HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
William's Later Years
by Adams, George Burton


Political events had not waited for the reformation of the Church, and long before these reforms were completed, England had become a thoroughly settled state under the new king. The beginning of the year 1070 is a turning-point in the reign of William. The necessity for fighting was not over, but from this date onwards there was no more fighting for the actual possession of the land. The irreconcilables had still to be dealt with; in one small locality they retained even yet some resisting power; the danger of foreign invasion had again to be met: but not for one moment after William's return from the devastation of the north and west was there even the remotest possibility of undoing the Conquest.

The Danes had withdrawn from the region of the Humber, but they had not left the country. In the Isle of Ely, then more nearly an actual island than in modern times, was a bit of unsubdued England, and there they landed for a time. In this position, surrounded by fens and interlacing rivers, accessible at only a few points, occurred the last resistance which gave the Normans any trouble. The rich mythology which found its starting-point in this resistance, and especially in its leader, Hereward, we no longer mistake for history; but we should not forget that it embodies the popular attitude towards those who stubbornly resisted the Norman, as it was handed on by tradition, and that it reveals almost pathetically the dearth of heroic material in an age which should have produced it in abundance. Hereward was a tenant in a small way of the abbey of Peterborough. What led him into such a determined revolt we do not know, unless he was among those who were induced to join the Danes after their arrival, in the belief that their invasion would be successful. Nor do we know what collected in the Isle of Ely a band of men whom the Peterborough chronicler was probably not wrong, from any point of view, in calling outlaws. A force of desperate men could hope to maintain themselves for some time in the Isle of Ely; they could not hope for anything more than this. The coming of the Danes added little real strength, though the country about believed for the moment, as it had done north of the Humber, that the tide had turned. The first act of the allies was the plunder and destruction of the abbey and town of Peterborough shortly after the meeting of the council of Windsor. The English abbot Brand had died the previous autumn, and William had appointed in his place a Norman, Turold, distinguished as a good fighter and a hard ruler. These qualities had led the king to select him for this special post, and the plundering of the abbey, so far as it was not mere marauding, looks like an answering act of spite. The Danes seem to have been disposed at first to hold Peterborough, but Turold must have brought them proposals of peace from William, which induced them to withdraw at last from England with the secure possession of their plunder.

Hereward and his men accomplished nothing more that year, but others gradually gathered in to them, including some men of note. Edwin and Morcar had once more changed sides, or had fled from William's court to escape some danger there. Edwin had been killed in trying to make his way through to Scotland, but Morcar had joined the refugees in Ely. Bishop Ethelwin of Durham was also there, and a northern thane, Siward Barn. In 1074 William advanced in person against the "camp of refuge." A fleet was sent to blockade one side while the army attacked from the other. It was found necessary to build a long causeway for the approach of the army and around this work the fiercest fighting occurred; but its building could not be stopped, and just as it was finished the defenders of the Isle surrendered. The leaders were imprisoned, Morcar in Normandy for the rest of William's reign. The common men were mutilated and released. Hereward escaped to sea, but probably afterwards submitted to William and received his favour. Edric the Wild, who had long remained unsubdued on the Welsh borders, had also yielded before the surrender of the Isle of Ely, and the last resistance that can be called in any sense organized was at an end.

The comparatively easy pacification of the land, the early submission to their fate of so strong a nation, was in no small degree aided by the completeness with which the country was already occupied by Norman colonies, if we may call them so. Probably before the surrender of Ely every important town was under the immediate supervision of some Norman baron, with a force of his own. In all the strategically important places fortified posts had been built and regular garrisons stationed. Even the country districts had to a large extent been occupied in a similar way. It is hardly probable that as late as 1072 any considerable area in England had escaped extensive confiscations. Everywhere the Norman had appeared to take possession of his fief, to establish new tenants, or to bring the old ones into new relations with himself, to arrange for the administration of his manors, and to leave behind him the agents who were responsible to himself for the good conduct of affairs. If he made but little change in the economic organization of his property, and disturbed the labouring class but slightly or not at all, he would give to a wide district a vivid impression of the strength of the new order and of the hopelessness of any resistance.

