“Bishop John, servant of the servants of God, to Alfric the distinguished earl, and our dearly beloved son in the Spirit, perpetual health and apostolical benediction. We have learned, from the report of certain faithful people, that you commit many enormities against the church of the holy mother of God, called Mary of Glastonbury, which is acknowledged to belong solely to, and to be under the protection of, the Roman Pontiff, from the earliest times; and that you have seized Avith boundless rapacity upon its estates and possessions, and even the churches of Brent and Pilton, which, by the gift of king Ina, it legally possesses, together with other churches, that is to say, SoAAy, Martine, Budecal, Shapkdck, and that on account of your near residence you are a continual enemy to its interests. It would, however, have been becoming, from your living so near, that by your assistance the holy church of God might have been much benefited and enriched; but, horrible to say ! it is impoverished by your hostility, and injured by your deeds of oppression; and since we doubt not that we, though uriworthily, have received from St. Peter the apostle the care of all the churches, and solicitude for all things; we therefore admonish your affection, to abstain from plumdering it, for the love of the apostles Peter holy mother of God at Glastonbury, and studying to honour tills place with dignity superior to others, hath by the common consent of the bishops, abbots, and nobility, conferred on it many and very splendid privileges; — the first of which is, that no person, unless a monk of that place, shall there be abbot, either in name or in office, nor any other, except such as the common consent of the meeting shall have chosen according to the tenor of the rule. But should necessity so ordain, that an abbot or monk of another monastery be made president of this place, then he deems it proper that none shall be appointed, but such as the congregation of the monastery may elect, to preside over them in the fear of the Lord; nor shall this be done, if any, even the lowest of the congregation, can be there found fit for the office. He hath appointed too, that the election of their abbot shall rest for ever in the monks, reserving only to himself and his heirs the power of giving the pastoral staff to the elected brother. He hath ordained also, that so often as the abbot or the monks of this place shall appoint any of their society to be dignified Math holy orders, they shall cause any bishop canonically ordained, either in his own cathedral, or in the monastery of St. Mary at Glastonbury, to ordain such monks and clerks as they deem fit to the church of St. Mary. He hath granted moreover, that as he himself decides in his own dominions, so the abbot or the convent shall decide the causes of their entire island, in all matters ecclesiastical or secular, without the contradiction of any one. Nor shall it be lawful for any person to enter that island which bore witness to his birth, whether he be bishop, duke, or prince, or person of whatever order, for the purpose of there doing any thing prejudicial to the servants of God: this he forbids altogether, in the same manner as his predecessors have sanctioned and confirmed by their privileges; that is to say, Kentwin, Ina, Ethelard, Cuthred, Alfred, Edward, Athelstan, and Edmund. When, therefore, by the common consent, as has been said, of his prelates, abbots, and nobility, he determined to grant these privileges to the place aforesaid, he laid his own horn, beautifully formed of ivory and adorned with gold, upon the altar of the holy mother of God, and by that donation confirmed them to the same holy mother of God, and her monks, to be possessed for ever. Soon after he caused this horn to be cut in two in his presence, that no future abbot might give or sell it to any one, commanding part of it to be kept upon the spot for a testimony of the aforesaid donation. Recollecting, however, how great is the temerity of human inconstancy, and on whom it is likely to creep, and fearing lest any one hereafter should attempt to take away these privileges from this place, or eject the monks, he sent this charter of royal liberality to the renowned lord, pope John, who had succeeded Octavian in the honour of the pontificate, begging him to corroborate these grants by an apostolical bill. Kindly receiving the legation, the pope, with the assenting voice of the Roman council, confirmed what had been already ordained, by writing an apostolical injunction, terribly hurling on the violators of them, should any be so daring, the vengeance of a perpetual curse. This confirmation therefore of the aforesaid pope, directed to the same place, king Edgar, of worthy memory, laid upon the altar of the holy mother of God for a perpetual remembrance, commanding it to be carefully kept in future for the information of posterity. We have judged it proper to insert both these instruments, lest we should be supposed to invent such things against those persons who seek to enter into the fold of St. Mary, not like shepherds, by the door, but like thieves and robbers, some other way. “Be it known to all the faithful, that I, John the twelfth, through the mercy of God unworthy pope of the holy Roman See, am intreated by the humble request of the noble Edgar, king of the Angles, and of Dunstan, archbishop of the holy church of Canterbury, for the monastery of St. Mary, Glastonbury; which, induced by the love