Interpolations in Bede's Ecclesiastical History and
Other Ancient Annals
Affecting the early history of Scotland and Ireland
The nineteenth chapter of Book III. is entitled "How
Fursey built a monastery among the East Angles," &c. In the chapter itself
we are informed that "Whilst Sigebert still governed the kingdom (of the
East Angles) there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursey......On
comming into the province of the East Saxons . . . .
he applied himself to build a monastery. . . .
This man was of noble Scottish blood....After preaching the Word of
God many years in Scotland (Scotia),.... he departed from his native
island and came through the Britons into the province of the English
This of course might easily be held to imply that
Scotland and Ireland were synonymous names for the latter country. But the
word Anglorum, which appears in the chapter, is not the only evidence
which condemns it. If this chapter were really to be held as Bedes own
composition, it would have been surprising to find that he was able to
give so much information about an Irish saint who is not even mentioned in
the early annals of his own country. John Clyn, a Franciscan friar of the
convent of Kilkenny in Ireland, who lived about the middle of the
fourteenth century, and compiled a history of Ireland from the creation to
his own time, takes no notice of this saint, although he mentions several
other saints. As Clyn quotes Bedes work, it is evident that there was
nothing in the genuine records of Bede connecting Fursey with Ireland, or
the learned friar of Kilkenny would have appropriated some part of this
wonderful biography to embellish his annais. Let us see how Fursey is
dealt with by the later English annals than Bedes History.
It is necessary to remark in the first place that neither the Saxon
Chronicle nor Ethelwerd say anything
about Fursey, or Sigebert, king of the East Angles, although they mention
that the faith of Christ was preached to the East Angles at
this time by Felix. Malmesbury takes notice of
Sigebert, as well as Felix, but never mentions Fursey. The other English
annalists notice Fursey as given
Florence of Worcester
says, under the year 636: "At that time a most holy man named Fursey came
from Ireland to East Anglia, and being received with honour by the
aforesaid king (Sigebert), . . .
built a noble monastery."
Huntingdon has: "At this time the
kingdom of the East Angles was governed by Sigebert established a school,
. . .
in which he was assisted by bishop Felix. A
holy man from ireland, named
Fursey, was nobly entertained by him."
These are two untrustworthy works,
as has already been shown. Let
us see what Wendover says. The agreement between him and Bede, Florence,
and Huntingdon, will be seen to
be slight, whtle the disagreement between him and them is great. He says:-
"In the year 647, St Fursey
flourished in Ireland (Hibernia). Giving himself to travel for Christs
sake he arrived in France, where he was entertained by king Clovis, and
founded the monastery of Lagny. Not long afterwards he was followed by his
brothers Foillan and Ultan, who became eminent in France.....In the year
649, king Oswi was in the habit of exhorting Sigebert, king of the East
Saxons, to receive the faith of Christ, for he frequently came into the
province of the Northumbrians. At length, with the consent of his friends,
he was baptised by bishop Finan.
. ... He begged king Oswi to give him some
teachers who might convert his nation to the faith. . . . Oswi sent into
the province of the Middle Angles, and brought thence Cedda, and giving
him a presbyter as a companion, he sent them to the East Saxons to preach
to them the word of faith. . . . . Cedda
returned home to confer with bishop Finan, who made him bishop over the
aforesaid nation. Accepting the episcopal office, he returned to the
province of the East Saxons."
At the year 636, he mentions Sigebert, king of
the East Angles, and at 630
Felix, bishop of the East Angles.
Were there two Sigeberts at that
time? Or was there even one? The Ecclesiastical History and all the later
annalists mention both, but it is remarkable to find
the earliest annals, the Saxon Chronicle, and Ethelwerd omitting all
notice of either. That does not concern us at present, however.
