Part 2 out of 11
The Duke of Normandy seems to have considered himself secure of the fair
realm of England, by the well-known choice of Edward the Confessor, and
was reckoning on the prospects of ruling there, where the language and
habits of his race were already making great progress.
On a winter day, however, early in 1066, as William, cross-bow in hand,
was hunting in the forests near Rouen, a horseman galloped up to him and
gave him, in a low voice, the information that his cousin, King Edward
of England, was dead, and that Earl Harold of Kent had been crowned in
With fierce rage were these tidings given, for the bearer of them was
no other than Tostig, who attempted to bring the Normans against his
brother, before seeking the aid of Harald Hardrada in the north.
No less was the ire of the Norman Duke excited, but he was of too stern
and reserved a nature to allow his wrath to break out at once into
words. Sport, however, was at an end for him; he threw down his
cross-bow, and walked out of the forest, his fine but hard features
bearing so dark and gloomy an expression, that no one dared to ask what
had disturbed him.
Without a word, he entered the castle, and there strode up and down the
hall, his hands playing with the fastenings of his cloak, until suddenly
throwing himself on a bench, he drew his mantle over his face, turned it
to the wall, and became lost in deep musings.
His knights stood round, silent and perplexed, till a voice was heard
humming a tune at a little distance, and the person entered who, more
than any other, shared the counsels of Duke William, namely, William
Fitzosborn, Count de Breteuil, son of that Osborn the seneschal who had
been murdered in the Duke's chamber.
The two Williams were of the same age, had been brought up together,
and Fitzosborn now enjoyed the office of seneschal, and was on a more
intimate footing with his lord than any other was admitted to by the
dark and reserved prince. All the knights gathered round him to ask what
ailed the Duke.
"Ah!" said he, "you will soon hear news that will not please you;" and
as William, roused by his voice, sat up on the bench, he continued:
"Sir, why hide what troubles you? It is rumored in the town that the
King of England is dead, and that Harold has broken his faith, and
seized the realm."
"You are right," replied the Duke. "I am grieved at the death of King
Edward, and at the wrong Harold has done me."
Fitzosborn answered with such counsels as his master would best be
pleased to hear. "Sir, no one should grieve over what cannot be undone,
far less over what may be mended. There is no cure for King Edward's
death, but there is a remedy for Harold's evil deeds. You have warlike
vassals; he has an unjust cause. What needs there, save a good heart?
for what is well begun, is half done."
William's wishes lay in the direction his friend pointed out, but he was
wary, and weighed his means before undertaking the expedition against so
powerful and wealthy a state as England. His resources seemed as nothing
in comparison with those of England; his dukedom was but a petty state,
himself a mere vassal; and though he had reason to hope that the English
were disaffected toward Harold, yet, on the other hand, he was not
confident of the support of his own vassals--wild, turbulent men, only
kept in cheek by his iron rule, without much personal attachment to one
so unbending and harsh, and likely to be unwilling to assist in his
He paused and calculated, waiting so long that Tostig, in his
impatience, went to Norway, and tried to find a prompter for Harold.
Messages in the meantime passed between Normandy and England without
effect. William claimed the performance of the oaths at Rouen, and
Harold denied any obligation to him, offering to be his ally if he would
renounce the throne, but otherwise defying him as an enemy.
Having at length decided, William summoned his vassals to meet at
Lillebonne, and requested their aid in asserting his right to the
When he left them to deliberate, all with one consent agreed that they
would have nothing to do with foreign expeditions. What should they
gain? The Duke had no right to ask their feudal service for aught but
guarding their own frontier. Fitzosborn should he the spokesman, and
explain the result of their parliament.
In came the Duke, and Fitzosborn, standing forth, spoke thus: "Never, my
lord, were men so zealous as those you see here. They will serve you as
truly beyond sea as in Normandy. Push forward, and spare them not. He
who has hitherto furnished one man-at-arms, will equip two; he who has
led twenty knights, will bring forty. I myself offer you sixty ships
well filled with fighting men."
Fitzosborn was stopped by a general outcry of indignation and dissent,
and the assembly tumultuously dispersed; but not one of the vassals was
allowed to quit Lillebonne till after a private conference with William,
and determined as they might be when altogether, yet not a count or
baron of them all could withstand the Duke when alone with him; and it
ended in their separately engaging to do just as Fitzosborn had promised
for them; and going home to build ships from their woods, choose out the
most stalwart villains on their estates to be equipped as men-at-arms
and archers, to cause their armorers to head the cloth-yard shafts,
repair the hawberks of linked chains of steel, and the high-pointed
helmets, as yet without visors, and the face only guarded by a
projection over the nose. Every one had some hope of advantage to be
gained in England; barons expected additional fiefs, peasants intended
to become nobles, and throughout the spring preparations went on
merrily; the Duchess Matilda taking part in them, by causing a vessel to
be built for the Duke himself, on the figure-head of which was carved a
likeness of their youngest son William, blowing an ivory horn.
William, in the meantime, sought for allies in every quarter, beginning
with writing to beg the sanction of the Pope, Alexander II., as Harold's
perjury might be considered an ecclesiastical offence.
The Saxons were then in no favor at Rome; they had refused to accept
a Norman Primate appointed by Edward; and Stigand, their chosen
Archbishop, was at present suspended by the Court of Rome, for having
obtained his office by simony: the whole Anglo-Saxon Church was reported
to be in a very bad and corrupt state, and besides, Rome had never
enjoyed the power and influence there that the Normans had permitted
her. Lanfranc, Abbot, of St. Stephens, at Caen, and one of the persons
most highly esteemed by William, was an Italian of great repute at Rome,
and thus everything conspired to make the Pope willing to favor the
attempt upon England.
He therefore returned him a Bull (a letter so called from the golden
bull, or bulla, appended to it), appointing him, as the champion of
the Church, to chastise the impious perjurer Harold, and sent him a
consecrated banner, and a gold ring containing a relic of St. Peter.
Thus sanctioned, William applied to his liege lord Philippe I. of
France, offering to pay homage for England as well as Normandy; but
Philippe, a dull, heavy, indolent man, with no love for his great
vassal, refused him any aid; and William, though he made the application
for form's sake, was well pleased to have it so.
"If I succeed," he said, "I shall be under the fewer obligations."
When he requested aid from Matilda's brother Baldwin, Count of Flanders,
the answer he received was a query, how much land in England he would
allot as a recompense. He sent, in return, a piece of blank parchment;
but others say, that instead of being an absolute blank, it contained
his signature, and was filled up by Baldwin, with the promise of a
pension of three hundred marks.
Everything was at length in readiness; nine hundred ships, or rather
large open boats, were assembled at the mouth of the Dive; lesser barks
came in continually, and counts, barons, and knights, led in their
trains of horsemen and archers.
All William's friends were round him, and his two half-brothers, the
sons of Arlette, Robert, Count of Eu, and Odo, the warlike Bishop of
Bayeux. Matilda was to govern in his absence, and his eldest son,
Robert, a boy of thirteen, was brought forward, and received the homage
of the vassals, in order that he might be owned as heir of Normandy, in
case any mishap should befall his father on the expedition.
Nothing delayed the enterprise but adverse winds, and these prevailed so
long that the feudal army had nearly exhausted their forty days' stock
of provisions; knight and man-at-arms murmured, and the Duke was
continually going to pray in the Church of St. Valery, looking up at the
weathercock every time he came out.
On the eve of St. Michael, the Duke's anxious face became cheerful, for
a favorable wind had set in, and the word was given to embark. Horses
were led into the ships, the shields hung round the gunwale, and the
warriors crowded in, the Duke, in his own Mora, leading the way, the
Pope's banner at his mast's head, and a lantern at the stern to guide
By morning, however, he outstripped all the fleet, and the sailor at the
mast-head could see not one; but gradually first one sail, then another,
came in sight, and by the evening of Michaelmas-day, 1066, the whole
nine hundred were bearing, down upon Pevensey.
Those adverse winds had done Willium more favor than he guessed, for
they had delayed him till Harold had been obliged to quit his post of
observation in Sussex, and go to oppose the Northmen at York, and thus
there was no one to interfere with the landing of the Normans, who
disembarked as peacefully at Pevensey as if it had been Rouen itself.
William was almost the first to leap on shore; but as he did so, his
foot slipped, and he fell. Rising, with his hands full of mud, he called
out, "Here have I taken possession of the land which by God's help I
hope to win!" Catching his humor, one of his knights tore a handful of
thatch from a neighboring cottage, and put it into his hand, saying,
"Sir, I give you seizin of this place, and promise that I shall see you
lord of it before a month is past."
The troops were landed first, then the horses, and lastly the
carpenters, who set up at once three wooden forts, which had been
brought in the ships prepared to be put together. After dinner, William
ordered all the ships to be burnt, to cut off all hope of return. He
continued for several days at Pevensey, exercising the troops: and
viewing the country. In one of these expeditions, he gave, what was
thought, a remarkable proof of strength; for on a hot day, as they were
mounting a steep hill, Fitzosborn grew faint and exhausted by the weight
of his ponderous iron hawberk. The Duke bade him take it off, and
putting it on over his own, climbed the hill and returned to his camp
wearing both at once.
His landing, though he saw no one, had in reality been watched by a
South-Saxon Thane, who, having counted Ins ships and seen his array,
mounted, and, without resting day or night, rode to York, where, as
Harold was dining, two days after the battle of Stamford Bridge, he
rushed into the hall, crying out, "The Normans are come! they have built
a fort at Pevensey!"
No time was to be lost, and at the dawn Harold and all his army were
marching southward, sending a summons to the thanes and franklins of
each county as he passed, to gather to the defence of the country.
His speed was too great, however, for the great mass of the people to be
able to join him, even if they had been so minded, and they were for
the most part disposed to take no part in the struggle, following the
example of the young Earls of Mercia, Edwin and Morkar, who held aloof,
unwilling alike to join Harold or the Normans.
When Harold reached London, his army was so much lessened by fatigue and
desertion, that his mother, Gytha, and his two youngest brothers, Gyrtha
and Leofwyn, advised him not to risk a battle, but to lay the country
waste before the Normans, and starve them out of England. Harold
answered, with the generous spirit that had been defaced and clouded by
his ambition, "Would you have me ruin my kingdom? By my faith, it were
treason. I will rather try the chances of a battle with such men as I
have, and trust to my own valor and the goodness of my cause."
"Yet," said Gyrtha, "if it be so, forbear thyself to fight. Either
willingly or under force, thou art sworn to Duke William. Thine oath
will weigh down thine arm in battle, but we, who are all unpledged,
are free to fight in defence of our realm. Thou wilt aid us if we are
defeated, avenge us if we are slain."
Harold disregarded this advice, and was resolved to lead the host
himself; he gathered his followers from Kent and Wessex, and marched
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS.
The first night after leaving London, Harold slept at Waltham Abbey, and
had much conference with the Abbot, who was his friend, and appointed
two Monks, named Osgood and Ailric, to attend him closely in the coming
On the 12th of October, Harold found himself seven miles from the
enemy, and halted his men on Heathfield-hill, near Hastings, the most
advantageous ground he could find.
On the highest point he planted his standard bearing the figure of a
man in armor, and marshalling his Saxons round it, commanded them to
entrench themselves within a rampart and ditch, and to plant within them
a sort of poles, on the upper part of which, nearly the height of a man
from the ground, they interwove a fence of wattled branches, so that
while the front rank might pass under to man the rampart, the rear might
be sheltered from the arrows of the enemy.
These orders given, Harold and Gyrtha rode together to a hill, whence
they beheld the Norman camp, when for a moment Harold was so alarmed
at the number of their tents that he spoke of returning to London and
acting as his mother had advised; but Gyrtha showed him that it was too
late; he could not turn back from the very face of the enemy, without
being supposed to fly, and thus yielding his kingdom at once.
