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The Old English Version of Bede's <I>Historia Ecclesiastica</I>


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"The first full-length study of the Old English version of Bede's masterwork, dealing with one of the most important texts to survive from Anglo-Saxon England. The subjects treated range from a detailed analysis of the manuscripts and the medieval use of them to a very satisfying conclusion that summarizes all the major issues related to the work, giving a compelling summary of the value and importance of this independent creation. Dr Rowley convincingly argues that the Old English version is not an inferior imitation of Bede's work, but represents an intelligent reworking of the text for a later generation. An exhaustive study and a major scholarly contribution." GEORGE HARDIN BROWN, Professor of English emeritus, Stanford University.

The Old English version of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum is one of the earliest and most substantial surviving works of Old English prose. Translated anonymously around the end of the ninth or beginning of the tenth century, the text, which is substantially shorter than Bede's original, was well known and actively used in medieval England, and was highly influential. However, despite its importance, it has been little studied.
In this first book on the subject, the author places the work in its manuscript context, arguing that the text was an independent, ecclesiastical translation, thoughtfully revised for its new audience. Rather than looking back on the age of Bede from the perspective of a king centralizing power and building a community by recalling a glorious English past, the Old English version of Bede's Historia transforms its source to focus on local history, key Anglo-Saxon saints, and their miracles. The author argues that its reading reflects an ecclesiastical setting more than a political one, with uses more hagiographical than royal; and that rather than being used as a class-book or crib, it functioned as a resource for vernacular preaching, as a corpus of vernacular saints' lives, for oral performance, and episcopal authority. Sharon M. Rowley is Associate Professor of English at Christopher Newport University.


A new and provocative reading. SCRIPTORIUM

Rowley's book is groundbreaking. Her careful and thorough scholarship enhances her fresh, original readings, and her willingness to think through larger contexts and implications is a major strength. MEDIEVAL REVIEW

[This] excellent study of the Old English version of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica recasts our views on this most important text in all its variations. . Rowley's book is groundbreaking. Her careful and thorough scholarship enhances her fresh, original readings, and her willingness to think through larger contexts and implications is a major strength. The study necessitates changes in how we consider the impact and uses of Bede. MEDIEVAL REVIEW, September 2013

This study has set down the foundations not only for the study of the OEHE, but also for bringing out how the OEHE can contribute to, and should be considered in, various other fields of research pertaining to Anglo-Saxon England and Old English. ENGLISH STUDIES

This is one of those books that start from an idea so simple and so seemingly obvious that the reader is left wondering why nobody ever thought of it before [...] this is an exemplary and innovative work of scholarship. CERCLES

[This] wide-ranging and thoughtful study of the ways in which the late ninth- or early tenth-century Old English translation of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica reshapes its source is a valuable contribution to the field that deepens our understanding of both works. REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES


First Published: 15 Sep 2011
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842736
7 black and white, 2 line drawing illustrations
Pages: 270
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  The Manuscripts and Editions of the OEHE
  • 3  Backgrounds, Contexts and the History of Scholarship
  • 4  Gentes Names and the Question of 'National' Identity in the OEHE
  • 5  Rewriting Salvation History
  • 6  Who Read Æthelbert's Letter? Translation, Mediation and Authority in the OEHE
  • 7  Queen Takes Bishop: Marriage, Conversion and Papal Authority in the OEHE
  • 8  Visions of the Otherworld: Endings, Emplacement and Mutability in History
  • 9  Anglo-Saxon Signs of Use in Manuscripts O, C and B
  • 10  Later Medieval Signs of Use in Manuscripts Ca and T
  • 11  Conclusion
  • 12  Appendices
  • 13  Bibliography