It will he seen that the
Ecclesiastical History, Floreuce, and Huntingdpn agree
in stating that Fursey came out of Ireland and
went into East Anglia; but as these three works generally have all the
interpolated passages which have come under our notice, no faith can ha
placed on them when they differ from the more trustworthy
historians. Wendover, who is the only other
writer who mentions Fursey, merely states that he left Hibernia and went
to France. Although in
Wendover's time (the thirteenth century) the
name Hibernia has become thoroughtly detached from the northern isle, yet
it is quite probable that a St. Fursey flourished there in the seventh
century, and that he went to France, and was followed there by his
brothers. One of the works used by Bede in writing his Ecclesiastical
History is given us "the Legend of St. Fursey." We may believe that
after Wendover's time, the life of an Icelandic saint had been tampered
with to connect him with the later Hibernia, and that a good deal of this
ficticious biography was copies into Bede's work when it was first
published. It is noteworthy that a Dicull is connected with this saint in
the Ecclesiastical History (Book III., chapter nineteen); and who,
perhaps, may be identified with a "monk of the Scottish nation, whose name
was Dicul" (Book IV., chapter thirteen). These passages are not
countenanced by Wendover; but the editor of Bohns translation pertinently
asks: "Was he also Dicuil, author of a geographical work still extant?" If
this refers to Dicuil, already mentioned above, who is said to have
written his work, De Mensura Orbis Terrae, in 825, then he has been
transferred from the ninth to the seventh century by the interpolators.
This was of little consequence to them.
if it were possible that Dicuil and Fursey were acquainted, Fursey is
probably the clergyman who told Dicuil about Iceland.
The twenty-sixth chapter of Book IV.
of the Ecclesiastical History, which is the next that claims notice, is a
somewhat puzzling one; not in regard to the question at issue, however. On
this point its testimony is clear, coupled with the notices of later
writers. The puzzle is to find out what country was devastated, Scotland
or Ireland. The chapter begins thus:
"Egfrid, king of the Northumbrians,
sending Beort, his general, with
an army (nothing is said about a fleet) into Ireland, miserably wasted
that harmless nation, which had always been most friendly to the
English...... Next year, that same king, rashly leading his army to ravage
the province of the Picts, much against the advice of his friends, and
particularly of Cuthbert of blessed memory was
drawn into the straits of inaccessible mountains and
slain, he having the year before refused to listen to Egbert, advising him
not to attack the Scots, who did him no harm ......The Picts recovered
their own lands, which had been held by the English and the Scots that
were in Britain, and some of the Britons their liberty."
All this is, as usual, copied into
Huntingdons work, including the advice of Egbert, but with this
significant exception, the word Scots or Scotorum given
in the Ecclesiastical History, appears in
Huntingdon as Irish or Hibernians, without any explanation whatever.
Wendover also copies the account as given in the Ecclesiastical History,
but he takes no notice of Father Egbert or the Scots in connection with
it. Florence does the same, in an abbreviated form. Malmesbury does
likewise, though there is some inconsistency in regard to his notice of
the event, which will be treated of when we come to deal with his work
separately. In Roger of Hovedens annals the same passage is dealt with in
much the same manner as the last three writers deal with it;
but the notice of the event occurs in
the introduction to Hoveden, where an interpolation could easily have been
placed. He never mentions Hibernia or Ireland again till the year 927.
The puzzling thing about this event
is that the Saxon Chronicle connects the Scots with it as in Bede, but
says nothing about the Irish or Ireland. There is no indication in the
earliest manuscript of the Saxon Chronicle that Ireland was ever called
Scotia, or that it was peopled
by Scots: and most of the later Writers
had a copy of this manuscript before them when writing
their histories. Surely if the passage about Beorts expedition had
been written by themselves, some explanation would have been given with it
regarding this change of the name of the people against whom he was sent.
Bede, in his Life of St Cuthbert,
omits all reference to this engagement with the Scots, but the one with
the Picts is treated of at some length. Ireland or Hiberina is never
mentioned in this work, though the "insulis Scotorum," and the "regionibus
Scotorum" are mentioned in the chapter which describes Egfrids defeat and
death. But how it came to pass that Father Egbert advised Egfrid not to
invade Ireland, let the reader determine, when, according to chapter
twenty-seven of Book III., of the Ecclesiastical History, he being in
Ireland, in the year 664, made a vow that he would never return into the
island of Britain, a vow which he carried out, according to the third
chapter of Book IV., where we are told that he continued in a strange
country till the end of his life. One might have thought that Egbert was a
mistake for Cuthbert in the Ecclesiastical History, were it not repeated
in Huntingdons work.
