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clean was it ruined amongst the English people
that there were very few on this side the H umber
who could understand their service in English ; and
I think there were not many beyond the H umber ;'
and as for piety, ' We have loved the name of being
Christians, and very few the duties.' Then he gives
the obvious reason why translations were necessarj- ;
and referring especially to his translation of the
' Pastoral,' he writes with touching humility and frank-
ness : * When I thought how the learning of the
Latin language was decayed through the English
people, though many could read English writing,
then I began, among other divers and manifold
affairs of this kingdom, to translate into English the
book which is named in Latin " Pastorale," some-
times word for word, sometimes meaning for mean-
ing, as I learned it of Plegmund, my Archbishop, and
of Asser, my Bishop, and of Grimbold, my presbyter,
and of John, my presbyter. After I had then learnt
it, so that I could understand it so well as my under-
standing could allow me, I translated it into English ;
and I will send one copy to each Bishop's see in my
kingdom,' etc. Alfred naturally laid great stress on
this work, because he thought it of the utmost
importance that those who were admitted to the
sacred offices, and especially to the episcopate, should
be men of a high stamp, both morally and intellec-
tually ; and as there were few then who came up to
his standard, sees were sometimes kept vacant so as


to call forth the remonstrances of the Pope. But a
vacant see is better than an unworthily occupied one ;
and though a little temporary inconvenience was
caused, it was, in the long-run, for the advantage of
the Church, as all Alfred's policy was. Some have
objected that he leaned too much towards Rome.
But was it not natural for him to look to the centre
of Western Christendom for help if he desired to
revive a dying Christianity in his native land ? All
his work was done in spite of feeble health, and in
much less than the allotted span of human life ; for
he was never strong, and he succumbed, in 901, before
he had reached his fifty-third year, leaving an un-
dying reputation for greatness and goodness which
was as universal as it was deserved.

One happy feature of the period before us was the
drawing more closely the bonds of friendship, if not of
unity, between the English and what we may now term
the Welsh Church. This was brought about in various
ways. The Welsh looked for, and found, from the
great English King protection against the tyranny
of their own petty princes ; and the kind offices thus
rendered naturally inclined them to regard with more
friendly feelings the Church as well as the State of
England. Again, the incursions of the Danes, who
ravaged impartially the churches and monasteries of
English and Welsh alike, drew the two Churches
together in opposition to one common foe. And,
once more, the large-heartedness of Alfred, ' an en-
lightened ruler who saw in the Church a bond of
brotherhood that should knit all nations and people
together,'^ tended to the same result. Alfred took,
as we have seen, for his intimate friend and coun-
^ Newell, p. 161.


seller, Asser, who was an illustrious Welsh Church-
man, and the kinsman of one of the highest digni-
taries of the Welsh Church, Novis, Bishop of S.
David's, to whom the great King rendered very
material service. The appointment of Asser to the
bishopric of Sherborne helped to break down the
barrier between English and Welsh Christianity,
and we find from this time several instances of the
consecration of Welsh bishops by Archbishops of



From the Death of Alfred to the Norvian Conquest (901-1066).

Edward the Elder — Archbishop Plegmund— Vacant sees filled —
A West Welsh see founded — Restoration of monastic rule
— Archbishop Odo — S. Dunstan — Abbot of Glastonbury
— Connection with Kings Athelstan, Edmund, Edred,Edwy,
Edgar, Edward, and Ethelred — Dunstan's statesmanship —
Legends about him — Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester —
Oswald, Bishop of Worcester — Chancellor Thurkitul —
Bribing off the Danes— Elfric the Grammarian — S. Alphege
— His glorious end — King Canute— His services to the
Church— King Edward the Confessor — His good and bad
qualities— Alien priories — Robert of Jumieges and Stigand
— Appeal to Rome — Harold — Waltham — Westminster
Abbey — National character of the Church before the Con-
quest — Its harmony with the State— A link between different
classes — Education of the people — Its weak points — Its
attractiveness and the causes.

