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BRIGHTON: 135, north street.
New York : E. & J. B. YOUNG AND CO.


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This volume is one of a series intended to
popularise the sources of mediaeval history, and
is specially devoted to the chronicles of our own
country. With such an object it is neither possible
nor desirable to give an exhaustive account of all
our early historians ; but a selection has been made
of those writers whose style is most characteristic
and whose works are best adapted for quotation.
It is for these qualities rather than for their intrinsic
value as original authorities that occasionally some
of the minor chronicles have been treated at con-
siderable length, while greater and more important
works have been barely mentioned or have even
been passed over in silence. No attempt, in fact,
has been made to preserve proportion as between
one writer and another ; but it is hoped that some
general idea both of the wealth of mediaeval
writings illustrative of English history and of their


iv preface.

great variety of character may be obtained from a
perusal of these pages.

It is almost needless to say that* this work does
not profess to be the fruit of great original research.
In such a large field it is impossible not to be
guided to a very considerable extent by the eyes of
others ; and in many instances it will be seen that
the author has acknowledged his obligations in the
text. No mention, however, has been made of one
modern writer to whose work he has been indebted
in some portion of Chapter III. ; and he takes this
opportunity of referring to Mr. Morison's valuable
Life and Times of St. Bernard.

A large number of the old English chronicles
have in our day been rendered very accessible in
the series of cheap English translations published
by Bohn. These versions are of unequal merit ;
but their publication is certainly a great boon to
that reading public who desire to be made better
acquainted with the chronicles of the Middle Ages.
The extracts in the present volume are occasionally
derived from Bonn's translations ; but in many
cases the author has thought it better to supply
a translation of his own.




Gildas on the destruction of Britain — Bede's account of the
conversion of England to Christianity — Pope Gregory and
the English slaves at Rome — King Edwin's consultation
with his councillors about embracing Christianity — Paulinus
made Bishop of York —King Edwin's good government —
Abbey of Whitby — Story of Csedmon — Bede's other
writings — Account of his death — Supernatural stories in
Bede — Asser's Life of Alfred the Great — Questions about
the text — Interpolations — The story of Alfred and the
cakes — How Alfred learned to read — How he divided
his time



The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle — Influence of the Norman Conquest
— Chronicle of Battle Abbey — How monasteries fostered
literature and civilization — Florence of Worcester — Ead-

vi ©ontaxt*.


jner — His account of St Anselm — William of Malmesbury
— Extracts touching the effects of the Conquest — The First
Crusade — Robert of Normandy and Henry I. — The Gesta
Stephani — Early report of a debate in the king's council —
Extract touching Bristol and Bath — The Empress Maud —
Henry of Huntingdon — Ordericus Vitalis . . . .49



Religious revival in Europe — New orders of monks practising
austerity — The Cluniacs — Carthusians — Cistercians — St.
Bernard — His love of nature — Richard of Devizes —
Massacre of the Jews at Richard I. 's coronation — Alleged
crucifixion of a boy by the Jews of Winchester — Crusade
of Richard I., and state of the kingdom in his absence —
Expulsion of the monks of Coventry by Bishop Hugh de
Nonant — Joceline of Brakeland's account of the monastery
of St. Edmundsbury under Abbot Sampson — Description
of the abbot — Disputes between the monastery and the
burgesses — Privileges claimed against the archbishop —
Abbot Sampson's journey to Rome — He holds his own
against the king — Customs and privileges of the monastery
— Dispute with the monks of Ely 109



Robert of Gloucester's patronage of literature — Geoffrey of
Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain — Its popularity
— Its apocryphal character and extraordinary legends —
Their acceptance as history — Clergymen more witty than
monks — William of Newburgh denounces Geoffrey's His-
tory— Giraldus Cambrensis also— Credulity of Giraldus —
His account of his birth-place — His family and personal
history— His election to St David's — Goes to Ireland

