The History of The Kings of England 17

William of Malmesbury

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The following year, the exiles, each emerging from his station, were now cruising the British sea, infesting the coast with piracy, and carrying off rich booty from the substance of their countrymen. Against these, on the king’s part, more than sixty sail lay at anchor. Earls Odo and Ralph, relations of the king, were commanders of the fleet. Nor did this emergency find Edward himself inactive; since he would pass the night on ship-board, and watch the sallies of the plunderers; diligently compensating, by the wisdom of his counsel, for that personal service which age and infirmity denied. But when they had approached each other, and the conflict was on the eve of commencing, a very thick mist arose, which in a moment obscured the sight of the opponents, and repressed the pitiable audacity of men. At last Godwin and his companions were driven, by the impetuosity of the wind, to the port they had left; and not long after returning to their own country with pacific dispositions, they found the king at London, and were received by him on soliciting pardon. The old man, skilled in leading the minds of his audience by his reputation and his eloquence, dexterously exculpated himself from every thing laid to his charge; and in a short time prevailed so far, as to recover his honours, undiminished, for himself and for his children; to drive all the Normans, branded with ignominy, from England; and to get sentence passed on Eobert, the archbishop, and his accomplices, for disturbing the order of the kingdom and stimulating the royal mind against his subjects. But he, not waiting for violent measures, had fled of his own accord while the peace was in agitation, and proceeding to Rome, and appealing to the apostolical see on his case, as he was returning through Jumieges, he died there, and was buried in the church of St. Mary, which he chiefly had built at vast expense. While he was yet living, Stigand, who was bishop of Winchester, forthwith invaded the archbishopric of Canterbury: a prelate of notorious ambition, who sought after honours too keenly, and who, through desire of a higher dignity, deserting the bishopric of the South Saxons, had occupied Winchester, which he held with the archbishopric. For this reason he was never honoured with the pall by the papal see, except that one Benedict, the usurper, as it were, of the papacy, sent him one; either corrupted by money to grant a thing of this kind, or else because bad people are pleased to gratify others of the same description. But he, through the zeal of the faithful, being expelled by Nicholas, who legally assumed the papacy from being bishop of Florence, laid aside the title he so little deserved. Stigand, moreover, in the time of king William, degraded by the Roman cardinals and condemned to perpetual imprisonment, could not fill up the measure of his insatiable avidity even in death. For on his decease, a small key was discovered among his secret recesses, which on being applied to the lock of a chamber-cabinet, gave evidence of papers, describing immense treasures, and in which were noted both the quality and the quantity of the precious metals which this greedy pilferer had hidden on all his estates: but of this hereafter: I shall now complete the history of Godwin which I had begun.

When he was a young man he had Canute’s sister to wife, by whom he had a son, who in his early youth, while proudly curveting on a horse which his grandfather had given him, was carried into the Thames, and perished in the stream: his mother, too, paid the penalty of her cruelty; being killed by a stroke of lightning. For it is reported, that she was in the habit of purchasing companies of slaves in England, and sending them into Denmark; more especially girls, whose beauty and age rendered them more valuable, that she might accumulate money by this horrid traffic. After her death, he married another wife, whose descent I have not been able to trace; by her he had Harold, Sweyn, Wulnod, Tosty, Girth, and Leofwine. Harold became king for a few months after Edward; and being overcome by William at Hastings, there lost his life and kingdom, together with his two younger brothers. Wulnod, given by his father as an hostage, was sent over to Normandy by king Edward, where he remained all that king’s time in inextricable captivity; and being sent back into England during William’s reign, grew old in confinement at Salisbury: Sweyn being of an obstinate disposition, and faithless to the king, frequently revolted from his father, and his brother Harold, and turning pirate, tarnished the virtues of his forefathers, by his depredations on the coast: at last struck with remorse for the murder of Bruno, a relation, or as some say, his brother, he went to Jerusalem, and returning thence was surprised by the Saracens, and put to death: Tosty, after the death of Siward, was preferred to the earldom of Northumbria by king Edward, and presided over that province for nearly ten years; at the end of which he impelled the Northumbrians to rebel, by the asperity of his manners. For finding him unattended, they drove him from the district; not deeming it proper to kill him, from respect to his dignity: but they put to death his attendants both English and Danes, appropriating to their own use, his horses, his arms, and his effects. As soon as this rumour, and the distracted state of the country reached the king, Harold set forward to avenge the outrage. The Northumbrians, though not inferior in point of numbers, yet preferring peace, excused themselves to him for the transaction; averring, that they were a people free-born, and freely educated, and unable to put up with the cruelty of any prince; that they had been taught by their ancestors either to be free, or to die; did the king wish them to be obedient, he should appoint Morcar, the son of Elgar, to preside over them, who would experience how cheerfully they could obey, provided they were treated with gentleness. On hearing this, Harold, who regarded the quiet of the country more than the advantage of his brother, recalled his army, and, after waiting on the king, settled the earldom on Morcar. Tosty, enraged against every one, retired with his wife and children to Flanders, and continued there till the death of Edward: but this I shall delay mentioning, while I record what, as I have learned from ancient men, happened in his time at Rome.

