Liber Eliensis - Sources


To a large extent the work is composite; that is, it is a compilation borrowing or at least using earlier sources. These include the early medieval writer Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, a chronicle that was associated with Bede's De temporum ratione, the Chronicon ex chronicis, and William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi II ducis Normannorum. Lesser-used sources include the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Orderic Vitalis' Historia Ecclesiastica, Stephen of Ripon's Vita Sancti Wilfrithi, William of Malmesbury's Gesta pontificum Anglorum, a list of the kings of Wessex, the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, and a number of saints' lives, including some written by Eadmer, Felix, Abbo of Fleury, Goscelin, and Osbern of Canterbury. The work on Maldon was included because the hero of the work was Byrhtnoth, a patron of the monastery.

Works more directly related to Ely were also used. The primary one of these works was Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester's Libellus, large parts of which were copied into the Liber Eliensis. Also incorporated into the Liber was an earlier Vita, or saints' life, on Æthelthryth, the founder and first abbess of Ely. A work on the benefactors of the abbey was also used, and the material from three surviving cartularies. These documents were translated from their original Old English into Latin by the compiler. Another source, as related in the Liber itself, was a work about Hereward written by a brother monk known as Richard. Modern historians have identified it with the Gesta Herwardi known from a 13th-century manuscript. It is, however, unclear whether the compiler of the Liber used the exact text of the Gesta as it has come down to us, or a different, earlier manuscript.

Some of these sources may originally have been oral works. A number of the stories in the narrative parts of the Liber resemble Scandinavian sagas, including the story about King Cnut visiting the monastery and singing an Anglo-Saxon song to the assembled monks. It is possible that the information on Hereward and Byrhtnoth originally came from orally transmitted tales that were written down.

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