AN UNKNOWN IRISH SCOTSMAN.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of Book
IV. it is recorded that there lived in the monastery of Coludi
(Coldinghain) "a man of Scottish race called Adamnan. . . . the priest
went away, and upon some sudden occasion passed over into Ireland, whence
he derived his origin, and returned no more to him,...when he had heard
that his priest had gone to Ireland and had died there," &c. if this
Scotsman is not the Adamnan with whom we shall have to deal shortly, and
the editor of Bohns translation says he is not, then it is sufficient to
state that this Adamnan is apparently unknown to every other ancient
A REMARKABLE EVENT.
A long account, extending to several
pages, is given in Book V., chapter twelve, of the visions beheld by a man
among the Northumbrians, who rose from
the dead. It is found, almost literally the
same, in Roger of Wondovers work, with the exception of the second last
paragraph which mentions Ireland. In Wendover's account, these words are
also awantmg, "which is almost enclosed by the winding of the river
Tweed." In the Ecclesiastical History they appear after the monastery of
Mailros is mentioned, and are intended to indicate its situation. It has
already been hinted, in speaking of Bedes birth-place, that the monastery
of Mailros of ancient times was apparently situated near the Firth of
Forth. This will be referred to again, when the omission of these words by
Wendover will be commented on. Is it not possible that this chapter of the
Ecclesiastical History has been copied from Wendover, and the passages
referred to added to his narrative?
ADAMNAN THE ABBOT 0F HII.
Chapter fifteen, Book V., of the
Ecclesiastical History contanis these words:
"A great part of the Scots in Ireland . . . conformed
to the proper time of keeping Easter. Adamnan, priest and abbat of the
monks that were in the isle of Hii, was sent ambassador by his nation to
Alfrid, king of the English.....Returning home he endeavoured to bring his
own people that were in the isle of Hii, or that were subject to that
monastery, into the way of truth . . . but in this he could not prevail.
He then sailed over into Ireland, to preach to those people . . . he
reduced many of them, and almost all that were not under the dommion of
those of Hii, to the Catholic unity, and taught them to keep the legal
time of Easter. Returning to his island, after having celebrated the
canonical Easter in Ireland . . he departed this life . . . This same
person wrote a book about the holy places."
Neither the Saxon Chronicle, nor
Ethelwerd, nor Florence of Worcester, nor even Henry of Huntingdon, nor
William of Malmesbury make any mention whatever of Adamnan. Roger of
Wendover, a writer of the thirteenth century, is the only
one of our annalists who takes notice of him,
and it is interesting to compare his notice with that given in the
Ecclesiastical History. It is as follows:
"in the year
701, flourished the good and learned Adamnan, presbyter
and abbat of the monks in the isle of Hii. Being sent on an embassy to
king Aldfrid, he was speedily led to approve of the mode of the
ecclesiastical institutions, and of the observance of Easter, which he
then witnessed; and on his return home, he sought, though without success,
to bring his people in the isle of Hii into the true way; after which he
sailed into Ireland, and persuaded them almost universally to observe the
proper time of keeping Easter. The same man of God also wrote an account
of the places of our Lords nativity, passion, and ascension, and gave a
wonderful description of the holy land."
The chapter in the Ecclesiastical
History has an appearance of being an elaborated edition of this passage.