Pope Gregory the Sixth, first called Gratian, was a man of equal piety and strictness. He found the power of the Roman pontificate so reduced by the negligence of his predecessors, that, with the exception of a few neighbouring towns, and the offerings of the faithful, he had scarcely anything whereon to subsist. The cities and possessions at a distance, which were the property of the church, were forcibly seized by plunderers; the public roads and highways throughout all Italy were thronged with robbers to such a degree, that no pilgrim could pass in safety unless strongly guarded. Swarms of thieves beset every path, nor could the traveller devise any method of escaping them. Their rage was equally bent against the poor and the rich; entreaty or resistance were alike unavailing. The journey to Rome was discontinued by every nation, as each had much rather contribute his money to the churches in his own country, than feed a set of plunderers with the produce of his labours. And what was the state of that city which of old was the only dwelling-place of holiness ? Why there an abandoned set of knaves and assassins thronged the very forum. If any one by stratagem eluded the people who lay in wait upon the road, from a desire even at the peril of destruction to see the church of the apostle; yet then, encountering these robbers, he was never able to return home without the loss either of property or of life. Even over the very bodies of the holy apostles and martyrs, even on the sacred altars were swords unsheathed, and the offerings of pilgrims, ere well laid out of their hands, were snatched away and consumed in drunkenness and fornication. By such evils was the papacy of Gregory beset. At first he began to deal gently with his subjects; and, as became a pontiff, rather by love than by terror; he repressed the delinquents more by words than by blows; he entreated the townsmen to abstain from the molestation of pilgrims, and the plunder of sacred offerings. The one, he said, was contrary to nature, that the man who breathed the common air could not enjoy the common peace; that Christians surely ought to have liberty of proceeding whither they pleased among Christians, since they were all of the same household, all united by the tie of the same blood, redeemed by the same price: the other, he said, was contrary to the command of God, who had ordained, that “they who served at the altar, should live by the altar;” moreover, that “the house of God ought to be the house of prayer, not a den of thieves,” nor an assembly of gladiators; that they should allow the offerings to go to the use of the priests, or the support of the poor; that he would provide for those persons whom want had compelled to plunder, by giving them some honest employment to procure their subsistence; that such as were instigated by avaricious desire, should desist immediately for the love of God and the credit of the world. He invited, by mandates and epistles, those who had invaded the patrimony of the church, to restore what did not belong to them, or else to prove in the Roman senate, that they held it justly; if they would do neither, they must be told that they were no longer members of the church, since they opposed St. Peter, the head of the church, and his vicar. Perpetually haranguing to this effect, and little or nothing profiting by it, he endeavoured to cure the inveterate disorder by having recourse to harsher remedies. He then separated from the body of the church, by the brand of excommunication, all who were guilty of such practices, and even those who associated or conversed with the delinquents. Though he acted strictly according to his duty, yet his diligence in this business had well nigh proved his destruction; for as one says, “He who accuses a mocker, makes himself an enemy,” so the abandoned crew began to kick against this gentle admonition; to utter their threats aloud; to clash their arms around the walls of the city, so as nearly even to kill the pope. Finding it now absolutely necessary to cut short the evil, he procured arms and horses from every side, and equipped troops of horse and foot. Taking possession, in the first place, of the church of St. Peter, he either killed or put to flight the plunderers of the oblations. As fortune appeared to favour his designs, he proceeded farther; and despatching all who dared resist, restored to their original jurisdiction all the estates and towns which had been for a considerable time lost. In this manner, peace, which had been long driven into banishment by the negligence of many, was restored to the country by the exertions of an individual. Pilgrims now began securely to travel on the public ways, which had been deserted; they feasted their eyes with pleasure on the ancient wonders within the city; and, having made their offerings, they returned home with songs of joy. In the