The History of The Kings of England 15

William of Malmesbury

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After this the sentiments of the West Saxons changed, and they acknowledged their lawful sovereign. Edmund proceeded to London, that he might liberate those deserving citizens whom a party of the enemy had blocked up immediately after his departure; moreover they had surrounded the whole city, on the parts not washed by the river Thames, with a trench; and many men lost their lives on both sides in the skirmishes. Hearing of the king’s approach, they precipitately took to flight; while he pursuing directly, and passing the ford called Brentford, routed them with great slaughter. The remaining multitude which were with Canute, while Edmund was relaxing a little and getting his affairs in order, again laid siege to London both on the land and river side; but being nobly repulsed by the citizens, they wreaked their anger on the neighbouring province of Mercia, laying waste the towns and villages, with plunder, fire, and slaughter. The best of the spoil was conveyed to their ships assembled in the Medway; which river flowing by the city of Rochester, washes its fair walls with a strong and rapid current. They were attacked and driven hence also by the king in person; who suddenly seizing the ford, which I have before mentioned at Brentford, dispersed them with signal loss.

While Edmund was preparing to pursue, and utterly destroy the last remains of these plunderers, he was prevented by the crafty and abandoned Edric, who had again insinuated himself into his good graces; for he had come over to Edmund, at the instigation of Canute, that he might betray his designs. Had the king only persevered, this would have been the last day for the Danes; but misled by the insinuations of a traitor, who affirmed that the enemy would make no farther attempt, he brought swift destruction upon himself, and the whole of England. Being thus allowed to escape, they again assembled; attacked the East Angles, and, at Assandun, compelled the king himself, who came to their assistance, to retreat. Here again, the person I am ashamed to mention so frequently, designedly gave the first example of flight. A small number, who, mindful of their former fame, and encouraging each other, had formed a compact body, were cut off to a man. On this field of battle Canute gained the kingdom; the glory of the Angles fell; and the whole flower of the country withered. Amongst these was Ulfkytel, earl of East Anglia, who had gained immortal honour in the time of Sweyn, when first attacking the pirates, he showed that they might be overcome: here fell, too, the chief men of the day, both bishops and abbots, Edmund flying hence almost alone, came to Gloucester, in order that he might there re-assemble his forces, and attack the enemy, indolent, as he supposed, from their recent victory. Nor was Canute wanting in courage to pursue the fugitive. When everything was ready for battle, Edmund demanded a single combat; that two individuals might not, for the lust of dominion, be stained with the blood of so many subjects, when they might try their fortune without the destruction of their faithful adherents: and observing, that it must redound greatly to the credit of either to have obtained so vast a dominion at his own personal peril. But Canute refused this proposition altogether; affirming that his courage was surpassing, but that he was apprehensive of trusting his diminutive person against so bulky an antagonist: wherefore, as both had equal pretensions to the kingdom, since the father of either of them had possessed it, it was consistent with prudence that they should lay aside their animosity, and divide England. This proposition was adopted by either army, and confirmed with much applause, both for its equity and its beneficent regard to the repose of the people who were worn out with continual suffering. In consequence, Edmund, overcome by the general clamour, made peace, and entered into treaty with Canute, retaining West Saxony himself and giving Mercia to the other. He died soon after on the festival of St. Andrew, though by what mischance is not known, and was buried at Glastonbury near his grandfather Edgar. Fame asperses Edric, as having, through regard for Canute, compassed his death by means of his servants: reporting that there were two attendants on the king to whom he had committed the entire care of his person, and, that Edric seducing them by promises, at length made them his accomplices, though at first they were struck with horror at the enormity of the crime; and that, at his suggestion, they drove an iron hook into his posteriors, as he was sitting down for a necessary purpose. Edwin, his brother on the mother’s side, a youth of amiable disposition, was driven from England by Edric, at the command of Canute, and suffering extremely for a considerable time, “both by sea and land,” his body, as is often the case, became affected by the anxiety of his mind, and he died in England, where he lay concealed after a clandestine return, and lies buried at Tavistock. His sons, Edwy and Edward, were sent to the king of Sweden to be put to death; but being preserved by his mercy, they went to the king of Hungary, where, after being kindly treated for a time, the elder died; and the younger married Agatha, the sister of the queen. His brothers by Emma, Alfred and Edward, lay securely concealed in Normandy for the Avhole time that Canute lived.

