The History of The Kings of England 14

William of Malmesbury

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“There were in a public street leading to Rome, two old women, the most drunken and filthy beings that can be conceived; both living in the same hut, and both practising witchcraft. If any lone stranger happened to come in their way, they used to make him appear either a horse, or a sow, or some other animal; expose him for sale to dealers, and gluttonize with the money. By chance, on a certain night, taking in a lad to lodge who got his livelihood by stagedancing, they turned him into an ass: and so possessed a creature extremely advantageous to their interests, who caught the eyes of such as passed by the strangeness of his postures. In whatever mode the old woman commanded, the ass began to dance, for he retained his understanding, though he had lost the power of speech. In this manner the women had accumulated much money; for there was, daily, a large concourse of people, from all parts, to see the tricks of the ass. The report of this induced a rich neighbour to purchase the quadruped for a considerable sum; and he was warned, that, if he would have him as a constant dancer, he must keep him from water. The person who had charge of him rigidly fulfilled his orders. A long time elapsed; the ass sometimes gratified his master by his reeling motions, and sometimes entertained his friends with his tricks. But, however, as in time all things surfeit, he began at length to be less cautiously observed. In consequence of this negligence, breaking his halter, he got loose, plunged into a pool hard by, and rolling for a long time in the water, recovered his human form. The keeper, inquiring of all he met, and pursuing him by the track of his feet, asked him if he had seen an ass; he replied that himself had been an ass, but was now a man: and related the whole transaction. The servant astonished told it to his master, and the master to pope Leo, the holiest man in our times. The old women were convicted, and confessed the fact. The pope doubting this, was assured by Peter Damian, a learned man, that it was not wonderful that such things should be done: he produced the example of Simon Magus, who caused Faustinranus to assume the figure of Simon, and to become an object of terror to his sons, and thus rendered his holiness better skilled in such matters for the future.”

I have inserted this narrative of the Aquitanian to the intent that what is reported of Gerbert should not seem wonderful to any person; which is, that he cast, for his own purposes, the head of a statue, by a certain inspection of the stars when all the planets were about to begin their courses, which spake not unless spoken to, but then pronounced the truth, either in the affirmative or negative. For instance, when Gerbert would say, “Shall I be pope ?” the statute would reply, “Yes.” “Am I to die, ere I sing mass at Jerusalem ?” “No.” They relate, that he was so much deceived by this ambiguity, that he thought nothing of repentance: for when would he think of going to Jerusalem, to accelerate his own death ? Nor did he foresee that at Rome there is a church called Jerusalem, that is, “the vision of peace,” because whoever flies thither finds safety, whatsoever crime he may be guilty of. We have heard, that this was called an asylum in the very infancy of the city, because Romulus, to increase the number of his subjects, had appointed it to be a refuge for the guilty of every description. The pope sings mass there on three Sundays, which are called “The station at Jerusalem.” Wherefore upon one of those days Gerbert, preparing himself for mass, was suddenly struck with sickness; which increased so that he took to his bed: and consulting his statue, he became convinced of his delusion and of his approaching death. Calling, therefore, the cardinals together, he lamented his crimes for a long space of time. They, being struck with sudden fear were unable to make any reply, whereupon he began to rave, and losing his reason through excess of pain, commanded himself to be maimed, and cast forth piecemeal, saying, “Let him have the service of my limbs, who before sought their homage; for my mind never consented to that abominable oath.”

And since I have wandered from my subject, I think it may not be unpleasant to relate what took place in Saxony countenance, by rubbing his face with a medicated unguent, to the great alarm of his son who mistook him for Simon, and fled until recalled by St. Peter. in the time of this king, in the year of our Lord 1012, and is not so generally known. It is better to dilate on such matters than to dwell on Æthelred’s indolence and calamities: and it will be more pleasing certainly, and nearer the truth, if I subjoin it in the original language of the person who was a sufferer, than if I had clothed it in my own words. Besides, I think it ornamental to a work, that the style should be occasionally varied.

