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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times|
Conquest Of England By The Normans.
by Guizot, M.
|At the beginning of the eleventh century, Robert, called "The Magnificent," the fifth in succession from the great chieftain Rollo who had established the Northmen in France, was duke of Normandy. To the nickname he earned by his nobleness and liberality some chronicles have added another, and call him "Robert the Devil," by reason of his reckless and violent deeds of audacity, whether in private life or in warlike expeditions. Hence a lively controversy amongst the learned upon the question of deciding to which Robert to apply the latter epithet. Some persist in assigning it to the duke of Normandy; others seek for some other Robert upon whom to foist it. However that may be, in 1034 or 1035, after having led a fair life enough from the political point of view, but one full of turbulence and moral irregularity, Duke Robert resolved to undertake, barefooted and staff in hand, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, "to expiate his sins if God would deign to consent thereto." The Norman prelates and barons, having been summoned around him, conjured him to renounce his plan; for to what troubles and perils would not his dominions be exposed without lord or assured successor? "By my faith," said Robert, "I will not leave ye lordless. I have a young bastard who will grow, please God, and of whose good qualities I have great hope. Take him, I pray you, for lord. That he was not born in wedlock matters little to you; he will be none the less able in battle, or at court, or in the palace, or to render you justice. I make him my heir, and I hold him seized, from this present, of the whole duchy of Normandy." And they who were present assented, but not without objection and disquietude.
There was certainly ample reason for objection and disquietude. Not only was it a child of eight years of age to whom Duke Robert, at setting out on his pious pilgrimage, was leaving Normandy; but this child had been pronounced bastard by the duke his father at the moment of taking him for his heir. Nine or ten years before, at Falaise, his favorite residence, Robert had met, according to some at a people's dance, according to others on the banks of a stream where she was washing linen with her companions, a young girl named Harlette or Harleve, daughter of a tanner in the town, where they show to this day, it is said, the window from which the duke saw her for the first time. She pleased his fancy, and was not more strait-laced than the duke was scrupulous; and Fulbert, the tanner, kept but little watch over his daughter. Robert gave the son born to him in 1027 the name of his glorious ancestor, William Longsword, the son and successor of Rollo. The child was reared, according to some, in his father's palace, "right honorably as if he had been born in wedlock," but, according to others, in the house of his grandfather, the tanner; and one of the neighboring burgesses, as he saw passing one of the principal Norman lords, William de Bellesme, surnamed "The Fierce Talvas," stopped him, ironically saying, "Come in, my lord, and admire your suzerain's son." The origin of young William was in every mouth, and gave occasion for familiar allusions more often insulting than flattering. The epithet bastard was, so to speak, incorporated with his name; and we cannot be astonished that it lived in history, for, in the height of his power, he sometimes accepted it proudly, calling himself, in several of his charters, William the Bastard (Gulielmus Notlzus). He showed himself to be none the less susceptible on this point when in 1048, during the siege of Alencon, the domain of the Lord de Bellesme, the inhabitants hung from their walls hides all raw and covered with dirt, which they shook when they caught sight of William, with cries of "Plenty of work for the tanner!" "By the glory of God," cried William, "they shall pay me dear for this insolent bra-very!" After an assault several of the besieged were taken prisoners; and he had their eyes pulled out, and their feet and hands cut off, and shot from his siege-machines these mutilated members over the walls of the city.
Notwithstanding his recklessness and his being engrossed in his pilgrimage, Duke Robert had taken some care for the situation in which he was leaving his son, and some measures to lessen its perils. He had appointed regent of Normandy, during William's minority, his cousin, Alain V., duke of Brittany, whose sagacity and friendship he had proved; and he had confided the personal guardianship of the child, not to his mother. Harlette, who was left very much out in the cold, but to one of his most trusty officers, Gilbert Crespon, count of Brionne; and the strong castle of Vaudreuil, the first foundation of which dated back, it was said, to Queen Fredegonde, was assigned for the usual residence of the young duke. Lastly, to confirm with brilliancy his son's right as his successor to the duchy of Normandy, and to assure him a powerful ally, Robert took him, himself, to the court of his suzerain, Henry I., king of France, who recognized the title of William the Bastard, and allowed him to take the oath of allegiance and homage. Having thus prepared, as best he could, for his son's future, Robert set out on his pilgrimage. He visited Rome and Constantinople, everywhere displaying his magnificence, together with his humility. He fell ill from sheer fatigue whilst crossing Asia Minor, and was obliged to be carried in a litter by four negroes. "Go and tell them at home," said he to a Norman pilgrim he met returning from the Holy Land, "that you saw me being carried to Paradise by four devils." On arriving at Jerusalem, where he was received with great attention by the Mussulman emir in command there, he discharged himself of his pious vow, and took the road back to Europe. But he was poisoned, by whom or for what motive is not clearly known, at Nicaea, in Bithynia, where he was buried in the basilica of St. Mary—an honor, says the chronicle, which had never been accorded to anybody.
From 1025 to 1042, during William's minority, Normandy was a prey to the robber-like ambition, the local quarrels, and the turbulent and brutal passions of a host of petty castle-holders, nearly always at war, either amongst themselves or with the young chieftain whose power they did not fear, and whose rights they disputed. In vain did Duke Alain of Brittany, in his capacity as regent appointed by Duke Robert, attempt to re-establish order; and just when he seemed on the road to success he was poisoned by those who could not succeed in beating him. Henry I., king of France, being ill-disposed at bottom towards his Norman neighbors and their young duke, for all that he had acknowledged him, profited by this anarchy to filch from him certain portions of territory. Attacks without warning, fearful murders, implacable vengeance, and sanguinary disturbances in the towns, were evils which became common, and spread. The clergy strove with courageous perseverance against the vices and crimes of the period. The bishops convoked councils in their dioceses; the laic lords, and even the people, were summoned to them; the peace of God was proclaimed; and the priests, having in their hands lighted tapers, turned them towards the ground and extinguished them, whilst the populace repeated in chorus, "So may God extinguish the joys of those who refuse to observe peace and justice." The majority, however, of the Norman lords, refused to enter into the engagement. In default of peace, it was necessary to be content with the truce of God. It commenced on Wednesday evening at sunset and concluded on Monday at sunrise. During the four days and five nights comprised in this interval, all aggression was forbidden; no slaying, wounding, pillaging, or burning could take place; but from sunrise on Monday to sunset on Wednesday, for three clays and two nights, any violence became allowable, any crime might recommence.
Meanwhile William was growing up, and the omens that had been drawn from his early youth raised the popular hopes. It was reported that at his very birth, when the midwife had put him unswaddled on a little heap of straw, he had wriggled about and drawn together the straw with his hands, insomuch that the midwife said, "By my faith, this child beginneth full young to take and heap up: I know not what he will not do when he is grown." At a little later period, when a burgess of Falaise drew the attention of the Lord William de Bellesme to the gay and sturdy lad as he played amongst his mates, the fierce vassal muttered between his teeth, "Accursed be thou of God! for I be certain that by thee mine honors will be lowered." The child on becoming man was handsomer and handsomer, "and so lively and spirited that it seemed to all a marvel." Amongst his mates, command became soon a habit with him; he made them form line of battle, he gave them the word of command, and he constituted himself their judge in all quarrels. At a still later period, having often heard talk of revolts excited against him, and of disorders which troubled the country, he was moved, in consequence, to fits of violent irritation, which, however, he learned instinctively to bide, "and in his child's heart," says the chronicle, "he had welling up all the vigor of a man to teach the Normans to forbear from all acts of irregularity." At fifteen years of age, in 1042, he demanded to be armed knight, and to fulfil all forms necessary "for having the right to serve and command in all ranks." These forms were in Normandy, by a relic, it is said, of the Danish and pagan customs, more connected with war and less with religion than elsewhere; the young candidates were not bound to confess, to spend a vigil in the church, and to receive from the priest's hands the sword he had consecrated on the altar; it was even the custom to say that "he whose sword had been girded upon him by a long-robed cleric was no true knight, but a cit without spirit." The day on which William for the first time donned his armor was for his servants and all the spectators a gala day. "He was so tall, so manly in face, and so proud of bearing, that it was a sight both pleasant and terrible to see him guiding his horse's career, flashing with his sword, gleaming with his shield, and threatening with his casque and javelins." His first act of government was a rigorous decree against such as should be guilty of murder, arson, and pillage; but he at the same time granted an amnesty for past revolts, on condition of fealty and obedience for the future.
