Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
The grand-daughter of Offa's Queen—Her great abilities and the high position she holds in the state—She is left guardian to her young brother Kenelm—Her sister Burganilda attached to the young King—His tutor Ascobert—The traitorous designs of Quendrida on the life of Kenelm—Ascobert agrees to aid her plans—Kenelm's dream—His uneasiness—He informs his nurse, who interprets it—Aware of his danger, he removes to a secure place—The Castle of Kenilworth chosen as his abode—The family of the Kenelms—The hunting excursion to Clint Wood—The murder of the young Prince, and concealment of his body in a pit—Quendrida mounts the throne—Is suspected by the people—Driven from the government, which is given to her uncle Kenulf—She assumes a religious habit, but retains her patrimony, the Abbey of Winchcomb Touching legend of the revelation at Rome of the death of Kenelm—Discovery of the body—Canonization of the murdered Prince—Chapel built—Quendrida's scorn—The judgment of Heaven on her—Her death.
THE name of Quendrida is unfortunate in its repute; for Quendrida, the grand-daughter of the guilty Queen of Offa, inherited the bad qualities of the degraded Queen who disgraced the high lineage of Charlemagne, which she claimed.
Elfleda, daughter of Offa and Quendrida, after the death of Ethelred, King of Northumberland, had united herself to Kenulf of Mercia, fourth in descent from Wibba, the father of the warlike Penda. Kenulf had succeeded to young Egbert's short reign, and soon became distinguished by the virtue and piety of his conduct, By her marriage with Kenulf, Elfleda had three children, Quendrida, Burganilda, and Kenelm. Another daughter of Kenulf, named Brenna, became Queen of the Picts, but it does not appear whether she was also his daughter by Elfrieda, or some former consort.
Even during the lifetime of Kenulf, the Princess Quendrida took her seat in the witenagemote of Mercia; so that it is probable that either some principality had devolved on her by-inheritance through her mother, or by gift of her father, or else she was indebted for the honour of a place in the council to her father's partiality and her own talents. In the witenagemote held in London, in 811, Elfrieda, her mother, and Quendrida, were both present, as appears from the signatures, among which is that of Quendrida, who styles herself "the King's daughter." [Palgrave.]
From this fact of Quendrida having been honoured with a seat in the State councils of her father's reign, she must have early entered into, rand become acquainted with power, and learned to love that dominion which she afterwards abused.
A monument of Kenulf's piety arose in a stately abbey, at Winchcomb, in Gloucestershire, the Mercian capital. Kenulf, at his death, was interred within its sacred walls. He had reigned twenty-four years, and died a natural death, a circumstance worthy of record in those days, leaving his crown to his young son Kenelm. This is recorded in the following quaint lines:
"In the foure and twentithe yere of his kyngedom
Kenulfe went out of this worlde and to the joye of hevene corn;
It was after that oure lord in his moder alyghte,
Eigte hondred yer and neygentene, by a countes rigte,
Seinte Kenelm, his yonge sone, in his sevende yere
Kyng was ymad after him, they he yong were."
[Vita S. Kenelmi, MS. Coll. Trin. Oxon. No. 57, Arch.]
On his deathbed Kenulf had besought his eldest daughter Quendrida to take charge of the young Kenelm, his heir, then, as these lines assure us, only seven years of age. [Caxton, Holinshed, Palgrave, Butler, Speed; Brit. Sancta.] In thus entrusting the infant King to Quendrida, Kenulf overlooked the more amiable Burganilda, his younger daughter, and made a false estimate of the character of his children. They were, indeed, very different in disposition; for though the aged King might esteem Quendrida, by her abilities, more competent to fulfil the duties of guardian to her brother, Burganilda is said to have loved the little Kenelm with a sister's affection, even to his life's end; [Langhornii Chron.] while the ambitious Princess Quendrida planned only how to get rid of the innocent child, who was an obstacle in her path to the sovereignty. [Brit. Sancta.] The heinous crime which the Mercian Princess apparently meditated from the first, is the more appalling from the exceedingly amiable character of the little King, her brother, which very early disposed him to acts of piety and virtue. [Caxton.]