of the heavenly King, they have endowed with many great possessions, increasing in it the monastic order, and having confirmed it by royal grant, they pray me also so to do. Wherefore assenting to their affectionate request, I take that place into the bosom of the Roman church, and the protection of the holy apostles, and support and confirm its immunities as long as it shall remain in the same conventual order in which it now flourishes. The monks shall have power to elect their own superior; ordination, as well of monks as of clerks, shall be at the will of the abbot and convent. We ordain, moreover, that no person shall have liberty to enter this island, either to hold courts, to make inquiry, or to correct; and should any one attempt to oppose this, or to take away, retain, diminish, or harass with vexatious boldness, the possessions of the same church, he shall become liable to a perpetual curse, by the authority of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy mother of God, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all saints, unless he recant. But the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all who maintain the rights of the place aforesaid. Amen. And let this our deed remain unshaken. Done in the time of Edward, abbot of the said monastery.” The aforesaid king Edgcir confirmed these things at London, by his solemn charter, in the twelfth year of his reign; and in the same year, that is, of our Lord 965, the pope aforesaid allowed them in a general synod at Rome, and commanded all members of superior, dignity who were present at the said general council, to confirm them likewise. Let the despisers then of so terrible a curse consider well what an extensive sentence of excommunication hangs over their heads: and indeed to St. Peter the apostle, the chief of apostles, Christ gave the office either of binding or loosing, as well as the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But to all the faithful it must be plain and evident, that the head of the Roman church must be the vicar of this apostle, and the immediate inheritor of his power. Over this church then John of holy memory laudably presided in his lifetime, as he lives to this day in glorious recollection, promoted thereto by the choice of God and of all the people. If then the ordinance of St. Peter the apostle be binding, consequently that of John the pope must be so likewise; but not even a madman would deny the ordinance of Peter the apostle to be binding, consequently no one in his sober senses can say that the ordinance of John the pope is invalid. Either, therefore, acknowledging the power conferred by Christ on St. Peter and his successors, they will abstain from transgressing against the authority of so dreadful an interdict, or else contemning it, they will, with the devil and his angels, bring upon themselves the eternal duration of the curse aforewritten. In consequence, it is manifest that no stranger ever seized this monastery for himself, who did not, as shall appear, disgracefully lose it again; and that this occurred, not by any concerted plan of the monks, but by the judgment of God, for the avenging his holy authority. Wherefore let no man reading this despise it, nor make himself conspicuous by being angry at it; for should he, perhaps he will confess that to be said of himself which was designed to be spoken of another. The monastic order, for a long time depressed, now joyfully reared its head, and hence it came to pass that our monastery also resumed its ancient liberties: but this I think will be more suitably related in the words of the king himself.
“I, Edgar, king of all Albion, and exalted, by the subjection of the surrounding kings maritime or insular, by the bountiful grace of God, to a degree never enjoyed by any of my progenitors, have often, mindful of so high an honour, diligently considered what offering I should more especially make from my earthly kingdom, to the King of kings. In aid of my pious devotion, heavenly love suddenly insinuated to my watchful solicitude, that I should rebuild all the holy monasteries throughout my kingdom, which, as they were outwardly ruinous, with mouldering shingles and worm-eaten boards, even to the rafters, so, what was still worse, they had become internally neglected, and almost destitute of the service of God; wherefore, ejecting those illiterate clerks, subject to the discipline of no regular order, in many places I have appointed pastors of an holier race, that is, of the monastic order, supplying them with ample means out of my royal revenues to repair their churches wherever ruinated. One of these pastors, by name Elfric, in all tilings a true priest, I have appointed guardian of that most celebrated monastery which the Angles call by a twofold name Maldelmes-burgh. To which, for the benefit of my soul, and in honour of our Saviour, and the holy mother of God the virgin Mary, and the apostles Peter and Paul, and the amiable prelate Aldhelm, I have restored, with munificent liberality, a portion of land: and more especially a piece of ground, with meadows and woods. This, leased out by the aforesaid priest, was unjustly held by the contentious Edelnot; but his vain and subtle disputation being heard by my counsellors, and his false defence being, in my presence, nullified, by them, I have restored it to the use of the monastery in the year of our Lord 974, in the fourteenth of my reign, and the first of my royal consecration.”
