Part IV

The Croyland Chronicle: Part IV

from the final portion of The Second Continuation of the

History of Croyland Abbey: 1465-1469 with Notes


At this period, there happened in our monastery a circumstance of everlasting remembrance, which some of the most intelligent, even, ascribed to a wondrous miracle. The greater bell-tower had been newly built in the western part of the church, in which it was intended that the bells before-mentioned should, by the skill of the carpenters, be hung. At this time it was not covered in at the very top, nor was it in any way closed by the intervention in it of any lower floor. Having put together, on the ground below, a certain machine for the purpose of winding and drawing, they endeavoured to fix in the summits of the walls an immense beam, held by ropes and pulleys, to act as a supporter of the whole work. By dint of great efforts on the part of those winding, the beam had been now raised nearly fifty feet from the ground, and was hanging poised aloft, when, on a sudden, the tackle proving unequal to the strain of such an immense mass, began to give way. At the same moment, the ropes burst asunder, and the beam, falling to the ground with a loud crash, broke the whole fabric to atoms that lay below. There seemed no chance of escape whatever for the men, nearly twenty in number, who were labouring below and were now placed almost at the very verge of death; nor would it have been of any use for them to fly, seeing that the beam in its length across (1) equalled the square space between the walls. However, the Divine mercy instantly regarded them thus threatened by a peril so terrific, and smitten with the greatest consternation at so unlooked-for an event; for the breaking down of so vast a mass did not crush one of them, and its precipitate fall did not the slightest injury to a single individual. Oh instance of the Divine grace, deservedly to be lauded and extolled! Oh, how glorious, too, the merits of our father Guthlac! Who could possibly withhold himself from uttering the praises of God?

In the meantime, an outcry was raised by the people shouting aloud, and all lifted up their voices to the very stars of heaven. Some made their prayers re-echo to the skies, while others in their joy bedewed the earth with the abundant tears which they shed. The brethren of the convent, attended by multitudes, immediately proceeded to the oratory, and there solemnly chaunted the hymn of praise written by Saint Ambrose (2). Most devoutly prostrating themselves on the ground around the shrine of the before-named father, each returned endless thanksgivings to God. Blessed for ever be Almighty God, who hath thus, in His mercy, raised for us when placed in straights, the horn of His salvation against the snares of the evil-doers; and who thus worketh for us in all things for the best, to the end that our rivals may never deride us in adversity, nor at any time our enemies may exult over us.

However, in these times, the Divine long-suffering was so wrought upon by our transgressions, was so provoked, I say, by our unrighteousness, that the whole of England was most severely chastised by each of the elements, like so many scourges prepared by the Divine vengeance for the punishment of a heedless generation. For an infection prevailed in the pestilent air over the dwellers of the land, to such a degree, that a sudden death consigned to a wretched doom many thousands of people of all ages, just like so many sheep destined for the slaughter. In like manner too, fires of unusual severity, caused both by lightening, as well as very often by carelessness, like a sort of prognostic of the Divine indignation, raged with uncontrollable violence throughout the various districts of the kingdom in its vills and towns; but more especially, in the principal monsteries of our order, the devouring flames consumed to ashes the churches and bell-towers, as well as the rest of the buildings and offices appurtenant thereto.

In the year also from the Incarnation of our Lord, 1467, in the month of January, there was so great an inundation of the waters, by reason of the snows and continued rains, that no man living in our times could recall to mind the like. Throughout the whole of this country, and in Hoyland especially, there was scarcely a house or building, but what the streams of water made their way and flowed through it. Nor must you suppose that this happened hurriedly and in a cursory manner only: but continuously, during a whole month, the waters either stood there, without flowing off, or else, still more and more day after day. Nor on this occasion did the embankments offer any effectual resistance, but, on the contrary, though materials had been bought from other quarters for the purpose of strengthening them, they proved of very little service for that purpose; and, however diligently the work might have been attended to in the day time, as the waters swelled and rose, the spot under repairwas completely laid bare during the night. Then there was grief and lamentation among all, and outcries and tumult among the Hoylanders. In the meantime, prayers were put up to God in behalf of the Church, and daily processions were formed for the purpose of obtaining more propitious weather.

