William the Conqueror
by Edward A. Freeman D.C.L., LL. D.
Macmillan and Co., 1913
- The Early Years of William
- William's First Visit to England
- The Reign of William in Normandy
- Harold's Oath to William
- The Negotiations of Duke William
- William's Invasion of England
- The Conquest of England
- The Settlement of England
- The Revolts Against William
- The Last Years of William
Chapter X. The Revolts Against William: 1070-1086
The years which saw the settlement of England, though not years of constant fighting like the two years between the march to Exeter and the fall of Chester, were not years of perfect peace. William had to withstand foes on both sides of the sea, to withstand foes in his own household, to undergo his first defeat, to receive his first wound in personal conflict. Nothing shook his firm hold either on duchy or kingdom; but in his later years his good luck forsook him. And men did not fail to connect this change in his future with a change in himself, above all with one deed of blood which stands out as utterly unlike all his other recorded acts.
But the amount of warfare which William had to go through in these later years was small compared with the great struggles of his earlier days. There is no tale to tell like the war of Val-es- dunes, like the French invasions of Normandy, like the campaigns that won England. One event only of the earlier time is repeated almost as exactly as an event can be repeated. William had won Maine once; he had now to win it again, and less thoroughly. As Conqueror his work is done; a single expedition into Wales is the only campaign of this part of his life that led to any increase of territory.
When William sat down to the settlement of his kingdom after the fall of Chester, he was in the strictest sense full king over all England. For the moment the whole land obeyed him; at no later moment did any large part of the land fail to obey him. All opposition was now revolt. Men were no longer keeping out an invader; when they rose, they rose against a power which, however wrongfully, was the established government of the land. Two such movements took place. One was a real revolt of Englishmen against foreign rule. The other was a rebellion of William's own earls in their own interests, in which English feeling went with the King. Both were short sharp struggles which stand out boldly in the tale. More important in the general story, though less striking in detail, are the relations of William to the other powers in and near the isle of Britain. With the crown of the West-Saxon kings, he had taken up their claims to supremacy over the whole island, and probably beyond it. And even without such claims, border warfare with his Welsh and Scottish neighbours could not be avoided. Counting from the completion of the real conquest of England in 1070, there were in William's reign three distinct sources of disturbance. There were revolts within the kingdom of England. There was border warfare in Britain. There were revolts in William's continental dominions. And we may add actual foreign warfare or threats of foreign warfare, affecting William, sometimes in his Norman, sometimes in his English character.
With the affairs of Wales William had little personally to do. In this he is unlike those who came immediately before and after him. In the lives of Harold and of William Rufus personal warfare against the Welsh forms an important part. William the Great commonly left this kind of work to the earls of the frontier, to Hugh of Chester, Roger of Shrewsbury, and to his early friend William of Hereford, so long as that fierce warrior's life lasted. These earls were ever at war with the Welsh princes, and they extended the English kingdom at their cost. Once only did the King take a personal share in the work, when he entered South Wales, in 1081. We hear vaguely of his subduing the land and founding castles; we see more distinctly that he released many subjects who were in British bondage, and that he went on a religious pilgrimage to Saint David's. This last journey is in some accounts connected with schemes for the conquest of Ireland. And in one most remarkable passage of the English Chronicle, the writer for once speculates as to what might have happened but did not. Had William lived two years longer, he would have won Ireland by his wisdom without weapons. And if William had won Ireland either by wisdom or by weapons, he would assuredly have known better how to deal with it than most of those who have come after him. If any man could have joined together the lands which God has put asunder, surely it was he. This mysterious saying must have a reference to some definite act or plan of which we have no other record. And some slight approach to the process of winning Ireland without weapons does appear in the ecclesiastical intercourse between England and Ireland which now begins. Both the native Irish princes and the Danes of the east coast begin to treat Lanfranc as their metropolitan, and to send bishops to him for consecration. The name of the King of the English is never mentioned in the letters which passed between the English primate and the kings and bishops of Ireland. It may be that William was biding his time for some act of special wisdom; but our speculations cannot go any further than those of the Peterborough Chronicler.
