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Medieval Sourcebook: Peter of Blois: William Rufus and Henry I (1070-1117?)

Peter of Blois: (1070-1117?) was a continuator of the possibly spurious chronicle of Ingulf. He gives a view of William II Rufus, the successor of William I the Conqueror as a tyrant. We also see the fundraising activities of an early 12th century abbot.


William Rufus reigning over the land, and having with a powerful arm conquered all his adversaries, so much so as to have brought all his foes beneath the yoke, while there was no one who dared in any way to murmur against his sway, Ranulph, the bishop of Durham, was his especial adviser in affairs of state. This Ranulph proved a most cruel extortioner, and being the most avaricious and most abandoned of all men in the land, woefully oppressed the whole kingdom, and wrung it even to the drawing of blood; while at the same time Anselm, the most holy archbishop of Canterbury who had succeeded Lanfranc, dragging out a weary existence in exile beyond sea, mercy and truth with him had taken to flight from out of the land, and justice and peace had been banished therefrom. Confession and the fair graces of repentance fell into disesteem, holiness and chastity utterly sickened away, sin stalked in the streets with open and undaunted front, and facing the law with haughty eye, daily triumphed, exulting in her abominable success.

Wherefore, the heavens did abominate the land, and, fighting against sinners, the sun and the moon stood still in their abode, and spurning the earth with the greatest noise and fury, caused all nations to be amazed at their numerous portents. For there were thunders terrifying the earth, lightnings and thunderbolts most frequent, deluging showers without number, winds of the most astonishing violence, and whirlwinds that shook the towers of churches and levelled them with the ground. On the earth there were fountains flowing with blood, and mighty earthquakes, while the sea, overflowing its shores, wrought infinite calamities to the maritime places. There were murders and dreadful seditions; the Devil himself was seen bodily appearing in many woods; there was a most shocking famine, and a pestilence so great among men, as well as beasts of burden, that agriculture was almost totally neglected as well as all care of the living, all sepulture of the dead.

The limit and termination at last of so many woes, was the death of the king, a cause, to every person of Christian feelings, of extreme grief. For there had come from Normandy, to visit king William, a very powerful baron, Walter Tirel by name. The king received him with the most lavish hospitality, and having honored him with a seat at his table, was pleased, after the banquet was concluded, to give him an invitation to join him in the sport of hunting. After the king had pointed out to each person his fixed station, and the deer, alarmed at the barking of the dogs and the cries of the huntsmen, were swiftly flying towards the summits of the hills, the said Walter incautiously aimed an arrow at a stag, which missed the stag, and pierced the king in the breast.

The king fell to the earth, and instantly died; upon which, the body being laid by a few countrymen in a cart, was carried back to the palace, and on the morrow was buried, with but few manifestations of grief, and in an humble tomb; for all his servants were busily attending to their own interests, and few or none cared for the royal funeral. The said Walter, the author of his death, though unwittingly so, escaped from the midst of them, crossed the sea, and arrived safe home in Normandy.



William was succeeded on the throne by his brother Henry, a young man of extreme beauty, and, from his acquaintance with literature, much more astute than his two brothers, and better fitted, for reigning: his brother Robert being at this time in the Holy Land most valiantly fighting in the army of the Christians against the Turks and Saracens. He was crowned by Thomas, the archbishop of York, because, at this period, Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury was in exile Receiving royal homage and the oaths of fealty from. all, he immediately gave liberty to the Holy Church, and forbade depraved customs and injurious exactions to prevail; besides which, he threw the said Ranulph, who was the author of them, into prison, and, dispatching a messenger, recalled the most holy archbishop Anselm from exile.

Led astray and seduced by the bad counsels of the said most wicked Ranulph, king William, on the day of his death, held in his own hands the archbishopric of Canterbury, besides four other bishoprics, and eleven abbeys, all of which he let out to farm. He was the first of all the kings who placed the receipts on account of rent of all the vacant churches in his treasury y; whereas his father invariably, and with the greatest piety, in the same manner as all the other kings of England, his predecessors, had been in the habit of repaying all rents and profits of that nature, in the case of vacant churches, to the prelates who were the first to succeed, and had to the very last farthing accounted, through faithful servants, for the whole thereof. But as for him, after keeping all these dignities for a long time in his own hands for no good reason whatever, and frequently making grants of them to farmers and usurious Jews, under colour of employing long deliberation in the choice of a proper pastor, he repeatedly put them up to auction among the most ambitious and most wealthy of the clergy; and at last, on finding a well-filled purse as the result, asserting that all sanctity lay in that, he openly declared that that was the only deserving prelate. In this state of things, it was a matter greatly to be commended that, being confined to his bed and almost despairing of his life, on the decease of Lanfranc, the venerable archbishop Canterbury, a man of most holy life, as well as skilled in all branches of literature, he appointed the venerable Anselm, abbot of Bec, in Normandy, to the archbishopric of Canterbury, in a devout manner, and without any imputation of simony.