For the establishment, however, of a young and disputed authority there is need of something more than brilliant ceremonies and words partly minatory and partly coaxing. William had to show what he was made of. A conspiracy was formed against him in the heart of his feudal court, and almost of his family. He had given kindly welcome to his cousin Guy of Burgundy, and had even bestowed on him as a fief the countships of Vernon and Brionne. In 1044 the young duke was at Valognes; when suddenly, at midnight, one of his trustiest servants, Golet, his fool, such as the great lords of the time kept, knocked at the door of his chamber, crying, "Open, open, my lord duke: fly, fly, or you are lost. They are armed, they are getting ready; to tarry is death." William did not hesitate; he got up, ran to the stables, saddled his horse with his own hands, started off, followed a road called to this day the duke's way, and reached Falaise as a place of safety. There news came to him that the conspiracy was taking the form of insurrection, and that the rebels were seizing his domains. William showed no more hesitation at Falaise than at Valognes; he started off at once, repaired to Poissy, where Henry I., king of France, was then residing, and claimed, as vassal, the help of his suzerain against traitors. Henry, who himself was brave, was touched by this bold confidence, and promised his young vassal effectual support. William returned to Normandy, summoned his lieges, and took the field promptly. King Henry joined him at Argence, with a body of three thousand men-at-arms, and a battle took place on the 10th of August, 1047, at Val des Dunes, three leagues from Caen. It was very hotly contested. King Henry, unhorsed by a lance-thrust, ran a risk of his life; but he remounted and valiantly returned to the melley. William dashed in wherever the fight was thickest, showing himself everywhere as able in command as ready to expose himself. A Norman lord, Raoul de Tesson, held aloof with a troop of one hundred and forty knights. "Who is he that bides yonder motionless?" asked the French king of the young duke. "It is the banner of Raoul de Tesson," answered William; "I wot not that he hath aught against me." But, though he had no personal grievance, Raoul de Tesson had joined the insurgents, and sworn that he would be the first to strike the duke in the conflict. Thinking better of it, and perceiving William from afar, he pricked towards him, and taking off his glove struck him gently on the shoulder, saying, "I swore to strike you, and so I am quit: but fear nothing more from me." "Thanks, Raoul," said William; "be well disposed, I pray you." Raoul waited until the two armies were at grips, and when he saw which way victory was inclined, he hasted to contribute thereto. It was decisive: and William the Bastard returned to Val des Dunes really duke of Normandy.
He made vigorous but not cruel use of his victory. He demolished his enemies' strong castles, magazines as they were for pillage no less than bulwarks of feudal independence; but there is nothing to show that he indulged in violence towards persons. He was even generous to the chief concocter of the plot, Guy of Burgundy. He took from him the countships of Vernon and Brionne, but permitted him still to live at his court, a place which the Burgundian found himself too ill at ease to remain in, so he returned to Burgundy, to conspire against his own eldest brother. William was stern without hatred and merciful without kindliness, only thinking which of the two might promote or retard his success, gentleness or severity.
There soon came an opportunity for him to return to the king of France the kindness he had received. Geoffrey Martel, duke of Anjou, being ambitious and turbulent beyond the measure of his power, got embroiled with the king his suzerain, and war broke out between them. The duke of Normandy went to the aid of King Henry and made his success certain, which cost the duke the fierce hostility of the count of Anjou and a four years' war with that inconvenient neighbor; a war full of dangerous incidents, wherein William enhanced his character, already great, for personal valor. In an ambuscade laid for him by Geoffrey Martel he lost some of his best knights, "whereat he was so wroth," says a chronicle, "that he galloped down with such force upon Geoffrey, and struck him in such wise with his sword that he dinted his helm, cut through his hood, lopped off his car, and with the same blow felled him to earth. But the count was lifted up and remounted, and so fled away."
William made rapid advances both as prince and as man. Without being austere in his private life, he was regular in his habits, and patronized order and respectability in his household as well as in his dominions. He resolved to marry to his own honor, and to the promotion of his greatness. Baldwin the Debonnair, count of Flanders, one of the most powerful lords of the day, had a daughter, "Matilda, beautiful, well-informed, firm in the faith, a model of virtue and modesty." William asked her hand in marriage. Matilda refused, saying, "I would rather be veiled nun than given in marriage to a bastard." Hurt as he was, William did not give up. He was even more persevering than susceptible; but he knew that he must get still greater, and make an impression upon a young girl's imagination by the splendor of his fame and power. Some years later, being firmly established in Normandy, dreaded by all his neighbors, and already showing some foreshadowings of his design upon England, he renewed his matrimonial quest in Flanders, but after so strange a fashion that, in spite of contemporary testimony, several of the modern historians, in their zeal, even at so distant a period, for observance of the proprieties, reject as fabulous the story which is here related on the authority of the most detailed account amongst all the chronicles which contain it. "A little after that Duke William had heard how the damsel had made answer, he took of his folk, and went privily to Lille, where the duke of Flanders and his wife and his daughter then were. He entered into the hall, and, passing on, as if to do some business, went into the countess's chamber, and there found the damsel daughter of Count Baldwin. He took her by the tresses, dragged her round the chamber, trampled her under foot, and did beat her soundly. Then he strode forth from the chamber, leaped upon his horse, which was being held for him before the hall, struck in his spurs, and went his way. At this deed was Count Baldwin much enraged; and when matters had thus remained a while, Duke William sent once more to Count Baldwin to parley again of the marriage. The count sounded his daughter on the subject, and she answered that it pleased her well. So the nuptials took place with very great joy. And after the aforesaid matters, Count Baldwin, laughing withal, asked his daughter wherefore she had so lightly accepted the marriage she had aforetime so cruelly refused. And she answered that she did not then know the duke so well as she did now; for, said she, if he had not great heart and high emprise, he had not been so bold as to dare come and beat me in my father's chamber."
Amongst the historians who treat this story as a romantic and untruthlike fable, some believe themselves to have discovered, in divers documents of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, circumstances almost equally singular as regards the cause of the obstacles met with at first by Duke William in his pretensions to the hand of Princess Matilda, and as regards the motive for the first refusal on the part of Matilda herself. According to some, the Flemish princess had conceived a strong passion for a noble Saxon, Brihtric Meaw, who had been sent by King Edward the Confessor to the court of Flanders, and who was remarkable for his beauty. She wished to marry him, but the handsome Saxon was not willing; and Matilda at first gave way to violent grief on that account, and afterwards, when she became queen of England, to vindictive hatred, the weight of which she made him feel severely. Other writers go still farther, and say that, before being sought in marriage by William, Matilda had not fallen in love with a handsome Saxon, but had actually married a Flemish burgess, named Gerbod, patron of the church of St. Dertin, at St. Omer, and that she had by him two and perhaps three children, traces of whom recur, it is said, under the reign of William, king of England. There is no occasion to enter upon the learned controversies of which these different allegations have been the cause; it is sufficient to say that they have led to nothing but obscurity, contradiction, and doubt, and that there is more moral verisimilitude in the account just given, especially in Matilda's first prejudice against marriage with a bastard, and in her conversation with her father, Count Baldwin, when she had changed her opinion upon the subject. Independently of the testimony of several chroniclers, French and English, this tradition is mentioned, with all the simplicity of belief, in one of the principal Flemish chronicles; and as to the ruffianly gallantry employed by William to win his bride, there is nothing in it very singular, considering the habits of the time, and we meet with more than one example of adventures, if not exactly similar, at any rate very analogous.