Revolt within the kingdom and invasion from without both began in the year in which the Conquest was brought to an end. William's ecclesiastical reforms were interrupted by the revolt of the Fenland. William's authority had never been fully acknowledged in that corner of England, while he wore his crown and held his councils elsewhere. But the place where disturbances began, the abbey of Peterborough, was certainly in William's obedience. The warfare made memorable by the name of Hereward began in June 1070, and a Scottish harrying of Northern England, the second of five which are laid to the charge of Malcolm, took place in the same year, and most likely about the same time. The English movement is connected alike with the course of the Danish fleet and with the appointment of Turold to the abbey of Peterborough. William had bribed the Danish commanders to forsake their English allies, and he allowed them to ravage the coast. A later bribe took them back to Denmark; but not till they had shown themselves in the waters of Ely. The people, largely of Danish descent, flocked to them, thinking, as the Chronicler says, that they would win the whole land. The movement was doubtless in favour of the kingship of Swegen. But nothing was done by Danes and English together save to plunder Peterborough abbey. Hereward, said to have been the nephew of Turold's English predecessor, doubtless looked on the holy place, under a Norman abbot, as part of the enemy's country.
The name of Hereward has gathered round it such a mass of fiction, old and new, that it is hard to disentangle the few details of his real history. His descent and birth-place are uncertain; but he was assuredly a man of Lincolnshire, and assuredly not the son of Earl Leofric. For some unknown cause, he had been banished in the days of Edward or of Harold. He now came back to lead his countrymen against William. He was the soul of the movement of which the abbey of Ely became the centre. The isle, then easily defensible, was the last English ground on which the Conqueror was defied by Englishmen fighting for England. The men of the Fenland were zealous; the monks of Ely were zealous; helpers came in from other parts of England. English leaders left their shelter in Scotland to share the dangers of their countrymen; even Edwin and Morkere at last plucked up heart to leave William's court and join the patriotic movement. Edwin was pursued; he was betrayed by traitors; he was overtaken and slain, to William's deep grief, we are told. His brother reached the isle, and helped in its defence. William now felt that the revolt called for his own presence and his full energies. The isle was stoutly attacked and stoutly defended, till, according to one version, the monks betrayed the stronghold to the King. According to another, Morkere was induced to surrender by promises of mercy which William failed to fulfil. In any case, before the year 1071 was ended, the isle of Ely was in William's hands. Hereward alone with a few companions made their way out by sea. William was less merciful than usual; still no man was put to death. Some were mutilated, some imprisoned; Morkere and other chief men spent the rest of their days in bonds. The temper of the Conqueror had now fearfully hardened. Still he could honour a valiant enemy; those who resisted to the last fared best. All the legends of Hereward's later days speak of him as admitted to William's peace and favour. One makes him die quietly, another kills him at the hands of Norman enemies, but not at William's bidding or with William's knowledge. Evidence a little better suggests that he bore arms for his new sovereign beyond the sea; and an entry in Domesday also suggests that he held lands under Count Robert of Mortain in Warwickshire. It would suit William's policy, when he received Hereward to his favour, to make him exchange lands near to the scene of his exploits for lands in a distant shire held under the lordship of the King's brother.
Meanwhile, most likely in the summer months of 1070, Malcolm ravaged Cleveland, Durham, and other districts where there must have been little left to ravage. Meanwhile the AEtheling Edgar and his sisters, with other English exiles, sought shelter in Scotland, and were hospitably received. At the same time Gospatric, now William's earl in Northumberland, retaliated by a harrying of Scottish Cumberland, which provoked Malcolm to greater cruelties. It was said that there was no house in Scotland so poor that it had not an English bondman. Presently some of Malcolm's English guests joined the defenders of Ely; those of highest birth stayed in Scotland, and Malcolm, after much striving, persuaded Margaret the sister of Edgar to become his wife. Her praises are written in Scottish history, and the marriage had no small share in the process which made the Scottish kings and the lands which formed their real kingdom practically English. The sons and grandsons of Margaret, sprung of the Old-English kingly house, were far more English within their own realm than the Norman and Angevin kings of Southern England. But within the English border men looked at things with other eyes. Thrice again did Malcolm ravage England; two and twenty years later he was slain in his last visit of havoc. William meanwhile and his earls at least drew to themselves some measure of loyalty from the men of Northern England as the guardians of the land against the Scot.
