The History of The Kings of England 37

William of Malmesbury

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After this manner wrote the aforesaid Peter, bishop of Porto, rather partial to Peter, the son of Leo. Nor did the other party at all give way; but called Peter himself a lion’s whelp, and his partisans, the leaders of a faction. And they, indeed, acted variously among themselves, under these doubtful circumstances. Innocent, however, excluded from Rome, passed the Alps and went into France. Here he was immediately received by all the churches on this side the mountains; and moreover, even king Henry, who did not very well know how to be driven from an opinion he had once taken up, willingly acknowledged him at Chartres; and, at Rouen, condescended to honour him, not only with presents from himself, but also from the nobility, and eren the Jews. Yet Innocent, though greatly assisted by the kings of England and France, and the emperor of Germany, could never enjoy peace so long as Anaclet occupied the see of Rome. However, Anaclet himself dying in the eighth year of his usurped papacy, as it was called. Innocent enjoys the papal dignity unmolested to the present time.

In the thirty-first year of his reign, king Henry returned to England. The empress, too, in the same year, arrived on her native soil, and a full meeting of the nobility being held at Northampton, the oath of fidelity to her was renewed by such as had already sworn, and also taken by such as hitherto had not. In the same year Lewis, king of France, growing aged and unwieldy through extreme corpulency, commanded his son to be crowned as successor to the kingdom; who dying soon after by the fall of his horse, he caused another of his sons to be consecrated king, by the hands of the Roman pontiff. He, as they relate, not degenerating from the ancient valour of the French, hath also acquired Aquitain, as the marriage portion of his wife, which, it is well known, the kings of France have never held in their own right since Lewis, son of Charles the Great.

In the thirty-first I [second] year of king Henry, a dreadful murrain among domestic animals extended over the whole of England. Entire herds of swine suddenly perished; whole stalls of oxen were swept off in a moment: the same contagion continued in the following years, so that no village throughout the kingdom was free from this calamity, or able to exult at the losses of its neighbours. At this time, too, the contention between Bernard, bishop of St. David’s, and Urban, of Llandaff, on the rights of their dioceses, which Urban had illegally usurped, was finally put to rest. For, after being agitated by so many appeals to the court of Rome, so many expensive journeys, so many debates of lawyers, for a number of years, it was at last terminated, or rather cut short, by the death of Urban at Rome. The pope also, weighing the equity of the case, did justice to the piety and right of the bishop of St. David’s by a suitable judgment. In the same year William, archbishop of Canterbury, personally obtained the legation of England, through the indulgence of the see of Rome.

The day after the thirty-second year of his reign was completed, Henry, on the nones of August, the very day on which he had formerly been crowned at Westminster, set sail for Normandy. This was the last, the fatal voyage of his reign. The providence of God, at that time, bore reference in a wonderful manner to human affairs: for instance, that he should embark, never to return alive, on that day on which he had originally been crowned, so long and prosperously to reign. It was then, as I have said, the nones of August; and, on the fourth day of the week, the elements manifested their sorrow at this great man’s last departure. For the sun on that day, at the sixth hour, shrouded his glorious face, as the poets say, in hideous darkness, agitating the hearts of men by an eclipse: and on the sixth day of the week, early in the morning, there was so great an earthquake, that the ground appeared absolutely to sink down; a horrid sound being first heard from beneath the surface. During the eclipse I saw stars around the sun: and, at the time of the earthquake, the wall of the house in which I was sitting was lifted up by two shocks, and settled again with a third. The king, therefore, continued in Normandy for the space of three whole years, and so much longer, as from the nones of August, on which day, as has been said, he crossed the sea, to the kalends of December, on which night he died. Doubtlessly he performed many things worthy of record while in Normandy, but it was my design to omit whatever did not come authenticated to my knowledge. Divers expectations of his return to England were all frustrated, by some adverse fate, or by the will of God.