“I Æthelberht, a sinner, even were I desirous of concealing the divine judgement which overtook me, yet the tremor of my limbs would betray me; wherefore I shall relate circumstantially how this happened, that all may know the heavy punishment due to disobedience. We were, on the eve of our Lords nativity, in a certain town of Saxony, in which was the church of Magnus the martyr, and a priest named Robert had begun the first mass. I was in the churchyard with eighteen companions, fifteen men and three women, dancing, and singing profane songs to such a degree that I interrupted the priest, and our voices resounded amid the sacred solemnity of the mass. Wherefore, having commanded us to be silent, and not being attended to, he cursed us in the following words, ‘ May it please God and St. Magnus, that you may remain singing in that manner for a whole year. His words had their effect. The son of John the priest seized his sister who was singing with us, by the arm, and immediately tore it from her body; but not a drop of blood flowed out. She also remained a whole year with us, dancing and singing. The rain fell not upon us; nor did cold, nor heat, nor hunger, nor thirst, nor fatigue assail us: we neither wore our clothes nor shoes, but we kept on singing as though we had been insane. First we sank into the ground up to our knees: next to our thighs; a covering was at length, by the permission of God, built over us to keep off the rain. When a year had elapsed, Herbert, bishop of the city of Cologne, released us from the tie wherewith our hands were bound, and reconciled us before the altar of St. Magnus. The daughter of the priest, with the other two women, died immediately; the rest of us slept three whole days and nights: some died afterwards, and are famed for miracles: the remainder betray their punishment by the trembling of their limbs. This narrative was given to us by the lord Peregrine, the successor of Herbert, in the year of our Lord 1013.”

In that city, which formerly was called Agrippina, from Agrippa the son-in-law of Augustus, but afterwards named Colonia by the emperor Trajan, because being there created emperor he founded in it a colony of Roman citizens; in this city, I repeat, there was a certain bishop, famed for piety, though to a degree hideous in his person; of whom I shall relate one miracle, which he predicted when dying, after having first recorded what a singular chance elevated him to such an eminent station. The emperor of that country going to hunt on Quinquagesima Sunday, came alone, for his companions were dispersed, to the edge of a wood, where this rural priest, deformed and almost a monster, had a church. The emperor, feigning himself a soldier, humbly begs a mass, which the priest immediately begins. The other in the meantime was revolving in his mind why God, from whom all beautiful things proceed, should suffer so deformed a man to administer his sacraments. Presently, when that verse in the tract occurred, “Know ye that the Lord himself is God,” the priest looked behind him, to chide the inattention of an assistant, and said with a louder voice, as if in reply to the emperor’s thoughts, “He made us; and not we ourselves.”

Struck with this expression, the emperor esteeming him a prophet, exalted him, though unwilling and reluctant, to the archbishopric of Cologne, which, when he had once assumed, he dignified by his exemplary conduct; kindly encouraging those who did well, and branding with the stigma of excommunication such as did otherwise, without respect of persons. The inhabitants of that place proclaim a multitude of his impartial acts; one of which the reader will peruse in that abbreviated form which my work requires. In a monastery of nuns in that city, there was a certain virgin who had there grown up, more by the kindness of her parents than through any innate wish for a holy life: this girl, by the attraction of her beauty and her affable language to all, allured many lovers; but while others, through fear of God or the censure of the world, restrained their desires, there was one who, excited to wantonness by the extent of his wealth and the nobility of his descent, broke through the bounds of law and of justice, and despoiled her of her virginity; and carrying her off kept her as his lawful wife. Much time elapsed while the abbess entreated, and his friends admonished him not to persevere in so dreadful a crime. Turning a deaf ear, however, to his advisers, he continued as immoveable as a rock. By chance at this time the prelate was absent, occupied in business at Rome: but on his return the circumstance was related to him. He commands the sheep to be returned to the fold directly; and after much altercation the woman was restored to the monastery. Not long after, watching an opportunity when the bishop was absent, she was again carried away. Excommunication was then denounced against the delinquent, so that no person could speak to, or associate with him. This, however, he held in contempt, and retired to one of his estates afar off, not to put the command in force, but to elude its power: and there, a turbulent and powerful man, he lived in company with his excommunicated paramour. But when it pleased God to take the bishop to himself, and he was lying in extreme bodily pain upon his bed, the neighbours flocked around him that they might partake the final benediction of this holy man. The offender alone not daring to appear, prevailed on some persons to speak for him. The moment the bishop heard his name he groaned, and then, I add his very words, spoke to the following effect, “If that wretched man shall desert that accursed woman, he shall be absolved; but if he persist, let him be ready to give account before God, the following year, at the very day and hour on which I shall depart: moreover, you will see me expire when the bell shall proclaim the sixth hour.” Nor were his words vain; for he departed at the time which he had predicted; and the other, together with his mistress, at the expiration of the year, on the same day, and at the same hour, was killed by a stroke of lightning.

