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Thumbs up The Kings, Queens and Monarchs of England and Great Britain

Kings and Queens of England


Known as the first King of All England, he was forced into exile at the court of Charlemagne, by the powerful Offa, King of Mercia. Egbert returned to England in 802 and was recognized as king of Wessex. He defeated the rival Mercians at the battle of Ellendun in 825. In 829, the Northumbrians accepted his overlordship and he was proclaimed "Bretwalda" or sole ruler of Britain
Aethelwulf 839-55

Ęthelwulf was the son of Egbert and a sub-king of Kent. He assumed the throne of Wessex upon his father's death in 839. His reign is characterized by the usual Viking invasions and repulsions common to all English rulers of the time, but the making of war was not his chief claim to fame. Ęthelwulf is remembered, however dimly, as a highly religious man who cared about the establishment and preservation of the church. He was also a wealthy man and controlled vast resources. Out of these resources, he gave generously, to Rome and to religious houses that were in need.
He was an only child, but had fathered five sons, by his first wife, Osburga. He recognized that there could be difficulties with contention over the succession. He devised a scheme which would guarantee (insofar as it was possible to do so) that each child would have his turn on the throne without having to worry about rival claims from his siblings. Ęthelwulf provided that the oldest living child would succeed to the throne and would control all the resources of the crown, without having them divided among the others, so that he would have adequate resources to rule. That he was able to provide for the continuation of his dynasty is a matter of record, but he was not able to guarantee familial harmony with his plan. This is proved by what we know of the foul plottings of his son, Ęthelbald, while Ęthelwulf was on pilgrimage to Rome in 855.
Ęthelwulf was a wise and capable ruler, whose vision made possible the beneficial reign of his youngest son, Alfred the Great.


While his father, Ęthelwulf, was on pilgrimage to Rome in 855, Ęthelbald plotted with the Bishop of Sherbourne and the ealdorman of Somerset against him. The specific details of the plot are unknown, but upon his return from Rome, Ęthelwulf found his direct authority limited to the sub-kingdom of Kent, while Ęthelbald controlled Wessex.
Ęthelwulf died in 858, and full control passed to Ęthelbald. Perhaps Ęthelbald's premature power grab was occasioned by impatience, or greed, or lack of confidence in his father's succession plans. Whatever the case, he did not live long to enjoy it. He died in 860, passing the throne to his brother, Ęthelbert, just as Ęthelwulf had planned.


Very little is known about Ęthelbert, who took his rightful place in the line of succession to the throne of Wessex at around 30 years of age. Like all other rulers of his day, he had to contend with Viking raids on his territories and even had to battle them in his capital city of Winchester. Apparently, his military leadership was adequate, since, on this occasion, the Vikings were cut off on their retreat to the coast and were slaughtered, according to a contemporary source, in a "bloody battle."

Aethelred I

Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex, and son of King Ęthelwulf, who ruled England during a time of great pressure from the invading Danes. He was an affable man, a devoutly religious man and the older brother of Alfred the Great, his second-in-command in the resistance against the invaders. Together, they defeated the Danish kings Bagseg and Halfdan at the battle of Ashdown in 870

King Alfred the Great 871-899

Born at Wantage, Berkshire, in 849, Alfred was the fifth son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. At their father's behest and by mutual agreement, Alfred's elder brothers succeeded to the kingship in turn, rather than endanger the kingdom by passing it to under-age children at a time when the country was threatened by worsening Viking raids.
Since the 790s, the Vikings had been using fast mobile armies, numbering thousands of men embarked in shallow-draught longships, to raid the coasts and inland waters of England for plunder. Such raids were evolving into permanent Danish settlements; in 867, the Vikings seized York and established their own kingdom in the southern part of Northumbria. The Vikings overcame two other major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, East Anglia and Mercia, and their kings were either tortured to death or fled. Finally, in 870 the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces were commanded by King Aethelred and his younger brother Alfred. At the battle of Ashdown in 871, Alfred routed the Viking army in a fiercely fought uphill assault. However, further defeats followed for Wessex and Alfred's brother died.

