The History of The Kings of England 19

William of Malmesbury

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The happiness of his times had been revealed in a dream to Brithwin bishop of Wilton, who had made it public. For in the time of Canute, when, at Glastonbury, he was once intent on heavenly watchings, and the thought of the near extinction of the royal race of the Angles, which frequently distressed him, came into his mind, sleep stole upon him thus meditating; when behold ! he was rapt on high, and saw Peter, the chief of the apostles, consecrating Edward, who at that time was an exile in Normandy, king; his chaste life too was pointed out, and the exact period of his reign, twenty-four years, determined; and, when inquiring about his posterity, it was answered, “The kingdom of the English belongs to God; after you he will provide a king according to his pleasure.”

But now to speak of his miracles. A young woman had married a husband of her own age, but having no issue by the union, the humours collecting abundantly about her neck, she had contracted a sore disorder; the glands swelling in a dreadful manner. Admonished in a dream to have the part affected washed by the king, she entered the palace, and the king himself fulfilled this labour of love, by rubbing the woman’s neck with his fingers dipped in water. Joyous health followed his healing hand: the lurid skin opened, so that worms flowed out with the purulent matter, and the tumour subsided. But as the orifice of the ulcers was large and unsightly, he commanded her to be supported at the royal expense till she should be perfectly cured. However, before a week was expired, a fair, new skin returned, and hid the scars so completely, that nothing of the original wound could be discovered: and within a year becoming the mother of twins, she increased the admiration of Edward’s holiness. Those who knew him more intimately, affirm that he often cured this complaint in Normandy: whence appears how false is their notion, who in our times assert, that the cure of this disease does not proceed from persnal sanctity, but from hereditary virtue in the royal line.

A certain man, blind from some unknown mischance, had persisted in asserting about the palace, that he should be cured, if he could touch his eyes with the water in which the king’s hands had been washed. This was frequently related to Edward, who derided it, and looked angrily on the persons who mentioned it; confessing himself a sinner, and that the works of holy men did not belong to him. But the servants, thinking this a matter not to be neglected, tried the experiment when he was ignorant of it, and was praying in church. The instant the blind man was washed with the water, the long-enduring darkness fled from his eyes, and they were filled with joyful light; and the king, inquiring the cause of the grateful clamour of the by-standers, was informed of the fact. Presently afterwards, when, by thrusting his fingers towards the eyes of the man he had cured, and perceiving him draw back his head to avoid them, he had made proof of his sight, he, with uplifted hands, returned thanks to God. In the same way he cured a blind man at Lincoln, who survived him many years, a proof of the royal miracle.

That you may know the perfect virtue of this prince, in the power of healing more especially, I shall add something which will excite your wonder. Wulwin, surnamed Spillecorn, the son of Wulmar of Nutgareshale, was one day cutting timber in the wood of Bruelle, and indulging in a long sleep after his labour, lie lost his sight for seventeen years, from the blood, as I imagine, stagnating about his eyes: at the end of this time, he was admonished in a dream to go round to eighty-seven churches, and earnestly entreat a cure of his blindness from the saints. At last he came to the king’s court, where he remained for a long time, in vain, in opposition to the attendants, at the vestibule of his chamber. He still continued importunate, however, without being deterred, till at last, after much difficulty, he was admitted by order of the king. When he had heard the dream, he mildly answered, “By my lady St. Mary, I shall be truly grateful, if God, through my means, shall choose to take pity upon a wretched creature.” In consequence though he had no confidence in himself, with respect to miracles, yet, at the instigation of his servants, he placed his hand, dipped in water, on the blind man. In a moment the blood dripped plentifully from his eyes, and the man, restored to sight, exclaimed with rapture, “I see you, king ! I see you, O king ! “In this recovered state, he had charge of the royal palace at Windsor, for there the cure had been performed, for a long time; surviving his restorer several years. On the same day, from the same water, three blind men, and a man with one eye, who were supported on the royal arms, received a cure; the servants administering the healing water with perfect confidence.

