The History of The Kings of England 26

William of Malmesbury

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Bishop Gosfrith with his nephew, depopulating Bath, and Berkeley, and part of the county of Wilts, treasured up their spoils at Bristol. Roger Montgomery sending out his army with the Welsh from Shrewsbury, plundered Worcestershire. They had now hostilely approached Worcester, when the king’s soldiers who guarded it, relying on the blessing of bishop Wulstan, to whom the custody of the castle was committed, though few in number, dispersed this multitude; and after wounding and killing many, took some of them prisoners. Moreover, Roger Bigod at Norwich, and Hugo Grentmeisnil at Leicester, each with their party, were plundering in their respective neighbourhoods. In vain, however, did the whole power of revolt rage against a man, who was deficient neither in prudence nor in good fortune. For seeing almost all the Normans leagued in one furious conspiracy, he sent alluring letters, summoning to him such brave and honest English as yet remained; and complaining to them on the subject of his wrongs, he bound them to his party, by promising them wholesome laws, a diminution of tribute, and free leave to hunt. With equal cunning he circumvented Roger Montgomery, when riding with him, with dissembled perfidy; for taking him aside, he loaded him with odium, saying, that he would willingly retire from the government, if it seemed meet to him and to the rest whom his father had left as his guardians; that he could not understand, why they were so outrageous; if they wanted money, they might have what they pleased; if an increase of their estates, they might have that also; in short, they might have whatever they chose; only let them be careful that the judgment of his father was not called in question: for, if they thought it ought to be disregarded in the instance of himself, it might be a bad example for them: for the same person made him king, who had made them earls. Excited by these words and promises, the earl, who, next to Odo, had been the chief leader of the faction, was the first to desert. Proceeding, therefore, immediately against the rebels, he laid siege to the castles of his uncle at Tunbridge and at Pevensey, and seizing him in the latter compelled him to swear, as he dictated, that he would depart England, and deliver up Rochester. To fulfil this promise he sent him forward with a party he could rely on, intending to follow at his leisure. At that time almost all the young nobility of England and Normandy were at Rochester: three sons of earl Roger, Eustace the younger of Boulogne, and many others not deserving notice. The royal party, accompanying the bishop, were few and unarmed, for who could fear treachery where he was present ? and going round the walls, they called the townsmen to open the gates; for so the bishop in person, and the absent king commanded. Observing from the wall, however, that the countenance of the bishop ill agreed with the language of the speakers, they suddenly sallied out, took horse in an instant, and carried off, together with the bishop, the whole party, captive. The report of this transaction quickly reached the king. Fierce from the injury, and smothering his indignation, he calls together his faithful English subjects, and orders them to summon all their countrymen to the siege, unless any wished to be branded with the name of “Nidering,” which implies “abandoned.” The English who thought nothing more disgraceful than to be stigmatised by such an appellation, flocked in troops to the king, and rendered his army invincible. Nor could the townsmen longer delay submission; experiencing, that a party, however noble, or however numerous, could avail nothing against the king of England. Odo, now taken a second time, abjured England for ever: the bishop of Durham of his own accord retired beyond sea, the king allowing him to escape uninjured out of regard to his former friendship: the rest were all admitted to fealty. During the interval of this siege, some of the king’s fleet destroyed a party which the earl of Normandy had sent to assist the traitors, partly by slaughter, and partly by shipwreck; the remainder, intent on escaping, endeavoured to make sail; but being soon after disappointed by its falling calm, they became matter for laughter to our people, but their own destruction; for, that they might not be taken alive, they leaped from their vessels into the sea.

In the second year of his reign, on the third before the ides of August, a great earthquake terrified all England with a horrid spectacle; for all the buildings were lifted up, and then again settled as before. A scarcity of every kind of produce followed; the corn ripened so slowly, that the harvest was scarcely housed before the feast of St. Andrew.

