Æthelweard, a descendant of the West Saxon king Æthelred (older brother and predecessor of Alfred the Great), wrote, round about the year 980, in Latin, a chronicle to educate his “sweet cousin Matilda”, abbess of Essen (she was a descendant of Alfred the Great) in the history of the English and their family’s place in it. This chronicler Æthelweard is confidently identified as the ealdorman of the same name who features in the witness-lists of charters from the mid-970s until 998. From 993 he is senior ealdorman (appearing first in the lists), and in a charter of 997 (S891) he is titled ‘ealdorman of the Western Provinces’ (Occidentalium Prouinciarum dux). Presumably he died in or soon after 998.[*]

Æthelweard’s Chronicon, which ends with the year 975, is mainly a translation into Latin of material sourced from a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which has not itself survived – coverage of the years 893 to 946 being independent of the existing manuscripts of the Chronicle.

Æthelweard does not adopt the annalistic format of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Instead, he strings events together, mentioning the number of years that have elapsed between consecutive events, to produce a continuous narrative which is divided into four books. Unfortunately, his peculiar grammar and ostentatious style tends to obscure his meaning. William of Malmesbury comments:

… it is better to be silent about Elwardus [i.e. Æthelweard], a distinguished and out-standing man, who attempted to explain those chronicles in Latin, and whose purpose would have my approval, if his language did not disgust me.
Gesta Regum Anglorum Book I Preface

Later, William hopes that, in his own undertaking, Devine favour will carry him “past the cliffs of rugged language, against which Elwardus miserably dashed, as he hunted resounding and recondite words”.

Sadly, only a few scorched leaves of the only known manuscript (apparently dating from the early-11th century) of the Chronicon survived the fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton in 1731. Fortuitously, in 1596, Henry Savile had produced a printed edition. As it exists, however, the text is often corrupt, exacerbating the problems caused by Æthelweard’s literary pretensions.

All translations by A. Campbell

Henry Savile published his edition of Æthelweard’s chronicle in the compilation Rerum Anglicarum scriptores post Bedam praecipui (1596).
Eric E. Barker ‘Select Documents L: The Cottonian Fragments of Æthelweard’s Chronicle’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research Vol. 24 (1951).
A. Campbell The Chronicle of Æthelweard (1962), Introduction (pp.xi–xii).
Ealdorman Æthelweard was a patron of the scholar Ælfric, and in the prefaces to his Lives of Saints Ælfric notes that Ealdorman Æthelweard and his son, Æthelmær, had asked him to produce the work in English, and that both men were keen readers of his English translations of Latin originals. Presumably Æthelweard wrote his chronicle in Latin for the benefit of his Continental relative.
At the start of the Prologue, addressed to Matilda, Æthelweard grandly styles himself patricius consul Fabius quæstor Ethelwerdus. Fabius is an illustrious name Æthelweard has borrowed from ancient Roman history. Consul is the Latin term he uses within his chronicle to equate to the Scandinavian ‘earl’ (Old Norse: jarl). The equivalent English rank is ‘ealdorman’. Like most Anglo-Saxon names, Æthelweard is a compound: Æthel (Æþel), i.e. ‘noble’ + weard, i.e. ‘guardian’, ‘protector’. According to A. Campbell*: “Patricius quæstor answers to the two parts of the name Æthelweard, and amounts to an explanation of the name as something like ‘noble public servant’.”
* The Chronicle of Æthelweard (1962), Introduction (p.xiii, f.n.3).