The History of The Kings of England 08

William of Malmesbury

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The history of king Egbert, [a.d. 800—839.] My former volume terminated where the four kingdoms of Britain were consolidated into one. Egbert, the founder of this sovereignty, grand-nephew of king Ina, by his brother Ingild, of high rank in his own nation, and liberally educated, had been conspicuous among the West Saxons from his childhood. His uninterrupted course of valour begat envy, and as it is almost naturally ordained that kings should regard with suspicion whomsoever they see growing up in expectation of the kingdom, Bertric, as before related, jealous of his rising character, was meditating how to destroy him. Egbert, apprised of this, escaped to Offa, king of the Mercians. While Offa concealed him with anxious care, the messengers of Bertric arrived, demanding the fugitive for punishment, and offering money for his surrender. In addition to this they solicited his daughter in marriage for their king, in order that the nuptial tie might bind them in perpetual amity. In consequence Offa, who would not give way to hostile threats, yielded to flattering allurements, and Egbert, passing the sea, went into France; a circumstance which I attribute to the counsels of God, that a man destined to rule so great a kingdom might learn the art of government from the Franks; for this people has no competitor among all the Western nations in military skill or polished manners. This ill-treatment Egbert used as an incentive to “rub off the rust of indolence,” to quicken the energy of his mind, and to adopt foreign customs, far differing from his native barbarism. On the death, therefore, of Bertric, being invited into Britain by frequent messages from his friends, he ascended the throne, and realized the wildest expectations of his country. He was crowned in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 800, and in the thirty-fourth year of the reign of Charles the Great, of France, who survived this event twelve years. In the meantime Egbert, when he had acquired the regard of his subjects by his affability and kindness, first manifested his power against those Britons who inhabit that part of the island which is called Cornwall, and having subjugated them, he proceeded to make the Northern Britons, who are separated from, the others by an arm of the sea, tributary to him. While the fame of these victories struck terror into the rest, Bernulf king of the Mercians, aiming at something great, and supposing it would redound to his glory if he could remove the terror of others by his own audacity, proclaimed war against Egbert. Deeming it disgraceful to retreat, Egbert met him with much spirit, and on then coming into action, Bernulf was defeated and fled. This battle took place at Hellendun, a.d. 824. Elated with this success, the West Saxon king, extending his views, in the heat of victory, sent his son Ethelwulf, with Alstan, bishop of Sherborne, and a chosen band, into Kent, for the purpose of adding to the West Saxon dominions that province, which had either grown indolent through long repose, or was terrified by the fame of his valour. These commanders observed their instructions effectually, for they passed through every part of the country, and driving Baldred its king, with little difficulty, beyond the river Thames, they subjugated to his dominion, in the twenty-fourth year of his reign, Kent, Surrey, the South Saxons, and the East Saxons, who had formerly been under the jurisdiction of his predecessors. Not long after the East Angles, animated by the support of Egbert, killed by successive stratagems, Bernulf and Ludecan, kings of the Mercians. The cause of their destruction was, their perpetual incursions, with their usual insolence, on the territories of others. Withlaf their successor, first driven from his kingdom by Egbert, and afterwards admitted as a tributary prince, augmented the West Saxon sovereignty. In the same year the Northumbrians perceiving that themselves only remained and were a conspicuous object, and fearing lest he should pour out his long-cherished anger on them, at last, though late, gave hostages, and yielded to his power. When he was thus possessed of all Britain, the rest of his life, a space of nine years, passed quietly on, except that, nearly in his latter days, a piratical band of Danes made a descent, and disturbed the peace of the kingdom. So changeable is the lot of human affairs, that he, who first singly governed all the Angles, could derive but little satisfaction from the obedience of his countrymen, for a foreign enemy was perpetually harassing him and his descendants. Against these invaders the forces of the Angles made a stand, but fortune no longer flattered the king with her customary favours, but deserted him in the contest: for, when, during the greater part of the day, he had almost secured the victory, he lost the battle as the sun declined; however, by the favour of darkness, he escaped the disgrace of being conquered. In the next action, with a small force, he totally routed an immense multitude. At length, after a reign of thirty-seven years and seven months, he departed this life, and was buried at Winchester; leaving an ample field of glory for his son, and declaring, that he must be happy, if he was careful not to destroy, by the indolence natural to his race, a kingdom that himself had consolidated with such consummate industry.