However that may be, this marriage brought William an unexpected opportunity of entering into personal relations with one of the most distinguished men of his age, and a man destined to become one of his own most intimate advisers. In 1019, at the council of Rheims, Pope Leo IX., on political grounds rather than because of a prohibited degree of relationship, had opposed the marriage of the duke of Normandy with the daughter of the duke of Flanders, and had pronounced his veto upon it. William took no heed; and, in 1052 or 1053, his marriage was celebrated at Rouen with great pomp; but this ecclesiastical veto weighed upon his mind, and he sought some means of getting it taken off. A learned Italian, Lanfranc, a juris-consult of some fame already, whilst travelling in France and repairing from Avranches to Rouen, was stopped near Brionne by brigands, who, having plundered him, left him, with his eyes bandaged, in a forest. His cries attracted the attention of passers-by, who took him to a neighboring monastery, but lately founded by a pious Norman knight retired from the world. Lanfranc was received in it, became a monk of it, was elected its prior, attracted to it by his learned teaching a host of pupils, and won therein his own great renown whilst laying the foundation for that of the abbey of Bee, which was destined to be carried still higher by one of his disciples, St. Anselm. Lanfranc was eloquent, great in dialectics, of a sprightly wit, and lively in repartee. Relying upon the pope's decision, he spoke ill of William's marriage with Matilda. William was informed of this, and in a fit of despotic anger, ordered Lanfranc to be driven from the monastery and banished from Normandy, and even, it is said, the dependency which he inhabited as prior of the abbey, to be burned. The order was executed; and Lanfranc set out, mounted on a sorry little horse given him, no doubt, by the abbey. By what chance is not known, but probably on a hunting-party, his favorite diversion, William, with his retinue, happened to cross the road which Lanfranc was slowly pursuing. "My lord," said the monk, addressing him, "I am obeying your orders; I am going away, but my horse is a sorry beast; if you will give me a better one, I will go faster." William halted, entered into conversation with Lanfranc, let him stay, and sent him back with a present to his abbey. A little while afterwards Lanfranc was at Rome, and defended before Pope Victor II. William's marriage with Matilda: he was successful, and the pope took off the veto on the sole condition that the couple, in sign of penitence, should each found a religious house. Matilda, accordingly, founded at Caen, for women, the abbey of the Holy Trinity; and William, for men, that of St. Stephen. Lanfranc was the first abbot of the latter; and when William became king of England, Lanfranc was made archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Church of England, as well as privy counsellor of his king. William excelled in the art, so essential to government, of promptly recognizing the worth of men, and of appropriating their influence to himself whilst exerting his own over them.
About the same time he gave his contemporaries, princes and peoples, new proofs of his ability and power. Henry I., king of France, growing more and more disquieted at and jealous of the duke of Normandy's ascendency, secretly excited against him opposition and even revolt in his dominions. These dealings led to open war between the suzerain and the vassal, and the war concluded with two battles won by William, one at Mortemer near Neuchatel in Bray, the other at Varaville near Troarrh "After which," said William himself, "King Henry never passed a night tranquilly on my ground." In 1059 peace was concluded between the two princes. Henry I. died almost immediately afterwards, and on the 25th of August, 1060, his son Philip I. succeeded him, under the regency of Baldwin, count of Flanders, father of the Duchess Matilda. Duke William was present in state at the coronation of the new king of France, lent him effectual assistance against the revolts which took place in Gascony, reentered Normandy for the purpose of holding at Caen, in 1061, the Estates of his duchy, and at that time published the famous decree observed long after him, under the name of the law of curfew, which ordered "that every evening the bell should be rung in all parishes to warn every one to prayer, and house-closing, and no more running about the streets."
The passion for orderliness in his dominion did not cool his ardor for conquest. In 1063, after the death of his young neighbor Herbert II., count of Maine, William took possession of this beautiful countship; not without some opposition on the part of the inhabitants, nor without suspicion of having poisoned his rival, Walter, count of Vexin. It is said that after this conquest William meditated that of Brittany; but there is every indication that he had formed a far vaster design, and that the day of its execution was approaching.
From the time of Rollo's settlement in Normandy, the communications of the Normans with England had become more and more frequent, and important for the two countries. The success of the invasions of the Danes in England in the tenth century, and the reigns of three kings of the Danish line, had obliged the princes of Saxon race to take refuge in Normandy, the duke of which, Richard I., had given his daughter Emma in marriage to their grandfather, Ethelred II. When, at the death of the last Danish king, Hardicanute, the Saxon prince Edward ascended the throne of his fathers, he had passed twenty-seven years of exile in Normandy, and he returned to England "almost a stranger," in the words of the chronicles, to the country of his ancestors; far more Norman than Saxon in his manners, tastes, and language, and surrounded by Normans, whose numbers and prestige under his reign increased from day to day. A hot rivalry, nationally as well as courtly, grew up between them and the Saxons. At the head of these latter was Godwin, count of Kent, and his five sons, the eldest of whom, Harold, was destined before long to bear the whole brunt of the struggle. Between these powerful rivals, Edward the Confessor, a pacific, pious, gentle, and undecided king, wavered incessantly; at one time trying to resist, and at another compelled to yield to the pretensions and seditions by which he was beset. In 1051 the Saxon party and its head, Godwin, had risen in revolt. Duke William, on invitation, perhaps, from King Edward, paid a brilliant visit to England, where he found Normans everywhere established and powerful, in Church as well as in State; in command of the fleets, ports, and principal English places. King Edward received him "as his own son, gave him arms, horses, hounds, and hawking-birds," and sent him home full of presents and hopes. The chronicler, Ingulf, who accompanied William on his return to Normandy, and remained attached to him as private secretary, affirms that, during this visit, not only was there no question, between King Edward and the duke of Normandy, of the latter's possible succession to the throne of England, but that never as yet had this probability occupied the attention of William.
It is very doubtful whether William had said nothing upon the subject to King Edward at that time; and it is certain, from William's own testimony, that he had for a long while been thinking about it. Four years after this visit of the duke to England, King Edward was reconciled to and lived on good terms with the family of the Godwins. Their father was dead, and the eldest son, Harold, asked the king's permission to go to Normandy and claim the release of his brother and nephew, who had been left as hostages in the keeping of Duke William. The king did not approve of the project. "I have no wish to constrain thee," said he to Harold: "but if thou go, it will be without my consent: and, assuredly, thy trip will bring some misfortune upon thee and our country. I know Duke William and his crafty spirit; he hates thee, and will grant thee nought unless he see his advantage therefrom. The only way to make him give up the hostages will be to send some other than thyself." Harold, however, persisted and went. William received him with apparent cordiality, promised him the release of the two hostages, escorted him and his comrades from castle to castle, and from entertainment to entertainment, made them knights of the grand Norman order, and even invited them, "by way of trying their new spurs," to accompany him on a little warlike expedition he was about to undertake in Brittany. Harold and his comrades behaved gallantly: and he and William shared the same tent and the same table. On returning, as they trotted side by side, William turned the conversation upon his youthful connection with the king of England. "When Edward and I," said he to the Saxon, "were living like brothers under the same roof, he promised, if ever he became king of England, to make me heir to his kingdom; I should very much like thee, Harold, to help me to realize this promise; and be assured that, if by thy aid I obtain the kingdom, whatsoever thou askest of me, I will grant it forthwith." Harold, in surprise and confusion, answered by an assent which he tried to make as vague as possible. William took it as positive. "Since thou dost consent to serve me," said he, "thou must engage to fortify the castle of Dover, dig a well of fresh water there, and put it into the hands of my men-at-arms; thou must also give me thy sister to be married to one of my barons, and thou must thyself espouse my daughter Adele." Harold, "not witting," says the chronicler, "how to escape from this pressing danger," promised all the duke asked of him, reckoning, doubt-less, on disregarding his engagement; and for the moment William asked him nothing more.