I find that their uncle Richard took no steps to restore them to their country: on the contrary, he married his sister Emma to the enemy and invader; and it may be difficult to say, whether to the greater ignominy of him who bestowed her, or of the woman who consented to share the nuptial couch of that man who had so cruelly molested her husband, and had driven her children into exile. Robert, however, whom we have so frequently before mentioned as having gone to Jerusalem, assembling a fleet and embarking soldiers, made ready an expedition, boasting that he would set the crown on the heads of his grand-nephews; and doubtlessly he would have made good his assertion, had not, as we have heard from our ancestors, an adverse wind constantly opposed him: but assuredly this was by the hidden counsel of God, in whose disposal are the powers of all kingdoms. The remains of the vessels, decayed through length of time, were still to be seen at Rouen in our days. Canute began to reign in the year of our Lord 1017, and reigned twenty years. Though he obtained the sovereignty unjustly, yet he conducted himself with great affability and firmness. At his entrance on the government, dividing the kingdom into four parts, himself took the West Saxons, Edric the Mercians, Thurkill the East Angles, and Eric the Northumbrians. His first care was to punish the murderers of Edmund, who had, under expectation of great recompense, acknowledged the whole circumstances: he concealed them for a time, and then brought them forward in a large assembly of the people, where they” confessed the mode of their attack upon him, and were immediately ordered to execution. The same year, Edric, whom words are wanting to stigmatize as he deserved, being, by the king’s command, entrapped in the same snare which he had so frequently laid for others, breathed out his abominable spirit to hell. For a quarrel arising, while they were angrily discoursing, Edric, relying on the credit of his services, and amicably, as it were, reproaching the king, said, “I first deserted Edmund for your sake, and afterwards even despatched him in consequence of my engagements to you.” At this expression the countenance of Canute changed with indignation, and he instantly pronounced this sentence: “Thou shalt die,” said he, “and justly; since thou art guilty of treason both to God and me, by having killed thy own sovereign, and my sworn brother; thy blood be upon thy head, because thy mouth hath spoken against thee, and thou hast lifted thy hand against the Lord’s anointed:” and immediately, that no tumult might be excited, the traitor was strangled in the chamber where they sat, and thrown out of the window into the river Thames: thus meeting the just reward of his perfidy. In process of time, as opportunities occurred, Thurkill and Eric were driven out of the kingdom, and sought their native land. The first, who had been the instigator of the murder of St. Elphege, was killed by the chiefs the moment he touched the Danish shore. When all England, by these means, became subject to Canute alone, he began to conciliate the Angles with unceasing diligence; allowing them equal rights with the Danes, in their assemblies, councils, and armies: on which account, as I have before observed, he sent for the wife of the late king out of Normandy, that, while they were paying obedience to their accustomed sovereign, they should the less repine at the dominion of the Danes. Another design he had in view by this, was, to acquire favour with Richard; who would think little of his nephews, so long as he supposed he might have others by Canute. He repaired, throughout England, the monasteries, which had been partly injured, and partly destroyed by the military incursions of himself, or of his father j he built churches in all the places where he had fought, and more particularly at Ashingdon, and appointed ministers to them, who, through the succeeding revolutions of ages, might pray to God for the souls of the persons there slain. At the consecration of this edifice, himself was present, and the English and Danish nobility made their offerings: it is now, according to report, an ordinary church, under the care of a parish priest. Over the body of the most holy Edmund, whom the Danes of former times had killed, he built a church with princely magnificence, appointed to it an abbot, and monks: and conferred on it many large estates. The greatness of his donation, yet entire, stands proudly eminent at the present day; for that place surpasses almost all the monasteries of England. He took up, with his own hands, the body of St. Elphege, which had been buried at St. Paul’s in London, and sending it to Canterbury, honoured it with due regard. Thus anxious to atone for the offences of himself or of his predecessors, perhaps he wiped away the foul stain of his former crimes with God: certainly he did so with man. At Winchester, he displayed all the magnificence of his liberality: here he gave so largely, that the quantity of precious metals astonished the minds of strangers; and the glittering of jewels dazzled the eyes of the beholders: this was at Emma’s suggestion, who with pious prodigality exhausted his treasures in works of this kind, while he was meditating fierce attacks on foreign lands. For his valour, incapable of rest, and not contented with Denmark, which he held from his father, and England, which he possessed by right of war, transferred its rage against the Swedes. These people are contiguous to the Danes, and had excited the displeasure of Canute by their ceaseless hostility. At first he fell into an ambush, and lost many of his people, but afterwards recruiting his strength, he routed his opponents, and brought the kings of that nation, Ulf and Eglaf, to terms of peace. The English, at the instance of earl Godwin, behaved nobly in this conflict. He exhorted them, not to forget their ancient fame, but clearly to display their valour to their new lord: telling them, that it must be imputed to fortune, that they had formerly been conquered by him, but it would be ascribed to their courage, if they overcame those who had overcome him. In consequence, the English put forth all their strength, and gaining the victory, obtained an earldom for their commander, and honour for themselves. Thence, on his return home, he entirely subdued the kingdom of Norway, putting Olave, its king, to flight; who, the year following, returning with a small party into his kingdom, to try the inclinations of the inhabitants, found them faithless, and was slain with his adherents.