Three Saxons presently came to the brothers who had been seized as spies
by the Normans, and, by order of William, led throughout his camp, and
then sent away to report what they had seen. Their story was that the
Norman soldiers were all Priests, at which Harold laughed, since they
had been deceived by the short-cut locks and smooth chins of the
Normans, such as in England were only worn by ecclesiastics, warriors
always wearing flowing locks and thick moustaches.
Several messages passed between the two camps, William sending offers
of honors and wealth to Harold and Gyrtha if they would cease their
resistance; but when all were rejected, he sent another herald to defy
Harold as a perjured traitor under the ban of the Church;--a declaration
which so startled the Saxons, that it took strong efforts on the part of
the gallant Gyrtha to inspirit them to stand by his brother.
This over, William addressed his soldiers from a little hillock, and
put on his armor, hanging-round his neck, as a witness of Harold's
falsehood, one of the relics on which the oath had been taken. He
chanced to put on his hawberk with the wrong side before, and seeing
some of his men disconcerted, fancying this a token of ill, he told them
that it boded that his dukedom should be turned to a kingdom.
His horse was a beautiful Spanish barb sent him by the King of Castile;
and so gallantly did he ride, that there was a shout of delight from his
men, and a cry, "Never was such a Knight under Heaven! A fair Count he
is, and a fair king he will be! Shame on him who fails him!"
William held in his hand the Pope's banner, and called for the
standard-bearer of Normandy; but no one liked to take the charge,
fearful of being hindered from gaining distinction by feats of personal
prowess. Each elder knight of fame begged to be excused, and at last
it was committed to Tunstan the White, a young man probably so called
because he had yet to win an achievement for his spotless shield.
The army was in three troops, each drawn up in the form of a wedge, the
archers forming the point; and the reserve of horse was committed to
Bishop Odo, who rode up and down among the men, a hawberk over his
rochet and a club in his hand.
On went the Normans in the light of the rising sun of the 13th of
October, Taillefer, a minstrel-knight, riding first, playing on his harp
and singing the war-song of Roland the Paladin. At seven o'clock they
were before the Saxon camp, and Fitzosborn and the body under his
command dashed up the hill, under a cloud of arrows, shouting, "Notre
Dame! Dieu aide!" while the Saxons within, crying out, "Holy Rood!" cut
down with their battle-axes all who gained the rampart, and at length
drove them back again.
A second onset was equally unsuccessful, and William, observing that the
wattled fence protected the Saxons from the arrows, ordered the archers
to shoot their arrows no longer point blank, but into the sky, so that
they might fall on the heads of the Saxons. Thus directed, these shafts
harassed the defenders grievously; and Harold himself was pierced in the
left eye, and almost disabled from further exertion in the command.
Yet at noon, the Normans had been baffled at every quarter, and William,
growing desperate, led a party to attack the entrance of the camp. Again
he was repulsed, and driven back on some rough ground, where many horses
fell, and among them his own Spanish charger. A cry arose that the Duke
was slain; the Normans fled, the Saxons broke out of their camp in
pursuit, when William, throwing off his helmet and striking with his
lance, recalled his troops, shouting, "Look at me! I live, and by Gods
grace I will conquer." All the Saxons who had left the camp were slain,
their short battle-axes being unfit to cope with the heavy swords and
long lances of their enemies; and taught by this success, William caused
some of his troops to feign a flight, draw them beyond the rampart, turn
on them, and cut them down. The manoeuvre was repeated at different parts
of the camp till the rampart was stripped of defenders, and the
Normans forced their way into it, cut down the wattled fence, and gave
admittance to the host of horse and foot who rushed over the outworks.
Yet still the standard floated in the midst of a brave band who--
"Though thick the shafts as snow.
Though charging knights like whirlwinds go,
Though bill-men ply the ghastly blow,
Still fought around their King."
All who came near that close-serried ring of steadfast Saxon strength
were cut down, and the piles of dead Normans round them were becoming
ramparts, when twenty knights bound themselves by an oath that the
standard should be taken, spurred their horses against the ranks, and by
main force, with the loss of ten of their number, forced an opening. Ere
the ranks could close, William and his whole force were charging into
the gap made for a moment, trampling down the brave men, slaughtering on
all sides, yet still unable to break through to the standard.
"Till utter darkness closed her wing
O'er their thin host and wounded King."
Man by man the noble Saxons were hewn down as the Normans cut their way
through them, no more able to drive them back than if they had been the
trees of the forest. Gyrtha, the true-hearted and noble, fell under the
sword of a Norman knight, Leofwyn lay near him in his blood, yet still
Harold's voice was heard cheering on his men, and still his standard
streamed above their heads.
At sunset, that well-known voice was no longer heard, and the setting
sun beheld Tunstan the White perform the crowning achievement of the
day, uproot the standard banner of Normandy that the morning beams had
seen committed to his charge. Not an earl or thane of Wessex was living;
and heaps of slain lay thick on Heathfield hill, and the valley round a
very lake of blood. Senlac, or Sanglac, was its old name, and sounded
but too appropriate to the French ears of the Conqueror, as, in a moment
of sorrow for the fearful loss of life he beheld, he vowed that here
should stand an Abbey where prayer should be made for pardon for his
sins and for the repose of the souls of the slaughtered. Darkness came
on; but the Saxons, retreating under its cover, were still so undaunted
that the Normans could hardly venture to move about the field except in
considerable parties, and Eustace of Boulogne, while speaking to the
Duke, was felled to the earth by a sudden blow.
In the morning, Gytha, the widow of Godwin, who had lost four children
by the perjury and ambition of one of them, came to entreat permission
to bury. Gyrtha and Leofwyn lay near together at the foot of the banner.
Harold was sought in vain, till Edith of the Swan neck, a lady he had
loved, was brought to help in the melancholy quest.
She declared a defaced and mangled corpse to be that of Harold, and it
was carried, with those of the two brothers, to the Abbey of Waltham,
where it was placed beneath a stone bearing the two sorrowful words,
Years passed on, and the people had long become accustomed to the Norman
yoke, when there was much talk among them of a hermit, who dwelt in a
cell not far from the town, in the utmost penitence and humility. He was
seldom seen, his face was deeply scarred, and he had lost his left eye,
and nothing was known of his name or history; but he was deeply revered
for his sanctity, and when Henry Beauclerc once visited Chester, he
sought a private interview with the mysterious penitent.
It is said, that when the hermit lay on his death-bed, he owned himself
to be Harold, son of Godwin, once King of England for seven months. He
had been borne from the bloody hill, between life and death, in the
darkness of the evening, by the two faithful monks, Osgood and Ailric,
and tended in secret till he recovered from his wounds.
Since that time he had been living in penitence and contrition, unknown
to and apart from the world, and died at length, trusting that his forty
years' repentance might be accepted.
If this tale be true, what a warning might not he have bestowed on
the young prince Henry, destined to run a like course of perjury and
ambition, and to feel it turn back upon him in the dreariness of
desolate old age, when "he never smiled again." Had not the penitent
Harold more peace at the last than the king Henry?
The same story is told of almost every king missed in a lost battle.
Arthur, borne away to die at Avalon, and believed to be among the
fairies; Rodrigo, the last of the Goths, whose steed Orelio and horned
helmet lay on the banks of the river, and whose name was found centuries
after on a rude gravestone, near a hermitage; James IV., whom the Scots
by turns hoped to see return from pilgrimage, and pitied as they looked
at Lord Home's border tower; the gallant Don Sebastian, the last of the
glorious race of Portuguese Kings, never seen after his shout of "Let
us die!" in the tumult of Alcacer, yet long looked for by his loving
people--of each in turn the belief has arisen among the subjects who
clung to the hope of seeing the beloved prince, and dwelt on the
doubt whether his corpse was identified. In the cases of Harold and
Rodrigo--generous men tempted into fearful and ruinous crimes--one would
hope the tale was true, and that the time for repentance was vouchsafed
to them; nor are their stories entirely without authority.
Harold had three young children, who wandered about under the care of
their grandmother, Gytha, at one time finding a shelter in the Holms,
those two islets in the British Channel, at another taking refuge in
Ireland, whence they at length escaped to Norway, and the daughter
married one of the Kings of Novgorod, the beginning of the Empire of
Russia. Ulfnoth, the only remaining son of the bold Godwinsons, was the
hostage that Edward the Confessor had placed in the hands of the Duke of
Normandy; he was seized upon once more by William Rufus, and remained in
captivity till his death. The Conqueror kept his vow, and erected the
splendid Battle Abbey on the field that gave him a kingdom. The high
altar stood where Harold's banner had been planted, and the enclosures
surrounded every spot where the conflict had raged.
They were measured out by the corpses of Normans and Saxons. The
Battle-roll, a list of every Norman who had borne arms there, was lodged
in the keeping of the Abbot, and contains the names of many a good old
English family which has held the same land generation after generation,
English now, though then called the Norman spoiler, but it is to be
feared, that the roll was much tampered with to gratify family vanity.
Battle Abbey was one of the greatest and richest foundations. The Abbot
was a friar, and, according to the unfortunate habit of exempting
monasteries from the Bishop's jurisdiction, was subject to no government
but the Pope's; and this led to frequent disputes between the Abbot and
the see of Winchester.
It was overthrown in the Reformation, and is now a mere ruin; but its
beautiful arches still remain to show that, better than any other
conqueror, William knew how to honor a battle-field. There is but one
other Battle Abbey in the world--Batalha in Portugal--which covers the
plain of Aljubarota, where Joao I. won his kingdom from Castile; and as
his wife was a daughter of John of Gaunt, a most noble and high-minded
princess, it is most probable that she suggested the work after the
example of her great ancestor; nay, when the visitor enters the nave,
and is reminded by the architecture of Winchester, it seems as if
Philippa of Lancaster might have both proposed the foundation, and
sent to England for the plan, to the Architect and Bishop, William of
Nor is Battle Abbey the only remaining monument of Hastings. Matilda's
own handiwork prepared her thank offering of tapestry, recording her
husband's victory; and this work, done as it was for a gift to Heaven,
not a vainglorious record, still endures in the very cathedral to which
she gave it, one of the choicest historical witnesses that have come
down to our times. We might be apt to regret that she did not present
her work to Battle Abbey, where it would have been most appropriate;
but as the Puritans would most likely have called it a Popish vestment
savoring of idolatry, we are consoled by thinking it probably owes its
preservation to her having chosen to give it as a hanging on festival
days to the Cathedral at Bayeux, the see of her husband's half-brother,
Odo, who shared in all the toils and dangers of the expedition, and
whom she has taken especial care to represent for the benefit of the
townspeople of Bayeux; for wherever we find his broad face, large
person, shaven crown, and the chequered red and green suit by which she
expressed his wadded garment, his name is always found in large letters;
and he is evidently in his full glory when we find him, club in hand,
at the beginning of the battle, and these words worked round him: _Odo
Eps._ (episcopus) _baculum tenens, confortat pueros_. He was one of
the bad, warlike Bishops of those irregular times, and brought many
disasters on himself by his turbulence and haughtiness.
Matilda's tapestry is a long narrow strip, little more than half a
yard in breadth. It begins with Harold's journey to Normandy, and ends
unfinished in the midst of the battle; and most curious it is. The
drawing is of course rude, and the coloring very droll, the horses being
red and green, or blue, and, invariably, the off-leg of a different
color from the other three, while the ways in which both horses and men
fall at Hastings make the scene very diverting.