In the same year also, there was shown certain wondrous signs in England; and in divers places there appeared unto many persons, terrible prognastics, replete with no better auspices. For, one day, there were seen in the heavens three suns, and a shower of blood; as the grass and the linen clothes stained therewith, abundantly testified to all beholders. This latter came down in manner just like a gentle shower. Besides this, horsemen and men in armour were seen rushing through the air; so much so, the Saint George himself, conspicuous with the red cross, his usual ensign, and attended by a vast body of armed men, appeared visibly to great numbers. To show that we ought not to refuse our belilef to what has been just mentioned, those persons, to whom revelations of this nature were made, were subjected to a most strict examination before the venerable father, Thomas, the lord archbishop of Canterbury. A certain woman too, in the county of Huntingdon, who was with child and near the time of her delivery, to her extreme horror, felt the embryo in her womb weeping as it were and uttering a kind of sobbing noise. The same was also heard by some other women, who were surprised in no slight degree thereat. This we know to have happened but seldom indeed, although we read that the most holy forerunner (3) of our Lord, through joy at our approaching salvation, leaped in the womb of his mother. We may, however, not without very fair reason, suppose, that now possibly, under circumstances directly the reverse, even the children unborn deplored our impending calamities, upon the approach of the scourge of Divine vengeance, our sins requiring the same.

In the lapse of two years after this, that is to say in the ninth year of king Edward, being the year of our Lord 1469, there arose a great disagreement between the king and his kinsman, Richard, the most illustrious earl of Warwick; which was not allayed without the shedding of the blood of many persons. The reason of this was, the fact that the king, being too greatly influenced by the urgent suggestions of the queen, admitted to his especial favour all the relations of the said queen, as well as those who were in any way connected with her by blood, enriching them with boundless presents and always promoting them to the most dignified offices about his person; while, at the same time, he banished from his presence his own brethren, and his kinsmen sprung from the royal blood, together with the earl of Warwick himself, and the other nobles of the realm who had always proved faithful to him. Accodingly, seizing this opportunity for a storm, behold! in the same year, and in the summer season, a whilrwind again came down from the north, in form of a mighty insurrection of the commons of that part of the country. These complained that they were grievously oppressed with taxes and annual tributes by the said favourites of the king and queen, and, having appointed one Robert de Redysdale to act as a captain over them, proceeded to march, about sixty thousand in number, to join the earl of Warwick, who was then in London.

The king, on hearing rumours to this effect, first had recourse to the Divine aid and to the prayers of the Saints, and, having by way of pilgrimage, first visited Edmund the Martyr, hastened to the city of Norwich. After this, he passed through Walsingham to Lynn, and thence through the town of Wisbech to Dovesdale; whence he rode, attended by two hundred horsemen, upon our embankment, and the barriers having been opened, and all obstacles removed, at last arrived at Croyland. Here he was honarably received, as befitted the royal dignity and passed the night a well-pleased guest. On the morrow, being greatly delighted with the quietude of the place and the courtesy shown to him, he walked on foot through the streets to the western outlet of the vill, and after praising in high terms of commendation the plan of the stone bridge and the houses, there embarked together with his attendants, and setting sail, made a prosperous voyage to his castle of Foderyngey (4), where the queen was awaiting his arrival. Having stayed here a few days only, until such time as levies of troops had assembled from all parts of the kingdom in order to assist him against the insurgents before-mentioned, he manfully prepared to march into the northern districts. The above-mentioned relatives, however, of the queen, her father, namely, and her three half-brothers, who, as we have already stated, were attached to the king’s person, were in great alarm for their safety, and took refuge in different castles, some in Wales, and some in Norfolk, with the connivance, however, of the king, as it is generally said.