But a few days afterwards he summoned, at Avranches according to some, and at Bayeux according to others, and, more probably still, at Bonneville-sur-Touques, his Norman barons; and, in the midst of this assembly, at which Harold was present, William, seated with his naked sword in his hand, caused to be brought and placed upon a table covered with cloth of gold two reliquaries. "Harold," said he, "I call upon thee, in presence of this noble assemblage, to confirm by oath the promises thou didst make me, to wit, to aid me to obtain the kingdom of England after the death of King Edward, to espouse my daughter Adele, and to send me thy sister to be married to one of my people." Harold, who had not expected this public summons, nevertheless did not hesitate any more than he had hesitated in his private conversation with William; he drew near, laid his hand on the two reliquaries, and swore to observe, to the best of his power, his agreement with the duke, should he live and God help. "God help!" repeated those who were present. William made a sign; the cloth of gold was removed, and there was discovered a tub filled to the edge with bones and relies of all the saints that could be got together. The chronicler-poet, Robert Wace, who, alone and long afterwards, recounts this last particular, adds that Harold was visibly troubled at sight of this saintly heap; but he had sworn. It is honorable to human nature not to be indifferent to oaths even when those who exact them have but small reliance upon them, and when he who takes them has but small intention of keeping them. And so Harold departed laden with presents, leaving William satisfied, but not over-confident.
When, on returning to England, Harold told King Edward what had passed between William and himself, "Did I not warn thee," said the king, "that I knew William, and that thy journey would bring great misfortunes upon thyself and upon our nation? Grant Heaven that those misfortunes come not during my life!" The king's wish was not granted. He fell ill; and on the 5th of January, 1066, he lay on his couch almost at the point of death. Harold and his kindred entered the chamber, and prayed the king to name a successor by whom the kingdom might be governed securely. "Ye know," said Edward, "that I have left my kingdom to the Duke of Normandy; and are there not here, among ye, those who have sworn to assure his succession?" Harold advanced, and once more asked the king on whom the crown should devolve. "Take it, if it is thy wish, Harold," said Edward; "but the gift will be thy ruin; against the duke and his barons thy power will not suffice."—Harold declared that he feared neither the Norman nor any other foe. The king, vexed at this importunity, turned round in his bed, saying, "Let the English make king of whom they will, Harold or another; I consent;" and shortly after expired. The very day after the celebration of his obsequies, Harold was proclaimed king by his partisans, amidst no small public disquietude, and Aldred, archbishop of York, lost no time in anointing him.
William was in his park of Rouvray, near Rouen, trying a bow and arrows for the chase, when a faithful servant arrived from England, to tell him that Edward was dead and Harold proclaimed king. William gave his bow to one of his people, and went back to his palace at Rouen, where he paced about in silence, sitting down, rising up, leaning upon a bench, without opening his lips and without any one of his people's daring to address a word to him. There entered his seneschal William de Bretenil, of whom "What ails the duke?" asked they who were present. "Ye will soon know," answered he. Then going up to the duke, he said, "Wherefore conceal your tidings, my lord? All the city knows that King Edward is dead; and that Harold has broken his oath to you, and had himself crowned king." "Ay," said William, "it is that which doth weigh me down." "My lord," said William Fitz-Osbern, a gallant knight and confidential friend of the duke, "none should be wroth over what can be mended: it depends but on you to stop the mischief Harold is doing you; you shall destroy him, if it please you. You have right; you have good men and true to serve you; you need but have courage: set on boldly." William gathered together his most important and most trusted counsellors; and they were unanimous in urging him to resent the perjury and injury. He sent to Harold a messenger charged to say, "William, duke of the Normans, doth recall to thee the oath thou swarest to him with thy mouth and with thy hand, on real and saintly relics." "It is true," answered Harold, "that I swore, but on compulsion; I promised what did not belong to me; my kingship is not mine own; I cannot put it off from me without the consent of the country. I cannot any the more, without the consent of the country, espouse a foreigner. As for my sister, whom the duke claims for one of his chieftains, she died within the year; if he will, I will send him the corpse." William replied without any violence, claiming the conditions sworn, and especially Harold's marriage with his daughter Adele. For all answer to this summons Harold married a Saxon, sister of two powerful Saxon chieftains; Edwin and Morkar. There was an open rupture; and William swore that "within the year he would go and claim, at the sword's point, payment of what was due to him, on the very spot where Harold thought himself to be most firm on his feet."
And he set himself to the work. But, being as far-sighted as he was ambitious, he resolved to secure for his enterprise the sanction of religious authority and the formal assent of the Estates of Normandy. Not that he had any inclination to subordinate his power to that of the Pope. Five years previously, Robert de Grandmesnil, abbot of St. Evroul, with whom William had got embroiled, had claimed to re-enter his monastery as master by virtue solely of an order from Pope Nicholas II. "I will listen to the legates of the Pope, the common father of the faithful," said William, "if they come to me to speak of the Christian faith and religion; but if a monk of my Estates permit himself a single word beyond his place, I will have him hanged by his cowl from the highest oak of the nearest forest." When, in 1000, he denounced to Pope Alexander II. the perjury of Harold, asking him at the same time to do him justice, he made no scruple about promising that, if the Pope authorized him to right himself by war, he would bring back the kingdom of England to obedience to the Holy See. He had Lanfranc for his negotiator with the court of Rome, and Pope Alexander II. had for chief counsellor the celebrated monk Hildebrand, who was destined to succeed him under the name of Gregory VII. The opportunity of extending the empire of the Church was too tempting to be spurned, and her future head too bold not to seize it whatever might be the uncertainty and danger of the issue; and in spite of hesitation on the part of some of the Pope's advisers, the question was promptly decided in accordance with William's demand. Harold and his adherents were excommunicated, and, on committing his bull to the hands of William's messenger, the Pope added a banner of the Roman Church and a ring containing, it is said, a hair of St. Peter set in a diamond.
The Estates of Normandy were less easy to manage. William called them together at Lillebonne; and several of his vassals showed a zealous readiness to furnish him with vessels and victual and to follow him beyond the sea, but others declared that they were not bound to any such service, and that they would not lend themselves to it; they had calls enough already, and had nothing more to spare. William Fitz-Osbern scouted these objections. "He is your lord, and hath need of you," said he to the recalcitrants; "you ought to offer yourselves to him, and not wait to be asked. If he succeed in his purpose, you will be more powerful as well as he; if you fail him, and he succeed without you, he will remember it: show that you love him, and what ye do, do with a good grace." The discussion was keen. Many persisted in saying, "True, he is our lord; but if we pay him his rents, that should suffice: we are not bound to go and serve beyond the seas; we are already much burdened for his wars." It was at last agreed that Fitz-Osbern should give the duke the assembly's reply; for he knew well, they said, the ability of each. "If ye mind not to do what I shall say," said Fitz-Osbern, "charge me not therewith." "We will be bound by it, and will do it," was the cry amidst general confusion. They repaired to the duke's presence. "My lord," said Fitz-Osbern, "I trow that there be not in the whole world such folk as these. You know the trouble and labor they have already undergone in supporting your rights; and they are minded to do still more, and serve you at all points, this side the sea and t'other. Go you before, and they will follow you; and spare them in nothing. As for me, I will furnish you with sixty vessels, manned with good fighters." "Nay, nay," cried several of those present, prelates and barons, "we charged you not with such reply; when he hath business in his own country, we will do him the service we owe him; we be not bound to serve him in conquering another's territory, or to go beyond sea for him." And they gathered themselves together in knots with much uproar.
"William was very wroth," says the chronicler, "retired to a chamber apart, summoned those in whom he had most confidence, and by their advice called before him his barons, each separately, and asked them if they were willing to help him. He had no intention, he told them, of doing them wrong, nor would he and his, now or hereafter, ever cease to treat with them in perfect courtesy; and he would give them, in writing, such assurances as they were minded to devise. The majority of his people agreed to give him, more or less, according to circumstances; and he had everything reduced to writing." At the same time he made an appeal to all his neighbors, Bretons, Manceaux, and Angevines, hunting up soldiers wherever he could find them, and promising all who desired them lands in England if he effected its conquest. Lastly he repaired in person, first to Philip I., king of France, his suzerain, then to Baldwin V., count of Flanders, his father-in-law, asking their assistance for his enterprise. Philip gave a formal refusal. "What the duke demands of you," said his advisers, "is to his own profit and to your hurt; if you aid him, your country will be much burdened; and if the duke fail, you will have the English your foes forever." The count of Flanders made show of a similar refusal; but privately he authorized William to raise soldiers in Flanders, and pressed his vassals to follow him. William, having thus hunted up and collected all the forces he could hope for, thought only of putting them in motion, and of hurrying on the preparations for his departure.