The stimulus given by the great King to Church life
and work told in many ways. The son of such a
man as Alfred, who was as conscientious in his family
relations as he was in every relation of life, naturally
took his father's advisers as his guides in religious
affairs. Archbishop Plegmund, who survived his
royal pupil and master for thirteen years, was as
wise and faithful a director to the son as he had
been to the father; and the new King, Edward
(Eadward) called the Elder, and the Archbishop
strove to maintain the high standard of Church life


which Alfred had set before them. Grimbold and
Asser, too, were still by the King's side, and helped
to prevent him from forgetting Church interests, as
in the incessant struggles against the Danes, who
had risen in hostility in Mercia and Northumbria, he
might have been tempted to do. The first eccle-
siastical event was the filling up of the vacant sees,
Winchester, Sherborne, and Selsey ; Winchester was
subdivided, Berkshire and Wiltshire being formed
into a new see, with its centre at Ramsbury. Two
other new sees were also erected — Wells and Credi-
ton. But while Wessex was forming new dioceses,
other parts of the land were losing old ones. In
East Anglia the see of Dunwich disappeared, and
that of Elmham had only a broken succession. That
of Lindsey is never heard of,^ and that of Leicester
is removed to Dorchester, so as to be near the pro-
tection of the all-powerful Wessex, which was the
centre of ecclesiastical as of civil life. A singularly
interesting feature of the time was the formation of
a diocese among the West Welsh in Cornwall, which
was attached to the province of Canterbury in the
time of Athelstan, who also dedicated churches and
colleges in Dorset and Devon to Welsh saints. This
was one of the first approaches to the amalgamation
of the ancient British with the English Church,
which afterwards took place with the full consent of
the former. But, after all, both Edward and his son

1 If, as is more than probable, Stow is the site of the ancient
Sidnacester, the first ' bishop's stool ' of the Lindsey see, then we
know that its church was burnt by the Danes in 870 a.d,, and
that, being as it were on the highroad of the Danish incursions,
it was thought unsafe to re-erect it, or to make it the seat of a
bishopric. The Lindsey see was absorbed in that of Dorchester.


Athelstan were bound to give their chief attention
to war, and the recrudescence of the Danish troubles
renders the first forty years of the tenth century a
comparatively barren period.

But in 942 there succeeded to the chair of Augus-
tine one whose name introduces us to that which
was the great feature of the Church history of the
tenth century, the reform of the monasteries — in
other words, to the contest between the seculars
and the regulars. We have seen how the monasteries,
as the chief strongholds of Christianity, had been
the greatest sufferers from the havocs of the Danes.
Many had been swept away, and those that remained,
in a more or less ruinous state, were governed by no
fixed rule. Before the troubles a monastery had too
often become a mere country house, with a lay
Abbot as master of the establishment ; at the best
it was an educational establishment, and, beyond
the ccenobitic life, the monks could scarcely be called
monks — certainly not ' regulars,' for what was their
rule ? On the other hand, the powers of the secular
clergy had greatly increased. The bishops had
acquired much additional authority by the active
part they had taken in civil affairs, and that without
losing their ecclesiastical character ; for civil and
ecclesiastical interests were so intimately connected
that it was impossible to distinguish them. It was
time for those who desired to restore the old monastic
rule to be up and doing ; for new monasteries were
being built and old monasteries restored, and these,
as well as cathedral chapters, were being filled with
* clerks ' rather than monks. The first who came to
the rescue was Odo, who was appointed to the
primacy in 942. He was a converted Dane, and in


his early Christian days had attached himself to the
secular party. He had proved his Christian sincerity
by cheerfully suffering persecution from his heathen
father in consequence of his conversion ; but his
Christianity did not prevent him from following his
military instincts. He was three times in the battle-
field after his consecration in 926 to the bishopric of
Ramsbury, and in the great battle of Brunahburgh
in 937 saved King Athelstan's life — the legend says,
by working a miracle. He was therefore a ' secular ' in
more senses of the word than one. But on his nomina-
tion to the see of Canterbury he at once changed sides,
affirming that no one was fit to be an Archbishop
unless he had first become a monk — meaning thereby
one who strictly followed the Benedictine rule.
Having no opportunity of seeing that rule carried
out in England, he visited Fleury, near Rouen, as
one of the nearest monasteries to England where
that rule was carried out in its fulness.^ He re-
turned, a cowled monk himself, and determined to
make use of his commanding position to spread the
only monachism he thought worthy of the name
in that Church over which he was called upon to

He was helped, or, rather, ruled, by one of a
more powerful character than his own. This was
S. Dunstan (924-988), by far the most conspicuous
figure in the history both of Church and State in the
tenth century.'^ Dunstan was born at, or near, Glas-

^ The connection with the monasteries on the Continent was
strengthened by the Continental family alliances made by the
West Saxon kings.

