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The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
The Conquest
by Adams, George Burton


The battle of the 14th of October, 1066, was decisive of the struggle for the throne of England, but William of Normandy was in no haste to gather in the results of the victory which he had won. The judgment of heaven had been pronounced in the case between him and Harold, and there was no mistaking the verdict. The Saxon army was routed and flying. It could hardly rally short of London, but there was no real pursuit. The Normans spent the night on the battlefield, and William's own tent was pitched on the hill which the enemy had held, and in the midst of the Saxon wounded, a position of some danger, against which his friend and adviser, Walter Giffard, remonstrated in vain. On the next day he fell back with his army to Hastings. Here he remained five days waiting, the Saxon Chronicle tells us, for the nation to make known its submission; waiting, it is more likely, for reinforcements which were coming from Normandy. So keen a mind as William's probably did not misjudge the situation. With the only real army against him broken to pieces, with the only leaders around whom a new army could rally dead, he could afford to wait. He may not have understood the rallying power of the Saxon soldiery, but he probably knew very well the character of the public men of England, who were left alive to head and direct a new resistance. The only candidate for the throne upon whom all parties could unite was a boy of no pronounced character and no experience. The leaders of the nobility who should have stood forth in such a crisis as the natural leaders of the nation were men who had shown in the clearest way their readiness to sacrifice England to their personal ambitions or grievances. At the head of the Church were men of but little higher character and no greater capacity for leadership, undisguised pluralists who could not avoid the charge of disregarding in their own selfish interests the laws they were bound to administer. London, where the greater part of the fugitives had gathered, could hardly have settled upon the next step to be taken when William began his advance, five days after the battle. His first objective point was the great fortress of Dover, which dominated that important landing-place upon the coast. On the way he stopped to give an example of what those might expect who made themselves his enemies, by punishing the town of Romney, which had ventured to beat off with some vigour a body of Normans, probably one that had tried to land there by mistake.

Dover had been a strong fortress for centuries, perched on its cliffs as high as an arrow can be shot, says one who may have been present at these events, and it had been recently strengthened with new work. William doubtless expected a difficult task, and he was correspondingly pleased to find the garrison ready to surrender without a blow, an omen even more promising than the victory he had gained over Harold. If William had given at Romney an example of what would follow stubborn resistance, he gave at Dover an example of how he proposed to deal with those who would submit, not merely in his treatment of the surrendered garrison of the castle, but in his payment of the losses of the citizens; for his army, disappointed of the plunder which would have followed the taking of the place by force, had burned the town or part of it. At Dover William remained a week, and here his army was attacked by a foe often more deadly to the armies of the Middle Ages than the enemies they had come out to fight. Too much fresh meat and unaccustomed water led to an outbreak of dysentery which carried off many and weakened others, who had to be left behind when William set out again. But these losses were balanced by reinforcements from Normandy, which joined him here or soon afterwards. His next advance was towards Canterbury, but it had hardly begun when delegations came up to meet him, bringing the submission of that city and of other places in Kent. Soon after leaving Dover the duke himself fell ill, very possibly with the prevailing disease, but if we may judge by what seems to be our best evidence, he did not allow this to interrupt his advance, but pushed on towards London with only a brief stop at any point.1 Nor is there any certain evidence to be had of extensive harrying of the country on this march. His army was obliged to live on what it could take from the inhabitants, and this foraging was unquestionably accompanied with much unnecessary plundering; but there is no convincing evidence of any systematic laying waste of large districts to bring about a submission which everything would show to be coming of itself, and it was not like William to ravage without need. He certainly hesitated at no cruelty of the sort at times, but we can clearly enough see reasons of policy in most at least of the cases, which may have made the action seem to him necessary. Nearly all are instances either of defensive action or of vengeance, but that he should systematically ravage the country when events were carrying out his plan as rapidly as could be expected, we have no reason to consider in accordance with William's policy or temper. In the meantime, as the invading army was slowly drawing near to London, opinion there had settled, for the time at least, upon a line of policy. Surviving leaders who had been defeated in the great battle, men high in rank who had been absent, some purposely standing aloof while the issue was decided, had gathered in the city. Edwin and Morcar, the great earls of north and middle England, heads of the house that was the rival of Harold's, who seem to have been willing to see him and his power destroyed, had now come in, having learned the result of the battle. The two archbishops were there, and certain of the bishops, though which they were we cannot surely tell. Other names we do not know, unless it be that of Esegar, Harold's staller and portreeve of London, the hero of a doubtful story of negotiations with the approaching enemy. But other nobles and men of influence in the state were certainly there, though their names are not recorded. Nor was a military force lacking, even if the "army" of Edwin and Morcar was under independent and not trustworthy command. It is clear that the tone of public opinion was for further resistance, and the citizens were not afraid to go out to attack the Conqueror on his first approach to their neighbourhood. But from all our sources of information the fatal fact stands out plainly, of divided counsels and lack of leadership. William of Malmesbury believed, nearly two generations later, and we must agree with him, that if the English could have put aside "the discord of civil strife," and have "united in a common policy, they could have amended the ruin of the fatherland." But there was too much self-seeking and a lack of patriotism. Edwin and Morcar went about trying to persuade people that one or the other of them should be made king. Some of the bishops appear to have opposed the choice of any king. No dominating personality arose to compel agreement and to give direction and power to the popular impulse. England was conquered, not by the superior force and genius of the Norman, but by the failure of her own men in a great crisis of her history.