As king of Wessex at the age of 21, Alfred (reigned 871-99) was a strongminded but highly strung battle veteran at the head of remaining resistance to the Vikings in southern England. In early 878, the Danes led by King Guthrum seized Chippenham in Wiltshire in a lightning strike and used it as a secure base from which to devastate Wessex. Local people either surrendered or escaped (Hampshire people fled to the Isle of Wight), and the West Saxons were reduced to hit and run attacks seizing provisions when they could. With only his royal bodyguard, a small army of thegns (the king's followers) and Aethelnoth earldorman of Somerset as his ally, Alfred withdrew to the Somerset tidal marshes in which he had probably hunted as a youth. (It was during this time that Alfred, in his preoccupation with the defence of his kingdom, allegedly burned some cakes which he had been asked to look after; the incident was a legend dating from early twelfth century chroniclers.)
A resourceful fighter, Alfred reassessed his strategy and adopted the Danes' tactics by building a fortified base at Athelney in the somerset marshes and summoning a mobile army of men from Wiltshire, Somerset and part of Hampshire to pursue guerrilla warfare against the Danes. In May 878, Alfred's army defeated the Danes at the battle of Edington. According to his contemporary biographer Bishop Asser, 'Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory, made great slaughter among them, and pursued them to their fortress (Chippenham) ... After fourteen days the pagans were brought to the extreme depths of despair by hunger, cold and fear, and they sought peace'. This unexpected victory proved to be the turning point in Wessex's battle for survival.
Realising that he could not drive the Danes out of the rest of England, Alfred concluded peace with them in the treaty of Wedmore. King Guthrum was converted to Christianity with Alfred as godfather and many of the Danes returned to East Anglia where they settled as farmers. In 886, Alfred negotiated a partition treaty with the Danes, in which a frontier was demarcated along the Roman Watling Street and northern and eastern England came under the jurisdiction of the Danes - an area known as 'Danelaw'. Alfred therefore gained control of areas of West Mercia and Kent which had been beyond the boundaries of Wessex. To consolidate alliances against the Danes, Alfred married one of his daughters, Aethelflaed, to the ealdorman of Mercia -Alfred himself had married Eahlswith, a Mercian noblewoman - and another daughter, Aelfthryth, to the count of Flanders, a strong naval power at a time when the Vikings were settling in eastern England.
The Danish threat remained, and Alfred reorganised the Wessex defences in recognition that efficient defence and economic prosperity were interdependent. First, he organised his army (the thegns, and the existing militia known as the fyrd) on a rota basis, so he could raise a 'rapid reaction force' to deal with raiders whilst still enabling his thegns and peasants to tend their farms.
Second, Alfred started a building programme of well-defended settlements across southern England. These were fortified market places ('borough' comes from the Old English burh, meaning fortress); by deliberate royal planning, settlers received plots and in return manned the defences in times of war. (Such plots in London under Alfred's rule in the 880s shaped the streetplan which still exists today between Cheapside and the Thames.) This obligation required careful recording in what became known as 'the Burghal Hidage', which gave details of the building and manning of Wessex and Mercian burhs according to their size, the length of their ramparts and the number of men needed to garrison them. Centred round Alfred's royal palace in winchester, this network of burhs with strongpoints on the main river routes was such that no part of Wessex was more than 20 miles from the refuge of one of these settlements. Together with a navy of new fast ships built on Alfred's orders, southern England now had a defence in depth against Danish raiders.
Alfred's concept of kingship extended beyond the administration of the tribal kingdom of Wessex into a broader context. A religiously devout and pragmatic man who learnt Latin in his late thirties, he recognised that the general deterioration in learning and religion caused by the Vikings' destruction of monasteries (the centres of the rudimentary education network) had serious implications for rulership. For example, the poor standards in Latin had led to a decline in the use of the charter as an instrument of royal government to disseminate the king's instructions and legislation. In one of his prefaces, Alfred wrote 'so general was its [Latin] decay in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English or translate a letter from Latin into English ... so few that I cannot remember a single one south of the Thames when I came to the throne.'
To improve literacy, Alfred arranged, and took part in, the translation (by scholars from Mercia) from Latin into Anglo-Saxon of a handful of books he thought it 'most needful for men to know, and to bring it to pass ... if we have the peace, that all the youth now in England ... may be devoted to learning'. These books covered history, philosophy and Gregory the Great's 'Pastoral Care' (a handbook for bishops), and copies of these books were sent to all the bishops of the kingdom. Alfred was patron of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (which was copied and supplemented up to 1154), a patriotic history of the English from the Wessex viewpoint designed to inspire its readers and celebrate Alfred and his monarchy.
Like other West Saxon kings, Alfred established a legal code; he assembled the laws of Offa and other predecessors, and of the kingdoms of Mercia and Kent, adding his own administrative regulations to form a definitive body of Anglo-Saxon law. 'I ... collected these together and ordered to be written many of them which our forefathers observed, those which I liked; and many of those which I did not like I rejected with the advice of my councillors ... For I dared not presume to set in writing at all many of my own, because it was unknown to me what would please those who should come after us ... Then I ... showed those to all my councillors, and they then said that they were all pleased to observe them' (Laws of Alfred, c.885-99).
By the 890s, Alfred's charters and coinage (which he had also reformed, extending its minting to the burhs he had founded) referred to him as 'king of the English', and Welsh kings sought alliances with him. Alfred died in 899, aged 50, and was buried in Winchester, the burial place of the West Saxon royal family.
By stopping the Viking advance and consolidating his territorial gains, Alfred had started the process by which his successors eventually extended their power over the other Anglo-Saxon kings; the ultimate unification of Anglo-Saxon England was to be led by Wessex. It is for his valiant defence of his kingdom against a stronger enemy, for securing peace with the Vikings and for his farsighted reforms in the reconstruction of Wessex and beyond, that Alfred - alone of all the English kings and queens - is known as 'the Great'

