In contrast to the dramatic and vivid poetry of Beowulf, this Old English text is an official, factual document. It is a kind of year-by-year history of England, and is the earliest known history of England to have been written in the English language. It is thought to have been commissioned by King Alfred (848/9 to 899), after which it was sent to monasteries throughout the land. The Chronicle begins with the birth of Christ and, in most versions, the entries cease soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066. However, one version continued until as late as 1154.
The following passage from the Chronicle refers to the Battle of Hastings: 'Then Count William came from Normandy to Pevensey on Michaelmas eve, and as soon as they were able to move on they built a castle at Hastings. King Harold was informed of this and he assembled a large army and came against him at the hoary apple tree. And William came against him by surprise before his army was drawn up in battle array. But the king nevertheless fought hard against him, with the men who were willing to support him, and there were heavy casualties on both sides. Then King Harold was killed, and Earl Leofwine his brother, and Earl Grythe his brother, and many good men, and the French remained masters of the field...' Old English was the language of the Anglo Saxons, but following the Norman Invasion, French would become the language of power.
Eight manuscripts of the Chronicle have survived, of which six are in the British Library. This manuscript formerly belonged to Abingdon Abbey - it gives local information about Abingdon, strongly suggesting that it was also written there. It was written in about 1046 and contains additions to 1066. The pages shown here contain entries for the years 824 to 833.