The History of The Kings of England 32

William of Malmesbury

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Robert, son of William the first king of England, was born in Normandy, and already considered as a youth of excellent courage, when his father came to England: of tried prowess, though of small stature and projecting belly. He passed his early years amid the warlike troops of his father, obedient to him in every respect: but in the vigorous heat of youth, led by the suggestions of his idle companions, he supposed he could obtain Normandy from the king, during his lifetime. But when William refused this, and drove away the youth by the blustering of his terrific voice, Robert departed indignantly, and harassed his country by perpetual attacks. His father laughed at first, and then added, “By the resurrection of God, this little Robin Short -boot will be a clever fellow;” for such was his appellation, from his small stature; though there was nothing else to find fault with; as he was neither ill-made, nor deficient in eloquence, nor was he wanting in courage or resources of mind. At length, however, the king was so transported with anger, that he denied him his last blessing and the inheritance of England; and it was with difficulty, and disgrace, that he could retain even Normandy. After nine years he gave proof of his manhood in the labours of the crusade, and in many instances appeared wonderful, as neither Christian nor pagan could ever unhorse him: but more especially in the battle of Antioch, where he graced the victory by a singular achievement. For when the Turks, as we have related, were suddenly dismayed and fled, and our party vehemently attacked them in disorder, Corbanach, their leader, mindful of his native valour, checked his horse, and rallied his people; calling them base slaves, and forgetful of their ancient conquests, in suffering themselves, the former conquerors of the east, to be driven from their territories by a strange, and almost unarmed people. At this reproach, many, resuming their courage, wheeled round, attacked the Franks, and compelled the nearest to give way, while Corbanach continued to animate his men, and to assault the enemy; nobly fulfilling his duty, both as a commander and a soldier. But now the Norman earl and Philip the clerk, son of Roger, earl of Montgomery, and Warin de Taney, a castle so named in Maine, who had before made a feint of retreating, exhorting each other with mutual spirit, turned round their horses, and each attacking his man, threw them to the ground. Here Corbanach, though he knew the earl, yet estimating him merely by his size, and thinking it inglorious to fly, atoned for the boldness of attacking him, by a speedy exit; being instantly deprived of life. The Turks, who were already clamouring with boastful joy, on seeing his ++++, now lost their lately-acquired hopes, and redoubled their flight. In this contest Warin fell: Robert, with Philip, gained the victory. The latter, who acquired renown by this service, but afterwards, as they report, closed an honourable career at Jerusalem, was celebrated for his learning as well as his military prowess. Robert, thus coming to Jerusalem, tarnished his glory by an indelible stain, in refusing a kingdom, offered to him, as a king’s son, by the consent of all; and this, as it is asserted, not through awe of its dignity, but through the fear of endless labour. However, returning home, where he had reckoned on giving himself up to the full indulgence of sensual pleasure, God mercifully visited him, as I believe, for this transgression; every where thwarting him, and turning all his enjoyments into bitterness; as will be manifested by the sequel.

