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Medieval Sourcebook:
William of Malmesbury, d. 1143?:
Chronicle of the  Kings of England: The Anglo-Saxon Kings


The history of the English, from their arrival in Britain to his own times, has been written by Bede, a man of singular learning and modesty, in a clear and captivating style. After him you will not, in my opinion, easily find any person who has attempted to compose in Latin the history of this people. Let others declare whether their researches in this respect have been, or are likely to be, more fortunate; my own labor, though diligent in the extreme, has, down to this period, been without its reward. There are, indeed, some notices of antiquity, written in the vernacular tongue after the manner of a chronicle, and arranged according to the years of our Lord. By means of these alone, the time succeeding this man have been rescued from oblivion: for of Elward(1), a noble and illustrious man, who attempted to arrange these chronicles in Latin, and whose intention I could applaud if his language did not disgust me, it is better to be silent. Nor has it escaped my knowledge, that there is also a work of my Lord Eadmer(2), written with an chastened elegance of style, in which, beginning from King Edgar, he has but hastily glanced at the times down to William the First: and thence, taking a freer range, give a narrative, copious, and of great utility to the studious, until the death of Archbishop Ralph. Thus from the time of Bede there is a period of two hundred and twenty-three years left unnoticed in his history; so that the regular series of time, unsupported by a connected relation, halts in the middle. This circumstance has induced me, as well out of love to my country, as respect for the authority of those who have enjoined on me the undertaking, to fill up the chasm, and to season the crude materials with Roman art. And that the work may proceed with greater regularity, I shall cull somewhat from Bede, whome I must often quote, glancing at a few facts, but omitting more.

The First Book, therefore, contains a succinct account of the English, from the time of their descent on Britain, till that of King Egbert, who, after the different Princes had fallen by various ways, gained the monarchy of almost the whole island.

But as among the English arose four powerful kingdoms, that is to say, of Kent, of the West Saxons, of the Northumbrians, and of the Mercians, of which I purpose severally to treat if I have leisure; I shall begin with that which attained the earliest to maturity, and was also the first to decay. This I shall do more clearly, if I place the kingdoms of the East Angles, and of the East Saxons, after the others, as little meriting either my labors, or the regard of posterity.

The Second Book will contain the chronological series of the Kings to the coming of the Normans.

The three following Books will be employed upon the history of three successive kings, with the addition of whatever, in their times, happened elsewhere, which, from its celebrity, may demand a more particular notice. This, then, is what I purpose, if the Divine favor shall smile on my undertaking, and carry me safely by those rocks of rugged diction, on which Elward, in his search after sounding and far-fetched phrases, so unhappily suffered shipwreck. "Should any one, however," to use the poet's expression, "peruse this work with sensible delight," I deem it necessary to acquaint him, that I vouch nothing for the truth of long past transactions, but the consonance of the time; the veracity of the relation must rest with its authors. Whatever I have recorded of later times, I have either myself seen, or heard from credible authority. However, in either part, I pay but little respect to the judgment of my contemporaries: trusting that I shall gain with posterity, when love and hatred shall be no more, if not a reputation for eloquence, at least credit for diligence.


CHAPTER 1: Of the arrival of the Angles,
and of the Kings of Kent [A.D. 449]

In the year of the incarnation of our Lord 449, Angles and Saxons first came into Britain; and although the cause of their arrival is universally known, it may not be improper here to subjoin it: and, that the design of my work may be the more manifest, to begin even from an earlier period. That Britain, compelled by Julius Caesar to submit to the Roman power, was held in high estimation by that people, may be collected from their history, and be seen also in the ruins of their ancient buildings. Even their emperors, sovereigns of almost all the world, eagerly embraced opportunities of sailing hither, and of spending their days here. Finally, Severus and Canstantius, two of their greatest princes, died upon the island, and were there interred with the utmost pomp. The former, to defend this province from the incursions of the barbarians, built his celebrated and well-known wall from sea to sea. The latter, a man, as they report, of courteous manners, left Constantine, his son by Helena, a tender of cattle(3), a youth of great promise, his heir. Constantine, greeted emperor by the army, led away, in an expedition destined to the continent, a numerous force of British soldiers; by whose exertions, the war succeeding to his wishes, he gained in a short time the summit of power. For these veterans, where their toil was over, he founded a colony on the western coast of Gaul, where, to this day, their descendants, somewhat degenerate in language and manners from our own Britons, remain with wonderful increase.

In succeeding times, in this island, Maximus, a man well-fitted for command, had he not aspired to power in defiance of his oath, assumed the purple, as though compelled by the army, and preparing immediately to pass over into Gaul, he despoiled the province of almost all its military force. Not long after also, on Constantine, who had been elected emperor on account of his name, drained its whole remaining warlike strength; but both being slain, the one by Theodosius, the other by Honorius, they became examples of the instability of human greatness. Of the forces which had followed them part shared the fate of their leaders; the rest, after their defeat, fled to the continental Britons. Thus when the tyrants had left none but half-savages in the country, and, in the towns, those only who were given up to the luxury, Britain, despoiled of the support of its youthful population, and bereft of every useful art, was for a long time exposed to the ambition of neighboring nations.

For immediately, by an excursion of the Scots and Picts, number of the people were slain, villages burnt, towns destroyed, and everything laid waste by fire and sword. Part of the harassed islanders, who thought anything more advisable than contending in battle, fled for safety to the mountains; others, burying their treasures in the earth, many of which are dug up in our own times, proceeded to Rome to ask assistance. The Romans, touched with pity, and deeming it above all things important to yield succor to their oppresses allies, twice lent their aid, and defeated the enemy. But at length, wearied with the distant voyage, then declined returning in [the] future; bidding them rather themselves not degenerate from the martial energy of their ancestors, but learn to defend their country with spirit, and with arms. They accompanied their advice with the plan of a wall, to be build for their defense; the mode of keeping watch on the ramparts; of sallying out against the enemy, should it be necessary, together with other duties of military discipline. After giving these admonitions, they departed, accompanied by the tears of the miserable inhabitants; and Fortune, smiling on their departure, restored them to their friends and country. The Scots, learning the improbability of their return, immediately began to make fresh and more frequent irruptions against the Britons; to level their wall, to kill the few opponents they met with, and to carry off considerable booty; while such as escaped fled to the royal residence, imploring the protection of their sovereign.