©ontentg. vii

with Prince John — Kis Topographia Hibemice—Uvs, Vatici-
nal History of the Conquest of Ireland. — Description of
Henry II. — Itinerary through Wales— Character of the
North of England historians — Simeon of Durham — Ailred
of Rievaulx— William of Newburgh— Roger of Hoveden —
Chronicle of Melrose— Walter Hemingburgh— The Chro-
nicle of Lanercost . I -t



Actual results of the Crusades injurious to Christian faith and
morals — St. Dominic and the Preaching Friars — The
Albigenses — St. Francis — The Eastern leprosy — Devotion
of the Franciscans — Thomas of Eccleston's account of their
settlement in England — Anecdotes —Aquinas and the
Schoolmen — Trivet's Annates — Stubbs's Archbishops of
York — Franciscan Schoolmen — Roger Bacon, Scotus,
Occam • • • . 199



Diminution in the number of monastic chronicles— Com-
pensated at first by minuteness of detail — Position of St.
Alban's as a centre of news — First formation of the scrip-
torium at St. Alban's — Roger of Wendover — Plan of his
chronicle — His account of the papal interdict — Matthew
Paris — His character as an historian — Extracts from his
chronicle — William Rishanger — Trivet's account of
Edward I. transcribed by him — Other continuators of
Matthew Paris — Thomas Walsingham — His account of
Wat Tyler's rebellion — Whethamstede's register — End
ol the age of monastic chronicles — Higden's Polychronicon
— Trevisa — Caxton ...••••• 233

viii (Content*.




The Liber de Antiquis Legibus — French Chronicle of London —
The Liber Albus — The Chronicle of London — Gregory's
Chronicle — Account of Jack Cade's rebellion — Adventures
of Margaret of Anjou — The Mayor of Bristol's Kalendcr —
Fabyan's Concordance of Histories — More's History of
Richard III. — Extract — Shakespeare dramatized More's
•woxVs—Hardyng's Chronicle- -HaWs Chronicle — Polydore
Vergil's History — Grafton's historical works — John Stow —
His Summary, his Chronicle, and his Survey of London —
Ireland — Holinsheds Chronicle -Sou ices of Shakespeare's
historical plays . , » • . . • • • 284








Gildas on the destruction of Britain — Bede's account of the conver-
sion of England to Christianity — Pope Gregory and the English
slaves at Rome — King Edwin's consultation with his councillors
about embracing Christianity — Paulinus made Bishop of York —
King Edwin's good government — Abbey of Whitby — Story of
Caedmon — Bede's other writings — Account of his death — Super-
natural stories in Bede — Asser's Life of Alfred the Great — Ques-
tions about the text — Interpolations — The Story of Alfred and the
cakes — How Alfred learned to read— How he divided his time.

After the departure of the Romans from Britain,
the history of this island is for some time enveloped
in great obscurity, which is at the best but faintly
relieved by Welsh traditions and unsatisfactory
fragments of Welsh poetry. Left to themselves
the Britons manifested no native capacity for

lEarlg <£f)romcler$ of lEnglanfc.

government and relapsed into comparative barbar-
ism. Only about a century after the withdrawal
of the conquerors do we meet with a British writer
who tells us anything about the Britons ; and the
picture he gives of their decay and demoralization
is melancholy in the extreme.

Nor can it be said that even here our scanty
historical information rests on a basis altogether
free from controversy. Indeed, the doubts and
discussions to which the brief treatise of Gildas has
given rise are out of all proportion to its magnitude.
As to the personality of the writer it is unsatisfac-
tory to find two ancient biographies utterly incon-
sistent even with regard to his parentage and family,
and manifestly full of fabulous matter throughout.
In the absence of better information on this subject,
even his age and nationality have been called in
question ; and though his own testimony upon
these points, if trustworthy, is unmistakeable, one
daring critic suspects the work to be a forgery of a
somewhat later time. Speculations of this kind,
however, I shall for my part simply pass by ; and
as the work is, under any circumstances, anterior to
that of our next historian, the Venerable Bede, I
will endeavour to give the reader some account of
its general drift.

