W. H. Stevenson

W. H. Stevenson (1858-1924) was born in Nottingham, and was educated in Hull.  For a while, in the 1880s, he conducted research for the Nottingham borough council, and then began to contribute papers to the newly-established English Historical Review. He was soon at work editing the ‘Crawford Charters’ (which had come to light in 1891), and in 1895 he was elected research fellow at Exeter College, Oxford. Presently he was appointed Sandars Reader in Bibliography, University of Cambridge, and on 4, 6, 18 and 20 May 1898 he delivered his four lectures on 'The Anglo-Saxon Chancery', before a small audience which included F. W. Maitland and Mary Bateson.  Stevenson became Fellow and Librarian of St John's College, Oxford, in 1904, and died in 1924. In these lectures, Stevenson surveyed the origins and development of the Anglo-Saxon royal diploma, from the seventh century to the eleventh century.

In a letter to R. Lane Poole, written from the Canary Isles on 29 January 1899, Maitland remarked 'Should you see Stevenson, be good enough to tell him that if, when I return in April, I do not find the Anglo-Saxon Chancery in print I will swear in Spanish' (The Letters of Frederic William Maitland, ed. C. H. S. Fifoot (Cambridge, 1965), p. 194). Yet the Sandars Lectures were never published. Poole himself was said in 1935 to have had a plan to publish the lectures, but nothing came of it. The manuscript of the lectures passed through the hands of several scholars, including V. H. Galbraith, F. T. Wainwright, Dorothy Whitelock, Sir Frank Stenton, and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill; having received the manuscript from Stenton in 1954, Wallace-Hadrill passed it to the Library of St John's College, Oxford, in 1955, where it remains.

The importance of Stevenson's contribution to Anglo-Saxon studies cannot be overestimated. He is best known for his edition of Asser's ‘Life of King Alfred’ (Oxford, 1904), in which he distinguished between the text as transmitted in the earliest manuscript (Cotton Otho A. xii, destroyed by fire in 1731) and later versions of the text derived directly or indirectly from it. Yet Stevenson is renowned no less for his work on Anglo-Saxon charters. In the words of Sir Frank Stenton: 'It is with Stevenson that the modern study not only of Anglo-Saxon diplomatic but also of Anglo-Saxon history really begins' (The Latin Charters of the Anglo-Saxon Period (Oxford, 1955), p. 8).

In 1983 Simon Keynes (Cambridge) and Harald Kleinschmidt (author of Untersuchungen über das englische Königtum im 10. Jahrhundert [Göttingen, 1979], now Professor of History at the University of Tsukuba, Japan) devised a plan to publish Stevenson’s lectures on ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chancery’, accompanied by reprints of several of his articles on Anglo-Saxon studies, notably those originally published in the English Historical Review:

  • The Old English Charters to St. Denis
    [EHR 6 (1891), 736-42]
  • An Old-English Charter of William the Conqueror in Favour of St. Martin's-Le-Grand, London, A.D. 1068
    [EHR 11 (1896), 731-44]
  • An Old English Charter of William the Conqueror, 1068 (?)
    [EHR 12 (1897), 105-10]
  • The Date of King Alfred's Death
     [EHR 13 (1898), 71-7]
  • The Great Commendation to King Edgar in 973
    [EHR 13 (1898), 505-7]
  • A Contemporary Description of the Domesday Survey
    [EHR 22 (1907), 72-84]
  • A Latin Poem Addressed to King Athelstan
    [EHR 26 (1911), 482-7]
  • Yorkshire Surveys and other Eleventh-Century Documents in the York Gospels
    [EHR 27 (1912), 1-25]
  • An Alleged Son of King Harold Harefoot
    [EHR 28 (1913), 112-17]
  • Trinoda Necessitas
    [EHR 29 (1914), 689-703]

The projected volume was not published.

The text of Stevenson’s lectures, given below, is based on a transcript of the manuscript in the Library of St John’s College, Oxford, made by SDK in 1975. Some notes were supplied by Dr Kleinschmidt, in part following Stevenson's rough notes; further notes need to be added. In March 1997 the transcript was adapted for the Kemble website by Sean Miller, when a graduate student in the Department of ASNC, Cambridge. The transcript was re-edited for this website in 2006, by Ben Snook, when a graduate student in the Department of ASNC, Cambridge; it has been divided into sections, and some headings have been supplied. The Committee on Anglo-Saxon Charters is grateful to the Librarian of St John's College, Oxford, for permission to publish Stevenson's lectures in this form.

Two of the contributions to the projected volume, by Harald Kleinschmidt, are made available below.