The earliest English prose

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This article examines the production of prose texts in pre-Alfredian England. After reviewing conventional ideas regarding the foundational role assigned to Alfred, king of Wessex, in the creation of the Old English prose genre, the discussion turns to a quite considerable number of non-poetic texts which were demonstrably produced at an earlier time, asking whether these can be regarded as prose. Following an investigation of the medieval and modern understanding of what constitutes prose, an argument is made for a more inclusive definition of this literary genre, one that does justice to the flourishing early literary culture especially of the kingdoms of Mercia and Kent. It is argued that the ninth-century prose productions of Alfred’s circles did present some innovation, but were clearly also based on earlier traditions and may to some extent have reacted against preceding compositional techniques and literary genres.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-496
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Medieval History
Issue number4-5
Early online date8 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Old English prose
  • Alfredian circles
  • Trranslation
  • Mercia
  • Kent
  • Glosses
  • Latin
  • Poetry


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