The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 15 (October 2012)

Annales Cambriae, from Saint Patrick to AD 682: Texts A, B & C in Parallel

Henry Gough-CooperMailto: Icon

Independent Researcher

© 2012 by Henry Gough-Cooper. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2012 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract: The three principal texts of Annales Cambriae have a common ancestor from which their annals are derived for the fifth through the tenth centuries. Presenting the texts in parallel allows us to discern the outlines of this lost ancestor, and to examine the chronological speculation involved as the Welsh scholars of the period set about compiling what might be called 'The Chronicle of Wales' from the various sources available to them. This paper covers the earlier part of the chronicle, from the middle of the fifth century to the later part of the seventh.


§1.  The three principal Welsh Latin chronicles are found in three unique sources; the first, the A-text, in London, British Library, MS. Harley 3859, folios 190r–193r, written c. 1100; the second, the B-text, in London (Kew), Public Records Office, MS. E.164/1 (K.R. Misc. Books, Series I) pp.2–26, written at the end of the thirteenth century; the third, the C-text, in London, British Library MS Cotton Domitian A.i, folios 138r–155r, also written towards the end of the thirteenth century.

§2.  Presented here is an edition of these three chronicles, A, B and C,1 in parallel, from the era of St Patrick through to the annal in A and B for AD 682 (in C for AD 6792 ), at which point Dumville's parallel edition of the annals from AD 682 to 954 commences (Dumville 2002). The text of the annals for A is taken from Egerton Phillimore's edition (Phillimore 1888),3 the texts for B and C from new transcriptions of the MSS in preparation.4 Each annal in the texts has been given an alphanumeric tag rather than the often misleading AD dating found in earlier editions. The original text of A contains no AD dating whatsoever; B starts its not always successful but continuous AD dating at AD 1097 (b1119, Anus m xcvii.);5 C has only sparse and sporadic indications, as seen in its World Chronicle item for AD 438 (cw118).6 The alphanumerical token given to each annal, whether the annal is blank or annotated, provides a neutral key for comparison of the implied chronology of the texts.

§3.  A is the shortest text and is a set of annals which appear to run from the mid-fifth through the later tenth century. Its first eight annals are empty, followed by the first full annal, a9, which corresponds closely to annal b480 of the B text. The annals in B run from the sixtieth year before the Incarnation but are preceded by a world chronicle running from the Creation based on the Epitome of Isidore's Chronica maiora,7 and, for the Sixth Age, Bede's Chronica minora (17–22). The last item in the World Chronicle (bw78)8 and the first annal (b1)9 contain information about Britain: the reign of Lud son of 'Heli' (Lludd map Beli Mawr), and Julius Caesar's invasion and the reign of Cassivellaunus, respectively. Thereafter, the next annal of British interest is the first presented here, b455, Patrick's emigration to Ireland. There are then a series of empty annals before b469, the aduentus Anglorum. The annals in C do not commence until much later, and its World Chronicle, based on Isidore throughout, is therefore more extensive. The World Chronicle in C continues up to the same Imperial reign as Isidore's Epitome, but with considerable artifice, including much more material derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History.10

§4.  The annals in B and C continue through the late thirteenth century, but these later records, important as they are as sources for Welsh history, lie outside the purview of this Journal.

§5.  In all three texts the annals are indicated by Annus, or a contraction of this (An', Ann').11 The edition presented here attempts to reflect the graphical conventions of the original hands, but Latin contractions have been silently expanded. All j and J have been normalised to i and I, but u and U and v and V have been kept differentiated. Capitalisation and punctuation have not been modernised, so capitals are not always found at the start of proper nouns, and the only punctuation is the punctus (a few examples of the punctus elevatus are found in later parts of the B and C texts). Letters in simple brackets ( ) are expansions of abbreviations lacking contraction marks and therefore conjectural. For clarity, the original layout of the text in the MSS has not been maintained, and separate items from the same World Chronicle section of C (cwN) are indicated by tildes (~); nevertheless, these items are kept in the order in which they appear in the original text. In A and B, the annals normally each appear on a new line, in three or four columns to the page, but C is almost all written continuously in two columns to the page with blank (empty) annals written into the spare space on the line.12

§6.  Earlier editions of the A-text have taken its era to be AD 444 (MHB ) or 445 (Morris 1995). This date was found to provide a reasonably good fit over the 533-year 'frame' of the A-text.13 However, this ignores the evidence of the external dates for the events recorded in the annals, and it is by no means clear that this was the original chronological intention. It is clear, moreover, that A and B were derived from a common source, the shape of which can be detected in the slight differences in the sequence of annals between A and B, as well as textual errors and corruptions in A which appear correctly in B. Accordingly, in this edition precedence is given to comparison of the chronology of the annals with that of their likely external sources—principally the Irish chronicles, Bede, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle—and to the identification of extra or missing annals in the two surviving texts.

§7.  The first major anomaly comes at a77/b551, noting the birth of St Columcille and the death of St Brigid, which events the Irish annals place some 6 or 7 years apart.14 From internal evidence, the Welsh annals seem to have lost only three years at this point, and they appear to insert four years between a103/b575 and a114/b586. As both A and B have the same chronological deviations, these must have been present in their source. A and B both have the same anachronistic entries at a157/b628 on the deaths of Pope Gregory the Great and St David of Menevia: the Irish annals appear to place these events at AD 606 and 589 respectively, while Bede places Gregory's death at AD 605.15 The context in A and B suggests a date around 600 is envisaged for both these events. The second major anomaly occurs between a183/b654 and a187/b658 where the chronicles seem undecided about whether to follow the chronology of the Irish annals or of Bede, and compromise by contracting the interval between these two events by two years. There is also a question over the sequence between a218/b689 and a226/b697 where a further two years appear to have been lost. It would be rather pleasing to think that the two years were lost after a217/b688, and that there was a hidden message in the 'first Easter' among the Saxons (and the second battle of Badon) falling in the 'apocalyptic' year 666. In fact, it is also possible that a year was lost before a218/b689 and then a year after a222/b693, or that two years were lost after a222/b693.

