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William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England. From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen online

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sequence, when I could endure this no longer, I acted with
hostility to others, that I might get credit for the clergy,
though at the loss of the citizens. However, I now find I
have lavished my favours on the ungrateful ; for you publicly
proclaim what others mutter only in secret. I approve, in-
deed, your freedom, but I look in vain for your affection. A
dying parent is persecuted by his sons concerning his burial.
Will you deny me the house common to all living? The
harlot, the usurer, the robber, are not forbidden an entrance
to the church, and do you refuse it to the pope ? What sig-
nifies it whether the dead or the living enter the sanctuary,
except it be, that the living is subject to many temptations,


SO that he cannot be free from spot even in the church ; often
finding matter of sin in the very place where he had come to
wash it away; whereas the dead knows not how, nay, he
who wants only his last sad office, has not the power to sin.
What savage barbarity then is it to exclude from the house
of God him in whom both the inclination and the power of
sinning have ceased ! Repent, then, my sons, of your preci-
pitate boldness, if perchance God may forgive you this
crime, for you have spoken both foolishly and bitterly even to
this present hour. But that you may not suppose me to rest
merely on my own authority, listen to reason. Every act of
man ought to be considered according to the intention of his
heart, that the examination of the deed may proceed to that
point whence the design originated; I am deceived if the
Truth does not say the same ; ' K thine eye be simple thy
whole body shall be full of light ; if evil, all thy body shall
be dark.' A wretched pauper hath often come to me to re-
lieve his distress. As I knew not what was about to happen,
I have presented him with divers pieces of money, and dis-
missed him. On his departure he has met with a thief on
the public road, has incautiously fallen into conversation
with him, proclaimed the kindness of the apostoUcal see,
and, to prove the truth of his words, produced the purse.
On their journey the way has been beguiled vrith various
discourse, until the dissembler, loitering somewhat behind,
has felled the stranger with a club, and immediately des-
patched him ; and, after carrying off his money, has boasted
of a murder which his thirst for plunder had excited. Can
you, therefore, justly accuse me for giving that to a stranger
which was the cause of his death ? for even the most cruel
person would not murder a man unless he hoped to fill his
pockets with the money. What shall I say of civil and
ecclesiastical laws ? By these is not the selfsame fact both
punished and approved under different circumstances ? The
thief is punished for murdering a man in secret, whereas the
soldier is applauded who destroys his enemy in battle ; the
homicide, then, is ignominious in one and laudable in the
other, as the latter committed it for the safety of his country,
the former for the gratification of his desire for plunder.
My predecessor Adrian the First, of renowned memory, was
applauded for giving up the investiture of the churches to



Charles the Great ; so that no person elected could be conse-
crated by the bishop till the king had first dignified him with
the ring and staff: on the other hand the pontiffs of our
time have got credit for taking away these appointments
from the princes. What at that time, then, might reason^
ably be granted, may at the present be reasonably taken
away. But why so ? Because the mind of Charles the
Great was not assailable by avarice, nor could any person
easily find access unless he entered by the door. Besides, at
so vast a distance, it could not be required of the papal see
to grant its consent to each person elected, so long as there
was a king at hand who disposed of nothing through avarice,
but always appointed religious persons to the churches, ac-
cording to the sacred ordinances of the canons. At the
present time luxury and ambition have beset every king's
palace; wherefore the spouse of Christ deservedly asserts
her liberty, lest a tyrant should prostitute to an ambitious
usurper. Thus, on either side, may my cause be denied or
affirmed; it is not the office of a bishop either himself to
fight, or to command others to do so; but it belongs to a
bishop's function, if he see innocence made shipwreck of, to
oppose both hand and tongue. Ezekiel accuses the priests
for not strongly opposing and holding forth a shield for the
house of Israel in the day of the Lord. Now there are two
persons in the church of God, appointed for the purpose of
repressing crimes ; one who can rebuke sharply ; the other,
who can wield the sword. I, as you can witness for me,
have not neglected my part ; as far as I saw it could profit,
I did rebuke sharply. I sent a message to him whose busi-
ness it was to bear the sword ; he wrote me word back, that
he was occupied in his war with the Vandals, entreating me
not to spare my labour nor his expense in breaking up the
meetings of the plunderers. If I had refused, what excuse
could I offer to God after the emperor had delegated his
office to me ? Could I see the murder of the townspeople,
the robbery of the pilgrims, and slumber on ? But he who
spares a thief, kills the innocent. Yet it will be objected
that it is not the part of a priest to defile himself with the
blood of any one : I grant it. But he does not defile him-
self, who frees the innocent by the destruction of the guilty.
Blessed, truly blessed, are they who always keep judgment


