The History of The Kings of England 23

William of Malmesbury

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But since the die of fortune is subject to uncertain casts, many adverse circumstances happened during those times. There was a disgraceful contention between the abbot of Glastonbury and his monks; so that after altercation they came to blows. The monks being driven into the church, bewailed their miseries at the holy altar. The soldiers, rushing in, slew two of them, wounded fourteen, and drove away the rest. Nay the rage of the military had even bristled the crucifix with arrows. The abbot, rendered infamous by such a criminal outrage, was driven into exile during the whole of the king’s life; but, upon his decease, he was restored to his honours, a sum of money being paid to such as interceded for him, for the expiation of his transgression.

Again, a cruel and ignominious end overtook Walker bishop of Durham, whom the Northumbrians, a people ever ripe for rebellion, throwing off all respect for his holy orders, put to death, after having severely insulted him. A considerable number of Lorrainers were killed there also, for the bishop was of that country. The cause of the murder was this. The bishop, independently of his see, was warder f of the whole county: over public business he had set his relation Gilbert, and over domestic, the canon Leobin; both men of diligence in their respective employments, but rash. The bishop endured their want of moderation in this respect, out of regard to their activity; and, as he had placed them in office, treated them with great kindness. “For our nature ever indulges itself, and favourably regards its own kind works.” This Leobin caused Liwulph, a servant so dearly beloved by St. Cuthbert that the saint himself used to appear to him, even when waking, and prescribe his decisions; him, I say, he caused to bo killed by Gilbert; smitten with envy at his holding the higher place in the prelate’s esteem for his knowledge and equity in legal determinations. Walker, terrified with this intelligence, offered the furious family of the deceased the result of a legal inquiry, affirming that Leobin would be the cause of his death and of that of his friends. When the matter came to a trial, this ferocious race of people were not to be soothed by reasons of any kind; on the contrary, they threw the whole blame on the bishop, because they had seen both the murderers familiarly entertained in his court after the death of Liwulioh. Hence arose clamour and indignation, and Gilbert, as he was of his own accord, going out of the church, where he had been sitting with the bishop, that he might, at his personal peril, save the life of his master, was impiously slain. The bishop, while making overtures of peace before the gates, next glutted the rage of the people with his blood; the fomenter of the crime, too, Leobin, was half-burnt, as he would not quit the church till it was set on fire, and when he rushed out he was received on a thousand spears. This had been predicted by Edgitha, relict of king Edward; for when she had formerly seen Walker, with his milk-white hair, rosy countenance, and extraordinary stature, conducted to Winchester to be consecrated; “We have here,” said she, “a noble martyr:” being led to form such a presage by reflecting on the mutinous disposition of that people. To him succeeded William, abbot of St. Carilef, who established monks at Durham.

Moreover, the year before the king’s death, there was a mortality both among men and cattle, and severe tempests, accompanied with such thunder and lightning, as no person before had ever seen or heard. And in the year he died, a contagious fever destroyed more than half the people; indeed the attack of the disease killed many, and then, from the unseasonableness of the weather, a famine following, it spread universally and cut off those whom the fever had spared.

In addition to his other virtues he, more especially in early youth, was observant of chastity; insomuch that it was very commonly reported that he was impotent. Marrying, however, at the recommendation of the nobility, he conducted himself, during many years, in such wise, as never to be suspected of any criminal intercourse. He had many children by Matilda, whose obedience to her husband and fruitfulness in children excited in his mind the tenderest regard for her, although there are not wanting persons who prate about his having renounced his former chastity; and that, after he had acceded to the royal dignity, he was connected with the daughter of a certain priest, whom the queen caused to be removed, by being hamstrung by one of her servants; on which account he was exiled, and Matilda was scourged to death with a bridle. But I esteem it folly to believe this of so great a king; though I decidedly assert that a slight disagreement arose between them, in latter times, on account of their son Robert, whom his mother was said to supply with a military force out of her revenues. Nevertheless, he proved that his conjugal affection was not in the least diminished by this circumstance, as he buried her with great magnificence, on her death, four years before his own; and weeping most profusely for many days showed how keenly he felt her loss: moreover, from that time, if we give credit to report, he refrained from every gratification. The queen was buried at Caen, in the monastery of the Holy Trinity. The same proof of regard was evident in the care he took of the funeral of queen Edgitha; who, placed by his atteuation near her husband at Westminster, has a tomb richly wrought with gold and silver.