As for the king, when he had arrived with his army at the town of Newark, he heard that the forces of the enemy were more than threefold the number of his own troops, and, finding that the common people came in to him more slowly than he had anticipated, he turned aside and hastened with the utmost speed to his castle at Nottingham. Here he stayed a short time, intending to wait until a certain lord, William Herbert by name, who had been lately created earl of Pembroke, should come to meet him with the levies which he had raised in Wales. While, however, the said earl of Pembroke was hastening with all speed at the head of a considerable body of troops to meet the king, behold! the army of northmen unexpectedly met him on the plain of Hegge-cote (5), near Banbury, in the county of Northampton; whereupon, the two armies engaging, a great battle was fought, and a most dreadful slaughter, especially of the Welch, ensued; so much so, that four thousand men of the two armies are said to have been slain. The earl of Pembroke and several other nobles and gentlemen of Wales were made prisoners, and were, by order of the before-named earl of Warwick, without any opportunity for ransom, beheaded at Northampton. The truth is, that, in those parts and throughout Wales, there is a celebrated and famous prophecy, to the effect that, having expelled the English, the remains of Britons are once more to obtain the sovereignty of England, which is stated in the chronicles of the Britons to have been pronounced by an angel in the time of king Cadwallader, in their credulity, receives from them universal belief. Accordingly, the present opportunity seeming to be propitious, they imagined that now the long-wished-for hour had arrived, and used every possible exertion to promote its fulfilment. However, by the providence of God, it turned out otherwise, and they remain for the present disappointed of the fullfilment of their desires.

When rumours to the above effect had now reached the king’s ears, seeing that such great disgrace was, through this disaster, reflected on him, he was greatly disturbed and moved thereat. In addition to these, those who had hitherto remained firm in their allegiance to him ,now became greatly alarmed, and basely deserting him by thousands, clandestinely took to flight. However, Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, and George, archbishop of York, together with the duke of Clarence, the king’s brother, and the said earl of Warwick, most duteously hastened with a large escort to hold a conference with the king, who was now left with but but very few adherents, for the purpose of soothing him in his distress. On their first arrival, in consequence of the extreme indignation which he felt, he presented a lowering countenance; but after they had fairly stated to him their intentions to remain firm in their allegiance, and had resolutely exposed the treachery of those who had adhered to him, he became more calm, and received them more freely into his favour and good will.

But in the meantime, while the storms of this tempest were increasing apace, you must know that we, who dwell in this island, were smitten with no small degree of terror. For by means of some spiteful enemies of ours, a most unhappy and ill-timed rumour reached the ears of certain people in the army, to the effect that those persons of whom they were in pursuit were concealed in hiding-places in Croyland, and that immense treasures were hidden in the vill and within the precinct thereof. The consequence was, that the heedless race, ever ready and eager for plunder, at once delcared themselves wishful upon their return, to search our monastery and the vill with the greatest possible care; and this circumstance, together with rumour and her numerous reports, as well as the daily threats that were launched against us, caused us no small grounds for apprehension. But blessed be the Lord! who did not give us prey unto their teeth! for, through the merits of our most holy father Guthlac, at whose tomb, each night, in Psalms and in prayers, we offered up our holocausts of devout supplication, the Divine mercy dealt graciously with us; inasmuch as, through the prudent guidance of the earl of Warwick so often mentioned, they returned from the expedition, and retired, all of them, beyond the Trent, and so, taking the shortest route, returned to their own country.

In the meantime, however, as we have already stated, the venerable father, abbat John, was labouring under a continual and incurable malady, hernia namely; by which he had been originally attacked, in consequence of a violent fall on one occasion, when he was riding on horseback. In consequence of this, he was daily afflicted with such dreadful torments in certain parts of his body, that he seemed to be enduring a thousand deaths even. Being thus proved by continual infirmities, and cleansed by the tempests and calamities of the world, after having anxiously tended his charge of the Lord’s flock during a period of two-and-forty years and eight months, and fulfilled the pastoral duties in the most praiseworthy manner, he ardently longed to be speedily removed from the things of this world to things heavenly. Having at length finished the laborious course of this shadowy career, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, and the sixty-ninth of his assumption of the religious habit, leaving the clay of the body to his parent earth, he most devoutly commended his spirit unto the hands of the Father, to receive with Christ the promised price of the eternal reward.