On Easter-day, he was sitting at table at Westminster, with the crown on his head, and surrounded by a crowd of nobles. While the rest were greedily eating, and making up for the long fast of Lent by the newly provided viands, he, with mind abstracted from earthly things, was absorbed in the contemplation of some divine matter, when presently he excited the attention of the guests by bursting into profuse laughter: and as none presumed to inquire into the cause of his joy, he remained silent as before, till satiety had put an end to the banquet. After the tables were removed, and as he was unrobing in his chamber, three persons of rank followed him; of these earl Harold was one, the second was an abbot, and the third a bishop, who presuming on their intimacy asked the cause of his laughter, observing, that it seemed just matter of astonishment to see him, in such perfect tranquillity both of time and occupation, burst into a vulgar laugh, while all others were silent. “I saw something wonderful,” said he, “and therefore I did not laugh without a cause.” At this, as is the custom of mankind, they began to inquire and search into the matter more earnestly, entreating that he would condescend to disclose it to them. After much reluctance, he yielded to their persevering solicitations, and related the following wonderful circumstance, saying, that the Seven Sleepers in mount Coelius had now lain for two hundred years on their right side, but that, at the very hour of his laughter, they turned upon their left; that they would continue to lie in this manner for seventy-four years, which would be a dreadful omen to wretched mortals. For every thing would come to pass, in these seventy-four years, which the Lord had foretold to his disciples concerning the end of the world; nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes would be in divers places; pestilence and famine, terrors from heaven and great signs; changes in kingdoms; wars of the gentiles against the Christians, and also victories of the Christians over the pagans. Relating these matters to his wondering audience, he descanted on the passion of these sleepers, and the make of their bodies, though totally unnoticed in history, as readily as though he had lived in daily intercourse with them. On hearing this the earl sent a knight; the bishop a clergyman; and the abbot a monk, to Maniches the Constant Neapolitan emperor, to investigate the truth of his declaration; adding letters and presents from the king. After being kindly entertained, Maniches sent them to the bishop of Ephesus, giving them at the same time what is called a holy letter, that the martyr-relics of the Seven Sleepers should be shown to the delegates of the king of England. It fell out that the presage of king Edward was proved by all the Greeks, who could swear they had heard from their fathers that the men were lying on their right side; hut after the entrance of the English into the vault, they published the truth of the foreign prophecy to their countrymen. Nor was it long before the predicted evils came to pass; for the Hagarens, and Arabs, and Turks, nations averse to Christ, making havoc of the Christians, overran Syria, and Lycia, and Asia Minor altogether, devastating many cities too of Asia Major, among which was Ephesus, and even Jerusalem itself At the same time, on the death of Maniches emperor of Constantinople, Diogenes, and Michaelius, and Bucinacius, and Alexius, in turn hurled each other headlong from the throne; the last of whom, continuing till our time, left for heir his son John more noted for cunning and deceit than worth. He contrived many hurtful plots against the pilgrims on their sacred journey; but venerating the fidelity of the English, he showed them every civility, and transmitted his regard for them to his son. In the next seven years were three popes, Victor, Stephen, Nicholas, who diminished the vigour of the papacy by their successive deaths. Almost immediately afterwards too died Henry, the pious emperor of the Romans, and had for successor Henry his son, who brought many calamities on the city of Rome by his folly and his wickedness. The same year Henry, king of France, a good and active warrior, died by poison. Soon after a comet, a star denoting, as they say, change in kingdoms, appeared trailing its extended and fiery train along the sky. Wherefore a certain monk of our monastery, by name Elmer, bowing down with terror at the sight of the brilliant star, wisely exclaimed, “Thou art come a matter of lamentation to many a mother art thou come; I have seen is excited, thee long since; but I now behold thee much more terrible, threatening to hurl destruction on this country.” He was a man of good learning for those times, of mature age, and in his early youth had hazarded an attempt of singular temerity. He had by some contrivance fastened wings to his hands and feet, in order that, looking upon the fable as true, he might fly like Daedalus, and collecting the air on the summit of a tower, had flown for more than the distance of a furlong; but, agitated by the violence of the wind and the current of air, as well as by the consciousness of his rash attempt, he fell and broke his legs, and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure, his forgetting to provide himself a tail.