In the fifteenth year of his reign, Canute went to Rome, and after remaining there some time, and atoning for his crimes by giving alms to the several churches, he sailed back to England. Soon after, with little difficulty, he subdued Scotland, then in a state of rebellion, and Malcolm her king, by leading an army thither. I trust it will not appear useless, if I subjoin the epistle, which he transmitted to the English, on his departure from Rome, by the hands of Living, abbot of Tavistock, and afterwards bishop of Crediton, to exemplify his reformation of life, and his princely magnificence.

“Canute, king of all England, Denmark, Norway, and part of the Swedes, to Ethelnoth, metropolitan, and Elfric archbishop of York, and to all bishops, nobles, and to the whole nation of the English high arid low, health. I notify to you, that I have lately been to Rome, to pray for the forgiveness of my sins; for the safety of my dominions, and of the people under my government. I had long since vowed such a journey to God, but, hitherto hindered by the affairs of my kingdom, and other causes preventing, I was unable to accomplish it sooner. I now return thanks most humbly to my Almighty God, for suffering me, in my lifetime, to approach the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all the holy saints within and without the city of Rome, wherever I could discover them, and there, present, to worship and adore according to my desire. I have been the more diligent in the performance of this, because I have learned from the wise, that St. Peter, the apostle, has received from God, great power in binding and in loosing: that he carries the key of the kingdom of heaven; and consequently I have judged it matter of special importance to seek his infiuoncs with God. Be it known to you, that at the solemnity of Easter, a great assembly of nobles was present with pope John, and the emperor Conrad, that is to say, all the princes of the nations from mount Garganus to the neighbouring sea. All these received me with honour, and presented me with magnificent gifts. But more especially was I honoured by the emperor, with various gifts and offerings, in gold and silver vessels, and palls and costly garments. Moreover, I spoke with the emperor himself, and the sovereign pope and the nobles who were there, concerning the wants of all my people, English as well as Danes; observing that there ought to be granted to them more equitable regulations, and greater security on their passage to Rome; that they should not be impeded by so many barriers on the road, nor harassed with unjust exactions. The emperor assented to my request, as did Rodolph the king, who has the chief dominion over those barriers; and all the princes confirmed by an edict, that my subjects, traders, as well as those who went on a religious account, should peaceably go and return from Rome, without any molestation from warders of barriers, or tax-gatherers. Again I complained before the pope, and expressed my high displeasure, that my archbishops were oppressed by the immense sum of money which is demanded from them when seeking, according to custom, the apostolical residence to receive the pall: and it was determined that it should be so no longer. Moreover, all things which I requested for the advantage of my kingdom, from the sovereign pope, and the emperor, and king Rodolph, and the other princes, through whose territories our road to Rome is situated, they have freely granted, and confirmed by oath, under the attestation of four archbishops, and twenty bishops, and an innumerable multitude of dukes and nobles who were present. Wherefore I give most hearty thanks to God Almighty, for having successfully completed all that I had wished, in the manner I had designed, and fully satisfied my intentions. Be it known then, that since I have vowed to God himself, henceforward to reform my life in all things, and justly, and piously fo govern the kingdoms and the people subject to me, and to maintain equal justice in all things; and have determined, through God’s assistance, to rectify any thing hitherto unjustly done, either through the intemperance of my youth, or through negligence; therefore T call to witness, and command my counsellors, to whom I have entrusted the counsels of the kingdom, that they by no means, either through fear of myself, or favour to any powerful person, suffer, henceforth, any injustice, or cause such, to be