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Arrow of Fire

Dreamed 1100/8/1 by Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others

By the impiety and injustice of [King] William Rufus, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was driven into exile, and remained there till he saw, in a vision of the night, that all the saints of England were complaining to the Most High of the tyranny of King William, who was destroying his churches. And God said, "Let Alban, the proto-martyr of the English, come hither;" and he gave him an arrow which was on fire, saying, "behold the death of the man of whom you complain before me." And the blessed Alban, receiving the arrow, said, "And I will give it to a wicked spirit, an avenger of sins;" and saying thus he threw it down to earth, and it flew through the air like a comet. And immediately Archbishop Anselm perceived in the spirit that the king, having been shot by an arrow, died that night.

And accordingly, at the first dawn of the morning, having celebrated mass, he ordered his vestments, and his books, and other movables, to be got in readiness, and immedately set out on his journey to his church. And when he came near it, he heard that King William had been shot by an arrow that very night, and was dead.

Anselm's dream is from The Flowers of History by Matthew of Westminster; quoted in Frank Seafield's The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (1865). Two more warning dreams on the king's last day are described by William of Malmesbury (dreams italicized):

The day before the king died, he dreamed that he was let blood by a surgeon, and that the stream, reaching to heaven, clouded the light and intercepted the day... he suddenly awoke, commanded a light to be brought, and forbade his attendants to leave him...

A foreign monk related to Robert Fitzhamon a still more frightful dream, in which he saw William Rufus come into a church with his usual menacing and insolent gestures, looking contemptuously on the standers-by, and gnaw the legs and arms of Jesus Christ on the crucifix. The image bore this for some time, but at length struck the king with its foot in such a manner that he fell backwards. Then such volumes of flame burst from his mouth that the smoke darkened the sky.

Robert Fitzhamon thought it right to tell this dream to the king, who heard it with shouts of laughter. "He is a monk," he exclaimed, "and dreams for money--give him a hundred pence." Still he hesitated a long time before he decided on hunting, and did not go till after dinner, having taken a more than usual quantity of wine...

After dinner he went into the forest, attended by few persons... [Walter Tirel, a courtier] alone had remained with him, while the others, employed in the chase, were dispersed as chance directed. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him; and, keenly gazing, followed it, still running, a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun's rays. At this instant Walter [attempted] to transfix another stag... [but] unknowingly, and without power to prevent it, O gracious God! pierced [the king's] breast with a fatal arrow.



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