Already Norman families, who were to make so much of the history of the coming centuries, were rooted in the land. Montfort and Mortimer; Percy, Beauchamp, and Mowbray; Ferrets and Lacy; Beaumont, Mandeville, and Grantmesnil; Clare, Bigod, and Bohun; and many others of equal or nearly equal name. All these were as yet of no higher than baronial rank, but if we could trust the chroniclers, we should be able to make out in addition a considerable list of earldoms which William had established by this date or soon afterwards, in many parts of England, and in these were other great names. According to this evidence, his two half brothers, the children of his mother by her marriage with Herlwin de Conteville, had been most richly provided for: Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, as Earl of Kent, and Robert, Count of Mortain, with a princely domain in the south-west as Earl of Cornwall. One of the earliest to be made an earl was his old friend and the son of his guardian, William Fitz Osbern, who had been created Earl of Hereford; he was now dead and was succeeded by his son Roger, soon very justly to lose title and land. Shrewsbury was held by Roger of Montgomery; Chester by Hugh of Avranches, the second earl; Surrey by William of Warenne; Berkshire by Walter Giffard. Alan Rufus of Britanny was Earl of Richmondshire; Odo of Champagne, Earl of Holderness; and Ralph of Guader, who was to share in the downfall of Roger Fitz Osbern, Earl of Norfolk. One Englishman, who with much less justice was to be involved in the fate which rightly befell these two Norman earls, was also earl at this time, Watheof, who had lately succeeded Gospatric in the troubled earldom of Northumberland, and who also held the earldoms of Northampton and Huntingdon. These men certainly held important lordships in the districts named, but whether so many earldoms, in form and law, had really been established by the Conqueror at this date, or were established by him at any later time, is exceedingly doubtful. The evidence of the chroniclers is easily shown to be untrustworthy in the matter of titles, and the more satisfactory evidence which we obtain from charters and the Domesday Book does not justify this extensive list. But the historian does not find it possible to decide with confidence in every individual case. Of the earldoms of this list it is nearly certain that we must drop out those of Cornwall, Holderness, Surrey, Berkshire, and Richmond, and almost or quite certain that we may allow to stand those of Waltheof and William Fitz Osbern, of Kent, Chester, and Shrewsbury.

Independently of the question of evidence, it is difficult to see what there was in the general situation in England which could have led the Conqueror to so wide a departure from the established practice of the Norman dukes as the creation of so many earls would be. In Normandy the title of count was practically unknown outside the ducal family. The feudal count as found in other French provinces, the sovereign of a little principality as independent of the feudal holder of the province as he himself was of the king, did not exist there. The four lordships which bore the title of count, Talou or Arques, Eu, Evreux, and Mortain, were reserved for younger branches of the ducal house, and carried with them no sovereign rights. The tradition of the Saxon earldom undoubtedly exercised by degrees a great influence on the royal practice in England, and by the middle of the twelfth century earls existed in considerable numbers; but the lack of conclusive evidence for the existence of many under William probably reflects the fact of his few creations. But in the cases which we can certainly trace to William, it was not the old Saxon earldom which was revived. The new earldom, with the possible exception of one or two earls who, like the old Frankish margrave, or the later palatine count, were given unusual powers to support unusual military responsibilities, was a title, not an office. It was not a government of provinces, but a mark of rank; and the danger involved in the older office, of the growth of independent powers within the state under local dynasties which would be, though existing under other forms, as difficult to control as the local dynasties of feudal France, was removed once for all by the introduction of the Norman centralization. That no serious trouble ever came from the so-called palatine earldoms is itself evidence of the powerful monarchy ruling in England.

This centralization was one of the great facts of the Conquest. In it resided the strength of the Norman monarchy, and it was of the utmost importance as well in its bearing on the future history of England. Delolme, one of the earliest of foreign writers on the English constitution, remarks that the explanation of English liberty is to be found in the absolute power of her early kings, and the most careful modern student can do no more than amplify this statement. That this centralization was the result of any deliberate policy on the part of William can hardly be maintained. A conscious modification of the feudal system as he introduced it into England, with a view to the preservation of his own power, has often been attributed to the Conqueror. But the political insight which would have enabled him to recognize the evil tendencies inherent in the only institutional system he had ever known, and to plan and apply remedies proper to counteract these tendencies but not inconsistent with the system itself, would indicate a higher quality of statesmanship than anything else in his career shows him to possess. More to the purpose is the fact that there is no evidence of any such modification, while the drift of evidence is against it. William was determined to be strong, not because of any theory which he had formed of the value of strength, or of the way to secure it, but because he was strong and had always been so since he recovered the full powers of a sovereign in the struggles which followed his minority. The concentration of all the functions of sovereignty in his own hands, and the reservation of the allegiance of all landholders to himself, which strengthened his position in England, had strengthened it first in Normandy.