For the present however Malcolm's invasion was only avenged by Gospatric's harrying in Cumberland. The year 1071 called William to Ely; in the early part of 1072 his presence was still needed on the mainland; in August he found leisure for a march against Scotland. He went as an English king, to assert the rights of the English crown, to avenge wrongs done to the English land; and on such an errand Englishmen followed him gladly. Eadric, the defender of Herefordshire, had made his peace with the King, and he now held a place of high honour in his army. But if William met with any armed resistance on his Scottish expedition, it did not amount to a pitched battle. He passed through Lothian into Scotland; he crossed Forth and drew near to Tay, and there, by the round tower of Abernethy, the King of Scots swore oaths and gave hostages and became the man of the King of the English. William might now call himself, like his West-Saxon predecessors, BRETWALDA and BASILEUS of the isle of Britain. This was the highest point of his fortune. Duke of the Normans, King of the English, he was undisputed lord from the march of Anjou to the narrow sea between Caithness and Orkney.
The exact terms of the treaty between William's royal vassal and his overlord are unknown. But one of them was clearly the removal of Edgar from Scotland. Before long he was on the continent. William had not yet learned that Edgar was less dangerous in Britain than in any other part of the world, and that he was safest of all in William's own court. Homage done and hostages received, the Lord of all Britain returned to his immediate kingdom. His march is connected with many legendary stories. In real history it is marked by the foundation of the castle of Durham, and by the Conqueror's confirmation of the privileges of the palatine bishops. If all the earls of England had been like the earls of Chester, and all the bishops like the bishops of Durham, England would assuredly have split up, like Germany, into a loose federation of temporal and spiritual princes. This it was William's special work to hinder; but he doubtless saw that the exceptional privileges of one or two favoured lordships, standing in marked contrast to the rest, would not really interfere with his great plan of union. And William would hardly have confirmed the sees of London or Winchester in the privileges which he allowed to the distant see of Durham. He now also made a grant of earldoms, the object of which is less clear than that of most of his actions. It is not easy to say why Gospatric was deprived of his earldom. His former acts of hostility to William had been covered by his pardon and reappointment in 1069; and since then he had acted as a loyal, if perhaps an indiscreet, guardian of the land. Two greater earldoms than his had become vacant by the revolt, the death, the imprisonment, of Edwin and Morkere. But these William had no intention of filling. He would not have in his realm anything so dangerous as an earl of the Mercian's or the Northumbrians in the old sense, whether English or Norman. But the defence of the northern frontier needed an earl to rule Northumberland in the later sense, the land north of the Tyne. And after the fate of Robert of Comines, William could not as yet put a Norman earl in so perilous a post. But the Englishman whom he chose was open to the same charges as the deposed Gospatric. For he was Waltheof the son of Siward, the hero of the storm of York in 1069. Already Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, he was at this time high in the King's personal favour, perhaps already the husband of the King's niece. One side of William's policy comes out here. Union was sometimes helped by division. There were men whom William loved to make great, but whom he had no mind to make dangerous. He gave them vast estates, but estates for the most part scattered over different parts of the kingdom. It was only in the border earldoms and in Cornwall that he allowed anything at all near to the lordship of a whole shire to be put in the hands of a single man. One Norman and one Englishman held two earldoms together; but they were earldoms far apart. Roger of Montgomery held the earldoms of Shrewsbury and Sussex, and Waltheof to his midland earldom of Northampton and Huntingdon now added the rule of distant Northumberland. The men who had fought most stoutly against William were the men whom he most willingly received to favour. Eadric and Hereward were honoured; Waltheof was honoured more highly. He ranked along with the greatest Normans; his position was perhaps higher than any but the King's born kinsmen. But the whole tale of Waltheof is a problem that touches the character of the king under whom he rose and fell. Lifted up higher than any other man among the conquered, he was the one man whom William put to death on a political charge. It is hard to see the reasons for either his rise or his fall. It was doubtless mainly his end which won him the abiding reverence of his countrymen. His valour and his piety are loudly praised. But his valour we know only from his one personal exploit at York; his piety was consistent with a base murder. In other matters, he seems amiable, irresolute, and of a scrupulous conscience, and Northumbrian morality perhaps saw no great crime in a murder committed under the traditions of a Northumbrian deadly feud. Long before Waltheof was born, his grandfather Earl Ealdred had been killed by a certain Carl. The sons of Carl had fought by his side at York; but, notwithstanding this comradeship, the first act of Waltheof's rule in Northumberland was to send men to slay them beyond the bounds of his earldom. A crime that was perhaps admired in Northumberland and unheard of elsewhere did not lose him either the favour of the King or the friendship of his neighbour Bishop Walcher, a reforming prelate with whom Waltheof acted in concert. And when he was chosen as the single exception to William's merciful rule, it was not for this undoubted crime, but on charges of which, even if guilty, he might well have been forgiven.
