The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’:


“In this year men declared, and said for a fact, that Cnut, king of Denmark, son of King Swein,* was bound hitherward, and wanted to win this land with the aid of Robert, earl [count] of Flanders; because Cnut had [married] Robert’s daughter....
.... When William, king of England, who was then residing in Normandy – because he owned both England and Normandy – heard of this, he went into England with so large an army of horsemen and infantry, from France and from Brittany, as never before had sought this land; so that men wondered how this land could feed all that army. But the king caused the army to be distributed through all this land among his vassals; and they fed the army, each according to the measure of his land....
.... And men had great affliction this year; and the king caused the land about the sea to be laid waste, so that if his foes should land they should have nothing to seize on so quickly. But when the king learned for a fact that his foes were hindered, and could not further their expedition, he let some of the army go to their own land; and some he held in this land over the winter....
.... Then at Midwinter [i.e. Christmas 1085] the king was at Gloucester with his council, and there held his court 5 days; and afterwards the archbishop and clergy had a synod three days. There were Maurice chosen bishop of London, and William to Norfolk, and Robert to Cheshire. They were all the king’s clerics. After this the king had great thought and very deep conversation with his council about this land – how it was peopled, or by what men. Then he sent his men over all England, into every shire, and caused to be ascertained how many hundred hides were in the shire, or what land the king himself had, and cattle within the land, or what dues he ought to have, in 12 months, from the shire. Also he caused to be written how much land his archbishops had, and his suffragan bishops, and his abbots, and his earls; and – though I make my tale too long – what or how much each man had who was a holder of land in England, in land or in cattle, and how much money it might be worth. So very narrowly he caused it to be investigated, that there was not one single hide, nor one yard of land, nor even – it is shame to tell, though it seemed to him no shame to do – an ox, nor a cow, nor a pig, was left, that was not set down in his writ. And all the writings were brought to him afterwards.”


“In this year the king wore his crown and held his court in Winchester at Easter; and he so went that he was by Pentecost at Westminster, and dubbed his son Henry a knight there. After that he went about so that he came by Lammas [1st August] to Salisbury [Old Sarum], and there his council came to him, and all the landholders that were of account over all England, whoever’s men they might be ....
.... and they all submitted to him and were his men, and swore to him oaths of allegiance, that they would be faithful to him against all other men. Thence he went to the Isle of Wight because he wanted to go to Normandy, and afterwards did so. Yet first he did according to his custom – obtained a very great amount of money from his men upon any pretext he could find, either just or otherwise. He then went afterwards to Normandy; and Edgar Ætheling, the kinsman of King Edward, left him because he had no great honour from him – but may the Almighty God give him honour in the life to come....
.... And Christina, the ætheling’s sister, retired to the monastery at Romsey, and received the holy veil. And the same year was a very heavy and toilsome and sorrowful year in England, through murrain of cattle, and corn and fruits were at a stand, and so great unpropitiousness in weather as no one can easily think – so great was the thunder and lightning that it killed many men – and ever it grew worse with men more and more. May God Almighty better it when it shall be his will!


“After the birth-tide of our Lord Jesus Christ one thousand and seven and eighty winters, in the one and twentieth year after William ruled and governed England, as God had granted him, there was a very heavy and very pestilent year in this land. Such a malady came on men that almost every other man was in the worst evil – that is with fever – and that so severely that many men died of the evil. Afterwards there came, through the great tempests which came as we have before told, a very great famine over all England, so that many hundred men died a wretched death through that famine. Alas! how miserable and how rueful a time was then! When the wretched men lay driven almost to death, and afterwards came the sharp famine and utterly destroyed them. Who cannot feel pity for such a time? Or who is so hard-hearted that cannot bewail such misfortune? But such things befall for a folk’s sins, because they will not love God and righteousness. So it was in those days, that little righteousness was in this land with any man, save with the monks alone – wherever they behaved well. The king and the head men loved much, and over-much, covetousness in gold and in silver, and cared not how sinfully it might be got, provided it came to them. The king granted his land on very hard terms – the hardest he could. Then came some other and offered more than the other had before given, and the king let it go to the man who had offered him more. Then came a third and offered yet more, and the king gave it into the hands of the man who had offered most of all. And he cared not how very sinfully the reeves got it from poor men, nor how many unlawful things they did; but the more that was said about right law, the more unlawful things were done. They levied unjust tolls, and many other unjust things they did which are difficult to reckon.
