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William the Conqueror by E. A. Freeman

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Transcribed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

William the Conqueror


The Early Years of William
William's First Visit to England
The Reign of William in Normandy
Harold's Oat to William
The Negotiations of Duke William
William's Invasion of England
The Conquest of England
The Settlement of England
The Revolts against William
The Last Years of William


The history of England, like the land and its people, has been
specially insular, and yet no land has undergone deeper influences
from without. No land has owed more than England to the personal
action of men not of native birth. Britain was truly called
another world, in opposition to the world of the European mainland,
the world of Rome. In every age the history of Britain is the
history of an island, of an island great enough to form a world of
itself. In speaking of Celts or Teutons in Britain, we are
speaking, not simply of Celts and Teutons, but of Celts and Teutons
parted from their kinsfolk on the mainland, and brought under the
common influences of an island world. The land has seen several
settlements from outside, but the settlers have always been brought
under the spell of their insular position. Whenever settlement has
not meant displacement, the new comers have been assimilated by the
existing people of the land. When it has meant displacement, they
have still become islanders, marked off from those whom they left
behind by characteristics which were the direct result of
settlement in an island world.

The history of Britain then, and specially the history of England,
has been largely a history of elements absorbed and assimilated
from without. But each of those elements has done somewhat to
modify the mass into which it was absorbed. The English land and
nation are not as they might have been if they had never in later
times absorbed the Fleming, the French Huguenot, the German
Palatine. Still less are they as they might have been, if they had
not in earlier times absorbed the greater elements of the Dane and
the Norman. Both were assimilated; but both modified the character
and destiny of the people into whose substance they were absorbed.
The conquerors from Normandy were silently and peacefully lost in
the greater mass of the English people; still we can never be as if
the Norman had never come among us. We ever bear about us the
signs of his presence. Our colonists have carried those signs with
them into distant lands, to remind men that settlers in America and
Australia came from a land which the Norman once entered as a
conqueror. But that those signs of his presence hold the place
which they do hold in our mixed political being, that, badges of
conquest as they are, no one feels them to be badges of conquest--
all this comes of the fact that, if the Norman came as a conqueror,
he came as a conqueror of a special, perhaps almost of an unique
kind. The Norman Conquest of England has, in its nature and in its
results, no exact parallel in history. And that it has no exact
parallel in history is largely owing to the character and position
of the man who wrought it. That the history of England for the
last eight hundred years has been what it has been has largely come
of the personal character of a single man. That we are what we are
to this day largely comes of the fact that there was a moment when
our national destiny might be said to hang on the will of a single
man, and that that man was William, surnamed at different stages of
his life and memory, the Bastard, the Conqueror, and the Great.

With perfect fitness then does William the Norman, William the
Norman Conqueror of England, take his place in a series of English
statesmen. That so it should be is characteristic of English
history. Our history has been largely wrought for us by men who
have come in from without, sometimes as conquerors, sometimes as
the opposite of conquerors; but in whatever character they came,
they had to put on the character of Englishmen, and to make their
work an English work. From whatever land they came, on whatever
mission they came, as statesmen they were English. William, the
greatest of his class, is still but a member of a class. Along
with him we must reckon a crowd of kings, bishops, and high
officials in many ages of our history. Theodore of Tarsus and Cnut
of Denmark, Lanfranc of Pavia and Anselm of Aosta, Randolf Flambard
and Roger of Salisbury, Henry of Anjou and Simon of Montfort, are
all written on a list of which William is but the foremost. The
largest number come in William's own generation and in the
generations just before and after it. But the breed of England's
adopted children and rulers never died out. The name of William
the Deliverer stands, if not beside that of his namesake the
Conqueror, yet surely alongside of the lawgiver from Anjou. And we
count among the later worthies of England not a few men sprung from
other lands, who did and are doing their work among us, and who, as
statesmen at least, must count as English. As we look along the
whole line, even among the conquering kings and their immediate
instruments, their work never takes the shape of the rooting up of
the earlier institutions of the land. Those institutions are
modified, sometimes silently by the mere growth of events,
sometimes formally and of set purpose. Old institutions get new
names; new institutions are set up alongside of them. But the old
ones are never swept away; they sometimes die out; they are never
abolished. This comes largely of the absorbing and assimilating
power of the island world. But it comes no less of personal
character and personal circumstances, and pre-eminently of the
personal character of the Norman Conqueror and of the circumstances
in which he found himself.

Our special business now is with the personal acts and character of
William, and above all with his acts and character as an English
statesman. But the English reign of William followed on his
earlier Norman reign, and its character was largely the result of
his earlier Norman reign. A man of the highest natural gifts, he
had gone through such a schooling from his childhood upwards as
falls to the lot of few princes. Before he undertook the conquest
of England, he had in some sort to work the conquest of Normandy.
Of the ordinary work of a sovereign in a warlike age, the defence
of his own land, the annexation of other lands, William had his
full share. With the land of his overlord he had dealings of the
most opposite kinds. He had to call in the help of the French king
to put down rebellion in the Norman duchy, and he had to drive back
more than one invasion of the French king at the head of an united
Norman people. He added Domfront and Maine to his dominions, and
the conquest of Maine, the work as much of statesmanship as of
warfare, was the rehearsal of the conquest of England. There,
under circumstances strangely like those of England, he learned his
trade as conqueror, he learned to practise on a narrower field the
same arts which he afterwards practised on a wider. But after all,
William's own duchy was his special school; it was his life in his
own duchy which specially helped to make him what he was.
Surrounded by trials and difficulties almost from his cradle, he
early learned the art of enduring trials and overcoming
difficulties; he learned how to deal with men; he learned when to
smite and when to spare; and it is not a little to his honour that,
in the long course of such a reign as his, he almost always showed
himself far more ready to spare than to smite.

Before then we can look at William as an English statesman, we must
first look on him in the land in which he learned the art of
statesmanship. We must see how one who started with all the
disadvantages which are implied in his earlier surname of the
Bastard came to win and to deserve his later surnames of the
Conqueror and the Great.


If William's early reign in Normandy was his time of schooling for
his later reign in England, his school was a stern one, and his
schooling began early. His nominal reign began at the age of seven
years, and his personal influence on events began long before he
had reached the usual years of discretion. And the events of his
minority might well harden him, while they could not corrupt him in
the way in which so many princes have been corrupted. His whole
position, political and personal, could not fail to have its effect
in forming the man. He was Duke of the Normans, sixth in
succession from Rolf, the founder of the Norman state. At the time
of his accession, rather more than a hundred and ten years had
passed since plunderers, occasionally settlers, from Scandinavia,
had changed into acknowledged members of the Western or Karolingian
kingdom. The Northmen, changed, name and thing, into NORMANS, were
now in all things members of the Christian and French-speaking
world. But French as the Normans of William's day had become,
their relation to the kings and people of France was not a friendly
one. At the time of the settlement of Rolf, the western kingdom of
the Franks had not yet finally passed to the Duces Francorum at
Paris; Rolf became the man of the Karolingian king at Laon. France
and Normandy were two great duchies, each owning a precarious
supremacy in the king of the West-Franks. On the one hand,
Normandy had been called into being by a frightful dismemberment of
the French duchy, from which the original Norman settlement had
been cut off. France had lost in Rouen one of her greatest cities,
and she was cut off from the sea and from the lower course of her
own river. On the other hand, the French and the Norman dukes had
found their interest in a close alliance; Norman support had done
much to transfer the crown from Laon to Paris, and to make the Dux
Francorum and the Rex Francorum the same person. It was the
adoption of the French speech and manners by the Normans, and their
steady alliance with the French dukes, which finally determined
that the ruling element in Gaul should be Romance and not Teutonic,
and that, of its Romance elements, it should be French and not
Aquitanian. If the creation of Normandy had done much to weaken
France as a duchy, it had done not a little towards the making of
France as a kingdom. Laon and its crown, the undefined influence
that went with the crown, the prospect of future advance to the
south, had been bought by the loss of Rouen and of the mouth of the

There was much therefore at the time of William's accession to keep
the French kings and the Norman dukes on friendly terms. The old
alliance had been strengthened by recent good offices. The
reigning king, Henry the First, owed his crown to the help of
William's father Robert. On the other hand, the original ground of
the alliance, mutual support against the Karolingian king, had
passed away. A King of the French reigning at Paris was more
likely to remember what the Normans had cost him as duke than what
they had done for him as king. And the alliance was only an
alliance of princes. The mutual dislike between the people of the
two countries was strong. The Normans had learned French ways, but
French and Normans had not become countrymen. And, as the fame of
Normandy grew, jealousy was doubtless mingled with dislike.
William, in short, inherited a very doubtful and dangerous state of
relations towards the king who was at once his chief neighbour and
his overlord.

More doubtful and dangerous still were the relations which the
young duke inherited towards the people of his own duchy and the
kinsfolk of his own house. William was not as yet the Great or the
Conqueror, but he was the Bastard from the beginning. There was
then no generally received doctrine as to the succession to
kingdoms and duchies. Everywhere a single kingly or princely house
supplied, as a rule, candidates for the succession. Everywhere,
even where the elective doctrine was strong, a full-grown son was
always likely to succeed his father. The growth of feudal notions
too had greatly strengthened the hereditary principle. Still no
rule had anywhere been laid down for cases where the late prince
had not left a full-grown son. The question as to legitimate birth
was equally unsettled. Irregular unions of all kinds, though
condemned by the Church, were tolerated in practice, and were
nowhere more common than among the Norman dukes. In truth the
feeling of the kingliness of the stock, the doctrine that the king
should be the son of a king, is better satisfied by the succession
of the late king's bastard son than by sending for some distant
kinsman, claiming perhaps only through females. Still bastardy, if
it was often convenient to forget it, could always be turned
against a man. The succession of a bastard was never likely to be
quite undisputed or his reign to be quite undisturbed.

Now William succeeded to his duchy under the double disadvantage of
being at once bastard and minor. He was born at Falaise in 1027 or
1028, being the son of Robert, afterwards duke, but then only Count
of Hiesmois, by Herleva, commonly called Arletta, the daughter of
Fulbert the tanner. There was no pretence of marriage between his
parents; yet his father, when he designed William to succeed him,
might have made him legitimate, as some of his predecessors had
been made, by a marriage with his mother. In 1028 Robert succeeded
his brother Richard in the duchy. In 1034 or 1035 he determined to
go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He called on his barons to swear
allegiance to his bastard of seven years old as his successor in
case he never came back. Their wise counsel to stay at home, to
look after his dominions and to raise up lawful heirs, was
unheeded. Robert carried his point. The succession of young
William was accepted by the Norman nobles, and was confirmed by the
overlord Henry King of the French. The arrangement soon took
effect. Robert died on his way back before the year 1035 was out,
and his son began, in name at least, his reign of fifty-two years
over the Norman duchy.

The succession of one who was at once bastard and minor could
happen only when no one else had a distinctly better claim William
could never have held his ground for a moment against a brother of
his father of full age and undoubted legitimacy. But among the
living descendants of former dukes some were themselves of doubtful
legitimacy, some were shut out by their profession as churchmen,
some claimed only through females. Robert had indeed two half-
brothers, but they were young and their legitimacy was disputed; he
had an uncle, Robert Archbishop of Rouen, who had been legitimated
by the later marriage of his parents. The rival who in the end
gave William most trouble was his cousin Guy of Burgundy, son of a
daughter of his grandfather Richard the Good. Though William's
succession was not liked, no one of these candidates was generally
preferred to him. He therefore succeeded; but the first twelve
years of his reign were spent in the revolts and conspiracies of
unruly nobles, who hated the young duke as the one representative
of law and order, and who were not eager to set any one in his
place who might be better able to enforce them.