done in all my kingdom. Moreover, I command all sheriffs, or governors throughout my whole kingdom, as they tender my affection, or their own safety, not to commit injustice towards any man, rich or poor, but to allow all, noble and ignoble, alike to enjoy impartial law, from which they are never to deviate, either on account of royal favour, the person of any powerful man, or for the sake of amassing money for myself: for I have no need to accumulate money by unjust exaction. Be it known to you therefore, that returning by the same way that I went, I am now going to Denmark, through the advice of all the Danes, to make peace and firm treaty with those nations, who were desirous, had it been possible, to deprive me both of life and of sovereignty: this, however, they were not able to perform, God, who by his kindness preserves me in my kingdom and in my honour, and destroys the power of all my adversaries, bringing their strength to nought. Moreover, when I have established peace with the surrounding nations, and put all our sovereignty here in the East in tranquil order, so that there shall be no fear of war or enmity on any side, I intend coming to England, as early in the summer as I shall be able to get my fleet prepared. I have sent this epistle before me, in order that my people may rejoice at my prosperity; because, as yourselves know, I have never spared, nor will I spare, either myself or my pains for the needful service of my whole people. I now therefore adjure all my bishops, and governors, throughout my kingdom, by the fidelity they owe to God and me, to take care that, before I come to England, all dues owing by ancient custom be discharged: that is to say, plough-alms, the tenth of animals born in the current year, and the pence owing to Rome for St. Peter, whether from cities or villages: and in the middle of August, the tenth of the produce of the earth: and on the festival of St. Martin, the first fruits of seeds, to the church of the parish where each one resides, which is called in English Circscet. If these and such like things are not paid before I come to England, all who shall have offended will incur the penalty of a royal mulct, to be exacted without remission, according to law.” Nor was this declaration without effect; for he commanded all the laws which had been enacted by ancient kings, and chiefly by his predecessor Ethelred, to be observed for ever, under the penalty of a royal mulct: in the observance of which, the custom even at the present day, in the time of good kings, is to swear by the name of king Edward, not that he indeed appointed, but that he observed them.

At that time there were in England very great and learned men, the principal of whom was Ethelnoth, archbishop after Living. He was appointed primate from being dean, and performed many works truly worthy to be recorded: encouraging even the king himself in his good actions by the authority of his sanctity, and restraining him in his excesses: he first exalted the archiepiscopal cathedral by the presence of the body of St. Elphege, and afterwards personally at Rome, restored it to its pristine dignity. Returning home, he transmitted to Coventry the arm of St. Augustine the teacher, which he had purchased at Pavia, for an hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold. Moreover, Canute took a journey to the church of Glastonbury, that he might visit the remains of his brother Edmund, as he used to call till, to be distributed to the poor: it was payable in fifteen days from Easter. Payable at Whitsuntide. him; and praying over his tomb, he presented a pall, interwoven, as it appeared, with party-coloured figures of peacocks. Near the king stood the before-named Ethelnoth, who was the seventh monk of Glastonbury that had become archbishop of Canterbury: first Berthwald: second Athelm, first bishop of Wells: third his nephew Dunstan: fourth Ethelgar, first abbot of the New-minster at Winchester, and then bishop of Chichester: fifth Siric, who, when he was made archbishop, gave to this his nursing-mother seven palls, with which, upon his anniversary, the whole ancient church is ornamented: sixth Elphege, who from prior of Glastonbury was, first, made abbot of Bath, and then bishop of Winchester: seventh Ethelnoth, who upon showing to the king the immunities of predecessors, asked, and obtained from the king’s own hand a confirmation of them, which was to the following effect.