At this time Vortigern was King of Britain; a man calculated neither for the field nor the council, but wholly given up to the lusts of the flesh, the slave of every vice: a character of insatiable avarice, ungovernable pride, and polluted by his lusts. To complete the picture, as we read in the History of the Britons, he had defiled his own daughter, who was lured to the participation of such a crime by the hope of sharing his kingdom, and she had born him a son. Regardless of his treasures at this dreadful juncture, and wasting the resources of the kingdom in riotous living, he was awake only to the blandishments of abandoned women. Roused at length, however, by the clamors of the people, he summoned a council, to take the sense of his nobility on the state of public affairs. To be brief, it was unanimously resolved to invite over from Germany the Angles and Saxons, nations powerful in arms, but of a roving life. It was conceived that this would be a double advantage: for it was thought that, by their skill in war, these people would easily subdue their enemies; an, as they hitherto had no certain habitation, would gladly accept even an unproductive soil, provided it afforded them a stationary residence. Moreover, that they could not be suspected of ever entertaining a design against the country, since the remembrance of this kindness would soften their native ferocity. This counsel was adopted, and ambassadors, men of rank, and worthy to represent the country, were sent into Germany.

The Germans, hearing that voluntarily offered, which they had long anxiously desired, readily obeyed the invitation; their joy quickening their haste. Bidding adieu, therefore, to their native fields and the ties of kindred, they spread their sails to Fortune, and, with a favoring breeze, arrived in Britain in three of those long vessels which they call ceols. At this and other times came over a mixed multitude from three of the German nations; that is to say, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. For almost all the country lying to the north of the British ocean, though divided into many provinces, is justly denominated Germany, from it germinating so many men. And as the pruner cuts off the more luxuriant branches of the tree to impart a livelier vigor to the remainder, so the inhabitants of this country assist their common parent by the expulsion of a part of their members, lest she should perish by giving sustenance to too numerous an offspring; but in order to obviate discontent, they cast lots who shall be compelled to migrate. Hence the men of this country have made a virtue of necessity, and, then driven from their native soil, they have gained foreign settlements by force of arms. The Vandals, for instance, who formerly overran Africa; the Goths, who made themselves masters of Spain; the Lombards, who, even at the present time, are settled in Italy; and the Normans, who have given their own name to that part of Gaul which they subdued. From German, then, there first came into Britain, an inconsiderable number indeed, but well able to make up for their paucity by their courage. These were under the conduct of Hengist and Horsa, two brothers of suitable disposition, and of noble race in their own country. They were great-grandsons of the celebrated Woden, from whome almost all the royal families of these barbarous nations deduce their origin; and to whome the nations of the Angles, fondly deifying him, have consecrated by immemorial superstition the fourth day of the week, as they have the sixth to his wife Frea. Bede has related in what particular parts of Britain the Angles, Saxons and Jutes fixed their habitations(4): my design, however, is not to dilate, though there may be abundance of materials for the purpose, but to touch only on what is necessary.

The Angles were eagerly met on all sides upon their arrival: from the king they received thanks, from the people expressions of goodwill. Faith was plighted on either side, and the Isle of Thanet appropriated for their residence. It was agreed, moreover, that they should exert their prowess in arms for the service of the country; and, in return, receive a suitable reward for the people for whose safety they underwent such painful labors. Ere long, the Scots advanced, as usual, secure, as they supposed, of a great booty with very little difficulty. However, the Angles assailed them, and scarcely had they engaged, before they were put to flight, whilst the cavalry pursued and destroyed the fugitives. Contests of this kind were frequent, and victory constantly siding with the Angles, as is customary in human affairs, while success inflamed the courage of one party, and dread increased the cowardice of the other, the Scots in the end avoided nothing so cautiously as an engagement with them.

In the meantime, Hengist, not less keen in perception than ardent in the field, with consent of Vortigern, sends back some of his followers to his own country, with the secret purpose, however, of representing the indolence of the king and people, the opulence of the island, and the prospect of advantage to new adventurers. Having executed their commission adroitly, in a short time they return with sixteen ships, bringing with them the daughter of Hengist; a maiden, as we have heard, who might justly be called the masterpiece of nature and the admiration of mankind. At an entertainment, provided for them on their return, Hengist commanded his daughter to assume the office of cupbearer, that she might gratify the eyes of the king as he sat at table. Nor was the design unsuccessful: for he, ever eager after female beauty, deeply smitten with the gracefulness of her form and the elegance of her motion, instantly conceived a vehement desire for the possession of her person, and immediately proposed marriage to her father; urging him to a measure to which he was already well inclined. Hengist at first kept up the artifice by a refusal; stating, that so humble a connection was unworthy of a king: but, at last appearing the consent with reluctance, he gave way to his importunities, and accepted, as a reward, the whole of Kent, where all justice had long since declined under the administration of it Gourong (or Viceroy), who, like the other princes of the island, was subject to the monarchy of Vortigern. Not satisfied with this liberality, but abusing the imprudence of the king, the barbarian persuaded him to send for his son and brother, men of warlike talents, from Germany, pretending that he would defend the province on the east, while they might curb the Scots on the northern frontier. The king assenting, they sailed round Britain, and arriving at the Orkney Isles, the inhabitants of which they involved in the same calamity with the Picts and Scots, at this and after times, they finally settled in the northern part of the island, now called Northumbria. Still no one there assumed the royal title or insignia till the time of Ida, from whome sprang the regal line of the Northumbrians.; but of this hereafter. We will now return to the present subject.