He reigned, then, thirty-five years, and from the nones of August to the kalends of December, that is, four months, wanting four days. Engaged in hunting at Lihun, he was taken suddenly ill. His malady increasing, he summoned to him, Hugo, whom, from prior of Lewes, he had made abbot of Reading, and afterwards archbishop of Rouen, who was justly indebted to him and his heirs for such great favours. The report of his sickness quickly gathered the nobility around him. Robert, too, his son, the earl of Gloucester, was present; who, from his unblemished fidelity and matchless virtue, has deserved to be especially signalled throughout all ages. Being interrogated by these persons, as to his successor, he awarded all his territories, on either side of the sea, to his daughter, in legitimate and perpetual succession; being somewhat displeased with her husband, as he had irritated him both by threats and by certain injuries. Having passed the seventh day of his sickness, he yielded to nature about midnight. I waive describing his magnanimous character in this place, as I have been diffuse upon it in the fifth book of my Regal History. In how Christian a manner he departed, the following epistle of the aforesaid archbishop of Rouen, will testify.

”To his lord and father, pope Innocent, due obedience from his servant, Hugo, priest of Rouen. I have deemed it proper to write to your fatherly affection concerning the king my master, never to be remembered but with grief: for, being seized with sudden sickness, he wished for me to console his sufferings, and sent messengers as soon as possible for that purpose. I went, and passed three melancholy days with him. Agreeably to my suggestion, he confessed his sins, he beat his breast, and he laid aside all his animosities. Through the grace of God, and through our advice and that of the bishops, he promised to attend to the amendment of his life. Under this promise, according to our office, on the third day, and three days successively, we gave him absolution. He devoutly adored the cross of our Lord, received his body and blood; bestowed his alms thus; saying, ‘Let my debts be paid, let the wages and stipends which I owe be discharged, let the remainder be distributed to the poor.’ I wish they who held, and do hold, his treasures had done thus. At last I earnestly stated to him our duty concerning the unction of the sick, which the church adopted from the apostle St. James, and, at his own devout request, I anointed him with holy oil. Thus he rested in peace; and may God grant him the peace he loved.” These circumstances relating to the faith of “king Henry when dying, were truly attested by the aforesaid archbishop of Rouen.

The body, royally attended and borne by the nobility in turn, was brought to Rouen; where, in a certain retired part of the principal church, it was embowelled, lest, through time, becoming putrid, it should offend the senses of those who approached it. The intestines were buried in the monastery of St. Mary des Frees, near the city, which, as I hear, he had honoured with no mean presents, as it had been begun by his mother. His body was kept at Caen, till the season, which was then very boisterous, became more tranquil. In the meantime, Stephen earl of Moreton and Boulogne, nephew of king Henry, as I have before said, who, after the king of Scotland, was the first layman that had sworn fidelity to the empress, hastened his return into England by Whitsand. The empress, from certain causes, as well as her brother, Robert earl of Gloucester, and almost all the nobility, delayed returning to the kingdom. However, some castles in Normandy, the principal of which was Danfrunt, espoused the party of the heiress. Moreover, it is well known, that, on the day on which Stephen disembarked in England, there was, very early in the morning, contrary to the nature of winter in these countries, a terrible peal of thunder, with most dreadful lightning, so that the world seemed well-nigh about to be dissolved. He was received, however, as king, by the people of London and of Winchester, and gained over also Roger bishop of Salisbury, and William Pont de L’Arche, the keepers of the royal treasures. Yet, not to conceal the truth from posterity, all his attempts would have been vain, had not his brother, Henry bishop of Winchester, who is now legate of the papal see in England, granted him his entire support: allured indeed by the fullest expectation that Stephen would follow the example of his grandfather William in the management of the kingdom, and more especially in the strictness of ecclesiastical discipline. In consequence, when Stephen was bound by the rigorous oath which William archbishop of Canterbury required from him, concerning restoring and preserving the liberty of the church, the bishop of Winchester became his pledge and surety. The written tenor of this oath, I shall be careful hereafter to insert in its proper place.

Stephen, therefore, was crowned king of England on Sunday the eleventh before the kalends of January, the twenty-second day after the decease of his uncle, anno Dom. 1135, in the presence of three bishops, that is, the archbishop, and those of Winchester and Salisbury; but there were no abbots, and scarcely any of the nobility. He was a man of activity, but imprudent: strenuous in war; of great mind in attempting works of difficulty; mild and compassionate to his enemies, and affable to all. Kind, as far as promise went; but sure to disappoint in its truth and execution. Whence he soon afterwards neglected the advice of his brother, befriended by whose assistance, as I have said, he had supplanted his adversaries and obtained the kingdom.