The need of haste seems an element in the situation, and under the combined pressure of the rapid approach of the enemy and of the public opinion of the city--citizens and shipmen are both mentioned--the leaders of Church and State finally came to an agreement that Edgar atheling should be made king. It was the only possible step except that of immediate submission. Grandson of Edmund Ironside, the king who had offered stubborn and most skilful resistance to an earlier foreign invader, heir of a house that had been royal since the race had had a history, all men could unite upon him, and upon him alone, if there must be a king. But there was no other argument in his favour. Neither the blood of his grandfather nor the school of adversity had made of him the man to deal with such a situation. In later life he impressed people as a well-mannered, agreeable, and frank man, but no one ever detected in him the stuff of which heroes are made. He was never consecrated king, though the act would have strengthened his position, and one wonders if the fact is evidence that the leaders had yielded only to a popular pressure in agreeing upon him against their own preference, or merely of the haste and confusion of events. One act of sovereignty only is attributed to him, the confirmation of Brand, who had been chosen by the monks Abbot of Peterborough, in succession to Leofric, of the house of Edwin and Morcar, who had been present at the battle of Hastings and had died soon after. William interpreted this reference of the election to Edgar for confirmation as an act of hostility to himself, and fined the new abbot heavily, but to us the incident is of value as evidence of the character of the movement, which tried to find a national king in this last male of Cerdic's line.

From Canterbury the invading army advanced directly upon London, and took up a position in its neighbourhood. From this station a body of five hundred horsemen was sent forward to reconnoitre the approaches to the city, and the second battle of the conquest followed, if we may call that a battle which seems to have been merely one-sided. At any rate, the citizens intended to offer battle, and crossed the river and advanced against the enemy in regular formation, but the Norman knights made short work of the burgher battalions, and drove them back into the city with great slaughter. The suburb on the south bank of the Thames fell into the hands of the enemy, who burned down at least a part of it. William gained, however, no further success at this point. London was not yet ready to submit, and the river seems to have been an impassable barrier. To find a crossing the Norman march was continued up the river, the country suffering as before from the foraging of the army. The desired crossing was found at Wallingford, not far below Oxford and nearly fifty miles above London. That he could have crossed the river nearer the city than this, if he had wished, seems probable, and considerations of strategy may very likely have governed William's movements. Particularly might this be the case if he had learned that Edwin and Morcar, with their army, had abandoned the new king and retired northward, as some of the best of modern scholars have believed, though upon what is certainly not the best of evidence. If this was so, a little more time would surely convince the Londoners that submission was the best policy, and the best position for William to occupy would be between the city and this army in the north, a position which he could easily reach, as he did, from his crossing at Wallingford. If the earls had not abandoned London, this was still the best position, cutting them off from their own country and the city from the region whence reinforcements must come if they came at all. A long sweep about a hostile city was favourite strategy of William's.

From some point along this line of march between Dover and Wallingford, William had detached a force to secure the submission of Winchester. This city was of considerable importance, both because it was the old royal residence and still the financial centre of the state, and because it was the abode of Edith, the queen of Edward the Confessor, to whom it had been assigned as part of her dower. The submission of the city seems to have been immediate and entirely satisfactory to William, who confirmed the widowed Lady of England in her rights and showed later some favour to the monks of the new minster. William of Poitiers, the duke's chaplain, who possibly accompanied the army on this march,2 and wrote an account of these events not long afterwards, tells us that at Wallingford Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, came in and made submission to his master. There is no reason to doubt this statement, though it has been called in question. The best English chroniclers omit his name from the list of those who submitted when London surrendered. The tide of success had been flowing strongly one way since the Normans landed. The condition of things in London afforded no real hope that this tide could be checked. A man of Stigand's type could be depended upon to see that if William's success was inevitable, an early submission would be better than a late one. If Stigand went over to William at Wallingford, it is a clear commentary on the helplessness of the party of resistance in London.

From Wallingford William continued his leisurely march, leaving a trail of devastation behind him through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Hertfordshire, where he turned south towards London. But the city was now convinced of the impossibility of resistance and was ready to yield to the inevitable. How near the enemy was allowed to approach before the step of actual surrender was taken is not quite certain. The generally accepted opinion, on the authority of English chroniclers, is that the embassy from London went to meet William at Berkhampsted, thirty miles away, but if we could accept the suggestion which has been made that Little Berkhampsted was the place intended, the distance would agree better with the express statement of the chaplain, William of Poitiers, that the city was in sight from the place of conference. It is hard to avoid accepting William's statement, for it is precisely the kind of thing which the men of the duke's army--which had been so long approaching the city and thinking of its capture--would be likely to notice and remember. It also agrees better with the probabilities of the case. Thirty miles was still a safe distance, especially in those days, and would allow much time for further debate and for the unexpected to happen. Wherever the act of submission occurred, it was in form complete and final for the city and for the chief men of England. Edgar came to offer his useless and imperfect crown; Aldred, Archbishop of York, was there to complete the submission of the Church; bishops of several sees were also present, and chief men of the state, among whom Edwin and Morcar are mentioned by one of the chroniclers who had earlier sent them home to the north. Possibly he is right in both statements, and the earls had returned to make their peace when they saw that resistance was hopeless. These men William received most kindly and with good promises, and Edgar in particular he embraced and treated like a son.