His wife, the daughter of William de Conversano, whom he had married in Apulia on his return, and whose surpassing beauty, all endeavours to describe are vain, died after a few years, by disease;” misled, as it is said, by the advice of the midwife, who had ordered her breasts, when in childbed, to be bound with a tight bandage, on account of the copious flow of her milk. A great consolation, however, in this extreme distress, was a son by his consort; who, called William by presage of his grandfather’s name, gave hope of noble talents hereafter. The immense sum which his fatherin-law had given him, under the appellation of dowry, that he miglit with it redeem Normandy, he lavished so profusely on buffoons, and worthless people, that, in a few days, he was pennyless. He accelerated his disgrace by his illadvised arrival in England, to wrest the kingdom from his brother Henry; but, failing of the assistance of the traitors who had invited him, he easily yielded to his brother’s terms of peace: which, by the agreement of the chiefs of either party, were, that, he should receive an annual present of three thousand marks from England. These were mere words: for the king had promised this without any design of fulfilling it; but, aware of his brother’s easiness, had deluded his soft credulity, till his warlike passion should subside. And he, too, as if contending with fortune whether she should give or he squander most, discovering the mere wish of the queen, silently intreating it, kindly forgave the payment of this immense sum for ever; thinking it a very great matter, that female pride should condescend to ask a favour; for he was her godfather. Moreover he forgot offences, and forgave faults beyond what he ought to have done: he answered all who applied to him, exactly as they wished; and that he might not dismiss them in sadness, promised to give what was out of his power. By this suavity of disposition, with which he ought to have acquired the commendations and the love of his subjects, he so excited the contempt of the Normans, that they considered him as of no consequence whatever. For then, all the nobility falling at variance, plunder was universal, and the commonalty were pillaged. Although the inhabitants laid their injuries before the earl, they gained no kind of redress; for though incensed at first, yet his anger was soon appeased, either by a trifling present, or the lapse of time. Roused, however, by the extremity of their distresses, they determined to implore the assistance of king Henry to their suffering country. Henry, according to Caesar’s axiom, “That if justice is ever to be violated, it ought to be violated in favour of the citizens, and that you may be observant of duty in other points,” transported his forces several times into Normandy to succour expiring justice, and at last was successful enough to subjugate the whole country, with the exception of Rouen, Falaise, and Caen. Robert was now reduced so low, as to wander, hardly to be recognised, through these towns, obtaining a precarious subsistence from the inhabitants. Disgusted at this, the people of Caen did not long regard their fidelity, but sending messengers to the king, they closed the gates of their city, with locks and bolts. Robert learning this, and wishing to escape, was hardly allowed to depart; his attendant, with the furniture of his chamber, being detained. Thence flying to Rouen, he had a conference with his lord, the king of France, and his relation, the earl of Flanders, on the subject of assistance; but obtaining none, he determined, as his last resource, to risk a general action. In which, through the persecution of fate, being taken prisoner, he was kept, by the laudable affection of his brother, in free custody till the day of his death; for he endured no evil but solitude, if that can be called solitude where, by the attention of his keepers, he was provided with abundance both of amusement and of food. He was confined, however, till he had survived all his companions in the Crusade, nor was he liberated to the day of his death. He was so eloquent in his native tongue, that none could be more pleasant; in other men’s affairs, no counsellor was more excellent; in military skill equal to any; yet, through the easiness of his disposition, was he ever esteemed unfit to have the management of the state. But since I have already said all that I knew of Hugh the Great, and of the earls of Blois and of Flanders, I think I may, very properly here conclude my Fourth Book.

Summoned by the progress of events, we have entered on the times of king Henry; to transmit whose actions to posterity, requires an abler hand than ours. For, were only those particulars recorded which have reached our knowledge, they would weary the most eloquent, and might overload a library. Who, then, will attempt to unfold in detail all his profound counsels, all his royal achievements ? These are matters too deep for me, and require more leisure than I possess. Scarcely Cicero himself, whose eloquence is venerated by all the Western world, would attempt it in prose; and in verse, not even a rival of the Mantuan Bard. In addition to this, it is to be observed, that while I, who am a man of retired habits, and far from the secrets of a court, withhold my assent from doubtful relators, being ignorant of his greater achievements, I touch only on a few events. Wherefore, it is to be feared, that where my information falls beneath my wishes, the hero, whose numerous exploits I omit, may appear to suffer. However, for this, if it be a fault, I shall have a good excuse with him who shall recollect that I could not be acquainted with the whole of his transactions, nor ought I to relate even all that I did know. The insignificance of my condition effects the one; the disgust of my readers would be excited by the other. This fifth book, then, will display some few of his deeds, while fame, no doubt, will blazon the rest, and lasting memory transmit them to posterity. Nor will it deviate from the design of the preceding four, but particularise some tilings which happened during his time here and elsewhere, which perchance are either unrecorded, or unknown to many: they will occupy, indeed, a considerable portion of the volume while I must claim the usual indulgence for long digressions, as well in this as in the others.