§8.  The sets of annals AC A and AC B (and therefore the conjectural Chronicle of Wales which lies behind them) show extensive islands of stability with external dating:

§9.  AC is severely incongruent with CI 606 (Pope Gregory) and completely incongruent with the Irish annals' date for St David of Menevia (CI 589).17

§10.  When the annals commence in C, they follow their own logic until they synchronise with A and B at a242/b712/c15.18

§11.  In applying a comparative chronology to the annals, it must not be assumed that the events recorded happened in the real years implied. The chronology of the insular chronicles before the eighth century is highly speculative, although the correspondance of the annals to real years begins to come into focus over the lifetimes of Adomnán (d. 704) and Bede (c. 673–735). It is perhaps more useful to regard the annalistic years prior to the early eighth century as a series of integers which can be assessed for coherence in their own terms in regard to annal intervals.

§12.  Re-examination of the B-text has reinstated the annal at b709—a war of the English on the Plain of Liffey against the Britons—which had hitherto been overlooked. The declared site of this battle is improbable, and it may be that one of the Welsh rivers Llynfi or Llyfni was intended, and that the item refers to Centwine's campaign of AD 682 (ASC s.a. 682).19


Editor's Note: In order to increase readability of the parallel columns, we have placed the edition on its own page.


1. This alphabetical designation is due to the edition of Williams ab Ithel (1860). [Back]

2. The date AD 679 is found as a marginal note in Arabic numerals by a later hand in the MS of C, and is not declared in the original text of this annal; but that this is indeed the year intended in C can be readily deduced from the subsequent annals: [c8] Annus. primus decennouenalis. [AD 684], and [c13] Annus. Cadwaladrus rex britannie misit Iuor filium suum cum . xii . navibus ad regendas britonum reliquas . et ipse romam perrexit ubi . xii . kalendas maii viam uniuerse carnis ingressus est . anno ab incarnatione domini . dco.lxxxixo. [AD 689]. This date does not agree with the chronology of A and B, which suggest that this event fell in AD 683. [Back]

3. An online edition based on this is at (last accessed 27 April 2011). [Back]

4. Gough-Cooper, Forthcoming. [Back]

5. B omits AD 1232 between b1253 and b1254. but is otherwise continuously dated to AD 1277 (b1298), and concludes with the three years AD 1282, 1283 and 1286 (b1301). [Back]

6. See also fn. 2. [Back]

7. Isidore of Seville, Chronicorum epitome. [Back]

8. [bw78] Dionisius annis xxii. Magnus pompeius iudeam cepit et cleopatra filia lagi tunc temporis in egypto reganbat et in britanniam regnabat lud filius hely qui tronovantum renouauit et a nomine suo lundoniam appellauit. [Back]

9. [b1] Anus Ante incarnationem domini lx Iulius cesar britanniam Bello pulsauit et vicit. Cassibellano in britanniam regnante. [Back]

10. For a discussion of the World Chronicles in B and C, see Brett 1988. [Back]

11. A and B both normally have the incompetent Anus (An'). B very occasionally has the correct Annus or Ann'. [Back]

12. The last few pages of C (ff.153v to fo.155r) have the appearance of a work in progress, with gaps of one or more lines left between the annals. [Back]

13. For discussions of this 'frame' see Miller 2004 and Dumville 2004. [Back]

14. The C-text inverts these events, with the death of St Brigid preceding the birth of St Columcille, an inversion also found in Marianus Scottus's Chronicon (s.a. 543 =AD 521, s.a. 545 =AD 523, 537f.). [Back]

15. Gregory died 12 March 604 (HD). [Back]

16. Refers to the sources and dates in the first column of the edition below. [Back]

17. It should be noted that in C, after the period AD 536–552 where the accession of Arthur's kinsman Constantine is noted (correctly, in terms of the implied chronology) as having taken place in AD 542 (cw126), the sequence of events is radically revised from that found in A and B. The three events in the period AD 577–585—the battle of Arderit and the deaths of SS Brendan and Gildas—which occur closely associated in A at annals a129 (AD 573), a130 (AD 574), and a126 (AD 570), are here assigned to a later period than events in the period AD 553–576, which includes events that occur in A from annal a140 (AD 584, Deiniol) to a157 (AD 601, St David, Synod). In particular, the positioning of the death of St David implies that the compiler of C favoured a date for his passing in the latter half of the sixth century, rather than the turn of the seventh. [Back]

18. The logic of the C text at this point is complex, involving decennovenal (nineteen-year cycle) speculation that reaches back into the World Chronicle that precedes the annals. This will be dealt with in the introduction to Gough-Cooper 2012. [Back]

19. Alternatively, this might just be considered a corrupt version of the battle noted under this year in the Irish chronicles, Bellum Ratha More Maighi Line contra Britones. However, although Maighi Line might plausibly transpose to Campo Liue, or something similar, the route from Ratha More to anglorum is unlikely. [Back]

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