But king Ethelred, after the martyrdom of Elphege, as we have related, gave his see to a bishop named Living. Moreover, Turkill, the Dane, who had been the chief cause of the archbishop’s murder, had settled in England, and held the East Angles in subjection. For the other Danes, exacting from the English a tribute of eight thousand pounds, had distributed themselves, as best suited their convenience, in the towns, or in the country; and fifteen of their ships, with the crews, had entered into the king’s service. In the meantime Turkill sent messengers to Sweyn, king of Denmark, inviting him to come to England; telling him that the land was rich and fertile, but the king a driveller; and that, wholly given up to wine and women, his last thoughts were those of war: that in consequence he was hateful to his own people and contemptible to foreigners: that the commanders were jealous of each other, the people weak, and that they would fly the field, the moment the onset was sounded.

Sweyn was naturally cruel, nor did he require much persuasion; preparing his ships, therefore, he hastened his voyage. Sandwich was the port he made, principally designing to avenge his sister Gunhilda. This woman, who possessed considerable beauty, had come over to England with her husband Palling, a powerful nobleman, and by embracing Christianity, had made herself a pledge of the Danish peace. In his ill-fated fury, Edric had commanded her, though proclaiming that the shedding her blood would bring great evil on the whole kingdom, to be beheaded with the other Danes. She bore her death with fortitude; and she neither turned pale at the moment, nor, when dead, and her blood exhausted, did she lose her beauty; her husband was murdered before her face, and her son, a youth of amiable disposition, was transfixed with four spears. Sweyn then proceeding through East Anglia against the Northumbrians, received their submission without resistance: not indeed, that the native ardour of their minds, which brooked no master, had grown cool, but because Utred, their prince, was the first to give example of desertion. On their submission all the other people who inhabit England on the north, gave him tribute and hostages. Coming southward, he compelled those of Oxford and Winchester, to obey his commands; the Londoners alone, protecting their lawful sovereign within their walls, shut their Malmesbury seems to have fallen into some confusion here. The murder of the Danes took place on St. Brice’s day, a.d. 1002, and accordingly we find Sweyn infesting England in 1003 and the following year (see Saxon Chronicle): but this his second arriva. took place, a.d. 1013: so that the avenging the murder of his sister Gunhilda could hardlv be the object of his present attack, gates against him. The Danes, on the other hand, assailing with greater ferocity, nurtured their fortitude with the hope of fame; the townsmen were ready to rush on death for freedom, thinking they ought never to be forgiven, should they desert their king, who had committed his life to their charge. While the conflict was raging fiercely on either side, victory befriended the juster cause; for the citizens made wonderful exertions, every one esteeming it glorious to show his unwearied alacrity to his prince, or even to die for him. Part of the enemy were destroyed, and part drowned in the river Thames, because in their headlong fury, they had not sought a bridge. With his shattered army Sweyn retreated to Bath, where Ethelmer, governor of the western district, with his followers, submitted to him. And, although all England was already bending to his dominion, yet not even now would the Londoners have yielded, had not Ethelred withdrawn his presence from among them. For being a man given up to indolence, and, through consciousness of his own misdeeds, supposing none could be faithful to him, and at the same time wishing to escape the difficulties of a battle and a siege, he by his departure left them to their own exertions. However, they applied the best remedy they could to their exigencies, and surrendered after the example of their countrymen. They were men laudable in the extreme, and such as Mars himself would not have disdained to encounter, had they possessed a competent leader. Even while they were supported by the mere shadow of one, they risked every chance of battle, nay even a siege of several months’ continuance. He in the meantime giving fresh instance of his constitutional indolence, fled from the city, and by secret journeys came to Southampton, whence he passed over to the Isle of Wight. Here he addressed those abbots and bishops who, even in such difficulties, could not bring themselves to desert their master, to the following effect: “That they must perceive in what dreadful state his affairs, and those of his family were; that he was banished from his paternal throne by the treachery of his generals, and that he, in whose hands their safety was formerly vested, now required the assistance of others; that though lately a monarch and a potentate, he was now an outcast and a fugitive; a melancholy change for him, because it certainly is more tolerable never to have held power, than to have lost it when possessed; and more especially disgraceful to the English, as this instance of deserting their prince would be noised throughout the world; that through mere regard to him they had exposed their houses and property to plunderers, and, unprovided, taken to a voluntary flight; food was matter of difficulty to all; many had not even clothing; he commended their fidelity indeed, but still could find no security from it; the country was now so completely subdued, the coast so narrowly watched, that there was no escape inattended with danger: that they should, therefore, confer together, what was to be done: were they to remain, greater peril was to be apprehended from their countrymen, than from their enemies, for perhaps they might purchase the favour of their new master by joining to distress them; and certainly to be killed by an enemy was to be ascribed to fortune, to be betrayed by a fellow citizen was to be attributed to want of exertion; were they to fly to distant nations, it would be with the loss of honour; if to those who knew them, the dread would be, lest their dispositions should take a tinge from their reverse of fortune; for many great and illustrious men had been killed on similar occasions; but, however, he must make the experiment, and sound the inclinations of Richard, duke of Normandy, who, if he should kindly receive his sister and nephews, might probably not unwillingly afford him his protection. His favour shown to my wife and children,” continued he, “will be the pledge of my own security. Should he oppose me, I am confident, nay fully confident, I shall not want spirit to die here with honour, in preference to having there with ignominy. Wherefore this very month of August, while milder gales are soothing the ocean, let Emma make a voyage to her brother, and take our children, our common pledges, to be deposited with him. Let their companions be the bishop of Durham and the abbot of Peterborough; I myself will remain here till Christmas, and should he send back a favourable answer, I will follow directly.”