Another prophecy similar to this, Edward uttered when dying, which I shall here anticipate. When he had lain two days speechless, on the third, sadly and deeply sighing as he awoke from his torpor, “Almighty God,” said he, “as this shall be a real vision, or a vain illusion, which I have seen, grant me the power of explaining it, or not, to the bystanders.” Soon after speaking fluently, “I saw just now,” continued he, “two monks near me, whom formerly, when a youth in Normandy, I knew both to have lived in a most religious manner, and to have died like perfect Christians. These men, announcing themselves as the messengers of God, spoke to the following effect: ‘Since the chiefs of England, the dukes, bishops, and abbots, are not the ministers of God, but of the devil, God, after your death, has delivered this kingdom for a year and a day, into the hand of the enemy, and devils shall wander over all the land.’ And when I said that I would show these things to my people; and promised that they should liberate themselves by repentance, after the old example of the Ninevites; ‘Neither of these,’ said they, ‘shall take place; for they will not repent, nor will God have mercy on them.’ When then, said I, may cessation from such great calamities be hoped for ? They replied, Whenever a green tree shall be cut through the middle, and the part cut off, being carried the space of three acres from the trunk, shall, without any assistance, become again united to its stem, bud out with flowers, and stretch forth its fruit, as before, from the sap again uniting; then may a cessation of such evils be at last expected.’ “Though others were apprehensive of the truth of this prediction, jet Stigand, at that time archbishop, received it with laughter; saying, that the old man doted through disease. We, however, find the truth of the presage experimentally; for England is become the residence of foreigners, and the property of strangers: at the present time, there is no Englishman, either earl, bishop, or abbot; strangers all, they prey upon the riches and vitals of England; nor is there any hope of a termination to this misery. The cause of which evil, as I have long since promised, it is now high time that my narrative should endeavour briefly to disclose.