Henry, the youngest son of William the Great, was born in England the third year after his father’s arrival; a child, even at that time, fondly cherished by the joint good wishes of all, as being the only one of William’s sons born in royalty, and to whom the kingdom seemed to pertain. The early years of instruction he passed in liberal arts, and so thoroughly imbibed the sweets of learning, that no warlike commotions, no pressure of business, could ever erase them from his noble mind; although he neither read much openly, nor displayed his attainments except sparingly. His learning, however, to speak the truth, though obtained by snatches, assisted him much in the science of governing; according to that saying of Plato, “Happy would be the commonwealth, if philosophers governed, or kings would be philosophers.” Not slenderly tinctured by philosophy, then, by degrees, in process of time, he learned how to restrain the people with lenity; nor did he ever suffer his soldiers to engage but where he saw a pressing emergency. In this manner, by learning, he trained his early years to the hope of the kingdom; and often in his father’s hearing made use of the proverb, that “An illiterate king is a crowned ass.” They relate, too, that his father, observing his disposition, never omitted any means of cherishing his lively prudence; and that once, when he had been ill-used by one of his brothers, and was in tears, he spirited him up, by saying, “Weep not, my boy, you too will be a king.”

In the twenty-first year, then, of his father’s reign, when he was nineteen years of age, he was knighted by him at Westminster during Pentecost; and then accompanying him to Normandy, was, shortly after, present at his funeral; the other brothers departing whither their hopes led them, as my former narrative has related. Wherefore, supported by the blessing of his father, together with his maternal inheritance and immense treasures, he paid little regard to the haughtiness of his brothers; assisting or opposing each of them as they merited. More attached, however, to Robert for his mildness, he took every means of stimulating his remissness by his own spirit. Robert, on the other hand, through blameable credulity, trusting to tale-bearers, injured his innocent brother in a way which it may not be irrelevant briefly to relate.