Nobility, so variously defined in different lands, in Normandy took
in two classes of men. All were noble who had any kindred or
affinity, legitimate or otherwise, with the ducal house. The
natural children of Richard the Fearless were legitimated by his
marriage with their mother Gunnor, and many of the great houses of
Normandy sprang from her brothers and sisters. The mother of
William received no such exaltation as this. Besides her son, she
had borne to Robert a daughter Adelaide, and, after Robert's death,
she married a Norman knight named Herlwin of Conteville. To him,
besides a daughter, she bore two sons, Ode and Robert. They rose
to high posts in Church and State, and played an important part in
their half-brother's history. Besides men whose nobility was of
this kind, there were also Norman houses whose privileges were
older than the amours or marriages of any duke, houses whose
greatness was as old as the settlement of Rolf, as old that is as
the ducal power itself. The great men of both these classes were
alike hard to control. A Norman baron of this age was well
employed when he was merely rebelling against his prince or waging
private war against a fellow baron. What specially marks the time
is the frequency of treacherous murders wrought by men of the
highest rank, often on harmless neighbours or unsuspecting guests.
But victims were also found among those guardians of the young duke
whose faithful discharge of their duties shows that the Norman
nobility was not wholly corrupt. One indeed was a foreign prince,
Alan Count of the Bretons, a grandson of Richard the Fearless
through a daughter. Two others, the seneschal Osbern and Gilbert
Count of Eu, were irregular kinsmen of the duke. All these were
murdered, the Breton count by poison. Such a childhood as this
made William play the man while he was still a child. The helpless
boy had to seek for support of some kind. He got together the
chief men of his duchy, and took a new guardian by their advice.
But it marks the state of things that the new guardian was one of
the murderers of those whom he succeeded. This was Ralph of Wacey,
son of William's great-uncle, Archbishop Robert. Murderer as he
was, he seems to have discharged his duty faithfully. There are
men who are careless of general moral obligations, but who will
strictly carry out any charge which appeals to personal honour.
Anyhow Ralph's guardianship brought with it a certain amount of
calm. But men, high in the young duke's favour, were still
plotting against him, and they presently began to plot, not only
against their prince but against their country. The disaffected
nobles of Normandy sought for a helper against young William in his
lord King Henry of Paris.

The art of diplomacy had never altogether slumbered since much
earlier times. The king who owed his crown to William's father,
and who could have no ground of offence against William himself,
easily found good pretexts for meddling in Norman affairs. It was
not unnatural in the King of the French to wish to win back a sea-
board which had been given up more than a hundred years before to
an alien power, even though that power had, for much more than half
of that time, acted more than a friendly part towards France. It
was not unnatural that the French people should cherish a strong
national dislike to the Normans and a strong wish that Rouen should
again be a French city. But such motives were not openly avowed
then any more than now. The alleged ground was quite different.
The counts of Chartres were troublesome neighbours to the duchy,
and the castle of Tillieres had been built as a defence against
them. An advance of the King's dominions had made Tillieres a
neighbour of France, and, as a neighbour, it was said to be a
standing menace. The King of the French, acting in concert with
the disaffected party in Normandy, was a dangerous enemy, and the
young Duke and his counsellors determined to give up Tillieres.
Now comes the first distinct exercise of William's personal will.
We are without exact dates, but the time can be hardly later than
1040, when William was from twelve to thirteen years old. At his
special request, the defender of Tillieres, Gilbert Crispin, who at
first held out against French and Normans alike, gave up the castle
to Henry. The castle was burned; the King promised not to repair
it for four years. Yet he is said to have entered Normandy, to
have laid waste William's native district of Hiesmois, to have
supplied a French garrison to a Norman rebel named Thurstan, who
held the castle of Falaise against the Duke, and to have ended by
restoring Tillieres as a menace against Normandy. And now the boy
whose destiny had made him so early a leader of men had to bear his
first arms against the fortress which looked down on his birth-
place. Thurstan surrendered and went into banishment. William
could set down his own Falaise as the first of a long list of towns
and castles which he knew how to win without shedding of blood.

When we next see William's distinct personal action, he is still
young, but no longer a child or even a boy. At nineteen or
thereabouts he is a wise and valiant man, and his valour and wisdom
are tried to the uttermost. A few years of comparative quiet were
chiefly occupied, as a quiet time in those days commonly was, with
ecclesiastical affairs. One of these specially illustrates the
state of things with which William had to deal. In 1042, when the
Duke was about fourteen, Normandy adopted the Truce of God in its
later shape. It no longer attempted to establish universal peace;
it satisfied itself with forbidding, under the strongest
ecclesiastical censures, all private war and violence of any kind
on certain days of the week. Legislation of this kind has two
sides. It was an immediate gain if peace was really enforced for
four days in the week; but that which was not forbidden on the
other three could no longer be denounced as in itself evil. We are
told that in no land was the Truce more strictly observed than in
Normandy. But we may be sure that, when William was in the fulness
of his power, the stern weight of the ducal arm was exerted to
enforce peace on Mondays and Tuesdays as well as on Thursdays and

It was in the year 1047 that William's authority was most
dangerously threatened and that he was first called on to show in
all their fulness the powers that were in him. He who was to be
conqueror of Maine and conqueror of England was first to be
conqueror of his own duchy. The revolt of a large part of the
country, contrasted with the firm loyalty of another part, throws a
most instructive light on the internal state of the duchy. There
was, as there still is, a line of severance between the districts
which formed the first grant to Rolf and those which were
afterwards added. In these last a lingering remnant of old
Teutonic life had been called into fresh strength by new
settlements from Scandinavia. At the beginning of the reign of
Richard the Fearless, Rouen, the French-speaking city, is
emphatically contrasted with Bayeux, the once Saxon city and land,
now the headquarters of the Danish speech. At that stage the
Danish party was distinctly a heathen party. We are not told
whether Danish was still spoken so late as the time of William's
youth. We can hardly believe that the Scandinavian gods still kept
any avowed worshippers. But the geographical limits of the revolt
exactly fall in with the boundary which had once divided French and
Danish speech, Christian and heathen worship. There was a wide
difference in feeling on the two sides of the Dive. The older
Norman settlements, now thoroughly French in tongue and manners,
stuck faithfully to the Duke; the lands to the west rose against
him. Rouen and Evreux were firmly loyal to William; Saxon Bayeux
and Danish Coutances were the headquarters of his enemies.

When the geographical division took this shape, we are surprised at
the candidate for the duchy who was put forward by the rebels.
William was a Norman born and bred; his rival was in every sense a
Frenchman. This was William's cousin Guy of Burgundy, whose
connexion with the ducal house was only by the spindle-side. But
his descent was of uncontested legitimacy, which gave him an excuse
for claiming the duchy in opposition to the bastard grandson of the
tanner. By William he had been enriched with great possessions,
among which was the island fortress of Brionne in the Risle. The
real object of the revolt was the partition of the duchy. William
was to be dispossessed; Guy was to be duke in the lands east of
Dive; the great lords of Western Normandy were to be left
independent. To this end the lords of the Bessin and the Cotentin
revolted, their leader being Neal, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur in the
Cotentin. We are told that the mass of the people everywhere
wished well to their duke; in the common sovereign lay their only
chance of protection against their immediate lords. But the lords
had armed force of the land at their bidding. They first tried to
slay or seize the Duke himself, who chanced to be in the midst of
them at Valognes. He escaped; we hear a stirring tale of his
headlong ride from Valognes to Falaise. Safe among his own people,
he planned his course of action. He first sought help of the man
who could give him most help, but who had most wronged him. He
went into France; he saw King Henry at Poissy, and the King engaged
to bring a French force to William's help under his own command.

This time Henry kept his promise. The dismemberment of Normandy
might have been profitable to France by weakening the power which
had become so special an object of French jealousy; but with a king
the common interest of princes against rebellious barons came
first. Henry came with a French army, and fought well for his ally
on the field of Val-es-dunes. Now came the Conqueror's first
battle, a tourney of horsemen on an open table-land just within the
land of the rebels between Caen and Mezidon. The young duke fought
well and manfully; but the Norman writers allow that it was French
help that gained him the victory. Yet one of the many anecdotes of
the battle points to a source of strength which was always ready to
tell for any lord against rebellious vassals. One of the leaders
of the revolt, Ralph of Tesson, struck with remorse and stirred by
the prayers of his knights, joined the Duke just before the battle.
He had sworn to smite William wherever he found him, and he
fulfilled his oath by giving the Duke a harmless blow with his
glove. How far an oath to do an unlawful act is binding is a
question which came up again at another stage of William's life.

The victory at Val-es-dunes was decisive, and the French King,
whose help had done so much to win it, left William to follow it
up. He met with but little resistance except at the stronghold of
Brionne. Guy himself vanishes from Norman history. William had
now conquered his own duchy, and conquered it by foreign help. For
the rest of his Norman reign he had often to strive with enemies at
home, but he had never to put down such a rebellion again as that
of the lords of western Normandy. That western Normandy, the
truest Normandy, had to yield to the more thoroughly Romanized
lands to the east. The difference between them never again takes a
political shape. William was now lord of all Normandy, and able to
put down all later disturbers of the peace. His real reign now
begins; from the age of nineteen or twenty, his acts are his own.
According to his abiding practice, he showed himself a merciful
conqueror. Through his whole reign he shows a distinct
unwillingness to take human life except in fair fighting on the
battle-field. No blood was shed after the victory of Val-es-dunes;
one rebel died in bonds; the others underwent no harder punishment
than payment of fines, giving of hostages, and destruction of their
castles. These castles were not as yet the vast and elaborate
structures which arose in after days. A single strong square
tower, or even a defence of wood on a steep mound surrounded by a
ditch, was enough to make its owner dangerous. The possession of
these strongholds made every baron able at once to defy his prince
and to make himself a scourge to his neighbours. Every season of
anarchy is marked by the building of castles; every return of order
brings with it their overthrow as a necessary condition of peace.

