The History of The Kings of England 03

William of Malmesbury

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After thirty-one years, Kenwalk dying, bequeathed the administration of the government to his wife Sexburga; nor did this woman want spirit for discharging the duties of the station. She levied new forces, preserved the old in their duty; ruled her subjects with moderation, and overawed her enemies: in short, she conducted all tilings in such a manner, that no difference was discernible except that of her sex. But, breathing more than female spirit, she died, having scarcely reigned a year.

Escwin passed the next two years in the government; a near relation to the royal family, being grand-nephew to Cynegils, by his brother Cuthgist. At his death, either natural or violent, for I cannot exactly find which, Kentwin, the son of Cynegils, filled the vacant throne in legitimate succession. Both were men of noted experience in war; as the one routed the Mercians, the other the Britons, with dreadful slaughter: but they were to be pitied for the shortness of their career; the reign of the latter not extending beyond nine, that of the former, more than two years, as I have already related. This is on the credit of the Chronicles. However, Bede records that they did not reign successively, but divided the kingdom between them.

Next sprang forth a noble branch of the royal stock, Caedwalla, grand-nephew of Ceawlin, by his brother Cutha: a youth of unbounded promise, who allowed no opportunity of exercising his valour to escape him. He, having long since, by his active exertions, excited the animosity of the princes of his country, was, by a conspiracy, driven into exile. Yielding to this outrage, as the means of depriving the province of its warlike force, he led away all the military population with him; for, whether out of pity to his broken fortunes, or regard for his valour, the whole of the youth accompanied him into exile. Ethelwalch, king of the South Saxons, hazarding an engagement with him, felt the first effects of his fury: for he was routed with all the forces he had collected, and too late repented his rash design. The spirits of his followers being thus elated, Csedwalla, by a sudden and unexpected return, drove the rivals of his power from the the kingdom. Enjoying his government for the space of two years, he performed many signal exploits. His hatred and hostility towards the South Saxons were inextinguishable, and he totally destroyed Edric, the successor of Ethelwalch, who opposed him with renovated boldness: he nearly depopulated the Isle of Wight, which had rebelled in confederacy with the Mercians: he also gained repeated victories over the people of Kent, as I have mentioned before in their history. Finally, as is observed above, he retired from that province, on the death of his brother, compensating his loss by the blood of many of its inhabitants. It is difficult to relate, how extremely pious he was even before his baptism, insomuch that he dedicated to God the tenth of all the spoils which he had acquired in war. In which, though we approve the intention, we condemn the example; according to the saying: “He who offers sacrifice from the substance of a poor man, is like him who immolates the son in the sight of the father.” That he went to Rome to be baptised by Pope Sergius, and was called Peter; and that he yielded joyfully to the will of heaven, while yet in his initiatory robes, are matters too well known to require our illustration. After his departure to Rome, the government was assumed by Ina, grand-nephew of Cynegils by his brother Cuthbald, who ascended the throne, more from the innate activity of his spirit, than any legitimate right of succession. He was a rare example of fortitude; a mirror of prudence; unequalled in piety. Thus regulating his life, he gained favour at home and respect abroad. Safe from any apprehensions of treachery, he grew old in the discharge of his duties for fifty-eight years, the pious conciliator of general esteem. His first expedition was against the people of Kent, as the indignation at their burning Moll had not yet subsided. The inhabitants resisted awhile: but soon finding all their attempts and endeavours fail, and seeing nothing in the disposition of Ina which could lead them to suppose he would remit his exertions, they were induced, by the contemplation of their losses, to treat of a surrender. They tempt the royal mind with presents, lure him with promises, and bargain for a peace for thirty thousand marks of gold, that, softened by so high a price, he should put an end to the war, and, bound in golden chains, sound a retreat. Accepting the money, as a sufficient atonement for their offence, he returned into his kingdom. And not only the people of Kent, but the East Angles also felt the effects of his hereditary anger; all their nobility being first expelled, and afterwards routed in battle. But let the relation of his military successes here find a termination. Moreover how sedulous he was in religious matters, the laws he enacted to reform the manners of the people, are proof sufficient; in which the image of his purity is reflected even upon the present times. Another proof are the monasteries nobly founded at the king’s expense. But more especially Glastonbury, whither he ordered the bodies of the blessed martyr, Indract, and of his associates, to be taken from the place of their martyrdom and to be conveyed into the church. The body of St. Indract he deposited in the stone pyramid on the left side of the altar, where the zeal of posterity afterwards also placed St. Hilda: the others were distributed beneath the pavement as chance directed or regard might suggest. Here, too, he erected a church, dedicated to the holy apostles, as an appendage to the ancient church, of which we are speaking, enriched it with vast possessions, and granted it a privilege to the following effect:

“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: I, Ina, supported in my royal dignity by God, with the advice of my queen, Sexburga, and the permission of Berthwald, archbishop of Canterbury, and of all his suffragans; and also at the instance of the princes Baltred and Athelard, to the ancient church, situate in the place called Glastonbury (which church the great high-priest and chiefest minister formerly through his own ministry, and that of angels, sanctified by many and unheard-of miracles to himself and the eternal Virgin Mary, as was formerly revealed to St. David,) do grant out of those places, which I possess by paternal inheritance, and hold in my demesne, they being adjacent and fitting for the purpose, for the maintenance of the monastic institution, and the use of the monks, Brente ten hides, Sowy ten hides, Pilton twenty hides, Dulting twenty hides, Bledenhida one hide, together with whatever my predecessors have contributed to the same church: to which, Kenwalk, who, at the instance of archbishop Theodore, gave Ferramere, Bregarai, Coneneie, Martineseie, Etheredseie; Kentwin, who used to call Glastonbury, “the mother of saints,” and liberated it from every secular and ecclesiastical service, and granted it this dignified privilege, that the brethren of that place should have the power of electing and appointing their ruler according to the rule of St. Benedict: Hedda the bishop, with permission of Caedwalla, who, though a heathen, confirmed it with his own hand, gave Lantokay: Baltred, who gave Pennard, six hides: Athelard who contributed Poelt, sixty hides; I, Ina, permitting and confirming it. To the piety and affectionate entreaty of these people I assent, and I guard by the security of my royal grant against the designs of malignant men and snarling curs, in order that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal Virgin Mary, as it is the first in the kingdom of Britain and the source and the fountain of all religion, may obtain surpassing dignity and privilege, and, as she rules over choirs of angels in heaven, it may never pay servile obedience to men on earth. Wherefore the chief pontiff, Gregory, assenting, and taking the mother of his Lord, and me, however unworthy, together with her, into the bosom and protection of the holy Roman church; and all the princes, archbishops, bishops, dukes, and abbots of Britain consenting, I appoint and establish, that, all lands, places, and possessions of St. Mary of Glastonbury be free, quiet, and undisturbed, from all royal taxes and works, which are wont to be appointed, that is to say, expeditions, the building of bridges or forts, and from the edicts or molestations of all archbishops or bishops, as is found to be confirmed and granted by my predecessors, Kenwalk, Kentwin, Csedwalla, Baltred, in the ancient charters of the same church. And whatsoever questions shall arise, whether of homicide, sacrilege, poison, theft, rapine, the disposal and limits of churches, the ordination of clerks, ecclesiastical synods, and all judicial inquiries, they shall be determined by the decision of the abbot and convent, without the interference of any person whatsoever. Moreover, I command all princes, archbishops, bishops, dukes, and governors of my kingdom, as they tender my honour and regard, and all dependants, mine as well as theirs, as they value their personal safety, never to dare enter the island of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the eternal Virgin, at Glastonbury, nor the possessions of the said church, for the purpose of holding courts, making inquiry, or seizing, or doing anything whatever to the offence of the servants of God there residing: moreover I particularly inhibit, by the curse of Almighty God, of the eternal Virgin Mary, and of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and of the rest of the saints, any bishop on any account whatever from presuming to take his episcopal seat or celebrate divine service or consecrate altars, or dedicate churches, or ordain, or do any thing whatever, either in the church of Glastonbury itself, or its dependent churches, that is to say — Sowy, Brente, Merlinch, Sapewic, Stret, Sbudeclalech, Pilton, or in their chapels, or islands, unless he be specially invited by the abbot or brethren of that place. But if he come upon such invitation, he shall take nothing to himself of the things of the church, nor of the offerings; knowing that he has two mansions appointed him in two several places out of this church’s possessions, one in Pilton, the other in the village called Poelt, that, when coming or going, he may have a place of entertainment. Nor even shall it be lawful for him to pass the night here unless he shall be detained by stress of weather or bodily sickness, or invited by the abbot or monks, and then with not more than three or four clerks. Moreover let the aforesaid bishop be mindful every year, with his clerks that are at Wells, to acknowledge his mother church of Glastonbury with litanies on the second day after our Lord’s ascension; and should he haughtily defer it, or fail in the