And here I deem it not irrelevant to commit to writing what was supernaturally shown to the king. He had entered a wood abundant in game, and, as usually happens, while his associates were dispersed in the thicket for the purpose of hunting, he was left alone. Pursuing his course, he came to the outlet of the wood, and stopping there waited for his companions. Shortly after, seized with an irresistible desire to sleep, he alighted from his horse, that the enjoyment of a short repose might assuage the fatigue of the past day. He lay down, therefore, under a wild apple-tree, where the clustering branches had formed a shady canopy all around. A river, flowing softly beside him, adding to his drowsiness, by its gentle murmur soothed him to sleep; when a bitch, of the hunting breed, pregnant, and lying down at his feet, terrified him in his slumbers. Though the mother was silent, yet the whelps within her womb barked in various sonorous tones, incited, as it were, by a singular delight in the place of their confinement. Astonished at this prodigy, as he lifted up his eyes towards the summit of the tree, he saw, first one apple, and then another, fall into the river, by the collision of which, the watery bubbles being put in commotion, a voice articulately sounded, “Well is thee.” Soon after, driven by the rippling wave, a little pitcher appeared upon the stream, and after that a larger vessel, overflowing with water, for the former was empty: and although by the violence of the stream the greater vessel pressed upon the lesser that it might discharge its waters into it; yet it ever happened that the pitcher escaped, still empty, and again, as in a haughty and insulting manner, attacked the larger. Returning home, as the Psalmist says, “He thought upon what had been done, and sought out his spirit.” His mother addressed him, however, that she might cheer both his countenance and his heart; saying, it should be her care to entreat God, who knew how to explain mysteries by the light of his inspiration. With this admonition he dispelled his grief and dismissed his anxiety, conscious of his mother’s sanctity, to whom God had vouchsafed many revelations. Her name was Elfgiva, a woman intent on good works, and gifted with such affection and kindness, that she would even secretly discharge the penalties of those culprits whom the sad sentence of the judges had publicly condemned. That costly clothing, which, to many women, is the pander of vice, was to her the means of liberality; as she would give a garment of the most beautiful workmanship to the first poor person she saw. Even malice itself, as there was nothing to carp at, might praise the beauty of her person and the work of her nands. Thoroughly comprehending the presage, she said to her son next morning, “The barking of the whelps while the mother was sleeping, implies, that after your death, those persons who are now living and in power, dying also, miscreants yet unborn will bark against the church of God. And whereas one apple followed the other, so that the voice, ‘Well is thee,’ seemed to proceed from the dashing of the second against the first, this implies that from you, who are now a tree shading all England, two sons will proceed; the favourers of the second will destroy the first, when the chiefs of the different parties will say to each of the boys, ‘Well is thee,’ because the dead will reign in heaven, the living on earth, Forasmuch as the greater pitcher could not fill the smaller, this signifies, that the Northern nations, which are more numerous than the English, shall attack England after your death; and, although they may recruit their deficiencies by perpetual supplies of their countrymen, yet they shall never be able to fill this Angle of the world, but instead of that, our Angles, when they seem to be completely subjugated, shall drive them out, and it shall remain under its own and God’s governance, even unto the time before appointed by Christ. Amen.”
Farther perusal will justify the truth of the presage. The manifest sanctity both of parent and child ought here to be considered; that the one should see a mystery when broad awake without impediment, and that the other should be able to solve the problem by the far-discerning eye of prophecy.
The rigour of Edgar’s justice was equal to the sanctity of his manners, so that he permitted no person, be his dignity what it might, to elude the laws with impunity. In his time there was no private thief, no public freebooter, unless such as chose to risk the loss of life for their attacks upon the property of others. How, indeed, can it be supposed that he would pass over the crimes of men when he designed to exterminate every beast of prey from his kingdom; and commanded Judwall, king of the Welsh, to pay him yearly a tribute of three hundred wolves? This he performed for three years, but omitted in the fourth, declaring that he could find no more.
