The History of The Kings of England 33

William of Malmesbury

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The king, thus splendidly successful, returned triumphant to his kingdom, having established such peace in Normandy as it had never known before; and such as even his father himself, with all his mighty pomp of words and actions, had never been able to accomplish. Rivalling his father also, in other respects, he restrained, by edict, the exactions of the courtiers, thefts, rapine, and the violation of women; commanding the delinquents to be deprived of sight, as well as of their manhood. He also displayed singular diligence against the mintmasters, commonly called moneyers; suffering no counterfeiter, who had been convicted of deluding the ignorant by the practice of his roguery, to escape, without losing his hand.

Adopting the custom of his brother, he soothed the Scottish kings by his affability. For William made Duncan, the illegitimate son of Malcolm, a knight; and, on the death of his father, appointed him king of Scotland. When Duncan was taken off by the wickedness of his uncle Donald, he promoted Edgar to the kingdom; the abovementioned Donald being despatched by the contrivance of David, the youngest brother, and the power of William. Edgar yielding to fate, Henry made affinity with Alexander, his successor, giving him his illegitimate daughter in marriage, by whom he had no issue that I know of; and when she died, he did not much lament her loss: for there was, as they affirm, some defect about the lady, either in correctness of manners, or elegance of person. Alexander resting with his ancestors, David the youngest of Malcolm’s sons, whom the king had made a knight and honoured with the marriage of a woman of quality, ascended the throne of Scotland. A youth more courtly than the rest, and who, polished, from a boy, by intercourse and familiarity with us, had rubbed off all the rust of Scottish barbarism. Finally, when he obtained the kingdom, he released from the payment of taxes, for three years, all such of his countrymen as would pay more attention to their dwellings, dress more elegantly, and feed more nicely. No history has ever recorded three kings, and at the same time brothers, who were of equal sanctity, or savoured so much of their mother’s piety; for independently of their abstemiousness, their extensive charity, and their frequency in prayer, they so completely subdued the domestic vice of kings, that no report, even, prevailed, that any entered their bed except their legitimate wives, or that either of them had ever been guilty of any unlawful intercourse. Edmund was the only degenerate son of Margaret, who, partaking in his uncle Donald’s crime, and bargaining for half his kingdom, had been accessary to his brother’s death. But being taken, and doomed to perpetual imprisonment, he sincerely repented; and, on his near approach to death, ordered himself to be buried in his chains: confessing that he suffered deservedly for the crime of fratricide.

The Welsh, perpetually rebelling, were subjugated by the king in repeated expeditions, who, relying on a prudent expedient to quell their tumults, transported’ thither all the Flemings then resident in England. For that country contained such numbers of these people, who, in the time of his father, had come over from national relationship to his mother, that, from their numbers, they appeared burdensome to the kingdom. In consequence he settled them, with all their property and connexions, at Ross, a Welsh province, as in a common receptacle, both for the purpose of cleansing the kingdom, and repressing the brutal temerity of the enemy. Still, however, he did not neglect leading his expeditions thither, as circumstances required: in one of which, being privily aimed at with an arrow from a distance, though by whose audacity is unknown, he opportunely and fortunately escaped, by the interposition of his firmly mailed hauberk, and the counsel of God at the same time frustrating this treachery. But neither was the director of the arrow discovered at that time, nor could he ever after be detected, although the king immediately declared, that it was not let fly by a Welshman, but by a subject; swearing to it, by the death of our Lord, which was his customary oath when moved, either by excess of anger or the importance of the occasion. For at that very time the army was marching cautiously and slowly upon its own ground, not in an enemy’s territory, and therefore nothing less was to be expected than a hostile attack. But, nevertheless, he desisted not from his purpose through fear of intestine danger, until the Welsh appeased the commotion of the royal spirit, by giving the sons of their nobility as hostages, together with some money, and much of their substance.

By dint of gold, too, he brought the inhabitants of Brittany to his views, whom, when a young man, he had had as neighbours to his castles of Danfrunt and Mount St. Michael’s; for these are a race of people, poor at home, and seeking abroad to support a toilsome life by foreign service. Regardless of right and of affinity, they decline not even civil war, provided they are paid for it; and, in proportion to the remuneration, are ready to enter any service that may be offered. Aware of this custom, if, at any time he had need of stipendiary troops, he used to lavish money on these Bretons; thereby hiring the faith of a faithless nation.

