The History of The Kings of England 38

William of Malmesbury

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A great assembly of the nobles being held at Oxford about the eighth before the kalends of July, the prelates above-mentioned also repaired thither. The bishop of Salisbury set out on this expedition with great reluctance; for I heard him speaking to the following purport: “By my lady St. Mary, I know not why, but my heart revolts at this journey: this I am sure of, that I shall be of much the same service at court, as a foal is in battle:” thus did his mind forebode future evils. Here, as though fortune would seem subservient to the king’s wishes, a quarrel arose between the servants of the bishops and those of Alan, earl of Brittany, about a right to quarters, which had a melancholy termination; as the bishop of Salisbury’s retainers, then sitting at table, left their meal unfinished and rushed to the contest. At first, they contended with reproaches, afterwards with swords. The domestics of Alan were put to flight, and his nephew nearly killed: nor was the victory gained without bloodshed on the bishops’ side; for many were wounded, and one knight even slain. The king, eagerly seizing the opportunity, ordered the bishops to be convened by his old instigators, that they might make satisfaction to his court, as their people had infringed his peace: that this satisfaction should be, the delivery of the keys of their castles, as pledges of their fidelity. Though prepared to make compensation, they hesitated at the surrender of their fortresses; and in consequence, lest they should depart, he ordered them into close confinement. He therefore conducted bishop Roger, unfettered, but the chancellor, the nephew, or as it was reported, more than the nephew, of the bishop, in chains, to Devizes; a castle, erected at great and almost incalculable expense, not, as the prelate himself used to say, for the ornament, but as the real fact is, to the detriment of the church. At the first summons, the castles of Salisbury, Sherborne, and Malmesbury were yielded to the king. Devizes also surrendered at the end of three days, after the bishop had voluntarily enjoined himself abstinence from all food, that, by his personal sufferings, he might subdue the spirit of the bishop of Ely, who had taken possession of it. Nor did the bishop of Lincoln act more perseveringly; for he purchased his liberty by the surrender of his castles of Newark and Sleaford.

This transaction of the king’s gave rise to the expression of many different opinions. Some observed, that the bishops were justly dispossessed of their castles, as they had built them in opposition to the injunction of the canons: they ought to be glad preachers of peace, not builders of houses which might be a refuge for the contrivers of evil. Such was the doctrine enforced with ampler reasons and discourses, by Hugo, archbishop of Rouen: as far as his eloquence extended, the strenuous champion of the king. Others took the opposite side of the question. This party was espoused by Henry, bishop of Winchester, legate of England from the papal see, and brother to king Stephen, as I have said before, whom no fraternal affection, no fear of danger, could turn aside from the path of truth. He spake to this effect: “If the bishops had in anything overpassed the bounds of justice, the judging them did not pertain to the king, but to the ecclesiastical canons: that they ought not to be deprived of any possession but by a public and ecclesiastical council: that the king had not acted from zealous regard to right, but with a view to his own advantage; as he had not restored the castles to the churches, at whose expense, and on whose land they were built, but had delivered them to laymen, and those by no means of religious character.” Though the legate made these declarations not only privately, but publicly also before the king, and urged him to the liberation and restitution of the bishops, yet,’ being entirely disregarded, he lost his labour. In consequence, deeming it proper to resort to canonical power, he summoned his brother, without delay, to be present at a council he intended to hold at Winchester, on the fourth before the kalends of September.

On the appointed day, almost all the bishops of England, with Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, who had succeeded William, came to Winchester. Thurstan, archbishop of York, excused himself, on account of the malady with which he was afflicted; for he was so enfeebled, as to be hardly able to guide his steps: the others apologized for their absence, by letter, on account of the war. The bull of pope Innocent was first read in the council, whereby, even from the kalends of March, if I rightly remember, he had enjoined the administration of his anxious charge to the lord bishop of Winchester, as legate in England. This was received with much good-will, as the bishop had shown his forbearance by the lapse of time, and had not proclaimed himself legate with precipitate vanity. Next followed, in the council, his address, in the Latin tongue, directed to the learned, on the disgraceful detention of the bishops: “of whom the bishop of Salisbury had been seized in a chamber of the palace, Lincoln in his lodgings, and Ely, fearing a similar treatment, had escaped the calamity by a hasty retreat to Devizes:” he observed, “that it was a dreadful crime, that the king should be so led away by sinister persons, as to have ordered violent hands to be laid on his subjects, more especially bishops, in the security of his court: that, to the king’s disgrace was to be added the offence against God, in despoiling the churches of their possessions, under pretext of the criminality of the prelates: that, the king’s outrage against the law of God, was matter of such pain to him, that he had rather himself suffer grievous injury, both in person and property, than have the episcopal dignity so basely humiliated; moreover, that the king, being repeatedly admonished to amend his fault, had, at last, not refused that the council should be summoned: that therefore, the archbishop and the rest should deliberate what was proper to be done; and he would not be wanting to execute the sentence of the council, either through regard to the friendship of the king, who was his brother, or loss of property, or even danger of life.”

