A chronicle (Latin: chronica, from Greek χρονικά chroniká, from χρόνος, chrónos – "time") is a historical account of facts and events arranged in chronological order, as in a time line. Typically, equal weight is given for historically important events and local events, the purpose being the recording of events that occurred, seen from the perspective of the chronicler. This is in contrast to a narrative or history, which sets selected events in a meaningful interpretive context and excludes those the author does not see as important.
Chronicler information sources vary; some chronicles are written from first-hand knowledge, some are from witnesses or participants in events, still others are accounts passed mouth to mouth prior to being written down. Some used written material: Charters, letters, or the works of earlier chroniclers. Still others are tales of such unknown origins so as to hold mythical status. Copyists also affected chronicles in creative copying, making corrections or in updating or continuing a chronicle with information not available to the original author(s). The reliability of a particular chronicle is an important determination for modern historians.
In modern times various contemporary newspapers or other periodicals have adopted "chronicle" as part of their name. Various fictional stories have also adopted "chronicle" as part of their title, to give an impression of epic proportion to their stories. A chronicle which traces world history is called a universal chronicle.
Scholars categorize the genre of chronicle into two subgroups: live chronicles, and dead chronicles. A dead chronicle is one where the author gathers his list of events up to the time of his writing, but does not record further events as they occur. A live chronicle is where one or more authors add to a chronicle in a regular fashion, recording contemporary events shortly after they occur. Because of the immediacy of the information, historians tend to value live chronicles, such as annals, over dead ones.
The term often refers to a book written by a chronicler in the Middle Ages describing historical events in a country, or the lives of a nobleman or a clergyman, although it is also applied to a record of public events. The earliest medieval chronicle to combine both retrospective (dead) and contemporary (live) entries, is the Chronicle of Ireland, which spans the years 431 to 911.
Chronicles are the predecessors of modern "time lines" rather than analytical histories. They represent accounts, in prose or verse, of local or distant events over a considerable period of time, both the lifetime of the individual chronicler and often those of several subsequent continuators. If the chronicles deal with events year by year, they are often called annals. Unlike the modern historian, most chroniclers tended to take their information as they found it, and made little attempt to separate fact from legend. The point of view of most chroniclers is highly localised, to the extent that many anonymous chroniclers can be sited in individual abbeys.
It is impossible to say how many chronicles exist, as the many ambiguities in the definition of the genre make it impossible to draw clear distinctions of what should or should not be included. However, the Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle lists some 2,500 items written between 300 and 1500 AD.
The most important English chronicles are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, started under the patronage of King Alfred in the 9th century and continued until the 12th century, and the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577–87) by Raphael Holinshed and other writers; the latter documents were important sources of materials for Elizabethan drama. Later 16th century Scottish chronicles, written after the Reformation, shape history according to Catholic or Protestant viewpoints.