The History of The Kings of England 21

William of Malmesbury

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

His unbridled rashness yielded no placid ear to the words of his adviser, thinking it base, and a reproach to his past life, to turn his back on danger of any kind; and, with similar impudence, or to speak more favourably, imprudence, he drove away a monk, the messenger of William, not deigning him even a complacent look; imprecating only, that God would decide between him and the earl. He was the bearer of three propositions; either that Harold should relinquish the kingdom, according to his agreement, or hold it of William; or decide the matter by single combat in the sight of either army. For William claimed the kingdom, on the ground that king Edward, by the advice of Stigand, the archbishop, and of the earls Godwin and Siward, had granted it to him, and had sent the son and nephew of Godwin to Normandy, as sureties of the grant. If Harold should deny this, he would abide by the judgement of the pope, or by battle: on all which propositions, the messenger being frustrated by the single answer I have related, returned, and communicated to his party fresh spirit for the conflict.

The courageous leaders mutually prepared for battle, each according to his national custom. The English, as we have heard, passed the night without sleep, in drinking and singing, and, in the morning, proceeded without delay towards the enemy; all were on foot, armed with battle-axes, and covering themselves in front by the junction of their shields, they formed an impenetrable body, which would have secured their safety that day, had not the Normans, by a feigned flight, induced them to open their ranks, which till that time, according to their custom, were closely compacted. The king himself on foot, stood, with his brother, near the standard; in order that, while all shared equal danger, none might think of retreating. This standard William sent, after the victory, to the pope; it was sumptuously embroidered, with gold and precious stones, in the form of a man fighting.

On the other side, the Normans passed the whole night in confessing their sins, and received the sacrament in the morning: their infantry, with bows and arrows, formed the vanguard, while their cavalry, divided into wings, were thrown back. The earl, with serene countenance, declaring aloud, that God would favour his, as being the righteous side, called for his arms; and presently, when, through the hurry of his attendants, he had put on his hauberk the hind part before, he corrected the mistake with a laugh; saying, “My dukedom shall be turned into a kingdom.” Then beginning the song of Roland, that the warlike example of that man might stimulate the soldiers, and calling on God for assistance, the battle commenced on both sides. They fought with ardour, neither giving ground, for great part of the day. Finding this, William gave a signal to his party, that, by a feigned flight, they should retreat. Through this device, the close body of the English, opening for the purpose of cutting down the straggling enemy, brought upon itself swift destruction; for the Normans, facing about, attacked them thus disordered, and compelled them to fly. In this manner, deceived by a stratagem, they met an honourable death in avenging their country; nor indeed were they at all wanting to their own revenge, as, by frequently making a stand, they slaughtered their pursuers in heaps: for, getting possession of an eminence, they drove down the Normans, when roused with indignation and anxiously striving to gain the higher ground, into the valley beneath, where, easily hurling their javelins and rolling down stones on them as they stood below, they destroyed them to a man. Besides, by a short passage, with which they were acquainted, avoiding a deep ditch, they trod under foot such a multitude of their enemies in that place, that they made the hollow level with the plain, by the heaps of carcasses. This vicissitude of first one party conquering, and then the other, prevailed as long as the life of Harold continued; but when he fell, from having his brain pierced with an arrow, the flight of the English ceased not until night. The valour of both leaders was here eminently conspicuous. “Harold, not merely content with the duty of a general in exhorting others, diligently entered into every soldier-like office; often would he strike the enemy when coming to close quarters, so that none could approach him with impunity; for immediately the same blow levelled both horse and rider. Wherefore, as I have related, receiving the fatal arrow from a distance, he yielded to death. One of the soldiers with a sword gashed his thigh, as he lay prostrate; for which shameful and cowardly action, he was branded with ignominy by William, and dismissed the service.