The House of Wessex 899-1016
Edward I, the Elder

Son of Alfred the Great, Edward immediately succeeded his father to the throne. His main achievement was to use the military platform created by his father to bring back, under English control, the whole of the Danelaw, south of the Humber River
The grandson of Alfred the Great, Ęthelstan succeeded his father, Edward the Elder, to the throne of Wessex. He was the first English sovereign ever to be crowned on the King's Stone at Kingston-upon-Thames in 925. Incorrectly claimed by some to be the first King of All England, Ęthelstan was a great warrior, nonetheless, whose fame stemmed from his conquests in Cornwall and Wales, and his defeat of a combined force of Scots, Welsh and Vikings at the battle of Brunanburh in 938. Ęthelstan was a patron of monastic communities and especially supported the monastery at Malmesbury, where his tomb can be found, today.
Edmund I
Son of Edward the Elder, succeeded his half-brother, Ęthelstan, with whom he had fought at Brunanburh. Combated the Norse Vikings in Northumbria and subdued them in Cumbria and Strathclyde. He entrusted these lands to an ally, Malcolm I of Scotland. Edmund met his death when he was killed at Pucklechurch, in Gloucestershire, by a robber.
King of Wessex and acknowledged as overlord of Mercia, the Danelaw and Northumbria. A challenge to Eadred, which serves to illustrate one of his chief qualities, developed in the north, in the early 950's. Eric Bloodaxe, an aptly named, ferocious, Norse Viking who had been deposed by his own people, established himself as king of Northumbria at York, apparently with the fearful acquiescence of the Northumbrians. Eadred responded by marching north with a considerable force to meet the threat. He proceeded to ravage the Norse-held territories, then moved back to the south. He was attacked on the way home by Eric's forces. Eadred was so enraged that he threatened to go back to Northumbria and ravage the entire land.
This prospect frightened the already frightened Northumbrians into abandoning Eric Bloodaxe. It must be that they viewed Eadred as more formidable than a bloodthirsty Viking, who had been thrown out of a society known for its bloodthirstiness, because he was too bloodthirsty and tyrannical for them. In any case, according to the "AngloSaxon Chronicle", " the Northumbrians expelled Eric."
As to his personal side, William of Malmesbury provides some illumination. He says that Eadred was afflicted with some lingering physical malady, since he was, "constantly oppressed by sickness, and of so weak a digestion as to be unable to swallow more than the juices of the food he had masticated, to the great annoyance of his guests." Regarding his spiritual side, apparently the pillaging, ravaging and laying waste that he did, had no deleterious effects on him. As Malmesbury states, he devoted his life to God, "endured with patience his frequent bodily pains, prolonged his prayers and made his palace altogether the school of virtue." He died while still a young man, as had so many of the kings of Wessex, "accompanied with the utmost grief of men but joy of angels."
On the death of Eadred, who had no children, Eadwig was chosen to be king since he was the oldest of the children in the natural line of the House of Wessex. He became king at 16 and displayed some of the tendencies one could expect in one so young, royalty or not. Historians have not treated Eadwig especially well, and it is unfortunate for him that he ran afoul of the influential Bishop Dunstan (friend and advisor to the recently deceased king, Eadred, future Archbishop of Canterbury and future saint), early in his reign. An incident, which occurred on the day of Eadwig's consecration as king, purportedly, illustrates the character of the young king. According to the report of the reliable William of Malmesbury, all the dignitaries and officials of the kingdom were meeting