Intentional weakening of the feudal barons has been seen in the fact that the manors which they held were scattered about in different parts of England, so that the formation of an independent principality, or a quick concentration of strength, would not be possible. That this was a fact characteristic of England is probably true. But it is sufficiently accounted for in part by the gradual spread of the Norman occupation, and of the consequent confiscations and re-grants, and in part by the fact that it had always been characteristic of England, so that when the holding of a given Saxon thane was transferred bodily to the Norman baron, he found his manors lying in no continuous whole. In any case, however, the divided character of the Norman baronies in England must not be pressed too far. The grants to his two half brothers, and the earldoms of Chester and Shrewsbury on the borders of Wales, are enough to show that William was not afraid of principalities within the state, and other instances on a somewhat smaller scale could be cited. Nor ought comparison to be made between English baronies, or earldoms even, and those feudal dominions on the continent which had been based on the counties of the earlier period. In these, sovereign rights over a large contiguous territory, originally delegated to an administrative officer, had been transformed into a practically independent power. The proper comparison is rather between the English baronies of whatever rank and those continental feudal dominions which were formed by natural process half economic and half political, without definite delegation of sovereign powers, within or alongside the provincial countships, and this comparison would show less difference.

If the Saxon earl did not survive the Conquest in the same position as before, the Saxon sheriff did. The office as the Normans found it in England was in so many ways similar to that of the viscount, vicecomes, which still survived in Normandy as an administrative office, that it was very easy to identify the two and to bring the Norman name into common use as an equivalent of the Saxon. The result of the new conditions was largely to increase the sheriff's importance and power. As the special representative of the king in the county, he shared in the increased power of his master, practically the whole administrative system of the state, as it affected its local divisions, was worked through him. Administrator of the royal domains, responsible for the most important revenues, vehicle of royal commands of all kinds, and retaining the judicial functions which had been associated with the office in Saxon times, he held a position, not merely of power but of opportunity. Evidence is abundant of great abuse of power by the sheriff at the expense of the conquered. Nor did the king always escape these abuses, for the office, like that of the Carolingian count, to which it was in many ways similar, contained a possibility of use for private and personal advantage which could be corrected, even by so strong a sovereign as the Anglo-Norman, only by violent intervention at intervals.

Some time after the Conquest, but at a date unknown, William set aside a considerable portion of Hampshire to form a hunting ground, the New Forest, near his residence at Winchester. The chroniclers of the next generation describe the formation of the Forest as the devastation of a large tract of country in which churches were destroyed, the inhabitants driven out, and the cultivated land thrown back into wilderness, and they record a contemporary belief that the violent deaths of so many members of William's house within the bounds of the Forest, including two of his sons, were acts of divine vengeance and proofs of the wickedness of the deed. While this tradition of the method of making the Forest is still generally accepted, it has been called in question for reasons that make it necessary, in my opinion, to pronounce it doubtful. It is hardly consistent with the general character of William. Such statements of chroniclers are too easily explained to warrant us in accepting them without qualification. The evidence of geology and of the history of agriculture indicates that probably the larger part of this tract was only thinly populated, and Domesday Book shows some portions of the Forest still occupied by cultivators.9 The forest laws of the Norman kings were severe in the extreme, and weighed cruelly on beasts and men alike, and on men of rank as well as simple freemen. They excited a general and bitter hostility which lasted for generations, and prepared a natural soil for the rapid growth of a partially mythical explanation to account in a satisfactory way for the dramatic accidents which followed the family of the Conqueror in the Forest, by the direct and tangible wickedness which had attended the making of the hunting ground. It is probable also that individual acts of violence did accompany the making, and that some villages and churches were destroyed. But the likelihood is so strong against a general devastation that history should probably acquit William of the greater crime laid to his charge, and refuse to place any longer the devastation of Hampshire in the same class with that of Northumberland.