things which are above recited and confirmed, he shall forfeit his mansions above mentioned. The abbot or monks shall direct whom they please, celebrating Easter canonically, to perform service in the church of Glastonbury, its dependent churches, and in their chapels. Whosoever, be he of what dignity, profession, or degree, he may, shall hereafter, on any occasion whatsoever, attempt to pervert, or nullify this, the witness of my munificence and liberality, let him be aware that, with the traitor Judas, he shall perish, to his eternal confusion, in the devouring flames of unspeakable torments. The charter of this donation was written in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 725, the fourteenth of the indiction, in the presence of the king Ina, and of Berthwald, archbishop of Canterbury.” What splendour he [Ina] added to the monastery, may be collected from the short treatise which I have written about its antiquities. Father Aldhelm assisted the design, and his precepts were heard with humility, nobly adopted, and joyfully carried into effect. Lastly, the king readily confirmed the privilege which Aldhelm had obtained from pope Sergius, for the immunity of his monasteries; gave much to the servants of God by his advice, and finally honoured him, though constantly refusing, with a bishopric; but an early death malignantly cut off this great man from the world. For scarcely had he discharged the offices of his bishopric four years, ere he made his soul an offering to heaven, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 709, on the vigil of St. Augustine the apostle of the Angles, namely the eighth before the Kalends of June. Some say, that he was the nephew of the king, by his brother Kenten; but I do not choose to assert for truth any thing which savours more of vague opinion, than of historic credibility; especially as I can find no ancient record of it, and the Chronicle clearly declares, that Ina had no other brother than Ingild, who died some few years before him. Aldhelm needs no support from fiction: such great things are there concerning him of indisputable truth, so many which are beyond the reach of doubt. The sisters, indeed, of Ina were Cuthburga and Cwenburga. Cuthburga was given in marriage to Alfrid, king of the Northumbrians, but the contract being soon after dissolved, she led a life dedicated to God, first at Barking, under the abbess Hildelitha, and afterwards as superior of the convent at Wimborne; now a mean village, but formerly celebrated for containing a full company of virgins, dead to earthly desires, and breathing only aspirations towards heaven. She embraced the profession of holy celibacy from the perusal of Aldhelm’s books on virginity, dedicated indeed to the sisterhood of Barking, but profitable to all, who aspire to that state. Ina’s queen was Ethelburga, a woman of royal race and disposition: who perpetually urging the necessity of bidding adieu, to earthly things, at least in the close of life, and the king as constantly deferring the execution of her advice, at last endeavoured to overcome him by stratagem. For, on a certain occasion, when they had been revelling at a country seat with more than usual riot and luxury, the next day, after their departure, an attendant, with the privity of the queen, defiled the palace in every possible manner, both with the excrement of cattle and heaps of filth; and lastly he put a sow, which had recently farrowed, in the very bed where they had lain. They had hardly proceeded a mile, ere she attacked her husband with the fondest conjugal endearments, entreating that they might immediately return thither, whence they had departed, saying, that his denial would be attended with dangerous consequences. Her petition being readily granted, the king was astonished at seeing a place, which yesterday might have vied with Assyrian luxury, now filthily disgusting and desolate: and silently pondering on the sight, his eyes at length turned upon the queen. Seizing the opportunity, and pleasantly smiling, she said, “My noble spouse, where are the revellings of yesterday ? Where the tapestries dipped in Sidonian dyes ? Where the ceaseless impertinence of parasites ? Where the sculptured vessels, overwhelming the very tables with their weight of gold ? Where are the delicacies so anxiously sought throughout sea and land, to pamper the appetite ? Are not all these things smoke and vapour ? Have they not all passed away ? Woe be to those who attach themselves to such, for they in like manner shall consume away. Are not all these like a rapid river hastening to the sea ? And woe to those who are attached to them, for they shall be carried away by the current. Reflect, I entreat you, how wretchedly will these bodies decay, which we pamper with such unbounded luxury. Must not we, who gorge so constantly, become more disgustingly putrid ? The mighty must undergo mightier torments, and a severer trial awaits the strong.” Without saying more, by this striking example, she gained over her husband to those sentiments, which she had in vain attempted for years by persuasion.