Vortimer, the son of Vortigern thinking it unnecessary longer to dissemble that he saw himself and his Briton circumvented by the craft of the Angles, turned his thoughts to their expulsion, and stimulated his father to the same attempt. At his suggestion, the truce was broken seven years after their arrival; and during the ensuing twenty, they frequently fought partial battles, and, as the [Anglo-Saxon] chronicle relates,, four general actions. From the first conflict they parted on equal terms: one party lamenting the loss of Horsa, the brother of Hengist; the other, that of Katigis, another of Vortigern's sons. The Angles, having the advantage in all the succeeding encounters, peace was concluded; Vortimer, who had been the instigator of the war, and differed far from the indolence of his father, perished prematurely, or he would have governed the kingdom in a noble manner, had God permitted. When he died, the British strength decayed, and all hope fled from them; and they would soon have perished altogether, had not Ambrosius, the sole survivor of the Romans, who became monarch after Vortigern, quelled the presumptuous barbarians by the powerful aid of warlike Arthur. It is of this Arthur that the Britons fondly tell so many fables, even to the present day; a man worthy to be celebrated, not by idle fictions, but by authentic history. He long upheld the sinking state, and roused the broken spirit of his countrymen to war. Finally, at the siege of Mount Badon, relying on an image of the Virgin, which he had affixed to his armor, he engaged nine hundred of the enemy, single-handed, and dispersed them with incredible slaughter. On the other side, the Angles, after various revolutions of fortune, filled up their thinned battalions with fresh supplies of their countrymen; rushed with greater courage to the conflict, and extended themselves by degrees, as the natives retreated, over the whole island: for the counsels of God, in whose hand is every change of empire, did not oppose their career. But this was effected in process of time; for while Vortigern lived, no new attempt was made against them. About this time, Hengist, from that bad quality of the human heart which grasps after more in proportion to what it already possesses, by a preconcerted piece of deception, invited his son-in-law, with three hundred of his followers, to an entertainment; and when, by more than usual compotations, he had excited them to clamor, he began, purposely, to taunt them severally, with sarcastic raillery: this had the desired effect, of making them first quarrel, and then come to blowas. Thus the Britons were basely murdered to a man, and breathed their last amid their cups. The king himself, made captive, purchased his liberty at the price of three provinces. After this, Hengist died, in the thirty-ninth year after his arrival; he was a man, who urging his success not less by artifice than courage, and giving free scope to his natural ferocity, preferred effecting his purpose rather by cruelty than by kindness. He left a son named Eisc; who, more intent on defending than enlarging his dominions, never exceeded the paternal bounds. At the expiration of twenty-four years, he had for his successors his son Otha, and Otha's son, Ermenric, who, in their manners resembled him, rather than their grandfather and great grandfather. To the times of both, the Chronicles assign fifty-three years; but whether they reigned singly or together, does not appear.

After them Ethelbert, the son of Ermenic, reigned fifty-three years according to the Chronicle; but fifty-six according to Bede. The reader must determine how this difference is to be accounted for; as I think it sufficient to have apprized him of it, I shall let the matter rest. In the infancy of his reign, he was such an object of contempt to the neighboring kings that, defeated in two battles, he could scarcely defend his frontier; afterwards, however, when to his riper years he had added a more perfect knowledge of war, he quickly, by successive victories, subjugated every kingdom of the Angles, with the exception of the Northumbrians. And, in order to obtain foreign connections, he entered into affinity with the king of France, by marrying his daughter Bertha. And now by this connection with the Franks, the nation, hitherto savage and wedded to its own customs, began daily to divest itself of its rustic propensities and incline to gentler manners. To this was added the very exemplary life of bishop Luidhard, who had come over with the queen, by which, though silently, he allured the king to the knowledge of Christ our Lord. Hence it arose, that his mind, already softened, easily yielded to the preaching of the blessed Augustine; and he was the first of all his race who renounced the errors of paganism, that he might obscure, by the glory of his faith, those whome he surpassed in power. This, indeed, is spotless nobility; this, exalted virtue; to excel in worth those whome you exceed in rank. Besides, extending his care to posterity, he enacted lawas, in his native tongue, in which he appointed rewards for the meritorious, and opposed severer restraint to the abandoned, leaving nothing doubtful for the future.

Ethelbert died in the twenty-first year after he had embraced the Christian faith, leaving the diadem to his son Edbald. As soon as he was freed from the restraints of paternal awe, he rejected Christianity, and overcame the virtue of his stepmother. But the severity of the divine mercy opposed a barrier to his utter destruction: for the princes, whome his father had subjugated, immediately rebelled, he lost a part of his dominions, and was perpetually haunted by an evil spirit, whereby he paid the penalty of his unbelief. Laurentius, the successor of Augustine, was offended at these transactions, and after having sent away his companions, was meditating his own departure from the country, but having received chastisement from God, he was induced to change his resolution. The king conversing with him on the subject, and finding his assertions confirmed by his stripes, became easily converted, and accepted the grace of Christianity, and broke off his incestuous intercourse. But, that posterity might be impressed with the singular punishment due to apostasy, it was with difficulty he could maintain his hereditary dominions, much less rival the eminence of his father. For the remainder of his life, his faith was sound, and he did nothing to sully his reputation. The monastery also, which his father had founded without the walls of Canterbury, he ennobled with large estates, and sumptuous presents. The praises and merits of both these men ought ever to be proclaimed, and had in honor by the English; because they allowed the Christian faith to acquire strength in England, by patient listening and willingness to believe. Who can contemplate, without satisfaction, the just and amiable answer which Bede makes king Ethelbert to have given to the first preaching of Augustine? "That he could not, thus early, embrace a new doctrine and leave the accustomed worship of his country; but that, nevertheless, persons who had undertaken so long a journey for the purpose of kindly communicating to the Angles what they deemed an inestimable benefit, far from meeting with ill treatment, ought rather to be allowed full liberty to preach, and also to receive the amplest maintenance." He fully kept his promise; and at length the truth of Christianity becoming apparent by degrees, himself and all his subjects were admitted into the number of the faithful And what did the other? Though led away at first, more by the lusts of the flesh than perverseness of heart, yet he paid respect to the virtuous conduct of the prelates, although he neglected their faith; and lastly, as I have related, was easily converted through the sufferings of Laurentius, and became of infinite service to the propagation of Christianity. Both, then, were laudable: both deserved high encomiums; for the good work, so nobly begun by the one, was kindly fostered by the other.