and do justice. Phineas and Mattathias were priests most
renowned in fame, both crowned with the sacred mitre, and
both habited in sacerdotal garb ; and yet they both punished
the wicked with their own hands. The one transfixed the
guilty couple with a javelin : the other mingled the blood of
the sacrificer with the sacrifice. If then those persons, re-
garding, as it were, the thick darkness of the law, were,
through divine zeal, transported for mysteries, the shadows
only of those which were to be ; shall we, who see the truth
with perfect clearness, suiFer our sacred things to be pro-
faned? Azarias the priest drove away king Ozias, when
offering incense, and no doubt would have killed him, had he
not quickly departed ; the divine vengeance, however, anti-
cipated the hand of the priest, for a leprosy preyed on the
body of the man whose mind had coveted unlawful things ;
the devotion of a king was disturbed, and shall not the de-
sires of a thief be so ? It is not enough to excuse, I even
applaud this my conduct ; indeed I have conferred a benefit
on the very persons I seem to have destroyed. I have
diminished their punishment in accelerating their deaths.
The longer a wicked man lives the more he will sin, unless
he be such as God hath graciously reserved for a singular
example. Death in general is good for all ; for by it the
just man finds repose in heaven, — the unjust ceases from his
crimes, — the bad man puts an end to his guilt, — the good
proceeds to his reward, — ^the saint approaches to the palm, —
the sinner looks forward to pardon, because death has fixed
a boundary to his transgressions. They then surely ought
to thank me, who through my conduct have been exempted
from so many sufferings. I have urged these matters in my
own defence, and to invalidate your assertions : however,
since both your reasoning and mine may be fallacious, let us
commit all to the decision of God. Place my body, when
laid out in the manner of my predecessors, before the gates
of the church ; and let them be secured with locks and bars.
If God be willing that I should enter, you will hail a
miracle ; if not, do with my dead body according to your

Struck by this address, when he had breathed his last,
they carried out the remains of the departed prelate before
the doors, which were strongly fastened; and presently a

230 Wn^LIAM OF MA.LMESBURT. [b. h. c. 13.

whirlwind, sent by God, broke every opposing bolt, and
drove the very doors, with the utmost violence, against the
walls. The surrounding people applaud with joy, and the
body of the pontiff was interred, with all due respect, by
the side of the other popes.

At the same time something similar occurred in England,
not by divine miracle, but by infernal craft ; which when I
shall have related, the credit of the narrative will not be
shaken, though the minds of the hearers should be incredu-
lous ; for I have heard it from a man of such character, who
swore he had seen it, that I should blush to disbelieve.
There resided at Berkeley a woman addicted to witchcraft,
as it afterwards appeared, and skilled in ancient augury : she
was excessively gluttonous, perfectly lascivious, setting no
bounds to her debaucheries, as she was not old, though fast
declining in life. On a certain day, as she was regaling, a
jack-daw, which was a very great favourite, chattered a
little more loudly than usual. On hearing which the wo-
man's knife fell from her hand, her countenance grew pale,
and deeply groaning, " This day," said she, " my plough has
completed its last furrow ; to-day I shall hear of, and suffer,
some dreadful calamity." While yet speaking, the messenger
of her misfortunes arrived; and being asked, why he ap-
proached with so distressed an air ? " I bring news," said he,
"from that village," naming the place, "of the death of your
son, and of the whole family, by a sudden accident." At
this intelligence, the woman, sorely afflicted, immediately
took to her bed, and perceiving the disorder rapidly ap-
proaching the vitals, she summoned her surviving children,
a monk, and a nun, by hasty letters ; and, when they arrived,
with faltering voice, addressed them thus : " Formerly, my
children, I constantly administered to my wretched circum-
stances by demoniacal arts : I have been the sink of every
vice, the teacher of every allurement : yet, while practising
these crimes, I was accustomed to soothe my hapless soul
with the hope of your piety. Despairing of myself, I rested
my expectations on you; I advanced you as my defenders
against evil spirits, my safeguards against my strongest foes.
Now, since I have approached the end of my life, and shall
have those eager to punish, who lured me to sin, I entreat
you by your mother's breasts, if you have any regard, any


