Investigating The Parker Chronicle

The Parker Chronicle (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173) is a fundamental manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Its siglum is A-Prime. The Parker Chronicle is sometimes known as the Winchester Chronicle, or the A-version. From my experience, Parker Chronicle is the more popular name. It is considered the oldest surviving ASC MS. Sometimes it is called the Parker Manuscript.

The first section of this article contains some of my thoughts as I read through the page the library had for this. The second section of this article contains a clear and concise list of questions to be answered. The third section includes some emails and closing comments.

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PC (The Parker Chronicle) is being held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but more specifically it is being held in the Parker Library. The library itself was largely established by and named after the Most Reverend Matthew Parker (1504-1575). The wiki has this to say about Parker’s motivations, “The Parker collection of early English manuscripts, including the book of St Augustine Gospels and “Version A” of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was created as part of his efforts to demonstrate that the English Church was historically independent from Rome, creating one of the world’s most important collections of ancient manuscripts.”

Here is some information from the Parker Library on the Web about the Parker Chronicle:

Approximate Date: [ca. 1099]; Winchester, [ca. 700 A.D. – 1099].

Summary: “In CCCC MS 173 is found the Parker Chronicle, one of the most important manuscripts for our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history. It was started in the late ninth century and continued into the eleventh. It originated somewhere in Wessex, probably Winchester where it has mid tenth-century provenance, but had moved to the cathedral priory of Christ Church, Canterbury by the end of the eleventh century. The volume was greatly valued by Parker and his circle; Parker brought the list of archbishops of Canterbury up to date to include own name. It was also used in the earliest printed book in Old English, Parker’s Testimonie of Antiquitie.”

Collection: Parker Manuscripts.

Repository: UK, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Parker Library.



The Dates:

Why are there multiple dates given to the chronicle? It says first that it is dated to c.1099, but then it says it is dated to c.700-1099. No additional information is given here about this. This information would be extremely useful for anyone interested in learning more about the chronicle. Why didn’t they add it? Do they not know? Do they not care? Did they think this information is not important? These are the keepers of this chronicle. Who dated it? When? How? Then later in the summary it says it was started in the late 9th century and continued into the 11th. What is it; 11th c., 8th-11th cc., or 9th-11th cc.?

…the Parker Chronicle,
one of the most important
manuscripts for our understanding
of Anglo-Saxon history.

Origins and Provenance:

They claim, “It originated somewhere in Wessex, probably Winchester…”. Why? Is the probability based solely on the “mid tenth-century provenance”? What is the provenance? No information is given on this at that part. Why not? Is the only piece of provenance (the place of origin or earliest known history of something) for one of the most important MS for understanding Anglo-Saxon history not important enough to include? As far as I can tell, its earliest known history is when it was given to Parker. When was it named the Parker Chronicle? What did Parker call it? I can’t imagine these questions have all gone unanswered for the past few hundred years, but I am absolutely stunned that the main keepers of the document don’t have these answers readily available on their website. If they do have these answers, why don’t they share them with the public?

Another comment that I had is that the provenance does not get its own section in the details. It’s given in a single sentence, slipped in near the middle of the description. The second part of the sentence says, “but had moved to the cathedral priory of Christ Church, Canterbury by the end of the eleventh century”. No more information is given about that.

According to A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (p.396), “It was in the Library of Christ Church, Canterbury, no. 311 in Prior Eastry’s Catalogue (Ancient Libraries, pp. xxvi, 509).” They also report that it appears to have been written at Winchester. Unfortunately, they don’t give any details as to why it appears that way. There is confusion as to how it arrived in Canterbury. Prof. Earle suggested monks from Canterbury took it from Winchester to restock their own library in Canterbury after a fire in 1067. Another person argues that possibly “AElfheah, bishop of Winchester, may have brought it with him when he became archbishop in 1006.” It is commonly believed to have traveled from Winchester to Canterbury. Why this is I am still not sure as no information is given to explain why. Possibly the 10th century provenance?

