The History of The Kings of England 07

William of Malmesbury

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“To the most excellent prince, my son Kenulf, king of the Mercians, of the province of the Saxons, pope Leo sendeth greeting. Our most holy and reverend brother Athelard, archbishop of Canterbury, arriving at the holy churches of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, as well for the faithful performance of his vow of prayer as to acquaint us with the cause of his ecclesiastical mission to the apostolical see, hath brought to us the enclosures of your royal excellence, where finding, in two epistles filled with true faith, your great humility, we return thanks to Almighty God, who hath taught and inclined your most prudent excellence to have due regard with us in all things towards St. Peter, the chief of apostles, and to submit with meekness to all apostolical constitutions. Moreover, in one of these epistles we find that, were it requisite, you would even lay down your life for us, for the sake of our apostolical office. And again, you confess that you rejoice much in the Lord at our prosperity, and that when these our letters of kindest admonition reach the ears of your cordiality, you will receive them with all humility and spiritual joy of heart, as sons do the gift of a father. It is added too that you had ordered a small present out of your abundance to be offered to us, an hundred and twenty mancuses, which, with ardent desire for the salvation of your soul, we have accepted. The aforesaid archbishop, with his attendants, has been honourably and kindly received by us, and has been rendered every necessary assistance. In the meantime, trusting to your most prudent excellence when you observe, even in your own royal letters, that no Christian can presume to run counter to our apostolical decisions, we therefore endeavour, with all possible diligence, to transmit and ordain what shall be of service to your kingdom, that as a canonical censure enjoins your royal excellence, and all the princes of your nation, and the whole people of God, to observe all things which the aforesaid archbishop Athelard our brother, or the whole body of the evangelical and apostolical doctrine and that of the holy fathers and of our predecessors the holy pontiffs ordain, you ought by no means to resist their orthodox doctrine in any thing, as our Lord and Saviour says in the Gospel, “He who receiveth you receiveth me,” and “he who receives a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward.” And how much more do we praise the Almighty for this same lord archbishop, whom you have so highly commended to us as being, what he really is, honourable, and skilful, and prudent, of good morals, worthy before God and men. O loving son and excellent king, we praise God, that hath pointed out to you a prelate who, like a true shepherd, is able to prescribe due penance, according to the doctrine of the holy Scriptures, and to rescue the souls of those who are under his sacerdotal authority from the nethermost hell, snatching them from inextinguishable fire, bringing them into the haven of salvation, and offering for them to God Almighty a sacrifice, fit and pure in the sight of the Divine Majesty. And since the aforesaid archbishop hath pleased us extremely in every respect, in all holiness and conversation of life, confiding much to him, we give him such prelatical power by the authority of St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, whose office, though unworthily, we fill, that if any in his province, as well kings and princes as people, shall transgress the commandments of the Lord, he shall excommunicate him until he repent; and if he remain impenitent, let him be to you as an heathen and a publican. But with respect to the aforesaid Athelard, archbishop of Canterbury, since your excellent prelates have demanded from us that we do him justice concerning the jurisdiction which he lately held, as well of bishops as monasteries, and of which he has been unjustly deprived, as you know, and which have been taken from his venerable see: we, making most diligent search, have found in our sacred depository, that St. Gregory, our predecessor, delivered that diocese to his deputed archbishop St. Augustine, with the right of consecrating bishops, to the full number of twelve. Hence we also, having ascertained the truth, have, by our apostolical authority, placed all ordinations or confirmations on their ancient footing, and do restore them to him entire, and we deliver to him the grant of our confirmation, to be duly observed by his church, according to the sacred canons.”

In the meantime Offa, that the outrages against his countrymen might not secretly tend to his disadvantage, in order to conciliate the favour of neighbouring kings, gave his daughter Eadburga in marriage to Bertric, king of the West Saxons; and obtained the amity of Charles the Great, king of the Franks, by repeated embassies, though he could find little in the disposition of Charles to second his views. They had disagreed before, insomuch that violent feuds having arisen on both sides, even the intercourse of traders was prohibited. There is an epistle of Alcuin to this effect, part of which I shall subjoin, as it affords a strong proof of the magnanimity and valour of Charles, who spent all his time in war against the Pagans, rebels to God. He says, “The ancient Saxons and all the Friesland nations were converted to the faith of Christ through the exertions of king Charles, urging some with threats, and others with rewards. At the end of the year the king made an attack upon the Sclavonians and subjugated them to his power. The Avares, whom we call Huns, made a furious attempt upon Italy, but were conquered by the generals of the aforesaid most Christian king, and returned home with disgrace. In like manner they rushed against Bavaria, and were again overcome and dispersed by the Christian army. Moreover the princes and commanders of the same most Christian king took great part of Spain from the Saracens, to the extent of three hundred miles along the sea coast: but, O shame these accursed Saracens, who are the Hagarens, have dominion over the whole of Africa, and the larger part of Asia Major. I know not what will be our destination, for some ground of difference, fomented by the devil, has arisen between king Charles and king Offa, so that, on both sides, all navigation is prohibited the merchants. Some say that we are to be sent into those parts to treat of peace.”