King Edward declining into years, as he had no children himself, and saw the sons of Godwin growing in power, despatched messengers to the king of Hungary, to send over Edward, the son of his brother Edmund, with all his family: intending, as he declared, that either he, or his sons, should succeed to the hereditary kingdom of England, and that his own want of issue should be supplied by that of his kindred. Edward came in consequence, but died almost immediately at St. Paul’s in London: he was neither valiant, nor a man of abilities. He left three surviving children; that is to say, Edgar, who, after the death of Harold, was by some elected king; and who, after many revolutions of fortune, is now living wholly retired in the country, in extreme old age: Christina, who grew old at Romsey in the habit of a nun: Margaret, whom Malcolm king of the Scots espoused. Blessed with a numerous offspring, her sons were Edgar, and Alexander, who reigned in Scotland after their father in due succession: for the eldest, Edward, had fallen in battle with his father; the youngest, David, noted for his meekness and discretion, is at present king of Scotland. Her daughters were, Matilda, whom in our time king Henry has married, and Maria, whom Eustace the younger, earl of Boulogne, espoused. The king, in consequence of the death of his relation, losing his first hope of support, gave the succession of England to William earl of Normandy.” He was well worthy of such a gift, being a young man of superior mind, who had raised himself to the highest eminence by his unwearied exertion: moreover, he was his nearest relation by consanguinity, as he was the son of Robert, the son of Richard the second, whom we have repeatedly mentioned as the brother of Emma, Edward’s mother. Some affirm that Harold himself was sent into Normandy by the king for this purpose: others, who knew Harold’s more secret intentions, say, that being driven thither against his will, by the violence of the wind, he imagined this device, in order to extricate himself. This, as it appears nearest the truth, I shall relate. Harold being at his country-seat at Boseham, went for recreation on board a fishing boat, and, for the purpose of prolonging his sport, put out to sea; when a sudden tempest arising, he was driven with his companions on the coast of Ponthieu. The people of that district, as was their native custom, immediately assembled from all quarters; and Harold’s company, unarmed and few in number, were, as it easily might be, quickly overpowered by an armed multitude, and bound hand and foot. Harold, craftily meditating a remedy for this mischance, sent a person, whom he had allured by very great promises, to William, to say, that he had been sent into Normandy by the king, for the purpose of expressly confirming, in person, the message which had been imperfectly delivered by people of less authority; but that he was detained in fetters by Guy earl of Ponthieu, and could not execute his embassy: that it was the barbarous and inveterate custom of the country, that such as had escaped destruction at sea, should meet with perils on shore: that it well became a man of his dignity, not to let this pass unpunished: that to suffer those to be laden with chains, who appealed to his protection, detracted somewhat from his own greatness: and that if his captivity must be terminated by money, he would gladly give it to earl William, but not to the contemptible Guy. By these means, Harold was liberated at William’s command, and conducted to Normandy by Guy in person. The earl entertained him with much respect, both in banqueting and in vesture, according to the custom of his country; and the better to learn his disposition, and at the same time to try his courage, took him with him in an expedition he at that time led against Brittany. There, Harold, well proved both in ability and courage, won the heart of the Norman; and, still more to ingratiate himself, he of his own accord, confirmed to him by oath the castle of Dover, which was under his jurisdiction, and the kingdom of England, after the death of Edward. Wherefore, he was honoured both by having his daughter, then a child, betrothed to him, and by the confirmation of his ample patrimony, and was received into the strictest intimacy. Not long after his return home, the king was crowned at London on Christmas-day, and being there seized with the disorder of which he was sensible he should die, he commanded the church of Westminster to be dedicated on Innocents-day. Thus, full of years and of glory, he surrendered his pure spirit to heaven, and was buried on the day of the Epiphany, in the said church, which he, first in England, had erected after that kind of style which, now, almost all attempt to rival at enormous expense. The race of the West Saxons, which had reigned in Britain five hundred and seventy-one years, from the time of Cerdic, and two hundred and sixty-one from Egbert, in him ceased altogether to rule. For while the grief for the king’s death was yet fresh, Harold, on the very day of the Epiphany, seized the diadem, and extorted from the nobles their consent; though the English say, that it was granted him by the king: but I conceive it alleged, more through regard to Harold, than through sound judgement, that Edward should transfer his inheritance to a man of whose power he had always been jealous. Still, not to conceal the truth, Harold would have governed the kingdom with prudence and with courage, in the character he had assumed, had he undertaken it lawfully. Indeed, during Edward’s lifetime, he had quelled, by his valour, whatever wars were excited against him; wishing to signalize himself with his countrymen, and looking forward with anxious hope to the crown. He first vanquished Griffin king of the Welsh, as I have before related, in battle; and, afterwards, when he was again making formidable efforts to recover his power, deprived him of his head; appointing as his successors, two of his own adherents, that is, the brothers of this Griffin, Blegent and Rivallo, who had obtained his favour by their submission. The same year Tosty arrived on the Humber, from Flanders, with a fleet of sixty ships, and infested with piratical depredations those parts which were adjacent to the mouth of the river; but being quickly driven from the province by the joint force of the brothers, Edwin and Morcar, he set sail towards Scotland; where meeting with Harold Harfager king of Norway, then meditating an attack on England with three hundred ships, he put himself under his command. Both, then, with united forces, laid waste the country beyond the Humber; and falling on the brothers, reposing after their recent victory and suspecting no attack of the land, they first routed, and then shut them up in York. Harold, on hearing this, proceeded thither with all his forces, and, each nation making every possible exertion, a bloody encounter followed: but the English obtained the advantage, and put the Norwegians to flight. Yet, however reluctantly posterity may believe it, one single Norwegian for a long time delayed the triumph of so many, and such great men. For standing on the entrance of the bridge, which is called Standford Bridge, after having killed several of our party, he prevented the whole from passing over. Being invited to surrender, with the assurance that a man of such courage should experience the amplest clemency from the English, he derided those who entreated him; and immediately, with stern countenance, reproached the set of cowards who were unable to resist an individual. No one approaching nearer, as they thought it inadvisable to come to close quarters with a man who had desperately rejected every means of safety, one of the king’s followers aimed an iron javelin at him from a distance; and transfixed him as he was boastfully flourishing about, and too incautious from his security, so that he yielded the victory to the English. The army immediately passing over without opposition, destroyed the dispersed and flying Norwegians. King Harfager and Tosty were slain; the king’s son, with all the ships, was kindly sent back to his own country. Harold, elated by his successful enterprise, vouchsafed no part of the spoil to his soldiers. Wherefore many, as they found opportunity, stealing away, deserted the king, as he was proceeding to the battle of Hastings. For with the exception of his stipendiary and mercenary soldiers, he had very few of the people with him; on which account, circumvented by a stratagem of William’s, he was routed, with the army he headed, after possessing the kingdom nine months and some days. The effect of war in this affair was trifling; it was brought about by the secret and wonderful counsel of God: since the Angles never again, in any general battle, made a struggle for liberty, as if the whole strength of England had fallen with Harold, who certainly might and ought to pay the penalty of his perfidy, even though it were at the hands of the most unwarlike people. Nor in saying this, do I at all derogate from the valour of the Normans, to whom I am strongly bound, both by my descent, and for the privileges I enjoy. Still those persons appear to me to err, who augment the numbers of the English, and underrate their courage; who, while they design to extol the Normans, load them with ignominy. A mighty commendation indeed ! that a very warlike nation should conquer a set of people who were obstructed by their multitude, and fearful through cowardice ! On the contrary, they were few in number and brave in the extreme; and sacrificing every regard to their bodies, poured forth their spirit for their country. But, however, as these matters await a more detailed narrative, I shall now put a period to my second book, that I may return to my composition, and my readers to the perusal of it, with fresh ardour.