William too was equally ready to encourage by his voice and by his presence; to be the first to rush forward; to attack the thickest of the foe. Thus everywhere raging, everywhere furious, he lost three choice horses, which were that day pierced under him. The dauntless spirit and vigour of the intrepid general, however, still persisted, though often called back by the kind remonstrance of his body-guard; he still persisted, I say, till approaching night crowned him with complete victory. And no doubt, the hand of God so protected him, that the enemy should draw no blood from his person, though they aimed so many javelins at him.

This was a fatal day to England, a melancholy havoc of our dear country, through its change of masters. For it had long since adopted the manners of the Angles, which had been very various according to the times: for in the first years of their arrival, they were barbarians in their look and manners, warlike in their usages, heathens in their rites; but, after embracing the faith of Christ, by degrees, and in process of time, from the peace they enjoyed, regarding arms only in a secondary light, they gave their whole attention to religion. I say nothing of the poor, the meanness of whose fortune often restrains them from overstepping the bounds of justice: I omit men of ecclesiastical rank, whom sometimes respect to their profession, and sometimes the fear of shame, suffer not to deviate from the truth: I speak of princes, who from the greatness of their power might have full liberty to indulge in pleasure; some of whom, in their own country, and others at Rome, changing their habit, obtained a heavenly kingdom, and a saintly intercourse. Many during their whole lives in outward appearance only embraced the present world, in order that they might exhaust their treasures on the poor, or divide them amongst monasteries. What shall I say of the multitudes of bishops, hermits, and abbots? Does not the whole island blaze with such numerous relics of its natives, that you can scarcely pass a village of any consequence but you hear the name of some new saint, besides the numbers of whom all notices have perished through the want of records ? Nevertheless, in process of time, the desire after literature and religion had decayed, for several years before the arrival of the Normans. The clergy, contented with a very slight degree of learning, could scarcely stammer out the words of the sacraments; and a person who understood grammar, was an object of wonder and astonishment. The monks mocked the rule of their order by fine vestments, and the use of every kind of food. The nobility, given up to luxury and wantonness, went not to church in the morning after the manner of Christians, but merely, in a careless manner, heard matins and masses from a hurrying priest in their chambers, amid the blandishments of their wives. The commonalty, left unprotected, became a prey to the most powerful, who amassed fortunes, by either seizing on their property, or by selling their persons into foreign countries; although it be an innate quality of this people, to be more inclined to revelling, than to the accumulation of wealth. There was one custom, repugnant to nature, which they adopted; namely, to sell their female servants, when pregnant by them and after they had satisfied their lust, either to public prostitution, or foreign slavery. Drinking in parties was a universal practice, in which occupation they passed entire nights as well as days. They consumed their whole substance in mean and despicable houses; unlike the Normans and French, who, in noble and splendid mansions, lived with frugality. The vices attendant on drunkenness, which enervate the human mind, followed; hence it arose that engaging William, more with rashness, and precipitate fury, than military skill, they doomed themselves, and their country to slavery, by one, and that an easy, victory. “For nothing is less effective than rashness; and what begins with violence, quickly ceases, or is repelled.” In fine, the English at that time, wore short garments reaching to the mid-knee; they had their hair cropped; their beards shaven; their arms laden with golden bracelets; their skin adorned with punctured designs. They were accustomed to eat till they became surfeited, and to drink till they were sick. These latter qualities they imparted to their conquerors; as to the rest, they adopted their manners. I would not, however, have these bad propensities universally ascribed to the English. I know that many of the clergy, at that day, trod the path of sanctity, by a blameless life; I know that many of the laity, of all ranks and conditions, in this nation, were well-pleasing to God. Be injustice far from this account; the accusation does not involve the whole indiscriminately. “But, as in peace, the mercy of God often cherishes the bad and the good together; so, equally, does his severity, sometimes, include them both in captivity.”