“At the Dissolution the volume came into the hands of Dr Nicholas Wotton the first Dean of Canterbury, who gave it to Parker.” I think the Dissolution of the Monasteries is what’s being referenced here. Aside from the possible 10th century provenance, I argue that Wotton giving Parker the chronicle is its “earliest known history”. Does Wotton ever mention where he got it? What was it called when he got it? Was there any history for the provenance in Wotton’s time? Was there any in Parker’s time? When was the 10th century provenance found? When was it first proposed that it originated in Winchester? Why?

…the Parker Chronicle,
one of the most important
manuscripts for our understanding
of Anglo-Saxon history.

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The original numbered question list is included below. However, my complete question list is located here. I originally intended on including all the answers in this present article, but due to it already being lengthy, I have linked the question list article in the previous sentence and plan on filling in all the answers there. This 10 questions below are the ones that the Director of the Library would have seen if she had read the article when she responded. Her response is further down in this present article and given it, I have my doubts she ever read through my whole article here.

The Numbered Question List:

The Dates

Question 1: Why are there multiple dates given to the chronicle?
Answer: This answer was originally included here but has been moved to the complete question list.

Question 2: Who dated it and when?

Question 3: How was it dated?

Question 4: What parts are dated to which years?

The Origins and Provenance

Question 5: Why is it claimed that it “originated somewhere in Wessex, probably Winchester…”?

Question 6: What is the 10th century provenance and when was that provenance discovered?

Question 7: What did Parker call the Chronicle?

Question 8: When was it named the Parker Chronicle?

Question 9: Does Wotton ever mention where he got it and what it was called when he got it?

Question 10: When was it first believed to have originated in Winchester?

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I am grateful for everything they have posted so far but I hunger for more, especially for more answers.

I emailed the contacts provided on their website to see if I can get any answers to these questions posed in this article. (See the email response below under UPDATE…)

The three people listed in their contacts are:

1 – Benjamin Albritton (Project Manager, Parker on the WebStanford University Libraries)

2 – Anne McLaughlin (Sub-librarian, Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)

3 – Alex Devine (Sub-librarian, Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)

At the end of their About page it says, “Improvements to the site and its functionality have continued since the official launch of Parker 2.0 in January of 2018. Our thanks to the following contributors for their work to make Parker on the Web the best it can be.” Given that the website is only 2.5 years old, I hope to see it continue to improve, and really hope to see more information provided for at least the important MSS.

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This is the email that I sent on May 30th to the two emails listed above:


I’m reaching out to you about the Parker Chronicle (CCCC MS. 173). I recently went through some of the information available on your website and had a number of questions.
I have my questions listed in this article:

Please answer as many as possible. The answers are important and I’d like to possibly have them added to your website for any future visitors hoping to learn more about the chronicle.

Stephen Sorensen.”

I published this article and the list of 10 questions on the 30th of May, 2020. I received a reply on the 1st of June, 2020. The response wasn’t from any of the three people listed above. Do they not have their contact info updated? Oh well, here’s what the email said:

“Dear Mr Sorenson

Many thanks for your enquiry and for your interest in MS 173. I will answer your questions as far as we are able. We provide a catalogue of the manuscript which means we do not give all scholarly detail known about it. Our role is to take care of the manuscript and to facilitate scholarly work on it by others. You can however find detailed information through the bibliography for each item given at the foot of its page.

1.       Date. The date range you see is meant to give you the span of dates of the entire manuscript (not just the chronicle). As you will see when going through the list of contents and the description of the manuscript the manuscript itself contains more items than just the chronicle.  The oldest part of the manuscript is some eighth century copies, of Anglo Saxon laws and of earlier poetry. Reading the description right through will give you a clear idea of how this works. On the dating of the Chronicle itself  I suggest you look at Whitelock’s work on the Chronicle as the most straightforward explanation of dating. Brielfy though, as an overview, this can be done through context, and through palaeographical study: when was a particular style of handwriting used (in a period when formal handwriting styles were common) and when does the individual scribe change, which tells us something about when a manuscript was started.

2.       Provenance. Again  Dorothy Whitelock’s work will be of use to you if you are interested in the provenance, but briefly the scribe focuses at some points on Winchester events which he knows well and which suggest he was both present at and interested in events in that area.