“The Lord reigning for evermore, who disposes and governs all things by his unspeakable power, who wonderfully determines the changes of times and of men, and justly brings them to an uncertain end, according to his pleasure; and who from the secret mysteries of nature mercifully teaches us, how lasting, instead of fleeting and transitory, kingdoms are to be obtained by the assistance of God: wherefore I Canute king of England, and governor and ruler of the adjacent nations, by the counsel and decree of our archbishop Ethelnoth, and of all the priests of God, and by the advice of our nobility, do, for the love of heaven, and the pardon of my sins, and the remission of the transgressions of my brother, king Edmund, grant to the church of the holy mother of God, Mary, at Glastonbury, its rights and customs throughout my kingdom, and all forfeitures throughout its possessions, and that its lands shall be free from all claim and vexation as my own are. Moreover, I inhibit more especially, by the authority of the Almighty Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the curse of the eternal Virgin, and so command it to be observed by the judges and primates of my kingdom as they tender their safety, every person, be they of what order or dignity they may, from entering, on any account, that island; but all causes, ecclesiastical as well as secular, shall await the sole judgement of the abbot and convent, in like manner as my predecessors have ratified and confirmed by charters; that is to say, Kentwin, Ina, Cuthred, Alfred, Edward, Ethelred, Athelstan, the most glorious Edmund, and the equally glorious Edgar. And should any one hereafter endeavour, on any occasion, to break in upon, or make void the enactment of this grant, let him be driven from the communion of the righteous by the fan of the last judgement; but should any person endeavour diligently, with benevolent intention, to perform these things, to approve, and defend them, may God increase his portion in the land of the living, through the intercession of the most holy mother of God, Mary, and the rest of the saints. The grant of this immunity was written and published in the Wooden Church, in the presence of king Canute, in the year of our Lord 1032, the second indiction.”

By the advice of the said archbishop also, the king, sending money to foreign churches, very much enriched Chartres, where at that time flourished bishop Fulbert, most renowned for sanctity and learning. Who, among other demonstrations of his diligence, very magnificently completed the church of our lady St. Mary, the foundations of which he had laid: and which moreover, in his zeal to do every thing he could for its honour, he rendered celebrated by many musical modulations. The man who has heard his chants, breathing only celestial vows, is best able to conceive the love he manifested in honour of the Virgin. Among his other works, a volume of epistles is extant; in one of which,! he thanks that most magnificent king Canute, for pouring out the bowels of his generosity in donations to the church of Chartres.

In the fifteenth year of Canute’s reign, Robert king of France, of whom we have before briefly spoken, departed this life: a man so much given to alms, that when, on festival days, he was either dressing, or putting off the royal robes, if he had nothing else at hand, he would give even these to the poor, if his attendants did not purposely drive away the needy who were importuning him. He had two sons, Odo, and Henry: the elder, Odo, was dull: the other crafty and impetuous. Each parent had severally divided their affections on their children: the father loved the first-born, often saying that he should succeed him: the mother regarded the younger, to whom the sovereignty was justly due, if not for his age, yet certainly for his ability. It happened, as women are persevering in their designs, that she did not cease until, by means of presents, and large promises, she had gotten to her side all the chief nobility who are subject to the power of France. In consequence, Henry, chiefly through the assistance of Robert the Norman, was crowned ere his father had well breathed his last. Mindful of this kindness, when, as I before related, Robert went to Jerusalem, Henry most strenuously espoused the cause of William, his son, then a youth, against those who attempted to throw off his yoke. In the meantime Canute, finishing his earthly career, died at Shaftesbury, and was buried at Winchester.