Moreover, the Normans, that I may speak of them also, were at that time, and are even now, proudly apparelled, delicate in their food, but not excessive. They are a race inured to war, and can hardly live without it; fierce in rushing against the enemy; and where strength fails of success, ready to use stratagem, or to corrupt by bribery. As I have related, they live in large edifices with economy; envy their equals; wish to excel their superiors; and plunder their subjects, though they defend them from others; they are faithful to their lords, though a slight offence renders them perfidious. They weigh treachery by its chance of success, and change their sentiments with money. They are, however, the kindest of nations, and they esteem strangers worthy of equal honour with themselves. They also intermarry with their vassals. They revived, by their arrival, the observances of religion, which were everywhere grown lifeless in England. You might see churches rise in every village, and monasteries in the towns and cities, built after a style unknown before; you might behold the country flourishing with renovated rites; so that each wealthy man accounted that day lost to him, which he had neglected to signalize by some magnificent action. But having enlarged sufficiently on these points, let us pursue the transactions of William.

When his victory was complete, he caused his dead to be interred with great pomp; granting the enemy the liberty of doing the like, if they thought proper. He sent the body of Harold to his mother, who begged it, unransomed; though she proffered large sums by her messengers. She buried it, when thus obtained, at Waltham; a church which he had built at his own expense, in honour of the Holy Cross, and had endowed for canons. William then, by degrees proceeding, as became a conqueror, with his army, not after an hostile, but a royal manner, journeyed towards London, the principal city of the kingdom; and shortly after, all the citizens came out to meet him with gratulations. Crowds poured out of every gate to greet him, instigated by the nobility, and principally by Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, and Aldred, of York. For, shortly before, Edwin and Morcar, two brothers of great expectation, hearing, at London, the news of Harold’s death, solicited the citizens to exalt one of them to the throne: failing, however, in the attempt, they had departed for Northumberland, conjecturing, from their own feelings, that William would never come thither. The other chiefs would have chosen Edgar, had the bishops supported them; but, danger and domestic broils closely impending, neither did this take effect. Thus the English, who, had they united in one opinion, might have repaired the ruin of their country, introduced a stranger, while they were unwilling to choose a native, to govern them. Being now decidedly hailed king, he was crowned on Christmas-day by archbishop Aldred; for he was careful not to accept this office from Stigand, as he was not canonically an archbishop.

Of the various wars which he carried on, this is a summary. Favoured by God’s assistance, he easily reduced the city of Exeter, when it had rebelled; for part of the wall Knighton and Brompton quote this story. W. Pictaxnensis says, that William refused the body to his mother, who offered its weight in gold for it, ordering it to be buried on the sea-coast. In the Harleian MS. 3776, before referred to, Girth, Harold’s brother, is said to have escaped alive: he is represented, in his interview with Henry II. to have spoken mysteriously respecting Harold, and to have declared that the body of that prince was not at Waltham. Sir H. Ellis, quoting this MS., justly observes, that the whole was, probably, the fabrication of one of the secular canons, who were ejected at the re-foundation of Waltham Abbey in 1177.” — Hardy.

Upon a passage in the Domesday Survey, describing Oxford as containing 478 houses, which were so fell down accidentally, and made an opening for him. In deed he had attacked it with the more ferocity, asserting that those irreverent men would be deserted by God’s favour, because one of them, standing upon the wall, had bared his posteriors, and had broken wind, in contempt of the Normans. He almost annihilated the city of York, that sole remaining shelter for rebellion, and destroyed its citizens with sword and famine. For there Malcolm, king of the Scots, with his party; there Edgar, and Morcar, and Waltheof, with the English and Danes, often brooded over the nest of tyranny; there they frequently killed his generals; whose deaths, were I severally to commemorate, perhaps I should not be superfluous, though I might risk the peril of creating disgust; while I should be not easily pardoned as an historian, if I were led astray by the falsities of my authorities.