Thus, in his lonely and troubled childhood, William had been
schooled for the rule of men. He had now, in the rule of a smaller
dominion, in warfare and conquest on a smaller scale, to be
schooled for the conquest and the rule of a greater dominion.
William had the gifts of a born ruler, and he was in no way
disposed to abuse them. We know his rule in Normandy only through
the language of panegyric; but the facts speak for themselves. He
made Normandy peaceful and flourishing, more peaceful and
flourishing perhaps than any other state of the European mainland.
He is set before us as in everything a wise and beneficent ruler,
the protector of the poor and helpless, the patron of commerce and
of all that might profit his dominions. For defensive wars, for
wars waged as the faithful man of his overlord, we cannot blame
him. But his main duty lay at home. He still had revolts to put
down, and he put them down. But to put them down was the first of
good works. He had to keep the peace of the land, to put some
cheek on the unruly wills of those turbulent barons on whom only an
arm like his could put any cheek. He had, in the language of his
day, to do justice, to visit wrong with sure and speedy punishment,
whoever was the wrong-doer. If a ruler did this first of duties
well, much was easily forgiven him in other ways. But William had
as yet little to be forgiven. Throughout life he steadily
practised some unusual virtues. His strict attention to religion
was always marked. And his religion was not that mere lavish
bounty to the Church which was consistent with any amount of
cruelty or license. William's religion really influenced his life,
public and private. He set an unusual example of a princely
household governed according to the rules of morality, and he dealt
with ecclesiastical matters in the spirit of a true reformer. He
did not, like so many princes of his age, make ecclesiastical
preferments a source of corrupt gain, but promoted good men from
all quarters. His own education is not likely to have received
much attention; it is not clear whether he had mastered the rarer
art of writing or the more usual one of reading; but both his
promotion of learned churchmen and the care given to the education
of some of his children show that he at least valued the best
attainments of his time. Had William's whole life been spent in
the duties of a Norman duke, ruling his duchy wisely, defending it
manfully, the world might never have known him for one of its
foremost men, but his life on that narrower field would have been
useful and honourable almost without a drawback. It was the fatal
temptation of princes, the temptation to territorial
aggrandizement, which enabled him fully to show the powers that
were in him, but which at the same time led to his moral
degradation. The defender of his own land became the invader of
other lands, and the invader could not fail often to sink into the
oppressor. Each step in his career as Conqueror was a step
downwards. Maine was a neighbouring land, a land of the same
speech, a land which, if the feelings of the time could have
allowed a willing union, would certainly have lost nothing by an
union with Normandy. England, a land apart, a land of speech,
laws, and feelings, utterly unlike those of any part of Gaul, was
in another case. There the Conqueror was driven to be the
oppressor. Wrong, as ever, was punished by leading to further

With the two fields, nearer and more distant, narrower and wider,
on which William was to appear as Conqueror he has as yet nothing
to do. It is vain to guess at what moment the thought of the
English succession may have entered his mind or that of his
advisers. When William began his real reign after Val-es-dunes,
Norman influence was high in England. Edward the Confessor had
spent his youth among his Norman kinsfolk; he loved Norman ways and
the company of Normans and other men of French speech. Strangers
from the favoured lands held endless posts in Church and State;
above all, Robert of Jumieges, first Bishop of London and then
Archbishop of Canterbury, was the King's special favourite and
adviser. These men may have suggested the thought of William's
succession very early. On the other hand, at this time it was by
no means clear that Edward might not leave a son of his own. He
had been only a few years married, and his alleged vow of chastity
is very doubtful. William's claim was of the flimsiest kind. By
English custom the king was chosen out of a single kingly house,
and only those who were descended from kings in the male line were
counted as members of that house. William was not descended, even
in the female line, from any English king; his whole kindred with
Edward was that Edward's mother Emma, a daughter of Richard the
Fearless, was William's great-aunt. Such a kindred, to say nothing
of William's bastardy, could give no right to the crown according
to any doctrine of succession that ever was heard of. It could at
most point him out as a candidate for adoption, in case the
reigning king should be disposed and allowed to choose his
successor. William or his advisers may have begun to weigh this
chance very early; but all that is really certain is that William
was a friend and favourite of his elder kinsman, and that events
finally brought his succession to the English crown within the
range of things that might be.

But, before this, William was to show himself as a warrior beyond
the bounds of his own duchy, and to take seizin, as it were, of his
great continental conquest. William's first war out of Normandy
was waged in common with King Henry against Geoffrey Martel Count
of Anjou, and waged on the side of Maine. William undoubtedly owed
a debt of gratitude to his overlord for good help given at Val-es-
dunes, and excuses were never lacking for a quarrel between Anjou
and Normandy. Both powers asserted rights over the intermediate
land of Maine. In 1048 we find William giving help to Henry in a
war with Anjou, and we hear wonderful but vague tales of his
exploits. The really instructive part of the story deals with two
border fortresses on the march of Normandy and Maine. Alencon lay
on the Norman side of the Sarthe; but it was disloyal to Normandy.
Brionne was still holding out for Guy of Burgundy. The town was a
lordship of the house of Belleme, a house renowned for power and
wickedness, and which, as holding great possessions alike of
Normandy and of France, ranked rather with princes than with
ordinary nobles. The story went that William Talvas, lord of
Belleme, one of the fiercest of his race, had cursed William in his
cradle, as one by whom he and his should be brought to shame. Such
a tale set forth the noblest side of William's character, as the
man who did something to put down such enemies of mankind as he who
cursed him. The possessions of William Talvas passed through his
daughter Mabel to Roger of Montgomery, a man who plays a great part
in William's history; but it is the disloyalty of the burghers, not
of their lord, of which we hear just now. They willingly admitted
an Angevin garrison. William in return laid siege to Domfront on
the Varenne, a strong castle which was then an outpost of Maine
against Normandy. A long skirmishing warfare, in which William won
for himself a name by deeds of personal prowess, went on during the
autumn and winter (1048-49). One tale specially illustrates more
than one point in the feelings of the time. The two princes,
William and Geoffrey, give a mutual challenge; each gives the other
notice of the garb and shield that he will wear that he may not be
mistaken. The spirit of knight-errantry was coming in, and we see
that William himself in his younger days was touched by it. But we
see also that coat-armour was as yet unknown. Geoffrey and his
host, so the Normans say, shrink from the challenge and decamp in
the night, leaving the way open for a sudden march upon Alencon.
The disloyal burghers received the duke with mockery of his birth.
They hung out skins, and shouted, "Hides for the Tanner." Personal
insult is always hard for princes to bear, and the wrath of William
was stirred up to a pitch which made him for once depart from his
usual moderation towards conquered enemies. He swore that the men
who had jeered at him should be dealt with like a tree whose
branches are cut off with the pollarding-knife. The town was taken
by assault, and William kept his oath. The castle held out; the
hands and feet of thirty-two pollarded burghers of Alencon were
thrown over its walls, and the threat implied drove the garrison to
surrender on promise of safety for life and limb. The defenders of
Domfront, struck with fear, surrendered also, and kept their arms
as well as their lives and limbs. William had thus won back his
own rebellious town, and had enlarged his borders by his first
conquest. He went farther south, and fortified another castle at
Ambrieres; but Ambrieres was only a temporary conquest. Domfront
has ever since been counted as part of Normandy. But, as
ecclesiastical divisions commonly preserve the secular divisions of
an earlier time, Domfront remained down to the great French
Revolution in the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops of Le Mans.

William had now shown himself in Maine as conqueror, and he was
before long to show himself in England, though not yet as
conqueror. If our chronology is to be trusted, he had still in
this interval to complete his conquest of his own duchy by securing
the surrender of Brionne; and two other events, both
characteristic, one of them memorable, fill up the same time.
William now banished a kinsman of his own name, who held the great
county of Mortain, Moretoliam or Moretonium, in the diocese of
Avranches, which must be carefully distinguished from Mortagne-en-
Perche, Mauritania or Moretonia in the diocese of Seez. This act,
of somewhat doubtful justice, is noteworthy on two grounds. First,
the accuser of the banished count was one who was then a poor
serving-knight of his own, but who became the forefather of a house
which plays a great part in English history, Robert surnamed the
Bigod. Secondly, the vacant county was granted by William to his
own half-brother Robert. He had already in 1048 bestowed the
bishopric of Bayeux on his other half-brother Odo, who cannot at
that time have been more than twelve years old. He must therefore
have held the see for a good while without consecration, and at no
time of his fifty years' holding of it did he show any very
episcopal merits. This was the last case in William's reign of an
old abuse by which the chief church preferments in Normandy had
been turned into means of providing for members, often unworthy
members, of the ducal family; and it is the only one for which
William can have been personally responsible. Both his brothers
were thus placed very early in life among the chief men of
Normandy, as they were in later years to be placed among the chief
men of England. But William's affection for his brothers, amiable
as it may have been personally, was assuredly not among the
brighter parts of his character as a sovereign.

The other chief event of this time also concerns the domestic side
of William's life. The long story of his marriage now begins. The
date is fixed by one of the decrees of the council of Rheims held
in 1049 by Pope Leo the Ninth, in which Baldwin Count of Flanders
is forbidden to give his daughter to William the Norman. This
implies that the marriage was already thought of, and further that
it was looked on as uncanonical. The bride whom William sought,
Matilda daughter of Baldwin the Fifth, was connected with him by
some tie of kindred or affinity which made a marriage between them
unlawful by the rules of the Church. But no genealogist has yet
been able to find out exactly what the canonical hindrance was. It
is hard to trace the descent of William and Matilda up to any
common forefather. But the light which the story throws on
William's character is the same in any case. Whether he was
seeking a wife or a kingdom, he would have his will, but he could
wait for it. In William's doubtful position, a marriage with the
daughter of the Count of Flanders would be useful to him in many
ways; and Matilda won her husband's abiding love and trust.
Strange tales are told of William's wooing. Tales are told also of
Matilda's earlier love for the Englishman Brihtric, who is said to
have found favour in her eyes when he came as envoy from England to
her father's court. All that is certain is that the marriage had
been thought of and had been forbidden before the next important
event in William's life that we have to record.

Was William's Flemish marriage in any way connected with his hopes
of succession to the English crown? Had there been any available
bride for him in England, it might have been for his interest to
seek for her there. But it should be noticed, though no ancient
writer points out the fact, that Matilda was actually descended
from Alfred in the female line; so that William's children, though
not William himself, had some few drops of English blood in their
veins. William or his advisers, in weighing every chance which
might help his interests in the direction of England, may have
reckoned this piece of rather ancient genealogy among the
advantages of a Flemish alliance. But it is far more certain that,
between the forbidding of the marriage and the marriage itself, a
direct hope of succession to the English crown had been opened to
the Norman duke.


While William was strengthening himself in Normandy, Norman
influence in England had risen to its full height. The king was
surrounded by foreign favourites. The only foreign earl was his
nephew Ralph of Mentes, the son of his sister Godgifu. But three
chief bishoprics were held by Normans, Robert of Canterbury,
William of London, and Ulf of Dorchester. William bears a good
character, and won the esteem of Englishmen; but the unlearned Ulf
is emphatically said to have done "nought bishoplike." Smaller
preferments in Church and State, estates in all parts of the
kingdom, were lavishly granted to strangers. They built castles,
and otherwise gave offence to English feeling. Archbishop Robert,
above all, was ever plotting against Godwine, Earl of the West-
Saxons, the head of the national party. At last, in the autumn of
1051, the national indignation burst forth. The immediate occasion
was a visit paid to the King by Count Eustace of Boulogne, who had
just married the widowed Countess Godgifu. The violent dealings of
his followers towards the burghers of Dover led to resistance on
their part, and to a long series of marches and negotiations, which
ended in the banishment of Godwine and his son, and the parting of
his daughter Edith, the King's wife, from her husband. From
October 1051 to September 1052, the Normans had their own way in
England. And during that time King Edward received a visitor of
greater fame than his brother-in-law from Boulogne in the person of
his cousin from Rouen.