meantime the common people of Rome, who had been accustomed to live by theft, began to call him sanguinary, and not worthy to offer sacrifice to God, since he was stained by so many murders; and, as it generally happens that the contagion of slander spreads universally, even the cardinals themselves joined in the sentiments of the people so that, when this holy man was confined by the sickness which proved his death, they, after consulting among themselves, with matchless insolence recommended him not to think of ordering himself to be buried in . the church of St. Peter with the rest of the popes, since he had polluted his office by being accessory to the death of so many men. Resuming spirit, however, and sternly regarding them, he addressed them in the following manner:

“If you possessed either a single spark of human reason, or of the knowledge of divine truth, you would hardly have approached your pontiff with so inconsiderate an address; for, throughout my whole life, I have dissipated my own patrimony for your advantage, and at last have sacrificed the applause of the world for your rescue. If any other persons were to allege what you urge in defamation of me, it would become you to silence them by explaining away the false opinions of fools. For whom, I pray you, have I laid up treasure ? For myself perhaps ? and yet I already possessed the treasures of my predecessors, which were enough for any man’s covetousness. To whom have I restored safety and liberty ? You will reply, to myself perhaps ? And yet I was adored by the people, and did, without restraint, whatever I pleased; entire orations teemed with my praises; every day resounded my applause. These praises and these applauses have been lost to me, through my concern for your poverty. Towards you I turned my thoughts; and found that I must adopt severer measures. A sacrilegious robber fattened on the produce of your property, while your subsistence was only from day to day. He, from the offerings belonging to you, was clad in costly silk; while you, in mean and tattered clothing, absolutely grieved my sight. In consequence, when I could endure this no longer, I acted with hostility to others, that I might get credit for the clergy, though at the loss of the citizens. However, I now find I have lavished my favours on the ungrateful; for you publicly proclaim what others mutter only in secret. I approve, indeed, your freedom, but I look in vain for your affection. A dying parent is persecuted by his sons concerning his burial. Will you deny me the house common to all living? The harlot, the usurer, the robber, are not forbidden an entrance to the church, and do you refuse it to the pope ? What signifies it whether the dead or the living enter the sanctuary, except it be, that the King is subject to many temptations, so that he cannot be free from spot even in the church; often finding matter of sin in the very place where he had come to wash it away; whereas the dead knows not how, nay, he who wants only his last sad office, has not the power to sin. What savage barbarity then is it to exclude from the house of God him in whom both the inclination and the power of sinning have ceased ! Repent, then, my sons, of your precipitate boldness, if perchance God may forgive you this crime, for you have spoken both foolishly and bitterly even to this present hour. But that you may not suppose me to rest merely on my own authority, listen to reason. Every act of man ought to be considered according to the intention of his heart, that the examination of the deed may proceed to that point whence the design originated; I am deceived if the Truth does not say the same; ‘If thine eye be simple thy whole body shall be full of light; if evil, all thy body shall be dark.’ A wretched pauper hath often come to me to relieve his distress. As I knew not what was about to happen, I have presented him with divers pieces of money, and dismissed him. On his departure he has met with a thief on the public road, has incautiously fallen into conversation with him, proclaimed the kindness of the apostolical see, and, to prove the truth of his words, produced the purse. On their journey the way has been beguiled with various discourse, until the dissembler, loitering somewhat behind, has felled the stranger with a club, and immediately despatched him; and, after carrying off his money, has boasted of a murder which his thirst for plunder had excited. Can you, therefore, justly accuse me for giving that to a stranger which was the cause of his death ? for even the most cruel person would not murder a man unless he hoped to fill his pockets with the money. What shall I say of civil and ecclesiastical laws ? By these is not the selfsame fact both punished and approved under different circumstances ? The thief is punished for murdering a man in secret, whereas the soldier is applauded