The History of The Kings of England 16

William of Malmesbury

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This emperor possessed many and great virtues; and nearly surpassed in military skill all his predecessors: so much so, that he subdued the Vindelici and the Leutici, and the other nations bordering on the Suevi, who alone, even to the present day, lust after pagan superstitions: for the Saracens and Turks worship God the Creator, looking upon Mahomet not as God, but as his prophet. But the Vindelici worship fortune, and putting her idol in the most eminent situation, they place a horn in her right hand, filled with that beverage, made of honey and water, which by a Greek term we call “hydromel.” St. Jerome proves, in his eighteenth book on Isaiah, that the Egyptians and almost all the eastern nations do the same. Wherefore on the last day of November, sitting round in a circle, they all taste it; and if they find the horn full, they applaud with loud clamours: because in the ensuing year, plenty with her brimming horn will fulfil their wishes in everything: but if it be otherwise, they lament. Henry made these nations in such wise tributary to him, that upon every solemnity on which he wore his crown, four of their kings were obliged to carry a cauldron in which flesh was boiled, upon their shoulders, to the kitchen, by means of levers passed through rings.

Frequently, when disengaged from the turmoil’s of his empire, Henry gave himself up to good fellowship and merriment, and was replete with humour; this may be sufficiently proved by two instances. He was so extremely fond of his sister, who was a nun, that he never suffered her to be from his side, and her chamber was always next his own. As he was on a certain time, in consequence of a winter remarkable for severe frost and snow, detained for a long while in the same place, a certain clerk about the court, became too familiar with the girl, and often passed the greatest part of the night in her chamber. And although he attempted to conceal his crime by numberless subterfuges, yet some one perceived it, for it is difficult not to betray guilt either by look or action, and the affair becoming notorious, the emperor was the only person in ignorance, and who still believed his sister to be chaste. On one particular night, however, as they were enjoying their fond embraces, and continuing their pleasures longer than usual, the morning dawned upon them, and behold snow had completely covered the ground. The clerk fearing that he should be discovered by his track in the snow, persuades his mistress to extricate him from his difficulty by carrying him on her back. She, regardless of modesty so that she might escape exposure, took her paramour on her back, and carried him out of the palace. It happened at that moment, that the emperor had risen for a necessary purpose, and looking through the window of his chamber, beheld the clerk mounted. He was stupefied at the first sight, but observing still more narrowly, he became mute with shame and indignation. While he was hesitating whether he should pass over the crime unpunished, or openly reprehend the delinquents, there happened an opportunity for him to give a vacant bishopric to the clerk, which he did: but at the same time whispered in his ear, “Take the bishopric, but be careful you do not let women carry you any more.” At the same time he gave his sister the rule over a company of nuns, “Be an abbess,” said he, “but carry clerks no longer.” Both of them were confused, and feeling themselves grievously stricken by so grave an injunction, they desisted from a crime which they thought revealed by God.

He had also a clergyman about his palace, who abused the depth of his learning and the melody of his voice by the vicious propensities of the flesh, being extremely attached to a girl of bad character, in the town; with whom having passed one festival night, he stood next morning before the emperor at mass, with countenance unabashed. The emperor concealing his knowledge of the transaction, commanded him to prepare himself to read the gospel, that he might be gratified with the melody of his voice: for he was a deacon. Conscious of his crime, he made use of a multitude of subterfuges, while the emperor, to try his constancy, still pressed him with messages. Refusing, however, to the very last, the emperor said, “Since you will not obey me in so easy a command, I banish you from the whole of my territories.” The deacon, yielding to the sentence, departed directly. Servants were sent to follow him, and in case he should persist in going, to bring him back after he had left the city. Gathering, therefore, immediately all his effects together, and packing them up, he had already gone a considerable distance, when he was brought back, not without extreme violence, and placed in the presence of Henry, who smiled and said: “You have done well, and I applaud your integrity for valuing the fear of God more than your country, and regarding the displeasure of heaven more than my threats. Accept, therefore, the first bishopric, which shall be vacant in my empire; only renounce your dishonourable amour.”