Of his visit we only read that "William Earl came from beyond sea
with mickle company of Frenchmen, and the king him received, and as
many of his comrades as to him seemed good, and let him go again."
Another account adds that William received great gifts from the
King. But William himself in several documents speaks of Edward as
his lord; he must therefore at some time have done to Edward an act
of homage, and there is no time but this at which we can conceive
such an act being done. Now for what was the homage paid? Homage
was often paid on very trifling occasions, and strange conflicts of
allegiance often followed. No such conflict was likely to arise if
the Duke of the Normans, already the man of the King of the French
for his duchy, became the man of the King of the English on any
other ground. Betwixt England and France there was as yet no
enmity or rivalry. England and France became enemies afterwards
because the King of the English and the Duke of the Normans were
one person. And this visit, this homage, was the first step
towards making the King of the English and the Duke of the Normans
the same person. The claim William had to the English crown rested
mainly on an alleged promise of the succession made by Edward.
This claim is not likely to have been a mere shameless falsehood.
That Edward did make some promise to William--as that Harold, at a
later stage, did take some oath to William--seems fully proved by
the fact that, while such Norman statements as could be denied were
emphatically denied by the English writers, on these two points the
most patriotic Englishmen, the strongest partisans of Harold, keep
a marked silence. We may be sure therefore that some promise was
made; for that promise a time must be found, and no time seems
possible except this time of William's visit to Edward. The date
rests on no direct authority, but it answers every requirement.
Those who spoke of the promise as being made earlier, when William
and Edward were boys together in Normandy, forgot that Edward was
many years older than William. The only possible moment earlier
than the visit was when Edward was elected king in 1042. Before
that time he could hardly have thought of disposing of a kingdom
which was not his, and at that time he might have looked forward to
leaving sons to succeed him. Still less could the promise have
been made later than the visit. From 1053 to the end of his life
Edward was under English influences, which led him first to send
for his nephew Edward from Hungary as his successor, and in the end
to make a recommendation in favour of Harold. But in 1051-52
Edward, whether under a vow or not, may well have given up the hope
of children; he was surrounded by Norman influences; and, for the
only time in the last twenty-four years of their joint lives, he
and William met face to face. The only difficulty is one to which
no contemporary writer makes any reference. If Edward wished to
dispose of his crown in favour of one of his French-speaking
kinsmen, he had a nearer kinsman of whom he might more naturally
have thought. His own nephew Ralph was living in England and
holding an English earldom. He had the advantage over both William
and his own older brother Walter of Mantes, in not being a reigning
prince elsewhere. We can only say that there is evidence that
Edward did think of William, that there is no evidence that he ever
thought of Ralph. And, except the tie of nearer kindred,
everything would suggest William rather than Ralph. The personal
comparison is almost grotesque; and Edward's early associations and
the strongest influences around him, were not vaguely French but
specially Norman. Archbishop Robert would plead for his own native
sovereign only. In short, we may be as nearly sure as we can be of
any fact for which there is no direct authority, that Edward's
promise to William was made at the time of William's visit to
England, and that William's homage to Edward was done in the
character of a destined successor to the English crown.

William then came to England a mere duke and went back to Normandy
a king expectant. But the value of his hopes, to the value of the
promise made to him, are quite another matter. Most likely they
were rated on both sides far above their real value. King and duke
may both have believed that they were making a settlement which the
English nation was bound to respect. If so, Edward at least was
undeceived within a few months.

The notion of a king disposing of his crown by his own act belongs
to the same range of ideas as the law of strict hereditary
succession. It implies that kingship is a possession and not an
office. Neither the heathen nor the Christian English had ever
admitted that doctrine; but it was fast growing on the continent.
Our forefathers had always combined respect for the kingly house
with some measure of choice among the members of that house.
Edward himself was not the lawful heir according to the notions of
a modern lawyer; for he was chosen while the son of his elder
brother was living. Every English king held his crown by the gift
of the great assembly of the nation, though the choice of the
nation was usually limited to the descendants of former kings, and
though the full-grown son of the late king was seldom opposed.
Christianity had strengthened the election principle. The king
lost his old sanctity as the son of Woden; he gained a new sanctity
as the Lord's anointed. But kingship thereby became more
distinctly an office, a great post, like a bishopric, to which its
holder had to be lawfully chosen and admitted by solemn rites. But
of that office he could be lawfully deprived, nor could he hand it
on to a successor either according to his own will or according to
any strict law of succession. The wishes of the late king, like
the wishes of the late bishop, went for something with the
electors. But that was all. All that Edward could really do for
his kinsmen was to promise to make, when the time came, a
recommendation to the Witan in his favour. The Witan might then
deal as they thought good with a recommendation so unusual as to
choose to the kingship of England a man who was neither a native
nor a conqueror of England nor the descendant of any English king.

When the time came, Edward did make a recommendation to the Witan,
but it was not in favour of William. The English influences under
which he was brought during his last fourteen years taught him
better what the law of England was and what was the duty of an
English king. But at the time of William's visit Edward may well
have believed that he could by his own act settle his crown on his
Norman kinsman as his undoubted successor in case he died without a
son. And it may be that Edward was bound by a vow not to leave a
son. And if Edward so thought, William naturally thought so yet
more; he would sincerely believe himself to be the lawful heir of
the crown of England, the sole lawful successor, except in one
contingency which was perhaps impossible and certainly unlikely.

The memorials of these times, so full on some points, are meagre on
others. Of those writers who mention the bequest or promise none
mention it at any time when it is supposed to have happened; they
mention it at some later time when it began to be of practical
importance. No English writer speaks of William's claim till the
time when he was about practically to assert it; no Norman writer
speaks of it till he tells the tale of Harold's visit and oath to
William. We therefore cannot say how far the promise was known
either in England or on the continent. But it could not be kept
altogether hid, even if either party wished it to be hid. English
statesmen must have known of it, and must have guided their policy
accordingly, whether it was generally known in the country or not.
William's position, both in his own duchy and among neighbouring
princes, would be greatly improved if he could be looked upon as a
future king. As heir to the crown of England, he may have more
earnestly wooed the descendant of former wearers of the crown; and
Matilda and her father may have looked more favourably on a suitor
to whom the crown of England was promised. On the other hand, the
existence of such a foreign claimant made it more needful than ever
for Englishmen to be ready with an English successor, in the royal
house or out of it, the moment the reigning king should pass away.

It was only for a short time that William could have had any
reasonable hope of a peaceful succession. The time of Norman
influence in England was short. The revolution of September 1052
brought Godwine back, and placed the rule of England again in
English hands. Many Normans were banished, above all Archbishop
Robert and Bishop Ulf. The death of Godwine the next year placed
the chief power in the hands of his son Harold. This change
undoubtedly made Edward more disposed to the national cause. Of
Godwine, the man to whom he owed his crown, he was clearly in awe;
to Godwine's sons he was personally attached. We know not how
Edward was led to look on his promise to William as void. That he
was so led is quite plain. He sent for his nephew the AEtheling
Edward from Hungary, clearly as his intended successor. When the
AEtheling died in 1057, leaving a son under age, men seem to have
gradually come to look to Harold as the probable successor. He
clearly held a special position above that of an ordinary earl; but
there is no need to suppose any formal act in his favour till the
time of the King's death, January 5, 1066. On his deathbed Edward
did all that he legally could do on behalf of Harold by
recommending him to the Witan for election as the next king. That
he then either made a new or renewed an old nomination in favour of
William is a fable which is set aside by the witness of the
contemporary English writers. William's claim rested wholly on
that earlier nomination which could hardly have been made at any
other time than his visit to England.

We have now to follow William back to Normandy, for the remaining
years of his purely ducal reign. The expectant king had doubtless
thoughts and hopes which he had not had before. But we can guess
at them only: they are not recorded.


If William came back from England looking forward to a future
crown, the thought might even then flash across his mind that he
was not likely to win that crown without fighting for it. As yet
his business was still to fight for the duchy of Normandy. But he
had now to fight, not to win his duchy, but only to keep it. For
five years he had to strive both against rebellious subjects and
against invading enemies, among whom King Henry of Paris is again
the foremost. Whatever motives had led the French king to help
William at Val-es-dunes had now passed away. He had fallen back on
his former state of abiding enmity towards Normandy and her duke.
But this short period definitely fixed the position of Normandy and
her duke in Gaul and in Europe. At its beginning William is still
the Bastard of Falaise, who may or may not be able to keep himself
in the ducal chair, his right to which is still disputed. At the
end of it, if he is not yet the Conqueror and the Great, he has
shown all the gifts that were needed to win him either name. He is
the greatest vassal of the French crown, a vassal more powerful
than the overlord whose invasions of his duchy he has had to drive

These invasions of Normandy by the King of the French and his
allies fall into two periods. At first Henry appears in Normandy
as the supporter of Normans in open revolt against their duke. But
revolts are personal and local; there is no rebellion like that
which was crushed at Val-es-dunes, spreading over a large part of
the duchy. In the second period, the invaders have no such
starting-point. There are still traitors; there are still rebels;
but all that they can do is to join the invaders after they have
entered the land. William is still only making his way to the
universal good will of his duchy: but he is fast making it.

There is, first of all, an obscure tale of a revolt of an unfixed
date, but which must have happened between 1048 and 1053. The
rebel, William Busac of the house of Eu, is said to have defended
the castle of Eu against the duke and to have gone into banishment
in France. But the year that followed William's visit to England
saw the far more memorable revolt of William Count of Arques. He
had drawn the Duke's suspicions on him, and he had to receive a
ducal garrison in his great fortress by Dieppe. But the garrison
betrayed the castle to its own master. Open revolt and havoc
followed, in which Count William was supported by the king and by
several other princes. Among them was Ingelram Count of Ponthieu,
husband of the duke's sister Adelaide. Another enemy was Guy Count
of Gascony, afterwards Duke William the Eighth of Aquitaine. What
quarrel a prince in the furthest corner of Gaul could have with the
Duke of the Normans does not appear; but neither Count William nor
his allies could withstand the loyal Normans and their prince.
Count Ingelram was killed; the other princes withdrew to devise
greater efforts against Normandy. Count William lost his castle
and part of his estates, and left the duchy of his free will. The
Duke's politic forbearance at last won him the general good will of
his subjects. We hear of no more open revolts till that of
William's own son many years after. But the assaults of foreign
enemies, helped sometimes by Norman traitors, begin again the next
year on a greater scale.

William the ruler and warrior had now a short breathing-space. He
had doubtless come back from England more bent than ever on his
marriage with Matilda of Flanders. Notwithstanding the decree of a
Pope and a Council entitled to special respect, the marriage was
celebrated, not very long after William's return to Normandy, in
the year of the revolt of William of Arques. In the course of the
year 1053 Count Baldwin brought his daughter to the Norman frontier
at Eu, and there she became the bride of William. We know not what
emboldened William to risk so daring a step at this particular
time, or what led Baldwin to consent to it. If it was suggested by
the imprisonment of Pope Leo by William's countrymen in Italy, in
the hope that a consent to the marriage would be wrung out of the
captive pontiff, that hope was disappointed. The marriage raised
much opposition in Normandy. It was denounced by Archbishop Malger
of Rouen, the brother of the dispossessed Count of Arques. His
character certainly added no weight to his censures; but the same
act in a saint would have been set down as a sign of holy boldness.
Presently, whether for his faults or for his merits, Malger was
deposed in a synod of the Norman Church, and William found him a
worthier successor in the learned and holy Maurilius. But a
greater man than Malger also opposed the marriage, and the
controversy thus introduces us to one who fills a place second only
to that of William himself in the Norman and English history of the

This was Lanfranc of Pavia, the lawyer, the scholar, the model
monk, the ecclesiastical statesman, who, as prior of the newly
founded abbey of Bec, was already one of the innermost counsellors
of the Duke. As duke and king, as prior, abbot, and archbishop,
William and Lanfranc ruled side by side, each helping the work of
the other till the end of their joint lives. Once only, at this
time, was their friendship broken for a moment. Lanfranc spoke
against the marriage, and ventured to rebuke the Duke himself.
William's wrath was kindled; he ordered Lanfranc into banishment
and took a baser revenge by laying waste part of the lands of the
abbey. But the quarrel was soon made up. Lanfranc presently left
Normandy, not as a banished man, but as the envoy of its sovereign,
commissioned to work for the confirmation of the marriage at the
papal court. He worked, and his work was crowned with success, but
not with speedy success. It was not till six years after the
marriage, not till the year 1059, that Lanfranc obtained the wished
for confirmation, not from Leo, but from his remote successor
Nicolas the Second. The sin of those who had contracted the
unlawful union was purged by various good works, among which the
foundation of the two stately abbeys of Caen was conspicuous.