who destroys his enemy in battle; the homicide, then, is ignominious in one and laudable in the other, as the latter committed it for the safety of his country, the former for the gratification of his desire for plunder. My predecessor Adrian the First, of renowned memory, was applauded for giving up the investiture of the churches to Charles the Great; so that no person elected could be consecrated by the bishop till the king had first dignified him with the ring and staff: on the other hand the pontiffs of our time have got credit for taking away these appointments from the princes. What at that time, then, might reasonably be granted, may at the present be reasonably taken away. But why so ? Because the mind of Charles the Great was not assailable by avarice, nor could any person easily find access unless he entered by the door. Besides, at so vast a distance, it could not be required of the papal see to grant its consent to each person elected, so long as there was a king at hand who disposed of nothing through avarice, but always appointed religious persons to the churches, according to the sacred ordinances of the canons. At the present time luxury and ambition have beset every king’s palace; wherefore the spouse of Christ deservedly asserts her liberty, lest a tyrant should prostitute to an ambitious usurper. Thus, on either side, may my cause be denied or affirmed; it is not the office of a bishop either himself to fight, or to command others to do so; but it belongs to a bishop’s function, if he see innocence made shipwreck of, to oppose both hand and tongue. Ezekiel accuses the priests for not strongly opposing and holding forth a shield for the house of Israel in the day of the Lord. Now there are two persons in the church of God, appointed for the purpose of repressing crimes; one who can rebuke sharply; the other, who can wield the sword. I, as you can witness for me, have not neglected my part; as far as I saw it could profit, I did rebuke sharply. I sent a message to him whose business it was to bear the sword; he wrote me word back, that he was occupied in his war with the Vandals, entreating me not to spare my labour nor his expense in breaking up the meetings of the plunderers. If I had refused, what excuse could I offer to God after the emperor had delegated his office to me ? Could I see the murder of the townspeople, the robbery of the pilgrims, and slumber on ? But he who spares a thief, kills the innocent. Yet it will be objected that it is not the part of a priest to defile himself with the blood of any one: I grant it. But he does not defile himself, who frees the innocent by the destruction of the guilty. Blessed, truly blessed, are they who always keep judgment and do justice. Phineas and Mattathias were priests most renowned in fame, both crowned with the sacred mitre, and both habited in sacerdotal garb; and yet they both punished the wicked with their own hands. The one transfixed the guilty couple with a javelin: the other mingled the blood of the sacrificer with the sacrifice. If then those persons, regarding, as it were, the thick darkness of the law, were, through divine zeal, transported for mysteries, the shadows only of those which were to be; shall we, who see the truth with perfect clearness, suffer our sacred things to be profaned? Azarias the priest drove away king Ozias, when offering incense, and no doubt would have killed him, had he not quickly departed; the divine vengeance, however, anticipated the hand of the priest, for a leprosy preyed on the body of the man whose mind had coveted unlawful things; the devotion of a king was disturbed, and shall not the desires of a thief be so ? It is not enough to excuse, I even applaud this my conduct; indeed I have conferred a benefit on the very persons I seem to have destroyed. I have diminished their punishment in accelerating their deaths. The longer a wicked man lives the more he will sin, unless he be such as God hath graciously reserved for a singular example. Death in general is good for all; for by it the just man finds repose in heaven, — the unjust ceases from his crimes, — the bad man puts an end to his guilt, — the good proceeds to his reward, — the saint approaches to the palm, — the sinner looks forward to pardon, because death has fixed a boundary to his transgressions. They then surely ought to thank me, who through my conduct have been exempted from so many sufferings. I have urged these matters in my own defence, and to invalidate your assertions: however, since both your reasoning and mine may be fallacious, let us commit all to the decision of God. Place my body, when laid out in the manner of my predecessors, before the gates of the church; and let them be secured with locks and bars. If God be willing that I should enter, you will hail a miracle; if not, do with my dead body according to your inclination.”