As nothing however is lasting in human enjoyments, I shall not pass over in silence a certain dreadful portent which happened in his time. The monastery of Fulda, in Saxony, is celebrated for containing the body of St. Gall, and is enriched with very ample territories. The abbot of this place furnishes the emperor with sixty thousand warriors against his enemies; and possesses from ancient times the privilege of sitting at his right hand on the most distinguished festivals. This Henry we are speaking of was celebrating Pentecost at Mentz. A little before mass, while the seats were preparing in the church, a quarrel arose between the attendants of the abbot, and those of the archbishop, which of their masters should sit next the sovereign: one party alleging the dignity of the prelate, the other ancient usage. When words made but little for peace, as the Germans and Teutonians possess untractable spirits, they came to blows. Some snatched up staves, others threw stones, while the rest unsheathed their swords: finally each used the weapon that his anger first supplied. Thus furiously contending in the church, the pavement soon streamed with blood: but the bishops hastening forward, peace was restored amid the remains of the contending parties. The church was cleansed, and mass performed with joyful sound. But now comes the wonder: when the sequence was chanted, and the choir paused at that verse, “Thou hast made this day glorious: “a voice in the air replied aloud, “I have made this day contentious.” All the others were motionless with horror, but the emperor the more diligently attended to his occupation, and perceiving the satisfaction of the enemy: “You,” said he, “the inventor and also the instigator of all wickedness, have made this day contentious and sorrowful to the proud; but we, by the grace of God, who made it glorious, will make it gracious to the poor.” Beginning ihe sequence afresh, they implored the grace of the Holy Spirit by solemn lamentation. You might suppose he had come upon them, for some were singing, others weeping, and all beating their breasts. When mass was over, assembling the poor by means of his officers, he gave them the whole of the entertainment which had been prepared for himself and his courtiers: the emperor placing the dishes before them, standing at a distance according to the custom of servants, and clearing away the fragments.

In the time of his father, Conrad, he had received a silver pipe, such as boys in sport spirt water with, from a certain clerk, covenanting to give him a bishopric, when he should become emperor. This, when he was of man’s estate, on his application he readily gave to him. Soon after he was confined to his bed with severe sickness: his malady increasing, he lay for three days insensible and speechless, while the vital breath only palpitated in his breast: nor was there any other sign of life, than the perception of a small degree of breathing, on applying the hand to his nostrils. The bishops being present, enjoined a fast for three days, and entreated heaven with tears and vows, for the life of the king. Recovering by these remedies, as it is right to think, he sent for the bishop whom he had so improperly appointed, and deposed him by the judgment of a council: confessing, that for three whole days he saw malignant demons blowing fire upon him through a pipe; fire so furious that ours in comparison would be deemed a jest, and have no heat: that afterwards there came a young man half scorched, bearing a golden cup of immense size, full of water; and that being soothed by the sight of him, and bathed by the water, the flame was extinguished, and he recovered his health: that this young man was St. Laurence, the roof of whose church he had restored when gone to decay; and, among other presents, had honoured it with a golden chalice.

Here many extraordinary things occur, which are reported of this man; for instance, of a stag, which took him on its back, when flying from his enemies, and carried him over an unfordable river: and some others which I pass by because I am unwilling to go beyond the reader’s belief. He died when he had completed the eighteenth year of his empire, and was buried at Spires, which he re-built, and called by that name, on the site of the very ancient and ruined Nemetum: his epitaph is as follows:

Caesar, as was the world once great, Lies here, confined in compass straight. Hence let each mortal learn his doom; No glory can escape the tomb. The flower of empire, erst so gay, Falls with its Caesar to decay, And all the odours which it gave Sink prematurely to the grave. The laws which sapient fathers made, A listless race had dared evade. But thou reforming by the school Of Rome, restur’dst the ancient rule. Nations and regions, wide and far, Whom none could subjugate by war, Quelled by thy sword’s resistless strife, ’111 to the arts of civil life. What grief severe must Rome engross, Widowed at first by Leo’s loss, And next by Caesar’s mournful night, left of her other shining light; blinding, what region did not dread. What country not lament thee, dead I so kind to nations once subdued, So fierce to the barbarians rude, That, those who feared not, must bewail, And such as grieved not, fears assail. Rome, thy departed glory moan, And weep thy luminaries gone.