affection, at least to endeavour to alleviate my torments;
and, altliough you cannot revoke the sentence already passed
upon my soul, yet you may, perhaps, rescue my body, by
these means: sew up my corpse in the skin of a stag; lay
it on its back in a stone coffin ; fasten down the lid with lead
and iron ; on this lay a stone, bound round with three iron
chains of enormous weight; let there be psalms sung for
fifty nights, and masses said for an equal number of days,
to allay the ferocious attacks of my adversaries. If I lie
thus secure for three nights, on the fourth day bury your
mother in the ground ; although I fear, lest the earth, which
has been so often burdened with my crimes, should refuse to
receive and cherish me in her bosom." They did their ut-
most to comply with her injunctions: but alas! vain were
pious tears, vows, or entreaties ; so great was the woman's
guilt, so great the devil's violence. For on the first two
nights, while the choir of priests was singing psalms around
the body, the devils, one by one, with the utmost ease
bursting open the door of the church, though closed with
an immense bolt, broke asunder the two outer chains; the
middle one being more laboriously wrought, remained entire.
On the third night, about cock-crow, the whole monastery
seemed to be overthrown from its very foundation, by the
clamour of the approaching enemy. One devil, more ter-
rible in appearance than the rest, and of loftier stature,
broke the gates to shivers by the violence of his attack.
The priests grew motionless with fear,* their hair stood on
end, and they became speechless. He proceeded, as it ap-
peared, with haughty step towards the coffin, and calling on
the woman by name, commanded her to rise. She replying
that she could not on account of the chains : " You shall be
loosed," said he, "and to your cost:" and directly he broke
the chain, which had mocked the ferocity of the others, with
as little exertion as though it had been made of flax. He
also beat down the cover of the coffin with his foot, and
taking her by the hand, before them all, he dragged her out
of the church. At the doors appeared a black horse, proudly
neighing, with iron hooks projecting over his whole back ;
on which the wretched creature was placed, and, imme-
diately, with the whole party, vanished from the eyes of the
* " Steteruntque coma, et vox faucibus haesit." — Virgil, iEneid iii. 48.

232 WILLIAM OF MALliESBURY. La m. a 13.

beholders; her pitiable cries, however, for assistance, were
heard for nearly the space of four miles. No person will
deern this incredible, who has read St. Gregory's Dialogues;*
who tells, in his fourth book, of a wicked man that had been
buried in a church, and was cast out of doors again by
devils. Among the French also, what I am about to relate
is frequently mentioned. Charles Martel, a man of re-
nowned valour, who obliged the Saracens, when they had
invaded France, to retire to Spain, was, at his death, buried
in the church of St. Denys; but as he had seized much of
the property of almost all the monasteries in France for the
purpose of paying his soldiers, he was visibly taken away
from his tomb by evil spirits, and has nowhere been seen
to his day. At length this was revealed to the bishop of
Orleans, and by him publicly made known.

But to return to Rome : there was a citizen of this place,
youthful, rich, and of senatorial rank, who had recently
married ; and, who calling together his companions, had
made a plentiful entertainment. After the repast, when by
moderate drinking they had excited hilarity, they went out
into the field to promote digestion, either by leaping, or
hurling, or some other exercise. The master of the ban-
quet, who was leader of the game, called for a ball to play
with, and in the meantime placed the wedding ring on the
outstretched finger of a brazen statue which stood close at
hand. But when almost all the others had attacked him
alone, tired with the violence of the exercise, he left oif
playing first, and going to resume his ring, he saw the fin-
ger of the statue clenched fast in the palm. Finding, after
many attempts, that he was unable either to force it off, or
to break the finger, he retired in silence; concealing the
matter from his companions, lest they should laugh at him
at the moment, or deprive him of the ring when he was
gone. Returning thither with some servants in the dead of
night, he was surprised to find the finger again extended,
and the ring taken away. Dissembling his loss, he was
soothed by the blandishments of his bride. When the hour
of rest arrived, and he had placed himself by the side of his
spouse, he was conscious of something dense, and cloud-like,
rolling between them, which might be felt, though not seen,
• There are various stories of this kind in Gregory's Dialogues.