On the breaking up of the conference, all obeyed; they set sail for Normandy, while he remained anxiously expecting a favourable report. Shortly after he learned from abroad, that Richard had received his sister with great affection, and that he invited the king also to condescend to become his inmate. Ethelred, therefore, going into Normandy, in the month of January, felt his distresses soothed by the attentions of his host. This Richard was son of Richard the first, and equalled his father in good fortune and good qualities; though he certainly surpassed him in heavenly concerns. He completed the monastery at Feschamp, which his father had begun. He was more intent on prayer and temperance, than you would require in any monk, or hermit. He was humble to excess, in order that he might subdue by his patience, the petulance of those who attacked him. Moreover it is reported, that at night, secretly escaping the observation of his servants, he was accustomed to go unattended to the matins of the monks, and to continue in prayer till day-light. Intent on this practice, one night in particular, at Feschamp, he was earlier than customary, and finding the door shut, he forced it open with unusual violence, and disturbed the sleep of the sacristan. He, astonished at the noise of a person knocking in the dead of night, got up, that he might see the author of so bold a deed; and finding only a countryman in appearance, clothed in rustic garb, he could not refrain from laying hands on him; and, moved with vehement indignation, he caught hold of his hair, and gave this illustrious man a number of severe blows, which he bore with incredible patience, and without uttering a syllable. The next day, Richard laid his complaint before the chapter,! and with counterfeited anger, summoned the monk to meet him at the town of Argens, threatening that, “he would take such vengeance for the injury, so that all France should talk of it.” On the day appointed, while the monk stood by, almost dead with fear, he detailed the matter to the nobility, largely exaggerating the enormity of the transaction, and keeping the culprit in suspense, by crafty objections to what he urged in mitigation. Finally, after he had been mercifully judged by the nobility, he pardoned him; and to make his forgiveness more acceptable, he annexed all that town, with its appurtenances, reported to be abundant in the best wine, to the office of this sacristan: saying, “That he was an admirable monk, who properly observed his appointed charge, and did not break silence, though roused with anger.” In the twenty-eighth year of his dukedom, he died, having ordered his body to be buried at the door of the church, where it would be subjected to the feet of such as passed by, and to the spouts of water which streamed from above. In our time, however, William, third abbot of that place, regarding this as disgraceful, removed the long-continued reproach, and taking up the body, placed it before the high altar. He had a brother, Robert, whom he made archbishop of Rouen, though by this he tarnished his reputation. For he, cruelly abusing this honour, at first, committed many crimes and many atrocious acts; but growing in years, he certainly wiped off some of them by his very liberal almsgiving. After Richard, his son of the same name obtained the principality, but lived scarcely a year. A vague opinion indeed has prevailed, that, by the connivance of his brother Robert, whom Richard the second begat on Judith, daughter of Conan, earl of Brittany, a certain woman, skilled in poisons, took the young man off. In atonement for his privity to this transaction he departed for Jerusalem, after the seventh year of his earldom; venturing on an undertaking very meritorious at that time, by commencing, with few followers, a journey, exposed to incursions of barbarians, and strange, by reason of the customs of the Saracens. He persevered nevertheless, and did not stop, but safely completed the whole distance, and purchasing admission at a high price, with bare feet, and full of tears, he worshipped at that glory of the Christians, the sepulchre of our Lord. Conciliating the favour of God, as we believe, by this labour, on his return homewards he ended his days at Nice, a city of Bithynia; cut off, as it is said, by poison. This was administered by his servant Ralph, surnamed Mowin, who had wrought himself up to the commission of this crime, from a hope of obtaining the dukedom. But on his return to Normandy, the matter becoming known to all, he was detested as a monster, and retired to perpetual exile. To Robert succeeded William, his son, then a child, of whom as I shall have to speak hereafter, I shall now return to my narrative.