For after his triumphal spoils in war; after many successive degrees in virtue, he aspired to the highest perfection, and went to Rome. There, not to make the glory of his conversion public, but that he might be acceptable in the sight of God alone, he was shorn in secret; and, clad in homely garb, grew old in privacy. Nor did his queen, the author of this noble deed, desert him; but as she had before incited him to undertake it, so, afterwards, she made it her constant care to soothe his sorrows by her conversation, to stimulate him, when wavering, by her example; in short, to omit nothing that could be conducive to his salvation. Thus united in mutual affection, in due time they trod the common path of all mankind. This was attended, as we have heard, with singular miracles, such as God often deigns to bestow-on the virtues of happy couples.

To the government succeeded Ethelard, the cousin of Ina; though Oswald, a youth of royal extraction, often obscured his opening prospects. Exciting his countrymen to rebellion, he attempted to make war on the king, but soon after perishing by some unhappy doom, Ethelard kept quiet possession of the kingdom for fourteen years, and then left it to his kinsman, Cuthred, who for an equal space of time, and with similar courage, was ever actively employed: —

“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I, Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, do hereby declare that all the gifts of former kings — Kentwin, Baldred, Kedwall, Ina, Ethelard, and Ethbald king of the Mercians, in country houses, and in villages and lands, and farms, and mansions, according to the confirmations made to the ancient city of Glastonbury, and confirmed by autograph and by the sign of the cross, I do, as was before said, hereby decree that this grant of former kings shall remain firm and inviolate, as long as the revolution of the pole shall carry the lands and seas with regular movement round the starry heavens. But if any one, confiding in tyrannical pride shall endeavour on any occasion to disturb and nullify this my testamentary grant, may he be separated by the fan of the last judgement from the congregation of the righteous, and joined to the assembly of the wicked for ever, paying the penalty of his violence. But whoever with benevolent intention shall strive to approve, confirm, and defend this my grant, may he be allowed to enjoy unfailing immortality before the glory of Him that sitteth on the throne, together with the happy companies of angels and of all the saints. A copy of this grant was set forth in presence of king Cuthred, in the aforesaid monastery, and dedicated to the holy altar by the munificence of his own hand, in the wooden church, where the brethren placed the coffin of abbot Hemgils, the 30th of April, in the year of our Lord 745.”

The same Cuthred, after much toil, made a successful campaign against Ethelbald, king of Mercia, and the Britons, and gave up the sovereignty after he had held it fourteen years.