Struck by this address, when he had breathed his last, they carried out the remains of the departed prelate before the doors, which were strongly fastened; and presently a whirlwind, sent by God, broke every opposing bolt, and drove the very doors, with the utmost violence, against the walls. The surrounding people applaud with joy, and the body of the pontiff was interred, with all due respect, by the side of the other popes.

At the same time something similar occurred in England, not by divine miracle, but by infernal craft; which when I shall have related, the credit of the narrative will not be shaken, though the minds of the hearers should be incredulous; for I have heard it from a man of such character, who swore he had seen it, that I should blush to disbelieve. There resided at Berkeley a woman addicted to witchcraft, as it afterwards appeared, and skilled in ancient augury: she was excessively gluttonous, perfectly lascivious, setting no bounds to her debaucheries, as she was not old, though fast declining in life. On a certain day, as she was regaling, a jackdaw, which was a very great favourite, chattered a little more loudly than usual. On hearing which the woman’s knife fell from her hand, her countenance grew pale, and deeply groaning, “This day,” said she, “my plough has completed its last furrow; to-day I shall hear of, and suffer, some dreadful calamity.” While yet speaking, the messenger of her misfortunes arrived; and being asked, why he approached with so distressed an air ? “I bring news,” said he, “from that village,” naming the place, “of the death of your son, and of the whole family, by a sudden accident.” At this intelligence, the woman, sorely afflicted, immediately took to her bed, and perceiving the disorder rapidly approaching the vitals, she summoned her surviving children, a monk, and a nun, by hasty letters; and, when they arrived, with faltering voice, addressed them thus: “Formerly, my children, I constantly administered to my wretched circumstances by demoniacal arts: I have been the sink of every vice, the teacher of every allurement: yet, while practising these crimes, I was accustomed to soothe my hapless soul with the hope of your piety. Despairing of myself, I rested my expectations on you; I advanced you as my defenders against evil spirits, my safeguards against my strongest foes. Now, since I have approached the end of my life, and shall have those eager to punish, who lured me to sin, I entreat you by your mother’s breasts, if you have any regard, any affection, at least to endeavour to alleviate my torments; and, although you cannot revoke the sentence already passed upon my soul, yet you may, perhaps, rescue my body, by these means: sew up my corpse in the skin of a stag; lay it on its back in a stone coffin; fasten down the lid with lead and iron; on this lay a stone, bound round with three iron chains of enormous weight; let there be psalms sung for fifty nights, and masses said for an equal number of days, to allay the ferocious attacks of my adversaries. If I lie thus secure for three nights, on the fourth day bury your mother in the ground; although I fear, lest the earth, which has been so often burdened with my crimes, should refuse to receive and cherish me in her bosom.” They did their utmost to comply with her injunctions: but alas! vain were pious tears, vows, or entreaties; so great was the woman’s guilt, so great the devil’s violence. For on the first two nights, while the choir of priests was singing psalms around the body, the devils, one by one, with the utmost ease bursting open the door of the church, though closed with an immense bolt, broke asunder the two outer chains; the middle one being more laboriously wrought, remained entire. On the third night, about cock-crow, the whole monastery seemed to be overthrown from its very foundation, by the clamour of the approaching enemy. One devil, more terrible in appearance than the rest, and of loftier stature, broke the gates to shivers by the violence of his attack. The priests grew motionless with fear, their hair stood on end, and they became speechless. He proceeded, as it appeared, with haughty step towards the coffin, and calling on the woman by name, commanded her to rise. She replying that she could not on account of the chains: “You shall be loosed,” said he, “and to your cost:” and directly he broke the chain, which had mocked the ferocity of the others, with as little exertion as though it had been made of flax. He also beat down the cover of the coffin with his foot, and taking her by the hand, before them all, he dragged her out of the church. At the doors appeared a black horse, proudly neighing, with iron hooks projecting over his whole back; on which the wretched creature was placed, and, immediately, with the whole party, vanished from the eyes of the beholders; her pitiable cries, however, for assistance, were heard for nearly the space of four miles. No person will deem this incredible, who has read St. Gregory’s Dialogues; who tells, in his fourth book, of a wicked man that had been buried in a church, and was cast out of doors again by devils. Among the French also, what I am about to relate is frequently mentioned. Charles Martel, a man of renowned valour, who obliged the Saracens, when they had invaded France, to retire to Spain, was, at his death, buried in the church of St. Denys; but as he had seized much of the property of almost all the monasteries in France for the purpose of paying his soldiers, he was visibly taken away from his tomb by evil spirits, and has nowhere been seen to his day. At length this was revealed to the bishop of Orleans, and by him publicly made known.