His sons were Robert, Richard, William, and Henry, The two last reigned after him successively in England: Robert, irritated that Normandy was refused him during his father’s life-time, went indignantly to Italy, that by marrying the daughter of Boniface the marquis, he might procure assistance in those parts, to oppose the king: but failing of this connexion, he excited Philip king of France against his father. Wherefore, disappointed of his paternal blessing and inheritance, at his death, he missed England, retaining with difficulty the duchy of Normandy: and pawning even this, at the expiration of nine years, to his brother William, he joined the expedition into Asia, with the other Christians. From thence, at the end of four years, he returned with credit for his military exploits; and without difficulty sat himself down in Normandy, because his brother William being recently dead, king Henry, unsettled on account of his fresh-acquired power, deemed it enough to retain England under his command: but as I must speak of this in another place, I will here pursue the relation I had begun concerning the sons of William the Great.

Richard affierded his noble father hopes of his future greatness; a fine youth and of aspiring disposition, considering his age: but an untimely death quickly withered the bud of this promising flower. They relate that while hunting deer in the New-forest, he contracted a disorder from a stream of infected air. This is the place which William his father, desolating the towns and destroying the churches for more than thirty miles, had appropriated for the nurture and refuge of wild beasts; a dreadful spectacle, indeed, that where before had existed human intercourse and the worship of God, there deer, and goats, and other animals of that kind, should now range unrestrained, and these not subjected to the general service of mankind. Hence it is truly asserted that, in this very forest, William his son, and his grandson Richard, son of Robert, earl of Normandy, by the severe judgment of God, met their deaths, one by a wound in the breast by an arrow, the other by a wound in the neck, or as some say, from being suspended by the jaws on the branch of a tree, as his horse passed beneath it.

His daughters were five; first, Cecilia, abbess of Caen, who still survives: the second, Constantia, married to Alan Fergant, earl of Brittany, excited the inhabitants, by the severity of her justice, to administer a poisonous potion to her: the third, Adela, the wife of Stephen, earl of Blois, a lady celebrated for secular industry, lately took the veil at Marcigny. The names of the two others have escaped me. One of these, as we have said, was betrothed to Harold, and died ere she was marriageable: the other was affianced, by messengers, to Alphonso, king of Gallicia, but obtained, from God, a virgin death. A hard substance, which proved the frequency of her prayers, was found upon her knees after her decease.

Honouring the memory of his father, by every practicable method, in the latter part of his life, he caused his bones, formerly interred at Nicea, to be taken up by means of a person sent for that purpose, in order to convey them elsewhere; who, successfully returning, stopped in Apulia, on hearing of the death of William, and there buried this illustrious man’s remains. He treated his mother, who, before the death of his father, had married one Herlewin de Conteville, a man of moderate wealth, with singular indulgence as long as she lived. William’s brothers, by this match, were Robert, a man of heavy, sluggish disposition, whom he made earl of Moreton; and Odo, whom, while he was earl, he made bishop of Bayeux; and when king, created him earl of Kent. Being of quicker talents than the other, he was governor of all England, under the king, after the death of William Fitz-Osberne. He had wonderful skill in accumulating treasure; possessed extreme craft in dissembling: so that, though absent, yet, stuffing the scrips of the pilgrims with letters and money, he had nearly purchased the Roman papacy from the citizens. But when, through the rumour of his intended journey, soldiers eagerly flocked to him from all parts of the kingdom, the king, taking offence, threw him into confinement; saying, that he did not seize the bishop of Bayeux, but the earl of Kent. His partisans being intimidated by threats, discovered such quantities of gold, that the heap of precious metal would surpass the belief of the present age; and, at last, many sackfuls of wrought gold were also taken out of the rivers, which he had secretly buried in certain places. When released, at the death of his brother, he joined Robert’s party, as he was averse to his nephew William: but then too matters turning out unfavourably, he was banished from England, and went over to his nephew and his bishopric in Normandy. Afterwards, proceeding with him on his enterprise to Jerusalem, he died at Antioch while it was besieged by the Christians.