This deputation from London, headed by their nominal king, came to offer the crown to William. For him and for the Normans the decisive moment of the expedition was now come. A definite answer must be made. According to the account we are following, a kind of council of war of the Norman and other barons and the leaders of the army seems to have been held, and to this council William submitted the question whether it would be better to take the crown now, or to wait until the country was more completely subdued and until his wife Matilda could be present to share the honour with him. This is the question which we are told was proposed, but the considerations which seem to have led to the final decision bear less upon this than upon the question whether William should be king at all or not. We have before this date no record of any formal decision of this question. It had been doubtless tacitly understood by all; the crown was more or less openly the object of the expedition; but the time had now come when the question stood as a sharp issue before William and before his men and must be frankly met. If the Duke of the Normans was to be transformed into the King of the English, it could be done only with the loyal support of his Norman followers; nor is it at all likely that, in a state so thoroughly feudal as Normandy, the suzerain would have ventured to assume so great an increase of rank and probable power without the express consent of his vassals, in disregard of what was certainly the usual feudal practice. The decision of the council was favourable, and William accepted the crown. Immediately a force of men was sent forward to take military possession of the city and build, after the Norman fashion, some kind of defences there, and to make suitable preparation for the coming of the king who was to be. The interval William occupied in his favourite amusement of the chase, and his army in continuing to provide for their various wants from the surrounding country and that with no gentle hand.

Whatever may have prevented the coronation of Edgar, there was to be no unnecessary delay about William's. Christmas day, the nearest great festival of the Church, was fixed upon for the ceremony, which was to take place in the new abbey church of Westminster, where Harold had been crowned and where the body of Edward lay. The consecration was to be performed by Aldred, Archbishop of York. No Norman, least of all William, who had come with the special blessing of the rightful pope, could allow this sacred office to Stigand, whose way to the primacy had been opened by the outlawry of the Norman archbishop Robert, and whose paillium was the gift of a schismatic and excommunicated pope. With this slight defect, from which Harold's coronation also suffered, the ceremony was made as formal and stately as possible. Norman guards kept order about the place; a long procession of clergy moved into the church, with the duke and his supporting bishops at the end. Within, the old ritual of coronation was followed as nearly as we can judge. Englishmen and Frenchmen were asked in their own languages if they would have William to be king, and they shouted out their approval; William then took oath to defend the Church, to rule justly, to make and keep right law, and to prevent disorders, and at last he was anointed and crowned and became King of the English in title and in law. But all this had not taken place without some plain evidence of the unusual and violent character of the event. The Normans stationed without had mistaken the shouts of approval which came from within for shouts of anger and protest, and in true Norman fashion had at once fallen on whatever was at hand, people and buildings, slaying and setting fire, to create a diversion and to be sure of vengeance. In one point at least they were successful; the church was emptied of spectators and the ceremony was finished, king and bishops alike trembling with uncertain dread, in the light of burning buildings and amid the noise of the tumult.

At the time of his coronation William was not far from forty years of age. He was in the full tide of a vigorous physical life, in height and size, about the average, possibly a trifle above the average, of the men of his time, and praised for his unusual strength of arm. In mental gifts he stood higher above the general run of men than in physical. As a soldier and a statesman he was clear-headed, quick to see the right thing to do and the right time to do it; conscious of the ultimate end and of the combination of means, direct and indirect, slowly working out, which must be made to reach it. But the characteristic by which he is most distinguished from the other men of his time is one which he shares with many of the conquerors of history--a characteristic perhaps indispensable to that kind of success--an utterly relentless determination to succeed, if necessary without hesitation at the means employed, and without considering in the least the cost to others. His inflexible will greatly impressed his own time. The men who came in contact with him were afraid of him. His sternness and mercilessness in the enforcement of law, in the punishment of crime, and in the protection of what he thought to be his rights, were never relaxed. His laws were thought to be harsh, his money-getting oppressive, and his forest regulations cruel and unjust. And yet William intended to be, and he was, a good ruler. He gave his lands, what was in those days the best proof of good government, and to be had only of a strong king, internal peace. He was patient also, and did not often lose control of himself and yield to the terrible passion which could at last be roused. For thirty years, in name at least, he had ruled over Normandy, and he came to the throne of England with a long experience behind him of fighting against odds, of controlling a turbulent baronage, and of turning anarchy into good order.

William was at last crowned and consecrated king of the English. But the kingdom over which he could exercise any real rule embraced little more than the land through which he had actually passed; and yet this fact must not be understood to mean too much. He had really conquered England, and there was no avoiding the result. Notwithstanding all the difficulties which were still before him in getting possession of his kingdom, and the length of time before the last lingering resistance was subdued, there is no evidence anywhere of a truly national movement against him. Local revolts there were, some of which seemed for a moment to assume threatening proportions; attempts at foreign intervention with hopes of native aid, which always proved fallacious; long resistance by some leaders worthy of a better support, the best and bravest of whom became in the end faithful subjects of the new king: these things there were, but if we look over the whole period of the Conquest, we can only be astonished that a handful of foreign adventurers overcame so easily a strong nation. There is but one explanation to be found, the one to which such national overthrow is most often due, the lack of leadership.