Whilst, in obedience to his orders, the whole expedition, troops and ships, were collecting at Dives, he received from Conan II., duke of Brittany, this message: "I learn that thou art now minded to go beyond sea and conquer for thyself the kingdom of England. At the moment of starting for Jerusalem, Robert, duke of Normandy, whom thou feignest to regard as thy father, left all his heritage to Alain, my father and his cousin: but thou and thy accomplices slew my father with poison at Vimeux, in Normandy. Afterwards thou didst invade his territory because I was too young to defend it; and, contrary to all right, seeing that thou art a bastard, thou hast kept it until this day. Now, therefore, either give me back this Normandy which thou owest me, or I will make war upon thee with all my forces." "At this message," say the chronicles, "William was at first somewhat dismayed; but a Breton lord, who had sworn fidelity to the two counts, and bore messages from one to the other, rubbed poison upon the inside of Conan's hunting-horn, of his horse's reins, and of his gloves. Conan, having unwittingly put on his gloves and handled the reins of his horse, lifted his hands to his face, and the touch having filled him with poisonous infection, he died soon after, to the great sorrow of his people, for he was an able and brave man, and inclined to justice. And he who had betrayed him quitted before long the army of Conan, and informed Duke William of his death."
Conan is not the only one of William's foes whom he was suspected of making away with by poison: there are no proofs; but contemporary assertions are positive, and the public of the time believed them, without surprise. Being as unscrupulous about means as ambitious and bold in aim, William was not of those whose character repels such an accusation. What, however, diminishes the suspicion is that, after and in spite of Conan's death, several Breton knights, and, amongst others, two sons of Count Eudes, his uncle, attended at the trysting-place of the Norman troops and took part in the expedition.
Dives was the place of assemblage appointed for fleet and army. William repaired thither about the end of August, 1066. But for several weeks contrary winds prevented him from putting to sea; some vessels which made the attempt perished in the tempest; and some of the volunteer adventurers got disgusted, and deserted. William maintained strict discipline amongst this multitude, forbidding plunder so strictly that "the cattle fed in the fields in full security." The soldiers grew tired of waiting in idleness and often in sickness. "Yon is a mad-man," said they, "who is minded to possess himself of another's land; God is against the design, and so refuses us a wind."
About the 20th of September the weather changed. The fleet got ready, but could only go and anchor at St. Valery at the mouth of the Somme. There it was necessary to wait several more days; impatience and disquietude were redoubled; "and there appeared in the heavens a star with a tail, a certain sign of great things to come." William had the shrine of St. Valery brought out and paraded about, being more impatient in his soul than anybody, but ever confident in his will and his good fortune. There was brought to him a spy whom Harold had sent to watch the forces and plans of the enemy; and William dismissed him, saying, "Harold hath no need to take any care or be at any charges to know how we be, and what we be doing; he shall see for himself, and shall feel before the end of the year." At last, on the 27th of September, 1066, the sun rose on a calm sea and with a favorable wind; and towards evening the fleet set out. The Mora, the vessel on which William was, and which had been given to him by his wife, Matilda, led the way; and a figure in gilded bronze, some say in gold, representing their youngest son, William, had been placed on the prow, with the face towards England. Being a better sailer than the others, this ship was soon a long way ahead; and William had a mariner sent to the top of the mainmast to see if the fleet were following. "I see nought but sea and sky," said the mariner. William had the ship brought to; and, the second time, the mariner said, "I see four ships." Before long he cried, "I see a forest of masts and sails." On the 29th of September, St. Michael's day, the expedition arrived off the coast of England, at Pevensey, near Hastings, and "when the tide had ebbed, and the ships remained aground on the strand," says the chronicles the landing was effected without obstacle; not a Saxon soldier appeared on the coast. William was the last to leave his ship; and on setting foot on the sand he made a false step and fell. "Bad sign!" was muttered around him; "God have us in His keeping!" "What say you, lords?" cried William: "by the glory of God, I have grasped this land with my hands; all that there is of it is ours."
With what forces William undertook the conquest of England, how many ships composed his fleet, and how many men were aboard the ships, are questions impossible to be decided with any precision, as we have frequently before had occasion to remark, amidst the exaggerations and disagreements of chroniclers. Robert Wace reports, in his Romance of Rou, that he had heard from his father, one of William's servants on this expedition, that the fleet numbered six hundred and ninety-six vessels, but he had found in divers writings that there were more than three thousand. M. Augustin Thierry, after his learned researches, says, in his history of the Conquest of England by the Normans, that "four hundred vessels of four sails, and more than a thousand transport ships, moved out into the open sea, to the sound of trumpets and of a great cry of joy raised by sixty thousand throats." It is probable that the estimate of the fleet is pretty accurate, and that of the army exaggerated. We saw in 1830 what efforts and pains it required, amidst the power and intelligent ability of modern civilization, to transport from France to Algeria thirty-seven thousand men aboard three squadrons, comprising six hundred and seventy-five ships of all sorts. Granted that in the eleventh century there was more haphazard than in the nineteenth, and that there was less care for human life on the eve of a war; still, without a doubt, the armament of Normandy in 1066 was not to be compared with that of France in 1830, and yet William's intention was to conquer England, whereas Charles X. thought only of chastising the dey of Algiers.
Whilst William was making for the southern coast of England, Harold was repairing by forced marches to the north in order to defend, against the rebellion of his brother Tostig and the invasion of a Norwegian army, his short-lived kingship thus menaced, at two ends of the country, by two formidable enemies. On the 25th of September, 1066, he gained at York a brilliant victory over his northern foe; and, wounded as he was, he no sooner learned that Duke William had on the 29th pitched his camp and planted his flag at Pevensey, than he set out in haste for the south. As he approached, William received, from what source is not known, this message: "King Harold hath given battle to his brother Tostig and the king of Norway. He hath slain them both, and hath destroyed their army. He is returning at the head of numerous and valiant warriors, against whom thine own, I trove, will be worth no more than wretched curs. Thou passest for a man of wisdom and prudence; be not rash, plunge not thyself into danger; I adjure thee to abide in thy intrenchments, and not to come really to blows." "I thank thy master," answered William, "for his prudent counsel, albeit he might have given it to me without insult. Carry him back this reply: I will not hide me behind ramparts; I will come to blows with Harold as soon as I may; and with the aid of Heaven's good will I would trust in the valor of my men against his, even though I had but ten thousand to lead against his sixty thousand." But the proud confidence of William did not affect his prudence. He received from Harold himself a message wherein the Saxon, affirming his right to the kingship by virtue of the Saxon laws and the last words of King Edward, summoned him to evacuate England with all his people; on which condition alone he engaged to preserve friendship with him, and all agreements between them as to Normandy. After having come to an understanding with his barons, William maintained his right to the crown of England by virtue of the first decision of King Edward, and the oaths of Harold himself. "I am ready," said he, "to uphold my cause against him by the forms of justice, either according to the law of the Normans or according to that of the Saxons, as he pleases. If, by virtue of equity, Normans or English decide that Harold has a right to possess the kingdom, let him possess it in peace; if they acknowledge that it is to me that the kingdom ought to belong, let him give it up to me. If he refuse these conditions, I do not think it just that my people or his, who are not a whit to blame for our quarrel, should slay one another in battle; I am ready to maintain, at the price of my head against his, that it is to me and not to him that the kingdom of England belongs." At this proposition Harold was troubled, and remained a while without replying; then, as the monk was urgent, "Let the Lord God," said he, "judge this day betwixt me and William as to what is just." The negotiation continued, and William summed it all up in these terms, which the monk reported to Harold in presence of the English chieftains: "My lord, the duke of Normandy biddeth you do one of these things: give up to him the kingdom of England, and take his daughter in marriage, as you sware to him on the holy relics; or, respecting the question between him and you, submit yourself to the Pope's decision; or fight with him, body to body, and let him who is victorious and forces his enemy to yield have the kingdom." Harold replied, "without opinion or advice taken," says the chronicle, "I will not cede him the kingdom; I will not abide by the Pope's award; and I will not fight with him." William, still in concert with his barons, made a farther advance. "If Harold will come to an agreement with me," he said, "I will leave him all the territory beyond the Humber, towards Scotland." "My lord," said the barons to the duke, "make an end of these parleys; if we must fight, let it be soon; for every day come folk to Harold." "By my faith," said the duke, "if we agree not on terms to-day, to-morrow we will join battle." The third proposal for an agreement was as little successful as the former two; on both sides there was no belief in peace, and they were eager to decide the quarrel once for all.