Quendrida began her scheme by attempting to destroy Kenelm by poison, and for that purpose caused a strong draught to be prepared, which she offered to him with her own hand, but it failed to take the effect she had anticipated, so that for this time she was foiled of her intention.
Ascobert, tutor or personal guardian of the young Kenelm, had long beheld Quendrida with a lover's admiration. This man the Princess corrupted from his duty, by the gift of a large sum of money, and a promise that she would favour his suit. As this would render Ascobert the sharer with Quendrida in the regal power, he undertook to put his young charge to death. [Brit. Sancta, Palgrave, Lingard.]
About this period the monkish chroniclers inform us that the young King, having fallen asleep, dreamt a miraculous dream. He saw a tree stand by his bedside, and "the height thereof touched heaven, and it shined as bright as gold, and had fair branches full of blossoms and fruit. And on every branch of this tree were tapers of wax burning and lamps alight, which was a glorious sight to behold; and he thought that he climbed upon the tree, and Ascobert, his governor stood beneath and hewed down this tree he stood on; and when this tree was fallen down, the holy young King was heavy and sorrowful, and he thought there came a fair bird which flew up to heaven with great joy."
Kenelm, on awaking, in much wonder, related this dream to his nurse Wolwelyn, who, on hearing it, was much grieved, and interpreted it to signify that his sister and the traitor Ascobert had falsely conspired his death; "for," said she, "he hath promised Quendrida to slay thee, and it signifieth that he smiteth down the tree that stood by thy bedside, and the bird that thou sawest fly up to heaven, signifieth thy soul, that angels shall bear up to heaven after thy martyrdom." [Caxton's Golden Legend.]
Whether any previous observations of the nurse had led her thus to interpret the dream of the young Prince, or whether a supernatural power of divine inspiration, as is asserted, guided her in this interpretation, her admonition was not thrown away on her young charge, who betook himself forthwith to a more secure place of abode. To this circumstance is to be ascribed the first foundation of the noble structure of Kenilworth, a word which literally means King Helme, or Kenelm, his "wearth" or "place of safety." [Weever's Ancient Funeral Monuments.] That the young monarch resided there, is plain from the remainder of the particulars of his sad history, which all connect themselves with the immediate neighbourhood. The residence of Kenelm ["King Helme, his home" (Sax.), was at one time united to the see of Hereford. Kenilworth, according to Dugdale, was an ancient demesne of the crown, and had in the Saxon times within its precincts a castle, which stood upon a place called Holme Hill.] continued to be a royal palace till the reign of Henry III., who granted it to a member of the Kenelm family, "in whose family," says Weever, "— it is thought to be continued at this day, in the person of Lord Clinton." He subjoins a curious article on the name of Kenelm, and asserts that all the persons in whose name the word Helme is compounded, of whom he gives a list, were originally of one family. The youth and innocent life of Kenelm did not, however, influence the feelings of his treasonable guardian. The fatal catastrophe soon arrived. One day Ascobert, pretending to take him out on a hunting excursion, led him astray into a wood, named Clent, [Caxton's Golden Legend; Langhornii Chron.] where he fell an easy victim. After cutting off his head, the murderer drew the body into a great valley, between two high hills, where he dug a deep pit, into which he threw the royal corpse, and laid the head upon it. [A MS. Psalter presented to Queen Mary, in 1553, by Baldwin Smith, a citizen of London, contains the representation of Kenelm, King of Mercia, hunting with his attendants. There is a difference of opinion among authors as to whether accident or design caused the death of the young King; and Malmesbury, who inclines to the former opinion, concisely informs us that his sister Quendrida, without any malicious intention, was the innocent occasion of his death, without, however, relating the particulars of the accident. More modern authors accuse Quendrida of the crime. According to the MS. Psalter, which contains the picture referred to, he was murdered August 16, A.D. 819, and the illuminator agreed with the opinion that Quendrida was author of the crime. A second engraving from the MS. Psalter represents the regicides in the act of throwing the dead body of the King into a pit.—Strutt.] This deed accomplished, Ascobert returned to claim his promised reward from the partner of his guilt. It does not, however, appear that he received any share of the administration, though he became the accepted lover of the guilty Quendrida, who, overjoyed at her success, lost no time in assuming the regal dignity, and at the same time commanded that, upon pain of death, no man should speak of the unfortunate Kenelm. The Queen, thus arrived at the summit of her guilty ambition, was, nevertheless, watched by a Power higher than any on earth. Suspicion had naturally attached itself to her of being author of the late King's death, as the only person benefited by it, but as yet no one dared to accuse her. Still the Mercians disdained the government of a female as much as the West Saxons, and having had an instance of the deposal of a queen by that nation, in the excellent but inefficient Sexburga, wife of Cenwalch, were not slow in availing themselves of the precedent. They accordingly deprived Quendrida of the authority she had usurped, and for which she had not hesitated to shed the innocent blood of her own brother, and placed upon the throne, in her stead, her uncle Ceolwulf. [Lingard.]