He ended this life on the sixteenth day of the month of January, in the year from the Incarnation of our Lord, 1469, it being the ninth year of king Edward, who was then reigning and ably wielding the sceptre of the realm of England. But, in order that we many embrace the lengthened period of his life in as small a compass as possible, we think that it will be far from a loss of time if we insert the following epitaph, which, as being well acquainted with his career, however small its merits may be, we have composed in his praise:

‘The light of pastors, and the cloister’s rose,
The paragon of manners, now eclips’d,
(Alas! how much too soon!) lies here inurn’d.
To Litlyngton he ow’d his earliest breath:
Thence sprung, hence was he call’d by heaven’s decree.
Gracious in converse, but more gracious still
In deeds, his life most grateful was to God.
Led by his guidance, Croyland erst rejoic’d;
But now she mourns his span of life cut short.
A careful shepherd, serious and serene,
Active and ever-watchful for his flock;
Amid that flock he was as one of them,
And paid to each the dues of Christian love.
Zealous of all the welfare to promote,
Strangers or friends, void of reproach he liv’d.
Through him the glories of our Zion shone,
In zeal a Mary, Martha in his works.
While Leah here a holy offspring bore,
He sigh’d the heavenly Rachel to embrace.
Prudent he was, and in his manner grave,
And well-prepared to bear the world’s caprice.
Replete with energy, when mobs arose,
The laws his help, soon did he crush the foe.
In catering he was bounteous, in his plans
Most wary. Prudent in his outlay, he
A watchful guardian prov’d of all our rights.
To mortify the flesh he taught to be
A manly grace; and more than all esteem’d
Those things which savour praise of God.
In food, so well he curb’d his appetite,
That nothing did he seek to eat from choice,
But liv’d by rule alone. How much he lov’d
The temples of the Lord, the gilded roofs
By him erected amply testify.
So great the splendour of the precious robes
Which to this house of ours he gave, that they
Can scarce be number’d. Windows in our church
Of glass he plac’d. Through him the organ’s note
Swells solemn praise of God; and hence
Its melody ascends, and soars on high.
Our bells he consecrated to God.
The ancients, he, in building, far surpass’d,
And in repairing, show’d a holy zeal.
Able to build, our manors he enrich’d,
But, willing to repair, eschew’d expense.
So did he manage, that ’twere hard to say,
Whether the ancient buildings now repair’d,
Or those but newly built, might best be deem’d.
When broken with old age and worn with toil,
The vigour of his mind and sense remain’d
Without impair. The Holy Spirit pour’d
It’s gracious unction on him. While he rul’d
Our house, success attended his career–
Though brief this humble narrative of his good works,
May heaven grant the meed of his deserts. Amen.’

And now too must the thread of this narrative be cut short by us, and let it suffice for us, thus far, to have spun out the web of this trifling composition; trusting that the rugged texture thereof may not afford the curious, when pulling it to pieces bit by bit, an occasion for indulging in sneers at our expense. However, inasmuch as those events which have happened in ages gone by, have mostly failed, through the carelessness of our predecessors, to come to the knowledge of those of our time (with the exception indeed of a few facts which had been committed to writing by our elders; and that not in any direct historical order, but only as anything new took place at intervening periods;) it is only right here to say that herein this was the scope of our intention — It was our design, in conformity with the superscription at the beginning of this volume, in due order, albeit in a very different style (6), to hand down to the notice of posterity the agreements made between the kings of England and the abbats of this monastery, together with a multitude of incidents which bore reference to the state of the kingdom or of this place. This work of ours is extended to a very considerable length, as it begins at the accession of Stephen, in the time of abbat Waldev, at the moment at which that excellent man, so justly distinguished for the praises of his eloquence, Master Peter of Blois, concludes his narrative; and comes down, as we have already stated, to the ninth year of Edward, now reigning king; an interval of time which extends over three hundred and thirty years or more.

