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entirely a man of pleasure, this made him sacrifice all his good qualities, and gave him too many occasions of producing his ill ones. He had one very singular virtue for a prince, which was that of being true to his word and promise: he was of undoubted personal valour, whereof the writers in those ages produce several instances: nor did he want skill and conduct in the process of war. But his peculiar excellency was that of great dispatch; which, however usually decried, and allowed to be only a happy temerity, does often answer all the ends of secrecy and counsel in a great commander, by surprising and daunting an enemy when he least expects it; as may appear by the greatest actions and events upon the records of every nation.
He was a man of sound natural sense, as well as of wit and humour, upon occasion. There were several tenets in the Romish church he could not digest; particularly that of the saints' intercession; and living in an age overrun with superstition, he went so far into the other extreme, as to be censured for an atheist. The day before his death, a monk relating a terrible dream, which seemed to forebode him some misfortune, the king being told the matter, turned it into a jest: said, the man was a monk, and dreamt like a monk, for lucre sake; and therefore commanded Fitzhamon to give him a hundred shillings, that he might not complain he had dreamt to no purpose.
His vices appear to have been rather derived from the temper of his body, than any original depravity of his mind; for, being of a sanguine complexion, wholly bent upon his pleasures, and prodigal in his nature, he became engaged in great expenses. To supply these, the people were perpetually oppressed with illegal taxes and exactions; but that sort of avarice which arises from prodigality
and vice, as it is always needy, so it is much more ravenous and violent than the other; which put the king and his evil instruments (among whom Ralph, Bishop of Durham, is of special infamy) upon those pernicious methods of gratifying his extravagancies by all manner of oppression; whereof some are already mentioned, and others are too foul to relate.
He is generally taxed by writers for discovering a contempt of religion in his common discourse and behaviour; which I take to have risen from the same fountain, being a point of art, and a known expedient for men who cannot quit their immoralities, at least to banish all reflection that may disturb them in the enjoyment, which must be done either by not thinking of religion at all, or, if it will obtrude, by putting it out of countenance.
Yet there is one instance that might shew him to have some sense of religion as well as justice. When two monks were outvying each other in canting the price of an abbey, he observed a third at some distance, who said never a word; the king demanded why he would not offer? the monk said, he was poor, and besides, would give nothing if he were ever so rich; the king replied, Then you are the fittest person to have it, and immediately gave it him. But this is, perhaps, with reason enough assigned more to caprice than conscience; for he was under the power of every humour and passion that possessed him for the present; which made him obstinate in his resolves, and unsteady in the prosecution.
He had one vice or folly that seemed rooted in his mind, and, of all others, most unbefitting a prince:
* An Irish phrase for selling or buying by auction. It is somewhat remarkable that so severe a critic should have used such a word in historical composition.
this was a proud, disdainful manner, both in his words and gesture: and having already lost the love of his subjects by his avarice and oppression, this finished the work, by bringing him into contempt and hatred among his servants, so that few among the worst of princes have had the luck to be so ill beloved, or so little lamented.
He never married, having an invincible abhorrence for the state, although not for the sex.
He died in the thirteenth year of his reign, the forty-third of his age, and of Christ 1100, August 2.
His works of piety were few, but in buildings he was very expensive, exceeding any King of England before or since; among which Westminster-Hall, Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, and the whole city of Carlisle, remain lasting monuments of his magnificence.
THE REIGN OF HENRY THE FIRST.
THIS prince was the younger son of William the Conqueror, and bred to more learning than was usual in that age, or to his rank, which got him the surname of Beauclerk; the reputation whereof, together with his being born in England, and born son of a king, although of little weight in themselves, did very much strengthen his pretensions with the people. Besides, he had the same advantage of his brother Robert's absence, which had proved before so successful to Rufus; whose treasures he likewise seized on immediately at his death, after the same manner, and for the same end, as Rufus did those of his father the Conqueror. Robert had been now five years absent in the Holy War, where he acquitted
himself with great glory; and although he was now in Apulia, upon his return homeward, yet the nobles pretending not to know what was become of him, and others giving out that he had been elected King of Jerusalem, Henry laid hold of the occasion, and calling together an assembly of the clergy, nobles, and people of the realm, at London, upon his promises to restore King Edward's laws, and redress the grievances which had been introduced by his father and brother, they consented to elect him king. Immediately after his coronation, he proceeded upon reforming the abuses of the late reign: he banished dissolute persons from the court, who had long infested it under the protection and example of Rufus he restored the people to the use of lights in the night, which the Conqueror had forbidden, after a certain hour, by the ringing of a bell. Then he published his charter, and ordered a copy thereof to be taken for every county in England. This charter was, in substance the freedom of motherchurch from former oppressions; leave to the heirs of nobles to succeed in the possession of their lands, without being obliged to redeem them, only paying to the king a moderate relief; abolition of fines for licence of marriage to their heiresses; a promise of not refusing such licence, unless the match proposed be with the king's enemy,* &c., the next of kin to be guardians of the lands of orphans; punishments for coiners of false money; a confirmation of St. Edward's laws; and a general amnesty.
About the same time he performed two acts of justice, which, by gratifying the revenge and the love of the people, gained very much upon their affections to his person: the first was to imprison Ralph, Bishop of Durham; who, having been raised
i.e., With a traitor or malcontent.-D. S.
by the late king from a mean and sordid birth, to be his prime confidant and minister, became the chief instrument, as well as contriver, of all his oppressions: the second was, in recalling and restoring Archbishop Anselm; who having been forced by the continual persecutions of the same prince, to leave England, had lived ever since in banishment, and deprived of all his revenues.
The king had not been many months on his throne, when the news came that Duke Robert, returned from the Holy Land, was received by his subjects with great marks of joy and honour, and in universal reputation for his valour and success against the infidels; soon after which Ralph, Bishop of Durham, either by the negligence or corruption of his keepers, escaped out of prison, and fled over to the duke; whom he stirred up to renew and solicit his pretensions to the crown of England, by writing to several nobles, who, either through old friendship, or new discontent, or an opinion of his title, gave him promises of their assistance, as soon as he should land in England: but the duke having returned exceeding poor from the Holy Land, was not yet in a condition for such an undertaking, and therefore thought fit to defer it to a more seasonable opportunity.
As the king had hitherto, with great industry, sought all occasions to gratify his people, so he continued to do in the choice of a wife. This was Matilda, daughter of Malcolm, the late King of Scots; a lady of great piety and virtue; who, by the power of persuasion of her friends, was prevailed with to leave her cloister for a crown, after she had, as some writers report, already taken the veil. Her mother was sister to Edgar Atheling, the last heir-male of the Saxon race; of whom frequent mention has been made in the two preceding