In his fourth year was a tempest of lightning, and a whirlwind: finally, on the ides of October, at Winchcombe, a stroke of lightning beat against the side of the tower with such force, that, shattering the wall where it joined to the roof, it opened a place wide enough to admit a man; entering there, it struck a very large beam, and scattered fragments of it over the whole church; moreover it cast down the head of the crucifix, with the right leg, and the image of St. Mary. A stench so noisome followed, as to be insufferable to human nostrils. At length, the monks, with auspicious boldness, entering, defeated the contrivances of the devil, by the sprinkling of holy water. But what could this mean ? such a thing was unknown to every previous age. A tempest of contending winds, from the south-east, on the sixteenth before the kalends of November, destroyed more than six hundred houses in London. Churches were heaped on houses, and walls on partitions. The tempest proceeding yet farther, carried off altogether the roof of the church of St. Mary le Bow, and killed two men. Rafters and beams were whirled through the air, an object of surprise to such as contemplated them from a distance; of alarm, to those who stood nigh, lest they should be crushed by them. For four rafters, six and twenty feet long, were driven with such violence into the ground, that scarcely four feet of them were visible. It was curious to see how they had perforated the solidity of the public street, maintaining there the same position which they had occupied in the roof from the hand of the workman, until, on account of their inconvenience to passengers, they were cut off level with the ground, as they could not be otherwise removed.

In his fifth year, a similar thunder-storm at Salisbury entirely destroyed the roof of the church-tower, and much injured the wall, only five days after Osmund, the bishop of famed memory, had consecrated it.

In his sixth year there was such a deluge from rain, and such incessant showers as none had ever remembered. Afterwards, on the approach of winter, the rivers were so frozen, that they bore horsemen and wagons; and soon after, when the frost broke, the bridges were destroyed by the drifting of the ice.

In his seventh year, on account of the heavy tribute which the king, while in Normandy, had levied, agriculture failed; of which failure the immediate consequence was a famine. This also gaining ground a mortality ensued, so general, that the dying wanted attendance, and the dead, burial. At that time, too, the Welsh, fiercely raging against the Normans, and depopulating the county of Chester and part of Shropshire, obtained Anglesey by force of arms.

In his tenth year, on the kalends of October, a comet appeared for fifteen days, turning its larger train to the east, and the smaller to the south-east. Other stars also appeared, darting, as it were, at each other. This was the year in, which Anselm, that light of England, voluntarily escaping from the darkness of error, went to Rome.

In his eleventh year, Magnus, king of Norway, with Harold, son of Harold, formerly king of England, subdued the Orkney, Mevanian, and other circumjacent isles; and was now obstinately bent against England from Anglesey. But Hugh, earl of Chester, and Hugh, earl of Shrewsbury, opposed him; and ere he could gain the continent, forced him to retire. Here fell Hugh of Shrewsbury, being struck from a distance with a fatal arrow.

In his twelfth year an excessive tide flowed up the Thames, and overwhelmed many villages, with their inhabitants.

In his thirteenth year, which was the last of his life, there were many adverse events; but the most dreadful circumstance was that the devil visibly appeared to men in woods and secret places, and spoke to them as they passed by. Moreover in the county of Berks, at the village of Finchhampstead, a fountain so plentifully flowed with blood for fifteen whole days, that it discoloured a neighbouring pool.

The king heard of it and laughed; neither did he care for his own dreams, nor for what others saw concerning him.

They relate many visions and predictions of his death, three of which, sanctioned by the testimony of credible authors, I shall communicate to my readers. Edmer, the historian of our times, noted for his veracity, says that Anselm, the noble exile, with whom all religion was also banished, came to Marcigny that he might communicate his sufferings to Hugo, abbot of Clugny. There, when the conversation turned upon king William, the abbot aforesaid observed, “Last night that king was brought before God; and by a deliberate judgment, incurred the sorrowful sentence of damnation.” How he came to know this he neither explained at the time, nor did any of his hearers ask: nevertheless, out of respect to his piety, not a doubt of the truth of his words remained on the minds of any present. Hugh led such a life, and had such a character, that all regarded his discourse and venerated his advice, as though an oracle from heaven had spoken. And soon after, the king being slain as we shall relate, there came a messenger to entreat the archbishop to resume his see.