This story illustrates many points in the character of William and
of his time. His will is not to be thwarted, whether in a matter
of marriage or of any other. But he does not hurry matters; he
waits for a favourable opportunity. Something, we know not what,
must have made the year 1053 more favourable than the year 1049.
We mark also William's relations to the Church. He is at no time
disposed to submit quietly to the bidding of the spiritual power,
when it interferes with his rights or even when it crosses his
will. Yet he is really anxious for ecclesiastical reform; he
promotes men like Maurilius and Lanfranc; perhaps he is not
displeased when the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, in the
case of Malger, frees him from a troublesome censor. But the worse
side of him also comes out. William could forgive rebels, but he
could not bear the personal rebuke even of his friend. Under this
feeling he punishes a whole body of men for the offence of one. To
lay waste the lands of Bec for the rebuke of Lanfranc was like an
ordinary prince of the time; it was unlike William, if he had not
been stirred up by a censure which touched his wife as well as
himself. But above all, the bargain between William and Lanfranc
is characteristic of the man and the age. Lanfranc goes to Rome to
support a marriage which he had censured in Normandy. But there is
no formal inconsistency, no forsaking of any principle. Lanfranc
holds an uncanonical marriage to be a sin, and he denounces it. He
does not withdraw his judgement as to its sinfulness. He simply
uses his influence with a power that can forgive the sin to get it

While William's marriage was debated at Rome, he had to fight hard
in Normandy. His warfare and his negotiations ended about the same
time, and the two things may have had their bearing on one another.
William had now to undergo a new form of trial. The King of the
French had never put forth his full strength when he was simply
backing Norman rebels. William had now, in two successive
invasions, to withstand the whole power of the King, and of as many
of his vassals as the King could bring to his standard. In the
first invasion, in 1054, the Norman writers speak rhetorically of
warriors from Burgundy, Auvergne, and Gascony; but it is hard to
see any troops from a greater distance than Bourges. The princes
who followed Henry seem to have been only the nearer vassals of the
Crown. Chief among them are Theobald Count of Chartres, of a house
of old hostile to Normandy, and Guy the new Count of Ponthieu, to
be often heard of again. If not Geoffrey of Anjou himself, his
subjects from Tours were also there. Normandy was to be invaded on
two sides, on both banks of the Seine. The King and his allies
sought to wrest from William the western part of Normandy, the
older and the more thoroughly French part. No attack seems to have
been designed on the Bessin or the Cotentin. William was to be
allowed to keep those parts of his duchy, against which he had to
fight when the King was his ally at Val-es-dunes.

The two armies entered Normandy; that which was to act on the left
of the Seine was led by the King, the other by his brother Odo.
Against the King William made ready to act himself; eastern
Normandy was left to its own loyal nobles. But all Normandy was
now loyal; the men of the Saxon and Danish lands were as ready to
fight for their duke against the King as they had been to fight
against King and Duke together. But William avoided pitched
battles; indeed pitched battles are rare in the continental warfare
of the time. War consists largely in surprises, and still more in
the attack and defence of fortified places. The plan of William's
present campaign was wholly defensive; provisions and cattle were
to be carried out of the French line of march; the Duke on his
side, the other Norman leaders on the other side, were to watch the
enemy and attack them at any favourable moment. The commanders
east of the Seine, Count Robert of Eu, Hugh of Gournay, William
Crispin, and Walter Giffard, found their opportunity when the
French had entered the unfortified town of Mortemer and had given
themselves up to revelry. Fire and sword did the work. The whole
French army was slain, scattered, or taken prisoners. Ode escaped;
Guy of Ponthieu was taken. The Duke's success was still easier.
The tale runs that the news from Mortemer, suddenly announced to
the King's army in the dead of the night, struck them with panic,
and led to a hasty retreat out of the land.

This campaign is truly Norman; it is wholly unlike the simple
warfare of England. A traitorous Englishman did nothing or helped
the enemy; a patriotic Englishman gave battle to the enemy the
first time he had a chance. But no English commander of the
eleventh century was likely to lay so subtle a plan as this, and,
if he had laid such a plan, he would hardly have found an English
army able to carry it out. Harold, who refused to lay waste a rood
of English ground, would hardly have looked quietly on while many
roods of English ground were wasted by the enemy. With all the
valour of the Normans, what before all things distinguished them
from other nations was their craft. William could indeed fight a
pitched battle when a pitched battle served his purpose; but he
could control himself, he could control his followers, even to the
point of enduring to look quietly on the havoc of their own land
till the right moment. He who could do this was indeed practising
for his calling as Conqueror. And if the details of the story,
details specially characteristic, are to be believed, William
showed something also of that grim pleasantry which was another
marked feature in the Norman character. The startling message
which struck the French army with panic was deliberately sent with
that end. The messenger sent climbs a tree or a rock, and, with a
voice as from another world, bids the French awake; they are
sleeping too long; let them go and bury their friends who are lying
dead at Mortemer. These touches bring home to us the character of
the man and the people with whom our forefathers had presently to
deal. William was the greatest of his race, but he was essentially
of his race; he was Norman to the backbone.

Of the French army one division had been surprised and cut to
pieces, the other had left Normandy without striking a blow. The
war was not yet quite over; the French still kept Tillieres;
William accordingly fortified the stronghold of Breteuil as a cheek
upon it. And he entrusted the command to a man who will soon be
memorable, his personal friend William, son of his old guardian
Osbern. King Henry was now glad to conclude a peace on somewhat
remarkable terms. William had the king's leave to take what he
could from Count Geoffrey of Anjou. He now annexed Cenomannian--
that is just now Angevin--territory at more points than one, but
chiefly on the line of his earlier advances to Domfront and
Ambrieres. Ambrieres had perhaps been lost; for William now sent
Geoffrey a challenge to come on the fortieth day. He came on the
fortieth day, and found Ambrieres strongly fortified and occupied
by a Norman garrison. With Geoffrey came the Breton prince Ode,
and William or Peter Duke of Aquitaine. They besieged the castle;
but Norman accounts add that they all fled on William's approach to
relieve it.

Three years of peace now followed, but in 1058 King Henry, this
time in partnership with Geoffrey of Anjou, ventured another
invasion of Normandy. He might say that he had never been fairly
beaten in his former campaign, but that he had been simply cheated
out of the land by Norman wiles. This time he had a second
experience of Norman wiles and of Norman strength too. King and
Count entered the land and ravaged far and wide. William, as
before, allowed the enemy to waste the land. He watched and
followed them till he found a favourable moment for attack. The
people in general zealously helped the Duke's schemes, but some
traitors of rank were still leagued with the Count of Anjou. While
William bided his time, the invaders burned Caen. This place, so
famous in Norman history, was not one of the ancient cities of the
land. It was now merely growing into importance, and it was as yet
undefended by walls or castle. But when the ravagers turned
eastward, William found the opportunity that he had waited for. As
the French were crossing the ford of Varaville on the Dive, near
the mouth of that river, he came suddenly on them, and slaughtered
a large part of the army under the eyes of the king who had already
crossed. The remnant marched out of Normandy.

Henry now made peace, and restored Tillieres. Not long after, in
1060, the King died, leaving his young son Philip, who had been
already crowned, as his successor, under the guardianship of
William's father-in-law Baldwin. Geoffrey of Anjou and William of
Aquitaine also died, and the Angevin power was weakened by the
division of Geoffrey's dominions between his nephews. William's
position was greatly strengthened, now that France, under the new
regent, had become friendly, while Anjou was no longer able to do
mischief. William had now nothing to fear from his neighbours, and
the way was soon opened for his great continental conquest. But
what effect had these events on William's views on England? About
the time of the second French invasion of Normandy Earl Harold
became beyond doubt the first man in England, and for the first
time a chance of the royal succession was opened to him. In 1057,
the year before Varaville, the AEtheling Edward, the King's
selected successor, died soon after his coming to England; in the
same year died the King's nephew Earl Ralph and Leofric Earl of the
Mercians, the only Englishmen whose influence could at all compare
with that of Harold. Harold's succession now became possible; it
became even likely, if Edward should die while Edgar the son of the
AEtheling was still under age. William had no shadow of excuse for
interfering, but he doubtless was watching the internal affairs of
England. Harold was certainly watching the affairs of Gaul. About
this time, most likely in the year 1058, he made a pilgrimage to
Rome, and on his way back he looked diligently into the state of
things among the various vassals of the French crown. His exact
purpose is veiled in ambiguous language; but we can hardly doubt
that his object was to contract alliances with the continental
enemies of Normandy. Such views looked to the distant future, as
William had as yet been guilty of no unfriendly act towards
England. But it was well to come to an understanding with King
Henry, Count Geoffrey, and Duke William of Aquitaine, in case a
time should come when their interests and those of England would be
the same. But the deaths of all those princes must have put an end
to all hopes of common action between England and any Gaulish
power. The Emperor Henry also, the firm ally of England, was dead.
It was now clear that, if England should ever have to withstand a
Norman attack, she would have to withstand it wholly by her own
strength, or with such help as she might find among the kindred
powers of the North.

William's great continental conquest is drawing nigh; but between
the campaign of Varaville and the campaign of Le Mans came the
tardy papal confirmation of William's marriage. The Duke and
Duchess, now at last man and wife in the eye of the Church, began
to carry out the works of penance which were allotted to them. The
abbeys of Caen, William's Saint Stephen's, Matilda's Holy Trinity,
now began to arise. Yet, at this moment of reparation, one or two
facts seem to place William's government of his duchy in a less
favourable light than usual. The last French invasion was followed
by confiscations and banishments among the chief men of Normandy.
Roger of Montgomery and his wife Mabel, who certainly was capable
of any deed of blood or treachery, are charged with acting as false
accusers. We see also that, as late as the day of Varaville, there
were Norman traitors. Robert of Escalfoy had taken the Angevin
side, and had defended his castle against the Duke. He died in a
strange way, after snatching an apple from the hand of his own
wife. His nephew Arnold remained in rebellion three years, and was
simply required to go to the wars in Apulia. It is hard to believe
that the Duke had poisoned the apple, if poisoned it was; but
finding treason still at work among his nobles, he may have too
hastily listened to charges against men who had done him good
service, and who were to do him good service again.

Five years after the combat at Varaville, William really began to
deserve, though not as yet to receive, the name of Conqueror. For
he now did a work second only to the conquest of England. He won
the city of Le Mans and the whole land of Maine. Between the tale
of Maine and the tale of England there is much of direct likeness.
Both lands were won against the will of their inhabitants; but both
conquests were made with an elaborate show of legal right.
William's earlier conquests in Maine had been won, not from any
count of Maine, but from Geoffrey of Anjou, who had occupied the
country to the prejudice of two successive counts, Hugh and
Herbert. He had further imprisoned the Bishop of Le Mans, Gervase
of the house of Belleme, though the King of the French had at his
request granted to the Count of Anjou for life royal rights over
the bishopric of Le Mans. The bishops of Le Mans, who thus, unlike
the bishops of Normandy, held their temporalities of the distant
king and not of the local count, held a very independent position.
The citizens of Le Mans too had large privileges and a high spirit
to defend them; the city was in a marked way the head of the
district. Thus it commonly carried with it the action of the whole
country. In Maine there were three rival powers, the prince, the
Church, and the people. The position of the counts was further
weakened by the claims to their homage made by the princes on
either side of them in Normandy and Anjou; the position of the
Bishop, vassal, till Gervase's late act, of the King only, was
really a higher one. Geoffrey had been received at Le Mans with
the good will of the citizens, and both Bishop and Count sought
shelter with William. Gervase was removed from the strife by
promotion to the highest place in the French kingdom, the
archbishopric of Rheims. The young Count Herbert, driven from his
county, commended himself to William. He became his man; he agreed
to hold his dominions of him, and to marry one of his daughters.
If he died childless, his father-in-law was to take the fief into
his own hands. But to unite the old and new dynasties, Herbert's
youngest sister Margaret was to marry William's eldest son Robert.
If female descent went for anything, it is not clear why Herbert
passed by the rights of his two elder sisters, Gersendis, wife of
Azo Marquess of Liguria, and Paula, wife of John of La Fleche on
the borders of Maine and Anjou. And sons both of Gersendis and of
Paula did actually reign at Le Mans, while no child either of
Herbert or of Margaret ever came into being.