After the surrender of Ely, William's attention was next given to Scotland. In 1070 King Malcolm had invaded northern England, but without results beyond laying waste other portions of that afflicted country. It was easier to show the Scots than the Danes that William was capable of striking back, and in 1072, after a brief visit to Normandy, an army under the king's command advanced along the east coast with an accompanying fleet. No attempt was made to check this invasion in the field, and only when William had reached Abernethy did Malcolm come to meet him. What arrangement was made between them it is impossible to say, but it was one that was satisfactory to William at the time. Probably Malcolm became his vassal and gave him hostages for his good conduct, but if so, his allegiance did not bind him very securely. Norman feudalism was no more successful than the ordinary type, in dealing with a reigning sovereign who was in vassal relations.

The critical years of William's conquest of England had been undisturbed by any dangers threatening his continental possessions. Matilda, who spent most of the time in Normandy, with her councillors, had maintained peace and order with little difficulty; but in the year after his Scottish expedition he was called to Normandy by a revolt in his early conquest, the county of Maine, which it required a formidable campaign to subdue. William's plan to attach this important province to Normandy by a marriage between his son Robert and the youngest sister of the last count had failed through the death of the proposed heiress, and the county had risen in favour of her elder sister, the wife of the Italian Marquis Azo or of her son. Then a successful communal revolution had occurred in the city of Le Mans, anticipating an age of rebellion against the feudal powers, and the effort of the commune to bring the whole county into alliance with itself, though nearly successful for the moment at least, had really prepared the way for the restoration of the Norman power by dividing the party opposed to it. William crossed to Normandy in 1073, leading a considerable army composed in part of English. The campaign was a short one. Revolt was punished, as William sometimes punished it, by barbarously devastating the country. Le Mans did not venture to stand a siege, but surrendered on William's sworn promise to respect its ancient liberty. By a later treaty with Fulk of Anjou, Robert was recognized as Count of Maine, but as a vassal of Anjou and not of Normandy.

William probably returned to England after the settlement of these affairs, but of his doings there nothing is recorded, and for some time troubles in his continental dominions occupied more of his attention than the interests of the island. He was in Normandy, indeed, during the whole of that "most severe tempest," as a writer of the next generation called it, which broke upon a part of England in the year 1075; and the first feudal insurrection in English history was put down, as more serious ones were destined to be before the fall of feudalism, by the king's officers and the men of the land in the king's absence. To determine the causes of this insurrection, we need to read between the lines of the story as it is told us by the writers of that and the next age. Elaborate reasons for their hostility to William's government were put into the mouths of the conspirators by one of these writers, but these would mean nothing more than a general statement that the king was a very severe and stern ruler, if it were not for the more specific accusation that he had rewarded those who had fought for him very inadequately, and through avarice had afterward reduced the value even of these gifts.10 A passage in a letter of Lanfranc's to one of the leaders of the rebellion, Roger, Earl of Hereford, written evidently after Roger's dissatisfaction had become known but before any open rebellion, gives us perhaps a key to the last part of this complaint.11 He tells him that the king, revoking, we infer, former orders, has directed his sheriffs not to hold any more pleas in the earl's land until he can return and hear the case between him and the sheriffs. In a time when the profits of a law court were important to the lord who had the right to hold it, the entry of the king's officers into a "liberty" to hear cases there as the representative of the king, and to his profit, would naturally seem to the baron whose income was affected a diminution of the value of his fief, due to the king's avarice. Nothing could show us better the attitude natural to a strong king towards feudal immunities than the facts which these words of Lanfranc's imply, and though we know of no serious trouble arising from this reason for a century or more, it is clear that the royal view of the matter never changed, and finally like infringements on the baronial courts became one of the causes of the first great advance towards constitutional liberty, the Magna Carta.