Although it is reported that he was extremely small both in stature and in bulk, yet nature had condescended to enclose such strength in that diminutive body, that he would voluntarily challenge any person, whom he knew to be bold and valiant, to engage with him, and his greatest apprehension was, lest they should stand in awe of him in these encounters. Moreover, at a certain banquet, where the prating of coxcombs generally shows itself very freely, it is reported that Kinad, king of the Scots, said in a sportive manner, that it seemed extraordinary to him how so many provinces should be subject to such a sorry little fellow. This was caught up with malignant ear by a certain minstrel, and afterwards cast in Edgar’s teeth, with the customary raillery of such people. But he, concealing the circumstance from his friends, sent for Kinad, as if to consult him on some secret matter of importance, and leading him aside far into the recesses of a wood, he gave him one of two swords, which he had brought with him. “Now,” said he, “as we are alone, I shall have an opportunity of proving your strength; I will now make it appear which ought deservedly to command the other; nor shall you stir a foot till you try the matter with me, for it is disgraceful in a king to prate at a banquet, and not to be prompt in action.” Confused, and not daring to utter a word, he fell at the feet of his sovereign lord, and asked pardon for what was merely a joke; which he immediately obtained. But what of this ? Every summer, as soon as the festival of Easter was passed, he ordered his ships to be collected on each coast; cruising to the western part of the island with the eastern fleet; and, dismissing that, with the western to the north; and then again with the northern squadron towards the east, carefully vigilant lest pirates should disturb the country. During the winter and spring, travelling through the provinces, he made inquiry into the decisions of men in power, severely avenging violated laws, by the one mode advancing justice, by the other military strength; and in both consulting public utility. There are some persons, indeed, who endeavour to dim his exceeding glory by saying, that in his earlier years he was cruel to his subjects, and libidinous in respect of virgins. Their first accusation they exemplify thus. There was, in his time, one Athelwold, a nobleman of celebrity and one of his confidants. The king had commissioned him to visit Elfthrida, daughter of Ordgar, duke of Devonshire, (whose charms had so fascinated the eyes of some persons that they commended her to the king), and to offer her marriage, if her beauty were really equal to report. Hastening on his embassy, and finding everything consonant to general estimation, he concealed his mission from her parents and procured the damsel for himself. Returning to the king, he told a tale which made for his own purpose; that she was a girl nothing out of the common track of beauty, and by no means worthy such transcendent dignity. When Edgar’s heart was disengaged from this affair, and employed on other amours, some tattlers acquainted him, how completely Athelwold had duped him by his artifices. Paying him in his own coin, that is, returning him deceit for deceit, he showed the earl a fair countenance, and, as in a sportive manner, appointed a day when he would visit his far-famed lady. Terrified, almost to death, with this dreadful pleasantry, he hastened before to his wife, entreating that she would administer to his safety by attiring herself as unbecomingly as possible: then first disclosing the intention of such a proceeding. But what did not this woman dare ? She was hardy enough to deceive the confidence of her first lover, her first husband; to call up every charm by art, and to omit nothing which could stimulate the desire of a young and powerful man. Nor did events happen contrary to her design. For he fell so desperately in love with her the moment he saw her, that, dissembling his indignation, he sent for the earl into a wood at Warewelle, called Harewood, under pretence of hunting, and ran him through with a javelin: and when the illegitimate son of the murdered nobleman approached with his accustomed familiarity, and was asked by the king how he liked that kind of sport, he is reported to have said, “Well, my sovereign liege, I ought not to be displeased with that which gives you pleasure.” This answer so assuaged the mind of the raging monarch, that, for the remainder of his life, he held no one in greater estimation than this young man; mitigating the offence of his tyrannical deed against the father, by royal solicitude for the son. In expiation of this crime, a monastery which was built on the spot by Elfthrida is inhabited by a large congregation of nuns.
