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From the earliest times to 1558


CÆDMON: died A.D. 680.

Cadmon, a monk of Whitby, was the first Anglo-Saxon of note who composed in his own language. He wrote several poems on religious subjects.

Nu we sceolan herian

heofon-ríces weard, metodes mihte, and his mod-ge-thonc, wera wuldor fæder!

From The Creation.

swa he wundra ge-hwæs, ece dryhten,

oord onstealde.
He ærest ge-scéop
ylda bearnum

heofon to hrófe,
halig scyppend!
tha middan-geard
mon-cynnes weard,
ece dryhten,
æfter teode,
firum foldan,

frea ælmihtig!

Now we shall praise the guardian of heaven, the might of the creator, and his counsel,

the glory-father of men! how he of all wonders, the eternal lord, formed the beginning. He first created

for the children of men heaven as a roof,

the holy creator! then the world

the guardian of mankind, the eternal lord, produced afterwards, the earth for men, the almighty master!



KING ALFRED: 849-901.

Alfred translated from the Latin the historical works of Orosius and Bede, and some religious and moral treatises.

From his translation of Boethius's work On The Consolation of Philosophy.

Fela spella him sædon tha Beormas, ægther ge of hyra agenum lande ge of them lande the ymb hy utan wæron; ac he nyste hwæt thæs sothes wær, for-them he hit sylf ne geseah. Tha Finnas him thuhte, and tha Beormas spræcon neah an getheode. Swithost he for thyder, to-eacan thas landes sceawunge, for thæm hors-hwælum, for-them hi habbath swythe athele ban on hyra tothum, tha teth hy brohton sume thæm cynincge: and hyra hyd bith swythe god to scip-rapum. Se hwæl bith micle læssa thonne othre hwalas, ne bith he lengra thonne syfan elna lang; ac on his agnum lande is se betsta hwæl-huntath, tha beoth eahta and feowertiges elna lange, and tha mæstan fiftiges elna lange; thara he sæde that he syxa sum ofsloge syxtig on twam dagum. He was swythe spedig man on them æhtum the heora speda on beoth, that is on wild-deorum.

Many things him told the Beormas, both of their own land and of the land that around them about were; but he wist not what (of-) the sooth was, for-that he it self not saw. The Finns him thought, and the Beormas spoke nigh one language. Chiefliest he fared thither, besides the land's seeing, for the horsewhales, for-that they have very noble bones in their teeth, these teeth they brought some (to-) the king: and their hide is very good for ship-ropes. This whale is much less than other whales, not is he longer than seven ells long; but in his own land is the best whalehunting, they are eight and forty ells long, and the largest fifty ells long; (of-) these he said that he (of-) six some slew sixty in two days. He was (a) very wealthy man in the ownings that their wealth in is, that is in wild-deer.

ALFRIC, Archbishop of Canterbury: died 1006.

Alfric wrote a collection of homilies, a translation of the first seven books of the Bible, and some religious treatises.

From his Paschal Homily.

Hæthen cild bith ge-fullod, ac hit ne bræt na his hiw with-utan, dheah dhe hit beo with-innan awend. Hit bith ge-broht synfull dhurh Adames forgægednysse to tham fant fate. Ac hit bith athwogen fram eallum synnum with-innan, dheah dhe hit with-utan his hiw ne awende. Eac swylce tha halige fant water, dhe is ge-haten lifes wyl-spring, is ge-lic on hiwe odhrum wæterum, & is under dheod brosnunge; ac dhæs halgan gastes miht ge-nealacth tham brosnigendlicum wætere, dhurh sacerda bletsunge, & hit meg sythan lichaman & sawle athwean fram eallum synnum, dhurh gastlice mihte.

(A) heathen child is christened, yet he altereth not his shape without, though he be within changed. He is brought sinful through Adam's disobedience to the font-vessel. But he is washed from all sins inwardly, though he outwardly his shape not change. Even so the holy font water, which is called life's fountain, is like in shape (to) other waters, and is subject to corruption; but the Holy Ghost's might comes (to) the corruptible water through (the) priests' blessing, and it may afterwards body and soul wash from all sin, through ghostly might.



From The Saxon Chronicle, 1154; a compilation of monastic registers from the time of Alfred to 1154.

On this yær wærd the King Stephen ded, and bebyried there his wif and his sune wæron bebyried at Tauresfeld. That ministre hi makiden. Tha the king was ded, tha was the eorl beionde sæ. And ne durste nan man don other bute god for the micel eie of him. Tha he to Engleland come, tha was he underfangen mid micel wortscipe; and to king bletcæd in Lundine, on the Sunnen dæi beforen mid-winterdæi.