Her castles, houses, and more especially Westminster Abbey, are of all
the colors in the rainbow, and much smaller than the persons entering
them, and yet in every figure there is spirit, in every face expression,
and throughout, William, Harold, and Odo, bear countenances which are
not to be mistaken. Harold has moustaches, which none of the Normans
wore. There we find Harold taking his extorted oath; the death of King
Edward, the Saxons gazing with horror at the three-tailed comet; the
ship-building of yellow, green, and red boards, cut out of trees
with most ludicrous foliage; the moon just as it is described; the
disembarkation, where a bare-legged mariner wades out, anchor in hand;
the very comical foraging party; the repast upon landing, where Odo is
saying grace with two fingers raised in benediction, while the meat is
served on shields, and fowls carried round spitted upon arrows. Then
follows the battle, where William is seen raising his helmet by its
nose-guard, and looking exceedingly fierce as he rallies his men; where
horses and men tumble head over heels, and where, finally, Matilda broke
off with a pattern of hawberks traced out, and no heads or legs put
to them. What stayed her hand? Was it her grief at the conduct of her
first-born that took from her all heart to proceed with her memorial,
or was it only the hand of death that closed her toil, her womanly
record of her husband's achievements?
The border must not be forgotten. It is a narrow edge above and below.
At first it is worked with subjects from Phaedrus's fables (on having
translated which was rested the fame of Henry's scholarship), and very
cleverly are they chosen; for, as if in comment on Harold's visit to
Rouen, we find in near neighborhood the stork with her head in the
wolf's mouth, and the crow letting fall her cheese into the fox's jaws.
Matilda did not upbraid the Normans by working the Parliament of
Lillebonne, but she or her designer surely had it in mind when a herd of
frightened beasts was drawn, an ape in front of them making an oration
to what may be a lion, as it is much bigger than the rest; but as
Matilda never saw a lion, the likeness is not remarkable.
Further on are representations of agriculture, sowing, reaping, &c.
Wherever there is a voyage, fishes swim above and below, and in the
battle there is a border plentiful in dead men.
The Bayeux tapestry--the "Toile de St. Jean," as it is there called,
from the feast-day when the cathedral was hung with it--remained unknown
and forgotten, till it was brought to light by one of the last people
that could have been expected--Napoleon. He was then full of his plan
for invading England, and called general attention to the toile de St.
Jean, to bring to mind the Norman Invasion, and show that England had
once been conquered.
So she had, but he had to deal with the sons of both victors, and of
those who were slain. Now vanquished, Norman and Saxon were one, and by
the great mercy of Heaven upon their offspring, the English, not one
battle has been fought, since Hastings, with a Continental foe upon
May that mercy be still vouchsafed us!
THE CAMP OF REFUGE.
_King of England_.
1066. William I.
In the fen country of Lincolnshire, there lived, in the reign of Edward
the Confessor, a wealthy Saxon franklin named Leofric, Lord of Bourn.
He was related to the great Earls of Mercia, and his brother Brand was
Abbot of Peterborough, so that he, and his wife Ediva, were persons of
consideration in their own neighborhood. They had a son named Hereward,
and called, for some unknown, reason, Le Wake, a youth of great height
and personal strength, and of so fierce and violent a disposition, that
he disturbed the peace of the neighborhood to such a degree that he was
banished from the realm. His high spirit found fit occupation in the
armies of foreign princes: and pilgrims and minstrels brought home such
reports of his prowess, that the people of Bourn no longer regarded him
as a turbulent young scapegrace, but considered him as their pride and
After a brilliant career abroad, Hereward married a Flemish lady, and
was settled on her estates when the tidings reached him that his father
was dead, and that his aged mother had been despoiled of her property,
and cruelly treated, by a Norman to whom William the Conqueror
had presented the estate of Bourn. No sooner did he receive this
intelligence, than he set off with his wife, and, arriving in
Lincolnshire, communicated in secret with his old friends at Bourn,
collected a small band, attacked the Norman, drove him away, and
re-instated Ediva in his paternal home.
But this exploit only exposed him to further perils. Normans were in
possession of every castle around; his cousins, the young Earls Edwin
find Morkar, had submitted to the Conqueror; Edwin was betrothed to
Agatha, William's daughter; and their sister Lucy was married to an
Angevin named Ivo Taillebois bringing him a portion of their lands, in
right of which he called himself Viscount of Spalding. Their submission
had availed them little; they, as well as Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon
(son of Siward, and husband of the Conqueror's niece, Judith), were
feeling that a hand of iron was over them, and regretting every day
that he had not made common cause against the enemy before he had
fully established his power. Selfishness, jealousy, and wavering, had
overthrown and ruined the Saxons. Each had sought to secure his own
lands and life, careless of his neighbors. No one had the spirit of
Frithric, Abbot of St. Alban's, who blocked up the Conqueror's march
with trunks of trees, and when asked by William why he had injured his
woods for the sake of making an unavailing resistance, replied, "I
did my duty. If every one had done as much, you would not be here."
According to their own tradition, the men of Kent, coming forward, each
carrying a branch of a tree, so that they advanced unperceived, "a
moving wood," so encumbered William's passage that he could not proceed
till he had taken an oath to respect their privileges. London, too,
preserved its rights, owing to the management of a burgess, called
Ansgard, who conducted the treaty with the Normans and would not admit
them into the city till its liberties were secured.
William himself was anxious to be regarded not as a conqueror, but as
reigning by inheritence from the Confessor. For this cause, when Matilda
was crowned, he caused a Norman baron, Marmion of Fontenaye, to ride
into the midst of Westminster Hall, and, throwing down his gauntlet,
defy any man to single combat who denied the rights of William and
Matilda. He himself took the old coronation oath drawn up by St.
Dunstan, and pledged himself to execute justice according to the old
laws of Alfred and Edward.
But William, whatever might be his own good intentions, was pressed by
circumstances. He had lured his Normans across the channel with hopes of
rich plunder in England, and knight and squire, man-at-arms and archer,
were eager for their reward. Norman, Breton, Angevin, clamored for
possession: families of peasants crossed the sea, expecting, in right
of their French tongue, to be gentry at once, and lords of the churl
Saxons; while the Saxons, fully conscious of their own nobility, and
possessors of the soil for five hundred years, derided them in such
rhymes as these:
"William de Coningsby
Came out of Brittany
With his wife Tiffany,
And his maid Manfas,
And his dog Hardigras."
But the laugh proved to be on the side of the new comers, and the Saxon,
whether Earl, Thane, Franklin, or Ceorl, though he could trace his line
up to Odin, and had held his land since Hengist first won Thanet, must
give place to Hardigras and his master. And though our sympathies are
all with the dispossessed Saxons, and the Normans appear as needy and
rapacious spoilers, there is no cause for us to lament their coming.
Without the Norman aristocracy, and the high spirit of chivalry and
adventure thus infused, England could scarcely have attained her
greatness; for, though many great men had existed among the unmixed
Anglo-Saxon race, they had never been able to rouse the nation from the
heavy, dull, stolid sensuality into which, to this day, an uncultivated
Englishman is liable to fall.
One Norman, the gallant Gilbert Fitz-Richard, deserves to be remembered
as an exception to the grasping temper of his countrymen. He would
accept neither gold nor lands for the services he had rendered at
Hastings. He said he had come in obedience to the summons of his feudal
chief, and not for spoil, and, now his term of service was at an end, he
would go back to his own inheritance, with which he was content, without
the plunder of the widow and orphan.
For it was thus that William first strove to satisfy his followers.
Every rich Saxon widow or heiress who could be found was compelled
to marry a Norman baron or knight; but when there proved to be not a
sufficiency of these unfortunate ladies, he was obliged to find other
pretexts less apparently honorable. Every noble who had fought in the
cause of Harold was declared a traitor, and his lands adjudged to be
forfeited, and this filled the Earldoms of Wessex and Sussex with great
numbers of Normans, who counted their wealth at so many Englishmen
apiece, and made no scruple of putting their own immediate followers
into the manors whence they thrust the ancient owners. As to the great
nobles, they were treated so harshly that they were all longing, if
possible, to throw off the yoke, and make the stand which they should
have made a year ago, when William had won nothing but the single,
hard-fought battle of Hastings.
Some of the Norman adventurers took great state on them, all the more,
probably, because they had been nobodies in their own country. One of
the most haughty of all was the Spalding Viscount, Ivo, whose surname of
Taillebois seems to betray somewhat of his origin in Anjou. He was
noted for his pompous language and insolent bearing; he insisted on his
vassals kneeling on one knee when they addressed him, and he and his
men-at-arms took every opportunity of tormenting the Saxons. He set
his dogs at their flocks, lamed or drowned their cattle, killed their
poultry, and, above all, harassed a few brethren of the Abbey of
Croyland, who inhabited a grange not far from Spalding, to such a
degree, that he obliged them at last to retreat to the Abbey, and then
filled the house with monks from Anjou; and though the Abbot Ingulf was
William's secretary, he could obtain no redress.
Such a neighbor as this was not likely to allow the re-instated Ediva to
remain at Bourn in peace, and Hereward found that he must continue in
arms, for her protection and his own. He placed his wife, Torfrida, in
a convent, and, collecting his friends around him, kept up a constant
warfare with the Normans, until at length he succeeded in fortifying the
Isle of Ely, and establishing there what he called the Camp of Refuge,
as it gave shelter to any Saxon who had suffered from the violence of
the Normans, or would not adopt the new habits they tried to enforce.
The weak, helpless, and aged, were sheltered by the monastery and its
buildings; the strong, enrolled in Hereward's gallant band. Some of them
were of higher rank than himself, and in order that he might be on a par
with them, as well as with his Norman enemies, he sought the order of
knighthood from his uncle, Abbot Brand.
The Normans in general were knighted by lay nobles, and though their
prince, William Rufus, received the order from Lanfranc, they would not
acknowledge Hereward as a knight, though they could not help respecting
his truth, honor, and courage; and it was a common saying among them,
that if there had been only four men like him in England, they should
never have gained a footing there. No wonder, when he never hesitated to
fight singly with seven Normans at once, and each of his five
principal followers was a match for three. They were Ibe Winter, his
brother-in-arms; Eghelric, his cousin; Ital; Alfric; and Sexwald.
Many fugitives of high rank did Hereward receive in his Camp of Refuge.
He had nearly been honored by the presence of his hereditary sovereign,
Edgar the Etheling, but the plan failed. He did, however, shelter his
two cousins, Morkar and Edwin. They had suffered much from the insolence
of the Normans, and experienced the futility of the promises in which
they had trusted, until at length they had been driven to join a rising
in the North. It had been quickly suppressed, and the worst of all the
cruelties of the Normans had avenged it, while the two earls, now become
outlaws, fled to the Camp of Refuge. Thence Edwin was sent on a mission
to Scotland, but on the way he was attacked by a party of his enemies
and slain, after a gallant resistance. He was the handsomest man of his
time, and his betrothed, Agatha, was devotedly attached to him; it is
even said that the stern William himself wept when the bloody head of
his daughter's lover was presented to him. A curious gold ornament
has been of late years found in the field where Edwin was killed, and
antiquaries allow us to imagine that it might have been a love-token
from the Norman princess to the Saxon earl.
Another fugitive in Hereward's camp was the high-spirited Abbot
Frithric, whose steady opposition to the illegal encroachments of the
Normans had given great offence to William. Once Frithric had combined
with other influential ecclesiastics to require of the Conqueror another
oath to abide by the old English laws, and thus brought on himself an
accusation of rebellion and sentence of banishment. He assembled his
monks, and told them the time was come when, according to the words of
Holy Scripture, they must flee from city to city, bade them, farewell,
and, taking nothing with him but a few books, safely reached the Camp of
Refuge, where he soon after died.
Thorold, the new Norman Abbot of Malmesbury, kept a body of archers in
his pay, and whenever his monks resisted any of his improper measures,
he used to call out, "Here, my men-at-arms!" At length the Conqueror
heard of his proceedings. "I'll find him his match!" cried William. "I
will send him to Peterborough, 'where Hereward will give him as much
fighting as he likes."