To him, after a reign of twenty-four years, succeeded Erconbert, his son, by Emma, daughter of the king of France. He reigned an equal number of years with his father, but under happier auspices; alike remarkable for piety toward God, and love to his country. For his grandfather, and father, indeed, adopted our faith, but neglected to destroy their idols; whilst he, thinking it derogatory to his royal zeal not to take the readiest mode of annihilating openly what they only secretly condemned, leveled every temple of their gods to the ground, that not a trace of their paganism might be handed down to posterity. This was nobly done: for the mass of the people would be reminded of their superstition, so long as they could see the altars of their deities. In order, also, that he might teach his subjects, who were too much given to sensual indulgence, to accustom themselves to temperance, he enjoined the solemn fast of Lent to be observed throughout his dominions. This was an extraordinary act for the king to attempt in those times: but he was a man whome no blandishments of luxury could enervate; no anxiety for power seduce from the worship of God. Wherefore he was protected by the favor of the Almighty; every thing, at home and abroad, succeeded to his wishes, and he grew old in uninterrupted tranquillity. His daughter Ercongotha, a child worthy of such a parent, and emulating her father in virtuous qualities, became a shining light in the monastery of Kalas in Gaul.

His son Egbert, retaining his father's throne for nine years, did nothing memorable in so short a reign; unless indeed it be ascribed to the glory of this period, that Theodore the archbishop and Adrian the abbot, two consummate scholars, came into England in his reign. Were not the subject already trite, I should willingly record what light they shed upon the Britons; how on one side the Greeks, and on the other the Latins ,emulously contributed their knowledge to the public stock, and made this island, once the nurse of tyrants, the constant residence of philosophy: but this and every other merit of the times of Egbert is clouded by his horrid crime, of either destroying, or permitting to be destroyed, Elbert and Egelbright, his nephewas.

To Egbert succeeded his brother Lothere, who began his reign with unpropitious omens. For he was harassed during eleven years by Edric, the son of Egbert, and engaged in many civil conflicts which terminated with various success, until he was ultimately pierced through the body with a dart, and died while they were applying remedies to the wound. Some say that both the brothers perished by a premature death as a just return for their cruelty; because Egbert, as I have related, murdered the innocent children of his uncle; and Lothere ridiculed the notion of holding them up as martyrs: although the former had lamented the action, and had granted a part of the Isle of Thanet to the mother of his nephewas, for the purpose of building a monastery.

Nor did Edric long boast the prosperous state of his government; for within two years he was despoiled both of kingdom and of life, and left his country to be torn in pieces by its enemies. Immediately Caedwalla, with his brother Mull, in other respects a good and able man, but breathing an inextinguishable hatred against the people of Kent, made vigorous attempts upon the province; supposing it must easily surrender to his viewas, as it had lately been in the enjoyment of long continued peace, but at that time was torn with intestine war. He found, however, the inhabitants by no means unprepared or void of courage, as he had expected. For after many losses sustained in the towns and villages, at length they rushed with spirit to the conflict. They gained the victory in the contest, and having put Caedwalla to flight, drove his brother mull into a little cottage, which they set on fire. Thus, wanting courage to sally out against the enemy, the fire gained uncontrolled power, and he perished in the flames. Nevertheless Caedwalla ceased not his efforts, nor retired from the province; but consoled himself for his losses by repeatedly ravaging the district; however, he left the avenging of this injury to Ina, his successor, as will be related in its place.

In this desperate state of affairs of Kent, there was a void of about six years in royal succession. In the seventh, Withred, the son of Egbert, having repressed the malevolence of his countrymen by his activity, and purchased peace from his enemies by money, was chosen king by the inhabitants, who entertained great and well-founded hopes of him. He was an admirable ruler at home, invincible in war, and a truly pious follower of the Christian faith, for he extended its power to the utmost. And, to complete his felicity, after a reign of thirty-three years, he died in extreme old age, which men generally reckon to be their greatest happiness, leaving his three children his heirs. These were Egbert, Ethelbert and Alric, and they reigned twenty-three, eleven and thirty-four years successively, without deviation from the excellent example and institutions of their father, except that Ethelbert, by the casual burning of Canterbury, and Alric, by an unsuccessful battle with the Mercians, considerably obscured the glory of their reigns. So it is that, if any thing disgraceful occurs, it is not concealed; if any thing fortunate, it is not sufficiently noticed in the Chronicles; whether it be done designedly, or whether it arise from the bad quality of the human mind, which makes gratitude for good transient; whereas the recollection of evil remains forever. After these men the noble stock of kings began to wither, the royal blood to flow cold. Then every daring adventurer, who had acquired riches by his eloquence, or whome faction had made formidable, aspired to the kingdom, and disgraced the ensigns of royalty. Of these, Edbert otherwise called Pren, after having governed Kent two years, over-rating his power, was taken prisoner in a war with the Mercians, and loaded with chains. But being set at liberty by his enemies, though not received by his own subjects, it is uncertain by what end he perished. Cuthred, heir to the same faction and calamity, reigned, in name only, eight years. Next Baldred, a mere abortion of a king, after having for eighteen years more properly possessed than governed the kingdom, went into exile, on his defeat by Egbert, king of the West Saxons. Thus the kingdom of Kent which, from the year of our Lord 449, had continued 375 years, became annexed to another. And since by following the royal line of the first kingdom which arose among the Angles, I have elicited a spark, as it were, from the embers of antiquity, I shall now endeavor to throw light on the kingdom of the West Saxons, which, though after a considerable lapse of time, was the next that sprang up. While others were neglected and wasted away, this flourished with unconquerable vigor, even to the coming of the Normans; and, if I may be permitted the expression, with greedy jawas swallowed up the rest. Wherefore, after tracing this kingdom in detail down to Egbert, I shall briefly, for fear of disgusting my readers, subjoin some notices of the two remaining; this will be suitable termination to the first book, and the second will continue the history of the West Saxons alone.