Malcolm willingly received all the English fugitives, affording to each every protection in his power, but more especially to Edgar, whose sister he had married, out of regard to her noble descent. On his behalf he burnt and plundered the adjacent provinces of England; not that he supposed, by so doing, he could be of any service to him, with respect to the kingdom; but merely to distress the mind of William, who was incensed at his territories being subject to Scottish incursions. In consequence, William, collecting a body of foot and horse, repaired to the northern parts of the island, and first of all received into subjection the metropolitan city, which English, Danes, and Scots obstinately defended; its citizens being wasted with continued want. He destroyed also in a great and severe battle, a considerable number of the enemy, who had come to the succour of the besieged; though the victory was not bloodless on his side, as he lost many of his people. He then ordered both the towns and fields of the whole district to be laid waste; the fruits and grain to be destroyed by fire or by water, more especially on the coast, as well on account of his recent displeasure, as because a rumour had gone abroad, that Canute, king of Denmark, the son of Sweyn, was approaching with his forces. The reason of such a command, was, that the plundering pirate should find no booty on the coast to take with him, if he designed to depart again directly; or should be compelled to provide against want, if he thought proper to stay. Thus the resources of a province, once flourishing, and the nurse of tyrants, were cut off by fire, slaughter, and devastation; the ground, for more than sixty miles, totally uncultivated and unproductive, remains bare to the present day. Should any stranger now see it, he laments over the once-magnificent cities; the towers threatening heaven itself with their loftiness; the fields abundant in pasturage, and watered with rivers: and, if any ancient inhabitant remains, he knows it no longer.

Malcolm surrendered himself, without coming to an engagement, and for the whole of William’s time passed his life under treaties, uncertain, and frequently broken. But when in the reign of William, the son of William, he was attacked in a similar manner, he diverted the king from pursuing him by a false oath. He was slain soon after, together with his son, by Robert Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, while, regardless of his faith, he was devastating the province with more than usual insolence. For many years, he lay buried at Tynemouth: lately he was conveyed by Alexander his son, to Dunfermline, in Scotland.

Edgar, having submitted to the king with Stigand and Aldred the archbishops, violated his oath the following year, by going over to the Scot: but after living there some years, and acquiring no present advantage, no future prospects, but merely his daily sustenance, being willing to try the liberality of the Norman, who was at that time beyond the sea, he sailed over to him. They say this was extremely agreeable to the king, that England should be thus rid of a fomenter of dissension. Indeed it was his constant practice, under colour of high honour, to carry over to Normandy all the English he suspected, lest any disorders should arise in the kingdom during his absence. Edgar, therefore, was well received, and presented with a considerable largess: and remaining at court for many years, silently sunk into contempt through his indolence, or more mildly speaking, his simplicity. For how great must his simplicity be, who would yield up to the king, for a single horse, the pound of silver, which he received as his daily stipend ? In succeeding times he went to Jerusalem with Robert, the son of Godwin, a most valiant knight. This was the time when the Turks besieged king Baldwin, at Rama; who, unable to endure the difficulties of a siege, rushed through the midst of the enemy, by the assistance of Robert alone, who preceded him, and hewed down the Turks, on either hand, with his drawn sword; but, while excited to greater ferocity by his success, he was pressing on with too much eagerness, his sword dropped from his hand, and when stooping down to recover it, he was surrounded by a multitude, and cast into chains. Taken thence to Babylon, as they report, when he refused to deny Christ, he was placed as a mark in the middle of the market-place, and being transfixed with darts, died a martyr. Edgar, having lost his companion, returned, and received many gifts from the Greek and German emperors; who, from respect to his noble descent, would also have endeavoured to retain him with them; but he gave up every tiling, through regard to his native soil. “For, truly, the love of their country deceives some men to such a degree, that nothing seems pleasant to them, unless they can breathe their native air.” Edgar, therefore, deluded by this silly desire, returned to England; where, as I have before said, after various revolutions of fortune, he now grows old in the country in privacy and quiet.