Also in the same year, before autumn, the holy minster of St Paul, the episcopal see of London, was burnt, and many other minsters, and the greatest and fairest part of the whole city. So also, at the same time, almost every chief-town in all England was burnt. Alas! a rueful and deplorable time was it in that year, which brought forth so many misfortunes!
Also in the same year, before the Assumption of St Mary [15th August], King William went from Normandy into France with a force, and made war upon his own lord, Philip the king [Philip I], and slew a great part of his men, and burned the town of Mantes, and all the holy minsters that were within the town; and two holy men who served God dwelling in an anchorite’s cell were there burnt. This being thus done, King William turned again to Normandy. A rueful thing he did, and a more rueful befell him. How more rueful? He fell sick, and was severely afflicted....
.... What can I tell? Sharp death, that spares neither powerful men nor humble, took him. He died in Normandy, on the next day after the Nativity of St Mary [i.e. on the 9th of September] ....
.... and he was buried at Caen, in St Stephen’s minster, which he had formerly built, and afterwards manifoldly endowed. Alas! how false and how unstable is this world’s wealth! He who was before a powerful king, and lord of many a land, had then of all his land only a seven-foot measure; and he who was once decked with gold and with gems lay then covered over with earth. He left after him three sons. The eldest was called Robert [Robert Curthose], who was earl [duke] in Normandy after him. The second was called William [William Rufus], who wore the royal crown in England after him. The third was called Henry, to whom his father bequeathed innumerable treasures....
.... If anyone desires to know what kind of man he was, or what dignity he had, or of how many lands he was lord, then will we write of him just as we, who have looked on him and once-on-a-time lived in his court, perceived him.
Battle Abbey
According to the tradition preserved in the, so-called, ‘Chronicle of Battle Abbey’, before the battle of Hastings, Duke (“so shortly to be a king”) William, vowed that, should God grant him victory, he would build a monastery on the battlefield. His oath was heard by one William the Smith, a monk of Marmoutier.
“The illustrious King William was fully occupied ... and although he never actually forgot his vow ... he put off its fulfilment (amongst other things) for a long time. However, his conscience was urging him from within, while from without the monk William the Smith kept reminding him assiduously, no easy thing to do. At last, since the monk was nearby, the king committed the building of the abbey to him as he had wished, commanding him to fetch some brothers from his own church and set speedily in hand the establishment of a suitable monastery on the battlefield. Accepting with alacrity, the monk went quickly to Marmoutier and brought with him into England four monks from there ... They studied the battlefield and decided that it seemed hardly suitable for so outstanding a building... Accordingly, when the solicitous king inquired meanwhile about the progress of the building, it was intimated to him by these brethren that the place where he had decided to have the church built was on a hill, and so dry of soil, and quite without springs, and that for so great a construction a more likely place nearby should be substituted, if it pleased him. When the king heard this he refused angrily and ordered them to lay the foundation of the church speedily and on the very spot where his enemy had fallen and the victory been won... And so at length, the foundations were laid of what was in those days thought an outstanding building, and they prudently erected the high altar as the king had commanded, on the very place where Harold’s emblem, which they call a ‘standard’, was seen to have fallen.”
The King William about whom we speak was a very wise man, and very powerful; more worshipful and strong than any of his predecessors were. He was mild to the good men who loved God; and over all measure severe to the men who opposed his will. On that same place where God granted him that he might subdue England he reared a famous minster, and there placed monks, and well endowed it [see left]. In his days was the famous minster at Canterbury built, and also very many others over all England. This land was also plentifully supplied with monks, and they lived their lives after the rule of St Benedict; and Christendom was such in his day that every man, who wanted to, followed what belonged to his order....