Sigebert then seized on the kingdom; a man of inhuman cruelty among his own subjects, and noted for cowardice abroad; but the common detestation of all conspiring against him, he was within a year driven from the throne, and gave place to one more worthy. Yet, as commonly happens in similar cases, the severity of his misfortunes brought back some persons to his cause, and the province which is called Hampshire, was, by their exertions, retained in subjection to him. Still, however, unable to quit his former habits, and exciting the enmity of all against him by the murder of one Cumbran, who had adhered to him with unshaken fidelity, he fled to the recesses of wild beasts. Misfortune still attending him thither also, he was stabbed by a swineherd. Thus the cruelty of a king, which had almost desolated the higher ranks, was put an end to by a man of the lowest condition.

Cynewolf next undertook the guidance of the state; illustrious for the regulation of his conduct and his deeds in arms: but suffering extremely from the loss of a single battle, in the the twenty-fourth year of his reign, against Offa, king of the Mercians, near Bensington, he was also finally doomed to a disgraceful death. For after he had reigned thirty-one years, neither indolently nor oppressively, either elated with success, because he imagined nothing could oppose him, or alarmed for his posterity, from the increasing power of Kineard, the brother of Sigebert, he compelled him to quit the kingdom. Kineard, deeming it necessary to yield to the emergency of the times, departed as if voluntarily; but soon after, when by secret meetings he had assembled a desperate band of wretches, watching when the king might be alone, for he had gone into the country for the sake of recreation, he followed him thither with his party. And learning that he was there giving loose to improper desires, he beset the house on all sides. The king struck with his perilous situation, and holding a conference with the persons present, shut fast the doors, expecting either to appease the desperadoes by fair language, or to terrify them by threats. When neither succeeded, he rushed furiously on Kineard, and had nearly killed him; but, surrounded by the multitude, and thinking it derogatory to his courage to give way, he fell, selling his life nobly. Some few of his attendants, who, instead of yielding, attempted to take vengeance for the loss of their lord, were slain. The report of this dreadful outrage soon reached the ears of the nobles, who were waiting near at hand. Of these Esric, the chief in age and prudence, conjuring the rest not to leave unrevenged the death of their sovereign to their own signal and eternal ignominy, rushed with drawn sword upon the conspirators. At first Kineard attempted to argue his case; to make tempting offers; to hold forth their relationship; but when this availed nothing, he stimulated his party to resistance. Doubtful was the conflict, where one side contended with all its powers for life, the other for glory. And victory, wavering for a long time, at last decided for the juster cause. Thus, fruitlessly valiant, this unhappy man lost his life, unable long to boast the success of his treachery. The king’s body was buried at Winchester, and the prince’s at Repton; at that time a noble monastery, but at present, as I have heard, with few, or scarcely any inmates.

After him, for sixteen years, reigned Bertric: more studious of peace than of war. Skilful in conciliating friendship, affable with foreigners, and giving great allowances to his subjects, in those matters at least which could not impair the strength of the government. To acquire still greater estimation with his neighbours, he married the daughter of Offa, king of Mercia, at that time all-powerful; by whom, as far as I am acquainted, he had no issue. Supported by this alliance he compelled Egbert, the sole survivor of the royal stock, and whom he feared as the most effectual obstacle to his power, to fly into France. In fact Bertric himself, and the other kings, after Ina, though glorying in the splendour of their parentage, as deriving their origin from Cerdic, had considerably deviated from the direct line of the royal race. On Egbert’s expulsion, then, he had already begun to indulge in indolent security, when a piratical tribe of the Danes, accustomed to live by plunder, clandestinely arriving in three ships, disturbed the tranquillity of the kingdom. This band came over expressly to ascertain the fruitfulness of the soil, and the courage of the inhabitants, as was afterwards discovered by the arrival of that multitude, which over-ran almost the whole of Britain. Landing then, unexpectedly, when the kingdom was in a state of profound peace, they seized upon a royal village, which was nearest them, and killed the superintendent, who had advanced with succours; but losing their booty, through fear of the people, who hastened to attack them, they retired to their ships. After Bertric, who was buried at Wareham, Egbert ascended the throne of his ancestors; justly to be preferred to all the kings who preceded him. Thus having brought down our narrative to his times, we must, as we have promised, next give our attention to the Northumbrians.