In the meantime Sweyn, as I have before related, oppressed England with rapine and with slaughter: the in habitants were first plundered of their property, and then proscribed. In every city it was matter of doubt what should be done: if revolt was determined on, they had none to take the lead; if submission was made choice of, they would have a harsh ruler to deal with. Thus their public and private property, together with their hostages, was carried to the fleet; as he was not a lawful sovereign, but a most cruel tyrant. The Deity, however, was too kind to permit England to fluctuate long in such keen distress, for the invader died shortly after, on the purification of St. Mary, though it is uncertain by what death. It is reported, that while devastating the possessions of St. Edmund, king and martyr, he appeared to him in a vision, and gently addressed him on the misery of his people; that on Sweyn’s replying insolently, he struck him on the head; and that, in consequence of the blow, he died, as has been said, immediately after. The Danes then elected Canute, the son of Sweyn, king; while the Angles, declaring that their natural sovereign was dearer to them, if he could conduct himself more royally than he had hitherto done, sent for king Ethelred out of Normandy. He despatched Edward, his son, first, to sound the fidelity of the higher orders and the inclination of the people, on the spot; who, when he saw the wishes of all tending in his favour, went back in full confidence for his father. The king returned, and, being flattered by the joyful plaudits of the Angles, that he might appear to have shaken off his constitutional indolence, he hastened to collect an army against Canute, who was at that time in Lindsey, where his father had left him with the ships and hostages, and was levying fresh troops and horses, that, mustering a sufficient force, he might make a vigorous attack upon his enemies unprepared: vowing most severe vengeance, as he used to say, on the deserters. But, circumvented by a contrivance similar to his own, he retreated. Escaping at that time with much difficulty, and putting to sea with his remaining forces, he coasted the British ocean from east to south, and landed at Sandwich. Here, setting all divine and human laws at defiance, he mutilated his hostages, who were young men of great nobility and elegance, by depriving them of their ears, and nostrils, and some even of their manhood. Thus tyrannizing over the innocent, and boasting of the feat, he returned to his own country. In the same year the seaflood, which the Greeks call Euripus, and we Ledo, rose to so wonderful a height, that none like it was recollected in the memory of man, for it overflowed the villages, and destroyed their inhabitants, for many miles.