This letter of Lanfranc's to Roger of Hereford is a most interesting illustration of his character and of his diplomatic skill, and it shows us clearly how great must have been his usefulness to William. Though it is perfectly evident to us that he suspects the loyalty of Roger to be seriously tempted, there is not a word of suspicion expressed in the letter, but the considerations most likely to keep him loyal are strongly urged. With the exception of the sentence about the sheriffs, and formal phrases at the beginning and end, the letter runs thus: "Our lord, the king of the English, salutes you and us all as faithful subjects of his in whom he has great confidence, and commands us that as much as we are able we should have care of his castles, lest, which God avert, they should be betrayed to his enemies; wherefore I ask you, as I ought to ask, most dear son, whom, as God is witness, I love with my whole heart and desire to serve, and whose father I loved as my soul, that you take such care of this matter and of all fidelity to our lord the king that you may have the praise of God, and of him, and of all good men. Hold always in your memory how your glorious father lived, and how faithfully he served his lord, and with how great energy he acquired many things and held them with great honour.... I should like to talk freely with you; if this is your will, let me know where we can meet and talk together of your affairs and of our lord the king's. I am ready to go to meet you wherever you direct."

The letter had no effect. Roger seems to have been a man of violent temper, and there was a woman in this case also, though we do not know that she herself influenced the course of events. The insurrection is said to have been determined upon, and the details of action planned, at the marriage of Roger's sister to Ralph Guader, Earl of Norfolk, a marriage which William had forbidden.
  There was that bride-ale
  That was many men's bale,
said the Saxon chronicler, and it was so indeed. The two chief conspirators persuaded Earl Waltheof to join them, at least for the moment, and their plan was to drive the king out of England and to divide the kingdom between them into three great principalities, "for we wish," the Norman historian Orderic makes them say, "to restore in all respects the kingdom of England as it was formerly in the time of King Edward," a most significant indication of the general opinion about the effect of the Conquest, even if the words are not theirs.

After the marriage the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford separated to raise their forces and bring them together, when they believed they would be too strong for any force which could be raised to act against them. They counted on the unpopularity of the Normans and on the king's difficulties abroad which would prevent his return to England. The king did not return, but their other hope proved fallacious. Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester and Abbot Ethelwy of Evesham, both English prelates, with some Norman help, cut off the line of communication in the west, and Earl Roger could not force his way through. The two justiciars, William of Warenne and Richard of Bienfaite, after summoning the earls to answer in the king's court, with the aid of Bishop Odo and the Bishop of Coutances, who was also a great English baron, raised an army of English as well as Normans, and went to meet Earl Ralph, who was marching westwards. Something like a battle took place, but the rebels were easily defeated. Ralph fled back to Norwich, but it did not seem to him wise to stop there. Leaving his wife to stand a siege in the castle, he sailed off to hasten the assistance which had already been asked for from the Danes. A Danish fleet indeed appeared off the coast, but it did nothing beyond making a plundering raid in Yorkshire. Emma, the new-made wife of Earl Ralph, seems to have been a good captain and to have had a good garrison. The utmost efforts of the king's forces could not take the castle, and she at last surrendered only on favourable terms. She was allowed to retire to the continent with her forces. The terms which were granted her, as they are made known in a letter from Lanfranc to William, are especially interesting as giving us one of the earliest glimpses we have of that extensive dividing out of land to under-vassals, the process of subinfeudation, which must already have taken place on the estates granted to the king's tenants in chief. A clear distinction was made between the men who were serving Ralph because they held land of him, and those who were merely mercenaries. Ralph's vassals, although they were in arms against Ralph's lord, the king, were thought to be entitled to better terms, and they secured them more easily than those who served him for money. Ralph and Emma eventually lived out the life of a generation of those days, on Ralph's Breton estates, and perished together in the first crusade.