To Peterborough, then, Thorold was appointed on the death of Hereward's
uncle, Abbot Brand, while the poor monks of Malmesbury received for
their new superior a certain Guerin de Lire, who disinterred and threw
away the bones of his Saxon predecessors, and took all the treasure in
the coffers of the convent, in order that he might display his riches in
the eyes of those who had seen him poor.
Yet all the Norman clergy were not such as these, and never should be
forgotten the beautiful answer of Guimond, a monk of St. Leufroi, such
a priest as Fitz-Richard was a knight. William had summoned him to
England, and he came without delay; but when he was told it was for the
purpose of raising him to high dignity, he spoke thus: "Many causes
forbid me to seek dignity and power; I will not mention all. I will only
say that I see not how I could ever properly be the head of men whose
manners and language I do not understand, and whose fathers, brothers,
and friends, have been slain by your sword, disinherited, exiled,
imprisoned, or harshly enslaved by you. Search the Holy Scriptures
whether any law permits that the shepherd should be forced on the flock
by their enemy. Can you divide what you have won by war and bloodshed,
with one who has laid aside his own goods for the sake of Christ? All
priests are forbidden to meddle with rapine, or to take any share of the
prey, even as an offering at the altar; for, as the Scriptures say,
'He that bringeth an offering of the goods of the poor, is as one
that slayeth the son before the father's eyes.' When I remember these
commands of God, I am filled with terror; I look on England as one great
prey, and dread to touch it or its treasures, as I should a red-hot
Guimond then returned to Normandy, uninjured by the Conqueror, who,
with all his faults, never took offence at such rebukes; but the
worldly-minded clergy were excessively affronted at his censure of their
rapacity, and raised such a persecution against him that he was obliged
to take refuge in Italy.
As soon as the news arrived at the Camp of Refuge that the warlike
Thorold had been appointed to Peterborough, Hereward and his hand
hastened to the Abbey, and, probably with the consent of the Saxon
monks, carried off all the treasures into the midst of the fens.
Thorold, with one hundred and sixty men-at-arms, soon made his
appearance, was installed as Abbot, and quickly made friends with his
Norman neighbor, Ivo Taillebois.
They agreed to make an expedition against the robber Saxons, and united
their forces, but Thorold appears to have been not quite as willing to
face Hereward as to threaten his monks, and let Ivo advance into the
midst of an extensive wood of alders, while he remained in the rear with
some other Normans of distinction. Ivo sought through the whole wood
without meeting a Saxon, and returning to the spot where he had left
the Abbot, found no one there, for Hereward had quitted the wood on the
opposite side, made a circuit, and falling suddenly on Thorold and his
party, carried them off to the fens, and kept them there till they had
paid a heavy ransom.
In 1072, the fifth year of the Camp of Refuge, it had assumed so
formidable an aspect, that William thought it necessary to take vigorous
measures against it, more especially as there had been lately a
commencement of correspondence with the Danes. The difficulty was to
reach it, for the treacherous ground of the fens afforded no firm
footing for an army; there was not water enough for boats, no station
for archers, no space for a charge of the ponderous knights, amongst the
reedy pools. William decided on constructing a causeway, and employed
workmen to cut trenches to drain off the water, and raise the bank of
stones and turf, under the superintendence of Ivo Taillebois. However,
Hereward was on the alert, harassing them perpetually, breaking on
them sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, in such strange,
unexpected ways, that at last the viscount came to the conclusion that
he must have magic arts to aid him, and persuaded the king to let him
send for a witch to work against him by counter spells. Accordingly, she
was installed in a wooden tower raised at the end of the part of the
causeway which was completed, and the workmen were beginning to advance
boldly under her protection, when suddenly smoke and flame came driving
upon them. Hereward had set fire to the dry reeds, and, spreading
quickly, the flame cut off their retreat, and the unhappy woman
perished, with many of the Normans.
Again and again were the Norman attacks disconcerted, and all that
they could attempt was a blockade, which lasted many months, and might
probably have been sustained many more by the hardy warriors, if some of
the monks of Ely, growing weary of the privations they endured, had not
gone in secret to the king, and offered to show him a way across the
Marches, on condition that the wealth of the Abbey was secured.
Accordingly, a band of Normans crossed the fens, took the Saxons by
surprise, killed a thousand men, and forced the camp. Hereward and his
five comrades still fought on, crossed bogs where the enemy did not dare
to follow them, and at length escaped into the low lands of Lincoln,
where they met with some Saxon fishermen, who were in the habit of
supplying a Norman station of soldiers. These Saxons willingly received
the warriors into their boats, and hid them under heaps of straw, while
they carried their fish as usual to the Normans. While the Normans were
in full security, Hereward and his men suddenly attacked them, killed
some, put the rest to flight, and seized their horses.
Collecting others of his scattered followers, Hereward kept up his
warfare from his own house at Bourn, continually harassing the Normans,
until at length he took prisoner his old enemy, Ivo Taillebois, and,
as the price of his liberty, required him to make his peace with the
Conqueror. This was good news to William, who highly esteemed his valor
and constancy, and could accuse him of no breach of faith, since he had
made no engagements to him. Hereward was therefore received as a subject
of King William, retained his own estate, and died there at a good old
age, respected by both Saxons and Normans.
There is, indeed, an old Norman-French poem, that declares it was for
the love of a noble Saxon lady, named Alftrude, that Hereward ceased to
struggle with the victors. According to this story, Alftrude, an heiress
of great wealth, was so charmed by the report of Hereward's fame, that
she offered him her hand, and persuaded him to make peace with William.
It is further said, that one afternoon, as he lay asleep under a tree,
a band of armed men, among whom were several Bretons, surrounded and
murdered him, though not till he had slain fifteen of them.
But this story is not likely to be true, since we know that Hereward
was already married, and the testimony of more than one ancient English
chronicler declares that he spent his latter years in peace and honor.
He was the only one of the Saxon chieftains who thus closed his days in
his native home--the only one who had not sought to preserve his own
possessions at the expense of his country, and who had broken no oaths
nor engagements. His exploits are told in old ballads and half-romantic
histories, and it is not safe to believe them implicitly, but his
existence and his gallant resistance are certain.
Many years after, the remains of a wooden fort, the citadel, so to
speak of the Camp of Refuge, still existed in the Isle of Ely, and was
called by the peasantry Hereward's Castle. The treacherous monks of Ely
were well punished by having forty men-at-arms quartered on their Abbey.
Of the captives taken in the camp, many were most cruelly treated, their
eyes put out, and their hands cut off; others were imprisoned, and many
slain. Morkar, who was here taken, spent the rest of his life in
the same captivity as Ulfnoth, Stigand, and many other Saxons of
distinction, with the one gleam of hope when liberated at William's
death, and then the bitter disappointment of renewed seizure and
captivity. If it could be any consolation to them, these Saxons were not
William's only captives. Bishop Odo, of Bayeux, whom William had made
Earl of Kent, after giving a great deal of trouble to his brother the
king, and to Archbishop Lanfranc, by his avarice and violence, heard a
prediction that the next Pope should be named Odo, and set off to try
to bring about its fulfilment in his own person, carrying with him an
immense quantity of ill-gotten treasure, and a large number of troops,
commanded by Hugh the Wolf, Earl of Chester.
However, Odo had reckoned without King William, and he had but just set
sail, when William, setting off from Normandy, met him in the Channel,
took his ships, and making him land in the Isle of Wight, and convoking
an assembly of knights, declared his offences, and asked them what such
a brother deserved.
Between fear of the king and fear of the Bishop, no one ventured to
answer, upon which William sentenced him to imprisonment; and when he
declared that no one but the Pope had a right to judge him, answered, "I
do not try you, the Bishop of Bayeux, but the Earl of Kent," and sent
him closely guarded to Normandy.
Another Norman state-prisoner was Roger Fitzosborn, the son of William's
early friend, who had died soon after the Conquest. Roger's offence was
the bestowing his sister Emma in marriage without the consent of the
king, and in addition, much seditious language was used at the wedding
banquet, where, unhappily, was present Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon, the
last Saxon noble.
Roger, finding himself in danger, broke out into open rebellion, but was
soon made prisoner. Still the king would have pardoned him for the
sake of his father, whom William seems to have regarded with much more
affection that he be stowed on any one else, and, as a mark of kindness,
sent him a costly robe. The proud and passionate Roger, disdaining the
gift, kindled a fire, and burnt the garment on the dungeon floor; and
William, deeply affronted, swore in return that he should never pass the
threshold of his prison.
Waltheof, who was innocent of all save being present at the unfortunate
feast, might have been spared but for the wickedness of his wife,
Judith, William's niece, who had been married to him when it was her
uncle's policy to conciliate the Saxons. She hated and despised the
Saxon churl given her for a lord, kind, generous, and pious though he
was; and having set her affections on a young Norman, herself became the
accuser of her husband. Waltheof succeeded in disproving the calumnies,
and the best and wisest Normans spoke in his favor; but the spite of Ivo
Taillebois, and the hatred of his wife, prevailed, and he was sentenced
He was executed at Winchester, where, lest the inhabitants should
attempt a rescue, he was led out, early in the morning, to St. Giles's
hill, outside the walls. He wore the robes of an earl, and gave them to
the priests who attended him, and to the poor people who followed him.
When he came to the spot he knelt down to pray, begging the soldiers to
wait till he had said the Lord's Prayer; but he had only come to "Lead
us not into temptation," when one of them severed his head from his body
with one blow of a sword.
His body was hastily thrown into a hole; but the Saxons, who loved him
greatly, disinterred it in secret, and contrived to carry it all the way
to Croyland, where it was buried with due honors, and we may think of
Hereward le Wake attending the funeral of the son of the stalwart old
As to the perfidious Judith, she reaped the reward of her crimes; she
was not permitted to marry her Norman lover, and he was stripped of all
the wealth she expected as the widow of Waltbeof. This was secured to
her infant daughter, and was so considerable, that at one time William
thought the little Matilda of Huntingdon a fit match for his son Robert;
but Robert despised the Saxon blood, and made this project an excuse for
one of his rebellions. Matilda was, however, a royal bride, since her
hand was given to David I. of Scotland, the representative of the old
race of Cerdic, and a most excellent prince, with whom she was much
happier than she could well have: been with the unstable Robert
THE LAST SAXON BISHOP.
_Kings of England_.
1066. William I.
1087. William II.
The last saint of the Anglo-Saxon Church, the Bishop who lived from the
days of Edward the Confessor, to the evil times of the Red King, was
Wulstan of Worcester, a homely old man, of plain English character, and
of great piety. The quiet, even tenor of his life is truly like a "soft
green isle" in the midst of the turbulent storms and tempests of the
Wulstan was born at Long Itchington, a village in Warwickshire, in the
time of Ethelred the Unready. He was the son of the Thane Athelstan, and
was educated in the monasteries of Evesham and Peterborough. When he had
been trained in such learning as these could afford, he came home for
a few years, and entered into the sports and occupations of the noble
youths of the time, without parting with the piety and purity of his
conventual life, and steadily resisting temptation.
His parents were grown old, and having become impoverished, perhaps by
the exactions perpetrated either by the Danes, or to bribe them away,
retired from the world, and entered convents at Worcester. Wulstan,
wishing to devote himself to the Church, sought the service of the
Bishop, who ordained him to the priesthood.
He lived, though a secular priest, with monastic strictness, and in time
obtained permission from the Bishop to become a monk in the convent,
where he continued for twenty-five years, and at length became Prior of
the Convent. The Prior was the person next in office to the Abbot, and
governed the monastery in his absence; and in some religious orders,
where there was no Abbot, the Prior was the superior.