to discuss state business, when the absence of the new king was noticed. Dunstan was dispatched, along with another bishop, to find the missing youth. He was found with his mind on matters other than those of state, in the company of the daughter of a noble woman of the kingdom. Malmesbury writes, Dunstan, " regardless of the royal indignation, dragged the lascivious boy from the chamber and...compelling him to repudiate the strumpet made him his enemy forever." The record of this incident was picked up by future monastic chroniclers and made to be the definitive word on the character of Eadwig, mainly because of St. Dunstan's role in it.
Dunstan was, after that incident, never exactly a favorite of Eadwig's, and it may be fair to say that Eadwig even hated Dunstan, for he apparently exiled him soon after this. Eadwig went on to marry Ęlgifu, the girl with whom he was keeping company at the time of Dunstan's intrusion. For her part, " the strumpet" was eventually referred to as among "the most illustrious of women", and Eadwig, in his short reign, was generous in making grants to the church and other religious institutions. He died, possibly of the Wessex family ailment, when he was only 20.
Edgar was made King of Mercia and Northumbria in 957 and succeed to the throne of Wessex at his brother, Eadwig's, death in 959. With this, Edgar was King of Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex (the three most powerful kingdoms in England at that time), simultaneously and could be considered the first ruler of a United England. Some of his predecessors were Kings of All England by virtue of being King of Wessex and, at the same time, enjoying a temporary military ascendancy over the other kingdoms.
He was formally crowned in 973 and received the ceremonial submission of all the other kings in Britain. He wisely recalled (St.) Dunstan from exile and made him Archbishop of Canterbury and his closest personal advisor. His reign was prosperous and peaceful and he is generally credited with the revival of the English church.
Edward II
Elder son of King Edgar, he succeeded to the throne as a boy of 12, and in so doing, aroused rival claims on behalf of his even younger half-brother, Ęthelred II, the Unready. He was murdered by members of Ęthelred's household at Corfe Castle in 978.
Aethelred II
He succeeded to the throne after the murder of his half-brother, Edward II, the Martyr, at the age of ten. His reign was plagued by poor advice from his personal favorites and suspicions of his complicity in Edward's murder. His was a rather long and ineffective reign, which was notable for little other than the payment of the Danegeld, an attempt to buy off the Viking invaders with money. The relentless invasions by the Danish Vikings, coupled with their ever-escalating demands for more money, forced him to abandon his throne in 1013. He fled to Normandy for safety, but was later recalled to his old throne at the death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014. He died in London in 1016.
Edmund II, Ironside
Edmund was King of England for only a few months. After the death of his father, Ęthelred II, in April 1016, Edmund led the defense of the city of London against the invading Knut Sveinsson (Canute), and was proclaimed king by the Londoners. Meanwhile, the Witan (Council), meeting at Southampton, chose Canute as King. After a series of inconclusive military engagements, in which Edmund performed brilliantly and earned the nickname "Ironside", he defeated the Danish forces at Oxford, Kent, but was routed by Canute's forces at Ashingdon, Essex. A subsequent peace agreement was made, with Edmund controlling Wessex and Canute controlling Mercia and Northumbria. It was also agreed that whoever survived the other would take control of the whole realm. Unfortunately for Edmund, he died in November, 1016, transferring the Kingship of All England completely to Canute.