The panegyrist of the new king, his chaplain, William of Poitiers, leads us to believe that very soon after the coronation William adopted somewhat extensive regulations for the settlement of his kingdom and for the restraint of disorders in his army. We may fairly insist upon some qualification of the unfailing wisdom and goodness which this semi-official historian attributes to his patron, but we can hardly do otherwise than consider his general order of events correct, and his account of what was actually done on the whole trustworthy. England had in form submitted, and this submission was a reality so far as all were concerned who came into contact with William or his army. And now the new government had to be set going at once. Men must know what law was to be enforced and under what conditions property was to be secure. The king's own followers, who had won his kingdom for him, must receive the rewards which they had expected; but the army was now a national and not an invading army, and it must be restrained from any further indiscriminate plunder or rioting. Two acts of William which we must assign to this time give some evidence that he did not feel as yet altogether sure of the temper of London. Soon after the ceremony at Westminster he retired to Barking, a few miles distant, and waited there while the fortification in the city was completed, which probably by degrees grew into the Tower. And apparently at this time, certainly not long afterwards, he issued to the bishop and the portreeve his famous charter for the city, probably drawn up originally in the English language, or if not, certainly with an English translation attached for immediate effect. In this charter the clearest assurance is given on two points about which a great commercial city, intimately concerned in such a revolution, would be most anxious,--the establishment of law and the security of property. The king pledges himself to introduce no foreign law and to make no arbitrary confiscations of property. To win the steady adhesion of that most influential body of men who were always at hand to bring the pressure of their public opinion to bear upon the leaders of the state, the inhabitants of London, this measure was as wise as was the building of the Tower for security against the sudden tumults so frequent in the medieval city, or even more dangerous insurrections.

At the same time strict regulations were made for the repression of disorders in the army. The leaders were exhorted to justice and to avoid any oppression of the conquered; the soldiers were forbidden all acts of violence, and the favourite vices of armies were prohibited,--too much drinking, we are told, lest it should lead to bloodshed. Judges were appointed to deal with the offences of the soldiers; the Norman members of the force were allowed no special privileges; and the control of law over the army, says the king's chaplain, proudly, was made as strict as the control of the army over the subject race. Attention was given also to the fiscal system of the country, to the punishment of criminals, and to the protection of commerce. Most of this we may well believe, though some details of fact as well as of motive may be too highly coloured, for our knowledge of William's attitude towards matters of this kind is not dependent on the words of any panegyrist.

While William waited at Barking, other English lords in addition to those who had already acknowledged him came in and made submission. The Norman authorities say that the earls Edwin and Morcar were the chief of these, and if not earlier, they must have submitted then. Two men, Siward and Eldred, are said to have been relatives of the last Saxon king, but in what way we do not know. Copsi, who had ruled Northumberland for a time under Tostig, the brother of Harold, impressed the Norman writers with his importance, and a Thurkill is also mentioned by name, while "many other nobles" are classed together without special mention. Another great name which should probably be added to this list is that of Waltheof, Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, of distinguished descent and destined later to an unhappy fate. All of these the king received most kindly. He accepted their oaths, restored to them all their possessions, and held them in great honour.

But certainly not in all cases did things go so easily for the English. Two bits of evidence, one in the Saxon Chronicle, that men bought their lands of the king, and one in Domesday Book, a statement of the condition of a piece of land "at the time when the English redeemed their lands," lead us to infer that William demanded of the English that they obtain from him in form a confirmation of their possessions for which they were obliged to pay a price. No statement is made of the reasons by which this demand was justified, but the temptation to regard it as an application of the principle of the feudal relief is almost irresistible; of the relief paid on the succession of a new lord, instead of the ordinary relief paid on the recognition of the heir to the fief. If the evidence were greater that this was a common practice in feudalism rather than an occasional one, as it seems only to have been, it would give us the simplest and most natural explanation of this act of William's. To consider that he regarded all the land of the kingdom as rightly confiscate, which has been suggested as an explanation, because of a resistance which in many cases never occurred, and in most had not at the time when this regulation must have been made, is a forced and unnatural theory, and not in harmony with William's usual methods. To suppose that he regarded this as an exceptional case, in which a relief on a change of lords could be collected, is a less violent supposition. Possibly it was an application more general than ordinary of the practice which was usual throughout the medieval world of obtaining at a price, from a new king, confirmations of the important grants of his predecessors. But any explanation of the ground of right on which the king demanded this general redemption of lands must remain from lack of evidence a mere conjecture. The fact itself seems beyond question, and is an indication of no little value of the views and intentions of the new king. The kingdom was his; all the land must be held of him and with his formal consent, but no uncalled-for disturbance of possession was to occur.

Beyond reasonable doubt at this time was begun that policy of actual confiscation, where reasons existed, which by degrees transformed the landed aristocracy from English into Norman. Those who had gained the crown for the new king must receive the minor rewards which they had had in view for themselves, and with no unnecessary delay. A new nobility must be endowed, and policy would dictate also that at the earliest moment the country should be garrisoned by faithful vassals of the king's own, supplied with means of defending themselves and having proportionately as much at stake in the country as himself. The lands and property of those who had fought against him or who were irreconcilable would be in his hands to dispose of, according to any theory of his position which William might hold. The crown lands of the old kings were of course his, and in spite of all the grants that were made during the reign, this domain was increased rather than diminished under William. The possessions of Harold's family and of all those who had fallen in the battle with him were at once confiscated, and these seem to have sufficed for present needs. Whatever may have been true later, we may accept the conclusion that "on the whole William at this stage of his reign warred rather against the memory of the dead than against the lives or fortunes of the living."