When he had gradually expatiated on these matters, the king, not distrusting his cause, sent certain earls into the council to demand wherefore he was summoned. The legate briefly replied, “that, when he recollected he was in subjection to the faith of Christ, he ought not to be displeased, if, when guilty of a crime, such as the present age had never witnessed, he was required, by the ministers of Christ, to make satisfaction: that it was the act of heathen nations to imprison bishops, and divest them of their possessions: that they should tell his brother, therefore, that if he would deign a patient assent to his advice, he would give him such, by the authority of God, as neither the church of Rome, nor the French king’s court, nor even earl Theobald, their common brother, a man of surpassing sense and piety, could reasonably oppose; but such as they ought favourably to embrace: that, at present, the king would act advisedly, if he would either account for his conduct, or submit to canonical judgment: it was, moreover, a debt he owed, to favour the church, by whose fostering care, not by military force, he had been promoted to the kingdom.” The earls retiring after this speech, returned shortly with an answer prepared. They Avere accompanied by one Alberic de Ver, a man deeply versed in legal affairs. He related the king’s answer, and aggravated as much as possible the case of bishop Roger, for bishop Alexander had departed; but this he did with moderation, and without using opprobrious language, though some of the earls, standing by, repeatedly interrupted his harangue by casting reproaches on the bishop.

The sum of what Alberic had to allege, was as follows: “That bishop Roger had greatly injured king Stephen; that he seldom came to court, but his people, presuming on his power, excited tumults; that they had, frequently at other places and very lately at Oxford, attacked the attendants, and even the very nephew of earl Alan, as well as the servants of Hervey de Lyons, a man of such high nobility, and so extremely haughty, that he had never deigned to visit England though king Henry had invited him; that the injury, therefore, of such violence having been offered him, doubly recoiled on king Stephen, through respect to whom he had come hither; that the bishop of Lincoln had been the author of the tumult excited by his followers from ancient enmity to Alan; that the bishop of Salisbury secretly favoured the king’s enemies, though he disguised his subtlety for the moment; that the king had discovered this beyond all doubt, from many circumstances, more especially, however, from the said bishop’s having refused permission to Roger de Mortimer with the king’s soldiers whom he was conducting, when under the greatest apprehensions from the garrison of Bristol, to continue even a single night at Malmesbury; that it was in every person’s mouth, that, as soon as the empress should arrive, he would join her party, with his nephews and their castles; that Roger, in consequence, was made captive, not as a bishop but as the king’s servant who had administered his affairs and received his wages; that the king had not taken their castles by violence, but that both bishops had surrendered them voluntarily to escape the punishment due to the disturbance they had excited in the court; that the king had found some trifling sums of money in the castles which must lawfully belong to himself, as bishop Roger had collected it from the revenues of the exchequer in the times of his uncle and predecessor king Henry; that the bishop had readily relinquished this money as well as the castles through consciousness of his offences, of which the king did not want for witnesses; that, therefore, he was willing that the conditions entered into by himself and the bishops should remain in force.”

It was rejoined by bishop Roger, in opposition to the speech of Alberic, that he had never been the minister of king Stephen; nor had he received his wages. This spirited man, too, who blushed at being cast down by adversity, threatened, that if he could not have justice for the property which had been wrested from him, in that council, he would seek it in the audience of a higher court. The legate mildly, as usual, observed that every allegation against the bishops ought to be made and the truth of it inquired into in an ecclesiastical court, before passing sentence, contrary to the canons, on innocent persons; that the king ought therefore to do as was incumbent in civil courts, that is, re-invest the bishops with their own property, otherwise, being disseized, by the law of nations, they will not plead.

Many arguments of this kind being used on both sides, the cause, at the king’s request, was adjourned to the next day; then, on the morrow, prolonged still a day farther till the arrival of the archbishop of Rouen.