The Danish Line
Svein Forkbeard 1014

After deposing his father, Harald Gormsson, Blue-Tooth, from the throne, Svein became king of Denmark in 985. From 994, on, he made a career out of attacking England and received the notorious Danegeld paid by Ęthelred II. In 1013, Svein returned to England, not for more Danegeld, but with the idea of capturing the throne. On this expedition, he took with him, his son, Knut Sveinsson, who would later rule England as Canute I. The thought of engaging Svein and his son, Knut, in battle apparently did not thrill Ęthelred, and caused him to vacate his throne in favor of a safe haven in Normandy. The vacant throne was seized by Svein, who held it for a mere five weeks. He died in February, 1014.
Canute the Great 1016-35
With the death of his father Svein Forkbeard, Canute (Knut Sveinsson) withdrew from England to Denmark. There, he gathered his forces, came back to England in 1015 and took control of virtually the whole country, except for the city of London. At the death of Ęthelred II, in 1016, the Londoners chose Edmund II as their king, but the Witan had chosen Canute. A series of engagements with Edmund followed, with Canute defeating Edmund at Ashington, Essex. A treaty was made between them calling for a partition of England, which would continue in force until one of their deaths, at which time all lands would revert to the survivor. Canute had only a month to wait to become king, since Edmund II died in November of 1016.
Canute consolidated his power by eliminating all claimants to the throne from the House of Wessex, through either banishment or execution. He had a son by his English mistress Ęlgifu, Harald Harefoot, who would be regent at Canute's death and then, king for a short time. Canute got rid of his mistress and took Ęthelred's widow, Emma, to be his lawfully wedded wife. Their union produced a legitimate son, Hardicanute, who would later rule as Canute II.
Canute's reign was a strong and effective one. He brought with him security from foreign invasion and he ruled justly and well. He was considered a friend of the English church and was generous toward it. At his death, he was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Harald Harefoot 1035-40
Harald Harefoot was Regent and King of England, and the son of Canute and Ęlgifu. He assumed regency at the death of Canute in the stead of his half-brother, Hardicanute, who was then King of Denmark and the legitimate heir to the throne of England. In 1037, Harald was elected king and ruled until he died in 1040, just when his half-brother was preparing to invade England to claim his rightful crown.
Hardicanute 1040-42
Hardicanute took the throne of Denmark at the death of his father Canute, in 1035. He was also the rightful heir to England's throne, but was prevented from coming there to claim it. Meanwhile, his illegitimate half-brother, Harold Harefoot, was made king in 1037. Hardicanute launched an expedition to claim the throne, but Harold died before he could arrive. Upon his arrival in England, he was elected king. Thereupon, he levied a punishing "fleet-tax" on the people to pay for the expenses of his unnecessary expedition. He was personally disliked and his reign was short and unsuccessful. He died of convulsions at a drinking party in June, 1042.

Kings and Queens of Great Britain
King Edward III (The Confessor)

The penultimate Anglo-Saxon king, Edward was the oldest son of Ęthelred II and Emma. He had gone to Normandy in 1013, when his father and mother had fled from England. He stayed there during the reign of Canute and, at his death in 1035, led an abortive attempt to capture the crown for himself. He was recalled, for some reason, to the court of Hardicanute, his half-brother.
Canute had placed the local control of the shires into the hands of several powerful earls: Leofric of Mercia (Lady Godiva's husband), Siward of Northumbria and Godwin of Wessex, the most formidable of all. Through Godwin's influence, Edward took the throne at the untimely death of Hardicanute in 1042. In 1045, he married Godwin's only daughter, Edith.
Resulting from the connections made during Edward's years in Normandy, he surrounded himself with his Norman favorites and was unduly influenced by them. This Norman "affinity" produced great displeasure among the Saxon nobles. The anti-Norman faction was led by (who else?) Godwin of Wessex and his son, Harold Godwinsson, took every available opportunity to undermine the kings favorites. Edward sought to revenge himself on Godwin by insulting his own wife and Godwin's daughter, Edith, and confining her to the monastery of Wherwell. Disputes also arose over the issue of royal patronage and Edward's inclination to reward his Norman friends.
A Norman, Robert Champart, who had been Bishop of London, was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Edward in 1051, a promotion that displeased Godwin immensely. The Godwins were banished from the kingdom after staging an unsuccessful rebellion against the king but returned, landing an invasionary force in the south of England in 1052. They received great popular support, and in the face of this, the king was forced to restore the Godwins to favor in 1053.
Edward's greatest achievement was the construction of a new cathedral, where virtually all English monarchs from William the Conqueror onward would be crowned. It was determined that the minster should not be built in London, and so a place was found to the west of the city (hence "Westminster"). The new church was consecrated at Christmas, 1065, but Edward could not attend due to illness.
On his deathbed, Edward named Harold as his successor, instead of the legitimate heir, his grandson, Edgar the Ętheling. The question of succession had been an issue for some years and remained unsettled at Edward's death in January, 1066. It was neatly resolved, however, by William the Conqueror, just nine months later.
There is some question as to what kind of person Edward was. After his death, he was the object of a religious cult and was canonized in 1161, but that could be viewed as a strictly political move. Some say, probably correctly, that he was a weak, but violent man and that his reputation for saintliness was overstated, possibly a sham perpetrated by the monks of Westminster in the twelfth century. Others seem to think that he was deeply religious man and a patient and peaceable ruler.