At the time when the nobility of England were rebelling against William the Second, while Robert was waiting a wind to sail over from Normandy, Henry had, by his command, departed into Brittany; when, eagerly seizing the opportunity, he expended on his troops all the large sum of money, amounting to three thousand marks, which had been bequeathed to the young man by the will of his father. Henry, on his return, though perhaps he endured this with difficulty, yet observed a cautious silence on the subject. However, hearing of the restoration of peace in England, the service was ended, and they laid aside their arms. The earl retired to his own territories: Henry to those which his brother had either given, or promised to give him. Indeed he placed his promises to account, retaining the tower of Rouen under fealty to Robert. But, by the accusation of some very infamous persons, his fidelity proved disadvantageous to him; and for no fault on his part, Henry was, in this very place, detained in free castody, lest he should escape the vigilance of his keepers. Released at the expiration of half a year, on the invitation of his brother William he offered him his services; but he, remunerating the young man no better, put him off, though in distress, with empty promises for more than a year. Wherefore, Robert, by his messengers, offering reparation for what had been done, he came to Normandy; having experienced attempts on his person from each of his brothers. For the king, angry at his departure, had in vain commanded him to be detained: and the earl, swayed by the arts of his accusers, had changed his intention; so that, when lured to him by soothing measures, he would not easily suffer him to depart. But he, escaping every danger by the providence of God and his own prudent caution, compelled his brother gladly to accede to peace, by seizing Avranches and some other castles. Soon after, William coming into Normandy to revenge himself on his brother Robert, Henry manifested his regard to the earl at Ronen. Finally, the king’s party coming thither in the day time, he spiritedly expelled them, when already, through the treachery of the citizens, they had over-run the whole city; sending a message to the earl, to oppose them in front, while he pressed upon their rear. In consequence of this transaction, one Conan was accused of treachery to the earl; who designed to cast him into chains: supposing that no greater calamity could be inflicted on the wretch, than dooming him to drag out a hated existence in prison. But Henry requested to have this Conan committed to his care; which being granted, he led him to the top of the tower at Rouen, and ordering him carefully to survey the surrounding territory from the heights of the citadel, ironically declaring it should all be his, he thrust him suddenly off the ramparts into the Seine below; protesting to his companions, who at the same time assisted him, that no respite was due to a traitor; that the injuries of a stranger might be endured in some manner or other; but that the punishment of a man who with an oath had done homage, when once convicted of perfidy, never should be deferred. This action weighed little with Robert, who was a man of changeable disposition, for he immediately became ungrateful, and compelled his deserving brother to retire from the city. This was the period in which, as has been before mentioned, Henry, as well for his security as for his fame, made a stand against both Robert and William at Mount St. Michael’s. Thus, though he had been faithful and serviceable to either brother, they, vouchsafing no establishment to the young man, trained him up, as he grew in years, to greater prudence, from the scantiness of his means. But on the violent death of king William, as before related, after the solemnization of the royal funeral, he was elected king; though some trifling dissensions had first arisen among the nobility which were allayed chiefly through the exertions of Henry earl of Warwick, a man of unblemished integrity, with whom he had long been in the strictest intimacy. He immediately promulgated an edict throughout England, annulling the illegal ordinances of his brother, and of Ranulph; he remitted taxes; released prisoners; drove the flagitious from court; restored the nightly use of lights within the palace, which had been omitted in his brother’s time; and renewed the operation of the ancient laws, confirming them with his own oath, and that of the nobillty, that they might not be eluded. A joyful day then seemed to dawn on the people, when the light of fair promise shone forth after such repeated clouds of distress. And that nothing might be wanting to the aggregate of happiness, Ranulf, the dregs of iniquity, was cast into the gloom of a prison, and speedy messengers were despatched to recall Anselm. Wherefore, all vying in joyous acclamation, Henry was crowned king at London, on the nones of August, four days after his brother’s death. These acts were the more sedulously performed, lest the nobility should be induced to repent their choice; as a rumour prevailed, that Robert earl of Normandy, returning from Apulia, was just on the point of arriving. Soon after, his friends, and particularly the bishops, persuading him to give up meretricious pleasures and adopt legitimate wedlock, he married, on St. Martin’s day, Matilda, daughter of Malcolm king of Scotland, to whom he had long been greatly attached; little regarding the marriage portion, provided he could possess her whom he so ardently desired. For though she was of noble descent, being grand-niece of king Edward, by his brother Edmund, yet she possessed but little fortune, being an orphan, destitute of either parent; of whom there will be more ample matter of relation hereafter.

In the meantime, Robert, arriving in Normandy, recovered his earldom without any opposition; on hearing which, almost all the nobility of this country violated the fealty which they had sworn to the king: some without any cause; some feigning slight pretences, because he would not readily give them such lands as they coveted. Robert Fitz-Haymon, and Richard de Rivers, and Roger Bigod, and Robert earl of Mellent, -with his brother Henry, alone declared on the side of justice. But all the others either secretly sent for Robert to make him king, or openly branded their lord with sarcasms; calling him, Godric, and his consort, Goddiva. Henry heard these taunts, and, with a terrific grin, deferring his anger, he repressed the contemptuous expressions cast on him by the madness of fools, by a studied silence; for he was a calm dissembler of his enmities, but, in due season, avenged them with fierceness. This tempest of the times was increased by the subtlety of Ranulf. For, concerting with his butler, he procured a rope to be sent him. The deceitful servant, who was water-bearer, carried him a very long one in a cask; by which he descended from the wall of the tower, but whether he hurt his arms, or grazed the skin off” his hands, is a matter of no importance, Escaping thence to Normandy, he stimulated the earl, already indignant and ripe for war, to come to England without a moment’s delay.