If Herbert ever actually got possession of his country, his
possession of it was short. He died in 1063 before either of the
contemplated marriages had been carried out. William therefore
stood towards Maine as he expected to stand with regard to England.
The sovereign of each country had made a formal settlement of his
dominions in his favour. It was to be seen whether those who were
most immediately concerned would accept that settlement. Was the
rule either of Maine or of England to be handed over in this way,
like a mere property, without the people who were to be ruled
speaking their minds on the matter? What the people of England
said to this question in 1066 we shall hear presently; what the
people of Maine said in 1063 we hear now. We know not why they had
submitted to the Angevin count; they had now no mind to merge their
country in the dominions of the Norman duke. The Bishop was
neutral; but the nobles and the citizens of Le Mans were of one
mind in refusing William's demand to be received as count by virtue
of the agreement with Herbert. They chose rulers for themselves.
Passing by Gersendis and Paula and their sons, they sent for
Herbert's aunt Biota and her husband Walter Count of Mantes.
Strangely enough, Walter, son of Godgifu daughter of AEthelred, was
a possible, though not a likely, candidate for the rule of England
as well as of Maine. The people of Maine are not likely to have
thought of this bit of genealogy. But it was doubtless present to
the minds alike of William and of Harold.

William thus, for the first but not for the last time, claimed the
rule of a people who had no mind to have him as their ruler. Yet,
morally worthless as were his claims over Maine, in the merely
technical way of looking at things, he had more to say than most
princes have who annex the lands of their neighbours. He had a
perfectly good right by the terms of the agreement with Herbert.
And it might be argued by any who admitted the Norman claim to the
homage of Maine, that on the failure of male heirs the country
reverted to the overlord. Yet female succession was now coming in.
Anjou had passed to the sons of Geoffrey's sister; it had not
fallen back to the French king. There was thus a twofold answer to
William's claim, that Herbert could not grant away even the rights
of his sisters, still less the rights of his people. Still it was
characteristic of William that he had a case that might be
plausibly argued. The people of Maine had fallen back on the old
Teutonic right. They had chosen a prince connected with the old
stock, but who was not the next heir according to any rule of
succession. Walter was hardly worthy of such an exceptional
honour; he showed no more energy in Maine than his brother Ralph
had shown in England. The city was defended by Geoffrey, lord of
Mayenne, a valiant man who fills a large place in the local
history. But no valour or skill could withstand William's plan of
warfare. He invaded Maine in much the same sort in which he had
defended Normandy. He gave out that he wished to win Maine without
shedding man's blood. He fought no battles; he did not attack the
city, which he left to be the last spot that should be devoured.
He harried the open country, he occupied the smaller posts, till
the citizens were driven, against Geoffrey's will, to surrender.
William entered Le Mans; he was received, we are told, with joy.
When men make the best of a bad bargain, they sometimes persuade
themselves that they are really pleased. William, as ever, shed no
blood; he harmed none of the men who had become his subjects; but
Le Mans was to be bridled; its citizens needed a castle and a
Norman garrison to keep them in their new allegiance. Walter and
Biota surrendered their claims on Maine and became William's guests
at Falaise. Meanwhile Geoffrey of Mayenne refused to submit, and
withstood the new Count of Maine in his stronghold. William laid
siege to Mayenne, and took it by the favoured Norman argument of
fire. All Maine was now in the hands of the Conqueror.

William had now made a greater conquest than any Norman duke had
made before him. He had won a county and a noble city, and he had
won them, in the ideas of his own age, with honour. Are we to
believe that he sullied his conquest by putting his late
competitors, his present guests, to death by poison? They died
conveniently for him, and they died in his own house. Such a death
was strange; but strange things do happen. William gradually came
to shrink from no crime for which he could find a technical
defence; but no advocate could have said anything on behalf of the
poisoning of Walter and Biota. Another member of the house of
Maine, Margaret the betrothed of his son Robert, died about the
same time; and her at least William had every motive to keep alive.
One who was more dangerous than Walter, if he suffered anything,
only suffered banishment. Of Geoffrey of Mayenne we hear no more
till William had again to fight for the possession of Maine.

William had thus, in the year 1063, reached the height of his power
and fame as a continental prince. In a conquest on Gaulish soil he
had rehearsed the greater conquest which he was before long to make
beyond sea. Three years, eventful in England, outwardly uneventful
in Normandy, still part us from William's second visit to our
shores. But in the course of these three years one event must have
happened, which, without a blow being struck or a treaty being
signed, did more for his hopes than any battle or any treaty. At
some unrecorded time, but at a time which must come within these
years, Harold Earl of the West-Saxons became the guest and the man
of William Duke of the Normans.


The lord of Normandy and Maine could now stop and reckon his
chances of becoming lord of England also. While our authorities
enable us to put together a fairly full account of both Norman and
English events, they throw no light on the way in which men in
either land looked at events in the other. Yet we might give much
to know what William and Harold at this time thought of one
another. Nothing had as yet happened to make the two great rivals
either national or personal enemies. England and Normandy were at
peace, and the great duke and the great earl had most likely had no
personal dealings with one another. They were rivals in the sense
that each looked forward to succeed to the English crown whenever
the reigning king should die. But neither had as yet put forward
his claim in any shape that the other could look on as any formal
wrong to himself. If William and Harold had ever met, it could
have been only during Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever
negotiations Harold made during that journey were negotiations
unfriendly to William; still he may, in the course of that journey,
have visited Normandy as well as France or Anjou. It is hard to
avoid the thought that the tale of Harold's visit to William, of
his oath to William, arose out of something that happened on
Harold's way back from his Roman pilgrimage. To that journey we
can give an approximate date. Of any other journey we have no date
and no certain detail. We can say only that the fact that no
English writer makes any mention of any such visit, of any such
oath, is, under the circumstances, the strongest proof that the
story of the visit and the oath has some kind of foundation. Yet
if we grant thus much, the story reads on the whole as if it
happened a few years later than the English earl's return from

It is therefore most likely that Harold did pay a second visit to
Gaul, whether a first or a second visit to Normandy, at some time
nearer to Edward's death than the year 1058. The English writers
are silent; the Norman writers give no date or impossible dates;
they connect the visit with a war in Britanny; but that war is
without a date. We are driven to choose the year which is least
rich in events in the English annals. Harold could not have paid a
visit of several months to Normandy either in 1063 or in 1065. Of
those years the first was the year of Harold's great war in Wales,
when he found how the Britons might be overcome by their own arms,
when he broke the power of Gruffydd, and granted the Welsh kingdom
to princes who became the men of Earl Harold as well as of King
Edward. Harold's visit to Normandy is said to have taken place in
the summer and autumn mouths; but the summer and autumn of 1065
were taken up by the building and destruction of Harold's hunting-
seat in Wales and by the greater events of the revolt and
pacification of Northumberland. But the year 1064 is a blank in
the English annals till the last days of December, and no action of
Harold's in that year is recorded. It is therefore the only
possible year among those just before Edward's death. Harold's
visit and oath to William may very well have taken place in that
year; but that is all.

We know as little for certain as to the circumstances of the visit
or the nature of the oath. We can say only that Harold did
something which enabled William to charge him with perjury and
breach of the duty of a vassal. It is inconceivable in itself, and
unlike the formal scrupulousness of William's character, to fancy
that he made his appeal to all Christendom without any ground at
all. The Norman writers contradict one another so thoroughly in
every detail of the story that we can look on no part of it as
trustworthy. Yet such a story can hardly have grown up so near to
the alleged time without some kernel of truth in it. And herein
comes the strong corroborative witness that the English writers,
denying every other charge against Harold, pass this one by without
notice. We can hardly doubt that Harold swore some oath to William
which he did not keep. More than this it would be rash to say
except as an avowed guess.

As our nearest approach to fixing the date is to take that year
which is not impossible, so, to fix the occasion of the visit, we
can only take that one among the Norman versions which is also not
impossible. All the main versions represent Harold as wrecked on
the coast of Ponthieu, as imprisoned, according to the barbarous
law of wreck, by Count Guy, and as delivered by the intervention of
William. If any part of the story is true, this is. But as to the
circumstances which led to the shipwreck there is no agreement.
Harold assuredly was not sent to announce to William a devise of
the crown in his favour made with the consent of the Witan of
England and confirmed by the oaths of Stigand, Godwine, Siward, and
Leofric. Stigand became Archbishop in September 1052: Godwine
died at Easter 1053. The devise must therefore have taken place,
and Harold's journey must have taken place, within those few most
unlikely months, the very time when Norman influence was
overthrown. Another version makes Harold go, against the King's
warnings, to bring back his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon,
who had been given as hostages on the return of Godwine, and had
been entrusted by the King to the keeping of Duke William. This
version is one degree less absurd; but no such hostages are known
to have been given, and if they were, the patriotic party, in the
full swing of triumph, would hardly have allowed them to be sent to
Normandy. A third version makes Harold's presence the result of
mere accident. He is sailing to Wales or Flanders, or simply
taking his pleasure in the Channel, when he is cast by a storm on
the coast of Ponthieu. Of these three accounts we may choose the
third as the only one that is possible. It is also one out of
which the others may have grown, while it is hard to see how the
third could have arisen out of either of the others. Harold then,
we may suppose, fell accidentally into the clutches of Guy, and was
rescued from them, at some cost in ransom and in grants of land, by
Guy's overlord Duke William.

The whole story is eminently characteristic of William. He would
be honestly indignant at Guy's base treatment of Harold, and he
would feel it his part as Guy's overlord to redress the wrong. But
he would also be alive to the advantage of getting his rival into
his power on so honourable a pretext. Simply to establish a claim
to gratitude on the part of Harold would be something. But he
might easily do more, and, according to all accounts, he did more.
Harold, we are told, as the Duke's friend and guest, returns the
obligation under which the Duke has laid him by joining him in one
or more expeditions against the Bretons. The man who had just
smitten the Bret-Welsh of the island might well be asked to fight,
and might well be ready to fight, against the Bret-Welsh of the
mainland. The services of Harold won him high honour; he was
admitted into the ranks of Norman knighthood, and engaged to marry
one of William's daughters. Now, at any time to which we can fix
Harold's visit, all William's daughters must have been mere
children. Harold, on the other hand, seems to have been a little
older than William. Yet there is nothing unlikely in the
engagement, and it is the one point in which all the different
versions, contradicting each other on every other point, agree
without exception. Whatever else Harold promises, he promises
this, and in some versions he does not promise anything else.

Here then we surely have the kernel of truth round which a mass of
fable, varying in different reports, has gathered. On no other
point is there any agreement. The place is unfixed; half a dozen
Norman towns and castles are made the scene of the oath. The form
of the oath is unfixed; in some accounts it is the ordinary oath of
homage; in others it is an oath of fearful solemnity, taken on the
holiest relics. In one well-known account, Harold is even made to
swear on hidden relics, not knowing on what he is swearing. Here
is matter for much thought. To hold that one form of oath or
promise is more binding than another upsets all true confidence
between man and man. The notion of the specially binding nature of
the oath by relies assumes that, in case of breach of the oath,
every holy person to whose relies despite has been done will become
the personal enemy of the perjurer. But the last story of all is
the most instructive. William's formal, and more than formal,
religion abhorred a false oath, in himself or in another man. But,
so long as he keeps himself personally clear from the guilt, he
does not scruple to put another man under special temptation, and,
while believing in the power of the holy relics, he does not
scruple to abuse them to a purpose of fraud. Surely, if Harold did
break his oath, the wrath of the saints would fall more justly on
William. Whether the tale be true or false, it equally illustrates
the feelings of the time, and assuredly its truth or falsehood
concerns the character of William far more than that of Harold.