In the beginning of his reign he offended Robert, earl of Flanders, from the following cause: Baldwin the Elder, the grandfather of this Robert, had powerfully assisted William, when going to England, by the Avisdom of his councils, for which he was famed, and by a supply of soldiers. William had frequently made splendid returns for this; giving, every year, as they report, three hundred marks of silver to his father-in-law, on account of his fidelity and affinity. This munificence was not diminished towards his son Baldwin; though it was dropped through the evil disposition of Robert Friso, as my history has already recorded. Moreover this Robert, the son of Friso, easily obtained the omitted largess from William the Second, because the one alleged his relationship, and the other possessed a boundless spirit in squandering money. But Henry giving the business deeper consideration, as a man who never desired to obtain money improperly, nor ever wantonly exhausted it when acquired, gave the following reply to Robert, on his return from Jerusalem, when imperiously making a demand, as it were, of three hundred marks of silver. He said, “that the kings of England were not accustomed to pay tribute to the Flemings; and that he would not tarnish the liberty of his ancestors by the stain of his cowardice; therefore, if he would trust to his generosity, he would willingly give him, as a kinsman and as a friend, whatever circumstances would permit; but if he thought proper to persist in his demand, he should refuse it altogether.” Confuted by this reasoning, he, for a long time, cherished his indignation against Henry; but getting little or nothing by his enmity, he bent his mind to milder measures; having discovered that the king might be wrought upon by intreaty, but not by imperious insolence. But now, the change of times had given his son, Baldwin, matter of offence against Henry; for, wishing to place William, the son of Robert the Norman, in his inheritance, he voluntarily busied himself in the affairs of others, and frequently made unexpected attacks upon the king’s castles in Normandy. He threatened extreme trouble to the country, had the fates permitted; but engaging at Arques with a larger party of soldiers than he had apprehended, he accelerated his death; for his helmet being battered with repeated strokes, he received an injury in his brain. They relate, that his disorder was increased from having that day eaten garlic with goose, and that he did not even abstain from carnal intercourse at night. Here let posterity contemplate a noble specimen of royal attention; for the king sent a most skilful physician to the patient, bewailing, as we may believe, that person’s perishing by disease, whom, through admiration of his valour, he had rather seen survive. Charles, his successor, never annoyed the king; and first, with a doubtful, but afterwards, a formal treaty, embraced his friendship.

Philip, king of France, was neither friendly nor hostile to our king, being more intent on gluttony than business; neither were his dominions situated in the vicinity of Henry’s castles; for the few which he possessed at that time in Normandy were nearer to Brittany than France. Besides, as I have said before, Philip growing in years was oppressed by lust; and, allured by the beauty of the countess of Anjou, was enslaved to illicit passion for her. In consequence of his being excommunicated by the pope, no divine service could be celebrated in the town where he resided; but on his departure the chiming of the bells resounded on all sides, at which he expressed his stupid folly by laughter, saying, “You hear, my fair, how they drive us away.” He was held in such contempt by all the bishops of his kingdom, that no one, except William, archbishop of Rouen, would marry them: the rashness of which deed he atoned for by being many years interdicted, and was with difficulty, at last, restored to apostolical communion by archbishop Anselm. In the mean while, no space of time could give satiety to Philip’s mad excess, except that, in his last days, being seized with sickness, he took the monastic habit at Flory. She acted with better grace and better success; as she sought the veil of a nun at Fontevrault, while yet possessed of strength and health, and undiminished beauty. Soon after she bade adieu to the present life: God, perhaps, foreseeing that the frame of a delicate woman could not endure the austerities of a monastery.