To this instance of cruelty, they add a second of lust. Hearing of the beauty of a certain virgin, who was dedicated to God, he carried her off from a monastery by force, ravished her, and repeatedly made her the partner of his bed. When this circumstance reached the ears of St. Dunstan, he was vehemently reproved by him, and underwent a seven years penance; though a king, submitting to fast and to forego the wearing of his crown for that period. They add a third, in which both vices may be discovered. King Edgar coming to Andover, a town not far from Winchester, ordered the daughter of a certain nobleman, the fame of whose beauty had been loudly extolled, to be brought to him. The mother of the young lady, shocked at the proposed concubinage of her daughter, assisted by the darkness of night placed an attendant in his bed; a maiden indeed neither deficient in elegance nor in understanding. The night having passed, when aurora was hastening into day, the woman attempted to rise; and being asked, “why in such haste ?” she replied, “to perform the daily labour of her mistress.” Retained though with difficulty, on her knees she bewailed her wretched situation to the king, and entreated her freedom as the recompence of her connexion with him; saying, “that it became his greatness, not to suffer one who had ministered to his royal pleasure, any longer to groan under the commands of cruel masters.” His indignation being excited, and sternly smiling, while his mind was wavering between pity to the girl, and displeasure to her mistress, he, at last, as if treating the whole as a joke, released her from servitude, and dismissed his anger. Soon after, he exalted her with great honour, to be mistress of her former tyrants, little consulting how they liked it, loved her entirely, nor left her bed till he took Elfthrida, the daughter of Ordgar, to be his legitimate wife. Elfthrida bore him Edmund, who dying five years before his father, lies buried at Romsey, and Ethelred, who reigned after him. Besides, of Egelfleda, surnamed the fair, the daughter of the most powerful duke, Ordmer, he begot Edward; and St. Editha of Wulfritha, who it is certain was not a nun at that time, but being a lay virgin had assumed the veil through fear of the king, though she was immediately afterwards forced to the royal bed; on which, St. Dunstan, offended that he should desire lustfully a person who had been even the semblance of a nun, exerted the pontifical power against him. But however these things may be, this is certain, that from the sixteenth year of his age, when he was appointed king, till the thirtieth, he reigned without the insignia of royalty; for at that time, the princes and men of every order assembling generally, he was crowned with great pomp at Bath, survived only three years, and was buried at Glastonbury. Nor is it to be forgotten, that when abbot Ailward opened his tomb in the year of our Lord 1052, he found the body unconscious of corruption; which instead of inclining him to reverence, served only to increase his audacity. For when the receptacle which he had prepared, seemed too small to admit the body, he profaned the royal corpse by cutting it. Whence the blood immediately gushing out in torrents, shook the hearts of the bystanders with horror. In consequence his royal remains were placed upon the altar in a shrine, which he had himself given to this church, with the head of St. Apollinaris, and the relics of Vincent the martyr; which purchased, at a great price, he had added to the beauty of the house of God. The violator of the sacred body presently became distracted, and not long after, going out of the church, met his death by a broken neck. Nor did the display of royal sanctity stop thus; it proceeded still further, a man, lunatic and blind, being there cured. Deservedly then does the report prevail among the English, that no king, either of his own or former times in England, could be justly and fairly compared to Edgar: for nothing could be more holy than his life, nothing more praiseworthy than his justice; those vices excepted which he afterwards obliterated by abundant virtues: a man who rendered his country illustrious through his distinguished courage, and the brilliancy of his actions, as well as by the increase of the servants of God. After his departure, the state and the hopes of the English met with a melancholy reverse.
In the year of our Lord 975, Edward the son of Edgar began to reign, and enjoyed the sovereignty for three years and a half. Dunstan, in common consent with the other bishops, elevated him to the royal dignity, in opposition, as it is said, to the will of some of the nobility, and of his stepmother; who was anxious to advance her son Ethelred, a child scarcely seven years of age, in order that herself might govern under colour of his name. Then, from the increasing malice of men, the happiness of the kingdom was impaired; then too, comets were seen, which were asserted certainly to portend either pestilence to the inhabitants, or a change in the government. Nor was it long ere there followed a scarcity of corn; famine among men; murrain among cattle; and an extraordinary accident at a royal town called Calne. For as soon as Edgar was dead, the secular canons who had been for some time expelled their monasteries, rekindled the former feuds, alleging, that it was a great and serious disgrace, for new comers to drive the ancient inmates from their dwellings; that it could not be esteemed grateful to God, who had granted them their ancient habitations: neither could it be so to any considerate man, who might dread that injustice as likely to befall himself, which he had seen overtake others. Hence they proceeded to clamour and rage, and hastened to Dunstan; the principal people, as is the custom of the laity, exclaiming more especially, that the injury which the canons had wrongfully suffered, ought to be redressed by gentler measures. Moreover, one of them, Elferius, with more than common audacity, had even overturned almost all the monasteries which that highly revered monk Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, had built throughout Mercia. On this account a full synod being convened, they first assembled at Winchester. What was the issue of the contest of that place, other writings declare; relating, that the image of our Saviour, speaking decidedly, confounded the canons and their party. But men’s minds being not yet at rest on the subject, a council was called at Calne; where, when all the senators of England, the king being absent on account of his youth, had assembled in an upper chamber, and the business was agitated with much animosity and debate; while the weapons of harsh reproach were directed against that firmest bulwark of the church, I mean Dunstan, but could not shake it; and men of every rank were earnestly defending their several sides of the question; the floor with its beams and supporters gave way suddenly and fell to the ground. All fell with it except Dunstan, who alone escaped unhurt by standing on a single rafter which retained its position: the rest were either killed, or subjected to lasting infirmity. This miracle procured the archbishop peace on the score of the canons; all the English, both at that time and afterwards, yielding to his sentiments.
