyneheard - ASC 755
The classic text concerning divided loyalty in a king's warband.
4 The Danes' Harrying - ASC 997
Deniga Hergung (The Danes' Harrying) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Entry for
the Year AD997. King Alfred's wars with the Danes were decisive in stopping
the tide of Viking Conquest across western Europe. A century later, however,
further waves of Scandinavians ravaged the British Isles. This excerpt
tells of attacks against the West Country.
5 Engla Tocyme (The Arrival of the English)
From the Old English version of Bede', Ecclesiastical History of the English
People. The story of the invitation by the post-Roman British authorities
to the Angles to help protect the province from the Picts, and how their
policy went disastrously wrong.
6 Battle of Brunanburh
The Battle of Brunanburh appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the
year 937, recording a notable English victory over a combined force of
Scots and Norse-Irish at 'Bruna's stronghold', Here we find Old English
verse doing one of the jobs it was designed for - making a lasting record
of a significant event.
Crime & Punishment
from the Laws of King Ine
Ines Domas Two Extracts from the Laws or King Ine. The first is the preface,
in which the king expresses his concern for the correctness of his judgements
and the stability of his law-code, while the second concerns the legal
penalties for fighting in a variety of places.
8 The Ordeal
(Be ðon ðe ordales weddigaþ) The reliability of an individual's
oath was central to the Anglo-Saxon evidential and legal process; in case
of doubt, it was occasionally necessary to back up one's words with an
appeal to divine proof.
Health & Wellbeing
9 Leechdoms - medical texts
Apart from traditional English herbal lore and folk wisdom, some Anglo-Saxon
medical books were filled with hand-me-down versions of classical medical
texts such as the Herbarium Apulei. Here, a remedy for blains and two
others for poisons are given.
Anglo-Saxon medicine was a mixture of classical and Christian tradition,
folklore and native northern European herbal learning, Sicknesses were
generally attributed to attack by outside agencies (e.g. a 'dwarf', 'elf'
or 'wen') which could he counteracted by a combination of herbal treatments
and banishing formulas. This Anglo-Saxon view of invasive elements is
remarkable in that it is contrary to everything classical medicine taught
(where illnesses were. due to an imbalance in the four bodily 'humours'
or liquids) and predates the germ theory of disease by more than a thousand
years. Two additional, non-medical charms are given - for luck on a journey,
and to make bees swarm.
10 Charm Against a Dwarf
11 Charm Against a Wen
12 Charm Against Waterelf Sickness
13 Nine Herbs Charm
This poem lists the nine most powerful plants used in Anglo-Saxon leechcraft,
and some intriguing allusions to folklore (probably - what was common
knowledge in those times and so not worth recording has since been lost
through remaining unrecorded). It also contains one of the few references
in Anglo-Saxon literature to the god Woden, whose central role in pre-Christian
healing may be assumed from Scandinavian parallels.
14 Journey Charm
15 Wið Ymbe - for a swarm of bees
16 Wulf & Eadwacer
From the Exeter Book. A classic tale of female longing, related in short,
17 BeowuIf - The Funeral of Scyld Scefing.
In the opening scenes of Beowulf, the foundation of the Danish kingdom
by Scyld Scefing is recounted, his death and splendid funeral.
18 The Wanderer
From the Exeter Book. The peregrinations of a luckless man who happened
to survive his warlord, searching for a worthy home, and finding consolation
From the Exeter Book. This poem is unique in the corpus Of Anglo-Saxon
verse in having a refrain which may be freely rendered as 'that passed
over, so may this'. Through brief allusions to mythical and legendary
tales, it demonstrates how good fortune may turn to bad (and back again
to good!). The Poet reflects on the limits of man's knowledge of what
is to come and finally tells his own story.
20 Beowulf's Greeting
Beowulf's Greeting Having decided to undertake the dangerous cask of matching
himself against the monster Grendel, Beowulf travels to the Hroðgar's
hall where he presents his credentials as a valiant fighter to the ageing
Danish king and outlines his intentions.
Poems in praise of cities were a classical tradition, Still common in
mediaeval Europe. This one, dating from the opening years of the twelfth
century, is among the last surviving pieces of Old English verse to be