Lewis, the son of Philip, was very changeable; firmly attached to neither party. At first, extremely indignant against Robert, he instigated Henry to seize Normandy; seduced by what had been plundered from the English, and the vast wealth of the king. Not indeed, that the one offered it, but the other invited him; exhorting him, of his own accord, not to suffer the nerves of that once most flourishing country, to be crippled by his forbearance. But an enmity afterwards arose between them, on account of Theobald, earl of Blois, son of Stephen who fell at Ramula; Theobald being the son of Stephen by Adala, daughter of William the Great. For a considerable time, messengers on the part of the king wasted their labour, entreating that Lewis would condescend to satisfy Theobald. But he, paying little regard to entreaties, caused Theobald to be excommunicated by the pope, as arrogant and a rebel to God; who, in addition to the austerity of his manners, which seemed intolerable to all, was represented as depriving his lord of his hereditary possessions. Their quarrel being thus of long continuance, when, each swollen with pride, neither would vail his consequence to the other, Lewis entered Normandy, proudly devastating every thing with overbearing violence. These things were reported to the king, who shut himself up in Rouen until the common soldiers infested his ears, by saying, “That he ought to allow Lewis to be driven back; a man who formerly kept his bed through corpulency, but was now, by Henry’s forbearance, loading the very air with threats.” The king, mindful of his father’s example, rather preferred crushing the folly of the Frenchman by endurance, than repelling it by force. Moreover, he kindly soothed his soldiers, by addressing them to the following effect, “That they ought not to wonder if he avoided lavishing the blood of those whom he had proved to be faithful by repeated trials: that it would be impious, in achieving power to himself, to glory in the deaths of those persons who had devoted their lives to voluntary conflicts for his safety; that they were the adopted of his kingdom, the foster-children of his affection; wherefore he was anxious to follow the example of a good king, and by his own moderation to check the impetuosity of those whom he saw so ready to die for him.” At last, when he beheld his forbearance wrongly interpreted, and denominated cowardice, insomuch that Lewis burnt and plundered within four miles of Rouen; he called up the powers of his soul with greater effort, and, arraying his troops, gloriously conquered: compensating his past forbearance by a sanguinary victory. But, however, soon afterwards, peace was concluded, “Because there is a change in all things, and money, which is capable of persuading what it lists, extenuates every injury.” In consequence William, the son of our king, did homage to the king of France for Normandy, holding that province, in future, by legal right from him. This was the period when the same youth married the daughter of Fulco, earl of Anjou, and obtained, by the careful management of his father, that, through the mediation of money and of affinity, no tumults should affect the son.

At this time, pope Calixtus, of whom I shall relate much hereafter, approached the confines of Normandy, where the king of England, entering into conference with him, compelled the Romans to admire and proclaim the ingenuity of the Normans. For he had come, as was reported, ill-disposed towards Henry; intending severely to expostulate with him, for keeping his brother, the pilgrim of the Holy Sepulchre, in confinement. But being pressed by the king’s answer, which was specious, and by his plausible arguments, he had little to reply. For even common topics may avail, through eloquence of speech; and, more especially, that oratory cannot be despised, which is seasoned with valuable presents. And that nothing might be wanting to the aggregate of glory, he provided some youths of noble family, the sons of the earl of Mellent, to dispute with the cardinals in logic. To whose inextricable sophisms, when, from the liveliness of their arguments, they could make no resistance, the cardinals were not ashamed to confess, that the Western climes flourished with greater literary eminence, than they had ever heard of, or imagined, while yet in their own country. Wherefore, the issue of this conference, was, that the pope declared, that nothing could be more just than the king of England’s cause; nothing more conspicuous than his prudence, or more copious than his eloquence.

The father of these youths was Robert, earl of Mellent, as I observed, the son of Roger de Beaumont, who built the monastery of Preaux in Normandy; a man of primitive simplity and sincerity, who, being frequently invited by William the First, to come to England, and receive, as a recompense, whatever possessions he chose, always declined; saying, that he wished to cultivate the inheritance of his forefathers, rather than covet or invade foreign possessions which did not belong to him. He had two sons, Robert, of whom we are speaking, and Henry. Henry earl of Warwick, a man of sweet and placid disposition, passed and ended his days, in occupations congenial to his habits. The other, more shrewd, and of a subtler character, in addition to his paternal inheritance in Normandy and large estates in England, purchased from the king of France a castle called Mellent, which Hugh the son of Gualeraun, his mother’s brother, had held. Conducted gradually by budding hope towards fame in the time of the former kings, he attained to its full bloom in Henry’s days; and his advice was regarded as though the oracle of God had been consulted: indeed he was deservedly esteemed to have obtained it, as he was of ripe age to counsel; the persuader of peace, the dissuader of strife, and capable of very speedily bringing about whatever he desired, from the powers of his eloquence. He possessed such mighty influence in England, as to change by his single example the long established modes of dress and of diet. Finally, the custom of one meal a day, is observed in the palaces of all the nobility through his means; which he, adopting from Alexius, emperor of Constantinople, on the score of his health, spread, as I have observed, among the rest by his authority. He is blamed, as having done, and taught others to do this, more through want of liberality, than any fear of surfeit, or indigestion; but undeservedly: since no one, it is said, was more lavish in entertainments to others, or more moderate in himself. In law, he was the supporter of justice; in war, the insurer of victory: urging his lord the king to enforce the rigour of the statutes; himself not only following the existing, but proposing new ones: free himself from treachery towards the king, he was the avenger of it in others,

