THE CHRONICLE OF LANERCOST.*
THE Chronicle of Lanercost, though not before translated into English, has been long known to historical students, and there is therefore no necessity to enter at this date on any analysis of its (not very considerable) historical value. But the Chronicle has attractions that should appeal to a- wider interest than that of the scholar, and we may take advantage of the appearance of Sir Herbert Maxwell'a welcome version of its eighth and ninth books to attempt some estimate of the light which its pages throw upon the- social life of the time and place of its origin.
Lanercost Priory lay in the ancient Lordship of Gillesland, in Cumberland, near the Maiden Way, one• of the roads most commonly used by the marauding Scots on their forays into England during the stormy years with which the present volume deals. Whether the Chronicle which bears the name of the house was in fact compiled by any of its members is a matter of dispute. The Rev. Joseph Stevenson, its first editor, decided in favour of the Friary of Carlisle chiefly because of the evident devotion of the compiler to the Friars Minor, whose. order he never misses an opportunity of magnifying. The-_ present volume is prefaced with an exhaustive investigation. by Dr. James Wilson, which, after summarizing the evidence, decides in favour of the traditional attribution. The discus- . aim need not detain us now, and it is of comparatively slight. importance, since it is plain that the Chronicle (which is not. a domestic history, but a narrative of events passing in the world at large) was, like other specimens of its class, compiled. from material gathered from various sources, including information recorded in other monastic establishments.. The houses at Hexham, Berwick, and Carlisle no doubt- supplied a good deal of material of this kind, and we find, besides a remarkable quantity of Lincolnshire news, which,. as Dr. Wilson shows, probably came to the monks through•. the de Multons, who held a manor at Holbeach as well as the Lordship of Gillesland. Travellers, monastic and otherwise, also, one may be sure, contributed a good deal of information... Indeedthe touch of the traveller is too often discernible in• the marvels with which our simple chroniclers eked out the scanty news that filtered into the turbulent seclusion of the Border. And, moreover, besides this multiplicity of sources. there is no doubt that several different hands were occupied. in the compilation. The fragment here translated seems to fall naturally into three divisions. The first, which goes tee the beginning of the ninth book, is more desultory and law preoccupied with the events of the great world than the second, which was evidently composed during the stormy years which. saw the rise and fall of Wallace and the triumph of Robert, Bruce. Yet the first is undeniably the more interesting of the two. The chronicler has not a sure enough grasp to give us any comprehensive picture of the war. Raiders passed• through Cumberland like a scourge, burning and destroying.. Lanercost itself was pillaged in 1296, and our good chronicler records a vision in which he was forewarned of the event by an angelic sword that menaced the beloved bookcases of the monastic library. He tells us, too, how during the same foray, the great church of Hexham was burnt and the relics of the. saints hurled with rude laughter into the flames. Alas ! others. lost more than relics, books, or vestments in these visitations. We hear of counties pillaged and desolated; women, even nuns, ravished and murdered, and of a crowd of children locked into a school at Hexham and burnt alive.
In 1305 the King himself made the monastery his head. quarters, and there Dongal Macdouall, chieftain of Galloway, sent him the heads of the Lord of Cantyre and "a certain, • The Chronicle of Lonercoet, 1272-1348. Translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell, Bart. .Glasgow: MaeLehogro and Sons. [21a. net.]
kinglet of Ireland," whom Thomas and Alexander Bruce had incited to attack the Gallovidians. Six years later the dreaded Robert Bruce himself stopped three days at Lanercost and made many of the canons prisoners, but we hear of no definite injuries inflicted. More terrible was the visitation of his son David in the last year with which the Chronicle deals, when the Scots, "coming to the Priory of Lanercost, where dwell the canons, venerable men, and servants of God, . . . entered arrogantly into the Sanctuary, threw out the Vessels of the Temple, plundered the Treasury, shattered the bones, stole the jewels, and destroyed all they could." It is little wonder that the compiler of the last part of the Chronicle writes throughout with an uncouth and headlong fury, which con- trasts oddly with the pleasant ambling manner of the earlier pages. His savagery even loves to make brutal sport with a harmless legend of David Bruce's infancy, which is com- memorated in the following epigram :-
"Non tamen ille David quem Christus sanctificavit, Sed erat he David qui Christum inhonoravit, Quod bane probavit (plum super altare cacavit ; Sed plus peccavit quando sacra templa crensavit."
The subject seems to have had an inexhaustible attraction for monkish satirists, and our chronicler returns to it again and again in a mood of ferocious playfulness which at other times animates him to belabour his enemies with heavy-handed puns and pleasantries. We read of "Comes Patrick qui melius vocaretur de patria non hic," who comes late to a battle, in which "he hurt no man, because he intended to .take holy orders and celebrate masses for the Scots who were :killed. Nay, at that very time he was a Presbyter quia in fuga praebuit iter." This is the very spirit of the rude Scots themselves, of whom our author tells us that when the Xing, who was besieging them in Berwick, came personally to - address them in a friendly way and urge them to sur- ,render, " they redoubled their insults."