and by this means was impeded in his embraces : he heard u
voice too, saying, "Embrace me, since you wedded me to-
day ; I am Venus, on whose finger you put the ring ; I have
it, nor will I restore it." Terrified at such a prodigy, he
had neither courage, nor ability to reply, and passed a sleep-
less night in silent reflection upon the matter. A consider-
able space of time elapsed in this way: as often as he was
desirous of the embraces of his wife, the same circumstance
ever occurred; though in other respects, he was perfectly
equal to any avocation, civil or military. At length, urged
by the complaints of his consort, he detailed the matter to
her parents; who, after deliberating for a time, disclosed it
to one Palumbus, a suburban priest. This man was skilled
in necromancy, could raise up magical figures, terrify devils^
and impel them to do anything he chose. Making an agree-
ment, that he should fill his purse most plentifully, provided
he succeeded in rendering the lovers happy, he called up all
the powers of his art, and gave the young man a letter
which he had prepared ; saying, " Go, at such an hour of
the night, into the high road, where it divides into four
several ways, and stand there in silent expectation. There
will pass by human figures of either sex, of every age, rank,
and condition ; some on horseback, some on foot ; some with-
countenances dejected, others elated with full-swollen inso-
lence ; in short, you will perceive in their looks and gestures,
every symptom both of joy and of grief; though these should
address you, enter into conversation with none of them.
This company will be followed by a person taller, and more
corpulent than the rest, sitting in a chariot ; to him you will,
in silence, give the letter to read, and immediately your wish
vnll be accompUshed, provided you act with resolution."
The young man took the road he was commanded; and, at
night, standing in the open air, experienced the truth of the
priest's assertion by everything which he saw; there was
nothing but what was completed to a tittle. Among other
passing figures, he beheld a woman, in meretricious garb,
riding on a mule ; her hair, which was bound above in a
golden fillet, floated unconfined on her shoulders; in her
hand was a golden wand, with which she directed the pro-
gress of her beast ; she was so thinly . clad, as to be almost
ntiked, and her gestures were wonderfully indecent. But

234 WILLIAM OF MALMESBLTIT. [b. ii. c. 13.

what need of more ? At last came the chief, in appearance,
who, from his chariot adorned with emeralds and pearls, fix-
ing his eyes most sternly on the young man, demanded the
cause of his presence. He made no reply, but stretching
out his hand, gave him the letter. The demon, not daring
to despise the well-known seal, read the epistle, and imme-
diately, lifting up his hands to heaven, "Almighty God,"
said he, " in whose sight every transgression is as a noisome
smell, how long wilt thou endure the crimes of the priest
Palumbus ?" The devil then directly sent some of those
about him to take the ring by force from Venus, who re-
stored it at last, though with great reluctance. The young
man thus obtaining his object, became possessed of his long
desired pleasures without farther obstacle ; but Palumbus,
on hearing of the devil's complaint to God concerning him,
understood that the close of his days was predicted. In
consequence, making a pitiable atonement by voluntarily
cutting off all his limbs, he confessed unheard-of crimes
to the pope in the presence of the Roman people.

At that time the body of Pallas, the son of Evander, of
whom Virgil speaks, was found entire at Rome, to the great
astonishment of all, for having escaped corruption so many
ages. Such, however, is the nature of bodies embalmed,
that, when the flesh decays, the skin preserves the nerves,
and the nerves the bones. The gash which Turnus had
made in the middle of his breast measured four feet and a
half. His epitaph was found to this effect,

Pallas, Evander's son, lies buried here
In order due, transfix'd by Turnus' spear.