The day before the king died, he dreamed that he was let blood by a surgeon; and that the stream, reaching to heaven, clouded the light, and intercepted the day. Calling on St. Mary for protection, he suddenly awoke, commanded a light to be brought, and forbade his attendants to leave him. They then watched with him several hours until daylight. Shortly after, just as the day began to dawn, a certain foreign monk told Robert Fitz Hamon, one of the principal nobility, that he had that night dreamed a strange and fearful dream about the king: “That he had come into a certain church, with menacing and insolent gesture, as was his custom, looking contemptuously on the standers by; then violently seizing the crucifix, he gnawed the arms, and almost tore away the legs: that the image endured this for a long time, but at length struck the king with its foot in such a manner that he fell backwards: from his mouth, as he lay prostrate, issued so copious a flame that the volumes of smoke touched the very stars.” Robert, thinking that this dream ought not to be neglected, as he was intimate with him, immediately related it to the king. William, repeatedly laughing, exclaimed, “He is a monk, and dreams for money like a monk: give him a hundred shillings.” Nevertheless, being greatly moved, he hesitated a long while whether he should go out to hunt, as he had designed: his friends persuading him not to suffer the truth of the dreams to be tried at his personal risk. In consequence, he abstained from the chase before dinner, dispelling the uneasiness of his unregulated mind by serious business. They relate, that, having plentifully regaled that day, he soothed his cares with a more than usual quantity of wine. After dinner he went into the forest, attended by few persons; of whom the most intimate with him was Walter, surnamed Tirel, who had been induced to come from France by the liberality of the king. This man alone had remained with him, while the others, employed in the chase, were dispersed as chance directed. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him; and, keenly gazing, followed it, still running, a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter, conceiving a noble exploit, which was while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied to transfix another stag which by chance came near him, unknowingly, and without power to prevent it. Oh, gracious God ! pierced his breast with a fatal arrow. On receiving the wound, the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the weapon where it projected from his body, fell upon the wound, by which he accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless and speechless, he leaped swiftly upon his horse, and escaped by spurring him to his utmost speed. Indeed there was none to pursue him: some connived at his flight; others pitied him; and all were intent on other matters. Some began to fortify their dwellings; others to plunder; and the rest to look out for a new king. A few countrymen conveyed the body, placed on a cart, to the cathedral at Winchester; the blood dripping from it all the way. Here it was committed to the ground within the tower, attended by many of the nobility, though lamented by few. Next year, the tower fell; though I forbear to mention the different opinions on this subject, lest I should seem to assent too readily to unsupported trifles, more especially as the building might have fallen, through imperfect construction, even though he had never been buried there. He died in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1100, of his reign the thirteenth, on the fourth before the nones of August, aged above forty years. He formed mighty plans, which he would have brought to effect, could he have spun out the tissue of fate, or broken through, and disengaged himself from, the violence of fortune. Such was the energy of his mind, that he was bold enough to promise himself any kingdom whatever. Indeed the day before his death, being asked where he would keep his Christmas, he answered, in Poitou; because the earl of Poitou, wishing anxiously to go to Jerusalem, was said to be about to pawn his territory to him. Thus, not content with his paternal possessions, and allured by expectation of greater glory, he grasped at honours not pertaining to him. He was a man much to be pitied by the clergy, for throwing away a soul which they could not save; to be beloved by stipendiary soldiers, for the multitude of his gifts; but not to be lamented by the people, because he suffered their substance to be plundered. I remember no council being held in his time, wherein the health of the church might be strengthened through the correction of abuses. He hesitated a long time ere he bestowed ecclesiastical honours, either for the sake of emolument, or of weighing desert. So that on the day he died, he held in his own hands three bishoprics, and twelve vacant abbeys. Besides, seeking occasion from the schism between Urban in Rome and Guibert at Ravenna, he forbade the payment of the tributef to the holy see: though he was more inclined to favour Guibert; because the ground and instigation of the discord between himself and Anselm was, that this man, so dear to God, had pronounced Urban to be pope, the other an apostate.