The title which it commonly bears — Liber que-
ridiis de Excidio Britannice (a Book of Complaint
touching the Destruction of Britain) — may not have
been prefixed by the author himself, but indicates,
nevertheless, truly enough its general character.


The work, as it has come down to us, is divided
into three sections, the first of which is called " the
Preface," the second, " the History," and the third
" the Epistle." But it is greatly questioned whether
this division is the author's own, who, according to
his most recent editor, called the whole simply an
Epistle. In any case it is clear that "the History"
is only meant to lead up to " the Epistle," and that
the author's real aim was not to write a history at
all, but to show the fearful degeneracy of the times,
and to rebuke the rulers of the British nation for
the shameful perfidy with which they dishonoured
their Christian profession. In the opening words
of " the Epistle " the general state of matters is
described as follows : —

" Britain has kings, but they are tyrants ; she has judges,
but impious ones ; often engaged in plunder and rapine, but
preying upon the innocent ; avenging and protecting, indeed,
but only robbers and criminals. They have an abundance
of wives, yet are they addicted to fornication and adultery ;
they are ever ready to take oaths, and as often perjure them-
selves ; they make a vow and almost immediately act falsely ;
they make war, but their wars are against their country-
men, and are unjust ones ; they rigorously prosecute thieves
throughout the country, but those who sit at table with them
are robbers, and they not only cherish but reward them ;
they give alms plentifully, but on the other hand they heap
up an immense mountain of crimes ; they sit on the seat of
justice, but rarely seek for the rule of right judgment ; they
despise the innocent and the humble, but seize every occasion
of exalting to the utmost the bloody minded, the proud,
murderers, the combined and adulterers, enemies of God,
who ought to be utterly destroyed and their names forgotten."

1-aiIj) Chronicler* of 3Englant}.

The turgid Latin in which all this is set forth is
certainly not to be commended as a model of literary-
style. It is a sort of decayed Ciceronianism, in
which a great multiplicity of hard words is made
to do the duty of a few well-ordered and weighty
ones. But after all the style itself is only an addi-
tional illustration of that which is the main subject
of the book — the general decay of civilization,
culture, and morality, which had ensued since the
Romans left the island. The author is in dead
earnest, and uses a great array of heavy words in
the hope that some of them may take effect upon
the heavy and sluggish intellects of a demoralized
people. A.nd from this general statement of the
case he proceeds to special instances, attacking the
different British princes by name, for their gross
immoralities, and finally addressing a general warn-
ing to them by examples from Old Testament
history, and from the words of the Prophets.

Such was the aim and object of this work of
Gildas ; and to treat him as an historian in the
ordinary sense of the word is not to do him justice.
He was an historian only so far as history lay in
his path towards another object ; and as an historian
he confesses that he labours under very great dis-

" I will endeavour," he says, u to give an account both of
those evils which Britain suffered in the time of the Roman
emperors and of those which she inflicted on other citizens
afar off ; yet, so far as I shall be able to do it, it will not be
so much from the literature of this country or from the memo-


rials of its writers (because, if there ever were such, they have
either been destroyed by the fires of the enemy, or carried off
by the ships of citizens who went into exile), as from a narra-
tive [supplied to me] beyond sea, which, being interrupted by
frequent gaps, is not by any means satisfactory."

In fact, the information possessed by Gildas as to
what happened long before his own day was not
only scanty, but I must add not much to be relied
on. From the analysis of the apparent sources of
the work made by Sir Thomas Hardy, we may
presume that the earlier part, at least, of the narra-
tive obtained beyond sea consisted of fragments of
the writings of Eusebius and St. Jerome relating to
Britain, and perhaps of the ecclesiastical history of
Sulpicius Severus. If it extended much later it
could not have been very trustworthy ; for the
notions of Gildas, at least as to the order and suc-
cession of events, are exceedingly confused and
inaccurate, nor are they in harmony with well-
informed Greek and Roman writers as to the events
themselves. But from the early part of the fifth
century Greek and Roman writers tell us nothing
of the affairs of Britain, and Gildas is the original
authority used by Bede and succeeding writers as
the basis of our early English history.* It is he
who reports how the Britons, after their abandon-
ment by the Romans, being molested by the Picts
and Scots, invoked again their old conquerors
and rulers to save them from the barbarians,

* See Sir T. Hardy's remarks in his Descriptive Catalogue of
Materials relating to the History of Great Britain and Ireland,
vol. i. pp. 136, 137.

