His Character and Policy

Book 2, Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair from 955 AD to 975 – Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy

The predominant features in Dunstan’s character, in addition to strong religious impressions, were energy and ambition. The path of life to which he was forced did not extinguish those tendencies, though it may have added peculiarity and severity. His superior mind and all its acquisitions still remained but it was necessary that its peculiarities should thereafter be displayed in the language, garb, and manners of a monk. Dunstan had now only this way to fame, and from his future actions it may be inferred that he pursued it with an earnestness which every year became more separated from moral principle, and which at last poisoned his mind and injured his contemporaries, but gratified his passion.

His temperament was that of most earnest and zealous reformers, who have been exasperated by resistance and persecution. His personal disinterestedness and austere manners disposed the multitude to applaud the harsh discipline which he enforced and the cruel chastisements which he either advised or countenanced. There is no reason to suspect his sincerity, but the extension of his Own power, and that of his order, doubtless mingled itself with zeal for the service of God and man, and the secret engagements of pride and ambition soothed the irritation which the renunciation of pleasures more openly immoral is apt to beget in passionate natures. To be Very scrupulous in the choice of means is a very rate virtue in such enterprises, in such times, and in such men.

The new archbishop was not sparing of miracles to overawe the people, and so to prepare them for submitting to his measures with devout obedience. While he was performing his first mass, a dove alighted upon him, and remained during the whole ceremony, and the assertion was safely made that this was the same clove which had appeared when our Saviour was baptized in the river Jordan. He said of himself, that, whether sleeping or waking, his spirit was always intent upon spiritual things. So long as Edgar lived, such easy frauds were sufficient for their purpose.

That king was wholly in the hands of the monastic party, they engaged to defend him from the Devil and his angels, and he bound himself to protect them against their earthly opponents. On his part the contract was faithfully performed, the clergy were driven out, and the Benedictines established everywhere in their stead. A synod was convened at Winchester, and when the advocates of the secular clergy appealed to the king, and entreated that they might be restored to their rightful possessions, a voice proceeded from a crucifix against the wall, saying, “Let it not be! Let it not be! You have done well, and would do ill to change it.” Dunstan’s antagonists were not as ignorant of the miraculous craft as to be put to silence by a defeat thus brought about. A second council was assembled, without affecting anything. Dunstan took care that the third, which was held at Caine, should prove decisive.

Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair


Origin of Anglo Saxon Surnames

Conflicting Testimony Concerning Edwy

Incident on His Coronation Day

Treatment of Elgiva

Edgar the Pacific

Chapter 8, Origin of Monasteries in England

Introduction of Celibacy

Their Rules and Practice

The Benedictines

Chapter 8, Dunstan

Sketch of Dunstan

His Alleged Visions and Miracles

Becomes Abbot, Bishop and Archbishop

Chapter 8, Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy

His Character and Policy

Aided by Bishops Oswald and Ethelwald

The Secular Clergy Supplanted by the Monks

King Edgar’s Private Life

The Worth of the Eulogies Pronounced on Him by the Monks

The Canons of Edgar

His Position Among the Anglo-Saxon Kings

Policy Towards the Danes of Northumbria


Categories: Book 2

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