^ Dr. Lingard is of opinion that Dunstan ' occupies a dispro-
portionate space in most of our modern histories' (' History of


tonbury, in 924, bein^ of noble parentage connected
with royalty. He was educated at Glastonbury,
where, although the monastery had fallen into utter
. decay, there was still a school, owing to the fact of
some pilgrims from Ireland having left books, and
perhaps teachers, behind them. At an early age he
was admitted to the Court of Athelstan, the first of
the many kings with whom he was connected ; but
his various accomplishments seemed so strange to
the ignorant young nobles who frequented the Court
that they suspected him of using the black arts, and
succeeded in procuring his removal. He found a
refuge with his relation, Alphege (i^lfheah), Bishop
of Winchester, generally called the Bald, to dis-
tinguish him from the more famous Alphege, after-
wards Archbishop of Canterbury. Here Dunstan,
after a severe struggle between the flesh and the
spirit, was persuaded by the Bishop to devote him-
self to a religious life. He returned to Glastonbury
and practised the strictest austerities as an anchorite ;
and he also spent much time in working at his
favourite mechanical arts. On the death of Athel-
stan, Edmund (Eadmund), his successor, recalled
Dunstan, whom he knew intimately, to the Court,
and was much influenced by the counsels of the
precocious youth. In 945 the King appointed Dun-
stan, though only twenty-one years of age, Abbot of

England,' vol. i., ch. iv., p. 131). I am diffident about dififeiing
from so competent an authority ; but if the facts which I am
about to narrate are facts, surely a man who was pre-eminent
above all others during the reigns of six kings requires a very
considerable space in any history of the period. But perhaps
Dr. Lingard means that too much space has been de\oted to the
many, more or less foolish, legends about S. Dunstan. If so, I
entirely agree with him.


the royal monastery of Glastonbury. The new
Abbot, who, like Odo, had visited Fleury, and had
been deeply impressed by the rule of that famous
monastery, at once began to reform, or, rather, re-
vivify, the most ancient and famous of all English
monasteries. Having succeeded to an ample for-
tune, he spent his money freely in rebuilding the
church and repairing the conventual buildings ; and
being himself an accomplished handicraftsman, and
especially skilled in building organs and casting bells,
he worked diligently with his own hands. But his
energies were not confined to material work. With-
out yet introducing the strict Benedictine rule, he
reformed his abbey spiritually, and also made it the
first educational establishment in the country.^ The
year after Dunstan's appointment to the abbacy
King Edmund was slain, and Dunstan conveyed his
body to Glastonbury and buried it there. The new
King, Edred (Eadred), could not do without Dun-
stan, who was recalled to Court, and thus became
associated with a third monarch. Dunstan was the
King's chief adviser, and his Treasurer, a large part
of the royal hoard being kept at Glastonbury. Edred
was a sickly and short-lived monarch, and Dunstan's
influence was paramount. In 953 the King offered
him the bishopric of Crediton ; but Dunstan, with an
impulsive affectionateness which was highly charac-
teristic of the man, declared that while Edred lived
he would never leave him. The sole rival in the

1 Dr. E. A. Freeman rightly terms Dunstan 'the greatest son,
the greatest ruler, that Glastonbury ever saw . . . the strict
Churchman, the monastic reformer, who called up again the
religious life at Glastonbury after a season of decay ' (' English
Towns and Districts,' p. loi).



