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   Writers from the Old English period


  See also Old English writings

Ælfric (955?-1020?) [Dark Ages] A monk of the late Old English period who wrote prolifically, often on linguistic matters. Apart from his Catholic Homilies and Lives of the Saints we have a Latin grammar with glossary which was compiled in English. His Colloquy was intended to improve knowledge of Latin among his pupils. Ælfric worked as a monk in the Benedictine monastery of Winchester and later at Eynsham (near Oxford) where he became abbot around 1006.

Alfred, King (849-899) [Dark Ages] The most famous of Old English kings, called ‘Alfred the Great’. He was a West-Saxon and assumed the leadership of his community in 871 and was immediately confronted by difficult military engagements with the Vikings who were pressing south. Alfred was also concerned with the reform of monastic life and had a number of translations made which are importants monuments of (early West-Saxon) Old English.

  King Alfred

Bede, The Venerable (673?-735) [Dark Ages] English monk and historian. Bede was born in Northumbria and became a monk at Jarrow where he remained for the remainder of his life. Bede is known to posterity as the author of Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ‘Ecclesiastical history of the English people’ which is the main historical source for the Old English period. He was an accurate and reliable observer and compiler of historical information and it is to him that we know of when and how the initial Germanic invasion of Britain took place.


Caedmon (650?-680?) [Dark Ages] Regarded as the earliest of the Old English Christian poets. The only information about Caedmon is what is noted in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731) by the English theologian saint the Venerable Bede. According to Bede Caedmon was an uneducated cowherd who had a vision in which a voice admonished him to sing the praises of the creation. This was supposedly the impetus for the poem about the creation known as Caedmon's Hymn which Bede recorded and which is available in several dialect versions in Old English. Caedmon was recognised for his worth and on the recommendation of Saint Hilda became a lay brother at the monastery of Whitby and continued to compose poetry on biblical themes, none of which has been definitively identified among that which was assumed later to be by Caedmon.


Caedmon’s Hymn with present-day portrait of Caedmon


Alexander, Michael 1983. Old English Literature. Macmillan History of English Literature. London: Macmillan.

Godden, Malcolm and Michael Lapidge (eds) 1991. The Cambridge companion to Old English literature. Cambridge: University Press.

Lapidge, Michael et al. 2000. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mitchell, Bruce and Fred Robinson 1998. Beowulf. An edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mitchell, Bruce 1995. An invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Freeborn, Dennis 2006. From Old English to Standard English. 3rd edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Burnley, David 2000. The history of the English language. A sourcebook. 2nd edition. London: Longman.