CHAPTER 2: Of the kings of the West Saxons [A.D. 495]

The kingdom of the West Saxons, - and one more magnificent or lasting Britain never beheld, -- sprang from Cerdic, and soon increased to great importance. He was a German by nation, of the noblest race, being the tenth from Woden, and, having nurtured his ambition in domestic broils, determined to leave his native land and extend his fame by the sword. Having formed this daring resolution he communicated his design to Cenric his son, who closely followed his father's track to glory, and with his concurrence transported his forces into Britain in five ceols. This took place in the year of our Savior's incarnation 495, and the eighth after the death of Hengist. Coming into action with the Britons the very day of his arrival, this experienced soldier soon defeated an undisciplined multitude, and compelled them to fly. By this success he obtained perfect security in future for himself, as well as peace for the inhabitants of those parts. For they never dared after that day to attack him, but voluntarily submitted to his dominion. Nevertheless he did not waste his time in indolence; but on the contrary, extending his conquests on all sides, by the time he had been twenty-four years in the island, he had obtained the supremacy of the western part of it, called West Saxony. He died after enjoying it sixteen years, and his whole kingdom, with the exception of the Isle of Wight, descended to his son. This, by the royal munificence, became subject to his nephew, Withgar; who was as dear to his uncle by the ties of kindred, for he was his sister's son, as by his skill in war, and formed a noble principality in the island, where he was afterwards splendidly interred. Cenric moreover, who was as illustrious as his father, after twenty-six years, bequeathed the kingdom, somewhat enlarged, to his son Ceawlin.

The Chronicles extol the singular valor of this man in battle, so as to excite a degree of envious admiration; for he was the astonishment of the Angles, the detestation of the Britons, and was eventually the destruction of both. I shall briefly subjoin some extracts from them. Attacking Ethelbert king of Kent, who was a man in other respects laudable, but at that time was endeavoring from the consciousness of his family's dignity to gain the ascendency, and, on this account, making too eager incursions on the territories of his neighbor, he routed his troops and forced him to retreat. The Britons, who, in the times of his father and grandfather, had escaped destruction either by a show of submission, or by the strength of their fortifications at Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath, he now pursued with ceaseless rancor; ejected them from their cities, and chased them into mountainous and woody districts, as at the present day. But about this time, as some unlucky throw of the dice in the table of human life perpetually disappoints mankind, his military successes were clouded by domestic calamity: his brother Cutha met an untimely death, and he had a son of the same name taken off in battle; both young men of great expectation, whose loss he frequently lamented as a sever blow to his happiness. Finally, in his latter days, himself banished form his kingdom, presented a spectacle, pitiable even to his enemies. For he had sounded, as it were, the trumpet of his own detestation on all sides, and the Angles as well as the Britons conspiring against him, his forces were destroyed at Wodensdike;(5) he lost his kingdom thirty-one years after he had gained it; went into exile, and shortly after died. The floating reins of government were then directed by his nephewas, the sons of Cutha, that is to say, Celric during six, Ceowulf during fourteen years: of these the inferior with respect to age, but the more excellent in spirit, passed all his days in war, nor ever neglected for a moment the protection and extension of his empire.

After him, the sons of Celric, Cynegils and Cuichelm, jointly put on the ensigns of royalty; both active, both contending with each other only in mutual offices of kindness; insomuch, that to their contemporaries they were a miracle of concord very unusual amongst princes, and to posterity a proper example. It is difficult to say whether their courage or their moderation exceeded in the numberless contest in which they engaged either against the Britons, or against Penda, king of the Mercians: a man, as will be related in its place, wonderfully expert in the subtleties of war; and who, overpassing the limits of his own territory, in an attempt to add Cirencester to his possessions, being unable to withstand the power of these united kings, escaped with only a few followers. A considerable degree of guilt indeed attaches to Cuichelm, for attempting to take off, by the hands of an assassin, Edwin king of the Northumbrians, a man of acknowledged prudence. Yet, if the heathen maxim, "Who asks if fraud or force availed the foe?"(6) be considered, he will be readily excused, as having done nothing uncommon, in wishing to get red, by whatever means, of a rival encroaching on his power. For he had formerly lopped off much from the West Saxon empire, and now receiving fresh ground of offense, and his ancient enmity reviving, he inflicted heavy calamities on that people. The kings, however, escaped and were, not long after, enlightened with the heavenly doctirve, by the means of St. Birinus the bishop, in the twenty-fifth year of their reign, and the fortieth after the coming of the blessed Augustine, the apostle of the Angles. Cynegils, veiling his princely pride, condescended to receive immediately the holy rite of baptism: Cuichelm resisted for a time, but warded by the sickness of his boy not to endanger the salvation of his soul, he became a sharer in his brother's piety, and died the same year Cynegils departed six years afterwards, in the thirty-first year of his reign, enjoying the happiness of a long-extended peace.

Kenwalk his son succeeded: in the beginning of his reign, to be compared only to the worst of princes; but, in the succeeding and latter periods, a rival of the best. The moment the young man became possessed of power, wantoning in regal luxury and disregarding the acts of his father, he abjured Christianity and legitimate marriage; but being attacked and defeated by Penda, king of Mercia, whose sister he had repudiated, he fled to the king of the East Angles. Here, by a sense of his own calamities and by the perseverance of his host, he was once more brought back to the Christian faith; and after three years, recovering his strength and resuming his kingdom, he exhibited to his subjects the joyful miracle of his reformation. So valiant was he, that he who formerly was unable to defend his own territories, now extended his dominion on every side; totally defeating in two actions the Britons, furious with the recollection of their ancient liberty, and in consequence perpetually meditating resistance; first, at a place called Witgeornesburg,(7) and then at a mountain named Pene;(8) and again, avenging the injury of his father on Wulfhere, the son of Penda, he deprived him of the greatest part of his kingdom: moreover he was so religious, that first of all his race, he built, for those times, a most beautiful church at Winchester, on which site afterwards was founded the episcopal see with still more skillful magnificence.