King's affections was the Queen-mother ; and she and
Dunstan went hand-in-hand, both in the work of
Church reform, and also in a vigorous pohcy against
the Danes, who were in revolt in Northumbria. But
in 955 King Edred died, and was succeeded by Edwy
(Eadwig), King Edmund's elder son. This brought
Dunstan into connection with a fourth King, but
this time with very painful results. The sad story
of Edwy and Elgiva (^Elfgifa) need not here be told,
especially as it is extremely difficult to decide which
is the true version ; but the undoubted result was
that in 956 Dunstan was disgraced and outlawed.
He found a refuge in Flanders, and was deeply im-
bued with the spirit of the Benedictine rule, which
he found fully carried out in the Abbey of S. Peter
at Ghent. In 957 he was recalled by Edgar (Eadgar),
who bore the title of King of the Mercians, and was
consecrated Bishop without any see ; but a vacancy
occurring at Worcester, he was appointed to fill it,
and shortly afterwards to the see of London, holding
the two bishoprics together. In 959 Edwy died,
and Edgar practically succeeded him. The long
reign of Edgar the Pacific was one of the most
peaceful and prosperous periods in early English
history ; and it was mainly indebted to Dunstan,
who was a heaven-born statesman, for its peace and
prosperity. His influence with the King was un-
bounded. In the striking language of an early
biographer, ' the King believed in Dunstan's counsel
as in his own life, and received all that was said by
him as though it were spoken by the very mouth of
God ; and thus he ordained what was to be ordained,
and condemned what was to be condemned.'
The country was disturbed neither by domestic


broils nor by foreign invasions. ' Scarce a year
passed without some public blessing.'^ The Danes
in England were managed as they had never been
managed since the days of Alfred. Education was
encouraged, and learning flourished under the foster-
ing care of Dunstah, assisted by Ethelwold and others.
One use which Dunstan made of his power
was to establish monasteries under the strict Bene-
dictine rule. No less than forty — some say fifty —
were founded in England during King Edgar's
reign. Least of all did Dunstan forget his own
abbey of Glastonbury. King Edgar, who was
entirely under Dunstan's direction, ' endowed it with
many possessions and immunities. Among these
privileges was the power of determining pleas and
correcting delinquents ; sanctuary within the limits
of the hundred ; the appropriation of hidden treasures
to the use of the monastery ; that the monks should
always be the electors of their own abbots ; and that
all controversies whatever, within their jurisdiction,
should be determined in the Abbot's court.'- The
Abbot of Glastonbury had (until the year 1154) the
precedence of all the abbots in England. Dunstan
had now risen to the primacy, but, monk though he
was, and patron of monks, he used no harsh measures
in regard to the secular canons in his own cathedral
of Canterbury; and, though he strongly objected to
married clergy, he did not persecute them. It was,

1 Edgar, however, was more estimable as a King than as a
man. His moral character was far from spotless, and Dunstan
dealt faithfully with him, actually condemning him on one
occasion to a penance of not wearing the royal crown for seven
years, for violatiiig a nun.

- ' Monks and Monasteries,' by S. Fox, ch. xv., p. 190.


however, no doubt, part of his poHcy to connect all
the cathedral churches with monasteries and make
the monks constitute the chapters, which would
naturally ensure the election of monks to bishoprics.
In 975 King Edgar died, and was succeeded,
greatly through the influence of Dunstan, by his
eldest son Edward, who was the sixth King with
whom the great Bishop-statesman was connected.
At a council, probably held at Winchester, one of
those strange events which have clustered round the
name of Dunstan is said to have occurred. A dis-
pute arose, as usual, between the seculars and the
regulars, and, as the latter were outnumbered, the
former demanded that Dunstan, as Archbishop,
should decree ' the expulsion of the monks and the
restoration of the clerks.' Then there came a voice
from the crucifix which hung in the hall, ' Let it
not be so, let it not be so,' and the monks were
victorious. But in 978 the question was again
raised at a council at Calne, when the floor gave
way, and Dunstan alone, or, as some say, Dunstan
and his party, escaped, while the others were preci-
pitated below. "Whatever may be the explanation
of these strange stories, there is no trustworthy
proof of any trickery on the part of Dunstan, In
the same year (978) King Edward was slain, and
Ethelred was crowned by Dunstan ; and this was
the seventh and last King with whom he was
brought into contact. In no respect did Ethelred
the Unready show his want of ' rede ' more con-
spicuously than in his dislike of the great statesman
who had advised so well his predecessors. Dunstan
retired from public life, 'leaving,' as Bishop Stubbs
says, Ethelred to mismanage the kingdom as he


chose.' He prophesied that imder Etheh-ed ' such
evils should fall on the English as they had never
yet suffered,' and his prophecy was abundantly ful-
filled ; when the master-mind was gone, England
became one continued scene of war and rapine. It
should be added that, though Dunstan was the con-
fidant of so many monarchs, he never shrank from
rebuking them when they acted contrary to his
ideas of Christian purity ; and though he was a
partisan of Rome, he distinctly refused to obey the
Pope when he thought him wrong. The last years
of his life, which ended in 988, were spent in devo-
tion and in strict attention to the affairs of his