In the second year, then, of Henry’s reign, in the month of August, arriving at Portsmouth, he landed, divided and posted his forces over the whole district. Nor did the king give way to indolence, but collected an innumerable army over against him, to assert his dignity, should it be necessary. For, though the nobility deserted him, yet was his party strong; being espoused by archbishop Anselm, with his brother bishops, and all the English. In consequence, grateful to the inhabitants for their fidelity, and anxious for their safety, he frequently went through the ranks, instructing them how to elude the ferocity of the cavalry by opposing their shields, and how to return their strokes. By this he made them voluntarily demand the fight, perfectly fearless of the Normans. Men, however, of sounder counsel interfering, who observed, that the laws of natural affection must be violated should brothers meet in battle, they shaped their minds to peace; reflecting, that, if one fell, the other would be the weaker, as there was no surviving brother. Besides, a promise of three thousand marks deceived the easy credulity of the earl; who imagined that, when he had disbanded his army, he might gratify his inclinations with such an immense sum of money: which, the very next year, he cheerfully surrendered to the queen’s pleasure, because she desired it.

The following year Robert de Belesme, eldest son of Roger de Montgomery, rebelled, fortifying the castles of Bridgenorth and Arundel against the king; carrying thither corn from all the district round Shrewsbury, and every necessary which war requires. The castle of Shrewsbury, too, joined the rebellion, the Welsh being inclined to evil on every occasion. In consequence, the king, firm in mind and bearing down every adverse circumstance by valour, collecting an army, laid siege to Bridgenorth, from whence Robert had already retired to Arundel; presuming from the plenty of provision and the courage of the soldiers, that the place was abundantly secure. But, after a few days, the townsmen, impelled by remorse of conscience and by the bravery of the king’s army, surrendered: on learning which, Arundel repressed its insolence; putting itself under the king’s protection, with this remarkable condition; that its lord, without personal injury, should be suffered to retire to Normandy. Moreover, the people of Shrewsbury sent the keys of the castle to the king by Ralph, at that time abbot of Sees, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, as tokens of present submission, and pledges of their future obedience. Thus, this fire of dissension which was expected to become excessive, wasted to ashes in the course of very few days; and the avidity of the revolters, perpetually panting after innovation, was repressed. Robert, with his brothers, Ernulph, who had obtained the surname of his father, and Roger the Poitevin, so called because he had married his wife from that country, abjured England for ever; but the strictness of this oath was qualified with a proviso, “unless he should satisfy the king on some future occasion, by his obedient conduct.”

The torch of war now lighted up in Normandy, receiving fresh fuel by the arrival of the traitors blazed forth and seized every thing within its reach. Normandy, indeed, though not very wide in its extent, is a convenient and patient fosterer of the abandoned. Wherefore, for a long time, she well endures intestine broils; and on the restoration of peace, rises soon to a state more fruitful than before; at her pleasure ejecting her disturbers, when detected by the province, by an easy egress into France. Whereas England does not long endure the turbulent; but when once received to her bosom, either surrenders, or puts them to death; neither, when laid waste by tumult, does she again soon rear her recovering head. Belesme, then, arriving in Normandy, had, both at that time and afterwards, accomplices in his malignity, and lest this should seem too little, inciters also. Among others was William earl of Moreton, the son of Robert, the king’s uncle. He, from a boy, had been envious of Henry’s fame, and had, more especially, on the arrival of the Norman, manifested his evil disposition. For not content with the two earldoms, of Moreton in Normandy, and Cornwall in England, he demanded from the king the earldom of Kent, which Odo his uncle had held; so troublesome and presumptuous was he, that, with shameless arrogance, he vowed, that he would not put on his cloak till he could procure the inheritance derived to him from his uncle; for such was his expression. But even then the king, with his characteristic circumspection, beguiled him by the subtlety of an ambiguous answer. The tumult, however, being allayed and tranquillity restored, he not only refused assent to his demand, but persisted in recovering what he unjustly retained; though he did it with moderation, and the sanction of law, that none of his actions might appear illegal, or contrary to equity. William, ousted by the sentence of the law, retired, indignant and furious into Normandy. Here, in addition to his fruitless attacks upon the royal castles, he assailed Richard earl of Chester, the son of Hugh; invading, plundering, and destroying some places which formed part of his possessions: the earl himself being at that time a minor, and under the protection and guardianship of the king.

