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Ecclesiastical History of the English People

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Written in AD 731, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People is the first account of Anglo-Saxon England ever written, and remains our single most valuable source for this period. It begins with Julius Caesar's invasion in the first century BC and goes on to tell of the kings and bishops, monks and nuns who helped to develop government and convert the people to Christianity during these crucial formative years. Relating the deeds of great men and women but also describing landscape, customs and ordinary lives, this is a rich, vivid portrait of an emerging church and nation by the 'Father of English History'.

Leo Sherley-Price's translation from the Latin brings us an accurate and readable version of Bede's History. This edition includes Bede's Letter to Egbert, denouncing false monasteries; and The Death of Bede, an admirable eye-witness account by Cuthbert, monk and later Abbot of Jarrow, both translated by D. H. Farmer.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

400 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 731

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167 books71 followers
Saint Bede (672/673 - 26 May 735), referred to as Venerable Bede (Latin: Bēda Venerābilis) for over a thousand years before being canonized, was an English monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow (see Monkwearmouth-Jarrow), both in the Kingdom of Northumbria. He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title "The Father of English History.”

In 1899, Bede was made a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, a position of theological significance; he is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation (Anselm of Canterbury, also a Doctor of the Church, was originally from Italy). Bede was moreover a skilled linguist and translator, and his work with the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers contributed significantly to English Christianity, making the writings much more accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons. Bede's monastery had access to a superb library which included works by Eusebius and Orosius among many others.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 250 reviews
Profile Image for Katie.
438 reviews260 followers
March 25, 2012
This is a hard book to review, because whether it deserves five stars or 2-3 stars is going to depend pretty heavily on why you're reading it.

If you're reading it for academic purposes, it's really wonderful - it's one of the very, very few sources that we have for early English history and it's a goldmine of intriguing information on topics from the early Saxon kingdoms, the native Picts and Britons, or the procession of English conversion to Christianity.

If you're reading it just for pleasure, it's a bit more of a mixed bag. Bede is a pleasant writer, and every once and a while he'll tell a great anecdote or included a beautifully-written passage. There's one part in the second book that's a great extended simile on a sparrow flying through a feasting hall, and it's the best of both worlds - it's a lovely passage in its own right, and it gives a great recreation for historians of what a feast hall may have been like. But it's also a rather long history, and there are certainly sections that are going to be boring for those who aren't a specialist in Christian conversion, Anglo Saxon kingship, or the Paschal Controversy.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend it to those with a particular interest in early English history. If you're a bit more mixed on that, reading some selections might be a better bet.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
March 14, 2019
One night a group of monks from Durham cathedral seized Bede's remains and took them back to Durham for reburial there, making Bede one of those people who have ended up travelling further in death than they ever did while alive.

The give away fact about this book is it's title. What Bede wants to tell us is going to be within the explicit framework of a story of the growth and progression from strength to strength of Christianity in the British Isles, if necessary irrespective of the facts. From surviving letters of Bede we know that he was very concerned about the state of the church in his own lifetime - this concern is explicitly excluded from his major history, instead he writes a good news story not want we might imagine to be a realistic story of difficulties and struggles, conversion as a slow process not a series of picturesque events. By contrast with the history of Gregory of Tours we can also guess that Bede's framework also required him to ignore, or radically tone down, the day to day realities of a political life in which the backstabbing was literal and not figurative.

The joy of it is in the picture of St Augustine's arrogance, Paulinus laying his hands on the head of the Northumbrian King as a sign to recognise him, the debate over whether or not to convert, the hard footed saints walking down from Scotland to convert the Northumbrians or through the Midlands to convert the pagan Mercians and the synod of Whitby.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,937 reviews427 followers
January 8, 2016
It depends on why you read this. Historically it's extremely important. Reference-wise, it's a huge help, not only for religious things but the time-period itself in English history. Literature-wise it's not the best thing you can spend your time on and if you're on it for escapism then you're an idiot and you need to get off your phone and go outside and hug a tree.
Profile Image for Tess.
121 reviews13 followers
December 17, 2008
Synopsis leading up to quote:

Pope Gregory directed Augustine to preach to the English nation on Christianity, which had fallen by the wayside in England after many bloody civil wars and latterly the leaving of their allies and benefactors, the Romans. On reaching Britain Augustine met with King Ethelbert, who reigned over Kent. King Ethelbert, after listening to the preachings of Augustine, says the following (according to Bede):

"Your words and promises are fair indeed, but they are new and uncertain, and I cannot accept them and abandon the age-old beliefs that I have held, together with the whole English nation. But since you have travelled far, and I can see you are sincere in your desire to impart to us what you believe to be true and excellent, we will not harm you. We will receive you hospitably and take care to supply you with all that you need; nor will we forbid you to preach and win any people you can to your religion."