When he came, while all were anxious to hear what he had to allege, he said he was willing to allow the bishops their castles if they could prove by the canons that they ought justly to possess them; but as they were not able to do this it was the height of impudence to contend against the canons. “And admitting,” said he, “that it be just for them to possess castles, yet most assuredly, as the times are eventful, all chiefs, after the custom of other nations, ought to deliver up the keys of their fortifications to the will of the king, who is bound to wage war for the common security.” Thus the whole plea of the bishops was shaken: for, either according to the decrees of the canons, it was unjust for them to have castles, or, if that were allowed by the king’s indulgence, they ought to yield to the emergency of the times, and give up the keys.

To this, the aforesaid pleader Alberic added that it had been signified to the king that the bishops muttered among themselves, and had even made preparation for some of their party to proceed to Rome against him. “And this,” said he, “the king advises that none of you presume to do; for if any person shall go from England to any place, in opposition to him and to the dignity of his kingdom, perhaps his return may not be so easy. Moreover, he, as he sees himself aggrieved, of his own accord summons you to Rome.” When the king had sent such a message, partly advising and partly threatening, it was perceived what was his design. In consequence the council broke up, as he would not submit to canonical censure; and the bishops deemed it inadvisable to enforce it against him for two reasons: first, because it was a rash act to excommunicate the king without the knowledge of the pope; secondly, because they understood, or some of them even saw, that swords were unsheathed around them. The contention was no longer of mere words, but nearly for life and for blood. The legate and the archbishop still, however, were anxiously observant of their duty. They humbly prostrated themselves before the king in his chamber, entreating him to take pity on the church, and to consider his soul and his reputation, and that he would not suffer a schism to be made between the empire and the priesthood. Although he in some measure removed the odium of his former conduct, by condescendingly rising to them, yet, prevented by ill advice, he carried none of his fair promises into effect.

The council broke up on the kalends of September; and on the day previous to the kalends of October, earl Robert, having at length surmounted every cause of delay, arrived with the empress his sister in England, relying on the protection of God and the observance of his lawful oath; but with a much smaller military force than any other person would have required for so perilous an enterprise; for he had not with him, at that time, more than one hundred and forty horsemen. My assertion is supported by persons of veracity; and did it not look like flattery, I would say that he was not inferior to Julius Csesar, at least in resolution, whom Livy relates to have had but five cohorts when he began the civil war, with which he attacked the world; though the comparison between Julius and Robert is invidious. For Julius, an alien to the true faith, reposed his hope on his good fortune, as he used to say, and the valour of his legions; Robert, celebrated for Christian piety, relied only on the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the lady St. Mary. The former had partisans in Gaul, in part of Germany, and Brittany, and had attached to him by means of presents all the Roman people with the exception of the senate; the latter, bating a very few who regarded their plighted oath, found the nobility in England either opposing or affording him no assistance. He landed, then, at Arundel, and for a time delivered his sister into the safe keeping, as he supposed, of her mother-in-law, whom Henry, as I have before related, had taken to his bed on the death of the empress’s mother. Himself proceeded through the hostile country to Bristol, accompanied, as I have heard, by scarcely twelve horsemen, and was joined in the midst of his journey by Brian Fitz-Count of Wallingford. Nor was it long ere he learned that his sister had quitted Arundel; for her mother-in-law, through female inconstancy, had broken the faith she had repeatedly pledged by messages sent into Normandy. The earl, therefore, committed the empress to Henry bishop of Winchester and Waleran earl of Mellent for safe conduct, a favour never denied to the most inveterate enemy by honourable soldiers. Waleran, indeed, declined going farther than Calne, but the bishop continued his route. The earl, therefore, quickly collecting his troops, came to the boundary appointed by the king, and placed his sister in safe quarters at Bristol. She was afterwards received into Gloucester by Milo, who held the castle of that city under the earl in the time of king Henry, doing him homage and swearing fidelity to him; for this is the chief city of his county.

On the nones of October one Robert Fitz-Hubert, a savage barbarian, by night clandestinely entering the castle of Malmesbury, which bishop Rochester had inauspiciously founded, and burning the town, boasted of the deed, as though he had gained a great triumph. But, within a fortnight, his joy was at an end, being put to flight by the king. Stephen, in the meantime, commanded possession to be kept of the castle, until, on the restoration of peace, it might be destroyed. The king, moreover, before he came to Malmesbury, had occupied, and placed a garrison in a small fortress called Cerney, belonging to the aforesaid Milo. In consequence, thinking he should be equally successful elsewhere, as at that place and at Malmesbury, he assailed a castle called Trowbridge, belonging to Humphrey de Bohun, who was of the empress’s party, but he departed without success.