Besides this personage king Henry had among his counsellors, Roger bishop of Salisbury, on whose advice he principally relied. For, before his accession, he had made him regulator of his household, and on becoming king, having had proof of his abilities, appointed him first chancellor and then a bishop. The able discharge of his episcopal functions led to a hope that he might be deserving of a higher office. He therefore committed to his care the administration of the whole kingdom, whether he might be himself resident in England or absent in Normandy. The bishop refused to embroil himself in cares of such magnitude, until the three archbishops of Canterbury, Anselm, Ralph, William, and lastly the pope, enjoined him the duty of obedience. Henry was extremely eager to effect this, aware that Roger would faithfully perform every thing for his advantage. Nor did he deceive the royal expectation; but conducted himself with so much integrity and diligence, that not a spark of envy was kindled against him. Moreover, the king was frequently detained in Normandy, sometimes for three, sometimes four years, and sometimes for a longer period; and on his return to his kingdom, he gave credit to the chancellor’s discretion for finding little or nothing to distress him. Amid all these affairs, he did not neglect his ecclesiastical duties, but daily diligently transacted them in the morning, that he might be more ready and undisturbed for other business. He was a prelate of a great mind, and spared no expense towards completing his designs, especially in buildings, which may be seen in other places, but more particularly at Salisbury and at Malmesbury. For there he erected extensive edifices, at vast cost, and with surpassing beauty; the courses of stone being so correctly laid that the joint deceives the eye, and leads it to imagine that the whole wall is composed of a single block. He built anew the church of Salisbury, and beautified it in such a manner that it yields to none in England, but surpasses many, so that he had just cause to say, “Lord, I have loved the glory of thy house.” entered in, and requested the priest to say mass. Roger began immediately, and got through his task so quickly that the prince’s attendants unanimously declared, “no man so fit for chaplain to men of their profession.” And when the royal youth said, “Follow me,” he adhered as closely to him, as Peter did to his heavenly Lord uttering a similar command; for Peter, leaving his vessel, followed the King of kings; he, leaving his church, followed the prince, and appointed chaplain to himself and his troops, became “a blind guide to the blind.” Murcard, king of Ireland, and his successors, whose names have not reached our notice, were so devotedly attached to our Henry that they wrote no letters but what tended to soothe him, and did nothing but what he commanded; although it may be observed that Murcard, from some unknown cause, acted, for a short time, rather superciliously towards the English; but soon after on the suspension of navigation and of foreign trade, his insolence subsided. For of what value could Ireland be if deprived of the merchandise of England? From poverty, or rather from the ignorance of the cultivators, the soil, unproductive of every good, engenders, without the cities, a rustic, filthy swarm of natives; but the English and French inhabit the cities in a greater degree of civilization through their mercantile traffic. Paul, earl of Orkney, though subject by hereditary right to the king of Norway, was so anxious to obtain the king’s friendship, that he was perpetually sending him presents; for he was extremely fond of the wonders of distant countries, begging with great delight, as I have observed, from foreign kings, lions, leopards, lynxes, or camels, — animals which England does not produce. He had a park called Woodstock, in which he used to foster his favourites of this kind. He had placed there also a creature called a porcupine, sent to him by William of Montpelier; of which animal, Pliny the Elder, in the eighth book of his Natural History, and Isodorus, on Etymologies, relate that there is such a creature in Africa, which the inhabitants call of the urchin kind, covered with bristly hairs, which it naturally darts against the dogs when pursuing it: moreover, these are, as I have seen, more than a span long, sharp at each extremity, like the quills of a goose where the feather ceases, but rather thicker, and speckled, as it were, both black and white.

What more particularly distinguished Henry was that though frequently and long absent from his kingdom on account of the commotions in Normandy, yet he so restrained the rebellious, by the terror of his name, that peace remained undisturbed in England. In consequence, foreigners willingly resorted thither, as to the only haven of secure tranquillity. Finally, Siward king of Norway, in his early years comparable to the bravest heroes, having entered on a voyage to Jerusalem, and asking the king’s permission, wintered in England. After expending vast sums upon the churches, as soon as the western breeze opened the gates of spring to soothe the ocean, he regained his vessels, and proceeding to sea, terrified the Balearic Isles, which are called Majorca and Minorca, by his arms, leaving them an easier conquest to the before-mentioned William of Montpelier. He thence proceeded to Jerusalem with all his ships in safety except one; she, while delaying to loose her cable from shore, was sucked into a tremendous whirlpool, which Paul the historian of Lombardy describes as lying between the coasts of the Seine and Aquitaine, with such a force of water that its dashing may be heard at thirty miles’ distance. Arriving at Jerusalem he, for the advancement of the Christian cause, laid siege to, battered, and subdued the maritime cities of Tyre and Sidon. Changing his route, and entering Constantinople, he fixed a ship, beaked with golden dragons, as a trophy, on the church of Sancta Sophia. His men dying in numbers in this city, he discovered a remedy for the disorder, by making the survivors drink wine more sparingly, and diluted with water; and this with singular sagacity; for pouring wine on the liver of a hog, and finding that it presently dissolved by the acridity of the liquor, he immediately conjectured that the same effect took place in men, and afterwards dissecting a dead body, he had ocular proof of it. Wherefore the emperor contemplating his sagacity and courage, which promised something great, was inclined to detain him. But he adroitly deluded the expectation in which he was already devouring the Norwegian gold; for, obtaining permission to go to a neighbouring city, he deposited with him the chests of his treasures, filled with lead and sealed up, as pledges of a very speedy return; by which contrivance the emperor was deceived, and the other returned home by land.