Edwin and Morcar were brothers; the sons of Elfgar, the son of Leofric. They had received charge of the county of Northumberland, and jointly preserved it in tranquillity. For, as I have before observed, a few days previous to the death of St. Edward the king, the inhabitants of the north had risen in rebellion and expelled Tosty, their governor; and, with Harold’s approbation, had requested, and received, one of these brothers, as their lord. These circumstances, as we have heard from persons acquainted with the affair, took place against the inclination of the king, who was attached to Tosty; but being languid through disease, and worn down with age, he become so universally disregarded, that he could not assist his favourite. In consequence, his bodily ailments increasing from the anxiety of his mind, he died shortly after. Harold persisted in his resolution of banishing his brother: wherefore, first tarnishing the triumphs of his family by piratical excursions, he was, as I have above written, afterwards killed with the king of Norway. His body being known by a wart between the shoulders, obtained burial at York. Edwin and Morcar, by Harold’s command, then conveyed the spoils of war to London, for he himself was proceeding rapidly to the battle of Hastings; where, falsely presaging, he looked upon the victory as already gained. But, when he was there killed, the brothers, along to the territories they possessed, disturbed the peace of William for several years; infesting the woods with secret robberies, and never coming to close or open engagement. Often were they taken captive, and as often surrendered themselves, but were again dismissed with impunity, from pity to their youthful elegance, or respect to their nobility. At last, murdered, neither by the force nor craft of their enemies, but by the treachery of their partisans, their fate drew tears from the king, who would even long since have granted them matches with his relations, and the honour of his friendship, would they have acceded to terms of peace.

Waltheof, an earl of high descent, had become extremely intimate with the new king, who had forgotten his former offences, and attributed them rather to courage, than to disloyalty. For Waltheof, singly, had killed many of the Normans in the battle of York; cutting off their heads, one by one, as they entered the gate. He was muscular in the arms, brawny in the chest, tall and robust in his whole person; the son of Siward, a most celebrated earl, whom, by a Danish term, they called “Digera,” which implies Strong. But after the fall of his party, he voluntarily surrendered himself, and was honoured by a marriage with Judith, the king’s neice, as well as with his personal friendship. Unable however to restrain his evil inclinations, he could not preserve his fidelity. For all his countrymen, who had thought proper to resist, being either slain, or subdued, he became a party even in the perfidy of Ralph de Waher; but the conspiracy being detected, he was taken; kept in chains for some time, and at last, being beheaded, was buried at Croyland: though some assert, that he joined the league of treachery, more through circumvention than inclination. This is the excuse the English make for him, and those, of the greater credit, for the Normans affirm the contrary, to whose decision the Divinity itself appears to assent, showing many and very great miracles at his tomb: for they declare, that during his captivity, he wiped away his transgressions by his daily penitence.

On this account perhaps the conduct of the king may reasonably be excused, if he was at any time rather severe against the English; for he scarcely found any one of them faithful. This circumstance so exasperated his ferocious mind, that he deprived the more powerful, first of their wealth, next of their estates, and finally, some of them of their lives. Moreover, he followed the device of Caesar, who drove out the Germans, concealed in the vast forest of Ardennes, whence they harassed his army with perpetual irruptions, not by means of his own countrymen, but by the confederate Gauls; that, while strangers destroyed each other, he might gain a bloodless victory. Thus, I say, William acted towards the English. For, allowing the Normans to be unemployed, he opposed an English army, and an English commander, to those, who, after the first unsuccessful battle, had fled to Denmark and Ireland, and had returned at the end of three years with considerable force: foreseeing that whichever side might conquer, it must be a great advantage to himself Nor did this device fail him; for both parties of the English, after some conflicts between themselves, without any exertion on his part, left a victory for the king; the invaders being driven to Ireland, and the royalists purchasing the empty title of conquest, at their own special loss, and that of their general. His name was Ednoth, equally celebrated, before the arrival of the Normans, both at home and abroad. He was the father of Harding, who yet survives: a man more accustomed to kindle strife by his malignant tongue, than to brandish arms in the field of battle. Thus having overturned the power of the laity, he made an ordinance, that no monk, or clergyman, of that nation, should be suffered to aspire to any dignity whatever; excessively differing from the gentleness of Canute the former king, who restored their honours, unimpaired, to the conquered: whence it came to pass, that at his decease, the natives easily expelled the foreigners, and reclaimed their original right. But William, from certain causes, canonically deposed some persons, and in the place of such as might die, appointed diligent men of any nation, except English. Unless I am deceived, their inveterate frowardness towards the king, required such a measure; since, as I have said before, the Normans are by nature kindly disposed to strangers who live amongst them.