^arlg ©frrcmicler* of lEnglanD.

and wrote to Aetius the Consul the desponding
appeal, headed "the groans of the Britons."
The reader is doubtless familiar with the words of
that letter as translated by Hume : — " The bar-
barians, on the one hand, chase us into the sea ;
the sea, on the other, throws us back on the bar-
barians ; and we have only the hard choice left us
of perishing by the sword, or by the waves." It
is Gildas, also, who reports how, when the Romans
could no longer assist the islanders, the latter un-
wisely met the difficulty by calling in "the fierce
and impious Saxons — a race hateful both to God
and man, to repel the invasions of the northern
nations." On the extreme impolicy and wicked-
ness of this step our author makes severe reflec-
tions. " Nothing," he says, " was ever so pernicious
to our country." Its immediate result is described
as follows : — " Then a litter of whelps bursting
forth from the lair of the barbaric lioness in three
keels as they call them in their language, or long
ships as we should say in ours, with their sails
wafted by the wind, and with omens and prophecies
favourable, by which it was foretold that they
should occupy the country to which they were sail-
ing three hundred years, and half of that time, a
hundred and fifty years, should plunder and despoil
the same." They landed on the eastern side of the
island as allies of the southern natives ; but having
once obtained a footing they strengthened them-
selves by fomenting the internal dissensions of the
glanders. The author goes on to state, though


in obscure and turgid language, that commotions
spread from sea to sea, even to the Western ocean,
which he regards as the vengeance of the Almighty
on the former sins of the inhabitants. But the pe-
culiar horror of these events was the overthrow of
Christianity and civilization, recalling the words of
the Psalmist, " O God, the heathen are come into
Thine inheritance ; Thy holy temple have they
defiled."* " They have cast fire into Thy sanc-
tuary ; they have defiled the dwelling-place of Thy
name." f

Then following up this figure of speech in a
passage which is very obscure, but which has been
translated as follows, he goes on to say —

" So that all the columns were levelled with the ground by
the frequent strokes of the battering ram, all the husbandmen
routed, together with their bishops, priests, and people, whilst
the sword gleamed and the flames crackled around them
on every side. Lamentable to behold, in the midst of the
streets lay the tops of lofty towers, tumbled to the ground,
stones of high walls, holy altars, fragments of human bodies
covered with livid clots of coagulated blood, looking as if
they had been squeezed together in a press, and with no
chance of being buried save in the ruins of the houses, or in
the ravening bellies of wild beasts and birds ; with reverence
be it spoken for their blessed souls, if, indeed, there were
many found who were carried at that time into the high
heaven by the holy angels. So entirely had the vintage,
once so fine, degenerated and become bitter, that in the
words of the prophet there was hardly a grape or ear of corn
to be seen where the husbandman had turned his back."

It is added that "of the miserable remnant,"

* Ps. lxxix. i. f Ps. lxxiv. 7.

8 ISarlg Chroniclers of lEngtant).

some were taken in the mountains and murdered
with great slaughter ; others, oppressed by hunger,
gave themselves up as slaves, even at the risk of
being slain on the spot ; others escaped beyond
sea ; while others succeeded in preserving their
lives, though in constant fear and danger, among
the mountains, precipices, and forests. Nevertheless,
after a time, the islanders took arms under the
Roman General Ambrosius Aurelianus, who alone
of all that nation, it is said, " was by chance left
alive in the confusion of that troubled period," and
obtained some advantage over their persecutors.
The war continued then for some time with varied
success, till forty-four years after the landing of the
Saxons the islanders gained a decided victory at
the battle of Mount Badon, which was followed by
some other successes. It was at that time, Gildas
tells us, that he himself was born. Yet even to the
time at which he wrote the cities were not inhabited
as before ; and though the foreign foe had ceased
to give trouble civil wars still continued. It was
true the remembrance of that horrible desolation
and of their unexpected deliverance exercised for
a time a beneficial influence upon kings, magis-
trates, and people, who with their priests and clergy
led orderly and decent lives. But after that gene-
ration had passed away, the islanders, forgetting
everything but their present prosperity, abandoned
truth and justice and relapsed into every kind of
wickedness, all but a very small company ; so few,
says the writer, that our holy mother Church could