This Leo, of whom the epitaph speaks, had been Roman pontiff, called to that eminence from being Bruno bishop of Spires. He was a man of great and admirable sanctity; and the Romans celebrate many of his miracles. He died before Henry, when he had been five years pope. In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1042, St. Edward, the son of Ethelred, assumed the sovereignty, and held it not quite twenty-four years; he was a man from the simplicity of his manners little calculated to govern; but devoted to God, and in consequence directed by him. For while he continued to reign, there arose no popular commotions, which were not immediately quelled; no foreign war; all was calm and peaceable both at home and abroad; which is the more an object of wonder, because he conducted himself so mildly, that he would not even utter a word of reproach to the meanest person. For when he had once gone out to hunt, and a countryman had overturned the standings by which the deer are driven into the toils, struck with noble indignation he exclaimed, “By God and his mother, I will serve you just such a turn, if ever it come in my way.” Here was a noble mind, who forgot that he was a king, under such circumstances, and could not think himself allowed to injure a man even of the lowest condition. In the meantime, the regard his subjects entertained for him was extreme, as was also the fear of foreigners; for God assisted his simplicity, that he might be feared, for he knew not how to be angry. But however indolent or unassuming himself might be esteemed, he had nobles capable of elevating him to the highest pitch: for instance, Siward, earl of the Northumbrians; who, at his command, engaging with Macbeth, the Scottish king, deprived him both of life and of his kingdom, and placed on the throne Malcolm, who was the son of the king of Cumbria: again, Leofric, of Hereford; he, with liberal regard, defended him against the enmity of Godwin, who trusting to the consciousness of his own merits, paid little reverence to the king. Leofric and his wife Godifa, generous in their deeds towards God, built many monasteries, as, Coventry, St. Mary’s at Stow, Wenlock, Leon, and some others; to the rest he gave ornaments and estates; to Coventry he consigned his body, with a very large donation of gold and silver. Harold too, of the West Saxons, the son of Godwin; who by his abilities destroyed two brothers, kings of the Welsh, Rees and Griffin; and reduced all that barbarous country to the state of a province under fealty to the king. Nevertheless, there were some things which obscured the glory of Edward’s times: the monasteries were deprived of their monks; false sentences were passed by depraved men; his mother’s property, at his command, was almost entirely taken from her. But the injustice of these transactions was extenuated by his favourers in the following manner: the ruin of the monasteries, and the iniquity of the judges, are said to have taken place without his knowledge, through the insolence of Godwin and his sons, who used to laugh at the easiness of the king: but afterwards, on being apprised of this, he severely avenged it by their banishment: his mother had for a long time mocked at the needy state of her son, nor ever assisted him; transferring her hereditary hatred of the father to the child; for she had both loved Canute more when living, and more commended him when dead: besides, accumulating money by every method, she had hoarded it, regardless of the poor, to whom she would give nothing, for fear of diminishing her heap. Wherefore that which had been so unjustly gathered together, was not improperly taken away, that it might be of service to the poor, and replenish the king’s exchequer. Though much credit is to be attached to those who relate these circumstances, yet I find her to have been a religiously-disposed woman, and to have expended her property on ornaments for the church of Winchester, and probably upon others. But to return: Edward receiving the mournful intelligence of the death of Hardecanute, was lost in uncertainty what to do, or whither to betake himself. While he was revolving many things in his mind, it occurred as the better plan to submit his situation to the opinion of Godwin. To Godwin therefore he sent messengers, requesting, that he might in security have a conference with him. Godwin, though for a long time hesitating and reflecting, at length assented, and when Edward came to him and endeavoured to fall at his feet, he raised him up; and when relating the death of Hardecanute, and begging his assistance to effect his return to Normandy, Godwin made him the greatest promises. He said, it was better for him to live with credit in power, than to die ingloriously in exile: that he was the son of Ethelred, the grandson of Edgar: that the kingdom was his due: that he was come to mature age, disciplined by difficulties, conversant in the art of well-governing from his years, and knowing, from his former poverty, how to feel for the miseries of the people: if he thought fit to rely on him, there could be no obstacle; for his authority so preponderated in England, that wherever he inclined, there fortune was sure to favour: if he assisted him, none would dare to murmur; and just so was the contrary side of the question: let him then only covenant a firm friendship with himself; undiminished honours for his sons, and a marriage with his daughter, and he who was now shipwrecked almost of life and hope, and imploring the assistance of another, should shortly see himself a king.