The before-named Ranulph, however, made his escape by certain iniquitous means from prison, and repaired to Normandy, and in every way encouraged the duke thereof, Robert, the king's brother, who on hearing of the death of his brother William had immediately returned from the Holy Land, to invade England. Accordingly, after the duke had levied a large army, and had come to the sea-shore, while the king, on the other hand, had strengthened the southern coasts of his kingdom with troops innumerable (being determined, once for all, to conquer and reign, or else to lose the kingdom and perish), archbishop Anselm and other men of character, who were promoters of peace, acting as mediators between them, brought about an arrangement upon the following terms; that the king should pay each year a compensation of three thousand pounds of silver, and that lasting peace should thenceforth be established between them. However, in after years, the duke, ill-advisedly, forgave this annual payment; and besides, he acted unwisely towards the natives [of Normandy], and those subject to him; upon which the king repaired to Normandy, and taking his brother prisoner in a pitched battle, kept him in prison to the day of his death, and united the whole of Normandy to his own kingdom.

The king, having gained this victory, and being instructed by the repeated exhortations of the holy archbishop Anselm, remitted for ever his right of investiture of churches by ring and pastoral staff, a question which had for a long time harassed the Holy Church; while he retained in his own hand and excepted solely his royal privileges. This I think is enough as to the kings.

In these days also, the temporal powers militant, under the command of Godfrey and Baldwin, the most illustrious sons of Eustace, earl of Boulogne, Robert, duke of Normandy, and Raymond, earl of Toulouse, together with Boamund, duke of Apulia, and their armies and troops from the rest of Christendom, having subjugated all Lycia, Mesopotamia, and at last the whole of Syria, rendered subject to their dominion and to the Christian faith, first, the city of Nicca, then Antioch, and after that, holy Jerusalem.

At this time also, the spiritual powers militant of the monastic order, springing up from the monastery of Molisme, sent forth so many offshoots, that, through its first-born daughter of Cisteaux, at this day innumerable monasteries, abodes of the servants of God, exist, which were produced by the Divine power under their original fathers, Robert, Alberic, Stephen, and Bernard; from the last of whom an idea may be formed as to the multitude of the rest. For the said father Saint Bernard saw sons of his go forth from his monastery of Clairvaux, over which he presided for the space of forty years, one as pope of the see of Rome, to wit, Eugenius, two as cardinals, and sixteen as archbishops and bishops in different parts of the world; of whom we had one at York in England, archbishop Henry, and two in Ireland, who proved themselves Christians both in name and deed; together with two hundred monasteries and more which he produced from his own of Clairvaux, and which themselves were daily bringing forth others innumerable unto the Lord.


on the Arrival of Abbot Joffird

At this period also, the venerable Ingulph, the lord abbot of Croyland, was greatly afflicted by multiplied maladies which wearied and harassed his declining years to such a degree, that he was unable continue the history of his monastery to the close of his life: for many are the inconveniences surround the aged man. Nevertheless, after he had laboured most zealously in the restoration of his house, which had been lately destroyed by fire, and in the building of his church, as well as in replacing the books, vestments, bells, and other requisites, the old man, having served his time in the warfare of this life, and being full of days, departed unto the Lord; after having completed thirty-four years in the most laborious discharge of his pastoral duties as sole abbot, during ten of which abbot Wulketul, his predecessor, was still surviving; while, during the remaining twenty-four years he was much harassed and annoyed by the adversaries of the monastery, as well as by other misfortunes, but had been always wonderously supported by the Lord. At last, he was however, bidding farewell to the maliciousness of the world, he was received in Abraham's bosom with all the Saints, being thus relieved from the affliction of gout, under which, in his later years, he had languished, and received to the eternal joys of Paradise, on the sixteenth day before the calends of January, in the year of our Lord, 1109, being the ninth year of the reign of king Henry. He was buried in his chapter-house, on the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

At the repeated suggestion and frequent entreaties of Alan Croun, who was Seneschal of the royal mansion, and dear to the king beyond all the other barons of the palace, and admitted to all his counsels (being a man who excelled all others in industry and probity, in wisdom and sanctity, so much so, that by his fellow knights he was called "the King's God"), king Henry following his advice, invited from the monastery of Saint Evroult in Normandy, Joffrid, the lord prior of the said place, who was closely related to the said most illustrious Seneschal of the royal palace. This he did by his epistle directed to the venerable father Manerius, the abbot of the said monastery, in which he invited the said venerable man, the prior Joffrid, noble in the flesh, but much more noble in spirit. For he was the son of the marquis Herebert, by Hildeburga, sister of Guido Croun, the father of the before-named Alan, but was born and educated at Orleans, and from his infancy destined by his parents for a monastic life: him, on the death of Ingulph, the venerable abbot of Croyland, the king most beneficially appointed in his place, as pastor of the said monastery. The abbacy had been vacant at this time for the space of three months and a few days, the king, after the most abominable example of his brother William, continuing to hold it during the vacancy; still, through his affection for the said Alan, he liberally and in full paid over to the said abbot, on his appointment, all the profits that he had received.

