Page images

the want of fuller evidence we hesitate at believing this, we must, at least, admit the affecting account, that his spirit was so wounded by his persecutions, that unable to endure unmerited odium, deprivation of power, a brother's rebellion, and the murder of his beloved wife, he sunk pining into death, before he had reached the full age of manhood (1).


The monks, with indefinite phrase, declaim against Edwin as an unworthy voluptuary. But they have judged him not impartially as between man and man, but with a professional antipathy from his opposition to Dunstan. We know too little of his actions to decide with certainty on his real character; but it is just to him to remark, that some annalists of high authority, and apparently less prejudiced, state that he was an amiable prince, whose conduct gave the promise of an honourable reign (2).

His youth was the source of his calamities; a king of sixteen was incompetent to wage a war of policy and popularity with the hoary advocates of a new system, whose fanaticism envenomed their hostility; whose affiliation and credit multiplied their power. The opinions of a calumniated and untried youth had no weight with the nation, in opposition to all that they revered and obeyed. Had he complied a while with the imperious necessity, and waited till, by manly prudence, he had acquired character, convinced the people of his good qualities, enforced habits of respect, and created friends capable of defending him, his ambitious dictators would have been baffled and humiliated.

His catastrophe was a misfortune both to England and Europe. It made the enmity of the ecclesiastical power an object of terror. It exhibited a precedent of a king insulted, injured, persecuted, and dethroned by the agency or effects of sacerdotal enmity; and as his successor obeyed the dictates or favoured the plans of the monastic leaders, it must have given a consequence to their future influence, which occasionally subjected even courts to their control.

(1) Pro dolore tanti infortunii usque ad mortem infirmatus. Ingulf, 41. Qua percussus injuria vivendi finem fecit. Malmsb. 55.

(2) The simple epithet of the ancient Ethelwerd is peculiarly forcible :-"Tenuit namque quadrennio per regnum amandus," p. 849. Huntingdon had also spirit enough to declare that Edwin, “Non illaudabiliter regni infulam tenuit," p. 356. He adds, that as, "in principio regnum ejus decentissime floreret, prospera et lætabunda exordia mors immatura perrupit." Ibid. To the same purport, and with an imitation of phrase, Oxenedes says, "Cum in principio regni sui omnia prospera et lætabunda florerent exordia." MSS. Cotton Lib. Nero, D. 2. p. 215.Edwin, from his extreme beauty, obtained the name Пavanov, or All Fair. Ethelw. $49.


The Reign of Edgar.

Edgar, at the age of sixteen, succeeded to all the Anglo-Saxon dominion. He has been much extolled, but he was rather the king of a prosperous nation in a fortunate era, than a great prince himself. His actions display a character ambiguous and mixed. His policy sometimes breathes a liberal and enlarged spirit. At other periods he was mean, arrogant, and vicious; and the hyperboles of praise, by which monastic gratitude has emblazoned him, are as questionable as to their truth, as they are repugnant to common sense and good taste (1). On the whole, if we recollect what he inherited, we must say that it was the fortuitous chronology of his existence, rather than his own bravery and wisdom, which has adorned his name with a celebrity, that in the pages of fanaticism even obscures, by its excess, those illustrious characters from whose exertions his empire had arisen (2).

Obtruded unjustly upon a brother's throne by vindictive partisans, his reign became their reign rather than his own and the great object of the policy of the new government was to convert the clergy into monks, and to fill the nation with Bencdictine institutions! The patrons of the measure may have intended the moral improvement of the country, and it may have raised a superior description of ecclesiastics in the nation; but their means were violent, and their conduct unjust to the parochial clergy.

Dunstan was made bishop of Worcester, and afterwards of London (3). His acquisition of metropolitan honours was at first checked. Odo had died before Edwin (4); and this indignant king appointed another bishop to succeed him. But the policy of the Roman pontiffs had established a custom, that all metropolitans should visit Rome to receive there the pallium, the little ornament on their shoulders, which gave and announced their dignity. In crossing the Alps the archbishop nominated by Edwin perished in the

(1) For instance: Eo namque regnante sol videbatur esse serenior, maris unda pacatior, terra fœcundior, et tolius regni facies abundantior, decore venustior. Ethelr. Abb. Riev. 359.