Oh, how I wish for more tolerance of this sort today! I am an agnostic, but this seems kind and fair. You go about your business and I'll go about mine.

I read this book in 1982 and obviously this passage struck a huge chord with me, as I wrote it out in my Books notebook.
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 5 books130 followers
May 11, 2021
Pleasingly written and enjoyable, and also rather astonishing for its inclusion of numerous miracles recorded with the same style and careful attention to detail as more readily verified historical events. Bede is deservedly celebrated - not only as a well-studied and reliable historian (supernatural entries notwithstanding), but as a good writer worth reading.
Profile Image for John.
222 reviews42 followers
October 28, 2016
What Is History? Edward Hallett Carr asked in the title of his famous book. Nothing objective he argued, saying, “The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.” Several decades later, Richard J. Evans responded with In Defence of History and argued the opposite.

It is not taking sides in this ongoing debate to say that once upon a time, what we now know as history – a lineal narrative of cause and consequence consequence – didn’t exist. When Thucydides sat down about 400 years before the birth of Christ to write The History of the Peloponnesian War, his chronological ordering of events was a radical break with what had gone before. There was a city called Troy and there was certainly some fighting around it but the account of the Trojan War given by Homer in The Iliad was mostly myth. Even The Histories of Herodotus, written about 40 years before Thucydides put quill to parchment, have a confusing, scattergun approach with chronology largely absent. Quite simply, Thucydides marked a quantum leap in the documentation of experience: the birth of history.

To see how unusual this chronological approach to history remained consider that much of the history of entire swathes of the planet remains a mystery. The concept of time as cyclical, which prevailed among Mayan or Buddhist cultures, for example, means that we have very little idea of the path of their development prior to their contact with the west and its lineal time.

We see this in England. There was settlement before the last Ice Age rendered the place uninhabitable around 100,000 BC. The end of the Ice Age around 10,000 BC saw people return to England by land from modern day Europe and begin a period of settlement unbroken to this day. But of these 12,000 years we actually know very little about 10,000 of them, about 80% of the period. The inhabitants of these islands apparently didn’t possess a lineal conception of time.

And, crucially, it wouldn’t have been much use to us if they had as they still lacked another Mediterranean import: writing. So English history begins from the outside, viewed by visitors beginning with Pytheas, a Greek sailor who travelled to England in 325 BC and wrote an account of his journey.

Eventually less welcome visitors and imports came from the Mediterranean. Julius Caesar's unsuccessful invasions of 55 and 54 BC were followed by the successful invasion of Claudius in 43 AD and Britain came under the jurisdiction of Rome’s historians as well as its governors. It was Cassius Dio who chronicled the guerilla campaign of the British chieftain Caratacus against Roman rule in the 40’s, Tacitus who recorded the rising of the Iceni under Boudica in 60 and 61 AD, and Herodian who described the growing anarchy of the late second century.

By the later fourth century the Empire found its extended borders increasingly hard to defend. Barbarian invaders from Germany attacked Britain causing the Romans to build a series of coastal forts which took their name from the invaders: the Saxon Shore. In 387, Rome was sacked by the Gauls and Rome gave up on Britain, withdrawing its troops in 410 and telling the British to fend for themselves.

Rome’s replacements were drawn from the largely illiterate tribes of Germany, Jutland, and the lower Rhine; the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles who gave their name to England. What a break this was can be gauged by how quickly the Saxons became baffled by the deserted stone ruins of Roman Britain. As one Anglo-Saxon poet wrote:

Cities are visible from afar, the cunning work of giants, the wondrous fortifications in stone which are on this earth.

The illiterate Anglo-Saxons retreat from recorded history and into archaeology and rarely emerge until 731 when Bede wrote his magnificent History of the English Church and People and it was another Mediterranean arrival that made this possible: Christianity.

In 597, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to England to convert the pagan English. Early successes were had in the south-east. But there was already Christianity in Britain. Constantine, who had been proclaimed emperor in York in 306, was a convert to Christianity himself and ended the periodic persecutions of Christians by the Edict of Milan in 313. Christianity became officially favoured throughout the empire, including Britain. The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons pushed Christianity back to the remaining British areas, Wales, the north-east, and Cornwall, where, disconnected from it, they developed in a rather different way from the Roman church Augustine represented.