hardly see them reposing in her bosom — by whose
prayers, nevertheless, as by pillars, the infirmity of
the nation was sustained. These things, the author
wishes us to understand, he writes not in anger but
in pure sorrow ; for it is needless to conceal what
foreign nations know and cast in our teeth.

Such is the tenor of this book of Gildas, be it
history, epistle, or what it may. A multitude of
questions rise up as to the sufficiency of his testi-
mony, the completeness of the Saxon conquest and
various other points in connection with it, which
we may here dismiss. But no one will doubt the
general truth to which this remarkable composition
bears witness — that the withdrawal of the Romans
and the settlement in the island of the pagan
Saxons led to something that might well be called
" the destruction of Britain ; " that the new comers
made havoc of civilization, and that the early
planted Christianity of the Britons, cut off from the
Christianity of Europe, became so degenerate and
corrupt that it had no influence whatever in miti-
gating the fury of the conquerors. The absence of
all other records on this point only confirms the
solitary testimony of Gildas ; for a civilized people
always preserves some evidences of its civilization.
But here we have no other contemporary docu-
ments — no other fruit of that doomed and decay-
ing nationality than this pitiful lament over its
decay. In another generation or two the Britons
will have ceased to exist as a nation altogether, or
ceased, at all events, to be any longer called by
that name.

io "Saris Chronicler* of SnglantJ.

The revival of civilization came again from
Rome ; not, as at first, by the subjugation of the
island by Roman arms, but by an influence still
more powerful and more humanizing. The tri-
umphant pagans who now possessed the land
learned the tidings of salvation from the preaching
of St. Augustine, and became more gentle than
the subject race had been in the days of their
independence. For the record of the mode in
which the change was wrought we are indebted to
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation ;
and it is certainly the most interesting narrative to
be found in our early annals. We therefore present
it to the reader in the very words of the original
author, translated from the Latin : —

"In the year of our Lord 582, Maurice, the fifty-fourth from
Augustus, ascended the throne, and reigned twenty-one
years. In the tenth year of his reign, Gregory, a man con-
spicuous for his learning and ability, having attained the
pontificate of the Roman Apostolic See, ruled it for thirteen
years, six months, and ten days ; who, being warned by a
divine instinct, in the fourteenth year of the same emperor,
and about the one-hundred and fiftieth after the coming of
the English into Britain, sent the servant of God, Augustine,
and several others along with him, monks who feared the
Lord, to preach the word of God to the English nation. But
when in obedience to the Pope's commands they had begun
to take that work in hand, and had proceeded some way
upon the journey, they were seized with a sluggish fear, and
thought rather to return home than go to a barbarous, fierce,
and unbelieving nation, whose language even they did not
understand ; and this they all agreed was the safer course.
And straightway they sent home Augustine, whom he had
determined to appoint their bishop if they were received by

93ct)e. 1 1

the English, to obtain leave of the blessed Gregory by humble
supplications, that they should not undertake so dangerous,
toilsome, and uncertain a journey. The pope sent them a
letter of exhortation persuading them to go forward in the
work, relying on the aid of the divine Word ; of which letter
the tenor was as follows : —

" ' Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. Forasmuch
as it had been better not to begin a good work than in
thought to desist from that which is begun, it behoves you,
my beloved sons, by all means to complete the good work
which with the Lord's aid you have entered upon. Let not
therefore the toil of the journey nor the tongues of men who

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Online LibraryJames GairdnerEngland → online text (page 1 of 23)