In these words, in addition to what I have remarked above, any curious person may determine how many years have elapsed since the Saracens invaded Africa and Asia Major. And indeed, had not the mercy of God animated the native spirit of the emperors of the Franks, the pagans had long since subjugated Europe also. For, holding the Constantinopolitan emperors in contempt, they possessed themselves of Sicily and Sardinia, the Balearic isles, and almost all the countries surrounded by the sea, with the exception of Crete, Rhodes, and Cyprus. In our time however they have been compelled to relinquish Sicily by the Normans, Corsica and Sardinia by the Pisans, and great part of Asia and Jerusalem itself by the Franks and other nations of Europe. But, as I shall have a fitter place to treat largely of these matters hereafter, I shall now subjoin, from the words of Charles himself, the treaty which was ratified between him and Offa king of the Mercians.

“Charles, by the grace of God king of the Franks and Lombards, and patrician of the Romans, to his esteemed and dearest brother Offa king of the Mercians, sendeth health: — First, we give thanks to God Almighty for the purity of the Catholic faith, which we find laudably expressed in your letters. Concerning pilgrims, who for the love of God or the salvation of their souls, wish to visit the residence of the holy apostles, let them go peaceably without any molestation; but if persons, not seeking the cause of religion, but that of gain, be found amongst them, let them pay the customary tolls in proper places. We will, too, that traders have due protection within our kingdom, according to our mandate, and if in any place they suffer wrongful oppression, let them appeal to us or to our judges, and we will see full justice done. Let your kindness also be apprised that we have sent some token of our regard, out of our dalmatics and palls, to each episcopal see of your kingdom or of Ethelred’s, as an almsgiving, on account of our apostolical lord Adrian, earnestly begging that you would order him to be prayed for, not as doubting that his blessed soul is at rest, but to show our esteem and regard to our dearest friend. Moreover we have sent somewhat out of the treasure of those earthly riches, which the Lord Jesus hath granted to us of his unmerited bounty, for the metropolitan cities, and for yourself a belt, an Hungarian sword, and two silk cloaks.”

I have inserted these brief extracts from the epistle that posterity may be clearly acquainted with the friendship of Offa and Charles; confiding in which friendly intercourse, although assailed by the hatred of numbers, he passed the rest of his life in uninterrupted quiet, and saw Egfert his son anointed to succeed him. This Egfert studiously avoided the cruel path trod by his father, and devoutly restored the privileges of all the churches which Offa had in his time abridged. The possessions also which his father had taken from Malmesbury he restored into the hands of Cuthbert, then abbot of that place, at the admonition of the aforesaid Athelard archbishop of Canterbury, a man of energy and a worthy servant of God, and who is uniformly asserted to have been its abbot before Cuthbert, from the circumstance of his choosing there to be buried. But while the hopes of Egfert’s noble qualities were ripening, in the first moments of his reign, untimely death cropped the flower of his youthful prime; on which account Alcuin writing to the patrician Osbert, says, “I do not think that the most noble youth Egfert died for his own sins, but because his father, in the establishment of his kingdom, shed a deluge of blood.” Dying after a reign of four months, he appointed Kenulf, nephew of Penda in the fifth degree by his brother Kenwalk, to succeed him.