On this event Quendrida testified some signs of contrition, whether sincere or otherwise, by assuming a nun's habit. Although she had lost her crown, she still retained her patrimonial inheritance, the Abbey of Winchelcomb, bequeathed to her by her father, over which she now assumed the government. She could only have kept the supreme power a very short time, for the death of her father Kenulf, and accession of Kenelm, are fixed in the year 819; and Ceolwulf, who, succeeded herself, and reigned two years, must also have begun to reign at the same date, for he was deposed in 821, by Beornwulf, a Mercian, whose only title to the crown was opulence and power. If, however; as Holinshed tells us, Ceolwulf did not mount the throne till 823, the length of Quendrida's reign would be extended by several years.
After her deposition, Quendrida is frequently mentioned in the English councils with the titles of "Abbess" and "H Heiress of Kenulf." That she was a nun at the time of the Council of Cloveshoe, appears also from one of them. She was, however, compelled by King Beornwulf to compound with Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury, for the land which her father had wrested from him. [Ibid.]
The death of the ill-fated Kenelm has formed the favourite theme of many a monkish chronicler, and given birth to the following touching legend. His fate had been revealed at Rome by the appearance of a white dove, which alighted on the altar of St. Peter's, when the Pope was at mass, and let fall from its beak a scroll, on which were inscribed, the following words in letters of gold:—" In Clent, in Cowbage, Kenelme, kynge born, lyeth under a thorne, his head off-shorne." Mass being over, the Pope showed the scroll to the people, but no one present except an Englishman, could inform him of its meaning. On which he sent an embassy to England, to Archbishop Wulfred and the clergy, desiring that the spot called Cowbage, in the wood of Clent, named in the scroll, should be searched throughout. The papal mandate was obeyed, and the result was the discovery of the body of the young King. It follows that many miracles are said to have attended the discovery of his holy relics. The legend goes on to tell how a white cow was instrumental in directing attention to the spot so much sought for. "This cow belonged to a poor widow, and being daily driven into Clent Wood, was used to find its way to the valley where Kenelm was buried, and though it remained without nourishment throughout the whole day, at night returned with the other animals in better condition than they, and would yield more milk." Caxton. The name of Cowbage had been given to the valley in consequence, and the fact had become so well known, that the Archbishop and his friends found the place without difficulty.