These confiscated lands the king bestowed on the chiefs of his army. We have little information of the way in which this change was carried out, but in many cases certainly the possessions held by a given Saxon thane in the days of Edward were turned over as a whole to a given Norman with no more accurate description than that the lands of A were now to be the lands of B. What lands had actually belonged to A, the old owner, was left to be determined by some sort of local inquiry, but with this the king did not concern himself beyond giving written orders that the change was to be made. Often this turning over to a Norman of the estate of a dispossessed Saxon resulted in unintended injustice and in legal quarrels which were unsettled years afterwards. Naturally the new owner considered himself the successor of the old one in all the rights which he possessed. If for some of his manors the Saxon was the tenant of a church or of an abbey, the Norman often seized upon these with the rest, as if all were rightfully confiscated together and all held by an equally clear title, and the Church was not always able, even after long litigation, to establish its rights. We have little direct evidence as to the relationship which such grants created between the recipient and the king, or as to the kind of tenure by which they were held, but the indirect evidence is constantly accumulating, and may be said to be now indeed conclusive, that the relation and the tenure made use of were the only ones with which the Normans were at this time familiar or which would be likely to seem to them possible,--the relationship of vassal and lord; and that with these first grants of land which the king made to his followers was introduced into England that side of the feudal system which Saxon England had never known, but which was, from this time on, for nearly two centuries, to be the ruling system in both public and private law.

In saying that the feudal system was introduced into England by these grants, we must guard against a misconception. The feudal system, if we use that name as we commonly do to cover the entire relations of the society of that age, had two sides to it, distinct in origin, character, and purpose. To any clear understanding of the organization of feudal society, or of the change which its establishment made in English history, it is necessary, although it is not easy, to hold these two sides apart. There was in the practices and in the vocabulary of feudalism itself some confusion of the two in the borderland that lay between them, and the difficulty is made greater for us by the fact that both sides were primarily concerned with the holding of land, and especially by the fact that the same piece of land belonged at once to both sides and was held at the same time by two different men, by two different kinds of tenure, and under two different systems of law. The one side may be called from its ruling purpose economic and the other political. The one had for its object the income to be drawn from the land; the other regarded chiefly the political obligations joined to the land and the political or social rank and duties of the holders.

The economic side concerned the relations of the cultivators of the soil with the man who was, in relation to them, the owner of that soil; it regulated the tenures by which they held the little pieces which they cultivated, their rights over that land and its produce, their obligations to the owner of service in cultivating for him the lands which he reserved for his own use, and, in addition, of payments to him in kind and perhaps in money on a variety of occasions and occurrences throughout the year; it defined and practically limited, also, the owner's right of exaction from these cultivators. These regulations were purely customary; they had grown up slowly out of experience, and they were not written. But this was true also of almost all the law of that age, and this law of the cultivators was as valid in its place as the king's law, and was enforced in its own courts. It is true that most of these men who cultivated the soil were serfs, at least not entirely free; but that fact made no difference in this particular; they had their standing, their voice, and their rights in their lord's "customary" court, and the documents which describe to us these arrangements call them, as they do the highest barons of the realm, "peers,"--that is, peers of these customary courts. Not all, indeed, were serfs; many freemen, small farmers, possibly it would not be wrong to say all who had formerly belonged to that class, had been forced by one necessity or another to enter into this system, to surrender the unqualified ownership of their lands, and to agree to hold them of some lord, though traces of their original full ownership may long have lingered about the land. When they did this, they were brought into very close relations with the unfree cultivators; they were parts of the same system and subject to some of the same regulations and services but their land was usually held on terms that were economically better than the serfs obtained, and they retained their personal freedom. They were members of the lords' courts, and there the serfs were their peers; but they were also members of the old national courts of hundred and shire, and there they were the peers of knights and barons.

This system, this economic side of feudalism, is what we know as the manorial system. Its unit was the manor, an estate of land larger or smaller, but large enough to admit of this characteristic organization, managed as a unit, usually from some well-defined centre, the manor house, and directed by a single responsible head, the lord's steward. The land which constituted the manor was divided into two clearly distinguished parts, the "domain" and the "tenures." The domain was the part of each manor that was reserved for the lord's own use, and cultivated for him by the labour of his tenants under the direction of the steward, as a part of the services by which they held their lands; that is, as a part of the rent paid for them. The returns from these domain lands formed a very large part, probably the largest part, of the income of the landlord class in feudal days. The "tenures" were the holdings of the cultivators, worked for themselves by their own labour, of varying sizes and held on terms of varying advantage, and usually scattered about the manor in small strips, a bit here and another there. Besides these cultivated lands there were also, in the typical manor, common pasture lands and common wood lands, in which the rights of each member of this little community were carefully regulated by the customary law of the manor. This whole arrangement was plainly economic in character and purpose it was not in the least political. Its object was to get the soil cultivated, to provide mankind with the necessary food and clothing, and the more fortunate members of the race with their incomes. This purpose it admirably served in an age when local protection was an ever present need, when the labouring man had often to look to the rich and strong man of the neighbourhood for the security which he could not get from the state. Whatever may have been the origin of this system, it was at any rate this need which perpetuated it for centuries from the fall of Rome to the later Middle Ages; and during this long time it was by this system that the western world was fed and all its activities sustained.