Kenulf was a truly great man, and surpassed his fame by his virtues, doing nothing that malice could justly find fault with. Religious at home, victorious abroad, his praises will be deservedly extolled so long as an impartial judge can be found in England. Equally to be admired for the extent of his power and for the lowliness of his mind; of which he gave an eminent proof in restoring, as we have related, its faltering dignity to Canterbury, he little regarded earthly grandeur in his own kingdom at the expense of deviating from anciently-enjoined canons. Taking up Offa’s hatred against the Kentish people, he sorely afflicted that province, and led away captive their king Eadbert, surnamed Pren; but not long after, moved with sentiments of pity, he released him. For at Winchelcombe, where he had built a church to God, which yet remains, on the day of its dedication he freed the captive king at the altar, and consoled him with liberty; thereby giving a memorable instance of his clemency. Cuthred, whom he had made king over the Kentish people, was present to applaud this act of royal munificence. The church resounded with acclamations, the street shook with crowds of people, for in an assembly of thirteen bishops and ten dukes, no one was refused a largess, all departed with full purses. Moreover, in addition to those presents of inestimable price and number in utensils, clothes, and select horses, which the chief nobility received, he gave to all who did not possess landed property a pound of silver, to each presbyter a marca of gold, to every monk a shilling, and lastly he made many presents to the people at large. After he had endowed the monastery with such ample revenues as would seem incredible in the present time, he honoured it by his sepulture, in the twenty-fourth year of his reign. His son Kenelm, of tender age, and undeservedly murdered by his sister Quendrida, gained the title and distinction of martyrdom, and rests in the same place.

After him the kingdom of the Mercians sank from its prosperity, and becoming nearly lifeless, produced nothing worthy to be mentioned in history. However, that no one may accuse me of leaving the history imperfect, I shall glance over the names of the kings in succession. Ceolwulf, the brother of Kenulf, reigning one year was expelled in the second by Bernulf; who in the third year of his reign being overcome and put to flight by Egbert, king of the West Saxons, was afterwards slain by the East Angles, because he had attempted to seize on East Anglia, as a kingdom subject to the Mercians from the time of Offa. Ludecan, after a reign of two years, was despatched by these Angles, as he was preparing to avenge his predecessor: Withlaf, subjugated in the commencement of his reign by the before-mentioned Egbert, governed thirteen years, paying tribute to him and to his son, both for his person and his property: Berthwulf reigning thirteen years on the same conditions, was at last driven by the Danish pirates beyond the sea: Burhred marrying Ethelswith, the daughter of king Ethelwulf, the son of Egbert, exonerated himself, by this affinity, from the payment of tribute and the depredations of the enemy, but after twenty-two years, driven by them from his country, he fled to Rome, and was there buried at the school of the Angles, in the church of St. Mary; his wife, at that time continuing in this country, but afterwards following her husband, died at Pavia. The kingdom was next given by the Danes to one Celwulf, an attendant of Burhred’s, who bound himself by oath that he would retain it only at their pleasure: after a few years it fell under the dominion of Alfred, the grandson of Egbert. Thus the sovereignty of the Mercians, which prematurely bloomed by the overweening ambition of an heathen, altogether withered away through the inactivity of a driveller king, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation eight hundred and seventy-five.