King William kindly admitted foreigners to his friendship; bestowed honours on them without distinction, and was attentive to almsgiving; he gave many possessions in England to foreign churches, and scarcely did his own munificence, or that of his nobility, leave any monastery unnoticed, more especially in Normandy, so that their poverty was mitigated by the riches of England. Thus, in his time, the monastic flock increased on every side; monasteries arose, ancient in their rule, but modern in building: but here I perceive the muttering of those who say, it would have been better that the old should have been preserved in their original state, than that new ones should have been erected from their plunder.

He was of just stature, extraordinary corpulence, fierce countenance; his forehead bare of hair: of such great strength of arm, that it was often matter of surprise, that none was able to draw his bow, which himself could bend when his horse was on full gallop: he was majestic, whether sitting or standing, although the protuberance of his belly deformed his royal person: of excellent health, so that he was never confined with any dangerous disorder, except at the last: so given to the pleasures of the chase, that, as I have before said, ejecting the inhabitants, he let a space of many miles grow desolate, that, when at liberty from other avocations, he might there pursue his pleasures. He gave sumptuous and splendid entertainments, at the principal festivals; passing, during the years he could conveniently remain in England, Christmas at Gloucester; Easter at Winchester; Pentecost at Westminster. At these times a royal edict summoned thither all the principal persons of every order, that the ambassadors from foreign nations might admire the splendour of the assemblage, “and the costliness of the banquets. Nor was he at any time more affable or indulgent; in order that the visitants might proclaim universally, that his generosity kept pace with his riches. This mode of banqueting was constantly observed by his first successor; the second omitted it.

His anxiety for money is the only thing for which he can deservedly be blamed. This he sought all opportunities of scraping together, he cared not how; he would say and do some tilings, and, indeed, almost any tiling, unbecoming such great majesty, where the hope of money allured him. I have here no excuse whatever to offer, unless it be, as one has said, that, “Of necessity, he must fear many, whom many fear.” For, through dread of his enemies, he used to drain the country of money, with which he might retard or repel their attacks; very often, as it happens in human affairs, where strength failed, purchasing the forbearance of his enemies with gold. This disgraceful calamity is still prevalent, and every day increases; so that both towns and churches are subjected to contributions: nor is this done with firm kept faith on the part of the imposers, but whoever offers more, carries the prize; all former agreements being disregarded.

Residing in his latter days in Normandy, when enmity had arisen between him and the king of France, he, for a short period, was confined to the house: Philip, scoffing at this forbearance, is reported to have said, “The king of England is lying-in at Rouen, and keeps his bed, like a woman after her delivery;” jesting on his belly, which he had been reducing by medicine. Cruelly hurt at this sarcasm, he replied, “When I go to mass, after my confinement, I will make him an offering of a hundred thousand candles.”! He swore this, “by the Resurrection and Glory of God:” for he was wont purposely to swear such oaths as, by the very form of his mouth, would strike terror into the minds of his hearers. Not long after, in the end of the month of August, when the corn was ripe on the ground, the clusters on the vines, and the orchards laden with fruit in full abundance, collecting an army, he entered France in a hostile manner, trampling down, and laying every thing waste: nothing could assuage his irritated mind, so determined was he to revenge this injurious taunt at the expense of multitudes. At last he set fire to the city of Mantes, where the church of St. Mary was burnt, together with a recluse who did not think it justifiable to quit her cell even under such an emergency; and the whole property of the citizens was destroyed. Exhilarated by this success, while furiously commanding his people to add fuel to the conflagration, he approached too near the flames, and contracted a disorder from the violence of the fire and the intenseness of the autumnal heat. Some say, that his horse leaping over a dangerous ditch, ruptured his rider, where his belly projected over the front of the saddle. Injured by this accident, he sounded a retreat, and returning to Rouen, as the malady increased he took to his bed. His physicians, when consulted, affirmed, from an inspection of his urine, that death was inevitable. On hearing this, he filled the house with his lamentations, because death had suddenly seized him, before he could effect that reformation of life which he had long since meditated. Recovering his fortitude, however, he performed the duties of a Christian in confession and receiving the communion. Reluctantly, and by compulsion, he bestowed Normandy on Robert; to William he gave England; while Henry received his maternal possessions. He ordered all his prisoners to be released and pardoned: his treasures to be brought forth, and distributed to the churches: he gave also a certain sum of money to repair the church which had been burnt. Thus rightly ordering all things, he departed on the eighth of the ides of September, [Sept. 6,] in the fifty-ninth year of his age: the twenty-second of his reign: the fifty-second of his duchy: and in the year of our Lord 1087. This was the same year, in which Canute, king of Denmark, as we have before related, was killed; and in which the Spanish Saracens raging against the Christians, were shortly compelled to retire to their own territories by Alphonso, king of Gallicia; unwillingly evacuating even the cities they had formerly occupied.