In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 837, Ethelwulf, whom some call Athulf, the son of Egbert, came to the throne, and reigned twenty years and five months. Mild by nature he infinitely preferred a life of tranquillity to dominion over many provinces; and, finally, content with his paternal kingdom, he bestowed all the rest, which his father had subjugated, on his son Ethelstan; of whom it is not known when, or in what manner, he died. He assisted Burhred, king of the Mercians, with an army against the Britons, and highly exalted him by giving him his daughter in marriage. He frequently overcame the piratical Danes, who were traversing the whole island and infesting the coast with sudden descents, both personally and by his generals; although, according to the chance of war, he himself experienced great and repeated calamities; London and almost the whole of Kent being laid waste. Yet these disasters were ever checked by the alacrity of the king’s advisers, who suffered not the enemy to trespass with impunity, but fully avenged themselves on them by the effect of their united counsels. For he possessed at that time, two most excellent prelates, St. Swithun of Winchester, and Ealstan of Sherborne, who perceiving the king to be of heavy and sluggish disposition, perpetually stimulated him, by their admonitions, to the knowledge of governing. Swithun, disgusted with earthly, trained his master to heavenly pursuits; Ealstan, knowing that the business of the kingdom ought not to be neglected, continually inspirited him against the Danes: himself furnishing the exchequer with money, as well as regulating the army. Any peruser of the Annals will find many affairs of this kind, both entered on with courage, and terminated with success through his means. He held his bishopric fifty years; happy in living for so long a space in the practice of good works. I should readily commend him, had he not been swayed by worldly avarice, and usurped what belonged to others, when by his intrigues he seized the monastery of Malmesbury for his own use. We feel the mischief of this shameful conduct even to the present day, although the monastery has bafiled all similar violence from the time of his death till now, when it has fallen again into like difficulty. Thus the accursed passion of avarice corrupts the human soul, and forces men, though great and illustrious in other respects, into hell.

Ethelwulf, confiding in these two supporters, provided effectually for external emergencies, and did not neglect the interior concerns of his kingdom. For after the subjugation of his enemies, turning to the establishment of God’s worship, he granted every tenth hide of land within his kingdom to the servants of Christ, free from all tribute, exempt from all services. But how small a portion is this of his glory ? Having settled his kingdom, he went to Rome, and there offered to St. Peter that tribute which England pays to this day, I before pope Leo the fourth, who had also, formerly, honourably received, and anointed as king, Alfred, his son, whom Ethelwulf had sent to him. Continuing there a whole year, he nobly repaired the School of the Angles, which, according to report, was first founded by Offa, king of the Mercians, and had been burned down the preceding year. Returning home through France, he married Judith, daughter of Charles, king of the Franks.

For Louis the Pious, son of Charles the Great, had four sons; Lothaire, Pepin, Louis, and Charles, surnamed the Bald; of these Lothaire, even in his father’s life-time, usurping the title of emperor, reigned fifteen years in that part of Germany situated near the Alps which is now called Lorraine, that is, the kingdom of Lothaire, and in all Italy together with Rome. In his latter days, afflicted with sickness, he renounced the world. He was a man by far more inhuman than all who preceded him; so much so, as even frequently to load his own father with chains in a dungeon. Louis indeed was of mild and simple manners, but he was unmercifully persecuted by Lothaire, because Ermengarda, by whom he had his first family, being dead, he was doatingly fond of Charles, his son by his second wife Judith.