But my narrative must now return to Henry. He was active in providing what would he beneficial to his empire; firm in defending it; abstinent from war, as far as he could with honour; but when he had determined no longer to forbear, a most severe requiter of injuries, dissipating every opposing danger by the energy of his courage; constant in enmity or in affection towards all; giving too much indulgence to the tide of anger in the one, gratifying his royal magnanimity in the other; depressing his enemies indeed even to despair, and exalting his friends and dependants to an enviable condition. For philosophy propounds this to be the first or greatest concern of a good king, ” To spare the suppliant, but depress the proud.” Inflexible in the administration of justice, he ruled the people with moderation; the nobility with condescension. Seeking after robbers and counterfeiters with the greatest diligence, and punishing them when discovered; neither was he by any means negligent in matters of lesser importance. When he heard that the tradesmen refused broken money, though of good silver, he commanded the whole of it to be broken, or cut in pieces. The measure of his own arm was applied to correct the false ell of the traders, and enjoined on all throughout England. He made a regulation for the followers of his court, at whichever of his possessions he might be resident, stating what they should accept without payment from the country-folks; and how much, and at what price, they should purchase; punishing the transgressors by a heavy pecuniary fine, or loss of life. In the beginning of his reign, that he might awe the delinquents by the terror of example, he was more inclined to punish by deprivation of limb; afterwards by mulct. Thus, in consequence of the rectitude of his conduct, as is natural to man, he was venerated by the nobility, and beloved by the common people. If at any time the better sort, regardless of their plighted oath, wandered from the path of fidelity, he immediately recalled them to the straight road by the wisdom of his plans, and his unceasing exertions; bringing back the refractory to soundness of mind by the wounds he inflicted on their bodies. Nor can I easily describe what perpetual labour he employed on such persons, while suffering nothing to go unpunished which the delinquents had committed repugnant to his dignity. Normandy, as I have said before, was the chief source of his wars, in which, though principally resident, yet he took especial care for England; none daring to rebel, from the consideration of his courage and of his prudence. Nor, indeed, was he ever singled out for the attack of treachery, by reason of the rebellion of any of his nobles, through means of his attendants, except once; the author of which was a certain chamberlain, born of a plebeian father, but of distinguished consequence, as being keeper of the king’s treasures; but, detected, and readily confessing his crime, he paid the severe penalty of his perfidy. With this exception, secure during his whole life, the minds of all were restrained by fear, their conversation by regard for him.

He was of middle stature, exceeding the diminutive, but exceeded by the very tall: his hair was black, but scanty near the forehead; his eyes mildly bright; his chest brawny; his body fleshy: he was facetious in proper season, nor did multiplicity of business cause him to be less pleasant when he mixed in society. Not prone to personal combat, he verified the saying of Scipio Africanus, “My mother bore me a commander, not a soldier;” wherefore he was inferior in wisdom to no king of modern time; and, as I may almost say, he clearly surpassed all his predecessors in England, and preferred contending by counsel, rather than by the sword. If he could, he conquered without bloodshed; if it was unavoidable, with as little as possible. He was free, during his whole life, from impure desires; for, as we have learned from those who were well informed, he was led by female blandisliments, not for the gratification of incontinency, but for the sake of issue; nor condescended to casual intercourse, unless where it might produce that effect; in this respect the master of his natural inclinations, not the passive slave of lust. He was plain in his diet, rather satisfying the calls of hunger, than surfeiting himself by variety of delicacies. He never drank but to allay thirst; execrating the least departure from temperance, both in himself and in those about him. He was heavy to sleep, which was interrupted by frequent snoring. His eloquence was rather unpremeditated than laboured; not rapid, but deliberate.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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