The body, embalmed after royal custom, was brought down the river Seine to Caen, and there consigned to the earth, a large assembly of the clergy attending, but few of the laity. Here might be seen the wretchedness of earthly vicissitude; for that man who was formerly the glory of all Europe, and more powerful than any of his predecessors, could not find a place of everlasting rest, without contention. For a certain knight, to whose patrimony the place pertained, loudly exclaiming at the robbery, forbade his burial: saying, that the ground belonged to himself by paternal right; and that the king had no claim to rest in a place which he had forcibly invaded. Whereupon, at the desire of Henry, the only one of his sons who was present, a hundred pounds of silver were paid to this brawler, and quieted his audacious claim: for at that time, Robert his elder born was in France, carrying on a war against his own country: William had sailed for England, ere the king had well breathed his last; thinking it more advantageous to look to his future benefit, than to be present at the funeral of his father. Moreover, in the dispersion of money, neither slow, nor sparing, he brought forth from its secret hoard, all that treasure which had been accumulated at Winchester, during a reign of so many years: to the monasteries he gave a piece of gold; to each parish church five shillings in silver: to every county a hundred pounds to be divided to each poor man severally. He also very splendidly adorned the tomb of his father, with a large mass of gold and silver and the refulgence of precious stones.

At this time lived Berengar, the heresiarch of Tours, who denied, that the bread and wine, when placed on the altar and consecrated by the priest, were, as the holy church affirms, the real and substantial body of the Lord. Already was the whole of Gaul infected with this his doctrine, disseminated by means of poor scholars, whom he allured by daily hire. On this account pope Leo, of holiest memory, alarmed for the catholic faith, calling a council against him at Vercelli, dispersed the darkness of this misty error, by the effulgence of evangelical testimony. But when, after his death, the poison of heresy again burst forth from the bosoms of some worthless people where it had long been nurtured, Hildebrand, in councils, when he was archdeacon, at Tours, and after, when pope, at Rome, compelled him, after being convicted, to the abjuration of his opinion; which matters, any person desirous of seeing will find recorded in their proper place. Archbishop Lanfranc and Guimund, the most eloquent man of our times, first monk of St. Leofrid, in Normandy, afterwards bishop of Aversa in Apulia, confuted him; but principally and most forcibly the latter. And, indeed, though Berengar disgraced the earlier part of his life by defending certain heresies, yet he came so much to his senses in riper age, that without hesitation, he was by some esteemed a saint; admired for innumerable good qualities, but especially for his humility and alms-giving: showing himself master of his large possessions, by dispersing, not their slave by hoarding and worshipping them. He was so guarded with respect to female beauty, that he would never suffer a woman to appear before him, lest he should seem to enjoy that beauty with his eye, which he did not desire in his heart. He was used neither to despise the poor nor flatter the rich: to live by nature’s rule, “and having food and raiment,” in the language of the apostle, “therewith to be content.” In consequence, Hildebert, bishop of Mans, a first-rate poet, highly commends him; whose words I have purposely inserted, that I may show this celebrated bishop’s regard to his master; and at the same time his opinion will serve for an example to posterity, how he thought a man ought to live:

although, perhaps, from the strength of his affection, he may have exceeded the bounds of just commendation.

