English monks began the manuscripts that comprise the Chronicles during the reign of King Alfred (871-899). The Chronicles are unusual because they were written largely in Old English vernacular rather than Latin, and because they were added to over a period of 250 years or more – the last entry is dated 1154.
The Chronicles document events in the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Norman period, beginning with references to the peoples that inhabited the British Isles in Pre-Roman times and the first Roman military expeditions to Britain under Julius Caesar. The first annual entry records the rule of the Roman Emperor Octavian and the birth of Christ in year 1.
The oldest of the seven manuscripts and two fragments that survive is Parker or Winchester Chronicle, which was probably started at Winchester although it was later taken to Canterbury. This may well have been based on an earlier West Saxon chronicle written in Latin.
Coverage of the Roman occupation of Britain and the centuries that followed is sparse, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People which dates from 731 being the main historical source. But, from the end of the 8th century, and as they come within the lifetimes of the first authors, the the entries are more detailed. Although they were written from an overtly Anglo-Saxon perspective and they record tradition as well as history, they remain the primary historical source of information on the later Saxon period. Those Chronicles are:
- The Winchester (or Parker) Chronicle,
- The Abingdon Chronicle I, The Abingdon Chronicle II,
- Worcester Chronicle,
- Peterborough (or Laud) Chronicle,
- Bilingual Canterbury Epitome,
- A copy of the Winchester Chronicle,
- Cottonian Fragment,
- An Easter Table Chronicle
Seven of the nine surviving Anglo-Saxon Chronicles is archived in the British Library. The remaining two Chronicles are archived in the Bodleian Library (Peterborough (or Laud) Chronicle) at Oxford and the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Winchester (or Parker) Chronicle).
All of the surviving Chronicles are copies. Most historian believes that original versions was written in the late 9th century by a scribe in Wessex. Information from Chronicles giving various information from major battles and Viking invasions to famines and agricultural issues. From ecclesiastical restructurings to notes on the death of famous people from across Britain. Some annals even include poems about kings and battles. For example in 885 Chronicle provide information how Vikings tried to besiege Rochester. Soon after King Alfred arrived to defend the city and Vikings fled to their ships.