This economic side of feudalism, this manorial system, was not introduced into England by the Norman Conquest. It had grown up in the Saxon states, as it had on the continent, because of the prevalence there of the general social and economic conditions which favoured its growth. It was different from the continental system in some details; it used different terms for many things; but it was essentially the same system. It had its body of customary law and its private courts; and these courts, like their prototypes in the Frankish state, had in numerous cases usurped or had been granted the rights and functions of the local courts of the nation, and so had annexed a minor political function which did not naturally belong to the system. Indeed, this process had gone so far that we may believe that the stronger government of the state established by the Conqueror found it necessary to check it and to hold the operation of the private courts within stricter limits. This economic organization which the Normans found in England was so clearly parallel with that which they had always known that they made no change in it. They introduced their own vocabulary in many cases in place of the Saxon; they identified in some cases practices which looked alike but which were not strictly identical; and they had a very decided tendency to treat the free members of the manorial population, strongly intrenched as they were in the popular courts, as belonging at the same time to both sides of feudalism, the economic and the political: but the confusion of language and custom which they introduced in consequence is not sufficient to disguise from us the real relationships which existed. Nor should it be in the opposite process, which was equally easy, as when the Saxon chronicler, led by the superficial resemblance and overlooking the great institutional difference, called the curia of William by the Saxon name of witenagemot.

With the other side of feudalism, the political, the case was different. That had never grown up in the Saxon world. The starting-points in certain minor Roman institutions from which it had grown, seem to have disappeared with the Saxon occupation of Britain. The general conditions which favoured its development--the almost complete breakdown of the central government and the difficult and interrupted means of communication--existed in far less degree in the Saxon states than in the more extensive Frankish territories. Such rudimentary practices as seem parallel to early stages of feudal growth were more so in appearance than in reality, and we can hardly affirm with any confidence that political feudalism was even in process of formation in England before the Conquest, though it would undoubtedly have been introduced there by some process before very long.

The political feudal organization was as intimately bound up with the possession of land as the economic, but its primary object was different. It may be described as that form of organization in which the duties of the citizen to the state had been changed into a species of land rent. A set of legal arrangements and personal relationships which had grown up wholly in the field of private affairs, for the serving of private ends, had usurped the place of public law in the state. Duties of the citizen and functions of the government were translated into its terms and performed as incidents of a private obligation. The individual no longer served in the army because this service was a part of his obligation as a citizen, but because he had agreed by private contract to do so as a part of the rent he was to pay for the land he held of another man. The judicial organization was transformed in the same way. The national courts disappeared, and their place was taken by private courts made up of tenants. The king summoned at intervals the great men of Church and State to gather round him in his council, law court, and legislature, in so far as there was a legislature in that age, the curia regis, the mother institution of a numerous progeny; but he did not summon them, and they came no longer, because they were the great men of Church and State, the wise men of the land, but because they had entered into a private obligation with him to attend when called upon, as a return for lands which he had given them; or, in other words, as Henry II told the bishops in the Constitutions of Clarendon, because they were his vassals. Public taxation underwent the same change, and the money revenue of the feudal state which corresponds most nearly to the income of taxation, was made up of irregular payments due on the occurrence of specified events from those who held land of the king, and these in turn collected like payments of their tenants; the relief, for instance, on the succession of the heir to his father's holding, or the aids in three cases, on the knighting of the lord's eldest son, the marrying of his eldest daughter, and the ransom of his own person from imprisonment. The contact of the central government with the mass of the men of the state was broken off by the intervening series of lords who were political rulers each of the territory or group of lands immediately subject to himself, and exercised within those limits the functions which the general government should normally exercise for the whole state. The payments and services which the lord's vassals made to him, while they were of the nature of rent, were not rent in the economic sense; they were important to the suzerain less as matters of income than as defining his political power and marking his rank in this hierarchical organization. The state as a whole might retain its geographical outlines and the form of a common government, but it was really broken up into fragments of varying size, whose lords possessed in varying degrees of completeness the attributes of sovereignty.

This organization, however, never usurped the place of the state so completely as might be inferred. It had grown up within the limits of a state which was, during the whole period of its formation, nominally ruled over by a king who was served by a more or less centralized administrative system. This royal power never entirely disappeared. It survived as the conception of government, it survived in the exercise of some rights everywhere, and of many rights in some places, even in the most feudal of countries. Some feeling of public law and public duty still lingered. In the king's court, the curia regis, whether in England or in France, there was often present a small group of members, at first in a minor and subordinate capacity, who were there, not because they were the vassals of the king, but because they were the working members of a government machine. The military necessity of the state in all countries occasionally called out something like the old general levy. In the judicial department, in England at least, one important class of courts, the popular county courts, was never seriously affected by feudalism, either in their organization or in the law which they interpreted. Any complete description of the feudal organization must be understood to be a description of tendencies rather than of a realized system. It was the tendency of feudalism to transform the state into a series of principalities rising in tiers one above the other, and to get the business of the state done, not through a central constitutional machine, but through a series of graded duties corresponding to these successive stages and secured by private agreements between the landholders and by a customary law which was the outgrowth of such agreements.