In his time began the Cistertian order, which is now both believed and asserted to be the surest road to heaven. To speak of this does not seem irrelevant to the work I have undertaken, since it redounds to the glory of England to have produced the distinguished man who was the author and promoter of that rule. To us he belonged, and in our schools passed the earlier part of his life. Wherefore, if we are not envious, we shall embrace his good qualities the more kindly in proportion as we knew them more intimately. And, moreover, I am anxious to extol his praise, “because it is a mark of an ingenuous mind to approve that virtue in others, of which in yourself you regret the absence.” He was named Harding, and born in England of no very illustrious parents. From his early years, he was a monk at Sherborne; but when secular desires had captivated his youth, he grew disgusted with the monastic garb, and went first to Scotland, and afterwards to France. Here, after some years’ exercise in the liberal arts, he became awakened to the love of God. For, when manlier years had put away childish things, he went to Rome with a clerk who partook of his studies; neither the length and difficulty of the journey, nor the scantiness of their means of subsistence by the way, preventing them, both as they went and returned, from singing daily the whole psalter. Indeed the mind of this celebrated man was already meditating the design which soon after, by the grace of God, he attempted to put in execution. For returning into Burgundy, he was shorn at Molesmes, a new and magnificent monastery. Here he readily admitted the first elements of the order, as he had formerly seen them; but when additional matters were proposed for his observance, such as he had neither read in the rule nor seen elsewhere, he began, modestly and as became a monk, to ask the reason of them, saying: “By reason the supreme Creator has made all things; by reason he governs all things; by reason the fabric of the world revolves; by reason even the planets move; by reason the elements are directed; and by reason, and by due regulation, our nature ought to conduct itself. But since, through sloth, she too often departs from reason, many laws were, long ago, enacted for her use; and, latterly, a divine rule has been promulgated by St. Benedict, to bring back the deviations of nature to reason. In this, though some things are contained the design of which I cannot fathom, yet I deem it necessary to yield to authority. And though reason and the authority of the holy writers may seem at variance, yet still they are one and the same. For since God hath created and restored nothing without reason, how can I believe that the holy fathers, no doubt strict followers of God, could command anything but what was reasonable, as if we ought to give credit to their bare authority. See then that you bring reason, or at least authority, for what you devise; although no great credit should be given to what is merely supported by human reason, because it may be combated with arguments equally forcible. Therefore from that rule, which, equally supported by reason and authority, appears as if dictated by the spirit of all just persons, produce precedents, which if you fail to do, in vain shall you profess his rule, whose regulations you disdain to comply with.”

Sentiments of this kind, spreading as usual from one to another, justly moved the hearts of such as feared God, “lest haply they should or had run in vain.” The subject, then, being canvassed in frequent chapters, ended by bringing over the abbot himself to the opinion that all superfluous matters should be passed by, and merely the essence of the rule be scrutinized. Two of the fraternity, therefore, of equal faith and learning, were elected, who, by vicarious examination, were to discover the intention of the founder’s rule; and when they had discovered it, to propound it to the rest. The abbot diligently endeavoured to induce the whole convent to give their concurrence, but “as it is difficult to eradicate from men’s minds, what has early taken root, since they reluctantly relinquish the first notions they have imbibed,” almost the whole of them refused to accept the new regulations, because they were attached to the old. Eighteen only, among whom was Harding, otherwise called Stephen, persevering in their holy determination, together with their abbot, left the monastery, declaring that the purity of the institution could not be preserved in a place where riches and gluttony warred against even the heart that was well inclined. They came therefore to Citeaux; a situation formerly covered with woods, but now so conspicuous from the abundant piety of its monks, that it is not undeservedly esteemed conscious of the Divinity himself. Here, by the countenance of the archbishop of Vienne, who is now pope, they entered on a labour worthy to be remembered and venerated to the end of time.