But since we have arrived at the times of Kenwalk, and the proper place occurs for mentioning the monastery of Glastonbury, I shall trace from its very origin the rise and progress of that church as far as I am able to discover it from the mass of evidences. It is related in annals of good credit that Lucius, king of the Britons, sent to Pope Eleutherius, thirteenth in succession from St. Peter, to entreat, that he would dispel the darkness of Britain by the splendor of Christian instruction. This surely was the commendable deed of a magnanimous prince, eagerly to seek that faith, the mention of which had barely reached him, at a time when it was an object of persecution to almost every king and people to whim it was offered. In consequence, preachers, sent by Eleutherius, came into Britain, the effects of whose labors will remain forever, although the rust of antiquity may have obliterated their names. By these was built the ancient church of St. Mary of Glastonbury, as faithful tradition has handed down through decaying time. Morever there are documents of no small credit, which have been discovered in certain places to the following effect: "No other hands than those of the disciples of Christ erected the church of Glastonbury." Nor is it dissonant from probability: for if Philip the Apostle preached to the Gauls, as Freculphus relates in the fourth chapter of his second book, it may be believed that he also planted the word on this side of the channel also. But that I may not seem to balk the expectation of my readers by vain imaginations, leaving all doubtful matter, I shall proceed to the relation of substantial truths.

The church of which we are speaking, from its antiquity called by the Angles, by way of distinction, "Ealde Chirche," that is, the "Old Church," of wattle-work, at first, savored somewhat of heavenly sanctity even from its very foundation, and exhaled it over the whole country; claiming superior reverence, though the structure was mean. Hence, here arrived whole tribes of lower orders, thronging every path; here assembled the opulent divested of their pomp; and it became the crowded residence of the religious and the literary. For, as we have heard from men of old time, here Gildas, an historian neither unlearned nor inelegant, to obtain among other nations, captivated by the sanctity of the place, took up his abode for a series of years.(9) This church, then, is certainly the oldest I am acquainted with in England, and from this circumstance derives its name. In it are preserved the mortal remains of many saints, some of whome we shall notice in our progress, nor is any corner of the church destitute of the ashes of the holy. The very floor, inlaid with polished stone, and the sides of the altar, and even the altar itself above and beneath are laden with the multitude of relics. Moreover in the pavement may be remarked on every side stones designedly interlaid in triangles and squares, and figured with lead, under which if I believe some sacred enigma to be contained, I do no injustice to religion. The antiquity, and multitude of its saints, have endued the place with so much sanctity that at night scarcely anyone presumes to keep vigil there, or during the day to spit upon its floor: he who is conscious of pollution shudders throughout the whole frame: no one ever brought hawk or horses within the confines of the neighboring cemetery, who did not depart injured either in them or in himself. Within the memory of man, all persons who, before undergoing the ordeal of fire or water, there put up their petitions, exulted in their escape, one only excepted: if any person erected a building in its vicinity, which by its shade obstructed the light of the church, it forthwith became a ruin. And it is sufficiently evident that the men of that province had no oath more frequent, or more sacred, than to swear by the Old Church, fearing the swiftest vengeance on their perjury in this respect. The truth of what I have asserted, if it be dubious, will be supported by testimony in the book which I have written, on the antiquity of the said church, according to the series of years.

In the meantime it is clear that the depository of so many saints may be deservedly styled a heavenly sanctuary upon earth. There are numbers of documents, though I abstain from mentioning them for fear of causing weariness, to prove how extremely venerable this place was held by the chief persons of the country, who there more especially chose to await the day of resurrection under the protection of the mother of God. Willingly would I declare the meaning of those pyramids, which are almost incomprehensible to all, could I but ascertain the truth. These, situated some feet from the church, border on the cemetery of the monks. That which is the loftiest and nearest the church is twenty-eight feet high and has five stories: this, though threatening ruin from its extreme age, possesses nevertheless some traces of antiquity, which may be clearly read though not perfectly understood. In the highest story is an image in a pontifical habit. In the next a statue of regal dignity, and the letters, Her Sexi, and Blisperh. In the third, too, are the names Pencrest, Bantomp, Pineegn. In the fourth, Bate, Pulfred, and Eanfled. In the fifth, which is the lowest, there is an image, and the words as follow, Logor, Peslicas, and Bregden, Spelpes, Highingendes Bearn. The other pyramid is twenty-six feet high and has four stories, in which are read, Kentwin, Hedda the bishop, and Bregored and Beorward. The meaning of these I do not hastily decide, but I shrewdly conjecture that within, in stone coffins, are contained the bones of those persons whose names are inscribed without. At least Logor is said to imply the person from whome Logperesbeorh formerly took its name, which is now called Montacute; Bregden, from whim is derived Brentknolle and Brentmarsh; Bregored and Beorward were abbats of that place in the time of the Briton; of whom, and of others which occur, I shall henceforward speak more circumstantially. For my history will now proceed to disclose the succession of the abbats, and what was bestowed on each. Or on the monastery, and by what particular king.