There was nothing which Edward would not promise, from the exigency of the moment: so, pledging fidelity on both sides, he confirmed by oath every thing which was demanded. Soon after convening an assembly at Gillingham, Godwin, unfolding his reasons, caused him to be received as king, and homage was paid to him by all. He was a man of ready wit, and spoke fluently in the vernacular tongue; powerful in speech, powerful in bringing over the people to whatever he desired. Some yielded to his authority; some were influenced by presents; others admitted the right of Edward; and the few who resisted in defiance of justice and equity, were carefully marked, and afterwards driven out of England.

Edward was crowned with great pomp at Winchester, on Easter-day, and was instructed by Eadsine, the archbishop, in the sacred duties of governing. This, at the time, he treasured up with readiness in his memory, and afterwards displayed in the holiness of his conduct. The above-mentioned Eadsine, in the following year, falling into an incurable disease, appointed as his successor Siward, abbot of Abingdon; communicating his design only to the king and the earl, lest any improper person should aspire to so great an eminence, either by solicitation or by purchase. Shortly after the king took Edgitha. the daughter of Godwin, to wife; a woman whose bosom was the school of every liberal art, though little skilled in earthly matters: on seeing her, if you were amazed at her erudition, you must absolutely languish for the purity of her mind, and the beauty of her person. Both in her husband’s life-time, and afterwards, she was not entirely free from suspicion of dishonour; but when dying, in the time of king William, she voluntarily satisfied the by-standers of her unimpaired chastity, by an oath. When she became his wife, the king acted towards her so delicately, that he neither removed her from his bed, nor knew her after the manner of men. I have not been able to discover, whether he acted thus from dislike to her family, which he prudently dissembled from the exigency of the times, or out of pure regard to chastity: yet it is most notoriously affirmed, that he never violated his purity by connexion with any woman.

But since I have gotten thus far, I wish to admonish my reader, that the track of my history is here but dubious, because the truth of the facts hangs in suspense. It is to be observed, that the king had sent for several Normans, who had formerly slightly ministered to his wants when in exile. Among these was Robert, whom, from being a monk of Jumitges, he had appointed bishop of London, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. The English of our times vilify this person, together with the rest, as being the impeacher of Godwin and his sons; the sower of discord; the purchaser of the archbishopric: they say too, that Godwin and his sons were men of liberal mind, the steadfast promoters and defenders of the government of Edward; and that it was not to be wondered at, if they were hurt at seeing men of yesterday, and strangers, preferred to themselves: still, that they never uttered even a harsh word against the king, whom they had formerly exalted to the throne. On the opposite hand the Normans thus defended themselves: they allege, that both himself and his sons acted with the greatest want of respect, as well as fidelity, to the king and his party; aiming at equal sovereignty with him; often ridiculing his simplicity; often hurling the shafts of their wit against him: that the Normans could not endure this, but endeavoured to weaken their power as much as possible; and that God manifested, at last, with what kind of purity Godwin had served him. For, after his piratical ravages, of which we shall speak hereafter, when he had been reinstated in his original favour, and was sitting with the king at table, the conversation turning on Alfred, the king’s brother, “I perceive,” said he, “O king, that on every recollection of your brother, you regard me with angry countenance; but God forbid that I should swallow this morsel, if I am conscious of any thing which might tend, either to his danger or your disadvantage.” On saying this, he was choked with the piece he had put into his mouth, and closed his eyes in death: being dragged from under the table by Harold his son, who stood near the king, he was buried in the cathedral of Winchester.

On account of these feuds, as I have observed, my narrative labours under difficulties, for I cannot precisely ascertain the truth, by reason either of the natural dislike of these nations for each other, or because the English disdainfully bear with a superior, and the Normans cannot endure an equal. In the following book, however, when the opportunity occurs for relating the arrival of the Normans in England, I shall proceed to speak of their habits; at present I shall glance, with all possible truth, at the grudge of the king against Godwin and his sons.