Augustine’s arrival started, quite literally, a struggle for the soul of England; the peculiar, mystical Christianity of the British versus the official faith of Rome. It was eventually settled in 664 at the Synod of Whitby where the British accepted the Roman practices. But the competition between religious men, the only literate section of the population, and the simultaneous replacement of illiterate paganism by literate Christianity through the seventh century led to an early flowering of English writing. It was the Anglo-Saxons, wrote Dorothy Whitelock

who in the eighth century led the scholarship of Western Europe, who were mainly responsible for the conversion to Christianity of the of the German and Scandinavian peoples, and who, alone of the Germanic races, have left behind from so early a date a noble literature in verse and prose.

Bede, a monk who spent most of his life in a monastery at Jarrow in the north-east, was part of this. In a long career he wrote books on subjects as diverse as orthography and the life of St Cuthbert. In his history he aimed to “transmit whatever I could ascertain from common report for the instruction of posterity.”

Bede sheds some light through the murk of Anglo-Saxon history. He matter-of-factly describes how, in 449, the British King Vortigern, deserted by Rome and plagued by barbarian raids, invited Anglo-Saxon mercenaries from Germany to protect Britain. “Nevertheless,” writes Bede, “their intention was to subdue it.” Under their chieftans Hengist and Horsa, the Anglo-Saxons arrived

…in three longships, and were granted lands in the eastern part of the island on condition that they protected the country…They engaged the enemy advancing from the north, and having defeated them, sent back news of their success to their homeland, adding that the country was fertile and the Britons cowardly. Whereupon a larger fleet quickly came over with a great body of warriors, which, when joined to the original forces, constituted an invincible army.

In a similarly matter-of-fact way Bede describes the fighting between the British and the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century and the internecine fighting between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, and Wessex, and the spread of Christianity in the seventh century. Bede’s book is rather dull at times; lots of it is taken up with reproductions of letters from one churchman to another and accounts of various miracles. But it is riddled with colour particularly when Bede is writing about the saints who inspired him.

More importantly, like Thucydides, who had been a general in the Peloponnesian War, Bede was working mostly with first or second hand information. He culled information from a wide range of primary sources such as church documents, interviews with witnesses, and, for things beyond living memory, secondary sources like the lurid The Ruin of Britain written by a monk named Gildas in 540. Bede was England’s first historian in the true sense. F.M. Stenton wrote:

the quality which makes his work great is not his scholarship, nor the faculty of narrative which he shared with many other contemporaries, but his astonishing power of co-ordinating the fragments of information which came to him through tradition, the relation of friends, or documentary evidence. In an age when little was attempted beyond the registration of fact, he had reached the conception of history.

As importantly perhaps, Bede called his book a ‘history of the English People’. At a time when the Anglo-Saxons were still divided into often warring kingdoms Bede had a conception of them as a common English polity.

The eighth century flowering of which Bede was a part soon withered. In 789, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded,

…came the first three ships of Norwegians from Horthaland: and then the reeve rode thither and tried to compel them to go to the royal manor, for he did not know what they were: and then they slew him. These were the first ships of the Danes to come to England.

After a respite these Viking raids resumed with new intensity in the 830’s. One by one the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell to the Vikings until only Wessex remained. Here the Vikings would founder on the rock of one man: Alfred the Great.

Alfred succeeded his brother as king in 871 and after initial defeats was forced to buy the Vikings off. The invaders attacked Wessex again in 878 and forced Alfred to flee to the Somerset Marshes to regroup, famously burning the cakes along the way. But Alfred emerged with a rebuilt army and shattered the Vikings at the battle of Edington later that year.

Much of what we know of the life of arguably the greatest Englishman who ever lived comes from Life of King Alfred written in 893 by Asser, a friend of Alfred’s who, showing again the link between Christianity and history, was a Bishop. But Asser was just one of many learned men Alfred surrounded himself with. Alfred encouraged learning and literacy and established schools to educate the sons of nobles and bright children “of lesser birth.”

Another fruit of this second Anglo-Saxon flowering was The Anglo Saxon Chronicle which, building on earlier work, was organised by Alfred. Listing chronologically the major events of every year the Chronicles, the work of many anonymous scribes, were being compiled into the twelfth century. Here the Anglo-Saxons recorded the consolidation of the English nation, asserted resoundingly by the victory of the English King Athelstan over a combined army of Vikings, Scots, and Welsh at Brunanburh in 937, the successful Danish invasion of 1016, and the re-establishment of an Anglo-Saxon monarchy with the crowning of Edward the Confessor in 1042. It is one of the most extraordinary documents in English history.