As my narrative has hitherto treated of the history of the four more powerful kingdoms in as copious a manner, I trust, as the perusal of ancient writers has enabled me, I shall now, as last in point of order, run through the governments of the East Angles and East Saxons, as suggested in my preface. The kingdom of the East Angles arose anterior to the West Saxons, though posterior to the kingdom of Kent. The first and also the greatest king of the East Angles was Redwald, tenth in descent from Woden as they affirm; for all the southern provinces of the Angles and Saxons on this side of the river Humber, with their kings, were subject to his authority. This is the person whom I have formerly mentioned as having, out of regard for Edwin, killed Ethelfrid, king of the Northumbrians. Through the persuasion of Edwin too he was baptized: and after, at the instigation of his wife, abjured the faith. His son, Eorpwald, embraced pure Christianity, and poured out his immaculate spirit to God, being barbarously murdered by the heathen Richbert. To him succeeded Sigebert, his brother by the mother’s side, a worthy servant of the Lord, polished from all barbarism by his education among the Franks. For, being driven into banishment by Redwald, and for a long time associating with them, he had received the rites of Christianity, which, on his coming into power he graciously communicated to the whole of his kingdom, and also instituted schools of learning in different places. This ought highly to be extolled: as men heretofore uncivilized and irreligious, were enabled, by his means, to taste the sweets of literature. The promoter of his studies and the stimulator of his religion was Felix the bishop, a Burgundian by birth, who now lies buried at Ramsey. Sigebert moreover renouncing the world and taking the monastic vow, left the throne to his relation, Ecgric, with whom, being attacked in intestine war by Penda, king of the Mercians, he met his death, at the moment when, superior to his misfortunes, and mindful of his religious profession, he held only a wand in his hand. The successor of Ecgric was Anna, the son of Eni, the brother of Redwald, involved in similar destruction by the same furious Penda; he was blessed with a numerous and noble offspring, as the second book will declare in its proper place. To Anna succeeded his brother Ethelhere, who was justly slain by Oswy king of the Northumbrians, together with Penda, because he was an auxiliary to him, and was actually supporting the very army which had destroyed his brother and his kinsman. His brother Ethelwald, in due succession, left the kingdom to Adulf and Elwold, the sons of Ethelhere. Next came Bernred. After him Ethelred. His son was St. Ethelbert, whom Offa king of the Mercians killed through treachery, as has already been said, and will be repeated hereafter. After him, through the violence of the Mercians, few kings reigned in Eastern Anglia till the time of St. Edmund, and he was despatched in the sixteenth year of his reign, by Hingwar, a heathen; from which time the Angles ceased to command in their own country for fifty years. For the province was nine years without a king, owing to the continued devastations of the pagans; afterwards both in it and in East Saxony, Gothrun, a Danish king, reigned for twelve years, in the time of king Alfred. Gothrun had for successor a Dane also, by name Eohric, who, after he had reigned fourteen years, was taken off by the Angles, because he conducted himself with cruelty towards them. Still, however, liberty beamed not on this people, for the Danish earls continued to oppress them, or else to excite them against the kings of the West Saxons, till Edward, the son of Alfred, added both provinces to his own West Saxon empire, expelling the Danes and freeing the Angles. This event took place in the fiftieth year after the murder of St. Edmund, king and martyr, and in the fifteenth of his own reign.

Nearly co-eval with the kingdom of the East Angles, was that of the East Saxons; which had many kings in succession, though subject to others, and principally to those of the Mercians. First, then, Sleda, the tenth from Woden, reigned over them; whose son, Sabert, nephew of St. Ethelbert, king of Kent, by his sister Ricula, embraced the faith of Christ at the preaching of St. Mellitus, first bishop of London; for that city belongs to the East Saxons. On the death of Sabert, his sons, Sexred and Seward, drove Mellitus into banishment, and soon after, being killed by the West Saxons, they paid the penalty of their persecution against Christ. Sigbert, surnamed the Small, the son of Seward, succeeding, left the kingdom to Sigebert, the son of Sigebald, who was the brother of Sabert. This Sigehert, at the exhortation of king Oswy, was baptised in Northumbria by bishop Finan, and brought back to his nation, by the ministry of bishop Cedd, the faith which they had expelled together with Mellitus. After gloriously governing the kingdom, he left it in a manner still more glorious; for he was murdered by his near relations, merely because, in conformity to the gospel-precept, he used kindly to spare his enemies, nor regard with harsh and angry countenance, if they were penitent, those who had offended him. His brother Suidelm, baptised by the same Cedd in East Anglia, succeeded. On his death, Sighere, the son of Sigbert the Small, and Sebbi, the son of Seward, held the sovereignty. Sebbi’s associate dying, he himself voluntarily retired from the kingdom in his thirtieth year, becoming a monk, as Bede relates. His sons Sighard and Suefred reigned after him. On their decease Offa, the son Sighere, governed the kingdom for a short time; a youth of engaging countenance and disposition, in the flower of his age, and highly beloved by his subjects. He, through the persuasion of Kyneswith, daughter of king Penda, whom he had anxiously sought in marriage, being taught to aspire after heavenly affections, went to Rome with Kenred king of the Mercians, and St. Edwin bishop of Worcester; and there taking the vow, in due time entered the heavenly mansions. To him succeeded Selred, son of Sigebert the Good, during thirty-eight years; who being slain, Swithed assumed the sovereignty of the East Saxons; but in the same year that Egbert king of the West Saxons subdued Kent, being expelled by him, he vacated the kingdom; though London, with the adjacent country, continued subject to the kings of the Mercians as long as they held their sovereignty.