Their fellow-rebels were less fortunate. Roger surrendered himself to be tried by the king's court, and was condemned "according to the Norman law," we are told, to the forfeiture of his estates and to imprisonment at the king's pleasure. From this he was never released. The family of William's devoted guardian, Osbern, and of his no less devoted friend, William Fitz Osbern, disappears from English history with the fall of this imprudent representative, but not from the country. It has been reserved for modern scholarship to prove the interesting fact of the continuance for generations of the male line of this house, though in minor rank and position, through the marriage of the son of Earl Roger, with the heiress of Abergavenny in Wales.12 The fate of Waltheof was even more pathetic because less deserved. He had no part in the actual rebellion. Whatever he may have sworn to do, under the influence of the earls of stronger character, he speedily repented and made confession to Lanfranc as to his spiritual adviser. Lanfranc urged him to cross at once to Normandy and make his confession to the king himself. William received him kindly, showed no disposition to regard the fault as a serious one, and apparently promised him his forgiveness. Why, on his return to England, he should have arrested him, and after two trials before his court should have allowed him to be executed, "according to English law," we do not surely know. The hatred of his wife Judith, the king's niece, is plainly implied, but is hardly enough to account for so radical a departure from William's usual practice in this the only instance of a political execution in his reign. English sympathy plainly took the side of the earl. The monks of the abbey at Crowland, which he had favoured in his lifetime, were allowed the possession of his body. Soon miracles were wrought there, and he became, in the minds of monks and people, an unquestioned martyr and saint.

This was the end of William's troubles in England which have any real connexion with the Conquest. Malcolm of Scotland invaded Northumberland once more, and harried that long-suffering region, but without result; and an army of English barons, led by the king's son Robert, which returned the invasion soon after, was easily able to force the king of the Scots to renew his acknowledgment of subjection to England. The failure of Walcher, Bishop of Durham, to keep his own subordinates in order, led to a local riot, in which the bishop and many of his officers and clergy were murdered, and which was avenged in his usual pitiless style by the king's brother Odo. William himself invaded Wales with a large force; received submissions, and opened the way for the extension of the English settlements in that country. The great ambition of Bishop Odo, and the increase of wealth and power which had come to him through the generosity of his brother, led him to hope for still higher things, and he dreamed of becoming pope. This was not agreeable to William, and may even have seemed dangerous to him when the bishop began to collect his friends and vassals for an expedition to Italy. Archbishop Lanfranc, who had not found his brother prelate a comfortable neighbour in Kent, suggested to the king, we are told, the exercise of his feudal rights against him as his baron. The scene must have been a dramatic one, when in a session of the curia regis William ordered his brother's arrest, and when no one ventured to execute the order laid hands upon him himself, exclaiming that he arrested, not the Bishop of Bayeux, but the Earl of Kent. William must have had some strong reason for this action, for he refused to consent to the release of his brother as long as he lived. At one time what seemed like a great danger threatened from Denmark, in the plans of King Canute to invade England with a vast host and deliver the country from the foreigner. William brought over from Normandy a great army of mercenaries to meet this danger, and laid waste the country along the eastern coast that the enemy might find no supplies on landing; but this Danish threat amounted to even less than the earlier ones, for the fleet never so much as appeared off the coast. All these events are but the minor incidents which might occur in any reign; the Conquest had long been finished, and England had accepted in good faith her new dynasty.

Much more of the last ten years of William's life was spent in Normandy than in England. Revolts of unruly barons, attacks on border towns or castles, disputes with the king of France, were constantly occupying him with vexatious details, though with nothing of serious import. Most vexatious of all was the conduct of his son Robert. With the eldest son of William opens in English history a long line of the sons and brothers of kings, in a few cases of kings themselves, who are gifted with popular qualities, who make friends easily, but who are weak in character, who cannot control men or refuse favours, passionate and selfish, hardly strong enough to be violently wicked as others of the line are, but causes of constant evil to themselves and their friends, and sometimes to the state. And with him opens also the long series of quarrels in the royal family, of which the French kings were quick to take advantage, and from which they were in the end to gain so much. The ground of Robert's rebellion was the common one of dissatisfaction with his position and his father's refusal to part with any of his power in his favour. Robert was not able to excite any real insurrection in Normandy, but with the aid of his friends and of the French king he maintained a border war for some time, and defended castles with success against the king. He is said even, in one encounter, to have wounded and been on the point of slaying his father. For some time he wandered in exile in the Rhine valley, supported by gifts sent him by his mother, in spite of the prohibition of her husband. Once he was reconciled with his father, only to begin his rebellion again. When the end came, William left him Normandy, but people thought at least that he did it unwillingly, foreseeing the evil which his character was likely to bring on any land over which he ruled.

