. The Harleian Recension – Historia Brittonum

This recension is best represented in the early twelfth-century British Library MS Harley 3859, which is, however, interpolated, as it uniquely contains a text of the Annales Cambrię and a set of Welsh genealogies, both apparently dating from 954. It is also found in British Library MSS Cotton Vespasian D XXI, Cotton Vespasian B XXV and Cotton Vitellius A XIII, all early twelfth century texts and all considered by Mommsen to be copies of the Harleian manuscript, which they cannot be as they do not share the same spelling errors of names as that manuscript. A fifth manuscript, Cambridge Trinity College MS O.5.37, is a transcript of Cotton MS Vitellius A XIII by Roger Gale (1672-1744), collated with readings from other manuscripts. Excerpts from a text of this type are included in the Liber Floridus by Lambert of Saint-Omer, a massive compendium of material including early medieval insular texts, and in the Chronica Imperfecta of Christ Church, Canterbury, an expanded version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The Harleian recension should not be treated as primary. Instead, it appears to be the best representative of one of two major traditions within the transmission of the text, which is here labelled the Computistical family. The Harleian recension appears to be an expanded but generally faithful reproduction of the Computistical text, which was produced in Gwynedd in 859. Although modern commentators such as Dumville regard the recension as essentially reproducing the original text of the Historia Brittonum, the late date of surviving manuscripts suggests that it may be the result of eleventh century textual work. Thomas Clancy’s work on the Irish text points to scholarly activity in later eleventh-century Scotland as the source of the pseudo-Nennius recension, which provides a terminus ante quem for the Harleian, from which it was derived. It is important to note that as this is the only recension to contain the Saxon genealogies and the so-called Northern History, they cannot have been part of the original work and could have been added at any time between 859 and c 1070 using existing texts. An early to mid eleventh-century date may therefore be suggested provisionally.

The Harleian Recension Latin text.

The Harleian Recension translation.

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