In the year of our Lord 1135, on the prevalence of gentler gales, the body of king Henry was, immediately after Christmas, put on ship-board, and brought to England; and, in the presence of his successor in the kingdom, was buried at the monastery of Reading, which he had liberally endowed, and filled with an order of monks of singular piety. Shortly after, a little before Lent, king Stephen went into Northumberland, that he might have a conference with David king of Scotland, who was said to entertain hostile sentiments towards him. From David he readily obtained what he wished; because, being softened by the natural gentleness of his manners, or by the approach of old age, he willingly embraced the tranquillity of peace, real or pretended.

In the same year, after Easter, Robert earl of Gloucester, of whose prudence Stephen chiefly stood in awe, came to England. While he was yet resident in Normandy, he had most earnestly considered, what line of conduct he should determine upon in the present state of affairs. If he became subject to Stephen, it seemed contrary to the oath he had sworn to his sister; if he opposed him, he saw that he could nothing benefit her or his nephews, though he must grievously injure himself. For the king, as I said before, had an immense treasure, which his uncle had been accumulating for many years. His coin, and that of the best quality, was estimated at a hundred thousand pounds; besides which, there were vessels of gold and silver, of great weight, and inestimable value, collected by the magnificence of preceding kings, and chiefly by Henry. A man possessed of such boundless treasures, could not want supporters, more especially as he was profuse, and, what by no means becomes a prince, even prodigal. Soldiers of all kinds, and light-armed troops, were flocking to him, chiefly from Flanders and Brittany. These were a most rapacious and violent race of men; who made no scruple to violate church-yards, or rob a church. Moreover, not only would they drag men of the religious order from their horses, but also make them captive: and this was done not merely by foreigners, but even by the native soldiers, who had abhorred the tranquillity of king Henry’s time, because it subjected them to a life of poverty. All these most readily resorted to the prince whom they could easily incline to their purposes, pushing their fortune at the expense of the people. Stephen, indeed, before he came to the throne, from his complacency of manners, and readiness to joke, and sit, and regale, even with low people, had gained so much on their affections, as is hardly to be conceived: and already had all the nobility of England willingly acknowledged him. The most prudent earl therefore was extremely desirous to convince them of their misconduct, and recall them to wiser sentiments by his presence; for, to oppose Stephen’s power, he was unable, from the causes aforesaid: indeed he had not the liberty of coming to England, unless, appearing as a partaker of their revolt, he dissembled for a time his secret intentions. He did homage to the king, therefore, under a certain condition; namely, so long as he should preserve his rank entire, and maintain his engagements to him; for having long since scrutinized Stephen’s disposition, he foresaw the instability of his faith.

In the same year, soon after the earl’s arrival, the bishops swore fidelity to the king, “so long as he should maintain the liberty of the church, and the vigour of its discipline.” He himself also swore according to the tenor of the following instrument.

”I Stephen, by the grace of God, elected king of England by the consent of the clergy and of the people, and consecrated by the lord William, archbishop of Canterbury and legate of the holy Roman church, and afterwards confirmed by Innocent, pope of the holy Roman see, through respect and love towards God, do grant the holy church to be free, and confirm to it all due reverence. I promise that I will neither do any tiling simoniacally, nor permit it to be done, in the church, or in matters ecclesiastical. The jurisdiction and power over beneficed clergy, and over all persons in orders, and their property, and the distribution of effects of ecclesiastics, I admit to be in the hands of the bishops, and confirm it so to be. I grant and appoint, that the immunities of the churches, confirmed by their charters, and their customs observed from ancient usage, do remain inviolate. All the possessions of the churches, and the tenures which they held during the life, and at the death of my grandfather king William, I grant to them free, and discharged from the claim of all parties: but if the church shall hereafter claim any thing held, or possessed, before the death of the king, of which it is now deprived, I reserve such matter for discussion, or restitution at my will and pleasure. Moreover, whatever, since that king’s death, has been obtained by the liberality of kings, or the gift of princes; by offerings, or purchase, or by any exchange of the faithful, I confirm. I pledge myself to keep peace, and do justice to all, and to “preserve them to my utmost ability. I reserve to myself the forests which king William, my grandfather, and William the Second, my uncle, have made and possessed: all the rest which king Henry added, I give and grant, without molestation, to the churches, and the kingdom. And if any bishop or abbot, or other ecclesiastical person, shall have severally distributed his property before his death, or appointed such distribution, I allow it to remain good: but if he shall have been suddenly seized by death, before making a disposition, let the said distribution be made, at the discretion of the church, for the repose of his soul. Moreover, when the sees shall be vacant, let both them, and their whole possessions, be committed into the hands and custody of the clergy, or of lawful men of the same church, until a pastor be canonically appointed. I entirely do away all exactions, mischeningas and injustices, whether illegally introduced by the sheriffs, or any one else. I will observe the good and ancient laws, and just customs, in murders, pleas, and other causes, and I command and appoint them to be so observed. Done at Oxford, a.d. 1136, in the first year of my reign.”