Dunstan's memory has suffered alike from his
friends and his foes — from the former even more
than from the latter. Protestant writers have
naturally regarded with no favourable eye one who
was the great promoter of the Benedictine rule and
the advocate of clerical celibacy, and who thereby
brought the Church of England more into harmony
with the Church of Rome. And Dunstan's pane-
gyrists have really played into their hands ; for, by
connecting his name with all sorts of improbable
legends, they have cast an air of unreality upon his
whole life ; and by contending for miraculous inter-
positions in his favour, especially at the Councils of
Winchester and Calne, they have given occasion for
supposing that he practised impostures, when there
is no real evidence of his having done anything of
the sort. Again, his advocacy of the reform of
monks and clergy has identified him with harsh
measures with which he was in no way connected.
For, strong partisan as he was of Benedictinism and


celibacy, he was singularly moderate in his own
dealings, both with monks not under the rule and
with married priests.^ His conduct in this respect
contrasts markedly with that of another great
reformer, who was in some sense his disciple.

Ethelwold (908-984), Bishop of Winchester, pre-
sents, in his early career, some singular resemblances
to Dunstan. Like Dunstan, he was early brought
into notice at Court, and became part of the King's
coniitains ; like Dunstan, he was deeply affected
by the influence of Bishop Alphege (/Elf heah) the
Bald, who is said to have ordained the two to the
priesthood on the same day ; like Dunstan, he was
connected with Glastonbury, being Dean of that
monastery when Dunstan was Abbot ; like Dunstan,
he was a skilful artificer, and worked with his own
hands ; like Dunstan, he paid great attention to the
building and restoration of churches and monasteries;
like Dunstan, he threw the whole weight of his
influence into the scale of the regulars against the
seculars, having been imbued with the spirit of
Benedictinism by a visit to the Damnonian abbey
of Fleury ; like Dunstan, he had the opportunity
of framing a monastery after his own model, for
King Edred made him Abbot of the monastery at
Abingdon, which he restored after its destruction

^ Dr. E. A. Freeman nobly vindicates Dunstan's character as
one ' who stands charged in no authentic record as guilty of any
act of cruelty or persecution, but who does stand forth in
authentic records as the great Minister of successive West Saxon
kings, of successive Lords of all Britain.' ' Let us,' he adds,
' think of him as the friend of Eadmund, the councillor of
Eadred, the victim of Eadwig, the friend and guide of Eadgar,
the Giver-of-peace ' ('English Towns and Districts,' p. loi).


by the Danes/ and succeeded in bringing strictly
under the Benedictine rule ; and Glastonbury and
Abingdon were for some time the only two houses
in England in which that rule was carried out in
its integrity.

But, unlike Dunstan, he cannot be acquitted of
severity, nay, actual persecution, in his mode of
dealing with the ' clerks ' and married clergy. In
963 he was appointed, through Dunstan's influence,
Bishop of Winchester. A characteristic story is
told of his high-handed doings at Winchester. He
walked into the cathedral, bringing with him a
number of ' monkish garbs,' and told the canons,
who were seculars, either to don them and to con-
form to their habit, or to resign their posts. Only
three conformed, and the rest were ruthlessly turned
adrift. Supported by King Edgar, he expelled the
' clerks ' out of the great abbeys of Chertsey, Milton,
Exeter, Ely, Peterborough, Thorney, and others,
and filled them with Benedictine monks. He
obtained leave from King Edgar to restore the
minsters which had been ruined by the Danes ;
rebuilt Ely and Peterborough, and peopled them
with monks, expelling those clerks who still re-
mained at Ely. In short, he was, to use the
language of Elfric the Grammarian, his biographer,
' terrible as a lion to the rebellious, but gentler than
a lamb to the meek,' and he well earned the title
of Father of the Monks.

There are yet two great names connected with
that which was the distinctive feature of the tenth

Online LibraryJohn Henry OvertonThe Church in England (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 36)