Wulstan's habits in the convent show us what the devotional life of
that time was. Each day he bent the knee at each verse of the seven
Penitential Psalms, and the same at the 119th Psalm at night. He would
lock himself into the church, and pray aloud with tears and cries, and
at night he would often retire into some solitary spot, the graveyard,
or lonely village church, to pray and meditate. His bed was the church
floor, or a narrow board, and stern were his habits of fasting and
mortification; but all the time he was full of activity in the cause of
the poor, and, finishing his devotions early in the morning, gave up the
whole day to attend to the common people, sitting at the church door to
listen to, and redress, as far as in him lay, the grievances that they
brought him--at any rate, to console and advise. The rude, secular
country clergy, at that time, it may be feared, a corrupt, untaught
race, had in great measure ceased to instruct or exhort their flocks,
and even refund baptism without payment. He did his best to remedy these
abuses, and from all parts of the country children were brought to
the good Prior for baptism. Every Sunday, too, he preached, and the
Worcestershire people flocked from all sides to hear his plain, forcible
language, though he never failed to rebuke them sharply for their most
The fame of the holy Prior of Worcester began to spread, and on one
occasion Earl Harold himself came thirty miles out of his way to confess
his sins to him and desire his prayers.
About the year 1062, two Roman Cardinals came to Worcester with Aldred,
who had just been translated from that see to the Archbishopric of
York. They spent the whole of Lent in Wulstan's monastery; and when,
at Easter, they returned to the court of Edward the Confessor, they
recommended him for the Bishop to succeed Aldred; and Aldred himself,
Archbishop Stigand, and Harold, all concurred in the same advice. The
people and clergy of Worcester with one voice chose the good Prior
Wulstan; his election was confirmed by the king, and he received the
appointment. He long struggled against it, protesting that he would
rather lose his head than be made a Bishop; but he was persuaded at last
by an old hermit, who rebuked him for his resistance as for a sin. He
received the pastoral staff from King Edward, and was consecrated by his
former Bishop, Aldred.
As a Bishop he was more active than ever, constantly riding from place
to place to visit the different towns and villages; and, as he went,
repeating the Psalms and Litany, his attendant priests making the
responses; while his chamberlain carried a purse, from which every one
who asked alms was sure to be supplied. He never passed a church without
praying in it, and never reached his resting-place for the night without
paying his first visit to the church. Wherever he went, crowds of every
rank poured out to meet him, and he never sent them away without the
full Church service, and a sermon; nay, more--each poor serf might come
to him, pour out his troubles, whether temporal, or whether his heart
had been touched by the good words he had heard. Above all, Wulstan
delighted in giving his blessing in Confirmation, and would go on from
morning till night without food, till all his clergy were worn out,
though he seemed to know no weariness.
His clergy seem to have had much of the sluggishness of the Saxon, and
were often impatient of a temper, both of devotion and energy, so much
beyond them. If one was absent from the night service, the Bishop would
take no notice till it was over; but when all the others were gone back
to bed, he would wake the defaulter, and make him go through the service
with no companion but himself, making the responses. They did not like
him to put them out, as he often did on their journeys, while going
through the Psalms, by dwelling on the "prayer-verses;" and most
especially did they dislike his leading them to church, whatever season
or weather it might be, to chant matins before it was light. Once, at
Marlow, when it was a long way to church, very muddy, and with a cold
rain falling, one of his clergy, in hopes of making him turn back, led
him into the worst part of the swamp, where he sunk up to his knees in
mud, and lost his shoe; but he took no notice until, after the service
was over, he had returned to his lodgings, half dead with cold, and
then, instead of expressing any anger, he only ordered search to be made
for the shoe.
Wulstan took no part in what we should call politics; he thought it his
duty to render his submission to the King whom the people had chosen,
and to strive only to amend the life of the men of the country. He was
in high favor with Harold during his short reign, and was for some time
at court, where the fine Saxon gentlemen learnt to dread the neighborhood
of the old Bishop; for Wulstan considered their luxury as worthy of blame,
and especially attacked their long flowing hair. If any of them placed
their heads within, his reach, he would crop off "the first-fruits of
their curls" with his own little knife, enjoining them to have the rest
cut off; and yet, if Wulstan saw the children of the choir with their
dress disordered, he would smooth it with his own hands, and when told
the condescension did not become a Bishop, made answer, "He that is
greatest among you shall be your servant."
Aldred, Wulstan's former Bishop, now Archbishop of York, was the
anointer of both Harold and William the Conqueror. He kept fair with the
Normans as long as he could, but at last, driven to extremity by the
miseries they inflicted on his unhappy diocese, he went to William
arrayed in his full episcopal robes, solemnly revoked his coronation
blessing, denounced a curse on him and his race, and then, returning to
York, there died of grief.
Eghelwin, Bishop of Durham, gave good advice to Comyn, the Norman Earl,
but it was unheeded, and the townsmen rose in the night and burnt Comyn
to death, with all his followers, as they lay overcome with wine and
sleep in the plundered houses. The rising of the northern counties
followed, and Eghelwin was so far involved in it, that he was obliged to
fly. He took shelter in the Camp of Refuge, was made prisoner when
it was betrayed, and spent the rest of his life in one of William's
Our good Wulstan had a happier lot, and spent his time in his own round
of quiet duties in his diocese, binding up the wounds inflicted by the
cruel oppressors, but exhorting the Saxons to bear them patiently, and
see in them the chastisement of their own crimes. "It is the scourge of
God that ye are suffering," he said; and when they replied that they
had never been half so bad as the Normans, he said, "God is using their
wickedness to punish your evil deserts, as the devil, of his own evil
will, yet by God's righteous will, punishes those with whom he suffers.
Do ye, when ye are angry, care what becomes of the staff wherewith ye
He had his own share of troubles and anxieties, but he met them in his
trustful spirit, and straight-forward way. At Easter, 1070, a council
was held at Winchester, at which he was summoned to attend. He was one
of the five last Saxon Bishops; Stigand, who held both at once the
primacy and the see of Winchester; his brother, Eghelmar, Bishop of
Elmham; Eghelsie, of Selsey; and the Bishop of Durham, Eghelwin, who was
in the Camp of Refuge.
Two cardinals were present to represent the Pope, and on account of his
simony, Stigand was deposed and imprisoned, while Eghelric and Eghelmar
were also degraded. Yet Wulstan, clear of conscience, and certain of the
validity of his own election, was not affrighted; so far from it, he
boldly called on the King to restore some lands that Aldred of York had
kept back from the see of Worcester.
Thomas, Aldred's successor, claimed them by a pretended jurisdiction
over Worcester, and the decision was put off for a court of the
great men of the realm, which did not take place till several fresh
appointments had been made. Lanfranc, the Italian, Abbot of Bec, had
become Archbishop of Canterbury, and was, of course, interested in
guarding the jurisdiction of the Archiepiscopal see.
Wulstan, in this critical time, was exactly like himself. He fell asleep
while Thomas was arguing, and when time was given him to think of his
answer, he spent it in singing the service of the hour, though his
priests were in terror lest they should be ridiculed for it. "Know you
not," he answered, "that the Lord hath said, 'When ye stand before king
and rulers, take no thought what ye shall speak, for it shall be given
you in that hour what ye shall speak.' Our Lord can give me speech
to-day to defend my right, and overthrow their might." Accordingly, his
honest statement prevailed, and he gained his cause.
There is a beautiful legend that Lanfranc, thinking the simple old
Saxon too rude and ignorant for his office, summoned him to a synod at
Westminster, and there called on him to deliver up his pastoral staff
and ring. Wulstan rose, and said he had known from the first that he was
not worthy of his dignity, and had taken it only at the bidding of his
master, King Edward. To him, therefore, who gave the staff, he would
resign it. Advancing to the Confessor's tomb, he said, "Master, thou
knowest how unwillingly I took this office, forced to it by thee. Behold
a new king--a new law--a new primate; they decree new rights, and
promulgate new statutes. Thee they accuse of error in having so
commanded--me of presumption, in having obeyed. Then, indeed, thou wast
liable to err, being mortal--now, being with God, thou canst not err.
Not to these who require what they did not give, but to thee, who hast
given, I render up my staff. Take this, my master, and deliver it to
whom thou wilt."
He laid it on the tomb, took off his episcopal robes, and sat down
among the monks. The legend goes on to say, that the staff remained
embedded in the stone, and no hand could wrench it away, till Wulstan
himself again took it up, when it yielded without effort. The King and
Archbishop fell down at his feet, and entreated his pardon and blessing.
Such is the story told a century after; and surely we may believe that,
without the miracle, the old man's touching appeal to his dead King, and
his humility, convinced Lanfranc that it had been foul shame to think
of deposing such a man because his learning was not extensive, nor his
manners like those of the courtly Norman. Be that as it may, thenceforth
Lanfranc and Wulstan worked hand in hand, and we find the Archbishop
begging him to undertake the visitation of the diocese of Chester, which
was unsafe for the Norman prelates. One great work accomplished by the
help of Wulstan was, the putting an end to a horrible slave-trade with
Ireland, whither Saxon serfs were sold, not by Normans, but by their own
country people, who had long carried it on before the Conquest. Lanfranc
persuaded William to abolish it, but the rude Saxon slave-merchants
cared nothing for his edicts, until the Bishop of Worcester came to
Bristol, and preached against the traffic, staying a month or two at
a time, every year, till the minds of the people of Bristol were so
altered, that they not only gave up the trade, but acquired such
a horror of it that they tore out the eyes of the last person who
persisted in it.
The favor and esteem with which Wulstan was regarded did not cease, but
he was obliged to spend a life of constraint. The Archbishop made him
keep a band of armed retainers to preserve the peace of the country, and
they were new and strange companions for the old monk; but as he thought
his presence kept them from evil, he did not remain aloof, dining with
them each day in the public hall, and even while they sat long over the
wine, remaining with them, pledging them good-humoredly in a little cup,
which he pretended to taste, and ruminating on the Psalms in the midst
of their noisy mirth.
These were the days of church-building--the days of the circular arch,
round column, and zigzag moulding; of doorways whose round arch, adorned
with border after border of rich or quaint device, almost bewilder us
with the multiplicity of detail; of low square towers, and solid walls;
of that kind of architecture called Norman, but more properly a branch
of the Romanesque of Italy.
Each new Roman Bishop or Abbot thought it his business to renew his
clumsy old Saxon minster, and we have few cathedrals whose present
structure does not date from the days of the Conqueror or his sons.
Walkelyn, Bishop of Winchester, obtained a grant from William of as
much timber from Hempage Wood as could be cut in four days and nights;
whereupon Walkelyn assembled a huge company of workmen, and made such
good use of the time, that when the king passed that way, he cried out,
"Am I bewitched, or have I taken leave of my senses? Had I not a most
delectable wood in this spot?" where now only stumps were to be seen.
Wulstan had always been a church-builder, and he renewed his cathedral
after the Norman fashion; but when it was finished, and the workmen
began to pull down the old one, which had been built by St. Oswald,
he stood watching them in silence, till at last he shed tears. "Poor
creatures that we are," said he, "we destroy the work of the saints, and
think in our pride that we improve upon it. Those blessed men knew not
how to build fine churches, but they knew how to sacrifice themselves to
God, whatever roof might be over them, and to draw their flocks after
them. Now, all we think of is to rear up piles of stones, while we care
not for souls."
Wulstan lived to a great age, survived William and Lanfrane, and
assisted to consecrate Anselm. In the last year of his life he kept each
festival with still greater solemnity than ever, and his feast for the
poor overflowed more than ever before; his stores were exhausted, though
he had collected an unusual quantity, and his clergy begged him to shut
the gates against the crowds still gathering; but he refused, saying
none should go empty away, and some gifts from his rich friends arrived
opportunely to supply the need. The Bishop sat in the midst as feasting
with them, now grown too feeble to wait on them, as he had always done
At Whitsuntide, 1094, he was taken ill, and lingered under a slow fever
till the new year, when he died in peace and joy on the 19th of January.