The whole country then around Gloucester to the extremity of Wales, partly by force, and partly by favour, in the course of the remaining months of that year, gradually espoused the party of their sovereign the empress. The owners of certain castles, securing themselves within their fastnesses, waited the issue of events. The city of Hereford was taken without difficulty; and a few soldiers, who determined on resistance, had thrown themselves into the castle, were blocked up. The king drew nigh, if possible, to devise means for their assistance; but frustrated in his wishes, he retired with disgrace. He also approached Bristol, and going beyond it, burnt the neighbourhood around Dunstore, leaving nothing, as far as he was able, which could minister food to his enemies, or advantage to any one.

On the third before the ides of December, Roger bishop of Salisbury, by the kindness of death, escaped the quartan ague which had long afflicted him. They assert that his sickness was brought upon him through grief at the severe and repeated injuries he had received from king Stephen. To me it appears, that God exhibited him to the wealthy as an example of the mutability of fortune, in order that they should not trust in uncertain riches, which, as the apostle says, “while some have coveted, concerning faith have made shipwreck.” He first ingratiated himself with prince Henry, who became afterwards king, by his prudence in the management of domestic matters, and by restraining the excesses of his household. For, before his accession, Henry had been careful and economical in his expenses, compelled thereto by the scantiness of his resources, and the illiberal treatment of his brothers, William and Robert. Knowing his disposition this way, Roger had deserved so well of him in his time of need, that, when he came to the throne, he denied him scarcely any thing he thought proper to ask; gave him estates, churches, prebends, entire abbeys of monks, and, lastly, committed even the kingdom to his fidelity: made him chancellor, in the beginning of his reign, and not long after, bishop of Salisbury. Roger, therefore decided causes; he regulated the expenditure; he had charge of the treasury. Such were his occupations when the king was in England: such, without associate or inspector, when he resided in Normandy; which took place repeatedly, and for a long time together. And not only the king, but the nobility, even those who were secretly stung with envy at his good fortune, and more especially the ministers and debtors of the king, gave him almost whatever he could fancy. Was there any thing contiguous to his property which might be advantageous to him, he would directly extort it, either by entreaty or purchase; or, if that failed, by force. With unrivalled magnificence in their construction, as our times may recollect, he erected splendid mansions on all his estates; in merely maintaining which, the labour of his successors shall toil in vain. His cathedral he dignified to the utmost with matchless ornaments and buildings on which no expense was spared. It was truly wonderful to behold in this man, what abundant power attended him in every kind of dignity, and flowed as it were to his hand. How great was the glory, indeed, what could exceed it, that he should have made his two nephews, by virtue of his education, men of noted learning and industry, bishops; and, not of mean sees; but of Lincoln and Ely, than which, I know not whether there be more opulent in England ? He was sensible of his power, and, somewhat more harshly than became such a character, abused the favours of heaven. Lastly, as a certain poet observes of a rich man, ”He builds, destroys, and changes square for round,” so Roger attempted to turn abbeys into bishoprics, and bishoprics into abbeys. The most ancient monasteries of Malmesbury and Abbotsbury, he annexed, as far as he was able, to his see. He changed the priory of Sherborne, which is subject to the bishop of Salisbury, into an abbey; and the abbey of Hortun was forthwith dissolved and united to it. These events took place in the time of king Henry, under whom, as I have observed, his prosperity reached its zenith: for under Stephen, as I have before related, it began to decline; except that in the beginning of his reign, he obtained for one of his nephews, the chancellorship; for the other the office of treasurer; and for himself the town of Malmesbury; the king repeating often to his companions, “By the birth of God, I would give him half England, if he asked for it: till the time be ripe, he shall tire of asking, ere I tire of giving.” But fortune, who, in former times, had flattered him so long and so transcendently, at last cruelly pierced him with scorpion-sting. Such was that instance, when he saw those whom he dearly regarded, wounded; and his most favoured knight killed before his face; the next day, himself, and, as I said before, his nephews, very powerful bishops, the one compelled to fly, the other detained, and the third, a young man to whom he was greatly attached, bound with chains: on the surrender of his castles, his treasures pillaged, and himself afterwards, in the council, loaded with the most disgraceful reproaches. Finally, as he was nearly breathing his latest sigh, at Salisbury, the residue of his money and utensils, which he had placed upon the altar for the purpose of completing the church, was carried off against his will. The height of his calamity, was, I think, a circumstance which even I cannot help commiserating; that, though he appeared wretched to many, yet there were very few who pitied him: so much envy and hatred had his excessive power drawn on him, and undeservedly, too, from some of those very persons whom he had advanced to honour.