In this year was the King Stephen dead, and buried where his wife and his son were buried, at Touresfield. That minster they made. When the king was dead, then was the earl beyond sea. And not durst no man do other but good for the great awe of him. When he to England came, then was he received with great worship; and to king consecrated in London, on the Sunday before mid-winter-day (Christmas-day).

LAYAMON: between 1155 and 1200.

Layamon, a monk, wrote a metrical English translation of Le Brut d'Angleterre (Brutus of England), a French poem by Wace, a native of Jersey. The translation was composed about the time when the Saxons and Normans began to adopt a common language.


From his translation of Wace's Brut d'Angleterre.

Tha the king igeten hafde
And al his mon-weorede,
Tha bugan out of burhge
Theines swithen balde.
Alle tha kinges,

And heore here-thringes.
Alle tha biscopes,
And alle tha clarckes,
Alle the eorles,

And alle tha beornes.
Alle tha theines,
Alle the sweines,
Feire iscrudde,
Helde geond felde.

Summe heo gunnen æruen,
Summe heo gunnen urnen,
Summe heo gunnen lepen,
Summe heo gunnen sceoten,
Summe heo wrestleden
And wither-gome makeden,
Summe heo on velde
Pleouweden under scelde,
Summe heo driven balles
Wide geond the feldes.
Moni ane kunnes gomen
Ther heo gunnen drinen.

When the king eaten had

And all his multitude of attendants,
Then fled out of the town

The people very quickly.

All the kings,

And their throngs of servants.

All the bishops,

And all the clerks,

All the earls,

And all the barons.
All the thanes,
All the swains,
Fairly dressed,

Held (their way) through the fields.
Some they began to discharge arrows
Some they began to run,
Some they began to leap,

Some they began to shoot (darts),
Some they wrestled
And made wither-games,1
Some they on field
Played under shield,
Some they drive balls
Wide over the fields.
Many a kind of game
There they gan urge.

1 Games of emulation.




From a Proclamation of Henry III., A.D. 1258.


Henry, thurg Godes fultome, King on Engleneloande, lhoaurd Yrloand, Duke on Normand, on Acquitain, Eorl on Anjou, send I greting, to alle hise holde, ilærde & ilewerde on Huntingdonschiere.

That witen ge well alle, that we willen & unnen that ure rædesmen alle other, the moare del of heom, the beoth ichosen thurg us and thurg that loandes-folk on ure Kuneriche, habbith idon, and schullen don, in the worthnes of God, and ure threowthe, for the freme of the loande, thurg the besigte of than toforen iseide rædesmen, beo stedfæst and ilestinde in alle thinge abutan ænde, and we heaten alle ure treowe, in the treowthe that heo us ogen, thet heo stede-feslliche healden & weren to healden & to swerien the isetnesses thet beon makede and beo to makien, thurg than toforen iseide rædesmen, &c.

Henry, through God's support, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, of Acquitain, Earl of Anjou, sends greeting, to all his subjects, learned and unlearned,1 of Huntingdonshire.

This know ye well all, that we will and grant, what our counsellors all or the more part of them, that be chosen through us and through the land-folk of our kingdom, have done, and shall do, to the honour of God, and our allegiance, for the good of the land, through the determination of those beforesaid counsellors, be steadfast and permanent in all things without end, and we enjoin all our lieges, by the allegiance that they us owe, that they steadfastly hold and swear to hold and to maintain the ordinances that be made, and be to be made through the beforesaid counsellors, &c.

ROBERT, a monk of Gloucester Abbey.

From his Rhyming Chronicle, written about the close of the 13th century.

Thus come lo! Engelonde into Nor

mannes honde,

And the Normans ne couthe speke tho bote her owe speche, And speke French as dude atom, and

here chyldren dude al so teche; So that heymen of thys lond, that of her blod come, Holdeth alle thulke speche that hii of hem nome.

Vor bote a man couthe French me

tolth of hym wel lute; Ac lowe men holdeth to Englyss and to her kunde speche yute. Ich wene ther ne be man in world contreyes none

That ne holdeth to her kunde speche,

bot Engelond one.

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And spake French as did at home, and their children did all so teach; that high men of this land, that of their blood come, Hold all the same speech that they of them took.

For but a man know French men tell of him well little; But low men hold to English and to their natural speech yet.

I ween there not be man in world countries none

That not holdeth to their natural speech but England one (only).

Ac wel me wot vor to conne both But well I wot for to know both

well it is;

Vor the more that a man con, the For the more that a man knows, the

wel yt ys;

more worth he ys.

more worth he is.

1 Clergy and laity.

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