.... He was also very dignified. Thrice every year he wore his crown, as oft as he was in England. At Easter he wore it in Winchester; at Pentecost in Westminster; at Midwinter in Gloucester. And then were with him all the great men over all England – archbishops and suffragan bishops, abbots and earls, thegns and knights. So also was he a very rigid and cruel man, so that no one dared do anything against his will. He had earls in his bonds who had acted against his will; bishops he cast from their bishoprics, and abbots from their abbacies, and thegns into prison; and at last he spared not his own brother, named Odo. He was a very powerful bishop in Normandy – at Bayeux was his episcopal see – and he was the foremost man besides the king; and he had an earldom in England, and when the king was in Normandy, then was he master in this land; and him he put in prison. Among other things is not to be forgotten the good peace that he made in this land; so that a man who was of any account might go over his realm, with his bosom full of gold, unhurt. Nor dare any man slay another man, had he done ever so great evil to the other. And if any common man lay with a woman against her will, he forthwith lost the members with which he played.
He reigned over England, and by his sagacity so thoroughly surveyed it that there was not a hide of land within England that he knew not who had it or what it was worth, and afterwards set it down in his writ. Wales was in his power, and he therein wrought castles, and completely controlled that race of men. In like manner he also subjected Scotland to him by his great strength. The land of Normandy was naturally his, and over the earldom which is called Maine he reigned; and if he might have lived two years more, he would, by his astuteness, have won Ireland, and without any weapons. Certainly in his time men had great hardship and very many injuries.
Castles he caused to be made,
and poor men to be greatly oppressed.
The king was so very rigid,
and took from his subjects many a mark
of gold, and more hundred pounds of silver,
which he took by weight and with great unright
from his people, with little need.
He had fallen into covetousness,
and altogether loved greediness.
He made many a deer-preserve,
and he laid down laws therewith,
that whosoever slew hart or hind
should be blinded.
He forbade the harts and also the boars to be killed.
Much he loved the stags,
as if he were their father.
He also ordained concerning the hares, that they should go free.
His great men bewailed it, and the poor men murmured at it,
but he was so obdurate that he cared not of the hatred of them all;
for they must wholly follow the king’s will
if they wanted to live or have land –
land or property or his good favour.
Alas woe! that any man should be so proud,
raise himself up and account himself above all men!
May the Almighty God show mercy to his soul,
and grant him forgiveness of his sins!
These things have we written concerning him, both good and evil, that good men may imitate their goodness, and wholly flee from the evil, and go in the way that leads us to the kingdom of heaven.”
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ places Cnut’s death in the following year, 1087, and this placement is perpetuated by Florence of Worcester, William of Malmesbury, et al.
This annal is wrongly dated 1085 – the scribe inadvertently repeating that year-number, instead of moving on to 1086. This error puts the ‘Chronicle’ one year behind the true date until, by dropping the year-number 1088, order is restored in 1089.
Apulia, in southern Italy, was ruled by a Norman duke.
Although the ‘Chronicle’ clearly gives the correct date in the text, the annal is incorrectly numbered 1086.
King William had arrested Odo, his half-brother, in 1082 (see: Trials and Tribulations).
Earl Morcar and Siward Barn had been captured at Ely in 1071 (see: Outlaws).
Earl Roger had been imprisoned following an abortive rebellion in 1075 (see: Revolt of the Earls). Though both Florence of Worcester and Orderic Vitalis (‘HE’ VII: iii, 245) mention Roger’s inclusion in King William’s deathbed amnesty, Orderic had earlier (‘HE’ IV: ii, 264) made it very clear that Roger was, in fact, never released – he died in prison some unspecified time after 1087.
Wulfnoth, King Harold’s brother, had probably been in captivity since 1052 (see: The Mighty Fallen ...).
Brytland – in this case, almost certainly Wales rather than Brittany.
King Swein Estrithsson (Swein II) of Denmark was succeeded, sequentially, by five sons. The first, Harald Hén, (Harald III), had died in 1080, and been succeeded by Cnut (Cnut IV).