Some of the matters which, to the best of our humble ability, we have compressed into the present compass, we have, as far as we are enabled to do so, ascertained upon certain information, while most of them we have found set forth in aged and worm-eaten papers. As for the other matters, which have taken place in our own time, we here declare that we have read the same, more truthfully still, in the book of experience.

Still however, seeing that, by the permission of God, we hold the office of Prior, (however unworthily and remissly we may perform the duties thereof) we have found ourselves very considerably hampered by many and various requirements of regular observance. The present work has consequently not been composed amid our continued attention thereto, and with the advantage of profound study, but only on occasions snatched by stealth at intervals, and frequently at hurried moments; just in fact as the vein of a very tardy intellect would chance to flow, now more sparingly, and now again more freely, at the moment when we could devote our attention to it. If I did not almost feel ashamed to bring to light the thoughts that suggest themselves to my mind, really, the composition of the volume, from the commencement of it down to the present time, would seem, not inaptly, according to my way of thinking, to bear a striking resemblance to the image, which was formerly mentioned in the book of Daniel (7); the head of which was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, while the feet are described as being partly of iron and partly of potter’s clay. For, in a very similar manner, the first part at the beginning of this book, has been composed with every mark of distinguished talent by the venerable father, abbat Ingulph; and this, illuminated by the radiant lustre of the most elegant language, shines resplendent beyond the rest, and, not without fair reason, appears to our eyes to represent the head of gold. In the next place, in the middle portion, which was composed by the industrious application of that most excellent man, Master Peter of Blois, and which re-echoes all the dulcet harmony of the eloquence of Tully, evidently bears a strong resemblance to the breast made of silver. And then the last part, which has been composed by ourselves just as we could find the opportunity, and appended to the former ones, seems strongly to resemble the feet made of iron, by reason of its rude and unpolished style; and, may, with very good reason, from the circumstance of its being composed of such a trite and common-place mass of matter, be looked upon as no better than a mere potsherd and a lump of clay.

Still howwever, we are not entirely forsaken by the hope, that all our attempts have not been in vain, and that our good intentions have not been expended to no purpose: but, on the contrary, we shall think that even then we have done some service, if any one, better instructed, like some beauteous stone cut out of the mountain quarry of more sublime knowledge shall think it fit to remodel this statue, and to beat the ground with the feet in his zeal for the correction of our narrative. This task in fact we think he may perform with still more ease and efficacy, if he has this shapeless mass of matter, which we have here collected from out of its lurking-places in various quarters, ready and at hand; for he will then have only to reduce it to a more elegant shape and diction. The person too, who shall be found sponotaneously to take a pleasure in committing to writing those events which shall happen in the days of posterity, will deserve in every way to be extolled, and, as his fame increases apace, will stand conscpiuous on the mounain heiight, ennobled by merit of a high degree.

At the close of this work, we did entertain a wish in some degree to have left a memorial of our name; that so at least, those who should read this narrative, might deign, through motives of Christian charity, in a few words of prayer, however short, to commend our soul to the mercy of the Saviour. We have, however, of our own accord, forborne so to do, to the end that we might not seem to wish to be honored here in our own country, or be deemed, in our vanity, to covet an undue meed of praise for our efforts. Committing the whole, therefore, to the Divine providence, we do, with most earnest prayers, supplicate God, that He will by way of reward for these our humble labours, of His abundant grace, command our name to be written in the Book of those who are predestined unto life everlasting.

END OF THE SECOND CONTINUATION OF THE HISTORY OF CROYLAND


Notes on Part IV
 

  1. This is probably the meaning of “dimensiooen,” otherwise the passage is unintelligible.
  2. The Te Deum, said to have been composed by Saint Ambrose, on the occasion of the baptism of Saint Augustin. There is, however, little doubt that it was composed a century later than his time.
  3. St. John the Baptist – St. Luke, i. 41.
  4. Fotheringgay castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary queen of Scots was afterwards beheaded.
  5. Or Edgecote.
  6. He alludes to his own chronicle as a continuation of those of Ingulph and Peter of Blois.
  7. Chap. 11 33, &c.