If Bede’s work was important for its identification of an English people with a shared identity Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain sought to tell the other side of the story. Geoffrey was, after all, a Briton from south-east Wales who called the Anglo-Saxons “the odious race.” Where Bede told the story of the birth of England, Geoffrey’s story was the death of Britain.

His problem was that of all historians of illiterate societies: a lack of information. This partly explains why, despite being written around 1136, 400 years after Bede, Geoffrey’s book, replete with giants, dragons, and wizards, represents a regression in historical writing away from Thucydides and towards Homer. Geoffrey claimed to have based his work on “a certain very ancient book written in the British language” and just because no such book, other than that compiled under the name Nennius, has come down to us doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. However, Geoffrey may be more truthful when he says “these deeds were handed joyfully down in oral tradition.”

Whatever his sources were, how much is history? As Lewis Thorpe wrote

the History of the Kings of Britain rests primarily upon the life-history of three great men: Brutus, grandson of Aeneas; Belinus, who sacked Rome; and Arthur, King of Britain. This particular Brutus never existed; Rome was never sacked by a Briton called Belinus; and Geoffrey’s Arthur is far nearer to the fictional hero of the later Arthurian romances…than to the historical Arthur.

Geoffrey’s book gives us much more detail on the lives of, say, Hengist and Horsa than Bede does, but then most of it is made up or probably taken from something made up. The book got bad reviews at the time. In 1190 William of Newburgh wrote, “It is quite clear that everything this man wrote about Arthur and his successors, or indeed about his predecessors from Vortigern onwards, was made up, partly by himself and partly by others, either from an inordinate love of lying, or for the sake of pleasing the Britons.”

And yet we cannot say that Geoffrey has no contribution to make historically. When literacy is absent word of mouth can preserve something at least. As Thorpe writes

In v.4 Geoffrey tells us how the Venedoti decapitated a whole roman legion in London and threw their heads into a stream called Nantgallum or, in the Saxon language, Galobroc. In the 1860’s a large number of skulls, with practically no other bones to accompany them, were dug up in the bed of the Walbrook by General Pitt-Rivers and others.

The question of how much lost history there is hiding in plain sight in Geoffrey’s book is fascinating. But, as the archaeologist Acton Griscom wrote, “How much allowance must be made for expansion and embellishment is admittedly hard to determine, because, first and foremost, Geoffrey was bent on turning chronicle history into literature.”

And Geoffrey’s book is wonderfully entertaining. A dizzying array of Kings, Queens, soldiers, and wizards, including an early appearance by Merlin, are all sharply drawn. Shakespeare found Cymbeline and Lear here. There is King Bladud who

constructed a pair of wings for himself and tried to fly through the upper air. He came down on top of the Temple of Apollo in the town on Trinovantum and was dashed into countless fragments.

There is Tonuuenna who reasserts matriarchal discipline over her son Brennius by ripping her top open in front of his army and declaring, “Remember, my son, remember these breasts which you once sucked!” Armies invade, repel, attack, and counter attack. Geoffrey’s book is nothing less, or perhaps little more, than Britain’s own home grown Homeric epic and it is tinged with schadenfreude. By the time he wrote the Anglo-Saxons themselves had been conquered by the Normans.

What is history? It is inspiration, homage, tool, and entertainment. Its father, Thucydides, had modest ambitions; if anyone “shall pronounce what I have written to be useful then I shall be satisfied,” he wrote. This would have pleased Bede. Geoffrey, perhaps, would have wanted to entertain.
Profile Image for Neil.
294 reviews42 followers
May 31, 2013
Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is one of the most important sources on the early Germanic settlement of Britain, the founding of the early kingdoms and the growth of Christianity amongst the English.

Beginning with Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain, then the first incursions of the Germanic Angles, Saxons and Jutes and the first Christian missionaries that were despatched by Pope Gregory under the leadership of Augustine to the pagan english, culminating in Bede's own lifetime when the Roman Catholic Church was firmly established in England. Along the way the reader will encounter kings such as Æthelberht of Kent and Rædwald of East Anglia, thought to be the king who was Buried at Sutton Hoo. Well known stories include those of Saint Hilda of Whitby Abbey and the poet Cædmon.