Fame, which the world allows his due.
Shall Berengar, when dead, pursue:
Whom, placed on faith’s exalted height
The fifth day ravish‘d with fell spite:
Sad was that day, and fatal too,
Where grief and loss united grew,
Wherein the churches hope and pride,
The law, with its supporter, died.
What sages taught, or poets sung
Bowed to his wit, and honeyed tongue.
Then holier wisdom’s path he trod,
And filled his heart and lips with God.
His soul, his voice, his action proved
The great Creator’s praise he loved.
So good, so wise, his growing fame
Shall soar above the greatest name;

Whose rank preserved his honours gained,
Preferred the poor to rich: maintained
The sternest justice. Wealth’s wide power
Ne’er gave to sloth, or waste, an hovir,
Nor could repeated honours, high.
Seduce him from humility;
Who ne’er on money set his mind,
But grieved he could no object find
Where he might give: and helped the poor
Till poverty assailed his door.
His life by natm-ees laws to guide.
His mind from vice, his lips from pride.
Still was his care: to false, the true
Prefer, and nothing senseless do:
Evil to none, but good impart.
And banish lucre, hand and heart.
Whose dress was coarse, and temperance just
Awaited appetite’s keen gust:
Was chastity’s perpetual gixest,
Nor let rank lust disturb his rest.
When nature formed him, “See,” said she,
“While others fade, one born for me.”
Ere justice sought her place of rest
On high, he locked her in his breast.
A saint from boyhood, whose great name
Surpasses his exceeding fame,
Which, though the wide world it may fill,
Shall never reach his merit still.
Pious and grave, so humble yet,
That envy ne’er could him beset;
For envy weeps, whom still before
She hated, prone now to adore;
First for his life, but now his fate
She moans, laments his frail estate.
Man truly wise and truly blest !
Thy soul and body both at rest,
May I, when dead, abide with you,
And share the self-same portion too.

You may perceive in these verses, that the bishop exceeded the just measure of praise; but eloquence is apt to recommend itself in such wise; thus a brilliant style proceeds in graceful strain; thus

”Bewitching eloquence sheds purple flowers.” But though Berengar himself changed his sentiments, yet was he unable to convert all whom he had infected throughout the world; “so dreadful a thing it is to seduce others from what is right, either by example or by word; as, perhaps, in consequence, you must bear the sins of others after having atoned for your own.” Fulbert, bishop of Chartres, whom Mary, the mother of our Lord, was seen to cure when sick, by the milk of her breasts, is said to have predicted this; for, when lying in the last extremity, he was visited by many persons, and the house was scarcely large enough to hold the company, he darted his eye through the throng, and endeavoured to drive away Berengar, with all the force he had remaining; protesting that an immense devil stood near him, and attempted to seduce many persons to follow him, by beckoning with his hand, and whispering some enticement. Moreover, Berengar himself, when about to expire on the day of the Epiphany, sadly sighing, at the recollection of the wretched people whom, when a very young man, in the heat of error, he had infected with his opinions, exclaimed, “To-day, in the day of his manifestation, my Lord Jesus Christ will appear to me, either to glorify me, as I hope, for my repentance; or to punish me, as I fear, for the heresy I have propagated on others.”

We indeed believe, that after ecclesiastical benediction, those mysteries are the very body and blood of the Saviour; induced to such an opinion, by the authority of the ancient church, and by many miracles recently manifested. Such as that which St. Gregory exhibited at Rome; and such as Paschasius relates to have taken place in Germany; that the priest Plegild visibly touched the form of a boy, upon the altar, and that after kissing him he partook of him, turned into the similitude of bread, after the custom of the church: which, they relate, Berengar used arrogantly to cavil at, and to say, that “it was the treacherous covenant of a scoundrel, to destroy with his teeth, him whom he had kissed with his mouth.” Such, too, is that concerning the Jewish boy, who by chance running playfully into a church, with a Christian of the same age, saw a child torn to pieces on the altar, and severally divided to the people; which when, with childish innocence, he related as truth to his parents, they placed him in a furnace, where the fire was burning and the door closed: whence, after many hours, he was snatched by the Christians, without injury to his person, clothes, or hair; and being asked how he could escape the devouring flames, he replied, “That beautiful woman whom I saw sitting in the chair, whose son was divided among the people, always stood at my right hand in the furnace, keeping off the threatening flames and fiery volumes with her garments.”

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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