(2) Malmsbury is not content with saying once, that nullus enim unquam regum Anglorum potuit certare laudibus Edgari, 3 Gale, 319.; but in another place he deliberately affirms, that nullum nec ejus nec superioris ætatis regem in Anglia recto et æquilibri judicio Edgaro comparandum. De Gest. Reg. 60. Was not Alfred, in just and equal judgment, to be compared with Edgar?

(3) MS. Cleop. B. 13. Osb. 108. He seems to have held both sees at the same time.

(4) Odo died 958. Matt. West. 369. Flor. 355.

snow (1). Another was appointed in his stead. But Edgar now reigned, and it was discovered that the new dignitary was a man of mild, modest, humble, and benign temper (2). The expected consequence occurred: Byrhtelm was compelled to abdicate his promotion, and to retire to his former see. Dunstan was appointed the primate of the Anglo-Saxons (3), and, in 960, he hastened to Rome (4). He received the completing honour from the hands of the ambitious and unprincipled John the Twelfth (5).


The coadjutors of Dunstan, in effecting his ecclesiastical reformation, were Oswald and Ethelwold. Oswald, a Dane by birth, and a kinsman of Odo, who had educated him, had received the habit at Fleury (6). Dunstan represented him to the king as a meek and humble monk, well worthy of the bishopric of Worcester (7). The king, though he had allowed meekness and humility to degrade a metropolitan, pliantly admitted them to be the proper virtues of a bishop, and gave to Oswald the honour requested. Oswald was, however, not more attached to the gentle virtues than Dunstan, or at least did not allow them to interrupt the prosecution of his patron's plans.

Three years afterwards, Dunstan raised to the see of Winchester Ethelwold, abbot of Abingdon, who had been bred up by himself (8); Ethelwold, who adopted the feelings of Dunstan and enforced his plans, was decided and impetuous in prosecuting the monastic reformation of the clergy. He may have conscientiously believed this to have been his duty; but it was carried into effect with a tyrannical severity; and if a renovation of ecclesiastical piety was its object, its success in this point was of small duration; for within a century after this Benedictine reformation, the manners of the clergy are represented as unfavourably as at its commencement. The more pleasing part of Ethelwold's character was his attention to the literary education of the youth at Winchester (9). These three the king made his counsellors and friends.

(1) MSS. Cleop. B. 13. So Matt. West. 369. Flor. 355.

(2) MSS. Cleop. So Matt. West. 371.; who seems often to copy this author. (3) Matt. West. 369. Flor. 355. Such was his cupidity of power, that he held also the see of Rochester. Osb. 110. Flor. 356.

(4) Matt. West. 370.

(5) That John XII. ruled at this period, see Dupin, tenth century, p 10.

(6) Hist. Rames. 391.

(7) Flor. Wig. 356. (8) Fior. 357. So Adelard says, "Beato igitur Athelwoldo a se educato." MS. Nero, c. 7. p. 75. · Edgar made Dunstan, Oswald, and Ethelwold his counsellors and friends. See Edgar's charter, Dugdale, 140.

(9) Woolstan says of him, "It was always delightful to him to teach children and youth, and to construe Latin books to them in English, and explain to them the rules of grammar and Latin versification, and to exhort them to better things by his pleasant conversations. Hence many of his disciples became priests, abbots, bishops, and even archbishops." Wolst. Vit. Ethelwold.

The schemes of Dunstan to perpetuate his power and popularity cannot at this distant period be detailed, but the nature of them may be conjectured by one faculty which he claimed, and which has been transmitted to us from his own authority. The best part of Dunstan's character was his taste for knowledge and the civilizing arts. The questionable features are those of his politics, and real or pretended enthusiasm. The Catholic hierarchy may accredit his supernatural gifts, but our sober reason cannot read but with surprise, that he claimed the power of conversing with the spiritual world. "I can relate one thing from himself,' says his biographer, "that though he lived confined by a veil of flesh, yet, whether awake or asleep, he was always abiding with the powers above (1)." Hence he learned many heavenly songs. A particular instance is added of a vision, which announces such extraordinary pretensions in Dunstan, that if it had not come from his friend and contemporary, we might disbelieve the possibility that such presumption could have either occurred or been countenanced.