The year 1086 is remarkable for the formation of one of the most unique monuments of William's genius as a ruler, and one of the most instructive sources of information which we have of the condition of England during his reign. At the Christmas meeting of the court, in 1085, it was decided, apparently after much debate and probably with special reference to the general land-tax, called the Danegeld, to form by means of inquiries, officially made in each locality, a complete register of the occupied lands of the kingdom, of their holders, and of their values. The book in which the results of this survey of England were recorded was carefully preserved in the royal treasury, and soon came to be regarded as conclusive evidence in disputed questions which its entries would concern. Not very long after the record was made it came to be popularly known as the Domesday Book, and a hundred years later the writer on the English financial system of the twelfth century, the author of the "Dialogue concerning the Exchequer,"13 explained the name as meaning that the sentences derived from it were final, and without appeal, like those of the last great day.

An especially interesting feature of this survey is the method which was employed to make it. Two institutions which were brought into England by the Conquest, the king's missi and the inquest, the forerunners of the circuit judge and of the jury, were set in motion for this work; and the organization of the survey is a very interesting foreshadowing of the organization which a century later William's great-grandson was to give to our judicial system in features which still characterize it, not merely in England but throughout great continents of which William never dreamed. Royal commissioners, or missi, were sent into each county. No doubt the same body of commissioners went throughout a circuit of counties. In each the county court was summoned to meet the commissioners, just as later it was summoned to meet the king's justice on his circuit. The whole "county" was present to be appealed to on questions of particular importance or difficulty if it seemed necessary, but the business of the survey as a rule was not done by the county court. Each hundred was present by its sworn jury, exactly as in the later itinerant justice court, and it was this jury which answered on oath the questions submitted to it by the commissioners, exactly again as in the later practice. Their knowledge might be reinforced, or their report modified, by evidence of the men of the vill, or other smaller sub-division of the county, who probably attended as in the older county courts, and occasionally by the testimony of the whole shire; but in general the information on which the survey was made up was derived from the reports of the hundred juries. The questions which were submitted to these juries show both the object of the survey and its thorough character. They were required to tell the name of each manor and the name of its holder in the time of King Edward and at the time of the inquiry; the number of hides it contained; the number of ploughs employed in the cultivation of the lord's domain land, and the number so used on the lands held by the lord's men,--a rough way of determining the amount of land under cultivation. Then the population of the manor was to be given in classes: freemen and sokemen; villeins, cotters, and serfs; the amount of forest and meadow; the number of pastures, mills, and fish-ponds; and what the value of the manor was in the time of King Edward, at the date of its grant by King William, and at the time of the inquiry. In some cases evidently the jurors entered into such details of the live stock maintained by the manor as to justify the indignant words of the Saxon chronicler, that not "an ox nor a cow nor a swine was left that was not set down in his writing."

The object of all this is plain enough. It was an assessment of the property of the kingdom for purposes of taxation. The king wished to find out, as indeed we are told in what may be considered a copy or an abstract of the original writ directing the commissioners as to their inquiries, whether he could get more from the kingdom in taxes than he was then getting. But the record of this inquest has served far different purposes in later times. It is a storehouse of information on many sides of history, personal, family, geographical, and especially economic. It tells us much also of institutions, but less than we could wish, and less than it would have told us if its purpose had been less narrowly practical. Indeed, this limiting of the record to a single definite purpose, which was the controlling interest in making it, renders the information which it gives us upon all the subjects in which we are now most interested fragmentary and extremely tantalizing, and forces us to use it with great caution. It remains, however, even with this qualification, a most interesting collection of facts, unique in all the Middle Ages, and a monument to the practical genius of the monarch who devised it.

On August 1 of the same year in which the survey was completed, in a great assembly on Salisbury Plain, an oath of allegiance to the king was taken by all the land-holding men of England, no matter of whom they held. This has been represented as an act of new legislation of great institutional importance, but the view cannot be maintained. It is impossible to suppose that all land-owners were present or that such an oath had not been generally taken before; and the Salisbury instance was either a renewal of it such as was occasionally demanded by kings of this age, or possibly an emphatic enforcement of the principle in cases where it had been neglected or overlooked, now perhaps brought to light by the survey.