In the year of the Incarnate Word 1140, the monks of those abbeys which Roger had unjustifiably usurped, waiting on the king, were permitted to enjoy their ancient privileges, and abbots, as formerly. John, a monk of that place, a man highly celebrated for the affability of his manners and the liberality of his mind, was elected abbot of Malmesbury by the monks, according to the tenor of the privilege which St. Aldhelm had obtained from pope Sergius four hundred and sixty-six years before, and had caused to be confirmed by the kings, Ina of the West Saxons, and Ethelred of the Mercians. The legate approved the claim, but disapproved of the person: for he could not be induced to believe that the king had consented to the election but by a gift in money. And, indeed, a small sum had been promised, on the score of liberating the church, not for the election of the person. Wherefore John, though taken off by a premature death within the year, still left a lasting and laudable memory of himself to all succeeding ages. For no monk of that place, I confess the truth, would have pursued a task of such difficulty, had not John begun it. Wherefore let his successors be praised, if they shall preserve the liberty of that church; he certainly rescued it from thraldom.

The whole of this year was embittered by the horrors of war. There were many castles throughout England, each defending their neighbourhood, but, more properly speaking, laying it waste. The garrisons drove off from the fields, both sheep and cattle, nor did they abstain either from churches or church-yards. Seizing such of the country vavassours as were reputed to be possessed of money, they compelled them, by extreme torture, to promise whatever they thought fit. Plundering the houses of the wretched husbandmen, even to their very beds, they cast them into prison; nor did they liberate them, but on their giving every thing they possessed or could by any means scrape together, for their release. Many calmly expired in the midst of torments inflicted to compel them to ransom themselves, bewailing, which was all they could do, their miseries to God. And, indeed, at the instance of the earl, the legate, with the bishops, repeatedly excommunicated all violators of church-yards and plunderers of churches, and those who laid violent hands on men in holy or monastic orders, or their servants: but this his attention profited but little. It was distressing, therefore, to see England, once the fondest cherisher of peace and the single receptacle of tranquillity, reduced to such a pitch of misery, that, not even the bishops, nor monks, could pass in safety from one town to another. Under king Henry, many foreigners, who had been driven from home by the commotions of their native land, were accustomed to resort to England, and rest in quiet under his fostering protection: in Stephen’s time, numbers of freebooters from Flanders and Brittany flocked to England, in expectation of rich pillage. Meanwhile, the earl of Gloucester conducted himself with caution, and his most earnest endeavours were directed to gaining conquests with the smaller loss to his adherents. Such of the English nobility as he could not prevail upon to regard the obligation of their oath, he held it sufficient if he could so restrain, that, if they did not assist, they would not injure the cause: being willing, according to the saying of the comic writer, “To do what he could, when he could not do what he would.” But when he saw the opportunity present itself, he strenuously performed the duty both of soldier and of general; more especially, he valiantly subdued those strong holds, which were of signal detriment to the cause he had espoused; that is to say, Harpetrey, which king Stephen had taken from certain soldiers of the earl before he came to England, and many others; Sudley, Cerney, which the king had garrisoned, as I have said; and the castle which Stephen had fortified over against Wallingford, he levelled to the ground. He also, in these difficult times, created his brother Rainald, earl of Cornwall. Nor indeed did the king show less spirit in performing the duties of his station; for he omitted no occasion of repeatedly beating off his adversaries, and defending his own possessions. But he failed of success, and all things declined, for lack of justice. Dearth of provisions, too, increased by degrees, and the scarcity of good money was so great, from its being counterfeited, that, sometimes out of ten or more shillings, hardly a dozen pence would be received. The king himself was reported to have ordered the weight of the penny, as established in king Henry’s time, to be reduced, because, having exhausted the vast treasures of his predecessor, he was unable to provide for the expense of so many soldiers. All things, then, became venal in England; and churches and abbeys were no longer secretly, but even publicly exposed to sale.

During this year, in Lent, on the thirteenth before the kalends of April, at the ninth hour of the fourth day of the week, there was an eclipse, throughout England, as I have heard. With us, indeed, and with all our neighbours, the obscuration of the sun was so remarkable, that persons sitting at table, as it then happened almost every where, for it was Lent, at first feared that chaos was come again: afterwards learning its cause, they went out, and beheld the stars around the sun. It was thought and said by many, not untruly, that the king would not continue a year in the government.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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