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Inscribed orality in the Second Continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle

My final excerpts are taken from the Second Continuation, in which the scribe’s English is noticeably different from the first scribe’s, and in which we see a distinct movement towards inscribed orality. In section 5, I shall argue that it is precisely the marked shift towards inscribed orality that indicates the end of the archive of which the ASC was part, thus constituting a strong argument against the unbroken tradition myth.

The second scribe picks up the narration from 1132 and includes the information that the king solved the dissension concerning the succession to the abbey of Peterborough, after Abbot Henry’s return to Cluny, by choosing Martin (an prior of Sanct Neod, “a prior of St. Neot’s”) as the new abbot. There is then a gap of three years till 1135 in which Henry I’s death and Stephen’s accession to the throne are reported. The next entry is for 1137, and it effectively covers the whole of Stephen’s disastrous reign. It is followed by an entry for 1138 giving a very brief report of King David of Scotland’s abortive attempt to conquer England and then describes in great detail, under the year 1140, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda and the agreement finally reached that Henry of Anjou—Stephen’s nephew and Matilda’s son—would succeed to the throne after Stephen’s death. Stephen’s death and the accession of Henry II are then described in the annal for 1154, and the chronicle closes with the death of Abbot Martin and the election of a new abbot, William de Vatteville. Thus, while it could have been the case that the entries for 1132 and 1135 were written up during the reign of Stephen, it is much more likely that the whole reign was written up in 1155.

From a narrative point of view, the Second Continuation is framed by the election of Martin as the abbot of Peterborough in 1132 and Martin’s death in 1154. In addition, after the gruesome description of anarchic violence under the entry for 1137, which the second scribe finishes with the sentence

Suilc and mare panne we cunnen sain we polfedjen xix winter for ure sinnes (“Such and more than we can tell we suffered for 19 years for our sins”), we then read the following: On alpis yuele time heold Martin abbot his abbotrice xx winter and half gar and viii dais mid micel suinc (“During all this evil time Abbot Martin held his abbacy for 20 and a half years and eight days with much effort”). Abbot Martin thus appears to be the unsung hero of the narrative. The final sentence of the Peterborough Chronicle—and indeed the final sentence of the ASC—after reporting the election of William de Vatteville as the new abbot, is as follows:

(12) And nu is abbot and fair haued begunnon: Xpist[1] him unne fi[us] enden! “And now [he] is abbot and has begun well: may Christ grant him that it should end that way!”

This is a very decisive ending, rounding off a period of civil war, anarchy and violence, and I return to it in section 5 of this chapter when I assess the disappearance of the discourse archive.

The long entry for 1137 is full of narrative commentary, subjective evaluation and metapragmatic expressions—all the tell-tale signs of inscribed orality. I discuss some of these in the present subsection. The first type of metadiscursive insert consists of forms of evaluative narrative commentary, such as the following:

(13) ha namen hi fia men fie hi wenden 5at ani gold hefden, bathe be nihtes and be dsies, carlmen and wimmen, and diden heom in prisun and pined heom efter gold and syluer untellendlice pining; for ne uuaren naure nan martyrs swa pined alse hi waron.

“Then they took the men that they thought had any gold, both by night and by day, rustics and women, and threw them into prison and subjected them to indescribable torture for gold and silver; for there were never any martyrs as tortured as they were.

The second type is that of a metapragmatic explanatory insertion for the benefit of the reader, as in (14):

(14) Sume hi diden in crucethus—dat is, in an cqstepat was scort and nareu and undep—and dide scsrpe stanes fierinne and firengde fie man fisrinne 5at him brscon alle fie limes.

“Some they put into a ‘crucethus’—that is, in a chest that was short and narrow and shallow—and put sharp stones into it and forced the man into it so that all his limbs were broken.”

Perhaps the most obvious features of inscribed orality, and those which have (or simulate) a direct connection to the ongoing interaction, are first- and second-person pronoun reference; explicit examples of modality, particularly deontic modality; and instances of verbs that are not past tense. Such insertions are metapragmatic in that they position the speaker/writer or the interlocutor/reader outside the world of the discourse by commenting on it in the here-and-now of the interaction, and they are also metadiscursive in that they position the speaker/writer and the interlocutor/reader with respect to the overall discourse structure and orders of discourse. Within the Labovian high-point model of narrative structure they represent strongly evaluative commentary. Excerpt (15) contains the first-person pronoun I and two modal verbs that are not past tense, one representing epi- stemic modality (can) and the other deontic modality (mat).[2] It is rounded off with a subjective evaluation of the overall situation. Excerpt (16) goes so far as to imagine a fictive addressee who is addressed with the second-person singular pronoun pu:

(15) I ne can ne I ne mai tellen alle he wunder ne alle he pines 5at hi diden wrecce men on his land; and 5at lastede ha xix wintre wile Stephne was king, and xuvre it was uuerse and uuerse.

“I can not nor may I tell all the terrible things nor all the torture that they did to wretched men in this land; and that lasted 19 winters while Stephen was king, and all the time it got worse and worse.”

(16) ha he uurecce men ne hadden nammore to gyuen, ha rsueden hi and brendon alle he tunes, 5at wel pu mihtes faren al a dxies fare, sculdest pu neure finden man in tune sittende ne land tiled.

“When the wretched men had no more to give, they plundered and burned down all the towns so that you might well travel for a whole day, but you would never find a man living in the town nor the land tilled.”

The whole of the entry under 1137 is highly unusual for entries in the ASC in its personal tone, but, as we have seen, it was certainly anticipated by the increase of inscribed orality in the first scribe’s narrative in the First Continuation. The second scribe/narrator expresses a sense of social outrage at the arbitrary violence caused by the anarchic state of England during Stephen’s reign and sympathy for the sufferings of the common people. It contains horrifying descriptions of the tortures that the narrator maintains the common people were subjected to and outrage at the fact that God looked on and did nothing. In a word, it is a damning assessment of the reign of King Stephen. The major question at this point is the following: Who were meant to be the recipients of the narrative? Who was the intended pu?

  • [1] The spelling of the lexeme Christ here is most unusual. The first two letters would appear to be fromthe Greek, representing the phoneme /X/ and the phoneme /r/.
  • [2] The expression of deontic modality will be significant in assessing the breakdown of the discoursearchive in section 5.
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