By modern historical standards the work would be considered unreliable because Bede interprets history with a strong Christian and Northumbrian bias, causing modern historians to use a little caution while using this text to reconstruct the period. The text is typical of most medieval histories of the period in using a mixture of fact, legend and ecclesiastical records. Although at times Bede does corroborate the archaeological findings and is one of the first authors to quote the sources that he's using.

This Oxford edition by Colgrave and Mynors is the standard scholarly Latin text with a modern English version on the opposite page, plus extensive notes. The introduction explores Bede and his times and the manuscript tradition. Readers will also benefit from reading Wallace-Hadrill's commentary alongside. This commentary, which unfortunately is sold separately and costs roughly the same price as the text, is specially designed to complement the Oxford Bede and is an ideal companion volume.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,466 reviews1 follower
June 21, 2018
Should a woman receive holy communion during her period? Yes her state of impurity is not due to sin. When can a priest say mass after a wet dream? Once he has showered, he can say mass the following evening.

Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" which marks the beginning of intellectual life in Great Britain should be read by anyone who loves the culture of this island.

In this remarkable history, Bede makes a convincing case that it was the holy Catholic Church rather than any king or dynasty that created England.

The controversy which occupied English churchmen for over 300 years is the topic which Bede deals with at the greatest length. Several of the English kingdoms celebrated Easter on the day following Jewish Passover. This was however as Bede forcefully argues a grievous error. The Council of Nice in 325 had ruled that Easter was to be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. This debate was not settled until 664 when the Synod of Whitby decreed that the method prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church must be followed throughout England.

The Synod of Whitby also ruled that monastic tonsure should be performed in the Roman manner rather than in the way of Iona. While agreeing with this decision on the tonsure, Bede still acknowledged that it was of less importance than the question of the day when Easter should be celebrated.
Profile Image for lydia.
75 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2022
i feel like i say this a lot with school books, but idc 😂 we didn’t actually finish this one we got through id say 61% of the book, but i’m counting it since we spent so much time on it.

actually review: it was a well written book on the ancient english history and the spread of Christendom. i learned more from this book than what i’ve learned from my actual english history class 😬😂 so i guess that’s good. overall a fine read, wouldn’t recommend for fun tho. 4/5 stars
Profile Image for Adam Marischuk.
219 reviews21 followers
April 11, 2020
I picked this book off the shelf because I was bored with another book I was reading. I thoroughly expected this book to be quickly placed back on the shelf, with the good intention of reading some day, just not today but I was quickly surprise just how quickly I was drawn in.

It is not exactly Dan Brown in pace, but neither was it Piers Plowman. It was a highly readable quick paced history which gave generous insights into a number of aspects of Medieval life, the conquest of England and the Irish missionaries that were, if not gapping holes, at least shaddowy areas of my Medieval knowledge.

Leo Sherley-Price's translation gives a good feel for the simple, direct history of Bede's Medieval Latin and D.H. Farmer's introduction and notes are worth the time and give many invaluable insights into Bede's allusions or historical references.

Bede's History is probably most famous for the passage where Pope Gregory is introduced to some English slaves and on hearing that "They are called Angles", Pope Gregory responded, "That is appropriate for they have angelic faces." (p. 103 or Book II Chapter 1) but there is much more to the book than that.

As a true historian, he incorporates many primary sources (especially letters between Bishops, Abbots, Kings and Popes) to complement his history. As an Ecclesiastical historian, his major concern is with the Church, but this is inseparable from the royal families at the time. Never does the reader get bogged down in long geneologies or lists of Abbots and Bishops.

But what was best was Bede's honesty. He comes across as a genuinely humble man. His praise for his predecessors and contemporaries gives a clear insight into the values and ethics of the early Christian community in England. He is equally generous to North-Umbrians, Picts, Britains, Mercians, Frisians or Saxons regardless of creed is their behavious fits his peaceful ethic where the poor are uplifted by those in power. Likewise, he denounces avarice and violence where ever he finds it, inside or outside of Christendom and the Church.

Amid the wreckage of deserted cities destroyed by the enemy, the citizens who had survived the enemy now attacked each other. So long as the memory of past disaster remained fresh, kings and priests, commoners and nobles kept their rank. But when those who remained died, there grew up a generation that knew nothing of these things and had experienced only the present peaceful order. Then were all restraits of truth and justice so utterly abandoned that no trace of them remained. (p. 72)

The miracles are related in a way that does not dominate the discussion. Unlike the Life of Saint Gregory, the miracles are related in a semi-sceptical manner and Bede takes pains to explain his sources. Some of the miracles are genuinely funny while most are related to healings or springs bursting forth:

But the man whose impious hand struck off that pius head was not permitted to boast of his deed, for as the martyr's head fell, the executioner's eyes dropped out on the ground. (p. 54)

Additionally, Bede gives ample attention to Abbesses and women, as queens, princesses or nuns. Two shinning examples being Etheldreda and St. Hilda. Or King Sebbi wife, who "absolutely refused to be separated from him, [otherwise] he would have long before abdicated and joined a monastery." (p. 222) They appear as strong, autonomous agents and give pause to the feminist interpretation of history which so disparages the paternalistic Church and Middle Ages.