At the date of the Norman Conquest of England, this tendency was more nearly realized in France than anywhere else. Within the limits of that state a number of great feudal principalities had been formed, duchies and counties, round the administrative divisions of an earlier time as their starting-point, in many of which the sovereign of the state could exercise no powers of government. The extensive powers which the earlier system had intrusted to the duke or count as an administrative officer of the state he now exercised as a practically independent sovereign, and the state could expect from this portion of its territory only the feudal services of its ruler, perhaps ill-defined and difficult to enforce. In some cases, however, this process of breaking up the state into smaller units went no further. Normandy, with which we are particularly concerned, was an instance of this fact. The duke was practically the sole sovereign of that province. The king of France was entirely shut out. Even the Church was under the unlimited control of the duke. And with respect to his subjects his power was as great as with respect to his nominal sovereign. Very few great baronies existed in Normandy formed of contiguous territory and capable of development into independent principalities, and those that did exist were kept constantly in the hands of relatives of the ducal house and under strong control. Political feudalism existed in Normandy in even greater perfection and in a more logical completeness, if we regard the forms alone, its practices and customs, than was usual in the feudal world of that age; but it existed not as the means by which the state was broken into fragments, but as the machinery by which it was governed by the duke. It formed the bond of connexion between him and the great men of the state. It defined the services which he had the right to demand of them, and which they in turn might demand of their vassals. It formed the foundation of the army and of the judicial system. Every department of the state was influenced by its forms and principles. At the same time the Duke of Normandy was more than a feudal suzerain. He had saved on the whole, from the feudal deluge, more of the prerogatives of sovereignty than had the king of France. He had a considerable non-feudal administrative system, though it might not reach all parts of the duchy. The supreme judicial power had never been parted with, and the Norman barons were unable to exercise in its full extent the right of high justice. The oath of allegiance from all freemen, whosesoever vassals they might be, traces of which are to be found in many feudal lands and even under the Capetian kings, was retained in the duchy. Private war, baronial coinage, engagements with foreign princes to the injury of the duke,--these might occur in exceptional cases during a minority or under a weak duke, or in time of rebellion; but the strong dukes repressed them with an iron hand, and no Norman baron could claim any of them as a prescriptive right. Feudalism existed in Normandy as the organization of the state, and as the system which regulated the relations between the duke and the knights and the nobles of the land, but it did not exist at the expense of the sovereign rights of the duke.

This was the system which was introduced fully formed into England with the grants of land which the Conqueror made to his barons. It was the only system known to him by which to regulate their relations to himself and their duties to the state. To suppose a gradual introduction of feudalism into England, except in a geographical sense, as the confiscation spread over the land, is to misunderstand both feudalism itself and its history. This system gave to the baron opportunities which might be dangerous under a ruler who could not make himself obeyed, but there was nothing in it inconsistent with the practical absolutism exercised by the first of the Norman kings and by the more part of his immediate successors. Feudalism brought in with itself two ideas which exercised decisive influence on later English history. I do not mean to assert that these ideas were consciously held, or that they could have been formulated in words, though of the first at least this was very nearly true, but that they unconsciously controlled the facts of the time and their future development. One was the idea that all holders of land in the kingdom, except the king, were, strictly speaking, tenants rather than owners, which profoundly influenced the history of English law; the other was the idea that important public duties were really private obligations, created by a business contract, which as profoundly influenced the growth of the constitution. Taken together, the introduction of the feudal system was as momentous a change as any which followed the Norman Conquest, as decisive in its influence upon the future as the enrichment of race or of language; more decisive in one respect, since without the consequences in government and constitution, which were destined to follow from the feudalization of the English state, neither race nor language could have done the work in the world which they have already accomplished and are yet destined to perform in still larger measure.

But, however profound this change may have been, it affected but a small class, comparatively speaking. The whole number of military units, of knights due the king in service, seems to have been something less than five thousand.3 For the great mass of the population, the working substratum, whose labours sustained the life of the nation, the Norman Conquest made but little change. The interior organization of the manor was not affected by it. Its work went on in the same way as before. There was a change of masters; there was a new set of ideas to interpret the old relationship; the upper grades of the manorial population suffered in some parts of England a serious depression. But in the main, as concerned the great mass of facts, there was no change of importance. Nor was there any, at first at least, which affected the position of the towns. The new system allowed as readily as the old the rights which they already possessed. In the end, the new ideas might be a serious matter for the towns in some particulars, but at present the conditions did not exist which were to raise these difficulties. At the time, to the mass of the nation, to everybody indeed, the Norman Conquest might easily seem but a change of sovereigns, a change of masters. It is because we can see the results of the changes which it really introduced that we are able to estimate their profound significance.

The spoiling of England for the benefit of the foreigner did not consist in the confiscation of lands alone. Besides the forced redemption of their lands, William seems to have laid a heavy tax on the nation, and the churches and monasteries whose lands were free from confiscation seem to have suffered heavy losses of their gold and silver and precious stuffs. The royal treasure and Harold's possessions would pass into William's hands, and much confiscated and plundered wealth besides. These things he distributed with a free hand, especially to the churches of the continent whose prayers and blessings he unquestionably regarded as a strong reinforcement of his arms. Harold's rich banner of the fighting man went to Rome, and valuable gifts besides, and the Norman ecclesiastical world had abundant cause to return thanks to heaven for the successes which had attended the efforts of the Norman military arm. If William despatched these gifts to the continent before his own return to Normandy, they did not exhaust his booty, for the wonder and admiration of the duchy is plainly expressed at the richness and beauty of the spoils which he brought home with him.