3.       The name of the Chronicle. As you will see from the page the Parker Chronicle actually has several names. This chronicle was one of the manuscript collected by Archbishop Matthew Parker (see Matthew Parker’s Dictionary of National Biography entry for more detail). Parker – who had his own scholarly reasons for being interested in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – was particularly taken with the chronicle. So it came, informally, to bear his name.  As the can be found in a variety of printed materials still, the catalogue continues to record it in order for readers to be able to search by that title.

I hope that helps to answer some of your questions. Do make use of the fuller bibliography on the website which will allow you to understand all sorts of detail about this wonderful manuscript, its dating and its provenance.

Best wishes

Philippa Hoskin

Dr Philippa Hoskin

Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Fellow Librarian

Director of the Parker Library”

First of all, she spelled my name wrong even though my email is my name, Stephen Sorensen. Even with it there on the screen she managed to misspell it. This does happen from time to time though so I won’t be too critical about that.

She says that they will answer my questions as far as they are able. Then she emphasizes that they are just the care takers of the MS, and not the information keepers. Aside from that, she does attempt to answer a few of the questions (3 at most from the 10). She invites me to explore the 240 book bibliography for more information that will answer my questions. This is basically the library equivalent of telling someone to “Go Google It” without also saying “I don’t know the answers but Google will”. “Go check the bibliography” without also saying “I don’t know the answers but the bibliography will”.

She bullet points numbers 1 through 3 for her next few paragraphs.

1 – Date. Why would she start with saying this if she was looking at the article while responding? Did she even read through the article before responding? Maybe she sat down and began writing her email before she ever read through the article and by the time she got to the end of my commentary she already had the email she sent me typed up and didn’t want to redo it so as to directly answer the ten questions? Or to avoid addressing the fact that I already kind of have an answer for #1, which is the only question on there that I already kind of have an answer for? She kind of answers Question 3 but hopefully Whitelock’s work goes into more detail.

She also says that the earliest parts of the MS “is some eighth century copies, of Anglo Saxon laws and of earlier poetry”. Parkes [4, p.150] dates the Anglo Saxon laws to the mid-10th century. Is there anyone who dates them 2 centuries earlier? Possibly the person who wrote me the email made a mistake?

2 – Provenance. Again she refers me to Whitelock. She kind of answers Question 5, the one about why it’s believed to be from Winchester, but not really. She doesn’t even attempt to address Question 6.

3 – The name of the chronicle. This is when I started seriously doubting that she read my article before responding. In my opening statement I give multiple names for the MS but this doesn’t stop her from saying that “the Parker Chronicle actually has several names”. I also mentioned Matthew Parker and included a quote about his motivations, but this doesn’t stop her from telling me that Parker (“who had his own scholarly reasons for being interested in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts” of which I mentioned the main reason in the introduction of my article here) really liked the MS and eventually it was named after him. I never asked why it was named the Parker Chronicle because I already knew the story, hence my introduction. Questions 7 and 8 are the only ones directly about Parker and they are when (7) and what (8) questions, not a “Why is it named this” type question.

After she once again refers me to the bibliography which I am now doubtful she’s ever read through in its entirety, she ends the email with best wishes and her name and relation to the library.

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Closing Remarks

I am a bit disappointed by the weak email response to my article but since she did manage to pull 1 name from the bibliography of 240 works, I have at least that to go on to search for some answers.

Dorothy Whitelock has 5 entries in the bibliography. Which one has the answers I’m searching for? No clarity was given, as you can see above.

For convenience, here are the 5 works of Whitelock:

1 – Whitelock, D. 1942. “Review of The Parker Chronicle and Laws (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173). A Facsimile by Robin Flower; Hugh Smith.” The English Historical Review 57: 120–22.

2 – Whitelock, D. 1978. The Importance of the Battle of Edington, A.D. 878: a Lecture given at the Annual Meeting of the Friends of Edington Priory Church, August 27th, 1977. Edington.

3 – Whitelock, D. 1979. English Historical Documents c. 500-1042. Edited by D. Douglas. 2nd ed. English Historical Documents. London.