His greatest friend, Robert, the Bishop of Hereford, a learned man,
understanding all the science of the time, a judge, and a courtly
Lorrainer, yet who loved to spend whole days with the unlettered Saxon,
came to lay him in his grave. He received, as a gift from the convent,
the lambskin cloak that Wulstan used to wear, in spite of the laughter
of the gay prelates arrayed in costly furs, keeping his ground by
saying, that "the furs of cunning animals did not befit a plain man."
He went home to Hereford, and soon after died, having, it is said, been
warned in a vision by St. Wulstan that he must soon prepare to follow
In speaking of William, the Norman Conqueror, we are speaking of a
really great man; and great men are always hard to understand or deal
with in history, for, as their minds are above common understandings,
their contemporary historians generally enter into their views less than
any one else, and it is only the result that proves their wisdom and
far-sight. Moreover, their temptations and their sins are on a larger
scale than those of other men, and some of the actions that they perform
make a disproportionate impression by the cry that they occasion--the
evil is remembered, not the good that their main policy effected.
William was a high-minded man, of mighty and wide purposes, one of the
very few who understood what it was to be a king. He had the Norman
qualities in their fullest perfection. He was devoutly religious, and in
his private character was irreproachable, being the first Norman Duke
unstained by licence, the first whose sons were all born of his princess
wife. He was devout in his habits, full of alms-deeds; and strong and
resolute as was his will, he kept it so upright and so truly desirous
of the Divine glory and the Church's welfare, that he had no serious
misunderstanding with the clergy, and lived on the most friendly terms
with his great Archbishop, Lanfranc.
He was one of those mighty men who, in personal intercourse, have a
force of nature that not merely renders opposition impossible, but
absolutely masters the will and intention, so that there is not even the
secret contradiction of mind. We have seen this in his dealings with
both his own Normans and the Saxons who came in contact with him. His
presence was so irresistible that men yielded to it unconsciously, but
when absent from him they became themselves again, and in the reaction
they committed treason against the pledges they seemed to have
voluntarily given to him.
He was stern, fiercely stern. His standard and ideal were very high,
such as, perhaps, only the saintly could attain to. The men who
never quarrelled with him were Lanfranc, Edgar Atheling, and William
Fitzosborn. The first was saintly and strong; the second, honest,
upright, and simple; the third was endeared by boyish memories, and
to these, perhaps, may be added Edward the Confessor and good Bishop
Many others William tried to love and trust--his uncle Odo, his own son,
Earls Edwin and Morkar, Waltheof, the sons of Fitzosborn; but they
all failed, grieved, and disappointed him. None was strong, noble, or
disinterested enough not at one time or other to be a traitor; and,
perhaps, his really honest, open enemy, Hereward le Wake, was the person
whom he most valued and honored after the above mentioned.
And though his affection was hearty, his wrath when he was disappointed
was tremendous. And his disappointments were many, partly because his
standard was in every respect far above that of the men around him, and
partly because his presence so far lifted them to his level, that, when
they fell to their own, he was totally unprepared for the treachery and
deceit such a fall involved.
Then down he came on them with implacable vengeance, he was so very
"stark," as the old chronicle has it. Battle, devastation, plunder,
lifelong imprisonment, confiscation, requited him who had drawn on
himself the terrible wrath of William of Normandy. There were few soft
places in that mighty heart; it could love, but it could not pity, and
it could not forgive. He was of the true nature to be a Scourge of God.
Hardened and embittered by the selfish treasons that had beset his early
boyhood, and which had forced him into manhood before his time, he came
to England as one called thither by the late king's designation, and,
therefore, the lawful heir. The Norman law, a confusion of the old Frank
and Roman codes, and of the Norwegian pirate customs, he seems to have
been glad to leave behind. His native Normans must be ruled by it,
but he was an English king by inheritance, and English laws he would
observe; Englishmen should have their national share in the royal favor,
and in their native land.
But the design proved impracticable. The English had been split into
fierce parties long before he came, and the West Saxon, the Mercian
Angle, and Northumbrian Dane hated one another still, and all hated the
Norman alike; and his Norman, French, and Breton importations lost no
love among themselves, and viewed the English natives as conquered
beings, whose spoil was unjustly withheld from them by the Duke King.
Rebellion began: by ones, twos, and threes, the nobles revolted,
and were stamped out by William's iron heel, suffering his fierce,
unrelenting justice--that highest justice that according to the Latin
proverb becomes, in man's mind at least, the highest injustice. So
England lay, trampled, bleeding, indignant, and raising a loud cry of
misery; but, in real truth, the sufferers were in the first place the
actual rebels, Saxon and Norman alike; next, those districts which had
risen against his authority, and were barbarously devastated with fire
and sword; and lastly, the places which, by the death or forfeiture of
native lords, or by the enforced marriage of heiresses, fell into the
hands of rapacious Norman adventurers, who treated their serfs with the
brutal violence common in France.
Otherwise, things were left much as they were. The towns had little or
no cause of complaint, and the lesser Saxon gentry, with the Franklins
and the Earls, were unmolested, unless they happened to have vicious
neighbors. The Curfew bell, about which so great a clamor was raised,
was a universal regulation in Europe; it was a call to prayers, an
intimation that it was bedtime, and a means of guarding against fire,
when streets were often nothing but wooden booths thatched. The intense
hatred that its introduction caused was only the true English dislike to
anything like domiciliary interference.
The King has left us an undoubted testimony to the condition of the
country, and the number of Saxons still holding tenures. Nineteen years
after his Conquest, he held a council at Gloucester, the result of which
was a great "numbering of the people"--a general census. To every city
or town, commissioners were sent forth, who collected together the Shire
reeve or Sheriff--the Viscount, as the Normans called him--the thegus,
the parish priests, the reeves, and franklins, who were examined upon
oath of the numbers, names, and holdings of the men of their place, both
as they were in King Edward's days, and at that time. The lands had to
be de scribed, whether plough lands or pasture, wood or waste; the mills
and fisheries wore recorded, and each farmer's stock of oxen, cows,
sheep, or swine. The English grumbled at the inquiry, called it tyranny,
and expected worse to come of it, but there was no real cause for
complaint. The primary object of the survey was the land-tax, the
Danegeld, as it was called, because it was first raised to provide
defences against the Danes, and every portion of arable land was
assessed at a fair rate, according to ancient custom, but not that which
lay waste. The entire record, including all England save London and the
four northern counties, was preserved at Winchester, and called the
Winchester Roll, or Domesday Book. It is one of the most interesting
records in existence, showing, as it does, the exceeding antiquity of
our existing divisions of townships, parishes and estates, and even of
the families inhabiting them, of whom a fair proportion, chiefly of the
lesser gentry, can point to evidence that they live on soil that was
tilled by their fathers before the days of the Norman. It is far more
satisfactory than the Battle Roll, which was much tampered with by the
monks to gratify the ancestral vanity of gentlemen who were so persuaded
that their ancestors ought to be found there, that they caused them to
be inserted if they were missing. Of Domesday Book, however, there is no
doubt, as the original copy is still extant in its fair old handwriting,
showing the wonderful work that the French-speaking scribes made with
English names of people and places. Queen Edith, the Confessor's widow,
who was a large landholder, appears as Eddeve, Adeve, Adiva--by anything
but her true old English name of Eadgyth. But it was much that the
subdued English folk appeared there at all.
The most real grievance that the English had to complain of was the
Forest Laws. The Dukes of Normandy had had many a quarrel in their
Neustrian home with their subjects, on the vexed question of the chase,
their greatest passion; and when William came into England as a victor,
he was determined to rule all his own way in the waste and woodland. All
the forests he took into his own hands, and the saying was that "the
king loved the high deer as if he was their father;" any trespass was
severely punched, and if he slaughter of any kind of game was a more
serious thing than murder itself.
Chief of all, however, in people's minds, was his appropriation of the
tract of Jettenwald, or the Giant's Wood, Ytene, in South Hants. A
tempting hunting-ground extended nearly all the way from his royal city
of Winchester, broad, bare chalk down, passing into heathy common, and
forest waste, covered with holly and yew, and with noble oak and beech
in its dells, fit covert for the mighty boar, the high deer, and an
infinity of game beside.
With William's paternal feelings toward the deer, he thought the cotters
and squatters, the churls and the serfs, on the borders of the wood, or
in little clearings in the midst, mischievous interlopers, and at one
swoop he expelled them all, and kept the Giant's Wood solely for himself
and his deer, by the still remaining name of the New Forest.
Chroniclers talk of twenty-two mother churches and fifty-two
parishes laid waste, but there is no doubt that this was a monstrous
exaggeration, and that the population could not have been so dense. At
any rate, whatever their numbers, the inhabitants were expelled, the
animals were left unmolested for seven years, and then the Norman king
enjoyed his sports there among his fierce nobility, little recking that
all the English, and many of the Normans, longed that a curse should
there light upon his head, or on that of his proud sons.
THE CONQUEROR'S CHILDREN.
The wife of William of Normandy was, as has been said, Matilda, daughter
of Baldwin, Count of Flanders. The wife of such a man as William has not
much opportunity of showing her natural character, and we do not know
much of hers. It appears, however, that she was strong-willed and
vindictive, and, very little disposed to accept him. She had set
her affections upon one Brihtric Meau, called Snow, from his fair
complexion, a young English lord who had visited her father's court on
a mission from Edward the Confessor, but who does not appear to have
equally admired the lady. For seven years Matilda is said to have held
out against William, until one twilight evening, when she was going
home from church, in the streets of Bruges he rode up to her, beat her
severely, and threw her into the gutter!
Wonderful to relate, the high-spirited demoiselle was subdued by this
rough courtship, and gave her hand to her determined cousin without
further resistance; nor do we hear that he ever beat her again. Indeed,
if he did, he was not likely to let their good vassals be aware of it;
and, in very truth, they seem to have been considered as models of peace
and happiness. But it is much to be suspected that her nature remained
proud and vindictive; for no sooner had her husband become master of
England, than she caused the unfortunate Brihtric, who had disdained her
love, to be stripped of all his manors in Gloucestershire, including
Fairford, Tewkesbury, and the rich meadows around, and threw him into
Winchester Castle, where he died; while Domesday Book witnesses to her
revenge, by showing that the lands once his belonged to Queen Matilda.
The indication of character in a woman who had so little opportunity of
independent action, is worth noting, as it serves to mark the spirit
in which her children would be reared, and to explain why the sons
so entirely fell short of all that was greatest and noblest in their
father. The devotion, honor, and generosity, that made the iron of his
composition bright as well as hard, was utterly wanting in them, or
merely appeared in passing inconsistencies, and it is but too likely
that they derived no gentler training from their mother. There were ten
children, four sons and six daughters, but the names of these latter,
are very difficult to distinguish, as Adela, Atheliza, Adelheid, or
Alix, was a sort of feminine of Atheling, a Princess-Royal title,
and was applied to most of the eldest daughters of the French and
German-princes, or, when the senior was dead, or married, to the
Cecily, Matilda's eldest daughter, was, even before her birth, decreed
to be no Adela for whom contending potentates might struggle. She was
to be the atonement for the parents' hasty, unlicensed marriage, in
addition to their two beautiful abbeys at Caen. When the Abbaye aux
Dames was consecrated, the little girl was led by her father to the foot
of the altar, and there presented as his offering. She was educated with
great care by a very learned though somewhat dissipated priest, took
the veil, and, becoming abbess, ruled her nuns for many years, well
contented and much respected.
The next sister was the Atheliza of the family, but her name was either
Elfgiva or Agatha. She enjoys the distinction of being the only female
portrait in her mother's tapestry--except a poor woman escaping from a
sacked town. She stands under a gateway, while Harold is riding forth
with her father, in witness, perhaps, of her having been betrothed to
Harold; or perhaps Matilda felt a mother's yearning to commemorate the
first of her flock who had been laid in the grave, for Elfgiva died a
short time after the contract, which Harold would hardly have fulfilled,
since he had at least one wife already at home.