Harold II
King of England for a short time in the memorable year, 1066. He had become the Earl of East Anglia in 1044. Upon his father's death in April 1053, he succeeded to the Earldom of Wessex and from then on, was at the right hand of the king. In 1063, supported by his brother, Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, he commanded a brilliantly conducted campaign against the Welsh. He was successful in bringing them into submission, and by doing so, solidified his reputation as an able general.
Harold acted as an emissary from Edward the Confessor to the court of William of Normandy in 1064, during which time he allegedly swore an oath of fealty to William, relinquishing any personal claim to the throne. This oath, which may have been given lightly, or possibly under duress, would figure directly in William's own claim, two years later. He would claim that the promise Harold made to him had been broken, giving William the right to challenge Harold in a battle for the crown.
While on his deathbed, the Confessor named Harold as his successor, overlooking his grandson, the rightful heir, Edgar the Ętheling and ignoring a promise that he allegedly made (according to French sources) to William of Normandy. Upon Edward's death, Harold wasted no time securing ecclesiastical blessing on his claim by having himself crowned immediately.
Harold's brother, Tostig, had been exiled since the autumn of 1065 and had joined with Harald Hardrada of Norway. A combined force landed in Yorkshire in September 1066. Until this time, Harold's attention had been directed toward the south and the invasion that he knew would come from Normandy. But, now, Harold had to break away and march north to meet the new threat that had come. He defeated the forces of his traitorous brother and the King of Norway decisively at the battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th of September.
Meanwhile, the favorable winds that the Normans had been waiting for had come and they had set sail across the channel, landing at Pevensey on the 28th. As soon as Harold heard this distressing news, he marched his force at top speed to the south. He reached London on October 5 and stopped to give his weary troops a rest and to gather reinforcements for the battle which lay ahead.
The story of these events and the decisive Battle of Hastings has been presented exquisitely in the Bayeux Tapestry and it need not be repeated, here. Suffice it to say that William won the day, and with it, the kingdom. The English fought fiercely and well, since they understood that not only their lives were at stake, but their country, also. Perhaps, if the English had been fresh and at full strength, they might have won easily, but they were tired and depleted after Stamford Bridge and the subsequent march south.
During his brief reign, the government continued to function as before, but there is no reliable way to judge what Harold might have been like as a king. He was certainly a capable field commander and a leader who inspired loyalty and confidence. His death has been recorded as coming in the midst of the final battle by way of a Norman arrow that penetrated his eye. Whether or not that is true, his memory lingers on as the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the last monarch of England to suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign invader.