What it was that Harold swore, whether in this specially solemn
fashion or in any other, is left equally uncertain. In any case he
engages to marry a daughter of William--as to which daughter the
statements are endless--and in most versions he engages to do
something more. He becomes the man of William, much as William had
become the man of Edward. He promises to give his sister in
marriage to an unnamed Norman baron. Moreover he promises to
secure the kingdom of England for William at Edward's death.
Perhaps he is himself to hold the kingdom or part of it under
William; in any case William is to be the overlord; in the more
usual story, William is to be himself the immediate king, with
Harold as his highest and most favoured subject. Meanwhile Harold
is to act in William's interest, to receive a Norman garrison in
Dover castle, and to build other castles at other points. But no
two stories agree, and not a few know nothing of anything beyond
the promise of marriage.

Now if William really required Harold to swear to all these things,
it must have been simply in order to have an occasion against him.
If Harold really swore to all of them, it must have been simply
because he felt that he was practically in William's power, without
any serious intention of keeping the oath. If Harold took any such
oath, he undoubtedly broke it; but we may safely say that any guilt
on his part lay wholly in taking the oath, not in breaking it. For
he swore to do what he could not do, and what it would have been a
crime to do, if he could. If the King himself could not dispose of
the crown, still less could the most powerful subject. Harold
could at most promise William his "vote and interest," whenever the
election came. But no one can believe that even Harold's influence
could have obtained the crown for William. His influence lay in
his being the embodiment of the national feeling; for him to appear
as the supporter of William would have been to lose the crown for
himself without gaining it for William. Others in England and in
Scandinavia would have been glad of it. And the engagements to
surrender Dover castle and the like were simply engagements on the
part of an English earl to play the traitor against England. If
William really called on Harold to swear to all this, he did so,
not with any hope that the oath would be kept, but simply to put
his competitor as far as possible in the wrong. But most likely
Harold swore only to something much simpler. Next to the universal
agreement about the marriage comes the very general agreement that
Harold became William's man. In these two statements we have
probably the whole truth. In those days men took the obligation of
homage upon themselves very easily. Homage was no degradation,
even in the highest; a man often did homage to any one from whom he
had received any great benefit, and Harold had received a very
great benefit from William. Nor did homage to a new lord imply
treason to the old one. Harold, delivered by William from Guy's
dungeon, would be eager to do for William any act of friendship.
The homage would be little more than binding himself in the
strongest form so to do. The relation of homage could be made to
mean anything or nothing, as might be convenient. The man might
often understand it in one sense and the lord in another. If
Harold became the man of William, he would look on the act as
little more than an expression of good will and gratitude towards
his benefactor, his future father-in-law, his commander in the
Breton war. He would not look on it as forbidding him to accept
the English crown if it were offered to him. Harold, the man of
Duke William, might become a king, if he could, just as William,
the man of King Philip, might become a king, if he could. As
things went in those days, both the homage and the promise of
marriage were capable of being looked on very lightly.

But it was not in the temper or in the circumstances of William to
put any such easy meaning on either promise. The oath might, if
needful, be construed very strictly, and William was disposed to
construe it very strictly. Harold had not promised William a
crown, which was not his to promise; but he had promised to do that
which might be held to forbid him to take a crown which William
held to be his own. If the man owed his lord any duty at all, it
was surely his duty not to thwart his lord's wishes in such a
matter. If therefore, when the vacancy of the throne came, Harold
took the crown himself, or even failed to promote William's claim
to it, William might argue that he had not rightly discharged the
duty of a man to his lord. He could make an appeal to the world
against the new king, as a perjured man, who had failed to help his
lord in the matter where his lord most needed his help. And, if
the oath really had been taken on relics of special holiness, he
could further appeal to the religious feelings of the time against
the man who had done despite to the saints. If he should be driven
to claim the crown by arms, he could give the war the character of
a crusade. All this in the end William did, and all this, we may
be sure, he looked forward to doing, when he caused Harold to
become his man. The mere obligation of homage would, in the
skilful hands of William and Lanfranc, be quite enough to work on
men's minds, as William wished to work on them. To Harold
meanwhile and to those in England who heard the story, the
engagement would not seem to carry any of these consequences. The
mere homage then, which Harold could hardly refuse, would answer
William's purpose nearly as well as any of these fuller obligations
which Harold would surely have refused. And when a man older than
William engaged to marry William's child-daughter, we must bear in
mind the lightness with which such promises were made. William
could not seriously expect that this engagement would be kept, if
anything should lead Harold to another marriage. The promise was
meant simply to add another count to the charges against Harold
when the time should come. Yet on this point it is not clear that
the oath was broken. Harold undoubtedly married Ealdgyth, daughter
of AElfgar and widow of Gruffydd, and not any daughter of William.
But in one version Harold is made to say that the daughter of
William whom he had engaged to marry was dead. And that one of
William's daughters did die very early there seems little doubt.

Whatever William did Lanfranc no doubt at least helped to plan.
The Norman duke was subtle, but the Italian churchman was subtler
still. In this long series of schemes and negotiations which led
to the conquest of England, we are dealing with two of the greatest
recorded masters of statecraft. We may call their policy dishonest
and immoral, and so it was. But it was hardly more dishonest and
immoral than most of the diplomacy of later times. William's
object was, without any formal breach of faith on his own part, to
entrap Harold into an engagement which might be understood in
different senses, and which, in the sense which William chose to
put upon it, Harold was sure to break. Two men, themselves of
virtuous life, a rigid churchman and a layman of unusual religious
strictness, do not scruple to throw temptation in the way of a
fellow man in the hope that he will yield to that temptation. They
exact a promise, because the promise is likely to be broken, and
because its breach would suit their purposes. Through all
William's policy a strong regard for formal right as he chose to
understand formal right, is not only found in company with much
practical wrong, but is made the direct instrument of carrying out
that wrong. Never was trap more cunningly laid than that in which
William now entangled Harold. Never was greater wrong done without
the breach of any formal precept of right. William and Lanfranc
broke no oath themselves, and that was enough for them. But it was
no sin in their eyes to beguile another into engagements which he
would understand in one way and they in another; they even, as
their admirers tell the story, beguile him into engagements at once
unlawful and impossible, because their interests would be promoted
by his breach of those engagements. William, in short, under the
spiritual guidance of Lanfranc, made Harold swear because he
himself would gain by being able to denounce Harold as perjured.

The moral question need not be further discussed; but we should
greatly like to know how far the fact of Harold's oath, whatever
its nature, was known in England? On this point we have no
trustworthy authority. The English writers say nothing about the
whole matter; to the Norman writers this point was of no interest.
No one mentions this point, except Harold's romantic biographer at
the beginning of the thirteenth century. His statements are of no
value, except as showing how long Harold's memory was cherished.
According to him, Harold formally laid the matter before the Witan,
and they unanimously voted that the oath--more, in his version,
than a mere oath of homage--was not binding. It is not likely that
such a vote was ever formally passed, but its terms would only
express what every Englishman would feel. The oath, whatever its
terms, had given William a great advantage; but every Englishman
would argue both that the oath, whatever its terms, could not
hinder the English nation from offering Harold the crown, and that
it could not bind Harold to refuse the crown if it should be so


If the time that has been suggested was the real time of Harold's
oath to William, its fulfilment became a practical question in
little more than a year. How the year 1065 passed in Normandy we
have no record; in England its later months saw the revolt of
Northumberland against Harold's brother Tostig, and the
reconciliation which Harold made between the revolters and the king
to the damage of his brother's interests. Then came Edward's
sickness, of which he died on January 5, 1066. He had on his
deathbed recommended Harold to the assembled Witan as his successor
in the kingdom. The candidate was at once elected. Whether
William, Edgar, or any other, was spoken of we know not; but as to
the recommendation of Edward and the consequent election of Harold
the English writers are express. The next day Edward was buried,
and Harold was crowned in regular form by Ealdred Archbishop of
York in Edward's new church at Westminster. Northumberland refused
to acknowledge him; but the malcontents were won over by the coming
of the king and his friend Saint Wulfstan Bishop of Worcester. It
was most likely now, as a seal of this reconciliation, that Harold
married Ealdgyth, the sister of the two northern earls Edwin and
Morkere, and the widow of the Welsh king Gruffydd. He doubtless
hoped in this way to win the loyalty of the earls and their

The accession of Harold was perfectly regular according to English
law. In later times endless fables arose; but the Norman writers
of the time do not deny the facts of the recommendation, election,
and coronation. They slur them over, or, while admitting the mere
facts, they represent each act as in some way invalid. No writer
near the time asserts a deathbed nomination of William; they speak
only of a nomination at some earlier time. But some Norman writers
represent Harold as crowned by Stigand Archbishop of Canterbury.
This was not, in the ideas of those times, a trifling question. A
coronation was then not a mere pageant; it was the actual admission
to the kingly office. Till his crowning and anointing, the
claimant of the crown was like a bishop-elect before his
consecration. He had, by birth or election, the sole right to
become king; it was the coronation that made him king. And as the
ceremony took the form of an ecclesiastical sacrament, its validity
might seem to depend on the lawful position of the officiating
bishop. In England to perform that ceremony was the right and duty
of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but the canonical position of
Stigand was doubtful. He had been appointed on the flight of
Robert; he had received the pallium, the badge of arch-episcopal
rank, only from the usurping Benedict the Tenth. It was therefore
good policy in Harold to be crowned by Ealdred, to whose position
there was no objection. This is the only difference of fact
between the English and Norman versions at this stage. And the
difference is easily explained. At William's coronation the king
walked to the altar between the two archbishops, but it was Ealdred
who actually performed the ceremony. Harold's coronation doubtless
followed the same order. But if Stigand took any part in that
coronation, it was easy to give out that he took that special part
on which the validity of the rite depended.

Still, if Harold's accession was perfectly lawful, it was none the
less strange and unusual. Except the Danish kings chosen under
more or less of compulsion, he was the first king who did not
belong to the West-Saxon kingly house. Such a choice could be
justified only on the ground that that house contained no qualified
candidate. Its only known members were the children of the
AEtheling Edward, young Edgar and his sisters. Now Edgar would
certainly have been passed by in favour of any better qualified
member of the kingly house, as his father had been passed by in
favour of King Edward. And the same principle would, as things
stood, justify passing him by in favour of a qualified candidate
not of the kingly house. But Edgar's right to the crown is never
spoken of till a generation or two later, when the doctrines of
hereditary right had gained much greater strength, and when Henry
the Second, great-grandson through his mother of Edgar's sister
Margaret, insisted on his descent from the old kings. This
distinction is important, because Harold is often called an
usurper, as keeping out Edgar the heir by birth. But those who
called him an usurper at the time called him so as keeping out
William the heir by bequest. William's own election was out of the
question. He was no more of the English kingly house than Harold;
he was a foreigner and an utter stranger. Had Englishmen been
minded to choose a foreigner, they doubtless would have chosen
Swegen of Denmark. He had found supporters when Edward was chosen;
he was afterwards appealed to to deliver England from William. He
was no more of the English kingly house than Harold or William; but
he was grandson of a man who had reigned over England,
Northumberland might have preferred him to Harold; any part of
England would have preferred him to William. In fact any choice
that could have been made must have had something strange about it.
Edgar himself, the one surviving male of the old stock, besides his
youth, was neither born in the land nor the son of a crowned king.
Those two qualifications had always been deemed of great moment; an
elaborate pedigree went for little; actual royal birth went for a
great deal. There was now no son of a king to choose. Had there
been even a child who was at once a son of Edward and a sister's
son of Harold, he might have reigned with his uncle as his guardian
and counsellor. As it was, there was nothing to do but to choose
the man who, though not of kingly blood, had ruled England well for
thirteen years.

