Annales Ryenses

From Medieval

by Anders Leegaard Knudsen

Annales Ryenses is the name currently used for an anonymous work of history comprised of a paraphrase of Saxo Grammaticus and an annalistically arranged continuation.


Various names have been used over the years. LINDENBRUCH, who mistakenly believed the annals to have been written by Erik, king of Denmark, Sweden and Norway and duke of Pomerania, called it Chronicon Erici regis and for a long time this was the name commonly used. LANGEBEK suggested the Cistercian abbey of Ryd as its place of origin and gradually the name Annales Ryenses (or Rydårbogen in Danish) won acceptance. With regard to the complicated transmission of the text it would be better to use the title indicated in the incipit, Narratio de origine gentis Danorum. As it is unlikely that a consensus on this can be reached among scholars, we should for practical reasons alone continue to use the title Annales Ryenses.


The incipit of the Annales Ryenses is well attested; the Danish translations (see Medieval reception and transmission) leave no room for doubt that the Latin manuscript (see Medieval reception and transmission) has preserved the opening words of the original: Incipit narratio de origine gentis Danorum. As for the explicit we are probably looking in vain. The annalistic arrangement of the four versions (see Medieval reception and transmission) meant that they could easily be continued and the explicit thus continually altered. The Latin manuscript ends in 1288 with the words Castrum Almœthorp destructum est.


26 small quarto pages.


  • LINDENBRUCH, E. 1603 & 1609: Historica narratio de origine gentis Danorum et de regibus eiusdem gentis et eorundem rebus gestis a Dan primo rege usque ad Ericum Menuit 117. Compendiose olim conscripta ab Erico, Daniœ rege, Wartislai VII ducis Pomeraniœ filio et nunc primum in lucem edita ab ...
  • STEPHANIUS 1629: De regno Daniœ et Norwegiœ. Tractatus varii, Lugduni Batavorum.
  • LANGEBEK, J. 1772: SRD 1, Copenhagen, 148–70.
  • LAPPENBERG 1859: MGH SS 16, Hannover, 386–410.
  • • JØRGENSEN, E. 1920: Annales Danici medii aevi, Copenhagen, 62–125.
  • • KROMAN, E. 1980: Danmarks middelalderlige annaler, Copenhagen, 149–76.
  • KROMAN, E. 1962: CCD 5, Copenhagen, 233–55.


  • WIELAND, J.P. 1729: Historisk Beretning om Det Danske Folks Oprindelse.
  • JØRGENSEN, A.D. 1879: Valdemar Sejr. Udvalgt samling af samtidige kildeskrifter og oldbreve, Copenhagen, 8–13 (selection).
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1927: Erik Klipping og hans Sønner. Rigets opløsning. Udvalg af Kilder til Tidsrummet 1275–1340, Copenhagen, 10–13 (selection).
  • OLSEN, R.A. 1989: Ryd Klosters årbog, Højbjerg.

Date and place

It is the usual assumption among Danish historians that Annals were composed shortly (or at least relatively shortly) after the year with which they end. While faith in this thumb-rule can be misplaced, it seems quite reasonable to assume that the rule fits the case in this instance. The Latin manuscript is dated on palaeographical grounds to ca. 1300. The fact that it is a copy, not an original, means that this version must have been composed shortly after 1288, the year with which it ends. E. JØRGENSEN argued that the common stock of the three longer versions ended with the entry for the year 1261 and that from 1262 onwards each version was independent of the others (with a few exceptions). However, KRISTENSEN has argued convincingly that the three versions do not break away from each other in 1262 but in fact resemble each other closely. She did not carry her arguments beyond 1265, but hinted that there were close similarities right up to the end of the Latin version, after which the two longer Danish versions break away from each other.

A composition (shortly) after 1288 would also make sense in another way. The Annales Ryenses have used a narrative about the foundation of the Cistercian abbey which eventually settled in Ryd. This narrative was composed at Ryd in 1289, when the abbey was re¬-established after the monks had been forced to leave their monastery in 1284. If, and it is a big if, the Annales Ryenses was composed at Ryd, it is tempting to see the composition as being connected with the re-establishment of the abbey. The problem is that the use of the narrative is our best argument for placing these annals at Ryd. The earliest pieces of information about Ryd in the Annales Ryenses are quotations from the narrative, which unfortunately only exists today in an incomplete form. The later pieces of information on Ryd might equally well have come from the narrative even if this cannot be verified unless the missing part reappears. The fact that no information about Ryd after the year 1284 can be found in any of the versions of the Annales Ryenses is consistent with the hypothesis that all such information came from the narrative, rather than from any independent knowledge. While it is certain that at Ryd there was access to this narrative, its contents would be of interest to all Cistercian houses in Denmark, so that copies of the narrative could probably be found elsewhere. On the whole it might be said that the place of composition is likely to have been the Cistercian abbey of Ryd, but it is far from certain.

Composition and style

The process of paraphrasing Saxo Grammaticus has been carried out with such thoroughness that no trace of Saxo´s own phrasology remains. The language of the Annales Ryenses is the dry, rather monotonous Latin so characteristic of the Danish annals, with occasional outbursts of nationalistic fervour expressed in often coarse terms. Until the time of Sven Estridsen the Annales Ryenses is composed as narrative of the reign of each Danish king from Dan, the first king. In this part of the work there are very few dates. From 1074 onwards the Annales Ryenses assumes an annalistic character with the year A.D. as the structural principle.


In general it can be said that the Annales Ryenses has used much material of a Lundensian provenance, i.e. the >Annales Lundenses and >Chronicon Lethrense, >Saxo Grammaticus, the >Annales Valdemarii, but also other written material such as the >De fundatione monasterii Auree Insule as well as folkloristic material.