The names of the witnesses, who were numerous, I disdain to particularize, because he as basely perverted almost every thing, as if he had sworn only that he might manifest himself a violator of his oath to the whole kingdom. This easy man must pardon me for speaking the truth; who, had he entered on the sovereignty lawfully, and not given a ready ear to the insinuations of the malevolent in the administration of it, would have wanted little in any princely quality. Under him, therefore, the treasures of several churches were pillaged, and their landed possessions given to laymen; the churches of the clergy were sold to foreigners; the bishops made captive, or forced to alienate their property: the abbeys given to improper persons, either through the influence of friendship, or for the discharge of debts. Still I think such transactions are not so much to be ascribed to him as to his advisers; who persuaded him, that, he ought never to want money, so long as the monasteries were stored with treasure.

In the year of our Lord 1137, in the beginning of Lent, the king crossed the sea. The earl, too, having thoroughly sounded, and discovered the inclinations of such as he knew to be tenacious of their plighted oath, and arranged what he conceived proper to be done afterwards, himself embarked on Easter-day, and prosperously reached the continent. Not long after, he had very nearly experienced the malignity of adverse fortune: for the king endeavoured to intercept him by treachery, at the instigation of one William de Ipres. The earl, however, informed of it by one of the accomplices, avoided the snare prepared for him, and absented himself from the palace, whither he was repeatedly invited, for several days. The king, troubled at having succeeded so little by his artifices, and thinking to effect his design by cunning, endeavoured, by a serene countenance and unrequired confession, to extenuate the enormity of his crime. He swore, in words framed at the earl’s pleasure, never again to give countenance to such an outrage: and still more to recover his good graces, he confirmed his oath, by Hugo, archbishop of Rouen, giving his hand to Robert. This he did, it is true; but he never bestowed his unreserved friendship on that man, of whose power he was ever apprehensive. Thus, in his presence he would pleasantly and affably call him “earl:” when he was absent, he would vilify him, and would deprive him, clandestinely, of such portions of his estates as he was able. Robert, too, artfully eluding his duplicity, disguised his feelings, and allowing the king to depart peaceably to his kingdom, continued in Normandy, intent on his own concerns. Wherefore while Stephen, perplexed by many commotions in England, and first attacking one, and then another, justly verified, what was said of Ishmael, “That the hands of all were against him, and his hand against all,” Robert passed that whole year in Normandy in perfect quiet. The king pointedly, as it is reported, used frequently to say of his rebellious subjects, “Since they have elected me king, why do they desert me ? By the birth of God, I will never be called a fallen king.“ Robert, placed, as it were, on an eminence, watched the event of circumstances, and earnestly revolved how he might escape, before God and man, the imputation of falsifying the oath he had sworn to his sister.