The case thus put seemed plain to every Englishman, at all events
to every man in Wessex, East-Anglia, and southern Mercia. But it
would not seem so plain in OTHER lands. To the greater part of
Western Europe William's claim might really seem the better.
William himself doubtless thought his own claim the better; he
deluded himself as he deluded others. But we are more concerned
with William as a statesman; and if it be statesmanship to adapt
means to ends, whatever the ends may be, if it be statesmanship to
make men believe that the worse cause is the better, then no man
ever showed higher statesmanship than William showed in his great
pleading before all Western Christendom. It is a sign of the times
that it was a pleading before all Western Christendom. Others had
claimed crowns; none had taken such pains to convince all mankind
that the claim was a good one. Such an appeal to public opinion
marks on one side a great advance. It was a great step towards the
ideas of International Law and even of European concert. It showed
that the days of mere force were over, that the days of subtle
diplomacy had begun. Possibly the change was not without its dark
side; it may be doubted whether a change from force to fraud is
wholly a gain. Still it was an appeal from the mere argument of
the sword to something which at least professed to be right and
reason. William does not draw the sword till he has convinced
himself and everybody else that he is drawing it in a just cause.
In that age the appeal naturally took a religious shape. Herein
lay its immediate strength; herein lay its weakness as regarded the
times to come. William appealed to Emperor, kings, princes,
Christian men great and small, in every Christian land. He would
persuade all; he would ask help of all. But above all he appealed
to the head of Christendom, the Bishop of Rome. William in his own
person could afford to do so; where he reigned, in Normandy or in
England, there was no fear of Roman encroachments; he was fully
minded to be in all causes and over all persons within his
dominions supreme. While he lived, no Pope ventured to dispute his
right. But by acknowledging the right of the Pope to dispose of
crowns, or at least to judge as to the right to crowns, he prepared
many days of humiliation for kings in general and specially for his
own successors. One man in Western Europe could see further than
William, perhaps even further than Lanfranc. The chief counsellor
of Pope Alexander the Second was the Archdeacon Hildebrand, the
future Gregory the Seventh. If William outwitted the world,
Hildebrand outwitted William. William's appeal to the Pope to
decide between two claimants for the English crown strengthened
Gregory not a little in his daring claim to dispose of the crowns
of Rome, of Italy, and of Germany. Still this recognition of Roman
claims led more directly to the humiliation of William's successor
in his own kingdom. Moreover William's successful attempt to
represent his enterprise as a holy war, a crusade before crusades
were heard of, did much to suggest and to make ready the way for
the real crusades a generation later. It was not till after
William's death that Urban preached the crusade, but it was during
William's life that Gregory planned it.

The appeal was strangely successful. William convinced, or seemed
to convince, all men out of England and Scandinavia that his claim
to the English crown was just and holy, and that it was a good work
to help him to assert it in arms. He persuaded his own subjects;
he certainly did not constrain them. He persuaded some foreign
princes to give him actual help, some to join his muster in person;
he persuaded all to help him so far as not to hinder their subjects
from joining him as volunteers. And all this was done by sheer
persuasion, by argument good or bad. In adapting of means to ends,
in applying to each class of men that kind of argument which best
suited it, the diplomacy, the statesmanship, of William was
perfect. Again we ask, How far was it the statesmanship of
William, how far of Lanfranc? But a prince need not do everything
with his own hands and say everything with his own tongue. It was
no small part of the statesmanship of William to find out Lanfranc,
to appreciate him and to trust him. And when two subtle brains
were at work, more could be done by the two working in partnership
than by either working alone.

By what arguments did the Duke of the Normans and the Prior of Bec
convince mankind that the worse cause was the better? We must
always remember the transitional character of the age. England was
in political matters in advance of other Western lands; that is, it
lagged behind other Western lands. It had not gone so far on the
downward course. It kept far more than Gaul or even Germany of the
old Teutonic institutions, the substance of which later ages have
won back under new shapes. Many things were understood in England
which are now again understood everywhere, but which were no longer
understood in France or in the lands held of the French crown. The
popular election of kings comes foremost. Hugh Capet was an
elective king as much as Harold; but the French kings had made
their crown the most strictly hereditary of all crowns. They
avoided any interregnum by having their sons crowned in their
lifetime. So with the great fiefs of the crown. The notion of
kingship as an office conferred by the nation, of a duchy or county
as an office held under the king, was still fully alive in England;
in Gaul it was forgotten. Kingdom, duchies, counties, had all
become possessions instead of offices, possessions passing by
hereditary succession of some kind. But no rule of hereditary
succession was universally or generally accepted. To this day the
kingdoms of Europe differ as to the question of female succession,
and it is but slowly that the doctrine of representation has ousted
the more obvious doctrine of nearness of kin. All these points
were then utterly unsettled; crowns, save of course that of the
Empire, were to pass by hereditary right; only what was hereditary
right? At such a time claims would be pressed which would have
seemed absurd either earlier or later. To Englishmen, if it seemed
strange to elect one who was not of the stock of Cerdic, it seemed
much more strange to be called on to accept without election, or to
elect as a matter of course, one who was not of the stock of Cerdic
and who was a stranger into the bargain. Out of England it would
not seem strange when William set forth that Edward, having no
direct heirs, had chosen his near kinsman William as his successor.
Put by itself, that statement had a plausible sound. The
transmission of a crown by bequest belongs to the same range of
ideas as its transmission by hereditary right; both assume the
crown to be a property and not an office. Edward's nomination of
Harold, the election of Harold, the fact that William's kindred to
Edward lay outside the royal line of England, the fact that there
was, in the person of Edgar, a nearer kinsman within that royal
line, could all be slurred over or explained away or even turned to
William's profit. Let it be that Edward on his death-bed had
recommended Harold, and that the Witan had elected Harold. The
recommendation was wrung from a dying man in opposition to an
earlier act done when he was able to act freely. The election was
brought about by force or fraud; if it was free, it was of no force
against William's earlier claim of kindred and bequest. As for
Edgar, as few people in England thought of him, still fewer out of
England would have ever heard of him. It is more strange that the
bastardy of William did not tell against him, as it had once told
in his own duchy. But this fact again marks the transitional age.
Altogether the tale that a man who was no kinsman of the late king
had taken to himself the crown which the king had bequeathed to a
kinsman, might, even without further aggravation, be easily made to
sound like a tale of wrong.

But the case gained tenfold strength when William added that the
doer of the wrong was of all men the one most specially bound not
to do it. The usurper was in any case William's man, bound to act
in all things for his lord. Perhaps he was more; perhaps he had
directly sworn to receive William as king. Perhaps he had promised
all this with an oath of special solemnity. It would be easy to
enlarge on all these further counts as making up an amount of guilt
which William not only had the right to chastise, but which he
would be lacking in duty if he failed to chastise. He had to
punish the perjurer, to avenge the wrongs of the saints. Surely
all who should help him in so doing would be helping in a righteous

The answer to all this was obvious. Putting the case at the very
worst, assuming that Harold had sworn all that he is ever said to
have sworn, assuming that he swore it in the most solemn way in
which he is ever said to have sworn it, William's claim was not
thereby made one whit better. Whatever Harold's own guilt might
be, the people of England had no share in it. Nothing that Harold
had done could bar their right to choose their king freely. Even
if Harold declined the crown, that would not bind the electors to
choose William. But when the notion of choosing kings had begun to
sound strange, all this would go for nothing. There would be no
need even to urge that in any case the wrong done by Harold to
William gave William a casus belli against Harold, and that
William, if victorious, might claim the crown of England, as a
possession of Harold's, by right of conquest. In fact William
never claimed the crown by conquest, as conquest is commonly
understood. He always represented himself as the lawful heir,
unhappily driven to use force to obtain his rights. The other
pleas were quite enough to satisfy most men out of England and
Scandinavia. William's work was to claim the crown of which he was
unjustly deprived, and withal to deal out a righteous chastisement
on the unrighteous and ungodly man by whom he had been deprived of

In the hands of diplomatists like William and Lanfranc, all these
arguments, none of which had in itself the slightest strength, were
enough to turn the great mass of continental opinion in William's
favour. But he could add further arguments specially adapted to
different classes of minds. He could hold out the prospect of
plunder, the prospect of lands and honours in a land whose wealth
was already proverbial. It might of course be answered that the
enterprise against England was hazardous and its success unlikely.
But in such matters, men listen rather to their hopes than to their
fears. To the Normans it would be easy, not only to make out a
case against Harold, but to rake up old grudges against the English
nation. Under Harold the son of Cnut, Alfred, a prince half Norman
by birth, wholly Norman by education, the brother of the late king,
the lawful heir to the crown, had been betrayed and murdered by
somebody. A widespread belief laid the deed to the charge of the
father of the new king. This story might easily be made a ground
of national complaint by Normandy against England, and it was easy
to infer that Harold had some share in the alleged crime of
Godwine. It was easy to dwell on later events, on the driving of
so many Normans out of England, with Archbishop Robert at their
head. Nay, not only had the lawful primate been driven out, but an
usurper had been set in his place, and this usurping archbishop had
been made to bestow a mockery of consecration on the usurping king.
The proposed aggression on England was even represented as a
missionary work, undertaken for the good of the souls of the
benighted islanders. For, though the English were undoubtedly
devout after their own fashion, there was much in the
ecclesiastical state of England which displeased strict churchmen
beyond sea, much that William, when he had the power, deemed it his
duty to reform. The insular position of England naturally parted
it in many things from the usages and feelings of the mainland, and
it was not hard to get up a feeling against the nation as well as
against its king. All this could not really strengthen William's
claim; but it made men look more favourably on his enterprise.

The fact that the Witan were actually in session at Edward's death
had made it possible to carry out Harold's election and coronation
with extreme speed. The electors had made their choice before
William had any opportunity of formally laying his claim before
them. This was really an advantage to him; he could the better
represent the election and coronation as invalid. His first step
was of course to send an embassy to Harold to call on him even now
to fulfil his oath. The accounts of this embassy, of which we have
no English account, differ as much as the different accounts of the
oath. Each version of course makes William demand and Harold
refuse whatever it had made Harold swear. These demands and
refusals range from the resignation of the kingdom to a marriage
with William's daughter. And it is hard to separate this embassy
from later messages between the rivals. In all William demands,
Harold refuses; the arguments on each side are likely to be
genuine. Harold is called on to give up the crown to William, to
hold it of William, to hold part of the kingdom of William, to
submit the question to the judgement of the Pope, lastly, if he
will do nothing else, at least to marry William's daughter.
Different writers place these demands at different times,
immediately after Harold's election or immediately before the
battle. The last challenge to a single combat between Harold and
William of course appears only on the eve of the battle. Now none
of these accounts come from contemporary partisans of Harold; every
one is touched by hostile feeling towards him. Thus the
constitutional language that is put into his mouth, almost
startling from its modern sound, has greater value. A King of the
English can do nothing without the consent of his Witan. They gave
him the kingdom; without their consent, he cannot resign it or
dismember it or agree to hold it of any man; without their consent,
he cannot even marry a foreign wife. Or he answers that the
daughter of William whom he promised to marry is dead, and that the

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