It will be observed that nothing is said about Scots in Ireland in
Wendovers notice, nor is the district over which Aldfrid was king
mentioned. This was a difficulty got over the monkish scribe who copied it
into the Ecclesiastical History by calling him king of the English: but if
he had consulted Bedes genuine work he would have found that he was only
king of the Northumbrians (see chapter eighteen, Book V.) In both works
Adamnans book on the holy places is noticed, in neither is his Life of St
Colnmba referred to, for a very good reason, as occasion will afterwards
be taken to show. Had Adamnan ever written such a work, a writer so well
acquainted with the history of Scotland as Roger of Wendover, would have
heard of it. Bede is made to say in the seventeenth chapter that he had
epitomised Adamnans work on the holyplaces. Certainly a tract on this
subject is found along with Bedes works in several manuscripts: but it is
significant to see that in Beodes index to his own writings this one is
omitted. Besides, in the edition of the epitome there is no reference to
Adamnan's ever having wrItten such a work; and in the preface to Bohns
edition of the translation of the
Ecclesiastical History a treatise of Arculf
called De Loeis Sanctis
is said to have been used by Bede in the composition of
his history. It is not in favour of the genuineness of Wendovers notice
of Adamnan even, to find that the supreme ruler of a monastery was unable
to make the monks subject to him conform to rites which he had himself
embraced, while he was able to induce those who were not under his rule to
There are several notices of Adamnan
in Irish Annals, and although they are not much worth, they serve still
further to show on how unsubstantial a foundation this interpolation has
been built. In Reeves edition of Adamnans Life of St Columba they are
thus referred to: "Connected with the journey to Ireland in 697 (this does
not agree with Wendovers date) the annals record a transaction which they
despatch with enigmatical brevity: Dedit
legem innocentium populis, in which words
they allude to a social reformation which was brought about by Adamnan,
and which, having obtained the highest sanction of the people, became
assciciated with the name of the propounder." The acts, it is said, are
preserved at Brussels, and the name of Bruide mac Derili, king of the
region of the Picts, appears in them. But a note informs us that "the
introduction of his name into the acts is suspicious." Reeves adds: It was
possibly on the same occasion that the question of Easter was publicly
discussed and the usage advocated by Adamnan adopted Ecclesiastical
considerations, however, if entertained at this meeting; were not of
sufficient importance in the eyes of the Irish to merit an entry in a
journal." Another authority, referred to by Reeves in support of Adamnans
Irish visit, is a tract, called the vision of Adamnan. A note says of it:
" It speaks of tithes, which were unknown in Ireland until long after
Adamnans time." This shows that it is a fabricated or interpolated work.
The Life of St Gerald of Mayo is another authority noticed by Reeves. He
says it is full of anachronisms, and after quoting a few sentences from it
he adds: "Now, though this statement is open, in the. first place, to the
grave objection that St Gerald was later than Adamnan, instead of prior to
him, and, in the second, that a monastery founded twenty years previously
as an asylum for adherents to the old Easter was not a likely place to
entertain the professed advocate of innovation; still the story seen is to
be wrought upon an ancient tradition that Adamnan traversed Ireland on
ecclesiastical duty, and spent some years therein." The last authority
referred to is thus spoken of: "The narrative of Adamnans proceedings,
from his first visit to the court of King Aldfrid down to his last stay in
Ireland, as given in MacFirbiss manuscript Annals, is so amusingly
characteristic of native simplicity, that it is entitled, notwithstanding
its looseness, to find a place among more explicit records." In giving it
publicity, a pretended quotation from Bede, which occurs in it, is
characterised in a note as a "palpable forgery."
Those authorities can scarcely be
held as affording any grounds for believing that Adamnan ever set foot in
ireland; and when we turn to Clyns Annals, [Irish Archaeological
Society's Edition] a work of the fourteenth century, and find no notice
whatever taken of Adamnan, not to speak of the great reformation he is
said to have effected in Ireland, it is impossible to resist the
conclusion that the accounts of Adamnans visits to Ireland are fables.
It is but just to say that the
Annals of Tigernach record visits of Adamnan to Hbernia at the years 687,
689, 692, and 697; and the Annals of Ulster at 686, 691, and 696. If these
are genuine entries, however, they are more likely to relate to a portion
of Scotland or Iceland, and not to Ireland. Regarding the authenticity of
Tigernachs Annals, a note at page 312 of Reeves edition of Adamnans
Life of St Columba says: "In the whole range of Irish literary desiderata
no work is more imperatively demanded than a faithful exhibition of
Tigernachs text. In OConnor it is so corrupt, so interpolated, so
blundered, that it is extremely unsafe to trust the text, while it is
certain mischief to follow the translation." Later on it will be shown
that both these Annals were evidently interpolated to bolster up the
Easter observance reformation in the isle of Hii by Father Egbert.