Purpose and audience

It seems safe to say that the Annales Ryenses was meant to stimulate patriotic feelings, but nothing definite can yet be said about the audience of the Annales. A prominent feature is the strong anti-German sentiment but it is still open to debate in which groups of society this would find favour. It remains a fact that it kept its popularity (in one version or other) throughout the Middle Ages and it is perhaps best understood when compared with >Compendium Saxonis & Chronica Jutensis.

Medieval reception and transmission

Four versions of this work exist today, one in Latin and three in Danish. All four versions are preserved in a single medieval manuscript only, none of which is the original of its particular version.

(1) The Latin version to 1288 is preserved in a manuscript in Hamburg Stadtbibliothek, 98b 4°. The manuscript contains only one other text, the Annales Albiani. Both texts are written in the same hand, which is dated on palaeographical grounds to ca. 1300. A myriad of errors, especially in Danish place-names, make it extremely unlikely that this manuscript is the original.

(2) The Danish version to 1314 is preserved in a manuscript in Copenhagen, Royal Library, E don. var. 3 8°, a manuscript containing various legal texts. It has been palaeographically dated to ca. 1400. The text of the Annales Ryenses along with some of the legal texts has been dated on philological grounds to roughly the same time, ca. 1400. The text is so full of errors, not only in personal names and place-names but also generally, that it is very doubtful whether the scribe understood at all the exemplar from which he was working.

(3) The Danish version to 1295 (the scribe wrote the year 1296 but there is no entry for that year) is preserved in a manuscript in Stockholm, Royal Library, K 4, containing a wide variety of texts. In this manuscript two sorts of paper were used, one dated to the years 1468–1480 and the other dated to ca. 1480. So far the philologists have not offered any real dating of this version other than remarking that it is in Middle Danish (1350–1525). It is the common opinion that this manuscript is not the original of this version. Historical, philological and codicological research on this text and its manuscript is long overdue however.

4) The Danish version to 1226 is preserved in a manuscript in Copenhagen, Royal Library, NKS 606 8°, dated on palaeographical grounds to the second half of the fifteenth century. E. JØRGENSEN, who was a classical philologist as well as a historian, believed the language of the text to be later than that found in the versions to 1314 and 1295, but no Old-Danish philologist appears to have investigated the text.

It seems to be the opinion of historians and philologists alike that the Danish versions are translations of the Latin text of the original. In this sense the Latin version to 1288 can be said to give us the most reliable impression of what the original looked like. As for the question of the contents of the original it emerges quite clearly from a comparison of the four versions that none of them has all the material of the original. All four went through editorial processes which included additions as well as omissions; any attempt at reconstructing this original should take all versions into account. Even so it remains doubtful whether full certainty could be reached.

It may thus prove very difficult to sort out the intricacies of the medieval reception. On the face of it the Annales Ryenses (in one version or other) were known throughout Denmark (>Annales Essenbecenses, >Annales Ripenses, Chronica Jutensis, >Compendium Saxonis & Chronica Jutensis, >Petrus Olai), Sweden (>Annales Visbyenses, >Ericus Olai), Iceland (Knytlinga saga, >Annales Islandorum regii) and northern Germany (Annales Lubicenses, Detmar, Herman Korner, Cronik der nordelbischen Sassen), thus making it one of our most widely diffused historiographical works in the Middle Ages, rivalled only by the >Compendium Saxonis with its continuation, the Chronica Jutensis. An astonishing success for this product from a relatively obscure Cistercian abbey! However, in reality we often lack the means to determine whether the traces found in other texts are evidence of the use of the Annales Ryenses (in one version or other) or of the use of the same Lundensian material used by the composer of the Annales Ryenses.


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HØRBY, K. 1975: [review of] "Leif Szomlaiski: Yngre Sjœllandske Krønike." HistTD 75, 133–40.

  • JØRGENSEN, E. (ed.) 1920: Annales Danici medii aevi, Copenhagen.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1931: Historieforskning og Historieskrivning i Danmark indtil aar 1800, Copenhagen.
  • KNUDSEN, A.L. 1994: Saxostudier og rigshistorie på Valdemar Atterdags tid, Copenhagen.
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  • KNUDSEN, A.L. 2000: ”Interessen for den danske fortid omkring 1300. En middelalderlig dansk nationalisme,” HistTD 100, 1–34.
  • KRISTENSEN, A.K.G. 1969: Danmarks œldste annalistik. Studier over lundensisk annalskrivning i 12. og 13. århundrede (Skrifter udgivet af det Historiske Institut ved Københavns Universitet 3), Copenhagen.
  • KROMAN, E. 1936: "Ueber die Herkunft des Liber census Daniae," APhS 11, 1–81.
  • KROMAN, E. (ed.) 1962: CCD 5, Copenhagen.
  • NIELSEN, H. 1969: “Rydårbogen,” in KLNM 14, coll. 516–18, Copenhagen.
  • OLSEN, T.D. 1971: “Rydårbogens skriver og hans forlœg,” in Studier i dansk dialektologi og sproghistorie tilegnede Poul Andersen på halvfjerdsårsdagen den 8. juni 1971, ed. K. Hald, C. Lisse, J.K. Sørensen, Copenhagen, 263–75.
  • SCHÄFER, D. 1872: Dänische Annalen und Chroniken von der Mitte des 13. bis zum Ende des 15. Jahrhunderts, Hannover.
  • SJÖSTEDT, L. 1952: “Rydårboken och årboken 67–1287,” in Festskrift till Gottfrid Carlsson 18/12 1952, Lund, 10–14.
  • USINGER, R. 1861: Die dänischen Annalen und Chroniken des Mittelalters, Hannover.

Anders Leegaard Knudsen