The said venerable abbot Joffrid arrived at Croyland on Palm Sunday, C being the Dominical letter, and was joyously received. Immediately passing thence to Lincoln, he received the blessing from bishop Robert in his chapel there, and was installed on the Lord's day, upon which "Quasi modi geniti" is sung. That he might not at the beginning be looked upon as a useless pastor, or as sluggish and pusillanimous, he began to look about him on every side in his monastery, and, as well became a man of such a character, did not indulge himself in snoring in bed, or lying concealed; but in private taught in mild accents the masters of the earth to fear God, while in public he reverently besought the people subject to him, devoutly to pray on all occasions, at the entreaties of the priests expounded the Holy Gospel, and in all his discourses ever preferred the honor of God and the saving of souls, far before all things temporal.

For he was more learned than any of his predecessors, abbots of Croyland, having imbibed literature of every description with his mother's milk from his very cradle. Seeing his convent, which still remained half burnt, and had been plucked like a brand from the burning, in some measure rebuilt, but still in a hasty manner, and far from replaced in becoming splendour and restored to its proper vigour, he resolved to found a new church, and to rebuild the whole monastery with walls of stone instead of walls of clay, and upon a marble foundation, if his means would allow thereof.

First sitting down, therefore, and calculating the necessary outlay, on examining the whole of the substance of his monastery, he found that it would by no means suffice for a work of such magnitude; upon which, in order that the words used by our Lord, "This man began to build and was not able to finish," might not be said of him, he obtained of the venerable archbishops of Canterbury and York and the other bishops of England, their suffragans, an indulgence of a third part of the penance enjoined for sins committed, the who should be a benefactor of his monastery, and should assist in the promotion of the same being graciously granted to every one wo rks of the church. Thus, if in a week a fast of three days was imposed upon any persons for the punishment of their sins, a penance of one day was by the said indulgence remitted; and again, if two days' penance were imposed upon any person by the Penancer, that for one of them was remitted.

Having obtained this indulgence, he now opened the foundation of his new church, and sent throughout the whole of England, and into the lands adjoining beyond sea letters testimonial of the said indulgence, entreating all the faithful in Christ to give their assistance for the promotion of this undertaking, granting in return to every one who should assist him the favour of the aforesaid indulgence in presence of God. In order zealously to carry out the same, he sent the venerable men of God, brothers Egelmer and Nigel, his fellow-monks, with relics of the Saints, into the western parts, namely, Flanders and France. To the northern parts and into Scotland he sent the brothers Fulk and Oger, and into Denmark and Norway the brothers Swetman and Wulsin the younger; while to Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland he sent the brothers Augustin and Osbert. All of these were his brother-monks, industrious men, most ready, and well fitted to carry out such a work; these he sent with letters recommendatory directed to the kings and princes of countries and provinces, to the following effect:

"To the most illustrious ----------, by the grace of God (king of the Franks, Scots, or the like, as the case might be), the earls, barons, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, as also to all rulers of churches, and their priests and clerks, and to all t he faithful of Christ in the kingdom to them subject, an to the rich and poor brethren living under their rule, Joffrid, abbot of the Church of God and of the glorious Mary, ever a Virgin, and of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle and of the most holy Guthlac the Confessor, the son of noble kings, and of Saint Waldev, the late Martyr, and of the whole convent of the brethren entrusted unto him by God, the everlasting blessing Apostolical and ecclesiastical from our Lord Jesus Christ and from ourselves. O sirs, and would that it may prove most true friends of God, night and day for our sins and those of all Christians, and in especial for all who do good unto us, do we cheerfully serve those whose names we have written above; that is to say, our Lord Jesus Christ and His glorious Mother, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle, the holy Confessor Guthlac, and Waldev, the late holy Martyr. Know, O sirs, and friends of God, that we have lately levelled to the ground the church of the friends of God, whom we have named, inasmuch as it greatly threatened to fall; but the same now lies immersed in quagmires, and of ourselves we are not able to rebuild it, unless the good and kind Jesus, through you and others of His people, shall grant us His assistance. We do therefore direct unto your dignity these our humble letters, to the end that your most powerful aid may come to our assistance, and that we may be enabled to re-erect the church of God and of His Saints. It is also profitable and becoming that you should hear what reward you will in this world receive at the hands of God. We are living under the royal sway of the English land; and unto the two archbishops, besides other bishops, the holy Church is subject in all matters of holy ordinance. In these the Divine goodness has inspired such love towards us, in the extreme affection which they entertain towards our said Church, that they have remitted to penitents the third part of their penance, and together with us take the same on themselves, that is to say, if a fast of three days in the week has been imposed on a sinner, one of them is to be remitted to him, and one mass is to be celebrated for him; and if a fast of two days has been imposed on him, still, one is to be remitted to him, and in like manner, mass is to be celebrated for him; and further, twelve poor shall every day be relieved on behalf of those who give aid to our church. Farewell."

Moreover, the before-named monks, in strenuously carrying out the duties enjoined on them, not only brought worldly substance and perishable money to their church, but also conducted many souls unto heaven, as well as induced the bodies of some to enter the monastic order, not only among the natives but among foreigners as well.

From Ingulf's Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with the Continuation of Peter of Blois, trans. Henry T. Riley (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 229-37

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
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