The kings of Kent, it is observed, had dominion peculiarly in Kent, in which are two sees; the archbishopric of Canterbury, and the bishopric of Rochester. The kings of the West Saxons ruled in Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Dorsetshire; in which there is one bishop, whose see is now at Sarum or Salisbury; formerly it was at Ramsbury, or at Sherborne: in Sussex, which for some little time possessed a king of its own; the episcopal see of this county was anciently in the island of Selsey, as Bede relates, where St. Wilfrid built a monastery; the bishop now dwells at Chichester: in the bounties of Southampton and Surrey; which have a bishop, whose see is at Winchester: in the county of Somerset, which formerly had a bishop at Wells, but now at Bath: and in Domnonia, now called Devonshire, and Cornubia, now Cornwall; at that time there were two bishoprics, one at Crediton, the other at St. German’s; now there is but one, and the see is at Exeter.

The kings of the Mercians governed the counties of Gloucester, Worcester, and Warwick; in these is one bishop whose residence is at Worcester: in Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Staffordshire; these have one bishop, who has part of Warwickshire and Shropshire; his residence is at the city of Legions, that is Chester or Coventry; formerly it was at Lichfield: in Herefordshire; and there is a bishop having half Shropshire and part of Warwickshire, and Gloucestershire; whose residence is at Hereford: in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, half of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire; which counties are under the jurisdiction of a bishop now resident at Lincoln, but formerly at Dorchester in the county of Oxford: in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, which belong to the diocese of York; formerly they had their own bishop, whose seat was at Leicester.

The kings of the East Angles had dominion over the county of Cambridge; there is a bishop, whose seat is at Ely: and in Norfolk and Suffolk: whose see is at Norwich; formerly at Elmham or Thetford.

The kings of the East Saxons ruled in Essex, in Middlesex, and half of Hertfordshire; where there anciently was, and still remains, the bishop of London.

The kings of the Northumbrians governed all the country which is beyond the river Humber, even into Scotland; and there were the archbishop of York, the bishops of Hexham, of Ripon, of Lindisfarne, and of Candida Casa [Whitherne]; Hexham and Ripon are no more; Lindisfarne is translated to Durham.

Such were the divisions of the kingdom of England, although the kings, according to the vicissitude of the times, now one, and then the other, would exceed their boundaries through their courage, or lose them by their indolence; but all these several kingdoms Egbert subjugated by his abilities, and consolidated into one empire, reserving to each their own laws. Wherefore, since I have passed beyond his times, fulfilling my promise in a review of the different periods, I will here fix the limits of my first volume, that the various tracks of the different kingdoms may unite in the general path of the West Saxon Empire.

A long period has elapsed since, as well through the care of my parents as my own industry, I became familiar with books. This pleasure possessed me from my childhood: this source of delight has grown with my years. Indeed I was so instructed by my father, that, had I turned aside to other pursuits, I should have considered it as jeopardy to my soul and discredit to my character. Wherefore mindful of the adage “covet what is necessary,” I constrained my early age to desire eagerly that which it was disgraceful not to possess. I gave, indeed, my attention to various branches of literature, but in different degrees. Logic, for instance, which gives arms to eloquence, I contented myself with barely hearing. Medicine, which ministers to the health of the body, I studied with somewhat more attention. But now, having scrupulously examined the several branches of Ethics, I bow down to its majesty, because it spontaneously unveils itself to those who study it, and directs their minds to moral practice; History more especially; which, by an agreeable recapitulation of past events, excites its readers, by example, to frame their lives to the pursuit of good, or to aversion from evil. When, therefore, at my own expense, I had procured some historians of foreign nations, I proceeded, during my domestic leisure, to inquire if any thing concerning our own country could be found worthy of handing down to posterity. Hence it arose, that, not content with the writings of ancient times, I began, myself, to compose; not indeed to display my learning, which is comparatively nothing, but to bring to light events lying concealed in the confused mass of antiquity. In consequence rejecting vague opinions, I have studiously sought for chronicles far and near, though I confess I have scarcely profited anything by this industry. For perusing them all, I still remained poor in information; though I ceased not my researches as long as I could find anything to read. However, what I have clearly ascertained concerning the four kingdoms, I have inserted in my first book, in which I hope truth will find no cause to blush, though perhaps a degree of doubt may sometimes arise. I shall now trace the monarchy of the West Saxon kingdom, through the line of successive princes, down to the coming of the Normans: which if any person will condescend to regard with complacency, let him in brotherly love observe the following rule: “If before, he knew only these things, let him not be disgusted because I have inserted them; if he shall know more, let him not be angry that I have not spoken of them;“ but rather let him communicate his knowledge to me, while I yet live, that at least, those events may appear in the margin of my history, which do not occur in the text.

William of Malmesbury

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