Already in 1083 Queen Matilda had died, to the lasting and sincere grief of her husband; and now William's life was about to end in events which were a fitting close to his stormy career. Border warfare along the French boundary was no unusual thing, but something about a raid of the garrison of Mantes, into Normandy, early in 1087, roused William's especial anger. He determined that plundering in that quarter should stop, and reviving old claims which had long been dormant he demanded the restoration to Normandy of the whole French Vexin, of which Mantes was the capital city. Philip treated his claims with contempt, and added a coarse jest on William's corpulence which roused his anger, as personal insults always did, to a white heat. The land around Mantes was cruelly laid waste by his orders, and by a sudden advance the city was carried and burnt down, churches and houses together. The heat and exertion of the attack, together with an injury which he received while riding through the streets of the city, by being thrown violently against the pummel of his saddle by the stumbling of his horse, proved too much for William in his physical condition, and he was carried back to Rouen to die after a few weeks.

A monastic chronicler of a little later date, Orderic Vitalis, gives us a detailed account of his death-bed repentance, but it was manifestly written rather for the edification of the believer than to record historical fact. It is interesting to note, however, that while William is made to express the deepest sorrow for the numerous acts of wrong which were committed in the process of the Conquest of England, there is no word which indicates any repentance for the Conquest itself or belief on William's part that he held England unjustly. He admits that it did not come to him from his fathers, but the same sentence which contains this admission affirms that he had gained it by the favour of God. It has been strongly argued from these words, and from others like them, which are put into the mouth of William later in this dying confession, when he comes to dispose of his realms and treasures, that William was conscious to himself that he did not possess any right to the kingdom of England which he could pass on hereditarily to his heirs. These words might without violence be made to yield this meaning, and yet it is impossible to interpret them in this way on any sound principle of criticism, certainly not as the foundation of any constitutional doctrine. There is not a particle of support for this interpretation from any other source; everything else shows that his son William succeeded him in England by the same right and in the same way that Robert did in Normandy. William speaks of himself in early charters, as holding England by hereditary right. He might be ready to acknowledge that it had not come to him by such right, but never that once having gained it he held it for himself and his family by any less right than this. The words assigned to William on his death-bed should certainly be interpreted by the words of the same chronicler, after he has finished the confession; and these indicate some doubt on William's part as to the effect of his death on the stability of his conquest in England, and his great desire to hasten his son William off to England with directions to Lanfranc as to his coronation before the news of his own death should be spread abroad. They imply that he is not sure who may actually become king in the tumults which may arise when it becomes known that his own strong rule is ended; that rests with God: but they express no doubt of the right of his heirs, nor of his own right to determine which one among them shall succeed him.

With reluctance, knowing his disposition, William conceded Normandy to Robert. The first-born son was coming to have special rights. More important in this case was the fact that Robert's right to Normandy had been formally recognized years before, and that recognition had never been withdrawn. The barons of the duchy had sworn fealty to him as his father's successor, and there was no time to put another heir in his place, or to deal with the opposition that would surely result from the attempt. William was his father's choice for England, and he was despatched in all haste to secure the crown with the aid of Lanfranc. To Henry was given only a sum of money, joined with a prophecy that he should eventually have all that the king had had, a prophecy which was certainly easy after the event, when it was written down, and which may not have been difficult to a father who had studied carefully the character of his sons. William was buried in the church of St. Stephen, which he had founded in Caen, and the manner in which such foundations were frequently made in those days was illustrated by the claim, loudly advanced in the midst of the funeral service, that the land on which the participants stood had been unjustly taken from its owners for the Conqueror's church. It was now legally purchased for William's burial place. The son, who was at the moment busy securing his kingdom in England, afterwards erected in it a magnificent tomb to the memory of his father.

Footnotes

[9] Round, Victoria History of Hampshire, i. 412-413. But See F. Baring in Engl. Hist. Rev. xvi. 427-438 (1901).

[10] Orderic Vitalis, ii. 260.

[11] Lanfranc, Opera (ed. Giles), i. 64.

[12] Round, Peerage Studies, pp. 181 ff.

[13] Dialogus de Scaccario, i. 16 (ed. Hughes, p. 108).

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works