But perhaps my favourite thing is Bede's seeming obsession with the Easter conflict with the Irish. In retrospect, the date of Easter seems unimportant at best, but in his time, with very fluid calendars, it really represented a point of unity that held the English Church to the continental Church.

The addition of Bede's letter to Egbert gives insight into Bede's Scriptural and Theological learning, which is almost entire missing from the History. And Cuthbert's letter on the death of Bede is genuinely moving and a tribute to the adage that that measure of a teacher is in his students.
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
957 reviews567 followers
February 12, 2017
If two brothers had married two sisters and one of the brothers and sisters have died can the survivors marry? I liked the book when it dwelt with all important questions such as that. I liked it when Bede would say that we go to church on Sunday because that is the day the lord arose and it has nothing to do with the Sabbath commandment. Also, entwined within the story there is an interesting history of the early development of Great Britain, who would have known that Pope Gregory would have been so puny? I didn't.

The best thing I can really say about having had read the whole book is it's one of those books that I knew I had to check off my list. I wish that I didn't have that kind of personality for which when I start a book I feel obligated to finish it.

All the miracles reported in this book sort of got tedious. I found a strange parallel between this book and the Book of Acts (by far, imo, the most important book in the bible and is the must read book of the bible). There is a multi-volume work on how Acts must be true since there are over 50000 other confirmation of all the events, places and people are confirmed by other sources. Bede has that same kind of phenomena going for it. There is as history inside the story but also fantastic events entwined. There was even a magical (i.e. divine intervention) of some body who gets out of chains while locked up in prison just as Peter did in Jerusalem with the aid of the Holy Spirit. There are also Tempests at sea which abate because God (or the Holy Spirit) answers the prayers and so on.

In Bede's defense, he never really says anything that's not strictly true. He'll say stuff like "I've been told by the most reliable monk 'A' that he saw 'B' who performed a miracle while 'C' was gone and related it to me". There's not a lie in the book and he's reporting them as fact. Or he'll say that 'miraculous events are still being reported there today'. I just kept thinking how Bede is not a Liar, or Lunatic, or reporting truly about the Lord, but is reporting on legends (or what we call urban legends) which are at best third hand hearsay. It's up to an author to write about what they think is credible because all acts of creation means something will be left out and what is put in the author is giving some credence to (a very obscure example would be to re-read the NYT to the run up to the Iraq War of 2003 and pay particular attention to the articles of Judith Miller. Everything she says within the articles are true, but the 'sin of omission' still lingers and what she wasn't telling meant she was wrong. Yes, I'm mad about that war and the lies that led to it and one day I'll get over it, but even a book written over 1000 years ago can illustrate the same kind of problems that journalist who want to mislead!).

Another thing about this book. Bede had a weird fixation on when Easter should be. I bet you he mentioned that over 20 times within the book. You ever wonder why October is the 10th month and December is the 12th month even though 'oct' means eight and 'dec' means 10. March used to be the first month since Christ was annuciated on March 25 (exactly 9 months before Christmas). The first month of the year was said to be March. Having forgot that fact at first I wasn't always following his Easter arguments.

