Chronicle of the Early Britons

This document, translated by Bill Cooper from the Welsh copy (Jesus College MS LXI), gives the history of the Britons from the fall of Troy and the arrival of Brutus in Britain, to the time when they were defeated by the Saxons and driven into Wales.

The early history of Britain is usually presented in schools in nondescript terms such as stone age, bronze age and iron age. It fails to identify any real people, until the arrival of Julius Caesar in 55BC. Yet there is more than a thousand years of documented British history that pre-dates the arrival of the Romans. This history is given in a Welsh document, described by Bill Cooper in the first paragraph of his Introduction is as follows:

There lies in an Oxford library a certain old and jaded manuscript. It is written in medieval Welsh in an informal cursive hand, and is a 15th-century copy of a 12th-century original (now lost). Its shelfmark today is Jesus College MS LXI, but that has not always been its name. For some considerable time it went under the far more evocative name of the Tysilio Chronicle, and earlier this century a certain archaeologist made the following observation concerning it. The year was 1917, the archaeologist was Flinders Petrie, and his observation was that this manuscript was being unaccountably neglected by the scholars of his day. It was, he pointed out, perhaps the best representative of an entire group of chronicles in which are preserved certain important aspects of early British history, aspects that were not finding their way into the published notices of those whose disciplines embraced this period.

The first English translation was by Peter Roberts in 1811, and a second edition was published in 1862, but in 1917 it had become so rare that Flinders Petrie (1) was unable to obtain a copy, and had to get one of the British Museum copies type-written so that he could do his research. Things are rather better now, because a facsimile reprint of the 1811 edition is available (2). We would be impoverished if the work of Peter Roberts was the only existing translation of this important history. There should always be more than one scholar looking at the same manuscripts, and giving us their comments on the text.

Bill Cooper's version comes with 574 footnotes of linguistic, historical and geographical interest, and has been scrutinized for accuracy by Ellis Evans, Professor of Celtic Studies at Jesus College. However, every attempt to publish it has failed, because it was sent out to modernist reviewers who advised against publication. Now, at last, it is allowed to see the light of day, thanks to modern technology, so that readers can make up their own minds and decide for themselves whether or not this is a true account of the British history.

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1. Neglected British History. Flinders Petrie, FRS. Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume VIII, pp 251-278. Paper presented to the Academy on November 7, 1917.

2. Chronicle of the Kings of Britain. Translated by Peter Roberts in 1811 from the Welsh copy attributed to Tysilio. Facsimile reprint by Llanerch Publishers. ISBN 1-86143-111-2. Note: The original 1811 edition contains some additional material from other histories that is omitted from the facsimile reprint.

Mike Gascoigne
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