CHAPTER V. WILLIAM RUFUS AND ANSELM
In following the history of Malcolm of Scotland we have passed by events of greater importance which make the year 1093 a turning-point in the reign of William Rufus. The appointment of Anselm to the archbishopric of Canterbury divides the reign into two natural divisions. In the first period William secures his hold on power, develops his tyrannous administrative system and his financial extortions, begins his policy of conquest in Normandy, forces Scotland to recognize his supremacy, and rounds off his kingdom towards the north-west. The second period is more simple in character, but its events are of greater importance. Apart from the abortive rebellion of Robert of Mowbray, which has already been narrated, William's authority is unquestioned. Flambard's machine appears to run smoothly. Monks record their groans and give voice to their horror, but the peace of the state is not disturbed, nor are precautions necessary against any foreign enemy. Two series of events fill up the history of the period, both of great and lasting interest. One is the long quarrel between the king and the archbishop, which involve the whole question of the relation between Church and State in the feudal age; and the other is the king's effort to gain possession of Normandy, the introductory chapter of a long history.
Early in Lent, 1093, or a little earlier, King William fell sick at a royal manor near to Gloucester, and was carried in haste into that city. There he lay during the rest of Lent, so ill that his death was expected at any moment, and it was even reported that he had died. Brought face to face with death, the terrors of the world to come seized hold of him. The medieval sinner who outraged the moral sentiment of his time, as William did, was sustained by no philosophical doubt of the existence of God or belief in the evolutionary origin of ethics. His life was a reckless defiance or a careless disregard of an almighty power, whose determination and ability to punish him, if not bought off, he did not question. The torments of a physical hell were vividly portrayed on all occasions, and accepted by the highest as well as the lowest as an essential part of the divine revelation. William was no exception to this rule. He became even more shockingly defiant of God after his recovery than he had been before. God, he declared to the Bishop of Rochester, should never have in him a good man because of the evil which He had done him. And God let him have what he wished, adds the pious historian, according to the idea of good which he had formed. And yet, if he had been allowed time for a death-bed repentance at the end of his life, he would have yielded undoubtedly to the same vague terrors, and have made a hasty bid for safety with gifts and promises. At any rate now, when the nobles and bishops who came to visit him suggested that it was time for him to make atonement for his evil deeds, he eagerly seized upon the chance. He promised to reform his life, to protect the churches, and not put them up any more for sale, to annul bad laws, and to decree good ones; and bishops were sent to lay these promises on the altar. Some of his good resolutions could only be carried out by virtue of a royal writ, and an order was drawn up and sealed, commanding the release of prisoners, the remission of debts due the crown, and the forgiving of offences. Great was the rejoicing at these signs of reformation, and prayers were, everywhere offered for so good a king, but when he had once recovered, his promises were as quickly forgotten as the very similar ones which he had made in the crisis of the rebellion of loss. William probably still believed, when he found himself restored to health, that nobody can keep all his promises, as he had answered when Lanfranc remonstrated with him on the violation of his coronation pledges. Before his recovery, however, he took one step in the way of reformation from which he did not draw back. He appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury. It was the fear of death alone which wrung this concession from the king, and it shows a clear consciousness on his part of the guilt of retaining the archbishopric in his hands. Only a few weeks earlier, at the meeting of the Christmas court, when the members had petitioned that he would be graciously pleased to allow prayers to be offered that he might be led to see the wrong which he was doing, he had answered with contempt, "Pray as much as you like; I shall do what I please. Nobody's praying is going to change my mind." Now, however, he was praying himself, and anxious to get rid of this guilt. The man whom all England with one voice declared to be the ideal archbishop was at hand, and the king besought him most earnestly to accept the appointment, and so to aid him in his endeavour to save his soul.