In this vision, he declared he saw his own mother married to the venerated Saviour of the Christian world, with every nuptial pomp (2). Amid the singing, a heavenly youth asked Dunstan, why he did not join in the rejoicings of so great a marriage for his mother; and, on his mentioning his ignorance, taught him a song (3).

Dunstan promulgated this by summoning a monk to attend him on his pretended waking, who, from his dictation, committed the song to writing. All the monks, subject to him, were commanded in the morning to learn and to sing it; while Dunstan shouted his protestations of the truth of the vision (4).

To the credulous, the assertion of Dunstan was sufficient evidence of this impious story. The more investigating were silenced by attempts to allegorise it. The mother so married, was Dunstan's church in its new reformation (5). Thus, whether it was believed literally, or interpreted allegorically, Dunstan derived from it the benefit he wished. It would seem that many thought him mad; but as his madness was systematical, persevering, and popular, it was more generally believed to be prophetic intuition (6).

(1) Unum autem ex ipso me posse referre profiteor, quod quamvis hic carneo septus velamine deguisset in imis, mente tamen, sive vigilaret, sive somno detentus quiescerat, semper manebat in superis. MS. Cleop. B. 13. p. 81.

(2) MS. Cleop.; and see Osberne, 114.; and Eadmer Vit. Dunst. 217.

(3) MSS. Cleop.

(4) Sed continuo jussit eam litterarum in memoria priusque oblivioni daretur conscribere et conscriptam cuidam monacho tam recentem discere, etc. etc. MSS. Cleop.

(5) MSS. Cleop.

(6) Ibid.

The first object of Dunstan was to expel the relaxed ecclesiastics from the monasteries to diffuse every where the Benedictine rule, and to give them the predominance in the estimation of the nation.

But Edgar did not leave his Benedictine friends to attack the existing clergy by their own influence and means of aggression. He degraded majesty so far as to become himself the persecuting tool of Dunstan. He himself assumed the sword against a portion of his subjects (1), who were respectable from their profession, and who could have no protection, but in the popular favour, of in his justice.


At a public synod, convened to propagate the Benedictine revolution, Edgar delivered a speech (2) for the party he espoused. In consequence of which, the clergy experienced a general persecution, and the monks were every where diffused with honour (3). Edgar took such pride in his Benedictine scheme, that, in 964, he boasted of having made fortyseven monasteries, and declared his intentions to increase them to fifty (4).

Edgar talks proudly, in one of its charters, that he had subdued all the islands of the ocean, with their ferocious kings, as far as Norway, and the greatest part of Ireland, with its most noble city, Dublin (5). No wars, however, have been particularised to have been waged by him but his ecclesiastical ones, except an invasion of Wales (6).

To complete the subjugation of Northumbria, he convoked the barons, and divided the province into two counties. The Tees was the river of separation. The districts beyond its southern bank to the Humber were intrusted to Oslach. From the northern bank to Mereforth, in the maritime part of Deira, the earl Eadulf governed (7).


It is stated, that with a great fleet Edgar sailed to Chester on the Dec, and that eight kings, Kenneth king of Scotland, Malcolm of Cumbria, Macchus of Anglesey and

(1) In his charter to the monastery at Hyde, in the year 966, he says, "Vitiorum cuneos canonicorum e diversis nostri regiminis cænobiis Christi vicarius eliminavi.” Spelman Concil. 438. In the 16th article the monks are engaged to defend him from devils, and in the seventeenth he contracts to defend them from men. lb. 440. (2) See it in Ethelred, p. 360.

(3) See Spelman's Concilia, 479.; Ingulf, 45.; Osberne, 111.; Eadmer, 219.; Hoveden, 425.; Matt. West. 372. 374.; and Hist. Rames. 393, 394. 400.

(4) See Dugdale, Monast. i. p. 140.

(5) Mihi autem concessit propitia divinitas cum Anglorum imperio omnia regna insularum oceani cum suis ferocissimis regibus usque Norregiam, maximamque partem Hiberniæ cum sua nobilissima civitate Dublinia Anglorum regno subjugare. 1 Dugdale, 140.

(6) Caradoc mentions this in 965, and says, it produced the Welsh tribute of 300 wolves, p. 56.

(7) Wallingford, 544.

« EelmineJätka »