Pepin, another son of Louis, had dominion in Aquitaine and Gascony. Louis, the third son of Louis, in addition to Norica, which he had already, possessed the kingdoms which his father had given him, that is to say, Alemannia, Thuringia, Austrasia, Saxony, and the kingdom of the Avares, that is, the Huns. Charles obtained the half of France on the west, and all Neustria, Brittany, and the greatest part of Burgundy, Gothia, Gascony, and Aquitaine, Pepin the son of Pepin being ejected thence and compelled to become a monk in the monastery of St. Methard; who afterwards escaping by flight, and returning into Aquitaine, remained there in concealment a long time; but being again treacherously deceived by Ranulph the governor, he was seized, brought to Charles at Senlis, and doomed to perpetual exile. Moreover, after the death of the most pious emperor, Louis, Lothaire, who had been anointed emperor eighteen years before his father’s decease, being joined by Pepin with the people of Aquitaine, led an army against his brothers, that is, Louis, the most pious king of the Bavarians, and Charles, into the county of Auxerre to a place called Fontenai: where, when the Franks with all their subject nations had been overwhelmed by mutual slaughter, Louis and Charles ultimately triumphed; Lothaire being put to flight. After this most sanguinary conflict, however, peace was made between them, and they divided the sovereignty of the Franks, as has been mentioned above. Lothaire had three sons by Ermengarda the daughter of Hugo: first, Louis, to whom he committed the government of the Romans and of Italy; next, Lothaire, to whom he left the imperial crown; lastly, Charles, to whom he gave Provence. Lothaire died in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 855, of his reign the thirty-third. Charles his son, who governed Provence, survived him eight years, and then Louis, emperor of the Romans, and Lothaire his brother, shared his kingdom of Provence. But Louis king of the Norici, that is, of the Bavarians, the son of Louis the emperor, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 865, after the feast of Easter, divided his kingdom between his sons. To Caroloman he gave Norica, that is, Bavaria, and the marches bordering on the Sclavonians and the Lombards; to Louis, Thuringia, the Eastern Franks, and Saxony; to Charles he left Alemannia, and Curnwalia, that is, the county of Cornwall. Louis himself reigned happily over his sons, in full power for ten years, and then died in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 876, when he had reigned fifty-four years. Charles king of the West Franks, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, entering Italy, came to offer up his prayers in the church of the apostles, and was there elected emperor by all the Roman people, and consecrated by pope John on the 20th of December, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 875. Thence he had a prosperous return into Gaul. But in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, and the beginning of the third of his imperial dignity, he went into Italy again, and held a conference with pope John; and returning into Gaul, he died, after passing Mount Cenis, on the 13th of October, in the tenth of the Indiction, in the year of our Lord 877, and was succeeded by his son Louis. Before the second year of his reign was completed this Louis died in the palace at Compeigne, on the sixth before the Ides of April, in the year of our Lord 879, the twelfth of the Indiction. After him his sons, Louis and Caroloman, divided his kingdom. Of these, Louis gained a victory over the Normans in the district of Vimeu, and died soon after on the 12th of August, in the year of our Lord 881, the fifteenth of the Indiction, having reigned two years, three months, and twenty-four days. He was succeeded in his government by his brother Caroloman, who, after reigning three years and six days, was wounded by a wild boarf in the forest of Iveline, in Mount Ericus.

He departed this life in the year of our Lord 884, the second of the Indiction, the 24th of December. Next Charles king of the Suavi, the son of Louis king of the Norici, assumed the joint empire of the Franks and Romans, in the year of the Incarnate Word 885, the third of the Indiction; whose vision, as I think it worth preserving, I here subjoin:

“In the name of God most high, the King of kings. As I, Charles by the free gift of God, emperor, king of the Germans, patrician of the Romans, and emperor of the Franks, on the sacred night of the Lord’s day, after duly performing the holy service of the evening, went to the bed of rest and sought the sleep of quietude, there came a tremendous voice to me, saying, ‘Charles, thy spirit shall shortly depart from thee for a considerable time:’ immediately I was rapt in the spirit, and he who carried me away in the spirit was most glorious to behold. In his hand he held a clue of thread emitting a beam of purest light, such as comets shed when they appear. This he began to unwind, and said to me, ‘Take the thread of this brilliant clue and bind and tie it firmly on the thumb of thy right hand, for thou shalt be led by it through the inextricable punishments of the infernal regions.’ Saying this, he went before me, quickly unrolling the thread of the brilliant clue, and led me into very deep and fiery valleys which were full of pits boiling with pitch, and brimstone, and lead, and wax, and grease. There I found the bishops of my father and of my uncles: and when in terror I asked them why they were suffering such dreadful torments ? they replied, ‘We were the bishops of your father and of your uncles, and instead of preaching, and admonishing them and their people to peace and concord, as was our duty, we were the sowers of discord and the fomenters of evil. On this account we are now burning in these infernal torments, together with other lovers of slaughter and of rapine; and hither also will your bishops and ministers come, who now delight to act as we did.’ While I was fearfully listening to this, behold the blackest demons came flying about me, with fiery claws endeavouring to snatch away the thread of life which I held in my hand, and to draw it to them; but repelled by the rays of the clue, they were unable to touch it. Next running behind me, they tried to gripe me in their claws and cast me headlong into those sulphurous pits: but my conductor, who carried the clue, threw a thread of light over my shoulders, and doubling it, drew me strongly after him, and in this manner we ascended lofty fiery mountains, from which arose lakes, and burning rivers, and all kinds of burning metals, wherein I found immersed innumerable souls of the vassals and princes of my father and brothers, some up to the hair, others to the chin, and others to the middle, who mournfully cried out to me, ‘While we were living, we were, together with you, and your father, and brothers, and uncles, fond of battle, and slaughter, and plunder, through lust of earthly things: wherefore we now undergo punishment in these boiling rivers, and in various kinds of liquid metal.’ While I was, with the greatest alarm, attending to these, I heard some souls behind me crying out, ‘The great will undergo still greater torment.’ I looked back and beheld on the banks of the boiling river, furnaces of pitch and brimstone, filled with great dragons, and scorpions, and different kinds of serpents, where I also saw some of my father’s nobles, some of my own, and of those of my brothers and of my uncles, who said, ‘Alas, Charles, you see what dreadful torments we undergo on account of our malice, and pride, and the evil counsel which we gave to our kings and to you, for lust’s sake.’ When I could not help groaning mournfully at this, the dragons ran at me with open jaws filled with fire, and brimstone, and pitch, and tried to swallow me up. My conductor then tripled the thread of the clue around me, which by the splendour of its rays overcame their fiery throats: he then pulled me with greater violence, and we descended into a valley, which was in one part dark and burning like a fiery furnace, but in another so extremely enchanting and glorious, that I cannot describe it. I turned myself to the dark part which emitted flames, and there I saw some kings of my race in extreme torture; at which, affrighted beyond measure and reduced to great distress, I expected that I should be immediately thrown into these