Kings and Queens of England
William I (The Conqueror) 1066 - 1087

Born: 1027

Died: September 9, 1087

Parents: Robert I, Duke of Normandy and Herleva of Falasia

Significant Siblings: none

Spouse: Mathilda (daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders)

Significant Offspring: Robert, William Rufus, Henry, and Adela

Contemporaries: Edward the Confessor (King of England, 1047-1066); Harold Godwinson (King of England, 1066); Henry I (King of France, 1031-1060); Philip I (King of France, 1060-1108); Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085); Lanfranc (Archbishop of Canterbury)
William, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy, spent his first six years with his mother in Falaise and received the duchy of Normandy upon his father's death in 1035. A council consisting of noblemen and William's appointed guardians ruled Normandy but ducal authority waned under the Normans' violent nature and the province was wracked with assassination and revolt for twelve years. In 1047, William reasserted himself in the eastern Norman regions and, with the aid of France's King Henry I, crushed the rebelling barons. He spent the next several years consolidating his strength on the continent through marriage, diplomacy, war and savage intimidation. By 1066, Normandy was in a position of virtual independence from William's feudal lord, Henry I of France and the disputed succession in England offered William an opportunity for invasion.
Edward the Confessor attempted to gain Norman support while fighting with his father-in-law, Earl Godwin, by purportedly promising the throne to William in 1051. (This was either a false claim by William or a hollow promise from Edward; at that time, the kingship was not necessarily hereditary but was appointed by the witan, a council of clergy and barons.) Before his death in 1066, however, Edward reconciled with Godwin, and the witan agreed to Godwin's son, Harold, as heir to the crown - after the recent Danish kings, the members of the council were anxious to keep the monarchy in Anglo-Saxon hands. William was enraged and immediately prepared to invade, insisting that Harold had sworn allegiance to him in 1064. Prepared for battle in August 1066, ill winds throughout August and most of September prohibited him crossing the English Channel. This turned out to be advantageous for William, however, as Harold Godwinson awaited William's pending arrival on England's south shores, Harold Hardrada, the King of Norway, invaded England from the north. Harold Godwinson's forces marched north to defeat the Norse at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Two days after the battle, William landed unopposed at Pevensey and spent the next two weeks pillaging the area and strengthening his position on the beachhead. The victorious Harold, in an attempt to solidify his kingship, took the fight south to William and the Normans on October 14, 1066 at Hastings. After hours of holding firm against the Normans, the tired English forces finally succumbed to the onslaught. Harold and his brothers died fighting in the Hastings battle, removing any further organized Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Normans. The earls and bishops of the witan hesitated in supporting William, but soon submitted and crowned him William I on Christmas Day 1066. The kingdom was immediately besieged by minor uprisings, each one individually and ruthlessly crushed by the Normans, until the whole of England was conquered and united in 1072. William punished rebels by confiscating their lands and allocating them to the Normans. Uprisings in the northern counties near York were quelled by an artificial famine brought about by Norman destruction of food caches and farming implements.
The arrival and conquest of William and the Normans radically altered the course of English history. Rather than attempt a wholesale replacement of Anglo-Saxon law, William fused continental practices with native custom. By disenfranchising Anglo-Saxon landowners, he instituted a brand of feudalism in England that strengthened the monarchy. Villages and manors were given a large degree of autonomy in local affairs in return for military service and monetary payments. The Anglo-Saxon office of sheriff was greatly enhanced: sheriffs arbitrated legal cases in the shire courts on behalf of the king, extracted tax payments and were generally responsible for keeping the peace. "The Domesday Book" was commissioned in 1085 as a survey of land ownership to assess property and establish a tax base. Within the regions covered by the Domesday survey, the dominance of the Norman king and his nobility are revealed: only two Anglo-Saxon barons that held lands before 1066 retained those lands twenty years later. All landowners were summoned to pay homage to William in 1086. William imported an Italian, Lanfranc, to take the position of Archbishop of Canterbury; Lanfranc reorganized the English Church, establishing separate Church courts to deal with infractions of Canon law. Although he began the invasion with papal support, William refused to let the church dictate policy within English and Norman borders.
He died as he had lived: an inveterate warrior. He died September 9, 1087 from complications of a wound he received in a siege on the town of Mantes.
"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" gave a favorable review of William's twenty-one year reign, but added, "His anxiety for money is the only thing on which he can deservedly be blamed; . . .he would say and do some things and indeed almost anything . . .where the hope of money allured him." He was certainly cruel by modern standards, and exacted a high toll from his subjects, but he laid the foundation for the economic and political success of England.

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

to be continued..........................
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