Having settled the matters which demanded immediate attention, the king proceeded to make a progress through those parts of his kingdom which were under his control. Just where he went we are not told, but he can hardly have gone far outside the counties of southern and eastern England which were directly influenced by his march on London. In such a progress he probably had chiefly in mind to take possession for himself and his men of confiscated estates and of strategic points. No opposition showed itself anywhere, but women with their children appeared along the way to beseech his mercy, and the favour which he showed to these suppliants was thought worthy of special remark. Winchester seems to have been visited, and secured by the beginning of a Norman castle within the walls, and the journey ended at Pevensey, where he had landed so short a time before in pursuit of the crown. William had decided that he could return to Normandy, and the decision that this could be safely done with so small a part of the kingdom actually in hand, with so few castles already built or garrisons established, is the clearest possible evidence of William's opinion of the situation. He would have been the last man to venture such a step if he had believed the risk to be great. And the event justified his judgment. The insurrectionary movements which called him back clearly appear to have been, not so much efforts of the nation to throw off a foreign yoke, as revolts excited by the oppression and bad government of those whom he had left in charge of the kingdom.

On the eve of his departure he confided the care of his new kingdom to two of his followers whom he believed the most devoted to himself, the south-east to his half brother Odo, and the north to William Fitz Osbern. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, but less an ecclesiastic, according to the ideals of the Church, than a typically feudal bishop, was assigned the responsibility for the fortress of Dover, was given large estates in Kent and to the west of it, and was probably made earl of that county at this time. William Fitz Osbern was the son of the duke's guardian, who had been murdered for his fidelity during William's minority, and they had been boys together, as we are expressly told. He was appointed to be responsible for Winchester and to hold what might be called the marches, towards the unoccupied north and west. Very probably at this time also he was made Earl of Hereford? Some other of the leading nobles of the Conquest had been established in their possessions by this date, as we know on good evidence, like Hugh of Grantmesnil in Hampshire, but the chief dependence of the king was apparently upon these two, who are spoken of as having under their care the minor holders of the castles which had been already established.

No disorders in Normandy demanded the duke's return. Everything had been quiet there, under the control of Matilda and those who had been appointed to assist her. William's visit at this time looks less like a necessity than a parade to make an exhibition of the results of his venture. He took with him a splendid assortment of plunder and a long train of English nobles, among whom the young atheling Edgar, Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, Earls Edwin and Morcar, Waltheof, son of Siward, the Abbot of Glastonbury, and a thane of Kent, are mentioned by name. The favour and honour with which William treated these men did not disguise from them the fact that they were really held as hostages. No business of especial importance occupied William during his nine months' stay in Normandy. He was received with great rejoicing on every hand, especially in Rouen, where Matilda was staying, and his return and triumphal progress through the country reminded his panegyrist of the successes and glories of the great Roman commanders. He distributed with a free hand, to the churches and monasteries, the wealth which he had brought with him. A great assembly gathered to celebrate with him the Easter feast at the abbey of Fécamp. His presence was sought to add éclat to the dedication of new churches. But the event of the greatest importance which occurred during this visit to the duchy was the falling vacant of the primacy of Normandy by the death of Maurilius, Archbishop of Rouen. The universal choice for his successor was Lanfranc, the Italian, Abbot of St. Stephen's at Caen, who had already made evident to all the possession of those talents for government which he was to exercise in a larger field. But though William stood ready, in form at least, to grant his sanction, Lanfranc declined the election, which then fell upon John, Bishop of Avranches, a friend of his. Lanfranc was sent to Rome to obtain the pallium for the new archbishop, but his mission was in all probability one of information to the pope regarding larger interests than those of the archbishopric of Rouen.

In the meantime, affairs had not run smoothly in England. We may easily guess that William's lieutenants, especially his brother, had not failed on the side of too great gentleness in carrying out his directions to secure the land with garrisons and castles. In various places unconnected with one another troubles had broken out. In the north, where Copsi had been made Earl of Northumberland, an old local dynastic feud was still unsettled, and the mere appointment of an earl would not bring it to an end. Copsi was slain by his rival, Oswulf, who was himself soon afterward killed, but the Norman occupation had still to be begun. In the west a more interesting resistance to the Norman advance had developed near Hereford, led by Edric, called the Wild, descendant of a noble Saxon house. He had enlisted the support of the Welsh, and in retaliation for attacks upon himself had laid waste a large district in Herefordshire. Odo had had in his county an insurrection which threatened for a moment to have most serious consequences, but which had ended in a complete failure. The men of Kent, planning rebellion, had sent across the channel to Eustace, Count of Boulogne, who believed that he had causes of grievance against William, and had besought him to come to their aid in an attempt to seize the fortress of Dover. Eustace accepted the invitation and crossed over at the appointed time, but his allies had not all gathered when he arrived, and the unsteady character of the count wrecked the enterprise. He attacked in haste, and when he failed to carry the castle by storm, he retired in equal haste and abandoned the undertaking. William judged him too important a man to treat with severity, and restored him to his favour. Besides these signs which revealed the danger of an open outbreak, William undoubtedly knew that many of the English had left the country and had gone in various directions, seeking foreign aid. His absence could not be prolonged without serious consequences, and in December, 1067, he returned to England.

Footnotes

[1] William of Poitiers, in Migne's Patrologia Latina, cxlix, 1258, and see F. Baring, in Engl. Hist. Rev., xiii. 18 (1898).

[2] Orderic Vitalis, ii. 158 (ed. Le Prevost).

[3] Round, Feudal England, p. 292.

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