There is some history in this book, it also tells you how people thought uncritically during this time, and if fables dressed up as real is your thing this book could be fun. For me, I wish I hadn't started it or I wish I could have stopped it. I clearly would not recommend it to anyone to read because there is a tedium to it that is hard to ignore.
Profile Image for /Fitbrah/.
151 reviews52 followers
July 1, 2022
Kinda dry but ultimately history is fun, especially when it's primary sources.
March 23, 2020
I read this because the whole period of British history after Boudicca before Alfred the Great was pretty dark to me. The main thing I was struck by in this book was how effectively it conforms to everything I expect from a modern history book despite being written in 731 a.d. even down to an 'Also by this Authour' section in the back. It was very easy to read especially because the chapters were so short. One thing that confused me that I didn't figure out until the end was that when he's talking about the reckoning of easter 'moons' means 'nights' not lunar cycles. I found this much more entertaining than any LDS church history book I've perused.
Profile Image for Angela Mortimer.
Author 18 books130 followers
January 26, 2013
THE first English history by an Anglo-Saxon saint and monk takes us back to names, people and places that are barely remembered in present history books, a fascinating read for it is much closer and perhaps more accurate for it, without this book we would know so little of those early times, as the Normans chose only to remember themselves. Well worth a read.
Profile Image for raffaela.
202 reviews34 followers
September 12, 2021
Read for school. Not a book I would ever pick up for fun, but it was an interesting glance into the spread of Christianity into pagan Britain - which was not an easy or linear process. In the midst of widespread apostasy and forgetfulness in the West, this is a good reminder that we have been in dark places before and are never without the hope of repentance and restoration.
Profile Image for Glenda.
168 reviews2 followers
September 24, 2022
This is the second time I have read the Venerable Bede. With this reading, which was with one of my book clubs, I learned and appreciated more than in the first reading. Relatively easy to read yet full of things to ponder, this is a book I recommend.
Profile Image for Veronica.
22 reviews
January 28, 2018
I read parts of this for a literature class, and found it very informative. It was inspiring to read about how Christ worked through His Church during Anglo-Saxon times.
Profile Image for Kate.
46 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2022
had to read for school. some parts were good but most of it was boring :(
Profile Image for Kathy Weitz.
57 reviews7 followers
November 16, 2016
Double treat reading and discussing this with both our Humanities II class at Providence Prep and with our Mother Culture Community this fall. I posted a link: reading guide at The Reading Mother.

A few commonplace entries:

Should history tell of good men and their good estate, the thoughtful listener is spurred on to imitate the good; should it record the evil ends of wicked men, no less effectually the devout and earnest listener or reader is kindled to eschew what is harmful and perverse, and himself with greater care pursue those things which he has learned to be good and pleasing in the sight of God.
For we know that whenever ruler themselves take trouble to learn and teach and watch over the truth, it is a heaven-sent gift to God's church. V.21 [connection to Livy!]

At the present time, there are five languages in Britain, just as the divine law is written in five books, all devoted to seeking out and setting forth one and the same kind of wisdom, namely the knowledge of sublime truth and of true sublimity. I.11

"It remains, therefore, most dear brother, that amidst those things, which through the working of our Lord, you outwardly perform, you always inwardly strictly judge yourself, and clearly understand both what you are yourself, and how much grace is in that same nation, for the conversion of which you have also received the gift of working miracles. And if you remember that you have at any time offended our Creator, either by word or deed, that you always call it to mind, to the end that the remembrance of your guilt may crush the vanity which rises in your heart. And whatsoever you shall receive, or have received, in relation to working miracles, that you consider the same, not as conferred on you, but on those for whose salvation it has been given you." I. 31 (Pope Gregory to Augustine of Kent)

Aidan's life was in great contrast to our modern sloth... (!) III.5

[MIRACLES - the real deal!] . . . he began earnestly to consider his past life. He was so stricken with remorse at the memory of his sins . . . III.27

. . . they are cutting a crooked furrow, and he must call them back to the true line. V.9

For we know that whenever ruler themselves take trouble to learn and teach and watch over the truth, it is a heaven-sent gift to God's church. V.21

Such being the peaceable and calm disposition of the times, many of the Northumbrians, as well of the nobility as private persons, laying aside their weapons, rather incline to dedicate both themselves and their children to the tonsure and monastic vows, than to study martial discipline. What will be the end hereof, the next age will show. This is for the present the state of all Britain; in the year since the coming of the English into Britain about 285, but in the 731st year of the incarnation of our Lord, in whose reign may the earth ever rejoice; may Britain exult in the profession of his faith; and may many islands be glad, and sing praises in honor of his holiness! V. 23

Profile Image for Joseph R..
998 reviews12 followers
May 17, 2013
One of the great writers in early English literature is the monk Bede. He lived from 672 to 735 A.D. in northern England at the monastery of Jarrow. He was a great scholar and author of many works, Ecclesiastical History of the English People being the most famous. It is a primary source for early British history.

The book starts with the Roman invasions by Julius Caesar in the first century B.C. and Claudius in the first century A.D. This part is quickly covered, since Bede's main interest is to chronicle the coming of the Christian faith to the islands of Britain. He presents the first organized missionaries led by Augustine of Canterbury (as he was later known) in the late 500s. Various successes and failings are described as well as the lives of many kings and queens (at this point several different kingdoms existed on the island), some pagan, some converts. Other religious and lay people are also chronicled, including people in Bede's own living memory.