And first, I shall briefly mention St. Patrick, from whome the series of our records dawns. While the Saxons were disturbing the peace of the Britons, and the Pelagians assaulting their faith, St. Germanus of Auxerre assisted them against both; routing the one by a chorus of Hallelujah,(10) and hurling down the other by the thunder of the Evangelists and Apostles. Thence returning to his own country, he summoned Patrick to become his inmate, and after a few years, sent him, at the instance of Pope Celestine, to preach to the Irish. Whence it is written in the Chronicles, "In the year of our Lord's incarnation 425, St. Patrick is ordained to Ireland by Pope Celestine." Also, "In the year 433 Ireland is converted to the faith of Christ by the preaching of St. Patrick, accompanied by many miracles." In consequence executing his appointed office with diligence, and in his latter days returning to his own country, he landed in Cornwall, from his altar,(11) which even to this time is held in high veneration by the inhabitants for its sanctity and efficacy in restoring the inform. Proceeding to Glastonbury, and there becoming monk and abbat, after some years he paid the debt of nature. All doubt of the truth of this assertion is removed by the vision of a certain brother who, after the saint's death, when it had frequently become a question, through decay of evidence, whether he really was monk and abbat there, had the fact confirmed by the following oracle. When asleep he seemed to hear some person reading, after many of his miracles, the words which follow - "this man then was adorned by the sanctity of the metropolitan pall, but afterwards was here made monk and abbat." He added, moreover, as the brother did not give implicit credit to him, that he could show what he had said inscribed in golden letters. Patrick died in the year of his age 111, of our Lord's incarnation 472, being the forty-seventh year after he was sent into Ireland. He lies on the right side of the altar in the old church: indeed the care of posterity has enshrined his body in silver. Hence the Irish have an ancient usage of frequenting the place to kiss the relics of their patron. Wherefore the report is extremely prevalent that both St. Indract and St. Briget, no mean inhabitants of Ireland, formerly came over to this spot. Whether Briget returned home or died at Glastonbury is not sufficiently ascertained, though she left here some of her ornaments; that is to say, her necklace, scrip and implements for embroidering, which are yet shown in memory of her sanctity, and are efficacious in curing divers diseases. In the course of my narrative it will appear that St. Indract, with seven companions, was martyred near Glastonbury, and afterwards interred in the old church.

Benignus succeeded Patrick in the government of the abbey; but for how long remains in doubt. Who he was, and how called in the vernacular tongue, the verses of his epitaph at Ferramere express, not inaptly:

Beneath this marble Beon's ashes lie,
Once rev'rend abbat of this monastery:
Saint Patrick's servant, as the Irish frame
The legend-tale, and Beon was his name.

The wonderful works both of his former life, and since his recent translation into the greater church, proclaim the singular grace of God which he anciently possessed, and which he still retains.

The esteem in which David, archbishop of Menevia, held this place is too notorious to require repeating. He established the antiquity and sanctity of the church by a divine oracle; for purposing to dedicate it, he came to the spot with his seven suffragan bishops, and every thing being prepared for the due celebration of the solemnity, on the night, as he purposed, preceding it, he gave way to profound repose. When all his senses were steeped in rest, he beheld the Lord Jesus standing near, and mildly inquiring the cause of his arrival; and on his immediately disclosing it, the Lord diverted him from his purpose by saying, "That the church had been already dedicated by himself in honor of his Mother, and that the ceremony was not to be profaned by human repetition." With these words he seemed to bore the palm of his hand with his finger, adding, "That this was a sign for him not to reiterate what himself had done before. But that, since his design savored more of piety than of temerity, his punishment should not be prolonged: and lastly, that on the following morning, when he should repeat the words of the mass, 'With him, and by him, and in him,' his health should return to him undiminished." The prelate, awakened by these terrific appearances, as at the moment he grew pale at the purulent matter, so afterwards he hailed the truth of the prediction. But that he might not appear to have done nothing, he quickly built and dedicated another church. Of this celebrated and incomparable man, I am at a loss to decide whether he closed his life in this place, or at his own cathedral. For they affirm that he is with St. Patrick; and the Welsh, both by the frequency of their prayers to him and by various reports, without doubt confirm and establish this opinion; openly alleging that bishop Bernard sought after him more than once, notwithstanding much opposition, but was not able to find him. But let thus much suffice of St. David.

After a long lapse of time, St. Augustine, at the instance of St. Gregory, came into Britain in the year of our Lord's incarnation 596, and the tradition of our ancestors has handed down that the companion of his labors, Paulinus, who was bishop of Rochester after being archbishop of York, covered the church, built, as we have before observed, of wattle-work, with a casing of boards. The dexterity of this celebrated man so artfully managed, that nothing of its sanctity should be lost, though much should accrue to is beauty: and certainly the more magnificent the ornaments of churches are, the more they incline the brute mind to prayer, and bend the stubborn to supplication.

In the year of our Lord's incarnation 601, that is, the fifth after the arrival of St. Augustine, the king of Devonshire, on the petition of abbat Worgrez, granted to the old church which is there situated in the land called Ineswitrin, containing five cassates(12). "I, Maworn, bishop, wrote this grant. I, Worgrez, abbat of the same place, signed it."

Who this king might be, the antiquity of the instrument prevents our knowing. But that he was a Briton cannot be doubted, because he called Glastonbury Ineswitrin, in his vernacular tongue; and that, in the British, it is so called, is well known. Moreover it is proper to remark the extreme antiquity of a church, which, even then, was called "the old church." In addition to Worgrez, Lademund and Bregored, whose very named imply British barbarism, were abbats of this place. The periods of their presiding are uncertain, but their names and dignities are indicated by a painting in the larger church, near the altar. Blessed, therefore, are the inhabitants of this place, allured to uprightness of life, by reverence for such a sanctuary. I cannot suppose that any of these, when dead, can fail of heaven, when assisted by the virtues and intercession of so many patrons. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 670, and the 29th of his reign, Kenwalk gave to Berthwald, abbat of Glastonbury, Ferramere, two hides, at the request of archbishop Theodore. The same Berthwald, against the will of the king and of the bishop of the diocese, relinquishing Glastonbury, went to govern the monastery of Reculver. In consequence, Berthwald equally renowned for piety and high birth, being nephew to Ethelred, king of the Mercians, and residing in the vicinity of Canterbury, on the demise of archbishop Theodore, succeeded to his see. This may be sufficient for me to have inserted on the antiquity of the church of Glastonbury Now I shall return in course to Kenwalk, who was of a character so munificent that he never refused to give any part of his patrimony to his relations; but with noble-minded generosity conferred nearly the third of his kingdom on his nephew [Cuthred]. These qualities of the royal mind, were stimulated by the admonitions of those holy bishops of his province, Agilbert, of whome Bede relates many commendable things in his history of the Angles, and his nephew Leutherius, who, after him was for seven years bishop of the West Saxons. This circumstance I have thought proper to mention, because Bede has left no account of the duration of his episcopacy, and to disguise a fact which I learn from the Chronicles, would be against my conscience; besides, it affords an opportunity for making mention of a distinguished man, who by a mind, clear and almost divinely inspired, advanced the monastery of Malmesbury, where I carry on my earthly warfare, to the highest pitch. This monastery was so slenderly endowed by Maildulph, a Scot, as they say, by nation, a philosopher by erudition, and a monk by profession, that its members could scarcely procure their subsistence; but Leutherius, after long and due deliberation, gave it to Aldhelm, a monk of the same place, to be by him governed with the authority then possessed by bishops. Of which matter, that my relation may obviate every doubt, I shall subjoin his own words.