Which epitaph I should not think made at the time, though
Carmentis the mother of Evander is reported to have dis-
covered the Roman letters, but that it was composed by
Ennius, or some other ancient poet.* There was a burning
lamp at his head, constructed by magical art ; so that no

• The original is aa follows :

Filius Evandri Pallas, quem lancea Tumi
Militis occidit, more suo jacet hie.

I am unable to say who was the author of this epigram, but it is not too
hazardous to assert that it was not composed either by Enniui or by any
other ancient poet.


violent blast, no dripping of water could extinguish it.
While many were lost in admiration at this, one person, as
there are always some people expert in mischief, made an
aperture beneath the flame with an iron style, which intro-
ducing the air, the light vanished. The body, when set up
against the wall, surpassed it in height, but some days after-
wards, being drenched with the drip of the eves, it acknow-
ledged the corruption common to mortals ; the skin and the
nerves dissolving.

At that time too, on the confines of Brittany and Nor-
mandy, a prodigy was seen in one, or more properly speak-
ing, in two women : there were two heads, four arms, and
every other part two-fold to the navel ; beneath, were two
legs, two feet, and all other parts single. While one waa
laughing, eating, or speaking, the other would cry, fast, or
remain silent : though both mouths ate, yet the excrement
was discharged by only one passage. At last, one dying, the
other survived, and the living carried about the dead, for the
space of three years, till she dieS also, through the fatigue of
the weight, and the stench of the dead carcass.* Many were
of opinion, and some even have written, that these women
represented England and Normandy, which, though sepa-
rated by position, are yet united under one master. What-
ever wealth these countries greedily absorb, flows into one
common receptacle, which is either the covetousness of
princes, or the ferocity of surrounding nations. England,
yet vigorous, supports with her wealth Normandy now dead
and almost decayed, until she herself perhaps shall fall
through the violence of spoilers. Happy, if she shall ever
again breathe that liberty, the mere shadow of which she
has long pursued ! She now mourns, borne down with ca-
lamity, and oppressed with exactions ; the causes of which
misery I shall relate, after I have despatched some things
pertaining to my subject. For since I have hitherto recorded
the civil and military transactions of the kings of England, I

• There seems no reason to doubt the truth of this circumstance, since
the exhibition of the Siamese twins, the most extraordinary lusus naiune
that has occurred in the nineteenth century. Medical science, aided
by comparative anatomy, has ascertained that the bodies of both man and
the brute creation are susceptible of combinations — not usually occurring in
the couise of nature, — which in former times were thought impossible, and
zs such were universally disbelieved.

236 WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY. Lb. n. c. 13.

may be allowed to expatiate somewhat on the sanctity of cer-
tain of them ; and at the same time to contemplate what
splendour of divine love beamed on this people, from the first
dawning of thdr faith : since I believe you can no where
find the bodies of so many saints entire after death, typifying
the state of final incorruption. I imagine this to have taken
place by God's agency, in order that a nation, situated, as it
were, almost out of the world, should more confidently em-
brace the hope of a resurrection from the contemplation of
the incorruption of the saints. There are, altogether, five
which I have known of, though the residents in many places
boast of more ; Saint Etheldrida,* and Werburga, virgins ;
king Edmund ; archbishop Elphege ;t Cuthbert the ancient
father : who with skin and flesh unwasted, and their joints
flexile, appear to have a certain vital warmth about them,
and to be merely sleeping. Who can enumerate all the other
saints, of different ranks and professions ? whose names and
lives, singly to describe, I have neither intention nor leisure :
yet oh that I might hereafter have leisure ! But I will be
silent, lest I should seem to promise more than I can per-
form. In consequence, it is not* necessary to mention any of
the commonalty, but merely, not to go out of the path of my
subject history, the male and female scions of the royal stock,
most of them innocently murdered ; and who have been con-
secrated martyrs, not by human conjecture, but by divine
acknowledgment. Hence may be known how little indulg-
ence they gave to the lust of pleasure, who inherited eter-
nal glory by means of so easy a death.

In the former book, my history dwelt for some time on the
praises of the most holy Oswald, king and martyr ; among
whose other marks of sanctity, was this, which, according to
some copies, is related in the History of the Angles.^ In

Online Libraryof Malmesbury WilliamWilliam of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England. From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen → online text (page 26 of 58)