The year following a grand council of Danes and English, was assembled at Oxford, where the king commanded two of the noblest Danes, Sigeferth, and Morcar, accused of treachery to him by the impeachment of the traitor Edric, to be put to death. He had lured them, by his soothing expressions, into a chamber, and deprived them, when drunk to excess, of their lives, by his attendants who had been prepared for that purpose. The cause of their murder was said to be, his unjustifiable desire for their property. Their dependants, attempting to revenge the death of their lords by arms, were worsted, and driven into the tower of St. Frideswide’s church at Oxford, where, as they could not be dislodged, they were consumed by fire: however, shortly after, the foul stain was wiped out by the king’s penitence, and the sacred place repaired. 1 have read the history of this transaction, which is deposited in the archives of that church. The wife of Sigeferth, a woman remarkable for her rank and beauty, was carried prisoner to Malmesbury; on which account, Edmund, the king’s son, dissembling his intention, took a journey into those parts. Seeing her, he became enamoured; and becoming enamoured, he made her his wife; cautiously keeping their union secret from his father, who was as much an object of contempt to his family as to strangers. This Edmund was not born of Emma, but of some other person, whom fame has left in obscurity. With that exception, he was a young man in every respect of noble disposition; of great strength both of mind and person, and, on this account, by the English, called “Ironside: “he would have shrouded the indolence of his father, and the meanness of his mother, by his own conspicuous virtue, could the fates have spared him. Soon after, at the instigation of his wife, he asked of his father the possessions of Sigeferth, which were of large extent among the Northumbrians, but could not obtain them; by his own exertions, however, he procured them at last, the inhabitants of that province willingly submitting to his power.

The same summer Canute, having settled his affairs in Denmark, and entered into alliance with the neighbouring kings, came to England, determined to subdue it or perish in the attempt. Proceeding from Sandwich into Kent, and thence into West Saxony, he laid every thing waste with fire and slaughter, while the king was lying sick at Corsham. Edmund indeed attempted to oppose him, but being thwarted by Edric, he placed his forces in a secure situation. Edric, however, thinking it unnecessary longer to dissemble, but that he might, now, openly throw off the mask, revolted to Canute with forty ships, and all West Saxony following his example, delivered hostages, and gave up their arms. Yet the Mercians repeatedly assembling stood forward to resist: and if the king would but come, and command whither they were to march, and bring with him the leading men of London, they were ready to shed their blood for their country. But he, accustomed to commit his safety to fortifications, and not to attack the enemy, remained in London; never venturing out, for fear, as he said, of traitors. On the contrary, Canute was gaining towns and villages over to his party; and was never unemployed; for he held consultations by night, and fought battles by day. Edmund, after long deliberation, esteeming it best, in such an emergency, to recover, if possible, the revolted cities by arms, brought over Utred, an earl, on the other side of the Humber, to the same sentiments. They imagined too, that such cities as were yet doubtful which side to take, would determine at once, if they would only inflict signal vengeance on those which had revolted. But Canute, possessed of equal penetration, circumvented them by a similar contrivance. Giving over the West Saxons and that part of Mercia which he had subjugated, to the custody of his generals, he proceeded himself against the Northumbrians; and, by depopulating the country, compelled Utred to retire, to defend his own possessions; and notwithstanding he surrendered himself, yet with inhuman levity he ordered him to Corsham, in Wiltshire ? be put to death. His earldom was given to Eric, whom Canute afterwards expelled England, because he pretended to equal power with himself. Thus all being subdued, he ceased not pursuing Edmund, who was gradually retreating, till he heard that he was at London with his father. Canute then remained quiet till after Easter, that he might attack the city with all his forces. But the death of Ethelred preceded the attempt: for in the beginning of Lent, on St. Gregory’s day, he breathed out a life destined only to labours and misery: he lies buried at St. Paul’s in London. The citizens immediately proclaimed Edmund king, who, mustering an army, routed the Danes at Penn, near Gillingham, about Rogation-day. After the festival of St. John, engaging them again at Sceorstan, he retired from a drawn-battle. The English had begun to give way, at the instance of Edric; who being on the adversaries’ side, and holding in his hand a sword stained with the blood of a fellow whom he had dexterously slain, exclaimed, “Fly. wretches ! fly ! behold, your king was slain by this sword ! “The Angles would have fled immediately, had not the king, apprised of this circumstance, proceeded to an eminence, and taking off his helmet, shown his face to his comrades. Then brandishing a dart with all his force, he launched it at Edric; but being seen, and avoided, it missed him, and struck a soldier standing near; and so great was its violence, that it even transfixed a second. Night put a stop to the battle, the hostile armies retreating as if by mutual consent, though the English had well-nigh obtained the victory.

William of Malmesbury

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