Normans and English, incited by different motives, have written of king William: the former have praised him to excess; extolling to the utmost both his good and his bad actions: while the latter, out of national hatred, have laden their conqueror with undeserved reproach. For my part, as the blood of either people flows in my veins, I shall steer a middle course: where I am certified of his good deeds, I shall openly proclaim them; his bad conduct I shall touch upon lightly and sparingly, though not so as to conceal it; so that neither shall my narrative be condemned as false, nor will I brand that man with ignominious censure, almost the whole of whose actions may reasonably be excused, if not commended. Wherefore I shall willingly and carefully relate such anecdotes of him, as may be matter of incitement to the indolent, or of example to the enterprising; useful to the present age, and pleasing to posterity. But I shall spend little time in relating such things as are of service to no one, and which produce disgust in the reader, as well as ill-will to the author. There are always people, more than sufficient, ready to detract from the actions of the noble: my course of proceeding will be, to extenuate evil, as much as can be consistently with truth, and not to bestow excessive commendation even on good actions. For this moderation, as I imagine, all true judges will esteem me “either timid, nor unskilful. And this rule too, my history will regard equally, with respect both to William and his two sons; that nothing shall be dwelt on too fondly; nothing untrue shall be admitted. The elder of these did little worthy of praise, if we except the early part of his reign; gaining, throughout the whole of his life, the favour of the military at the expense of the people. The second, more obsequious to his father than to his brother, possessed his spirit, unsubdued either by prosperity or adversity: on regarding his warlike expeditions, it is matter of doubt, whether he was more cautious or more bold; on contemplating their event, whether he was more fortunate, or unsuccessful. There will be a time, however, when the reader may judge for himself. I am now about to begin my third volume; and I think I have said enough to make him attentive, and disposed to receive instruction: his own feelings will persuade him to be candid. Robert, second son of Richard the Second, after he had, with great glory, held the duchy of Normandy for seven years, resolved on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He had, at that time, a son seven years of age, born of a concubine, whose beauty he had accidentally beheld, as she was dancing, and had become so smitten with it, as to form a connexion with her: after which, he loved her exclusively, and, for some time, regarded her as his wife. He had by her this boy, named, after his great-great-grandfather, William, whose future glory was portended to his mother by a dream; wherein she imagined her intestines were stretched out, and extended over the whole of Normandy and England: and, at the very moment, also, when the infant burst into life and touched the ground, he filled both hands with the rushes strewed upon the floor, firmly grasping what he had taken up. This prodigy was joyfully witnessed by the women, gossiping on the occasion; and the midwife hailed the propitious omen, declaring that the boy would be a king.

Every provision being made for the expedition to Jerusalem, the chiefs were summoned to a council at Feschamp, where, at his father’s command, all swore fidelity to William: earl Gilbert was appointed his guardian; and the protection of the earl was assigned to Henry, king of France. While Robert was prosecuting his journey, the Normans, each in his several station, united in common for the defence of their country, and regarded their infant lord with great affection. This fidelity continued till the report was spread of Robert’s death, upon which their affection changed with his fortune; and then they began severally to fortify their towns, to build castles, to carry in provisions, and to seek the earliest opportunities of revolting from the child. In the meantime, however, doubtlessly by the special aid of God who had destined him to the sovereignty of such an extended empire, he grew up uninjured; while Gilbert, almost alone, defended by arms what was just and right: the rest being occupied by the designs of their respective parties. But Gilbert being at this time killed by his cousin Rudolph, fire and slaughter raged on all sides. The country, formerly most flourishing, was now torn with intestine broils, and divided at the pleasure of the plunderers; so that it was justly entitled to proclaim, “Woe to the land whose sovereign is a child.”

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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