One turns with relief to the less strenuous spirit who was .responsible for the earlier part of the volume. Even here the desultory chronicle of miracles, portents, and scandals is punctuated with accounts of the hideous punishments, hangings, burnings, beheadings, drawings at the heels of horses, disem- bowelliugs and quarterings, with which uneasy power made shift to solace its uneasiness. We hear, too, of "a great scarcity of victual," during which the poor died of hunger, of storms so terrible that horses cried aloud for fear, while houses were thrown down and demons could be heard yelling in the air. Once even a church is struck, to the obvious discomfiture of the author, who can only comment, " Such mysteries as these deserve to be shrewdly investigated at leisure and to be gravely considered." Fires sweep through the huddled town- ships so fierce and sudden that birds are seen flying about
the streets half burnt in their efforts to escape. Living in the midst of such dangers, and so far removed from those distractions of social intercourse to which our world is grown accustomed, the mind of our scribe turned naturally to the small events which formed the gossip of the countryside and to the narrow daily interests of his own fraternity. The miracle upon which he dwells with most enjoyment is one
which was said to have taken place at the expense of a certain Francis of Milan, a man "abounding in riches, intent upon usury, and, which is worst of all things, contumaciously disdaining to pay tithes to God and the Church." As for the outside world, his attitude towards it is shown in his descrip- tion of a rainstorm, which made the roads so bad for travellers " as to weary people looking out o' window." Our good monk is always looking out o' window, and many strange things pass down the road before him. Strangest of all perhaps is the light which his pages throw on the moral condition of the Church. Without any appearance of surprise he tells us story after story of the immorality of bishops, priests, and monks, of the shifts to which they are put to hide their delinquencies, the impudence and cunning of their concubines. True, the delinquents are sometimes summarily punished by devils. In one case the erring priest is seized at dead of night by these visitants and plunged into a caldron of boiling water. The woman, however, is spared, one of the visitors remarking that "hotter water will suit her better." Immediately on the departure of the tormentors the suffering man sends her in haste to Annan for a priest, "where," adds the chronicler with pious humour, "having confessed herself, she found hot water in plenty." Equally marked is the worldliness and avarice of the ecclesiastics. One wealthy and prodigal cleric keeps pleated withies smeared with cow dung in place of the panel over the altar in his church. We hear, too, of beneficed priests, learned in the law as any laymen, who employ their knowledge in robbing the poor ; and one of the grimmest of our author's tales con- cerns a monastery, which brought a corrupt action against certain commoners to take away their common rights, and succeeded, by means of a bribed jury, in gaining its case.
Immediately after the decision the members of the jury began one by one to fall ill and die. "And during about two years afterwards there appeared in that country a fiery plough, glowing like hot brass, having a most foul fiend as driver, who drove the dead men, harnessed in that manner, to the ground where be had incited them to guile when living." Many people clearly saw this wonder, which always took place at noon, the hour " when men most assiduously press litigation before the judges." Our author, how- ever, was (he says) unwilling to believe it until he had the story from the lips of a nobleman who lived not three miles from that place. Another tale (this, too, the writer " knows to have happened ") describes the miraculous death of a corrupt prebendary, whose body is found lying stripped naked and darker than lead, and bristling from bead to heel with gold coins stuck in it, " just as cooks stick lard into all parts of meat for roasting when they wish to make it more toothsome." Elsewhere we read of a huge parti-coloured wolf rushing into a church and carrying off the dead body of an excommunicate usurer which his friends are forcing a.
priest to give Christian burial. More credible, though no less discreditable, is the description of a parish priest who regularly conducted obscene orgies with his flock. Another terrible story is that of the Jew in Paris who persuaded his Christian servant to bring back a piece of bread from the communion table, and then struck it with a knife, exclaiming, " Behold what Christians call their God and which we crucified." Immediately there burst forth jets of blood, more copious than from a human wound, which stained the table, the cloth, the hand, the knife, and the garments of the bystanders. All attempts to wash off the stains failed, for every- thing which was brought into contact with the stained objects immediately became soaked in blood. Nor could the wretched criminal sink the bread in his well. It floated and turned the water to blood. Soon the man and woman were apprehended and she burned to death and be drawn, hanged, and burnt because he refused to believe. This story comes from a Friar who was an eyewitness. Miraculous cures are as common as miraculous punishment. Sometimes, where the miracle is performed at a particular shrine, the narrator states expressly that he records it " without hope of reward for the glory of the saints and the edification of , posterity," an assertion which suggests that these early faith , healers knew something of modern methods of advertisement. Generally the cures are effected through the merits of St.
Francis, and the process adopted is often that of "measuring," by which a string is first passed round the limb affected and then round the same part of an image of the chosen saint. , We hear, too, of miracles worked at the site of Thomas Earl of Lancaster's execution.
But it would be easy to continue indefinitely extraction and quotation from this most interesting book. It is in contemporary compilations of this kind that one gets the truest picture of the actual life of the past, and to make such works accessible to the ordinary reader (even if only in a limited edition) is to render him a real service.