The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The History of England by William of Newburgh

An Excerpt Related to King Henry II.

Source: The Church Historians of England, volume IV, part II; translated by Joseph Stevenson (London: Seeley's, 1861). Updated by by Scott McLetchie, ©1999, and may not be reproduced for any commercial purposes whatsoever. It may be reproduced for non-profit educational purposes.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

Book Two:

Chapter 25: Of the coronation of Henry III, and the murder of St Thomas

1] In the year one thousand one hundred and seventy from the delivery of the Virgin, which was the seventeenth of the reign of Henry the second, the king caused his son Henry, yet a youth, to be solemnly anointed and crowned king at London, by the hands of Roger, archbishop of York. For the king not being yet appeased, the venerable Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, was still an exile in France, though the Roman pontiff and the king of France had interested themselves extremely to bring about a reconciliation. The moment Thomas heard of this transaction, jealous for his church, he quickly informed the pope of it (by whose favor and countenance he was supported), alleging that this had taken place to the prejudice of himself and his see; and he obtained letters of severe rebuke, for the purpose of correcting equally the archbishop of York, who had performed the office in another’s province, and the bishops, who, by their presence, had sanctioned it. The king, however, continued but a short time in England after the coronation of his son, and went beyond sea; and when urged by the frequent admonitions of the pope, and the earnest entreaties of the illustrious king of France, that he would, at least, condescend to be reconciled to the dignified exile, after a seven years’ banishment, he at length yielded; and a solemn reconciliation took place between them, which was the more desired and the more grateful in proportion to the time of its protraction.

Chapter 27: How king Henry III revolted from his father, and stirred up the king of France and others against him

[1] In the eleven hundred and seventy-third year from the delivery of the Virgin, which was the twentieth of the reign of king Henry II, when the king had returned from Ireland into England, and shortly afterwards passed over from England into Normandy, an execrable and foul dissension arose between him and his son, Henry the third, whom, two years before, as it is said above, he had caused to be solemnly consecrated as king. When the prince grew up to the age of manhood, he was impatient to obtain, with the oath and name, the reality of the oath and name, and at least to reign jointly with his father; though he ought of right to rule alone, for, having been crowned, the reign of his father had, as it were, expired -- at least it was so whispered to him by certain persons. He was, moreover, highly indignant, because his father had sparingly supplied him with money to meet the expenses of a royal establishment.

[2] Thus irritated and enraged against him, he secretly fled to his father-in-law, the king of France, in order thereby to create annoyance to his own father. Being graciously received by the French king -- not so much because he was his son-in-law, as because he had withdrawn from his own father -- he confided in his advice in all things; and being thus encouraged and instigated against his father by the virulent exhortations of the French, he was not terrified from violating the great law of nature by the example of the undutiful Absalom.

[3] As soon as his father had discovered the hatred of his son, and ascertained whither he had fled, he sent men of distinction to the king of France, with pacific words, demanding his son by paternal right, and promising that if any thing should appear to require amendment with regard to him, by his advice he would immediately amend it. The king of France, upon hem, these words, asked, "Who is it that sends this message to me?" They replied, "The king of England." "It is false," he answered, "behold the king of England is here; and he sends no message to me by you -- but if, even now, you style his father king, who was formerly king of England, know ye that he, as king, is dead; and though he may still act as king, yet that shall soon be remedied, for he resigned his kingdom to his son, as the world is witness." The messengers being thus foiled returned to their lord.

[4] Soon after, the younger Henry, by the advice of the French, devising evil from every source against his father, went secretly into Aquitaine, where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were residing with their mother; and with her connivance, as it is said, brought them with him into France; for their father had granted, for his lifetime, Aquitaine, to the one and Brittany to the other. Hence the younger Henry believed, from the suggestions of the French, that the people of Aquitaine, might very easily be gained-over to his party by means of Richard; and the Bretons by the influence of Geoffrey. He also allied himself to the count of Flanders, his father's cousin-german, a man of great power and immoderate presumption, which arose from his confidence in the numerous and warlike people whom he governed; and him also he gained over by great promises with the consent of the king of France. Then many powerful and noble persons, as well in England as in foreign parts, either impelled by mere hatred, which until then they had dissembled, or solicited by promises of the vainest kind, began by degrees to desert the father for the son, and to make every preparation for the commencement of war. The earl of Leicester, for instance, the earl of Chester, Hugh Bigot, Ralph de Fougeres, and many others, formidable from the amount of their wealth and the strength of their fortresses. Many, who placed less confidence in their wealth and power, also declared the hostility of their minds by retiring into France, in order to remain inactive. To these was added a fiercer enemy, the king of Scots, who was ready to send into the English borders his cruel people, who would spare neither sex nor age. Thus, while so many and such powerful nobles departed from the elder king, and led all men against him, as if their lives depended on it, there were still a few who adhered faithfully and firmly to him, while the rest wavered around him in uncertainty, and timidly feared to be swept away by the victory of the younger sovereign. Then the elder king at length saw (for so it was commonly reported) how unadvisedly, in fact how foolishly, he had acted by prematurely creating a successor to himself; but he little expected that in so doing those persons who were watching for a new government would eagerly follow his son. Uneasy, therefore, at the troubled state of affairs, while internal and external foes were pressing upon him; and trusting also very little to those who seemed to adhere to him, yet acted remissly, for the favor of his son, he sent for the mercenary forces of Brabancons, called Rutae; for the royal treasures (which were not spared in such an emergency) afforded him an abundant supply of ready money.

Editor's Notes:

Thomas Hearne published a new Latin edition of William of Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of England) in 1719 with the title Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia sive Chronica rerum anglicarum; his notes on the boar's head carol plus an account of Wynkyn de Worde's Christmas Carolles (1521) are contained in volume 3, p. 743-745 (a copy is available at the Bavarian State Library, Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia). Hearne's account was translated and printed by Rev. Thomas Dibdin; see: Dibdin On The Boar's Head Carol.

See also:

Select Bibliography by Scott McLetchie from Introductory Material.

The latest complete edition of William's history is still that found in Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Edited by Richard Howlett. Rolls Series no. 82. London, 1884-9. Books 1-4 of William's history appear in volume 1, book 5 in volume 2.

A new edition began to appear in 1988: William of Newburgh. The History of English Affairs. Edited and with a new translation by P. G. Walsh & M. J. Kennedy. Warminster, Wiltshire: Aris, 1988-. To the best of my knowledge, only volume one, containing book one of the history, has so far appeared.

A good starting point for information on William of Newburgh (as well as other medieval English historians) is Gransden, Antonia. Historical Writing in England, volume 1. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

Nancy Partner examines William of Newburgh's work, along with that of Henry of Huntingdon and Richard of Devizes in: Partner, Nancy F. Serious Entertainments: The Writing of History in Twelfth-Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

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