Some of the Saxon chieftains advised Harold to fall back on London, and ravage all the country, so as to starve out the invaders. "By my faith," said Harold, "I will not destroy the country I have in keeping; I, with my people, will fight." "Abide in London," said his younger brother, Gurth: "thou canst not deny that, perforce or by free will, thou didst swear to Duke William; but, as for us, we have sworn nought; we will fight for our country; if we alone fight, thy cause will be good in any case; if we fly, thou shalt rally us; if we fall, thou shalt avenge us." Harold rejected this advice, "considering it shame to his past life to turn his back, whatever were the peril." Certain of his people, whom he had sent to reconnoitre the Norman army, returned saying that there were more priests in William's camp than warriors in his own; for the Normans, at this period, wore shaven chins and short hair, whilst the English let hair and beard grow. "Ye do err," said Harold; "these be not priests, but good men-at-arms, who will show us what they can do."
On the eve of the battle, the Saxons passed the night in amusement, eating, drinking, and singing, with great uproar; the Normans, on the contrary, were preparing their arms, saying their prayers, and "confessing to their priests—all who would." On the 14th of October, 1066, when Duke William put on his armor, his coat of mail was given to him the wrong way. "Bad omen!" cried some of his people; "if such a thing had happened to us, we would not fight to-day." "Be ye not disquieted," said the duke; "I have never believed in sorcerers and diviners, and I never liked them; I believe in God, and in Him I put my trust." He assembled his men-at-arms, and setting himself upon a high place, so that all might hear him, he said to them, "My true and loyal friends, ye have crossed the seas for love of me, and for that I cannot thank ye as I ought; but I will make what return I may, and what I have ye shall have. I am not come only to take what I demanded, or to get my rights, but to punish felonies, treasons, and breaches of faith committed against our people by the men of this country. Think, moreover, what great honor ye will have to-day if the day be ours. And bethink ye that, if ye be discomfited, ye be dead men without help; for ye have not whither ye may retreat, seeing that our ships be broken up, and our mariners be here with us. He who flies will be a dead man; he who fights will be saved. For God's sake, let each man do his duty; trust we in God, and the day will be ours."
The address was too long for the duke's faithful comrade, William Fitz-Osborn. "My lord," said he, "we dally; let us all to arms and forward, forward!" The army got in motion, starting from the hill of Telham or Heathland, according to Mr. Freeman, marching to attack the English on the opposite hill of Senlac. A Norman, called Taillefer, "who sang very well, and rode a horse which was very fast, came up to the duke. 'My lord,' said he, 'I have served you long, and you owe me for all my service: pay me to day, an it please you; grant unto me, for recompense in full, to strike the first blow in the battle.' 'I grant it,' quoth the duke. So Taillefer darted before him, singing the deeds of Charlemagne, of Roland, of Oliver, and of the vassals who fell at Roncesvalles." As he sang, he played with his sword, throwing it up into the air and catching it in his right hand; and the Normans followed, repeating his songs, and crying, "God help! God help!" The English, intrenched upon a plateau towards which the Normans were ascending, awaited the assault, shouting, and defying the foe.
The battle, thus begun, lasted nine hours, with equal obstinacy on both sides, and varied success from hour to hour. Harold, though wounded at the commencement of the fray, did not cease for a moment to fight, on foot, with his two brothers beside him, and around him the troops of London, who had the privilege of forming the king's guard when he delivered a battle. Rudely repulsed at the first charge, some bodies of Norman troops fell back in disorder, and a rumor spread amongst them that the duke was slain; but William threw himself before the fugitives, and, taking off his helmet, cried, "Look at me; here I am; I live, and by God's help will conquer." So they returned to the combat. But the English were firm; the Normans could not force their intrenchrnents; and William ordered his men to feign a retreat, and all but a flight. At this sight the English bore down in pursuit: "and still Norman fled and Saxon pursued, until a trumpeter, who had been ordered by the duke thus to turn back the Normans, began to sound the recall. Then were seen the Normans turning back to face the English, and attacking them with their swords, and amongst the English, some flying, some dying, some asking mercy in their own tongue." The struggle once more became general and fierce. William had three horses killed under him; "but he jumped immediately upon a fresh steed, and left not long unavenged the death of that which had but lately carried him." At last the intrenchments of the English were stormed; Harold fell mortally wounded by an arrow which pierced his skull; his two brothers and his bravest comrades fell at his side; the fight was prolonged between the English dispersed and the Normans remorselessly pursuing; the standard sent from Rome to the duke of Normandy had replaced the Saxon flag on the very spot where Harold had fallen; and, all around, the ground continued to get covered with dead and dying, fruitless victims of the passions of the combatants. Next day William went over the field of battle; and he was heard to say, in a tone of mingled triumph and sorrow, "Here is verily a lake of blood!"
There was, long after the battle of Senlac, or Hastings, as it is commonly called, a patriotic superstition in the country to the effect that, when the rain had moistened the soil, there were to be seen traces of blood on the ground where it had taken place.
Having thus secured the victory, William had his tent pitched at the very point where the standard which had come from Rome had replaced the Saxon banner, and he passed the night supping and chatting with his chieftains, not far from the corpses scattered over the battle-field. Next day it was necessary to attend to the burial of all these dead, conquerors or conquered. William was full of care and affection towards his comrades; and on the eve of the battle, during a long and arduous reconnoissance which he had undertaken with some of them, he had insisted upon carrying, for some time, in addition to his own cuirass, that of his faithful William Fitz-Osbern, who he saw was fatigued in spite of his usual strength; but towards his enemies William was harsh and resentful. Githa, Harold's mother, sent to him to ask for her son's corpse, offering for it its weight in gold. "Nay," said William, "Harold was a perjurer; let him have for burial-place the sand of the shore, where he was so madly fain to rule." Two Saxon monks from Waltham Abbey, which had been founded by Harold, came, by their abbot's order, and claimed for their church the remains of their benefactor; and William, indifferent as he had been to a mother's grief, would not displease an abbey. But when the monks set about finding the body of Harold, there was none to recognize it, and they had recourse to a young girl, Edith, Swan's-neck, whom Harold had loved. She discovered amongst the corpses her lover's mutilated body; and the monks bore it away to the church at Waltham, where it was buried. Some time later a rumor was spread abroad that Harold was wounded, and carried to a neighboring castle, perhaps Dover, whence he went to the abbey of St. John, at Chester, where he lived a long while in a solitary cell, and where William the Conqueror's second son, Henry I., the third Norman king of England, one day went to see him and had an interview with him. But this legend, in which there is nothing chronologically impossible, rests on no sound basis of evidence, and is discountenanced by all contemporary accounts.
