THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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ASSER, or Asserius Menevensis (d. c. 910), English bishop, and author of a life of Alfred the Great, was a native of the western part of Wales, and was related to Nobis, bishop of St David’s. He became a monk at St David’s, and having acquired some reputation for learning, he was invited by king40769-h.htm'>king Alfred to his court. The king40769-h.htm'>king met the monk at Denu (probably East or West Dean, near Seaford in Sussex), but Asser did not at once accept the invitation of Alfred, and returned to Wales to consult his colleagues. He then agreed to spend six months of each year with the king40769-h.htm'>king and six months in his own land; but his first stay at the royal court extended to eight months, and it is probable 780 that the annual visit to Wales was curtailed if not altogether discontinued. It is difficult to fix the date of Asser’s arrival in England, but it was probably about 885. He assisted the king in his studies, received from him the monasteries of Congresbury and Banwell, and sometime later “Exeter and its diocese in Saxonland and Cornwall.” He became bishop of Sherborne before 900, and his death is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the date 910, although it is possible that it occurred a year or two earlier. The scanty details of Asser’s life are taken from his biography of Alfred, from which it is inferred that he was acquainted with one or two Frankish biographies, and possibly had visited the continent of Europe.

Asser’s work, Annales rerum gestarum Alfredi magni, was written about 893, and consists of a chronicle of English history from 849 to 887, and an account of Alfred’s life, largely drawn from personal knowledge, down to 887. The only manuscript of which there is any record dates from about 1000, and was destroyed by fire in 1731. From this manuscript an edition was printed in 1574 under the direction of Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury; but this contained many interpolations and alterations which were copied by subsequent editors. The text has since been the subject of careful study, and the edition edited by W.H. Stevenson (Oxford, 1904) distinguishes between the original work of Asser and the later additions. Some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of the work, especially by T. Wright in the Biographia Britannica literaria (London, 1842), who ascribes the life to a monk of St Neots; but the latest scholarship regards it as the work of Asser, although all the difficulties which surround the authorship have not been removed. The life was largely used by subsequent chroniclers, among others by Florence of Worcester, Simeon of Durham, Roger of Hoveden, and William of Malmesbury.

See W.H. Stevenson, Introduction to Asser’s Life of King Alfred (Oxford, 1904); R. Pauli, Introduction to König Aelfred (Berlin, 1851).


Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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