Among the most conspicuous of the
numerous references to Ireland given in the Ecclesiastical History, all of
which have been examined, are those connected with the life of Father
Egbert, who is said to have converted the monks of Hii to the proper
observance of Easter. Several chapters in different parts of the work
contain notices of incidents in the life of this priest, but it will be
seen that they were unknown to many of the later historians.
The one which treats
of his earlier life is entitled: "Egbert, a holy man of the English
nation, led a monastic life in Ireland." It begins as follows (Book III.,
"In the year 664 there happened an
eclipse of the sun.... In the same year a sudden pestilence also
depopulated the southern coasts of Britain, and afterwards extending into
the province of the Northumbrians. . . . To which plague Tuda fell a
victim...... This postilence did no less harm in the island of Ireland.
Many of the nobility, and of the lower ranks of the English nation, were
there at that time, who in the days of the bishops Finan and Colman,
forsaking their native island retired thither. The Scots willingly
received them all..... Among these were Ethelhun and Egbert...... of the
English nobility, the former of whom was brother to Ethelwin . . . who
also afterwards went over into Ireland to study. . . Those two being in
the monastery, which, in the language of the Scots, is called Rathmelsigi,
. . fell both desperately sick of the same distemper. . . , Of these
Egbert..... prayed fervently to God that he might not die yet. . . . He
also made a vow that he would, for the sake of
God, live in a strange place, so as never to return into the island of
Britain, where he was born. . . . Egbert, shaking off his distemper,
recovered. . . . He at length, in the year 729, being ninety years of age,
departed to the heavenly kingdom. . . . Thus he was a great benefactor,
both to his own nation and to those of the Picts and Scots, among whom he
lived a stranger."
Book IV., chapter three: "Father
Egbert, above spoken of, who long led a monastic life with the same Chad,
when both were youths, in Ireland....But when he afterwards returned into
his own country, the other continued in a strange country for our Lords
sake, till the end of his life."
Book V., chapter nine: "Egbert . .
lived a stranger in Ireland to obtain hereafter a residence in heaven,
proposed to himself" to go to Germany and preach the Word of God. Though
warned by a vision not to go there, but "rather to go and instruct the
monasteries of Columba," he persisted in the attempt, and was shipwrecked.
However, all that belonged to Egbert and his companions was saved. Then
he, saying, like the prophet, 'This tempest has happened on my account,
laid aside the undertaking and stayed at home. However, Wictbert, one of
his companions,....for he had lived many years a stranger in Ireland," &c.
In the following chapter it is
stated that: "Two other priests of the English nation, who had long lived
strangers in Ireland,...went into the province of the Ancient Saxons.....
The one was called Black Hewald, and the other White Hewald."
Those monks, also of the Scottish
nation, who lived in the isle of Hii,
with the other monasteries that were subject to
them, were brought to the canonical observance of Easter.....For in the
year 716, when Osred was slain, . . . the holy father and priest
Egbert, . . . coining among them.....The monks of Hii, by the instruction
of Egbert, adopted the Catholic rites, under Abbat Dunchad, about eighty
years after they had sent Aidan to preach to the English nation.....Egbert
remained thirteen years in the aforesaid island....In the year 720, in
which the Easter of our Lord was celebrated on the 24th of April, he
performed the solemnity of the mass, in mentory of the same resurrection
of our Lord, and dying that same day, thus finished, or rather never
ceases to celebrate, with our Lord, and apostles, and other citizens of
heaven, that greatest festival, which he had begun with the brethren, whom
he had converted to the unity of grace. But it was a wonderful
dispensation of Divine providence that the venerable man not only passed
out of this world to the Father, in Easter, but also when Easter was
celebrated on that day, on which it had never been wont to be kept in
those parts.....he also congratulated his being so long continued in the
flesh till he saw his followers admit, and celebrate with him, that as
Easter day which they had ever before avoided. Thus, the most reverend
father being assured of their standing corrected, rejoiced to see the day
of the Lord, and he saw it and was glad."
