William the Conqueror
William I ruled England for twenty-one years after the Norman Conquest. His reign is notable for the ruthlessness with which he secured his hold upon the throne; but also for his remarkable construction programme (Canterbury, Ely, Lincoln, Rochester, Winchester and Worcester Cathedrals were all begun during his reign), the church reforms he instituted, and the Domesday Book, the ambitious survey of English landholding undertaken towards the end of his life. Though William was rapacious, he was no kleptocrat: he poured tremendous energy and resources into the development of his new acquisition.
His reign is memorably chronicled in a manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle written at Peterborough around 1121. This is a copy of a manuscript (now lost) probably borrowed from Christ Church, Canterbury, to replace one that had perished by fire in 1116. The ultimate origin of this text is of more than passing interest, both because of the author's firmly stated views and because of the tantalizing clues he left to his identity. He was not friendly towards William, though he was willing to be fair to him. He was certainly a churchman, and one who ranked high enough not only to have "looked upon" William, but also to have lived in his household. His English is grammatical and idiomatic: almost certainly he was an Anglo-Saxon, not a Norman. Though William had placed Normans in the highest positions in the English church (both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the prior of Christ Church were Normans), Anglo-Saxons remained influential. The noted hagiographer Osbern, for example, was active in Canterbury around the time of William's death, and the historian Eadmer, then a young man, was also there. It is unlikely that we will ever know the name of this contributor to the Chronicle, but whoever he was, he gave us an unusually vivid portrait of William on the occasion of his death in 1087. It is rare that an early medieval writer pays much attention to what modern readers think of as "personality"; but interest in the interior life was on the rise throughout Europe in the late eleventh and the twelfth centuries: this text is an early example of that interest.
The present text is part of the entry for 1087 (misdated 1086 in the manuscript), and was presumably written shortly after that date. The Old English written around this time is conservative—still very far from the Middle English of Chaucer or Laȝamon, or even the mid-twelfth-century entries of the Peterborough Chronicle. The scribe of 1121 did a reasonably good job of preserving the usage of the older manuscript that he was copying, but introduced a number of late features. Here the inflectional endings and some spellings have been normalized to make the language more like what the original author probably wrote. For an edition of the Peterborough Chronicle, see Irvine [xx].
 Rēowliċ þing hē dyde, and rēowlicor him ġelamp.  Hū rēowlicor? Him ġeyfelade and þæt him stranglīċe eġlade.  Hwæt mæġ iċ tellan? Se scearpa dēað, þe ne forlēt ne rīċe menn ne hēane, se hine ġenam.  Hē swealt on Normandiġe on þone nēxtan dæġ æfter Natiuitas Sancte Marie, and man bebyrġede hine on Caþum æt sancte Stephanes mynstre.  Ǣror hē hit ārǣrde, and syððan mænifealdlīċe ġegōdade.
 Ēalā, hū lēas and hū unwrēst is þysses middaneardes wela!  Se þe wæs ǣror rīċe cyng and maniġes landes hlāford, hē næfde þā ealles landes būton seofon fōtmǣl; and se þe wæs hwīlon ġescrīd mid golde and mid ġimmum, hē læġ þā oferwrogen mid moldan.  Hē lǣfde æfter him þrȳ suna.  Rodbeard hēt se yldesta, se wæs eorl on Normandiġe æfter him.  Se ōðer hēt Willelm, þe bær æfter him on Englalande þone cynehelm.  Se þridda hēt Hēanriċ, þām se fæder becwæð gersuman unātellendliċe.
 Ġif hwā ġewilniġað tō ġewitanne hū ġedōn mann hē wæs oððe hwilċne wurðscipe hē hæfde oððe hū fela landa hē wǣre hlāford, ðonne wille wē be him āwrītan swā swā wē hine āgēaton ðe him on lōcodon and ōðre hwīle on his hīrede wunodon.  Se cyng Willelm, þe wē embe specað, wæs swīðe wīs man and swīðe rīċe, and wurðfulra and strengra þonne ǣniġ his foregenġa wǣre.  Hē wæs milde þām gōdum mannum þe God lufodon and ofer eall ġemett stearc þām mannum þe wiðcwǣdon his willan.  On ðām ilcan stede þe God him ġeūðe þæt hē mōste Englaland ġegān, hē ārǣrde mǣre mynster and munecas þǣr ġesette and hit well ġegōdade.  On his dagum wæs þæt mǣre mynster on Cantwarebyriġ ġetymbrad and ēac swīðe maniġ ōðer ofer eall Englaland.  Ēac þis land wæs swīðe āfylled mid munecum, and þā leofodan heora līf æfter Sanctus Benedictus regule; and se Cristendōm wæs swilċ on his dæġe þæt ǣlċ man hwæt his hāde tō belumpe folgade se þe wolde.