Before following up his victory, William resolved to perpetuate the remembrance of it by a religious monument, and he decreed the foundation of an abbey on the very field of the battle of Hastings, from which it took its name, Battle Abbey. He endowed this abbey with all the neighboring territory within the radius of a league, "the very spot," says his charter, "which gave me my crown." He made it free of the jurisdiction of any prelate, dedicated it to St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of the soldiers of Gaul, and ordered that there should be deposited in its archives a register containing the names of all the lords, knights, and men of mark who had accompanied him on his expedition. When the building of the abbey began, the builders observed a want of water; and they notified William of the fact. "Work away," said he: "if God grant me life, I will make such good provision for the place that more wine shall be found there than there is water in other monasteries."
It was not everything, however, to be victorious, it was still necessary to be recognized as king. When the news of the defeat at Hastings and the death of Harold was spread abroad in the country, the emotion was lively and seemed to be profound; the great Saxon national council, the Wittenagemote, assembled at London; the remnants of the Saxon army rallied there; and search was made for other kings than the Norman duke. Harold left two sons, very young and not in a condition to reign; but his two brothers-in-law, Edwin and Morkar, held dominion in the north of England, whilst the southern provinces, and amongst them the city of London, had a popular aspirant, a nephew of Edward the Confessor, in Edgar surnamed Atheliny (the noble, the illustrious), as the descendant of several kings. What with these different pretensions, there were discussion, hesitation, and delay; but at last the young Edgar prevailed, and was proclaimed king. Meanwhile William was advancing with his army, slowly, prudently, as a man resolved to risk nothing and calculating upon the natural results of his victory. At some points he encountered attempts at resistance, but he easily overcame them, occupied successively Romney, Dover, Canterbury, and Rochester, appeared before London without trying to enter it, and moved on Winchester, which was the residence of Edward the Confessor's widow, Queen Editha, who had received that important city as dowry. Through respect for her, William, who presented himself in the character of relative and heir of King Edward, did not enter the place, and merely called upon the inhabitants to take the oath of allegiance to him and do him homage, which they did with the queen's consent. William returned towards London and commenced the siege, or rather investment of it, by establishing his camp at Berkhampstead, in the county of Hertford. He entered before long into secret communication with an influential burgess, named Ansgard, an old man who had seen service, and who, riddled with wounds, had himself carried about the streets in a litter. Ansgard had but little difficulty in inducing the authorities of London to make pacific overtures to the duke, and William had still less difficulty in convincing the messenger of the moderation of his designs. "The king salutes ye, and offers ye peace," said Ansgard to the municipal authorities of London on his return from the camp: "'tis a king who hath no peer; he is handsomer than the sun, wiser than Solomon, more active and greater than Charlemagne," and the enthusiastic poet adds that the people as well as the senate eagerly welcomed these words, and renounced, both of them, the young king they had but lately proclaimed. Facts were quick in responding to this quickly produced impression; a formal deputation was sent to William's camp; the archbishops of Canterbury and York, many other prelates and laic chieftains, the principal citizens of London, the two brothers-in- law of Harold, Edwin and Morkar, and the young king of yesterday, Edgar Atheling himself, formed part of it; and they brought to William, Edgar Atheling his abdication, and all the others their submission, with an express invitation to William to have himself made king, "for we be wont," said they, "to serve a king, and we wish to have a king for lord." William received them in presence of the chieftains of his army, and with great show of moderation in his desires. "Affairs," said he, "be troubled still; there be still certain rebels; I desire rather the peace of the kingdom than the crown; I would that my wife should be crowned with me." The Norman chieftains murmured whilst they smiled; and one of them, an Aquitanian, Aimery de Thouars, cried out, "It is passing modest to ask soldiers if they wish their chief to be king: soldiers are never, or very seldom, called to such deliberations: let what we desire be done as soon as possible." William yielded to the entreaties of the Saxon deputies and to the counsels of the Norman chieftains but, prudent still, before going in person to London, he sent thither some of his officers with orders to have built there immediately, on the banks of the Thames, at a point which he indicated, a fort where he might establish himself in safety. That fort, in the course of time, became the Tower of London.
When William set out, some days afterwards, to make his entry into the city, he found, on his way to St. Alban's, the road blocked with huge trunks of trees recently felled. "What means this barricade in thy domains?" he demanded of the abbot of St. Alban's, a Saxon noble. "I did what was my duty to my birth and mission," replied the monk: "if others, of my rank and condition, had done as much, as they ought to and could have done, thou hadst not penetrated so far into our country."
On entering London after all these delays and all these precautions, William fixed, for his coronation, upon Christmas-day, December 25th, 1066. Either by desire of the prelate himself or by William's own order, it was not the archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, who presided, according to custom, at the ceremony; the duty devolved upon the archbishop of York, Aldred, who had but lately anointed Edgar Atheling. At the appointed hour, William arrived at Westminster Abbey, the latest work and the burial-place of Edward the Confessor. The Conqueror marched between two hedges of Norman soldiers, behind whom stood a crowd of people, cold and sad, though full of curiosity. A numerous cavalry guarded the approaches to the church and the quarters adjoining. Two hundred and sixty counts, barons, and knights of Normandy went in with the duke. Geoffrey, bishop of Coutanees, demanded in French, of the Normans, if they would that their duke should take the title of King of the English. The archbishop of York demanded of the English, in the Saxon tongue, if they would have for king the duke of Normandy. Noisy acclamations arose in the church and resounded outside. The soldiery, posted in the neighborhood, took the confused roar for a symptom of something wrong, and in their suspicious rage set fire to the neighboring houses. The flames spread rapidly. The people who were rejoicing in the church caught the alarm, and a multitude of men and women of every rank flung themselves out of the edifice. Alone and trembling, the bishops with some clerics and monks remained before the altar and accomplished the work of anointment upon the king's head, "himself trembling," says the chronicle. Nearly all the rest who were present ran to the fire, some to extinguish it, others to steal and pillage in the midst of the consternation. William terminated the ceremony by taking the usual oath of Saxon kings at their coronation, adding thereto, as of his own motion, a promise to treat the English people according to their own laws and as well as they had ever been treated by the best of their own kings. Then he went forth from the church King of England.
We will pursue no farther the life of William the Conqueror: for henceforth it belongs to the history of England, not of France. We have entered, so far as he was concerned, into pretty long details, because we were bound to get a fair understanding of the event and of the man; not only because of their lustre at the time, but especially because of the serious and long-felt consequences entailed upon France, England, and, we may say, Europe. We do not care just now to trace out those consequences in all their bearings; but we would like to mark out with precision their chief features, inasmuch as they exercised, for centuries, a determining influence upon the destinies of two great nations, and upon the course of modern civilization.
As to France, the consequences of the conquest of England by the Normans were clearly pernicious, and they have not yet entirely disappeared. It was a great evil, as early as the eleventh century, that the duke of Normandy, one of the great French lords, one of the great vassals of the king of France, should at the same time become king of England, and thus receive an accession of rank and power which could not fail to render more complicated and more stormy his relations with his French suzerain. From the eleventh to the fourteenth century, from Philip I. to Philip de Valois, this position gave rise, between the two crowns and the two states, to questions, to quarrels, to political struggles, and to wars which were a frequent source of trouble in France to the government and the people. The evil and the peril became far greater still when, in the fourteenth century, there arose between France and England, between Philip de Valois and Edward III., a question touching the succession to the throne of France and the application or negation of the Salic law. Then there commenced, between the two crowns and the two peoples, that war which was to last more than a hundred years, was to bring upon France the saddest days of her history, and was to be ended only by the inspired heroism of a young girl who, alone, in the name of her God and His saints, restored confidence and victory to her king and her country. Joan of Arc, at the cost of her life, brought to the most glorious conclusion the longest and bloodiest struggle that has devastated France and sometimes compromised her glory.