Her sister, Matilda, promoted to be Adeliza, was betrothed to another
Saxon, the graceful and beautiful Edwin, whom she loved with great
ardor, through all his weak conduct toward her father. After his
untimely end, she was promised to Alfonso I. of Castile, but she
could not endure to give her heart to another; she wept and prayed
continually, but in vain as far as her father was concerned. She was
sent off on her journey, but died on the way; and then it was that the
poor girl's knees were found to be hardened by her constant kneeling to
implore the pity that assuredly was granted to her.
Constance married Alain Fergeant, a brother of the Duke of Brittany, and
an adventurer in the Norman invasion. He was presented with the Earldom
of Richmond, in Yorkshire; and as his son became afterward Duke of
Brittany, this appanage frequently gave title to younger brothers in the
old Armorican Duchy. That son was not born of Constance; she fell into
a languishing state of health, and died, four years after her marriage.
Report said that her husband's vassals found her so harsh and rigorous,
that they poisoned her; and considering what her brothers were, it is
Of the Adela who married that accomplished prince, Stephen, Count de
Blois, there will be more to say; and as to Gundred, the wife of Earl
Warenne, it is a doubtful question whether she was a daughter of William
and Matilda. Her tomb was lately found in Isfield Church, Sussex; but
though it has an inscription praising her virtues, it says nothing of
her royal birth.
The sons of William left far more distinct and undesirable traces of
themselves than their sisters. Robert was probably the eldest of the
whole family, and he was his mother's favorite, like most eldest sons.
He did not inherit the stately height of the Norman princes, and, from
his short, sturdy form, early acquired the nickname of Courtheuse, by
which he was distinguished among the swarms of other Roberts. Much pains
was bestowed on his instruction, and that of his brothers, Richard and
William, by the excellent Lanfranc, and they all had great abilities;
but there were influences at work among the fierce Norman lads that
rendered the holy training of the good abbot wholly ineffectual. Their
father, conscious of his own defective right to the ducal rank, lost no
opportunity of binding his vassals to swear fealty not only to himself,
but his eldest son; and from Robert's infancy he had learnt to hold out
his hand, and hear the barons declare themselves his men. When the Duke
set out on his conquest of England, he caused the oath to be renewed to
Robert, and he at the same time showed his love for William, then the
youngest, by having him, with his long red hair floating, carved,
blowing a horn, at the figure-head of the Mora.
Soon after the Conquest, when Matilda had lately been crowned Queen of
England, the fourth son, Henry, was born. He had much more personal
beauty and height than the other brothers, and there was always an idea
floating that the son born when his father was king had a right over
his elder brethren, and thus Henry was always an object of jealousy to
his brothers. Passionately fond of the few books he could obtain, he
was called Beauclerc, or the fine scholar; and whilst as little
restrained by real principle as his brothers, he was able to preserve a
decorum and self-command that kept him in better reputation.
The second brother, Richard, however, had no opportunity of showing his
character. He died in the New Forest, either from a blow on the head
from a branch of a tree, or from a fever caught in the marshes, and is
buried in Winchester Cathedral. Perhaps the doom came on him in innocent
youth, "because there was some good thing in him."
In 1075, when Robert must have been a man some years over twenty, Henry
a boy of nine, and William probably twelve or fourteen, they all three
accompanied their father into Normandy, and were there in the fortress
of Aquila, or Aigle, so called because there had been an eagle's nest
in the oak-tree close to the site of the castle. Robert was in a
discontented mood. The numerous occasions on which he had received the
homage of the Normans made him fancy he ought to have the rule in the
duchy; his mother's favoritism had fostered his ill-feeling, and he was
becoming very jealous of red-haired William, who from his quickness,
daring, and readiness had become his father's favorite; and though
under restraint in the Conqueror's presence, was no doubt outrageously
boisterous, insolent, and presuming in his absence; and Henry, the fine
scholar, his companion and following his lead, secretly despised both
Robert's lodging was suddenly invaded by the two wild lads and their
attendants. Finding themselves no better welcomed or amused than rude
boys are wont to be by young men, they betook themselves to an upper
room, the floor of which was formed by ill-laid, gaping planks, which
were the ceiling of that below. Here they began to play at dice; they
soon grew even more intolerably uproarious, and in the coarse of their
quarrelsome, boisterous tricks, overthrew a vessel of dirty water, which
began to drip through the interstices of the planks on their brother and
his friends below--an accident sure to be welcomed by a hoarse laugh
by the rough boys, but appearing to the victims beneath a deliberate
insult. "Are you a man not to avenge this shameful insolence?" cried
Robert's friends, Alberic and Ivo de Grantmesnil. In a fury of passion,
Robert rushed after the lads with his sword drawn, and King William
was roused from his sleep to hear that Lord Robert was murdering his
The passion and violence of the elder son had the natural effect of
making the father take the part of the younger ones, and Robert was
so much incensed, that he rode off with his friends, and, collecting
partisans as he went, attacked Rouen.
He was of course repulsed, and many of his followers were made
prisoners. He held out in the border counties for a little while, but
all his supporters were gained from him by his father, and he at length
came back to court, and appeared reconciled. There, however, he had
nothing to do, and all the licentious and disaffected congregated
round him; he idled away half his time, and revelled the rest, and his
pretensions magnified themselves all the time in his fancy, till at last
he was stimulated to demand of his father the cession of Normandy, as a
right confirmed to him by the French king.
William replied by a lecture on disobedience, citing as examples of
warning all the Absaloms of history; but Robert fiercely answered, that
he had not come to listen to a sermon; he was sick of hearing all this
from his teachers, and he would have his answer touching his claim to
The answer he got was, "It is not my custom to lay aside my clothes till
I go to bed."
It sent him off in a rage, with all his crew of dissolute followers. He
went first to his uncle in Flanders, then to Germany and Italy, always
penniless from his lavish habits, though his mother often sent him
supplies of money by a trusty messenger, called Samson le Breton.
However, the King found him out, and reproached Matilda angrily; but she
made answer, "If Robert, my son, were buried seven feet under ground,
and I could bring him to life again by my heart's blood, how gladly
would I give it!" The implacable William commanded Samson to be blinded,
but he escaped to the monastery of St. Everard, and there became a monk.
Returning, Robert presented himself to King Philippe of France, who was
glad to annoy his overgrown vassal by patronizing the rebellious son,
and accordingly placed Robert in the Castle of Gerberoi, where he might
best be a thorn in his father's side. There William besieged him,
bringing the two younger sons with him, though Henry was but twelve
years old. For three weeks there was sharp fighting; and, finally, a
battle, in which the younger William was wounded, and the elder, cased
in his full armor of chain mail, encountered unknowingly with Robert,
in the like disguising hawberk. The Conqueror's horse was killed; his
esquire, an Englishman, in bringing him another, was slain; and he
himself received a blow which caused such agony that he could not
repress a shriek of pain. Robert knew his voice, and, struck with
remorse, immediately lifted him up, offered him his own horse, and
assured him of his ignorance of his person; but William, smarting and
indignant, vouchsafed no answer, and while the son returned to his
castle, the father went back to his camp, which he broke up the next
day, and returned to Rouen.
Robert seems to have been a favorite with the lawless Normans, who
writhed under the mighty hand of his father, and on their interference,
backed by that of the French king and the Pope, brought about a
reconciliation in name. The succession of Normandy was again secured to
Robert, but therewith he was laid under a curse by his angry father,
whose face he never saw again.
Other troubles thickened on William. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the bold,
rough, jovial half-brother, whom he had trusted and loved, was reported
to be full of mischievous plots. He seems to have been told by diviners
that the next Pope was to be named Odo, and, to secure the fulfilment
of the augury, he was sending bribes to Rome, and at the same time
collecting a great body of troops with whom to fight his way thither.
He was in the Isle of Wight, preparing to carry his forces to Normandy,
when William pounced, on him, and ordered him back again. It is not
clear whether he wished to prevent the scandal to the Church, or whether
he suspected this army of Odo's of being intended to support Robert
against himself; but, at any rate, he made bitter complaint before the
council of the way he had been treated by son, brother, and peer, and
sentenced Odo to imprisonment. No one would touch the Bishop, and
William was obliged to seize him himself, answering, to Odo's appeal
to his inviolable orders, "I judge not the Bishop, but my Earl and
Another grief befell him in 1083, in the death of Matilda, who, it was
currently believed, pined away with grief at his fury against her
beloved first-born--anger that his affection for her could not mitigate,
though he loved her so tenderly that his great heart almost broke at
her death, and he never was the same man during the four years that he
His health began to break; he had grown large and unwieldy, but his
spirit was as fiery as ever, and wherever there was war, there was he.
At last, in 1087, there was an insurrection at Mantes, supported by King
Philippe. William complained, but received no redress. Rude, scornful
jests were reported to him, and the savage part of his nature was
Always, hitherto, he had shown great forbearance in abstaining from
direct warfare on his suzerain, much as Philippe had often provoked
him, but his patience was exhausted, and he armed himself for a deadly
His own revolted town of Mantes was the first object of his fury. It was
harvest-time, and the crops and vineyards were mercilessly trodden down.
The inhabitants sallied out, hoping to save their corn; but the ruthless
king made his way into the city, and there caused house, convent, and
church alike to suffer plunder and fire, riding about himself directing
the work of destruction. The air was flame above, the ground was burning
hot beneath. His horse stumbled with pain and fright; and the large,
heavy body of the king fell forward on the high steel front of the
saddle, so as to be painfully and internally injured. He was carried
back to Rouen, but the noise, bustle, and heat of the city were
intolerable to him, and, with the restlessness of a dying man, he caused
himself to be carried to the convent of St. Gervais, on a hill above the
town; but he there found no relief. He felt his time was come, and sent
for his sons, William and Henry.
The mighty man's agony was a terrible one. "No tongue can tell," said
he, "the deeds of wickedness I have wrought during my weary pilgrimage
of toil and care." He tried to weigh against these his good actions, his
churches and convents, his well-chosen bishops, his endeavors to act
uprightly and justly; but finding little comfort in these, he bewailed
his own destiny, and how his very birth had forced him into bloodshed,
and driven him to violence, even in his youth.
The presence of his sons brought back his mind from the thought of his
condition, to that of the disposal of the lands which had become to him
merely a load of thick clay smeared with blood. Normandy, he said, must
be Robert's; but he groaned at the thought of the misery preparing
for his native land. "Wretched," he said, "must be the country under
Robert's rule; but he has received the homage of the barons, and the
grant once made can never be revoked. To England I dare appoint no heir.
Let Him in whose hands are all things, provide according to His will."
This was his first feeling, but when he saw William's disappointment,
he added, that he hoped the choice of the English might fall on his
"And what do you give me, father?" broke in Henry.
"A treasure of 5,000 pounds of silver," was the answer.
"What good will the treasure do me," cried Henry, "if I have neither
land, nor house, nor home?"
"Take comfort, my son," said his father; "it may be that one day thou
shalt be greater than all."
These words he spoke in the spirit of foreboding, no doubt perceiving
in Henry a sagacity and self-command which in the struggle of life was
certain to give him the advantage of his elder brothers; but then,
alarmed lest what he had said might be construed as acknowledging
Henry's superior claim as having been born a king's son, he felt it
needful to back up Rufus's claim, and bade a writ be prepared commanding
Lanfranc to crown William King of England. Affixing his signet, he
kissed and blessed his favorite, and sent him off at once to secure the
English throne. Henry, too, hurried away to secure his 5,000 pounds, and
the dying man was left alone, struggling between terror and hope.
He left sums of money for alms, masses, and prayers; and as an act
of forgiveness, released his captives--Earl Morcar, Ulfnoth, the
unfortunate hostage, Siward, and Roger de Breteuil, and all the rest;
but he long excepted his brother Odo, and only granted his liberation on
the earnest persuasion of the other brother, the Count of Mortagne.