 Ēac hē wæs swȳðe wurðful.  Þrīwa hē bær his cynehelm ælċe ġeare, swā oft swā hē wæs on Englalande:  on Ēastron hē hine bær on Winċeastre, on Pentecosten on Westmynstre, on middanwintre on Glēaweċeastre;  and þænne wǣron mid him ealle þā rīċe men ofer eall Englaland: arcebiscopas and lēodbiscopas, abbodas and eorlas, þeġnas and cnihtas.
 Swilċe hē wæs ēac swȳðe stearc man and rēðe, swā þæt man ne dorste nān þing onġēan his willan dōn.  Hē hæfde eorlas on his bendum þe dydon onġēan his willan.  Biscopas hē sette of heora biscoprīċe and abbodas of heora abbodrīċe and þeġnas on cweartern; and æt nēxtan hē ne sparode his āgenne brōðor, Odo hēt.  Hē wæs swīðe rīċe biscop on Normandiġe.  On Baius wæs his biscopstōl, and wæs manna fyrmest tōēacan þām cynge; and hē hæfde eorldōm on Englalande, and þonne se cyng wæs on Normandiġe, þonne wæs hē mǣst on þisum lande; and hine hē sette on cweartern.
 Betwyx ōðrum þingum nis nā tō forġytanne þæt gōde frið þe hē macode on þisum lande, swā þæt ān man þe him sylf āht wǣre mihte faran ofer his rīċe mid his bōsum full goldes unġederad,  and nān man ne dorste slēan ōðerne man, næfde hē nǣfre swā myċel yfel ġedōn wið þone ōðerne.  And ġif hwilċ carlman hǣmde wið wimman hire unðances, sōna hē forlēas þā limu þe hē mid plegode.
 Hē rīxade ofer Englaland and hit mid his ġēapscipe swā þurhsmēade þæt næs ān hīd landes innan Englalande þæt hē nyste hwā hī hæfde oððe hwæs hēo wurð wæs, and syððan on his ġewrit ġesette.  Brytland him wæs on ġewealde and hē þǣrinne castelas ġewrohte and hæfde þæt manncynn mid ealle on ġewealde. Swilċe ēac Scotland hē him underþēodde for his myċele strengþe.  Normandiġe þæt land wæs his ġecynd, and ofer þone eorldōm þe Mans is ġehāten hē rīxade, and ġif hē mōste þā ġȳt twā ġēar libban hē hæfde Ȳrland mid his werscipe ġewunnen, and wiðūtan ǣlcum wǣpnum.
 Witodlīċe on his tīman hæfdon men myċel ġeswinc and swīðe maniġe tēonan.
 Se cyng wæs swā swīðe stearc and benam of his underþēoddan maniġ marc
goldes and mā hundred punda seolfres
ðæt hē nam be wihte and mid myċlum unrihte
of his landlēode for lȳtelre nēode.
 Hē wæs on ġītsunge befeallen and grǣdinesse hē lufode mid ealle.
 Hē sette myċel dēorfrið and hē læġde laga þǣrwið,
þæt swā hwā swā slōge heort oððe hinde, þæt hine man sceolde blendian.
 Hē forbēad þā heortas, swylċe ēac þā bāras;
swā swīðe hē lufode þā hēadēor swilċe hē wǣre heora fæder.
 Ēac hē sette be þām haran þæt hī mōston frēo faran.
 His rīċe men hit mǣndon and þā earme men hit beċeorodon,
ac hē wæs swā stīð þæt hē ne rōhte heora eallra nīð;
ac hī mōston mid ealle þæs cynges willan folgian
ġif hī woldon libban oððe land habban,
land oððe ǣhta oððe wel his sehte.
 Wā lā wā, þæt ǣniġ man sceolde mōdiġan swā,
hine sylfne ūpp āhebban and ofer ealle men tellan.
 Se ælmihtiga God cȳþe his sāule mildheortnisse
and dō him his synna forġifenesse.
 Ðās þing wē habbað be him ġewritene, ǣġðer ġe gōde ġe yfele, þæt þā gōdan men nimon æfter þǣre gōdnesse and forlēon mid ealle yfelnesse, and gān on ðone weġ þe ūs lǣtt tō heofonan rīċe.