Pictured: The wooden sculpture of a Norman archer takes aim at the remains of Battle Abbey.
Christ Church, at Canterbury, had been devastated by fire in December 1067. In August 1070, Lanfranc, abbot of Caen, was appointed archbishop of Canterbury.
“This Lanfranc then, when he first came to Canterbury, was appalled to find the Church of the Saviour, which he had undertaken to rule, reduced by fire and destruction almost to nothing. But, though the extent of the calamity drove him to despair, he soon recovered himself and with firm determination, postponing all thought of providing for his own convenience, he set urgently to work and completed the building of dwellings needed for the use of the monks. These they used for some years; but then, the community having increased in numbers, they seemed all too small. Whereupon he had them pulled down and built others larger and finer. Then he built also a residence for himself. Furthermore the Church, almost the whole of which he in seven years built up from the foundations, he richly adorned with copes, with chasubles, with gold-embroidered dalmatics and tunicles, with stoles and with many other precious ornaments.”
Eadmer of Canterbury ‘Historia Novorum in Anglia’ (I. 13)
According to the Canterbury Cathedral website: “A staircase and parts of the North Wall – in the area of the North West transept also called the Martyrdom – remain from that [Lanfranc’s] building.”
William of Malmesbury says of King William:
“So addicted was he to the pleasures of the chase, that ... ejecting the inhabitants, he let a space of many miles grow desolate, that, when at liberty from other avocations, he might there pursue his pleasures.”
‘GR’ III §279
The area which the king had allowed to “grow desolate” was called the New Forest:
“This is the place which William ... desolating the towns and destroying the churches for more than thirty miles, had turned into a forest and haunt for wild beasts.”
‘GR’ III §275
Though King William was survived by three sons, he had had four, of whom Richard was the second.
“Richard afforded his noble father hopes of his future greatness; he was a noble youth and of an aspiring disposition, considering his age; but an untimely death quickly withered the bud of this promising flower. They relate, that while hunting deer in the New Forest, he contracted a disorder from a stream of foul air.”
‘GR’ III §275
Orderic Vitalis, however, reports:
“As for his son Richard, born after Robert, who had not yet received the honour of knighthood, while he was hunting in the New Forest not far from Winchester, and running down a stag at full speed, he sustained a violent blow on the pommel of the saddle from a stout hazel bough, and was mortally injured. Receiving the same week the supports of confession and absolution, and the last sacraments, he shortly afterwards died to the great sorrow of many of the English.”
‘HE’ V: ii, 391
Whatever its cause, the date of Richard's death is nowhere recorded, but charter evidence indicates it happened between 1069 and 1074.*
Richard features in the witness-list of a charter of 1069 (Davis ‘Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum’ No 26), but in 1074 (‘Regesta’ Nos 73+75) his younger brother, William Rufus, occupies his place.
Manuscript E is by this time the only version of the ‘Chronicle’.
The name Orderic gives to the site of the battle of Hastings, Senlac, is unique to him.
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Volume and page of Augustus Le Prevost’s five volume edition of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (1838–1855).
The ‘Chronicle of Battle Abbey’ is actually two chronicles bound together in British Library MS Cotton Domitian A ii. Both chronicles are anonymous, and both date from the late-12th century.
Eadmer (an Englishman, born shortly before the Norman Conquest) was a monk at Christ Church Canterbury (indeed, he had been there since boyhood). He became a close aide to Anselm (St Anselm), archbishop of Canterbury 1093–1109. The ‘Historia Novorum in Anglia’ (History of Recent Events in England) is primarily concerned with Anselm’s career, though, as Eadmer notes in the preface: “My story will also include a number of other occurrences which took place in England ... occurrences of which we do not think it right that those who come after us should be deprived of all knowledge, so far as it is within our power to prevent it.”  The ‘Historia’, as first produced, concluded with the aftermath of Anselm’s death in 1109, and was completed by 1114. Eadmer later added extra material, concluding in 1122.
Page number in Martin Rule’s edition of the ‘Historia Novorum in Anglia’ (1884).