One of the reasons the book is highly regarded is Bede's style and method. Bede has an engaging style--he bubbles over with Christian enthusiasm and knows to throw in stories to illustrate his points about historical figures. His Latin is quite excellent (from what I've read) though I read an English translation. The book is also well-researched, making use of the extensive library at Jarrow and many other eye-witness accounts. Bede is rightly called the Father of English History.

The book is interesting as a view into the past. People led lives of squalor, solitude, and splendor as they do today. Controversies within the church sprang up, mostly around the proper calculation of Easter's date each year. The problem was resolved at the Synod of Whitby in 664, where bishops met together to discuss the matter. It reminded me of the national bishops' conferences that we have today. People are still people, no matter the age in which they live.

Of course, some bits are less familiar to modern readers. Sometimes the names are quite a mouthful ("Ethelbert was son of Irminric, son of Octa, and after his grandfather Oeric, surnamed Oisc, the kings of the Kentish folk are commonly known as Oiscings." p.112) Having wandered over England a bit the past year and a half, the places and the names are a little more familiar, which helps.

The book is easy to read in small sections. Each chapter covers one story or event, so reading a few pages a day or now and then won't be disruptive. I've read it bit by bit over a few months and found it very interesting and very rewarding.

Profile Image for Hilary.
247 reviews2 followers
May 16, 2009
A classic that you will have to read at some time if you're an educated person. Bede is the original model for what we call a historian -- he cites his sources, and uses a variety of sources, and he uses a narrative style is his writing. Bede popularized the BC/AD dating system (something that everyone in the liberal arts can be eternally grateful for), and his writing is actually pretty darn readable. He focuses a bit much on magical thinking and the lives of the saints, treating hagiography (writing on the saints) as a bit too literal of a subject, which makes me wonder how discerning he truly was about his facts... but that's a personal qualm, and wouldn't be acknowledged in the historian community. The best thing about this book is that Bede's chapter headings are really detailed, and the chapters themselves are really short, both of which make finding and researching info in Bede's book REALLY easy. I recommend it.
18 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2011
This book is a very interesting and educational read. It brings to life the age when everyone believed in miracles and the power of the divine. Provides a lot of insight into the era that it comes from. Bede's work provides great insight into the beliefs of the Christian church during this period. Also provides insight on the pagan peoples of this era, despite the biases that the author has and maintains throughout the work towars these people. A must read for any history student or anyone interested in the subject, especially those interested in the history and development of England and / or Christianity. It can be difficult to get through some parts, but definitely work it. Supplemental materials, like a brief history of the Roman Empire and Anglo-Saxons, along with some working knowledge of the basics of Christianity are very helpful for understanding and getting through these difficult parts of the text.
Profile Image for Emily Carroll.
112 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2017
“For if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good: or if it records evil of wicked men, the devout, religious listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God.” Here Bede clearly states as his thesis that his goal of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People was to use history as a tool to encourage and teach morality. Bede’s History is his best known work and has continued to be studied throughout the years as the basis of what is known of early English history. Both ecclesiastical and political history is touched on in his writings, using his religious agenda as the backing for the work as a whole.
Profile Image for The Gatekeeper.
96 reviews
December 18, 2008
I didn't love this book. It was probably the worst one I've had to read for school this year. Most of it was boring, and it was discouraging to see how the early church drifted farther and farther away from the gospel, eventually focusing almost entirely on saints, relics, penance, and good works. However, it was interesting to read about how England became a country, and to learn how the B.C. and A.D. dating system was invented (by Bede, apparently).
Profile Image for Nicola Griffith.
Author 51 books1,409 followers
May 7, 2012
For maximum culture shock, try the Plummar/Sherley-Price edition with its mind-bogglingly literal mid-twentieth century introduction. Here is an eighth-century English monk inventing the notion of cultural history in the short, snappy one- or two-page chapters I thought had been first used by twentieth-century bestsellers.

This is the only source of information about Hild: the woman who grew up to become St Hilda of Whitby--and changed the world.
Profile Image for Ilkyaz Yagmur.
1 review3 followers
February 23, 2017
I think, Bede's language and depictions are surprisingly modern and satisfying. I personally have special interest to ancient and medieval texts and always mesmerised by their capability to analyse the world and the accidents almost as a modern human being. Bede's work contains large amount of detailed informations about the time, environment and the people. Besides its historical significance, Ecclesiastical History of England is a naïve piece of literature, which makes its reader pleased.
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