We have before related briefly, and now necessarily repeat, that Hengist, having settled his own government in Kent, had sent his brother Otha, and his son Ebusa, men of activity and tried experience, to seize on the northern parts of Britain. Sedulous in executing the command, affairs succeeded to their wishes. For frequently coming into action with the inhabitants, and dispersing those who attempted resistance, they conciliated with uninterrupted quiet such as submitted. Thus, though through their own address and the good will of their followers, they had established a certain degree of power, yet never entertaining an idea of assuming the royal title, they left an example of similar moderation to their immediate posterity. For during the space of ninety-nine years, the Northumbrian leaders, contented with subordinate power, lived in subjection to the kings of Kent. Afterwards, however, this forbearance ceased; either because the human mind is ever prone to degeneracy, or because that race of people was naturally ambitious. In the year, therefore, of our Lord’s incarnation 547, the sixtieth after Hengist’s death, the principality was converted into a kingdom. The most noble Ida, in the full vigour of life and of strength, first reigned there. But whether he himself seized the chief authority, or received it by the consent of others, I by no means venture to determine, because the truth is unrevealed. However, it is sufficiently evident, that, sprung from a great and ancient lineage, he reflected much splendour on his illustrious descent, by his pure and unsullied manners. Unconquerable abroad, at home he tempered his kingly power with peculiar affability. Of this man, and of others, in their respective places, I could lineally trace the descent, were it not that the very names, of uncouth sound, would be less agreeable to my readers than I wish. It may be proper though to remark, that Woden had three sons; Weldeg, Withleg, and Beldeg; from the first, the kings of Kent derived their origin; from the second, the kings of Mercia; and from the third, the kings of the West-Saxons and Northumbrians, with the exception of the two I am going to particularize. This Ida, then, the ninth from Beldeg, and the tenth from Woden, as I find positively declared, continued in the government fourteen years.

His successor Alia, originating from the same stock, but descending from Woden by a different branch, conducted the government, extended by his exertions considerably beyond its former bounds, for thirty years. In his time, youths from Northumbria were exposed for sale, after the common and almost native custom of this people; so that, even as our days have witnessed, they would make no scruple of separating the nearest ties of relationship through the temptation of the slightest advantage. Some of these youths then, carried from England for sale to Rome, became the means of salvation to all their countrymen. For exciting the attention of that city, by the beauty of their countenances and the elegance of their features, it happened that, among others, the blessed Gregory, at that time archdeacon of the apostolical see, was present. Admiring such an assemblage of grace in mortals, and, at the same time, pitying their abject condition, as captives, he asked the standers-by, “of what race are these ? Whence come they ?“ They reply, “by birth they are Angles; by country are Deiri; (Deira being a province of Northumbria,) subjects of King Alia, and Pagans.” Their concluding characteristic he accompanied with heartfelt sighs: to the others he elegantly alluded, saying, “that these Angles, angel-like, should be delivered from Cedira, and taught to sing Alleluia.” Obtaining permission without delay from pope Benedict, the industry of this excellent man was all alive to enter on the journey to convert them; and certainly his zeal would have completed this intended labour, had not the mutinous love of his fellow citizens recalled him, already on his progress. He was a man as celebrated for his virtues, as beloved by his countrymen; for by his matchless worth, he had even exceeded the expectations they had formed of him from his youth. His good intention, though frustrated at this time, received afterwards, during his pontificate, an honourable termination, as the reader will find in its proper place. I have made this insertion with pleasure, that my readers might not lose this notice of Alia, mention of whom is slightly made in the life of Pope Gregory, who, although he was the primary cause of introducing Christianity among the Angles, yet, either by the counsel of God, or some mischance, was never himself permitted to know it. The calling, indeed, descended to his son.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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