These two persons, then, the leaders of faction and fomenters of rebellion, in conjunction with others whom I am ashamed to particularize, harassed the country, far and wide, with their devastations. Complaints from the suffering inhabitants on the subject of their injuries, though frequent, were lavished upon the earl in vain. He was moved by them, it is true; but fearing on his own account, lest they should disturb his ease if offended, he dissembled his feelings. King Henry, however, felt deeply for his brother’s infamy, carried to the highest pitch by the sufferings of the country: aware, that it was the extreme of cruelty, and far from a good king’s duty, to suffer abandoned men to riot on the property of the poor. In consequence, he once admonished his brother, whom he had sent for into England, with fair words; but afterwards, arriving in Normandy, he severely reminded him, more than once, by arms, to act the prince rather than the monk. He also despoiled William, the instigator of these troubles, of every thing he had in England; razing his castles to the ground. But when he could, even thus, make no progaess towards peace, the royal majesty long anxiously employed its thoughts, whether, regardless of fraternal affection, it should rescue the country from danger, or through blind regard, suffer it to continue in jeopardy. And indeed the common weal, and sense of right, would have yielded to motives of private affection, had not pope Paschal, as they say, urged him, when hesitating, to the business by his letters: averring, with his powerful eloquence, that it would not be a civil war, but a signal benefit to a noble country. In consequence, passing over, he, in a short time, took, or more properly speaking, received, the whole of Normandy; all flocking to his dominion, that he might provide, by his transcendent power, for the good of the exhausted province. Yet he achieved not this signal conquest without bloodshed; but lost many of his dearest associates. Among these was Roger of Gloucester, a tried soldier, who was struck on the head by a bolt from a crossbow, at the siege of Falaise; and Robert Fitz-Haymon, who receiving a blow on the temple, with a lance, and losing his faculties, survived a considerable time, almost in a state of idiotcy. They relate, that he was thus deservedly punished, because, for the sake of liberating him, king Henry had consumed the city of Bayeux, together with the principal church, with fire. Still, however, as we hope, they both atoned for it. For the king munificently repaired the damage of that church: and it is not easy to relate, how much Robert ennobled, by his favour, the monastery of Tewkesbury; where the splendour of the edifice, and the kindness of the monks, attract the eyes, and captivate the minds of the visitors. Fortune, however, to make up for the loss of these persons, put a finishing hand to the war, when at its height, and with little labour, gave his brother, when opposing him with no despicable force, together with William earl of Moreton, and Robert de Belesme, into his power. This battle was fought at Tenersebrey, a castle of the earl of Moreton’s, on Saturday the Vigil of St. Michael. It was the same day, on which, about forty years before, William had first landed at Hastings: doubtless by the wise dispensation of God, that Normandy should be subjected to England on the same day that the Norman power had formerly arrived to subjugate that kingdom. Here was taken the earl of Moreton, who came thither to fulfil his promise of strenuous assistance to the townsmen, as well as in the hope of avenging his injuries. But, made captive, as I have related, he passed the residue of his life in the gloom of a prison; meriting some credit from the vivacity of his mind, and the activity of his youth, but deserving an unhappy end, from his perfidy. Then, too, Belesmef escaped death by flight at the first onset; but when, afterwards, he had irritated the king by secret faction, he also was taken; and being involved in the same jeopardy with the others, he was confined in prison as long as he lived. He was a man intolerable from the barbarity of his manners, and inexorable to the faults of others; remarkable besides for cruelty; and, among other instances, on account of some trifling fault of its father, he blinded his godchild, who was his hostage, tearing out the little wretch’s eyes with his accursed nails: full of cunning and dissimulation, he used to deceive the credulous by the serenity of his countenance and the affabihty of his speech; though the same means terrified those who were acquainted with his malignity; as there was no greater proof of impending mischief, than his pretended mildness of address.

William of Malmesbury

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

29 January, 2015

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License