But to return to Rome: there was a citizen of this place, youthful, rich, and of senatorial rank, who had recently married; and, who calling together his companions, had made a plentiful entertainment. After the repast, when by moderate drinking they had excited hilarity, they went out into the field to promote digestion, either by leaping, or hurling, or some other exercise. The master of the banquet, who was leader of the game, called for a ball to play with, and in the meantime placed the wedding ring on the outstretched finger of a brazen statue Avhich stood close at hand. But when almost all the others had attacked him alone, tired with the violence of the exercise, he left off playing first, and going to resume his ring, he saw the finger of the statue clenched fast in the palm. Finding, after many attempts, that he was unable either to force it off, or to break the finger, he retired in silence; concealing the matter from his companions, lest they should laugh at him at the moment, or deprive him of the ring when he was gone. Returning thither with some servants in the dead of night, he was surprised to find the finger again extended, and the ring taken away. Dissembling his loss, he was soothed by the blandishments of his bride. When the hour of rest arrived, and he had placed himself by the side of his spouse, he was conscious of something dense, and cloud-like, rolling between them, which might be felt, though not seen, and by this means was impeded in his embraces: he heard a voice too, saying, “Embrace me, since you wedded me today; I am Venus, on whose finger you put the ring; I have it, nor will I restore it.” Terrified at such a prodigy, he had neither courage, nor ability to reply, and passed a sleepless night in silent reflection upon the matter. A considerable space of time elapsed in this way: as often as he was desirous of the embraces of his wife, the same circumstance ever occurred; though in other respects, he was perfectly equal to any avocation, civil or military. At length, urged by the complaints of his consort, he detailed the matter to her parents; who, after deliberating for a time, disclosed it to one Palumbus, a suburban priest. This man was skilled in necromancy, could raise up magical figures, terrify devils and impel them to do anything he chose. Making an agreement, that he should fill his purse most plentifully, provided he succeeded in rendering the lovers happy, he called up all the powers of his art, and gave the young man a letter which he had prepared; saying, “Go, at such an hour of the night, into the high road, where it divides into four several ways, and stand there in silent expectation. There will pass by human figures of either sex, of every age, rank, and condition; some on horseback, some on foot; some with countenances dejected, others elated with full-swollen insolence; in short, you will perceive in their looks and gestures, every symptom both of joy and of grief: though these should address you, enter into conversation with none of them. This company will be followed by a person taller, and more corpulent than the rest, sitting in a chariot; to him you will, in silence, give the letter to read, and immediately your wish will be accomplished, provided you act with resolution.” The young man took the road he was commanded; and, at night, standing in the open air, experienced the truth of the priest’s asbtrtion by everything which he saw; there was nothing but what was completed to a tittle. Among other passing figures, he beheld a woman, in meretricious garb, riding on a mule; her hair, which was bound above in a golden fillet, floated unconfined on her shoulders; in her hand was a golden wand, with which she directed the progress of her beast; she was so thinly clad, as to be almost naked, and her gestures were wonderfully indecent. But what need of more ? At last came the chief, in appearance, who, from his chariot adorned with emeralds and pearls, fixing his eyes most sternly on the young man, demanded the cause of his presence. He made no reply, but stretching out his hand, gave him the letter. The demon, not daring to despise the well-known seal, read the epistle, and immediately, lifting up his hands to heaven, “Almighty God,” said he, “in whose sight every transgression is as a noisome smell, how long wilt thou endure the crimes of the priest Palumbus ?” The devil then directly sent some of those about him to take the ring by force from Venus, who restored it at last, though with great reluctance. The young man thus obtaining his object, became possessed of his long desired pleasures without farther obstacle; but Palumbus, on hearing of the devil’s complaint to God concerning him, understood that the close of his days was predicted. In consequence, making a pitiable atonement by voluntarily cutting off all his limbs, he confessed unheard-of crimes to the pope in the presence of the Roman people.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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