In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1036, Harold, whom fame I reported to be the son of Canute, by the daughter of earl Elrelm, succeeded, and reigned four years and as many months. He was elected by the Danes and the citizens of London, who, from long intercourse with these barbarians, had almost entirely adopted their customs. The English resisted for a long time, rather wishing to have one of the sons of Ethelred, who were then in Normandy, or else Hardecanute, the son of Canute by Emma, at that time in Denmark, for their king. The greatest stickler for justice, at this juncture, was earl Godwin; who professing himself the defender of the fatherless, and having queen Emma and the royal treasures in his custody, for some time restrained his opponents by the power of his name: but at last, overcome by numbers and by violence, he was obliged to give way. Harold, secure in his sovereignty, drove his mother-in-law into exile. Not thinking she should be safe in Normandy, where, her brother and nephews being dead, disgust at the rule of a deserted orphan created great disorders, she passed over into Flanders, to earl Baldwin, a man of tried integrity: who afterwards, when king Henry died leaving a young son, Philip, for some years nobly governed the kingdom of France, and faithfully restored it to him, for he had married his aunt, when he came of age. Emma passed three years securely under the protection of this man, at the expiration of which, Harold dying at Oxford, in the month of April, was buried at Westminster. The Danes and the English then uniting in one common sentiment of sending for Hardecanute, he came, by way of Normandy, into England in the month of August. For Ethelred’s sons were held in contempt nearly by all, more from the recollection of their father’s indolence, than the power of the Danes. Hardecanute, reigning two years except ten days, lost his life amid his cups at Lambeth nigh London, and was buried near his father at Winchester: a young man who evinced great affection towards his brother and sister. For his brother, Edward, wearied with continual wandering, revisiting his native land in the hope of fraternal kindness, was received by him with open arms, and entertained most affectionately. He was rash, however, in other respects, and at the instigation of Elfric, archbishop of York, and of others whom I am loath to name, he ordered the dead body of Harold to be dug up, the head to be cut off, and thrown into the Thames, a pitiable spectacle to men ! but it was dragged up again in a fisherman’s net, and buried in the cemetery of the Danes at London. He imposed a rigid, and intolerable tribute upon England, in order that he might pay, according to his promise, twenty marks to the soldiers of each of his vessels. While this was harshly levied throughout the kingdom, two of the collectors, discharging their office rather too rigorously, were killed by the citizens of Worcester; upon which, burning and depopulating the city by means of his commanders, and plundering the property of the citizens, he cast a blemish on his fame and diminished the love of his subjects. But here I will not pass over in silence, what tattlers report of Alfred the first-born of Ethelred. Doubtful what to do between Harold’s death and the arrival of Hardecanute, he came into the kingdom, and was deprived of his eyes by the treachery of his countrymen, and chiefly of Godwin, at Gillingham: from thence being sent to the monastery of Ely, he supported, for a little time, a wretched subsistence upon homely food; all his companions, with the exception of the tenth, being beheaded: for by lot every tenth man was saved. I have mentioned these circumstances, because such is the report; but as the Chronicles are silent, I do not assert them for fact. For this reason, Hardecanute, enraged against Living, bishop of Crediton, whom public opinion pointed out as author of the transaction, expelled him from his see: but, soothed with money, he restored him within the year. Looking angrily too upon Godwin, he obliged him to clear himself by oath; but he, to recover his favour entirely, added to his plighted oath a present of the most rich and beautiful kind; it was a ship beaked with gold, having eighty soldiers on board, who had two bracelets on either arm, each weighing sixteen ounces of gold; on their heads were gilt helmets; on their left shoulder they carried a Danish axe, with an iron spear in their right hand; and, not to enumerate everything, they were equipped with such arms, as that splendour vying with terror, might conceal the steel beneath the gold. But farther, as I had begun to relate, his sister Gunhilda, the daughter of Canute by Emma, a young woman of exquisite beauty, who was sighed for, but not obtained, by many lovers in her father’s time, was by Hardecanute given in marriage to Henry, emperor of the Germans. The splendour of the nuptial pageant was very striking, and is even in our times frequently sung in ballads about the streets: where while this renowned lady was being conducted to the ship, all the nobility of England were crowding around and contributing to her charges whatever was contained in the general purse, or royal treasury. Proceeding in this manner to her husband, she cherished for a long time the conjugal tie; at length being accused of adultery, she opposed in single combat to her accuser, a man of gigantic size, a young lad of her brother’s establishment, whom she had brought from England, while her other attendants held back in cowardly apprehension. When, therefore, they engaged, the impeacher, through the miraculous interposition of God, was worsted, by being ham-strung. Gunhilda, exulting at her unexpected success, renounced the marriage contract with her husband; nor could she be induced either by threats or by endearments again to share his bed: but taking the veil of a nun, she calmly grew old in the service of God.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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