Certainly many of their regulations seem severe, and more particularly these: they wear nothing made with furs or linen, nor even that finely spun linen garment, which we call Staminium; neither breeches, unless when sent on a journey, which at their return they wash and restore. They have two tunics with cowls, but no additional garment in winter, though, if they think fit, in summer they may lighten their garb. They sleep clad and girded, and never after matins return to their beds: but they so order the time of matins that it shall be light ere the lauds begin; so intent are they on their rule, that they think no jot or tittle of it should be disregarded. Directly after these hymns they sing the prime, after which they go out to work for stated hours. They complete whatever labour or service they have to perform by day without any other light. No one is ever absent from the daily services, or from complines, except the sick. The cellarer and hospitaller, after complines, wait upon the guests, yet observing the strictest silence. The abbot allows himself no indulgence beyond the others, — every where present, — every where attending to his flock; except that he does not eat with the rest, because his table is with the strangers and the poor. Nevertheless, be he where he may, he is equally sparing of food and of speech; for never more than two dishes are served either to him or to his company; lard and meat never but to the sick. From the Ides of September till Easter, through regard for whatever festival, they do not take more than one meal a day, except on Sunday. They never the leave the cloister but for the purpose of labour, nor do they ever speak, either there or elsewhere, save only to the abbot or prior. They pay unwearied attention to the canonical services, making no addition to them except the vigil for the defunct. They use in their divine service the Ambrosian chants and hymns, as far as they were able to learn them at Milan. While they bestow care on the stranger and the sick, they inflict intolerable mortifications on their own bodies, for the health of their souls.

The abbot, at first, both encountered these privations with much alacrity himself, and compelled the rest to do the same. In process of time, however, the man repented; he had been delicately brought up, and could not well bear such continued scantiness of diet. The monks, whom he had left at Molesmes, getting scent of this disposition, either by messages or letters, for it is uncertain which, drew him back to the monastery, by his obedience to the pope, for such was their pretext: compelling him to a measure to which he was already extremely well-disposed. For, as if wearied out by the pertinacity of their entreaties, he left the narrow confines of poverty, and resought his former magnificence. All followed him from Citeaux, who had gone thither with him, except eight. These, few in number but great in virtue, appointed Alberic, one of their party, abbot, and Stephen prior. The former not surviving more than eight years was, at the will of heaven, happily called away. Then, doubtless by God’s appointment, Stephen though absent was elected abbot; the original contriver of the whole scheme; the especial and celebrated ornament of our times. Sixteen abbeys which he has already completed, and seven which he has begun, are sufficient testimonies of his abundant merit. Thus, by the resounding trumpet of God, he directs the people around him, both by word and deed, to heaven; acting fully up to his own precepts; affable in speech, pleasant in look, and with a mind always rejoicing in the Lord.

Hence, openly, that noble joy of countenance; hence, secretly, that compunction, coming from above; because, despising this state of a sojourner, he constantly desires to be in a place of rest. For these causes he is beloved by all; “For God graciously imparts to the minds of other men a love for that man whom he loves.” Wherefore the inhabitant of that country esteems himself happy if, through his hands, he can transmit his wealth to God. He receives much, indeed, but expending little on his own wants, or those of his flock, he distributes the rest to the poor, or employs it immediately on the building of monasteries; for the purse of Stephen is the public treasury of the indigent. A proof of his abstinence is that you see nothing there, as in other monasteries, flaming with gold, blazing with jewels, or glittering with silver. For as a Gentile says, “Of what use is gold to a saint ?” We think it not enough in our holy vases, unless the ponderous metal be eclipsed by precious stones; by the flame of the topaz, the violet of the amethyst, and the green shade of the emerald: unless the sacerdotal robes wanton with gold; and unless the walls glisten with various coloured paintings, and throw the reflexion of the sun’s rays upon the ceiling. These men, however, placing those things which mortals foolishly esteem the first, only in a secondary point of view, give all their diligence to improve their morals, and love pure minds, more than glittering vestments; knowing that the best remuneration for doing well, is to enjoy a clear conscience. Moreover, if at any time the laudable kindness of the abbot either desires, or feigns a desire, to modify aught from the strict letter of the rule, they are ready to oppose such indulgence, saying, that they have no long time to live, nor shall they continue to exist so long as they have already done; that they hope to remain steadfast in their purpose to the end, and to be an example to their successors, who will transgress if they should give way. And, indeed, through human weakness, the perpetual law of which is that nothing attained, even by the greatest labour, can long remain unchanged, it will be so. But to comprise, briefly, all things which are or can be said of them, — the Cistercian monks at the present day are a model for all monks, a mirror for the diligent, a spur to the indolent.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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