Ralph, whom I mentioned before, was, by the king’s gift, earl of Norfolk and Suffolk; a Breton on his father’s side; of a disposition foreign to every thing good. This man. in consequence of being betrothed to the king’s relation, the daughter of William Fitz-Osberne, conceived a most unjust design, and meditated attack on the sovereignty. Wherefore, on the very day of his nuptials, whilst splendidly banqueting, for the luxury of the English had now been adopted by the Normans, and when the guests had become intoxicated and heated with wine, he disclosed his intention in a copious harangue. As their reason was entirely clouded by drunkenness, they loudly applauded the orator. Here Roger earl of Hereford, brother to the wife of Ralph, and here Waltheof, together with many others, conspired the death of the king. Next day, however, when the fumes of the wine had evaporated, and cooler thoughts influenced the minds of some of the party, the larger portion, repenting of their conduct, retired from the meeting. Among these is said to have been Waltheof, who, at the recommendation of archbishop Lanfranc, sailing to Normandy, related the matter to the king; concealing merely his own share of the business. The earls, however, persisted in their design, and each incited his dependants to rebel. But God opposed them, and brought all their machinations to nought. For immediately the king’s officers, who were left in charge, on discovering the affair, reduced Ralph to such distress, that seizing a vessel at Norwich, he committed himself to the sea. His wife, covenanting for personal safety, and delivering up the castle, followed her husband. Roger being thrown into chains by the king, visited, or rather inhabited, a prison, during the remainder of his life; a young man of abominable treachery, and by no means imitating his father’s conduct.

His father, indeed, William Fitz-Osberne, might have been compared, nay, I know not if he might not even have been preferred, to the very best princes. By his advice, William had first been inspirited to invade, and next, assisted by his valour, to keep possession of England. The energy of his mind was seconded by the almost boundless liberality of his hand. Hence it arose, that by the multitude of soldiers, to whom he gave extravagant pay, he repelled the rapacity of the enemy, and ensured the favour of the people. In consequence, by this boundless profusion, he incurred the king’s severe displeasure; because he had improvidently exhausted his treasures. The regulations which he established in his county of Hereford, remain in full force at the present day; that is to say, that no knight should be fined more than seven shillings for whatever offence: whereas, in other provinces, for a very small fault in transgressing the commands of their lord, they pay twenty or twenty-five. Fortune, however, closed these happy successes by a dishonourable termination, when the supporter of so great a government, the counsellor of England and Normandy, went into Flanders, through fond regard for a woman, and there died by the hands of his enemies. For the elder Baldwin, of whom I have before spoken, the father of Matilda, had two sons: Eobert, who marrying the countess of Frisia, while his father yet lived, took the surname of Friso: Baldwin, who, after his father, presided some years over Flanders, and died prematurely. His two children by his wife Richelda surviving he had entrusted the guardianship of them to Philip king of France, whose aunt was his mother, and to William Fitz-Osberne. William readily undertook this office, that he might increase his dignity by an union with Richelda. But she, through female pride, aspiring to things beyond her sex, and exacting fresh tributes from the people, excited them to rebellion. Wherefore despatching a messenger to Robert Friso, they entreat him to accept the government of the country; and abjure all fidelity to Arnulph, who was already called earl. Nor indeed were there wanting persons to espouse the party of the minor: so that for a long time,, Flanders was disturbed by intestine commotion. This, Fitz-Osberne, who was desperately in love with the lady, could not endure, but entered Flanders with a body of troops; and, being immediately well received by the persons he came to defend, after some days, he rode securely from castle to castle, in a hasty manner with few attendants. On the other hand, Friso, who was acquainted with this piece of folly, entrapped him unawares by a secret ambush, and killed him, fighting bravely but to no purpose, together with his nephew Arnulph.

William of Malmesbury

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

29 January, 2015
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License