In the year of our Lord 1138, England was shaken with intestine commotions. For many persons, emboldened to illegal acts, either by nobility of descent or by ambition, or rather by unbridled heat of youth, were not ashamed, some to demand castles, others estates, and indeed whatever came into their fancy, from the king. When he delayed complying with their requests, alleging the dismemberment of his kingdom, or that others would make similar claims, or were already in possession of them; they, becoming enraged immediately, fortified their castles against him, and drove away large booties from his lands. Nor, indeed, was his spirit at all broken by the revolt of any, but attacking them suddenly in different places, he always concluded matters more to his own disadvantage than to theirs; for, after many great but fruitless labours, he gained from them, by the grant of honours or castles, a peace, feigned only for a time. He created likewise many earls, where there had been none before, appropriating to them possessions and rents, which rightfully belonged to the crown. They were the more greedy in asking, and he the more profuse in giving, because a rumour was pervading England, that Robert earl of Gloucester, who was in Normandy, would shortly espouse the cause of his sister, after first renouncing his fealty to the king. This report was in fact well-founded: for shortly after Pentecost, despatching some of his people to Stephen from Normandy, he, according to ancient usage, renounced his fealty and friendship, and disannulled his homage; assigning as a just reason for so doing, that the king had illegally aspired to the kingdom, and neglected his plighted faith to him, not to say absolutely belied it: and, moreover, that he himself had acted contrary to law; who, after the oath sworn to his sister, had not blushed to do homage to another, during her lifetime. Doubtless also his mind was biassed by the answers of many ecclesiastics, whom he had consulted upon the subject; who declared that he could by no means pass the present life without ignominy, nor deserve the happiness of the next, if he violated the oath made to paternal affection. In addition to this, he contemplated the tenor of the papal decree, commanding obedience to the oath taken in the presence of his father: a copy of which decree I shall be careful to give in my next book. Robert, who had imbibed knowledge by a copious draught from the fount of science, was aware that these things would be of great advantage to him hereafter. But the king, indignant at the spirit of the earl, deprived him, as far as he was able, of all his possessions in England; and levelled some of his castles to the ground. Bristol alone remained, which not only expelled the enemy, but even harassed the king by frequent incursions. But as it may suffice to have brought the first book of modern history, from the return of the empress to her father after the death of her husband, to this period, I shall now begin the second, from the year in which this heroine came to England, to assert her right against Stephen.

In the year 1139, the venom of malice, which had long been nurtured in the breast of Stephen, at length openly burst forth. Rumours were prevalent in England, that earl Robert was on the very eve of coming from Normandy with his sister: and, when under such an expectation, many persons revolted from the king, not only in inclination but in deed, he avenged himself for this injury, at the cost of numbers. He, also, contrary to the royal character, seized many at court, through mere suspicion of hostility to him, and obliged them to surrender their castles, and accede to any conditions he prescribed. There were, at that time, two very powerful bishops, in England, Roger of Salisbury, and his fraternal nephew, Alexander of Lincoln. Alexander had built the castle of Newark, as he said, for the defence and dignity of the bishopric. Roger, who wished to manifest his magnificence by building, had erected extensive castles at Sherborne, and more especially at Devizes. At Malmesbury, even in the church-yard, and scarcely a stone’s throw from the principal church, he had begun a castle. He had gotten into his custody the castle of Salisbury, which being royal property, he had obtained from king Henry, and surrounded with a wall. Some powerful laymen, hurt at the probability of being surpassed by the clergy, in extent of riches and magnitude of their towns, took offence at this, and fostered the latent wound of envy in their bosoms. Wherefore they poured forth their imagined grievances to the king; observing, that the bishops, regardless of their order, were mad for erecting castles: that none could doubt, but that they were designed for the overthrow of the king; for, as soon as the empress should arrive, they would, induced doubtless by the recollection of her father’s kindness to them, immediately greet their sovereign with the surrender of their fortresses: that, therefore they ought to be prevented, poverished the crown by his liberalities to them. Henry the Second, however, on being firmly seated on the throne, recalled their grants of crown lands, and expelled them the kingdom. and compelled to give up their strong holds; otherwise the king would repent too late, when he saw in the power of the enemy, that which, had he been wise, he might have applied to his own purpose. Such were the frequent insinuations of the nobility. The king, though far too partial to them, for some time pretended not to listen to what gratified his ear so much; assuaging the bitterness of delay, either by his respect for the piety of the bishops, or, as I rather think, from apprehension of the odium he might incur, by seizing their castles. Finally, he only postponed the execution of what the nobles had urged him to, till an opportunity presented itself for his purpose: which was as follows.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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