Stupid word or stupid deed?

One of the recent books I picked up is The Llanthony Stories, a collection of short stories written at the priory of Lllanthony Secunda, in England. It is a fun little collection of medieval tales, and I wanted to share one about an angry English king. Written around the turn of the 13th century, these stories are known as exempla - they were created to give examples to their readers of proper behaviour. They were probably used in sermons as well. Many of them are probably fictional, but we know that in some cases they looked to be based on real people and events. Regardless, they offer an interesting flavour of medieval life. One story involves King Henry I, who ruled over England from the years 1100 to 1135. It begins with the king becoming angry at an unnamed knight. While we don’t hear the reason for his anger, Henry is so upset that he orders the knight to be immediately executed. However, instead of taking the knight to the gallows, Henry’s men bring the man to a secret room, where they keep him under guard. After a while,

they reported to the king that they had done what he had ordered, he was terribly sorry and dismayed at heart. Nevertheless, he disguised his feelings on account of those standing by, so that they would not be able to accuse the royal majesty of childish inconstancy or capriciousness.

A little time passes, Henry approached one of his councillors and asked if they had really executed the knight, The councillor replied:

“Lord, we saw your exceeding anger, and we placed the knight in solitude until we could determine whether you gave your order after deliberation or through a sudden perturbation of spirit.”

The king got happy at these words, and immediately released the knight. The story ends with this line:

And when someone asked the king why he had so easily changed his word, saying that this was not befitting royal maturity, the king responded, “By God’s eyes! I would rather repent of a stupid word, than a stupid deed!”

The Llanthony Stories, translated by David R. Winter, is published by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. Click here to learn more about it.  

Top Image; A 13th-century depiction of Henry I. Wikimedia Commons

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