Such events, even when they are over, do not cease to weigh heavily for a long while upon a people. The struggles between the kings of England, dukes of Normandy, and the kings of France, and the long war of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for the succession to the throne of France, engendered what historians have called "the rivalry between France and England;" and this rivalry, having been admitted as a natural and inevitable fact, became the permanent incubus and, at divers epochs, the scourge of French national existence. Undoubtedly there are, between great and energetic neighbors, different interests and tendencies, which easily become the seeds of jealousy and strife; but there are also, between such nations, common interests and common sentiments, which tend to harmony and peace. The wisdom and ability of governments and of nations themselves are shown in devoting themselves to making the grounds of harmony and peace stronger than those of discord and war. Anyhow common sense and moral sense forbid differences of interests and tendencies to be set up as a principle upon which to establish general and permanent rivalry, and, by consequence, a systematic hostility and national enmity. And the further civilization and the connections between different people proceed with this development, the more necessary and, at the same time, possible it becomes to raise the interests and sentiments which would hold them together above those which would keep them asunder, and to thus found a policy of reciprocal equity and of peace in place of a policy of hostile precautions and continual strife. "I have witnessed," says M. Guizot, "in the course of my life, both these policies. I have seen the policy of systematic hostility, the policy practised by the Emperor Napoleon I. with as much ability and brilliancy as it was capable of, and I have seen it result in the greatest disaster France ever experienced. And even after the evidence of its errors and calamities this policy has still left amongst us deep traces and raised serious obstacles to the policy of reciprocal equity, liberty, and peace which we labored to support, and of which the nation felt, though almost against the grain, the justice and the necessity." In that feeling we recognize the lamentable results of the old historic causes which have just been pointed out, and the lasting perils arising from those blind passions which hurry people away, and keep them back from their most pressing interests and their most honorable sentiments.
In spite of appearances to the contrary, and in view of her future interests, England was, in the eleventh century, by the very fact of the conquest she underwent, in a better position than France. She was conquered, it is true, and conquered by a foreign chieftain and a foreign army; but France also had been, for several centuries previously, a prey to conquest, and under circumstances much more unfavorable than those under which the Norman conquest had found and placed England. When the Goths, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Saxons, and the Normans themselves invaded and disputed over Gaul, what was the character of the event? Barbarians, up to that time vagabonds or nearly so, were flooding in upon populations disorganized and enervated. On the side of the German victors, no fixity in social life; no general or anything like regular government; no nation really cemented and constituted; but individuals in a state of dispersion and of almost absolute independence: on the side of the vanquished Gallo-Romans, the old political ties dissolved; no strong power, no vital liberty; the lower classes in slavery, the middle classes ruined, the upper classes depreciated. Amongst the barbarians society was scarcely commencing; with the subjects of the Roman empire it no longer existed; Charlemagne's attempt to reconstruct it by rallying beneath a new empire both victors and vanquished was a failure; feudal anarchy was the first and the necessary step out of barbaric anarchy and towards a renewal of social order.
It was not so in England, when, in the eleventh century, William transported thither his government and his army. A people but lately come out of barbarism, conquered, on that occasion, a people still half barbarous. Their primitive origin was the same; their institutions were, if not similar, at any rate analogous; there was no fundamental antagonism in their habits; the English chieftains lived in their domains an idle, hunting life, surrounded by their liegemen, just as the Norman barons lived. Society, amongst both the former and the latter, was founded, however unrefined and irregular it still was; and neither the former nor the latter had lost the flavor and the usages of their ancient liberties. A certain superiority, in point of organization and social discipline, belonged to the Norman conquerors; but the conquered Anglo- Saxons were neither in a temper to allow themselves to be enslaved nor out of condition for defending themselves. The conquest was destined to entail cruel evils, a long oppression, but it could not bring about either the dissolution of the two peoples into petty lawless groups, or the permanent humiliation of one in presence of the other. There were, at one and the same time, elements of government and resistance, causes of fusion and unity in the very midst of the struggle.
We are now about to anticipate ages, and get a glimpse, in their development, of the consequences which attended this difference, so profound, in the position of France and of England, at the time of the formation of the two states.
In England, immediately after the Norman conquest, two general forces are confronted, those, to wit, of the two peoples. The Anglo-Saxon people is attached to its ancient institutions, a mixture of feudalism and liberty, which become its security. The Norman army assumes organization on English soil according to the feudal system which had been its own in Normandy. A principle of authority and a principle of resistance thus exist, from the very first, in the community and in the government. Before long the principle of resistance gets displaced; the strife between the peoples continues; but a new struggle arises between the Norman king and his barons. The Norman kingship, strong in its growth, would fain become tyrannical; but its tyranny encounters a resistance, also strong, since the necessity for defending themselves against the Anglo-Saxons has caused the Norman barons to take up the practice of acting in concert, and has not permitted them to set themselves up as petty, isolated sovereigns. The spirit of association receives development in England: the ancient institutions have maintained it amongst the English landholders, and the inadequacy of individual resistance has made it prevalent amongst the Norman barons. The unity which springs from community of interests and from junction of forces amongst equals becomes a counter-poise to the unity of the sovereign power. To sustain the struggle with success, the aristocratic coalition formed against the tyrannical kingship has needed the assistance of the landed proprietors, great and small, English and Norman, and it has not been able to dispense with getting their rights recognized as well as its own. Meanwhile the struggle is becoming complicated; there is a division of parties; a portion of the barons rally round the threatened kingship; sometimes it is the feudal aristocracy, and sometimes it is the king that summons and sees flocking to the rescue the common people, first of the country, then of the towns. The democratic element thus penetrates into and keeps growing in both society and government, at one time quietly and through the stolid influence of necessity, at another noisily and by means of revolutions, powerful indeed, but nevertheless restrained within certain limits. The fusion of the two peoples and the different social classes is little by little attaining accomplishment; it is little by little bringing about the perfect formation of representative government with its various component parts, royalty, aristocracy, and democracy, each invested with the rights and the strength necessary for their functions. The end of the struggle has been arrived at; constitutional monarchy is founded; by the triumph of their language and of their primitive liberties the English have conquered their conquerors. It is written in her history, and especially in her history at the date of the eleventh century, how England found her point of departure and her first elements of success in the long labor she performed, in order to arrive, in 1688, at a free, and, in our days, at a liberal government.
France pursued her end by other means and in the teeth of other fortunes. She always desired and always sought for free government under the form of constitutional monarchy; and in following her history, step by step, there will be seen, often disappearing and ever re-appearing, the efforts made by the country for the accomplishment of her hope. Why then did not France sooner and more completely attain what she had so often attempted? Amongst the different causes of this long miscalculation, we will dwell for the present only on the historical reason just now indicated: France did not find, as England did, in the primitive elements of French society the conditions and means of the political system to which she never ceased to aspire. In order to obtain the moderate measure of internal order, without which society could not exist; in order to insure the progress of her civil laws and her material civilization; in order even to enjoy those pleasures of the mind for which she thirsts so much,— France was constantly obliged to have recourse to the kingly authority and to that almost absolute monarchy which was far from satisfying her even when she could not do without it, and when she worshipped it with an enthusiasm rather literary than political, as was the case under Louis XIV. It was through the refined rather than profound development of her civilization, and through the zeal of her intellectual movement, that France was at length impelled not only towards the political system to which she had so long aspired, but into the boundless ambition of the unlimited revolution which she brought about and with which she inoculated all Europe. It is in the first steps towards the formation of the two societies, French and English, and in the elements, so very different, of their earliest existence, that we find the principal cause for their long-continued diversity in institutions and destinies.
"In 1823, forty-seven years ago, after having studied," says M. Guizot, "in my Essays upon a Comparative History of France and England, the great fact which we have just now attempted to make clearly understood, I concluded my labor by saying, 'Before our revolution, this difference between the political fates of France and England might have saddened a French-man: but now, in spite of the evils we have suffered and in spite of those we shall yet, perhaps, suffer, there is no room, so far as we are concerned, for such sadness. The advances of social equality and the enlightenments of civilization in France preceded political liberty; and it will thus be the more general and the purer. France may reflect, without regret, upon any history: her own has always been glorious, and the future promised to her will assuredly recompense her for all she has hitherto lacked.' In 1870, after the experiences and notwithstanding the sorrows of my long life, I have still confidence in our country's future. Never be it forgotten that God helps only those who help themselves and who deserve his aid."