"I, Leutherius, by divine permission bishop supreme of the Saxon see, am requested by the abbats who, within the jurisdiction of our diocese, preside over the conventual assemblies of monks with pastoral anxiety, to give and to grant that portion of land called Maildulfesburgh, to Aldhelm the priest, for the purpose of leading a life according to strict rule; in which place, indeed, from his earliest infancy and first initiation in the study of learning, he has been instructed in the liberal arts, and passed his days nurtured in the bosom of the holy moth church; and on which account fraternal love appears principally to have conceived this request. Wherefore assenting to the petition of the aforesaid abbats, I willingly grant that place to him and his successors, who shall sedulously follow the lawas of the holy institution. Done publicly near the river Bladon;(13) this eighth before the kalends of September, in the year of our Lord's incarnation 672."

But when the industry of the abbat was superadded to the kindness of the bishop, then the affairs of the monastery began to flourish exceedingly; then monks assembled on all sides; there was a general concourse to Aldhelm; some admiring the sanctity of his life, others the depth of his learning. For he was a man as unsophisticated in religion as multifarious in knowledge; whose piety surpassed even his reputation; and he had so fully imbibed the liberal arts, that he was wonderful in each of them and unrivaled in all. I greatly err, if his works written on the subject of virginity, than which, in my opinion, nothing can be more pleasing or more splendid, are not proofs of his immortal genius: although, such is the slothfulness of our times, they may excite disgust in some persons, not duly considered how modes of expression differ according to the customs of nations. The Greeks, for instance, express themselves impliedly, the Romans clearly, the Gauls gorgeously, the Angles turgidly. And truly, as it is pleasant to dwell on the graces of our ancestors and to animate our minds by their example, I would here, most willingly, unfold what painful labors this holy man encountered for the privileges of our church, and with what miracles he signalized his life, did not my avocations lead me elsewhere; and his noble acts appear clearer even to the eye of the purblind, than they can possible be sketched by my pencil The innumerable miracles which now take place at his tomb, manifest to the present race the sanctity of the life he passed. He has therefore his proper praise; he has the fame acquired by his merits. We proceed with the history. . . . .

Excerpt on the sepulcher of Arthur

At that time [ca. 1087 A.D.], in the province of Wales, called Ros, was found the sepulcher of Walwin, the noble nephew of Arthur; he reigned, a most renowned knight, in that part of Britain which is still named Walwerth; but was driven from his kingdom by the brother and nephew of Hengist (of whome I have spoken in my first book,) though not without first making them pay dearly for his expulsion. He deservedly shared, with his uncle, the praise of retarding for many years the calamity of his falling country. The sepulcher of Arthur is no where to be seen, whence ancient ballads fable that he is still to come. But the tomb of the other, as I have suggested, was found in the time of king William, on the seacoast, fourteen feet long; there, as some relate, he was wounded by his enemies, and suffered shipwreck; others say he was killed by his subjects at a public entertainment. The truth consequently is doubtful; though neither of these men was inferior to the reputation they have acquired.

1. Elward, or Ethelwerd, was a descendant of the line of King Alfred. His chronicle, completed near the middle of the tenth century, is also excerpted on this site. See ____.

2. Eadmer was a monkish historian at Canterbury who composed Historia Novorum, a "history of modern times," spanning the years 1066-1122 CE.

3. That is, a commoner. Her actual occupation has been much debated. Gibbon concluded she was an innkeeper's daughter, and others believe she was a stable maid.

4. The people of Kent and of the Isle of Wight were Jutes; the East, South and West Saxons were Saxons; and from the Angles came the East Angles, Mid-Angles, Mercians and Northumbrians.

5. Identified as Wansdike, in Wiltshire.

6. Virgil, Aenid, ii. 390.

7. Bradford on Avon. See The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 652.

8. Pen, in Somersetshire.

9. There is a Life of Gildas, written not long after this history, by Caradoc of Lancarvon, in which we are told that while he was residing at Glastonbury, a prince of that country carried off Arthur's queen and lodged her there; that Arthur immediately besieged it, but through the mediation of the abbat and of Gildas, consented, at length, ro receive his wife again and to depart peaceably.

10. St. Germanus drew up a body of his new converts in a valley surrounded on every side by mountains, and on the approach of their enemies, ordered that on a given signal, all should shout "Hallelujah." The sudden sound, being reverberated by the surrounding mountains, struck their foes with such a panic, that they instantly fled. See Bede, Ecclesiastical History, b.i.c. 20.

11. Patrick is said to have floated over from Ireland on an altar.

12. This is interpreted as an amount of land, as much as one plough could till, a measure also known as a hide.

13. The location of this river is uncertain. Malmesbury is also said to have been originally called Bladon. 


William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England. Translation by Rev. John Sharpe, 1815. J.A. Giles, editor. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904..

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.

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