If these latter sentences have any
meaning, they mean that the monks of Hii were not converted to the
Catholic rites regarding the observance of Easter till the year of
Egberts death, that is 729. Let us now see what the other English annals
say about this Egbert and his companions. The Saxon Chronicle, under the
year 716, has: "And that pious man, Egbert, converted the monks in the
isle of Hii to the right faith, so that they observed Easter duly, and the
ecclesiastical tonsure." Under 729: "This year the star, called a comet,
appeared, and Saint Egbert died in Ii." This is all. No mention is made of
Ireland in connection with him, nor of Wictbert, nor of the Hewalds.
Ethelwerd says under the year 729 "A
comet appeared, and the holy bishop, Egbert., died." This is all he
records about Egbert.
Florence of Worcester's Chronicle,
under the year 692, has: "Egbert . . was an Englishman by birth, but
having led a pilgrims life in Ireland," &c. Under 716: "Egbert . . .
indnced the monks of Hii to adopt the Catholic usages with respect to
Easter and the ecclesiastical tousure." Under 729: "Egbert....departed to
the Lord on Easter day of this year." This is all that is found about
Egbert in this work. Wictbert is not mentioned. The Hewalds are, but
nothing is said of their sojourn in Ireland.
William of Malmesbury never mentions
either Egbert or Wictbert, or the Hewalds.
Henry of Huntingdon, under the year
715, has: "Egbert, a venerable man, brought over the monks of Hii to the
Catholic observance of Easter and the Catholic tonsure. Having lived with
them fourteen years, and being fully satisfied with the reformation of the
brotherhood, during the paschal solemnities on the feast of Easter, he
rejoiced that he had seen the day of the Lord, He saw it and was glad."
This is all. Nothing is said about Ireland, or of his death, or of
Wictbert or the Hewalds.
Roger of Wendover, like Malmesbury,
takes no notice whatever of this Egbert, or of Wictbert. The Hewalds are
mentioned by him, but nothing is said of their having been in Ireland.
Regarding the pestilense in Ireland,
Hnntiugdon is the only writer who coincides with the Ecclesiastical
history on this point. All the other annals mention it, but confine it to
Britain. It may be remarked that the word English often occurs in these
chapters of the Ecclesiastical History. And it is worth noticing that an
Egbert, who became archbishop of York after Bedes death, is mentioned by
all the later annalists. The result of this analysis of the chapters of
the Ecclesiastical History relating to Egbert, shows that they are only
slightly endorsed by works which have been interpolated, for even the
oldest manuscript of the Saxon Chronicle is not free from this fault. It
is said there are many interpolations in this manuscript, and the entries
regarding Egbert in it have an appearance of being of that character. The
omission by Malmesbury and Wendover, who both profess to have used Bedes
work, of all reference to Egbert and the conversion of the monks of Hii,
is of itself sufficient to prove that the passages just quoted from the
Ecclesiastical History are fabrications.
It is necessary to say that the
annals of Tigernach, and the annals of Ulster, both refer to the
conversion of the monks of Hii under the year 716; but "it is remarkable
that Tigernach and the annals of Ulster agree in employing at this place a
form (of the name of the island) not used by them elsewhere," as Dr Reeves
states, in a note at page 259 of his edition of Adamnans Life of
St Columba. Here they call the island Eo, but in every other place where
they mention it, which is done frequently, they call it either Iae or Ta.
This single instance of Eo occurring in the two annals under the same
year, suggests the likelihood of its being an interpolated entry.
We have thus, in the foregoing
pages, endeavoured to show that all the notices of Ireland which appear in
Bedes work, are fabricated; and the reader can judge with what success.
If it has been demonstrated that none of them were originally
written by him, then it is evident that they have been introduced into
this history for the purpose of supporting the Irish origin of the Scots.
With these passages erased from the Ecclesiastical History, it would be
foolish to believe that there were any Scots in Ireland, or that it was
called Scotia, in Bedes time.
Before closing this examination of
Bedes Ecclesiastical History, it may be as well to say here that the
letter to the king of the Picts, which appears in Book V., chapter
twenty-one, is not mentioned by the Saxon Chronicle, nor Ethelwerd, nor
Florence, nor Malrnesbury, nor Wendover.