He slept uneasily at night, awoke when the bells were ringing for lauds,
lifted up his hands in prayer, and breathed his last on the 8th of
His sons were gone, his attendants took care of themselves, his servants
plundered the chamber and bed, and cast on the floor uncovered the
mortal remnant of their once dreaded master. And though the clergy
soon recollected themselves, and attended to the obsequies of their
benefactor, carrying the corpse to his own Abbey at Caen, yet even
there, as has already been said, the cry of the despoiled refused to the
Conqueror even the poor boon of a grave.
THE CROWN AND THE MITRE.
_Kings of England_.
1087. William II.
1100. Henry I.
_King of France_.
1059. Philippe I.
_Emperors of Germany_.
1080. Heinrich IV.
1105. Heinrich V.
_Popes of Rome_.
1066. Victor III.
1073. Gregory VII.
1088. Urban II.
1099. Paschal II.
Great struggles took place in the eleventh century, between the
spiritual and temporal powers. England was the field of one branch
of the combat, between Bishop and King; but this cannot be properly
understood without reference to the main conflict in Italy, between Pope
The Pope, which word signifies Father, or Patriarch, of Rome, had from
the Apostolic times been always elected, like all other bishops, by the
general consent of the flock, both clergy and people; and, after the
conversion of Constantine, the Emperor, as first lay member of the
Church, of course had a powerful voice in the election, could reject any
person of whom he disapproved, or nominate one whom he desired to see
chosen, though still subject to the approval of clergy and people.
This power was, however, seldom exercised by the emperors at Rome, after
the seat of empire had been transferred to Constantinople, and their
power over Italy was diminishing through their own weakness and the
German conquests. The election continued in the hands of the Romans,
and in general, at this time, their choice was well-bestowed; the popes
were, many of them, saintly men, and, by their wisdom and authority,
often guarded Rome from the devastations with which it was threatened by
the many barbarous nations who invaded Italy. So it continued until Pope
Zaccaria quarrelled with Astolfo, King of Lombardy, and summoned the
Carlovingian princes from France to protect him. These Italian wars
resulted in Charles-le-Magne taking for himself the crown of Lombardy,
and in his being chosen Roman Emperor of the West, by the citizens of
Rome, under the influence of the Pope; while he, on his side, conferred
on the pope temporal powers such as none of his predecessors had enjoyed.
From thenceforth the theory was, that the Pope was head of the Western
Church, with archbishops, bishops, clergy, and laity, in regular
gradations under him; while the Emperor was in like manner head of the
State, kings, counts, barons, and peasants, in different orders below
him; the Church ruling the souls, the State the bodies of men, and the
two chieftains working hand in hand, each bearing a mission from above;
the Emperor, as a layman, owning himself inferior to the Pope, yet the
Pope acknowledging the temporal power of the crowned monarch.
This was a grand theory, but it fell grievously short in the practice.
The city of Rome, with its worn-out civilization, was a most corrupt
place; and now that the Papacy conferred the highest dignity and
influence, it began to be sought by very different men, and by very
different means, from those that had heretofore prevailed. Bribery and
every atrocious influence swayed the elections, and the wickedness of
some of the popes is almost incredible. At last the emperors interfered
to check the dreadful crimes and profanity at Rome, and thus the
nomination of the Pope fell absolutely into their hands, and was taken
from the Romans, to whom it belonged.
In the earlier part of the eleventh century, a deacon of Rome, named
Hildebrand, formed the design of freeing the See of St. Peter from the
subjection of the emperors, and at the same time of saving it from the
disgraceful power of the populace. The time was favorable, for the
Emperor, Henry IV., was a child, and the Pope, Stephen II., was ready to
forward all Hildebrand's views.
In the year 1059 was held the famous Lateran Council [Footnote: So
called from being convoked in the Church at the Lateran gate, on the
spot where St. John was miraculously preserved from the boiling oil.] of
the Roman clergy, in which it was enacted, that no benefice should be
received from the hands of any layman, but that all bishops should be
chosen by the clergy of the diocese; and though they in many cases held
part of the royal lands, they were by no means to receive investiture
from the sovereign, nor to pay homage. The tokens of investiture were
the pastoral staff, fashioned like a shepherd's crook, and the ring by
which the Bishop was wedded to his See, and these were to be no longer
taken from the monarch's hands. The choice of the popes was given to the
seventy cardinal or principal clergy of the diocese, who were chiefly
the ministers of the different parish churches, and in their hands it
has remained ever since.
Hildebrand himself was elected Pope in 1073, and took the name of
Gregory VII. He bore the brunt of the battle by which it was necessary
to secure the privileges he had asserted for the clergy. Henry IV.
of Germany was a violent man, and a furious struggle took place. The
Emperor took it on himself to depose the Pope, the Pope at the same time
sentenced the Emperor to abstain from the exercise of his power, and his
subject; elected another prince in his stead.
At one time Gregory compelled Henry to come barefooted to implore
absolution; at another, Henry besieged Rome, and Gregory was only
rescued from him by the Normans of Apulia, and was obliged to leave
Rome, and retire under their protection to Apulia, where he died in
1085, after having devoted his whole life to the fulfilment of his great
project of making the powers of this world visibly submit themselves to
the dominion of the Church.
The strife did not end with Gregory's death. Henry IV. was indeed
dethroned by his wicked son, but no sooner did this very son, Henry V.,
come to the crown, than he struggled with the Pope as fiercely as his
father had done.
It was not till after this great war in Germany that the question began
in any great degree to affect England. Archbishop Lanfranc, as an
Italian, thought and felt with Gregory VII.; and the Normans, both here
and in Italy, were in general the Pope's best friends; so that, though
William the Conqueror refused to make oath to become the warrior of the
Pope, Church affairs in general made no great stir in his lifetime, and
the question was not brought to issue.
The face of affairs was, however, greatly changed by the death of the
Conqueror in 1087. William Rufus was a fierce, hot-tempered man, without
respect for religion, delighting in revelry, and in being surrounded
with boisterous, hardy soldiers, whom he paid lavishly, though at the
same time he was excessively avaricious.
He had made large promises of privileges to the Saxons, in order to
obtain their support in case his elder brother Robert had striven to
assert his claims; but all these were violated, and when Lanfranc
remonstrated, he scoffingly asked whether the Archbishop fancied a king
could keep all his promises.
Lanfranc had been his tutor, had conferred on him the order of
knighthood and had hitherto exercised some degree of salutary influence
over him; but seeing all his efforts in vain, he retired to Canterbury,
and there died on the 24th of May, 1089.
Then, indeed, began evil days for the Church of England. William seized
all the revenues of the See of Canterbury, and kept them in his own
hands, instead of appointing a successor to Lanfranc, and he did the
same with almost every other benefice that fell vacant, so that at one
period he thus was despoiling all at once--the archbishopric, four
bishops' sees, and thirteen abbeys. At the same time, the miseries he
inflicted on the country were dreadful; his father's cruel forest laws
were enforced with double rigor, and the oppression of the Saxons was
terrible, for they were absolutely without the least protection from
any barbarities his lawless soldiery chose to inflict upon them. Every
oppressive baron wreaked his spite against his neighbors with impunity,
and Ivo Taillebois [Footnote: See "The Camp of Refuge."] was not long
in showing his malice, as usual, against Croyland Abbey.
A fire had accidentally broken out which consumed all the charters,
except some which were fortunately in another place, where they had been
set aside by Abbot Ingulf, that the younger monks might learn to read
the old Saxon character, and among these was happily the original grant
of the lands of Turketyl, signed by King Edred, and further confirmed by
the great seal of William I.
Ivo Taillebois, hearing of the fire, and trusting that all the
parchments had been lost together, sent a summons to the brethren to
produce the deeds by which they held their lands. They despatched a lay
brother called Trig to Spalding, with Turketyl's grant under his charge.
The Normans glanced over it, and derided it. "Such barbarous writings,"
they said, "could do nothing;" but when Trig produced the huge seal,
with William the Conqueror's effigy, still more "stark" and rigid than
Sir Ivo had known him in his lifetime, there was no disputing its
validity, and the court of Spalding was baffled. However, Taillebois
sent some of his men to waylay the poor monk, and rob him of his
precious parchment, intending then again to require the brotherhood
to prove their rights by its production; but brother Trig seems to have
been a wary man, and, returning by a by-path, avoided pursuit, and
brought the charter safely home. A short time after, Ivo offended the
king, and was banished, much to the joy of the Fen country.
Rapine and oppression were in every corner of England and Normandy, the
two brothers Robert and William setting the example by stripping their
youngest brother, Henry, of the castle he had purchased with his
father's legacy. One knight, two squires, and a faithful chaplain, alone
would abide by the fortunes of the landless prince. The chaplain, Roger
le Poer, had been chosen by Henry, for a reason from which no one could
have expected the fidelity he showed his prince in his misfortunes,
nor his excellent conduct afterward when sharing the prosperity of his
master. He was at first a poor parish priest of Normandy, and Henry,
chancing to enter his church, found him saying mass so quickly, that,
quite delighted, the prince exclaimed, "Here's a priest for me!" and
immediately took him into his service. Nevertheless, Roger le Poer was
an excellent adviser, an upright judge, and a good bishop. It was he who
commenced the Cathedral of Salisbury, where it now stands, removing it
from the now deserted site of Old Sarum.
Robert had not added much to the tranquillity of the country by
releasing his uncle, the turbulent old Bishop Odo, who was continually
raising quarrels between him and William. Odo's old friend, Earl Hugh
the Wolf, of Chester, [Footnote: See the "Camp of Refuge."] was at this
time better employed than most of the Norman nobles. He was guarding the
frontier against the Welsh, and at the same time building the heavy red
stone pile which is now the Cathedral of Chester, and which he intended
as the Church of a monastery of Benedictines. Fierce old Hugh was a
religious man, and had great reverence and affection for one of the
persons in all the world most unlike himself--Anselm, the Abbot of Bec.
Anselm was born at Aosta, in Piedmont, of noble parents, and was well
brought up by his pious mother, Ermengarde, under whose influence he
applied himself to holy learning, and was anxious to embrace a religious
life. She died when he was fifteen years of age, and his father was
careless and harsh. Anselm lost his love for study, and fell into
youthful excesses, but in a short time her good lessons returned upon
him, and he repented earnestly. His father, however, continued so
unkind, and even cruel, that he was obliged to leave the country, and
took refuge, first in Burgundy and then in Normandy, where he sought the
instruction of his countryman, Lanfranc, then Abbot of Bec.
He learnt, at Bec, that his father was dead, and decided on taking the
vows in that convent. There he remained for many years, highly revered
for his piety and wisdom, and, in fact, regarded as almost a saint.
In 1092, Hugh the Wolf was taken ill, and, believing he should never
recover, sent to entreat the holy Abbot to come and give him comfort
on his death-bed. Anselm came, but on his arrival found the old Earl
restored, and only intent on the affairs of his new monastery, the
regulation of which he gladly submitted to Anselm. The first Abbot was
one of the monks of Bec, and Earl Hugh himself afterward gave up his
country to his son Richard, and assumed the monastic habit there.
Whilst Anselm was on his visit to the Earl of Chester, there was some
conversation about him at Court, and some one said that the good Abbot
was so humble that he had no desire for any promotion or dignity. "Not
for the Archbishopric?" shouted the King, with a laugh of derision;
"but"--and he swore an oath--"other Archbishop than me there shall be
Some of the clergy about this time requested William to permit prayers
to be offered in the churches, that he might be directed to make a fit
choice of a Primate. He laughed, and said the Church might ask what she
pleased; she would not hinder him from doing what he pleased.
He knew not what Power he was defying. That power, in the following
spring, stretched him on a bed of sickness, despairing of life, and in