Meanwhile king Edward conducted himself with becoming affection to his infant brother and his step-mother; he retained only the name of king, and gave them the power; following the footsteps of his father’s piety, and giving both his attention and his heart to good council. The woman, however, with that hatred which a step-mother only can entertain, began to meditate a subtle stratagem, in order that not even the title of king might be wanting to her child, and to lay a treacher
When the question was agitated, whether the monks should be supported or the canons restored, the crucifix is said to have exclaimed, “Far he it from you: you have done well; to change again would be wrong.” See Edmer, and Osbeme, snare for her son-in-law, which she accomplished in the following manner. He was returning home, tired with the chase and gasping with thirst from the exercise, while his companions were following the dogs in different directions as it happened, when hearing that they dwelt in a neighbouring mansion, the youth proceeded thither at full speed, unattended and unsuspecting, as he judged of others by his own feelings. On his arrival, alluring him to her with female blandishment, she made him lean forward, and after saluting him while he was eagerly drinking from the cup which had been presented, the dagger of an attendant pierced him through. Dreadfully wounded, with all his remaining strength he clapped spurs to his horse in order to join his companions; when one foot slipping, he was dragged by the other through the trackless paths and recesses of the wood, while the streaming blood gave evidence of his death to his followers. Moreover, they then commanded him to be ingloriously interred at Wareham; envying him even holy ground when dead, as they had envied him his royal dignity while living. They now publicly manifested their extreme joy as if they had buried his memory with his body; but God’s all-seeing eye was there, who ennobled the innocent victim by the glory of miracles. So much is human outweighed by heavenly judgment. For there lights were shown from above; there the lame walked; there the dumb resumed his faculty of speech; there every malady gave way to health. The fame of this pervading all England, proclaimed the merits of the martyr. The murderess excited by it, attempted a progress thither; and was already urging forward the horse slie had mounted, when she perceived the manifest anger of God; for the same creature which she had heretofore constantly ridden, and which was used to outstrip the very wind in speed, now by command of God, stood motionless. The attendants, both with whips and clamours, urged him forward that he might carry his noble mistress with his usual readiness; but their labour was in vain. They changed the horse; and the same circumstance recurred. Her obdurate heart, though late, perceived the meaning of the miracle; wherefore, what she was not herself permitted to do, she suffered to be performed by another: for that Elferius, whom I before blamed for destroying the monasteries, repenting of his rashness, and being deeply distressed in mind, took up the sacred corpse from its unworthy burial-place, and paid it just and distinguished honours at Shaftesbury. He did not escape unpunished, however, for, within a year afterwards, he was eaten of the vermin which we call lice. Moreover, since a mind unregulated is a torment to itself, and a restless spirit endures its own peculiar punishment in this life, Elfthrida declining from her regal pride, became extremely penitent; so that at Werewell, for many years, she clothed her pampered body in hair-cloth, slept at night upon the ground without a pillow; and mortified her flesh with every kind of penance. She was a beautiful woman; singularly faithful to her husband; but deserving punishment from the commission of so great a crime. It is believed and commonly reported, that from her violence to Edward, the country for a long time after groaned under the yoke of barbarian servitude.