The people of Mercia dared not remove the body, for fear of Quendrida's anger; but the Archbishop and his friends, less scrupulous, transferred the mangled remains of the murdered monarch with great solemnity to the Abbey of Winchcomb, where they were enshrined, and from that time treated as those of a saint; Kenelm being shortly after canonized by the supreme Pontiff. [The Chapel of St. Kenelm is mentioned by Nash in his History of Worcester, as an ancient structure on the south-east side of Clent Hill, in the parish of Hales Owen, an insulated district belonging to Shropshire, although part of the chapel-yard is said to be in Staffordshire: the author remarks, "It is no easy matter to reconcile the tradition of the place (which fixes the spot where the murder was committed, and the body first interred at Cowback or Cowdale, within the parish of Clent), with the legendary account of it; for the legend affirms that a spring of water gushed out on the discovery of the royal infant's body. Now, in the field still called Cowbeck there is no spring of water, and yet not only long tradition has determined that for the spot where Kenelm was murdered, but the words above cited [one version of the legend runs: "In Clent Cow-batche, Kenelme, king bearne, lyeth under a thorne, heaved and bereaved."] point it out expressly to have been in Clent Cowback. [Both Higden and Butler say that Cowdale Pasture, where the well was situated, was in the south part of Staffordshire, on the borders of Worcestershire.] At the east end of St. Kenelm's Chapel is a fine and plentiful spring, and, till of late years, there was a well (now, indeed, filled up) handsomely coped with stone, and much resorted to, both before and since the Reformation, by the superstitious vulgar for the cure of sore eyes and other maladies. This well is mentioned in a court-roll of Romsley Manor, second of Edward IV., when the jury present "quod Johanna Haye occupat cenutaerium et fontem St. Kenelmi, &c." Now, unless we suppose that the site of the present chapel was the ancient Cowback, and the limits of Clent since contracted into a narrower compass (for both the chapel and spring, together with part of the cemetery, are now within the manor of Romsley and parish of Hales Owen), we must either entirely reject the legend, supported as it is by the remains of the holy well and the chapel, which still bears the name of St. Kenelm's, and affords besides a very ancient specimen of rude Saxon sculpture over the south door, corresponding with that early age; or else we must adhere to the traditionary spot of his murder and interment, the present Cowback; and in that case it will be difficult to account for the holy well, and the erecting of the chapel at the distance of near a mile from the true place of interment."
"My opinion on this obscure point is, that Kenelm was murdered in the field now called Cowback, but the corpse was buried in or adjoining to the site of the present chapel, on the erecting of which, to the honour of this royal youth (who was soon after canonized for a saint), and the great resort of persons who came thither to make their offerings at his altar, the artful priest who officiated there, finding a spring of water in the chapel-yard, which might possibly have some medicinal virtue in it, most likely trumped up this tale, which, in those days of ignorance and superstition, easily met with credit, and thereby drew a still greater number of persons hither, in hopes to find a cure for their bodies as well as their souls.
"With regard to the fabric, no part of it except the south door appears older than Henry the Third's time, and I am rather inclined to think it of later date; but the arch and columns of the south door are undoubtedly part of the old Saxon chapel which was erected here soon after the discovery of King Kenelm's body.
"As this chapel was never privileged with the right of sepulture, no monuments or inscriptions occur, nor are there any arms or other ornaments in the windows. The tower is a very elegant piece of Gothic architecture, and rudely adorned with niches and pinnacles.
"On the outside of the chapel wall, fronting the south, is carved a rude figure of a child, with two fingers of the right hand lifted up in the ancient form of giving the benediction. Above the head of the figure is carved a crown, which projects several inches from the wall. No doubt the whole was meant for a representation of St. Kenelm." (Nash's Worcestershire, copied from Antiquities of Shropshire: see also in Nash's work, p. 107, and in Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxii. p. 1177, a picture of the Chapel of St. Kenelm.)] The record proceeds in the true spirit of monkish credulity, "That when the saint's body was brought to the abbey, the bells sounded without the help of man, and rung of their own accord. Quendrida, the abbess, hearing the noise then inquired, 'What all this ringing meant?' whereupon she was informed that the body of her brother Kenelm was being brought into the abbey; to which she answered scornfully, 'That is as true as both mine eyen ben falle upon this boke.' And on this, beholding with indignation a solemn procession of clergy and people pass by her window to honour his funeral, she took up her Psalter, and read, as it were, against him the imprecation of the 108th Psalm, in which, when she had proceeded as far as that verse, 'This is the work of them who defame me to the Lord, and who speak evil against my soul,' her eyes suddenly fell out of her head upon the very verse she was reading, and stained the book with her blood. Quendrida's primer was kept for a testimony of this miracle, in the Abbey of Winchcomb, till the dissolution of that house, it still retaining the marks of her blood." Not long after the Abbess-Queen expired most wretchedly, and her body unhonoured by funeral pomp, was cast forth, to use the words of the legend, "into a foul mire:" and who is there that reads the record of Quendridas's crimes and their deserved punishment, but must regard the death of the young Kenelm as enviable in comparison, and perceive that, even on this earth, there is a retributive justice awarded to the guilty!