The Moore Bede

The Moore Bede – Rosenkilde and Bagger – Ms. Kk. 5.16. – University of Cambridge (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Northumbria (United Kingdom) — 734–737

One of the oldest and most important historical documents for the early history of England: Beda Venerabilis' "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", from Caesar's invasion to the 8th century

  1. The Venerable Bede (672/3–735) was a Benedictine monk in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria

  2. Bede’s work begins by tracing British history from Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC up to his own time

  3. Its main focus is on the conflict between the pre-Schism Roman Rite and Celtic Christianity

The Moore Bede

Ms. Kk. 5.16. University of Cambridge (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
The Moore Bede

The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum or Ecclesiastical History of the English People is one of the oldest and most important historical documents in the history of England. Completed in the year 731 by Bede the Venerable, it is a history focusing on the conflict between the pre-Schism Roman Rite and Celtic Christianity in the Early Middle Ages. Bede’s first few chapters are an overview of English history beginning with Julius Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC and ending with the events of his own lifetime. Named after its former owner Bishop Tom Moore, the Moore Bede is one of the two earliest specimens of the m-type text of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum and originates from 734–737, possibly at Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey. On the last page of the manuscript, it additionally contains the Northumbrian aelda recension Cædmon's Hymn, the oldest recorded Old English poem.

The Moore Bede

Saint Bede (672/3–735), also known as Bede the Venerable, was an English monk who is credited with writing the earliest surviving history of England, which is centered around the Christianization of the island’s various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the establishment of the English Church. Various manuscripts of the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum or Ecclesiastical History of the English People survive today, the oldest of which resides in the library of the University of Cambridge. The detailed description of events from the years 731–734, referred to as the “Moore Annals”, indicates that the manuscript was created no earlier than 734 and various calculations of the dates of past events indicates that work on the manuscript was finished in 737 or not long thereafter.

The Origins of the English Church

Bede’s History has played a key role in the creation of a unifying English national identity that did not exist when the manuscript was made and the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms would not be unified until the 10th century. Completed by Bede in the year 731, the original text was divided into five books, the first of which begins with the Roman invasion of 55 BC and ends with St. Augustine’s mission to England in 597. The second book begins with the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 and ends with the death of the Christian King Edwin of Northumbria in battle against the Pagan King Penda of Mercia in 633. Book 3 culminates with the Synod of Whitby in 664, a major turning point that aligned the Northumbrian Church with Roman instead of Celtic customs. The fourth book focuses on the Christianization of the Kingdom of Sussex ending in 698 and the fifth book brings the narrative up to Bede’s own day and covers the work of British missionaries in Frisia and the conflict within the Church concerning the calculation of the liturgical calendar.

Bede’s Sources

Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey was an exceptional monastic institution and renowned center of learning with an excellent library. It is evident that Bede drew on the work of Roman scholars like Pliny the Elder, Orosius, Eutropius, Solinus, Josephus, and Cassiodorus as well as Christian scholars and monks including Constantius of Lyon, Gildas the Wise, and Stephen of Ripon. Bede also benefitted from corresponding with many of his contemporaries including Albinus, the abbot of the monastery in Canterbury, Bishop Daniel of Winchester, Bishop Cynibert of Lyndsey, and a certain Abbot Esi. Numerous anonymously written sources were also employed by Bede. In terms of style, Bede modelled his work on Orosius and Eusebius.

Bede’s Message

Aside from being a history of the English people, Bede used the work to advance his political and religious beliefs, favoring his native Northumbria over it southern rival Mercia. He attributes miliary defeats to a lack of faith or sinful behavior, praises Irish monks for their zealousness in comparison to their complacent English counterparts, and writes extensively over the dating of Easter, about which he disagrees with the Irish monks whom he otherwise praises. Bede emphasizes their missionizing efforts and those of their Italian counterparts while characterizing the invasion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons as divine punishment for the unorthodoxy of early British Christians. Another important theme is the evolution from diversity to orthodoxy as the native and invading races of the island are unified in a single church. The work also includes the accounts of various visions and miracles that one would expect from a medieval religious narrative, but Bede explicitly states that his goal is to use history as a tool for teaching morality.

Ownership History

The so-called Moore Bede is named after its erstwhile owner Bishop John Moore (1646–1714), who acquired it ca. 1700. It was purchased along with the rest of Moore’s library by King George I (1660–1727) and then donated by him to Cambridge University in 1715. An ex libris at the end of the manuscript on fol. 128v indicates that it had previously been held in the library of the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans after being in France for centuries, perhaps dating back to Charlemagne (747–814). It is believed that the manuscript was sent to the imperial court at Aachen at the request of its greatest scholar, Alcuin of York (ca. 735–804). There is evidence that this manuscript was created in haste: it is unadorned aside from a few decorative initials, written in Insular miniscule, a script that enabled scribes to write quickly, and there are numerous minor spelling mistakes that could be ascribed to the copyist being rushed rather than careless. On fol. 128v, there is also evidence of a second scribe writing in a Carolingian miniscule that is very similar to that used at the court in Aachen ca. 800. This and other annotations made by Frankish hands indicates that the manuscript must have left England by the end of the 8th century.


Alternative Titles
Der Moore Beda
Venerable Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
Beda Venerabilis Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Size / Format
258 pages / 29.0 × 21.5 cm
Anglo-Saxon minuscule
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Cædmon's Hymn
Previous Owners
Bishop John Moore (1646–1714)
George I, King of Great Britain (1660–1727)

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Moore Bede: an eighth century manuscript of the Venerable Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum

Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1959

Publisher: Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1959
Commentary: 1 volume by Peter Blair Hunter and Roger A. B. Mynors
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Black and white reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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