Facts about Bede, Britain’s first historian
1. Bede is known as the ‘Father of English History’. Bede, also known as Saint Bede and as the Venerable Bede, was born in around 672 and died in 735. Bede’s great work is Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, or History of the English Church and People, which he completed in 731. The book charts the establishment of Christianity in the British Isles, particularly in England. In 1899, Bede became the only English-born person to be recognised as a Doctor of the Church.
2. However, Bede wrote around 60 other books in addition to his History. What’s even more remarkable, given the Viking raids on the British Isles which followed shortly after Bede’s death, most of his books have survived. Bede’s other books included a list of saints (or ‘Martyrology’), a biography of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and numerous commentaries on both the Old and New Testament.
3. The reason we use the term ‘Anno Domini’ or ‘AD’ when talking about chronology is largely thanks to Bede. Bede didn’t invent the notion of signalling historical dates by using the term ‘Anno Domini’ (‘In the Year of Our Lord’); it was an earlier monk, Dionysius Exiguus, who gets the credit for that. But it was the Venerable Bede’s adoption of this system of dating that ensured it would be taken up by later historians, and become the standard.
4. Bede is credited with writing a short poem on his deathbed. This poem is often known as ‘Bede’s Death Song’, though it isn’t entirely clear whether Bede actually wrote it himself, or whether it was simply later attributed to him. You can read ‘Bede’s Death Song’ here.
5. It is also thanks to Bede that we have Cædmon’s Hymn, one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon poems. Cædmon was a seventh-century goatherd who, according to Bede, wrote much else besides his famous Hymn. Bede preserved a Latin translation of Cædmon’s Hymn in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, and the Anglo-Saxon version of the short poem was written in the margins of the manuscript of Bede’s History. You can read Cædmon’s Hymn here, with the original Old English and a modern translation.
If you enjoyed these facts about Bede, you might also enjoy our short introduction to the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.