4 – Whitelock, D., M. Brett, and C. N. L. Brooke. 1981. Councils and Synods with Other Documents Relating to the English Church I A.D. 871-1204: Part I 871-1066. Vol. I. Oxford.

5 – Whitelock, D., M. Brett, and C. N. L. Brooke. 1981. Councils and Synods with Other Documents Relating to the English Church I A.D. 871-1204: Part II 1066-1204. Vol. II. Oxford.

The only one with “Parker Chronicle” in the title is a short two page review of someone else’s work. Has the person who emailed me back read those 5 works? Have they read any of Whitelock? Did someone else tell them that Whitelock was a good source? Why, if they have reviewed these works and know the answers to my questions, would they not share those answers?

Why even tell someone to go read through the bibliography, specifically Whitelock’s writings, if it’s all hidden behind a paywall? And why not mention that? Example; “You can find a lot of answers by going through the bibliography. Unfortunately most of the works require you to pay to see them, so it will take some financial investment” or “You might be able to find some of these available in libraries”. Also why not just come straight out and say “I don’t know the answers to those questions”? If they do know and won’t share, it’s just keeping secrets and impeding further research.

I plan on emailing them again after I dig through the bibliography some more and generate more questions. I think I’ll do that in a second article as to keep this one concise.


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[0] –

[1] –

[2] –

[3] – PARKES, M. B. “The Palaeography of the Parker Manuscript of the ‘Chronicle’, Laws and Sedulius, and Historiography at Winchester in the Late Ninth and Tenth Centuries.” Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 5, 1976, pp. 149–171. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2020.

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13 Comments on “Investigating The Parker Chronicle

  1. The volume you want is Whitelock, D. 1979. English Historical Documents c. 500-1042. Edited by D. Douglas. 2nd ed. English Historical Documents. London. I’ve never seen it online (certainly not free). A good reference library will have, or be able to get, a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read parts of it (it’s one volume in a larger series which I tend to use as required). Most manuscript archives I’ve worked in have a copy. I think it should probably answer all your questions, but to be honest, if you’re going down this road I’d really recommend completing at least introductory courses in palaeography and manuscript studies at a college or university near you. For example. it does look like some of your questions are already answered in the description of the manuscript on the page that you linked, but without those basic skills you may not have understood the answers you were reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Questions 1 and 4 are explicitly answered in the description, and question 8 is implicitly answered. It is fairly common practice to name manuscripts after the individual who collected them (another well-known example would be the Cotton collection now held at the British Library, which is sub-divided by the names of the individuals whose busts were attached to the presses in which the manuscript collection was originally housed. See if you want to know more).

    As I said, introductory courses in palaeography & in manuscript studies are probably an absolute requirement if you really want to pursue your studies of this subject.


    • I agree that 1 is answered but 4 is ambiguous. It does not tell you which parts (the parts/pages of the MS itself) are dated to which years.

      Please directly answer question 8 in your next comment if you think the answer is in the description.


  4. I’m guessing you didn’t notice the button on that page labelled “More details”? If you click on that, and expand all the notes, you’ll find the link to T James’ ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Vol. I’. Now, you may, or may not, understand all the details there. That’s where learning the basics comes in.

    If it helps, this is the direct link to the page:

    Think of it like this. If you have a water leak in your house, you can either pay a specialist (plumber) to fix it, or you can learn about plumbing and fix it yourself. You wouldn’t expect the plumber to fix your problem for free.

    It’s the same here. You want to learn more about a manuscript. You can either pay a specialist to do your research for you, and ask them to explain the bits you don’t understand, or you can learn the necessary skill-sets and do it yourself. You don’t get to have those specialists do your research for you for nothing.


  5. It was called the Parker Chronicle (as his whole library became “The Parker collection”) when Parker bequeathed his collection to the College on his death in 1575. See James p xii for more about that bequest. As I said in my comment above, an exactly similar situation to the case of the “Cotton Collection”, which was named after Cotton bequeathed his collection to the British Library.


  6. Is this where I email you details of my fees for manuscript research? I’ve already told you the source., and even the page number! As I said, you can either pay for a professional to do your research for you ,or learn the skills and do it yourself.


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