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Venerable Bede The Ecclesiastical History Of The English Nation

 
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Venerable Bede
The Ecclesiastical History Of The English Nation
page 3



"(2.) Documents pre-existing in an historical form are seldom quoted: amongst those of which use has been made may be numbered the Life of Gregory the Great, written by Paulus Diaconus ; the miracles of Ethelburg, abbess of Barking ; the Life of Sebbi, king of East Saxony ; the Legend of Fursey ; and that of Cuthberht of Lindisfarn, formerly written by Beda, but now augmented by himself, with additional facts. These, together with some extracts from the Treatise of Arcuulf De locis Sanctis, are all the written documents to which the author refers. "That other narratives, however, were in Beda’s possession, of which he has made liberal use, is certain from his express words, and may also be inferred from internal evidence. Albinus and Nothhelm appear to have furnished him with Chronicles, in which he found accurate and full information upon the pedigrees, accessions, marriages, exploits, descendants, deaths, and burials of the kings of Kent. From the same source he derived his valuable account of the archbishops of Canterbury, both before and after ordination, the place and date of consecration, even though it took place abroad, the days on which they severally took possession of that see, the duration of their episcopate, their deaths, burial-places, and the intervals which elapsed before the election of a successor. It is evident that the minuteness and accuracy of this information could have been preserved only by means of contemporary written memoranda. That such records existed in the time of the Saxons cannot be doubted, for Beda introduces a story, by which it appears that the Abbey of Selsey possessed a volume in which were entered the obits of eminent individuals ; and the same custom probably prevailed throughout the other monastic establishments of England. " The history of the diocese of Rochester was communicated by Albinus and Nothhelm. It is exceedingly barren of particulars; and probably would have been even more so, had it not been connected with the life of Paulinus of York, concerning whom Beda appears to have obtained information from other quarters. " The early annals of East Anglia are equally scanty, as we have little more than a short pedigree of its kings, an account of its conversion to Christianity, the history of Sigiberct and Anna, and a few particulars regarding its bishops, Felix, Thomas, Berctgils, and Bisi, which details were communicated in part by Albinus and Nothhelm. "The history of the West Saxons was derived partly from the same authorities, and partly from the information of Daniel, bishop of Winchester. It relates to their conversion by Birinus, the reigns of Caedualla and of Ini, and the pontificate of Vine, Aldhelm and Daniel. To this last named bishop we are indebted for a portion of the little of what is known as to the early history of the South Saxons and the Isle of Wight, the last of the Saxon kingdoms which embraced the Christian faith. It relates to the conversion of those districts by the agency of Wilfrith. A few unimportant additions are afterwards made in a hurried and incidental manner, evidently showing that Beda's information upon this head was neither copious nor definite. "The monks of Læstingaeu furnished materials relative to the ministry of Cedd and Ceadda, by whose preaching the Mercians were induced to renounce Paganism. The history of this kingdom is obscure, and consists of an account of its conversion, the succession of its sovereigns, and its bishops. The neighbouring state of Middle Anglia, which, if ever independent of Mercia, soon merged in it, is similarly circumstanced, and we are perhaps indebted to its connexion with the princes and bishops of Northumbria for what is known of its early history. " Lindissi, part of Lincolnshire, although situated so near to the kingdom of Northumbria, was both politically and ecclesiastically independent of it, and Beda was as ignorant of the transactions of that province as of those which were much more remote from Jarrow. He received some materials from bishop Cyniberct, but they appear to have been scanty, for the circumstances which relate to Lincolnshire are generally derived from the information of other witnesses. " The history of East Saxony is more copious, and is derived partly from the communications of Albinus and Nothhelm, and partly from the monks of Læestingaeu. To the first of these two sources we must probably refer the account of the pontificate of Mellitus, and the apostasy of the sons of Saeberct; circumstances too intimately connected with the see of Canterbury to be omitted in its annals. To the latter we are indebted for the history of the reconversion of East Saxony ; an event in which the monks of Læstingaeu were interested, as it was accomplished by their founder Cedd. From them Beda also received an account of the ministry of Ceadda. Some further details respecting its civil and ecclesiastical affairs, the life of Erconuuald, bishop of London, and the journey of Offa to Rome, conclude the information which we have respecting this kingdom. " In the history of Northumbria, Beda, as a native, was particularly interested, and would probably exert himself to procure the most copious and authentic information regarding it. Although he gives no intimation of having had access to previous historical documents, when speaking of his sources of information, yet there seems reason to believe that he has made use of such materials. We may infer from what he says of the mode in which Oswald's reign was generally calculated, that in this king's time there existed Annals, or Chronological Tables, in which events were inserted as they occurred, the regnal year of the monarch who then filled the throne being at the same time specified. These annals appear to have extended beyond the period of the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity, although it is difficult to imagine how any chronological calculation or record of events could be preserved before the use of letters had become known. But the history of Eadwine, with its interesting details, shows that Beda must have had access to highly valuable materials which reached back to the very earliest æra of authentic history ; and we need not be surprised at finding information of a similar character throughout the remainder of his history of Northumbria. Accordingly we have minute accounts of the pedigrees of its kings, their accession, exploits, anecdotes of them and sketches of their character, their deaths, and the duration of their reigns ; details too minute in themselves, and too accurately defined by Beda, to have been derived by him from tradition. Similar proofs might, if necessary, be drawn from the history of its bishops.



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