torments by some very black giants, who made the valley blaze with every kind of flame. I trembled very much, and, the thread of the clue of light assisting my eyes, I saw, on the side of the valley, the light somewhat brightening, and two fountains flowing out thence: one was extremely hot; the other clear and luke-warm; two large casks were there besides. When, guided by the thread of light, I proceeded thither, I looked into the vessel containing boiling water, and saw my father Louis, standing therein up to his thighs. He was dreadfully oppressed with pain and agony, and said to me, ‘Fear not, my lord Charles; I know that your spirit will again return into your body, and that God hath permitted you to come hither, that you might see for what crimes myself and all whom you have beheld, undergo these torments. One day I am bathed in the boiling cask; next I pass into that other delightful water; which is effected by the prayers of St. Peter and St. Remigius, under whose patronage our royal race has hitherto reigned. But if you, and my faithful bishops and abbats, and the whole ecclesiastical order will quickly assist me with masses, prayers and psalms, and alms, and vigils, I shall shortly be released from the punishment of the boiling water. For my brother Lothaire and his son Louis have had these punishments remitted by the prayers of St. Peter and St. Remigius, and have now entered into the joy of God’s paradise.’ He then said to me, ‘Look on your left hand;’ and when I had done so, I saw two very deep casks boiling furiously. ‘These,’ said he, ‘are prepared for you, if you do not amend and repent of your atrocious crimes.’ I then began to be dreadfully afraid, and when my conductor saw my spirit thus terrified, he said to me, ‘Follow me to the right of that most resplendent valley of paradise.’ As we proceeded, I beheld my uncle Lothaire sitting in excessive brightness, in company with glorious kings, on a topaz-stone of uncommon size, crowned with a precious diadem: and near him, his son Louis crowned in like manner. Seeing me near at hand he called me to him in a kind voice, saying, ‘Come to me, Charles, now my third successor in the empire of the Romans; I know that you have passed through the place of punishment where your father, my brother, is placed in the baths appointed for him; but, by the mercy of God, he will be shortly liberated from those punishments as we have been, by the merits of St. Peter and the prayers of St. Remigius, to whom God hath given a special charge over the kings and people of the Franks, and unless he shall continue to favour and assist the dregs of our family, our race must shortly cease both from the kingdom and the empire. Know, moreover, that the rule of the empire will be shortly taken out of your hand, nor will you long survive. Then Louis turning to me, said, ‘The empire which you have hitherto held by hereditary right, Louis the son of my daughter is to assume.’ So saying, there seemed immediately to appear before me a little child, and Lothaire his grandfather looking upon him, said to me, ‘This infant seems to be such as one as that which the Lord set in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Of such is the kingdom of God, I say unto you, that their angels do always behold the face of my father who is in heaven.” But do you bestow on him the empire by that thread of the clue which you hold in your hand.’ I then untied the thread from the thumb of my right hand, and gave him the whole monarchy of the empire by that thread, and immediately the entire clue, like a brilliant sun-beam, became rolled up in his hand. Thus, after this wonderful transaction, my spirit, extremely wearied and affrighted, returned into my body. Therefore, let all persons know willingly or unwillingly, forasmuch as, according to the will of God, the whole empire of the Romans will revert into his hands, and that I cannot prevail against him, compelled by the conditions of this my calling, that God, who is the ruler of the living and the dead, will both complete and establish this; whose eternal kingdom remains for ever and ever, amen.”

