New Historian

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People

The Kingdoms of England

<![CDATA[Bede's History of the English People, or 'Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum' is one of the most significant works in the historical cannon of England. It covers the period from Julius Caesar's conquest in 55 BC up to the time Bede was alive, in the eighth century AD. It depicts the rise of Christianity in the former Roman colony, as well as the history of the English people in general. There is little other documentation of this period, and Bede's work is a crucial text. Bede is generally considered to be the father of English History due to the pioneering nature of his works and methods, and his huge importance in providing an insight into our distant past. His books often refer to the author as 'the venerable', in reference to his monastic life and piety. Bede was born near the Jarrow Monastery in Dedham, where he would live for his whole life. He was a monk, who dedicated his time to reading and learning. This explains the scope of his work, a member of the literate minority who had access to a huge variety of written sources and records to inform his writing. The History is made up of five books, which are chronologically sequenced. The first discusses 'early Britain'. It deals with the Romans arrival in Britain, but also the races that lived there before them, something that is rarely recorded elsewhere. The complex relationships and conflicts between Romans, Scots, Picts and other inhabitants of the island are covered. The book comes to a close with the occupation of Rome, and the Romans departing to deal with the unrest. Book two depicts the rise of Christianity in Britain during the advent of the Anglo-Saxons. Particular focus is given to Gregory the Great, a key figure in the early history of the church in England. The book continues beyond Gregory's death up until 633 AD, and includes the Christianisation of the Kingdom of Kent, a crucial triumph in the early development of the church in England. The third book looks at the see-sawing of the kingdom of Northumbria, from Christianity to paganism and back again. This book discusses the early difficulties the church had in establishing itself in England, particularly in Mercia and Essex, as well as Northumbria. In book four Bede describes the establishment of Christianity in all but one of the English Kingdoms - Northumberland. The book goes into great detail on the organisation of the fledgling church, and the processes involved as it started to bury its roots into society and politics. On top of this it also reveals the secular history of each of the kingdoms, giving an insight into the complex politics and customs of the time. The final book covers the biography of Ethelwald and a miracle associated with him. Further coverage is given to the growth of the English Church, and the easing of conflicts with the Picts as they started to accept Roman laws relating to Easter and the image of Monks. Bede's work is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the scope of the undertaking is bewildering, providing a detailed depiction of a tumultuous time in English history. The description of both secular and Christian society is remarkably thorough, to the extent that many historians still refer to the work today. Secondly, it is mostly built from primary sources. These included earlier writings, such as those of Pliny, and a network of clerics from around England. This is a key part of the continued esteem with which Bede is held. His rigorous research and compilation of a variety of sources set an early standard for the practice of the historian, and strengthens the validity of his work.

Related Books

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England
by A. M. Sellar

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