Eustace, earl of Boulogne, the father of Godfrey and Baldwin, who, in our times, were kings of Jerusalem, had married the king’s sister, Goda, who had borne a son, named Ralph, to her former husband, Walter of Mantes. This son, at that time earl of Hereford, was both indolent and cowardly; he had been beaten in battle by the Welsh, and left his county and the city, together with the bishop, to be consumed with fire by the enemy; the disgrace of which transaction was wiped out by the valour of Harold, who arrived opportunely. Eustace, therefore, crossing the channel, from Whitsand to Dover, went to king Edward on some unknown business. When the conference was over, and he had obtained his request, he was returning through Canterbury, where one of his harbingers, dealing too fiercely with a citizen, and demanding quarters with blows, rather than entreaty or remuneration, irritated him to such a degree, that he put him to death. Eustace, on being informed of the fact, proceeded with all his retinue to revenge the murder of his servant, and killed the perpetrator of the crime, together with eighteen others: but the citizens flying to arms, he lost twenty-one of his people, and had multitudes wounded; himself and one more with difficulty making their escape during the confusion. Thence returning to court and procuring a secret audience, he made the most of his own story, and excited the anger of the king against the English. Godwin, being summoned by messengers, arrived at the palace.

When the business was related, and the king was dwelling more particularly on the insolence of the citizens of Canterbury, this intelligent man perceived that sentence ought not to be pronounced, since the allegations had only been heard on one side of the question. In consequence, though the king ordered him directly to proceed with an army into Kent, to take signal vengeance on the people of Canterbury, still he refused: both because he saw with displeasure, that all foreigners were gaining fast upon the favour of the king; and because he was desirous of evincing his regard to his countrymen. Besides, his opinion was more accordant, as it should seem, with equity, which was, that the principal people of that town should be mildly summoned to the king’s court, on account of the tumult; if they could exculpate themselves, they should depart unhurt; but if they could not, they must make atonement, either by money, or by corporal punishment, to the king, whose peace they had broken, and to the earl, whom they had injured: moreover, that it appeared unjust to pass sentence on those people unheard, who had a more especial right to protection. After this the conference broke up; Godwin paying little attention to the indignation of the king, as merely momentary. In consequence of this, the nobility of the whole kingdom were commanded to meet at Gloucester, that the business might there be canvassed in full assembly. Thither came those, at that time, most renowned Northumbrian earls, Siward and Leofric, and all the nobility of England. Godwin and his sons alone, who knew that they were suspected, not deeming it prudent to be present unarmed, halted with a strong force at Beverston, giving out that they had assembled an army to restrain the Welsh, who, meditating independence on the king, had fortified a town in the county of Hereford, where Sweyn, one of the sons of Godwin, was at that time in command. The Welsh, however, who had come beforehand to the conference, had accused them of a conspiracy, and rendered them odious to the whole court; so that a rumour prevailed, that the king’s army would attack them in that very place. Godwin, hearing this, sounded the alarm to his party; told them that they should not purposely withstand their sovereign lord; but if it came to hostilities, they should not retreat without avenging themselves. And, if better counsels had not intervened, a dreadful scene of misery, and a worse than civil war, would have ensued. Some small share of tranquillity, however, being restored, it was ordered that the council should be again assembled at London; and that Sweyn, the son of Godwin, should appease the king’s anger by withdrawing himself: that Godwin and Harold should come as speedily as possible to the council, with this condition: that they should be unarmed, bring with them only twelve men, and deliver up to the king the command of the troops which they had throughout England. This on the other hand they refused; observing, that they could not go to a party-meeting without sureties and pledges; that they would obey their lord in the surrender of the soldiers, as well as in every thing else, except risking their lives and reputation: should they come unarmed, the loss of life might be apprehended; if attended with few followers, it would detract from their glory. The king had made up his mind too firmly, to listen to the entreaties of those who interceded with him; wherefore an edict was published, that they should depart from England within five days. Godwin and Sweyn retired to Flanders, and Harold to Ireland. His earldom was given to Elgar, the son of Leofric, a man of active habits; who, receiving, governed it with ability, and readily restored it to him on his return; and afterwards, on the death of Godwin, when Harold had obtained the dukedom of his father, he boldly reclaimed it, though, by the accusation of his enemies, he was banished for a time. All the property of the queen was seized, and herself delivered into the custody of the king’s sister at Wherwell, lest she alone should be void of care, whilst all her relations were sighing for their country.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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