The vision itself, and the partition of the kingdoms, I have inserted in the very words I found them in. This Charles, then, had scarcely discharged the united duties of the empire and kingdom for two years, when Charles, the son of Louis who died at Compeigne, succeeded him: this is the Charles who married the daughter of Edward, king of England, and gave Normandy to Rollo with his daughter Gisla, who was the surety of peace and pledge of the treaty. To this Charles, in the empire, succeeded Arnulph; a king of the imperial line, tutor of that young Louis of whom the vision above recited speaks. Arnulph dying after fifteen years, this Louis succeeded him, at whose death, one Conrad, king of the Teutonians, obtained the sovereignty. His son Henry, who succeeded him, sent to Athelstan king of the Angles, for his two sisters, AJdgitha and Edgitha, the latter of whom he married to his son Otho, the former to a certain duke near the Alps. Thus the empire of the Romans and the kingdom of the Franks being severed from their ancient union, the one is governed by emperors and the other by kings. But as I have wandered wide from my purpose, whilst indulging in tracing the descent of the illustrious kings of the Franks, I will now return to the course I had begun, and to Ethelwulf.

On his return after his year’s peregrination and marriage with the daughter of Charles the Bald, as I have said, he found the dispositions of some persons contrary to his expectations. For Ethelbald his son, and Ealstan bishop of Sherborne, and Enulph earl of Somerset conspiring against him, endeavoured to eject him from the sovereignty; but through the intervention of maturer counsel, the kingdom was divided between the father and his son. This partition was extremely unequal; for malignity was so far successful that the western portion, which was the better, was allotted to the son, the eastern, which was the worse, fell to the father. He, however, with incredible forbearance, dreading “a worse than civil war,” calmly gave way to his son, restraining, by a conciliatory harangue, the people who had assembled for the purpose of asserting his dignity. And though all this quarrel arose on account of his foreign wife, yet he held her in the highest estimation, and used to place her on the throne near himself, contrary to the West Saxon custom. For that people never suffered the king’s consort either to be seated by the king or to be honoured with the appellation of queen, on account of the depravity of Eadburga, daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians; who, as we have before mentioned, being married to Bertric, king of the West Saxons, used to persuade him, a tender-hearted man, as they report, to the destruction of the innocent, and would herself take off by poison those against whom her accusations failed. This was exemplified in the case of a youth much beloved by the king, whom she made away with in this manner: and immediately afterwards Bertric fell sick, wasted away and died, from having previously drunk of the same potion, unknown to the queen. The rumour of this getting abroad, drove the poisoner from the kingdom. Proceeding to Charles the Great, she happened to find him standing with one of his sons, and after offering him presents, the emperor, in a playful, jocose manner, commanded her to choose which she liked best, himself, or his son. Eadburga choosing the young man for his blooming beauty, Charles replied with some emotion, “Had you chosen me, you should have had my son, but since you have chosen him, you shall have neither.” He then placed her in a monastery where she might pass her life in splendour; but, soon after, finding her guilty of incontinence he expelled her. Struck with this instance of depravity, the Saxons framed the regulation I have alluded to, though Ethelwulf invalidated it by his affectionate kindness. He made his will a few months before he died, in which, after the division of the kingdom between his sons Ethelbald and Ethelbert, he set out the dowry of his daughter, and ordered, that, till the end of time, one poor person should be clothed and fed from every tenth hide of his inheritance, and that every year, three hundred mancas of gold should be sent to Rome, of which one-third should be given to St. Peter, another to St. Paul for lamps, and the other to the pope for distribution. He died two years after he came from Rome, and was buried at Winchester in the cathedral. But that I may return from my digression to my proposed series, I shall here subjoin the charter of ecclesiastical immunities which he granted to all England.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ reigning for evermore. Since we perceive that perilous times are pressing on us, that there are in our days hostile burnings, and plunderings of our wealth, and most cruel depredations by devastating enemies, and many tribulations of barbarous and pagan nations, threatening even our destruction: therefore I Ethelwulf king of the West Saxons, with the advice of my bishops and nobility, have established a wholesome counsel and general remedy. I have decided that there shall be given to the servants of God, whether male or female or laymen, a certain hereditary portion of the lands possessed by persons of every degree, that is to say, the tenth manse, but where it is less than this, then the tenth part; that it may be exonerated from all secular services, all royal tributes great and small, or those taxes which we call Witereden. And let it be free from all things, for the release of our souls, that it may be applied to God’s service alone, exempt from expeditions, the building of bridges, or of forts; in order that they may more diligently pour forth their prayers to God for us without ceasing, inasmuch as we have in some measure alleviated their service. Moreover it hath pleased Ealstan bishop of Sherborne, and Swithun bishop of Winchester, with their abbats and the servants of God, to appoint that all our brethren and sisters at each church, every week on the day of Mercury, that is to say, Wednesday, should sing fifty psalms, and every priest two masses, one for king Ethelwulf, and another for his nobility, consenting to this gift, for the pardon and alleviation of their sins; for the king while living, they shall say, ‘Let us pray: O God, who justifiest.’ For the nobility while living, ‘Stretch forth, O Lord.’ After they are dead; for the departed king, singly: for the departed nobility, in common: and let this be firmly appointed for all the times of Christianity, in like manner as that immunity is appointed, so long as faith shall increase in the nation of the Angles. This charter of donation was written in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 844, the fourth of the indiction, and on the nones, i. e. the fifth day of November, in the city of Winchester, in the church of St. Peter, before the high altar, and they have done this for the honour of St. Michael the archangel, and of St. Mary the glorious queen, the mother of God, and also for the honour of St. Peter the chief of the apostles, and of our most holy father pope Gregory, and all saints. And then, for greater security, king Ethelwulf placed the charter on the altar of St. Peter, and the bishops received it in behalf of God’s holy faith, and afterwards transmitted it to all churches in their dioceses according to the above-cited form.”

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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