The sojourn of William on the continent in 1072 carries us out of England and Normandy into the general affairs of Europe. Signs may have already showed themselves of what was coming to the south of Normandy; but the interest of the moment lay in the country of Matilda. Flanders, long the firm ally of Normandy, was now to change into a bitter enemy. Count Baldwin died in 1067; his successor of the same name died three years later, and a war followed between his widow Richildis, the guardian of his young son Arnulf, and his brother Robert the Frisian. Robert had won fame in the East; he had received the sovereignty of Friesland--a name which takes in Holland and Zealand--and he was now invited to deliver Flanders from the oppressions of Richildis. Meanwhile, Matilda was acting as regent of Normandy, with Earl William of Hereford as her counsellor. Richildis sought help of her son's two overlords, King Henry of Germany and King Philip of France. Philip came in person; the German succours were too late. From Normandy came Earl William with a small party of knights. The kings had been asked for armies; to the Earl she offered herself, and he came to fight for his bride. But early in 1071 Philip, Arnulf, and William, were all overthrown by Robert the Frisian in the battle of Cassel. Arnulf and Earl William were killed; Philip made peace with Robert, henceforth undisputed Count of Flanders.
All this brought King William to the continent, while the invasion of Malcolm was still unavenged. No open war followed between Normandy and Flanders; but for the rest of their lives Robert and William were enemies, and each helped the enemies of the other. William gave his support to Baldwin brother of the slain Arnulf, who strove to win Flanders from Robert. But the real interest of this episode lies in the impression which was made in the lands east of Flanders. In the troubled state of Germany, when Henry the Fourth was striving with the Saxons, both sides seem to have looked to the Conqueror of England with hope and with fear. On this matter our English and Norman authorities are silent, and the notices in the contemporary German writers are strangely unlike one another. But they show at least that the prince who ruled on both sides of the sea was largely in men's thoughts. The Saxon enemy of Henry describes him in his despair as seeking help in Denmark, France, Aquitaine, and also of the King of the English, promising him the like help, if he should ever need it. William and Henry had both to guard against Saxon enmity, but the throne at Winchester stood firmer than the throne at Goslar. But the historian of the continental Saxons puts into William's mouth an answer utterly unsuited to his position. He is made, when in Normandy, to answer that, having won his kingdom by force, he fears to leave it, lest he might not find his way back again. Far more striking is the story told three years later by Lambert of Herzfeld. Henry, when engaged in an Hungarian war, heard that the famous Archbishop Hanno of Koln had leagued with William BOSTAR--so is his earliest surname written- -King of the English, and that a vast army was coming to set the island monarch on the German throne. The host never came; but Henry hastened back to guard his frontier against BARBARIANS. By that phrase a Teutonic writer can hardly mean the insular part of William's subjects.
Now assuredly William never cherished, as his successor probably did, so wild a dream as that of a kingly crowning at Aachen, to be followed perhaps by an imperial crowning at Rome. But that such schemes were looked on as a practical danger against which the actual German King had to guard, at least shows the place which the Conqueror of England held in European imagination.
For the three or four years immediately following the surrender of Ely, William's journeys to and fro between his kingdom and his duchy were specially frequent. Matilda seems to have always stayed in Normandy; she is never mentioned in England after the year of her coronation and the birth of her youngest son, and she commonly acted as regent of the duchy. In the course of 1072 we see William in England, in Normandy, again in England, and in Scotland. In 1073 he was called beyond sea by a formidable movement. His great continental conquest had risen against him; Le Mans and all Maine were again independent. City and land chose for them a prince who came by female descent from the stock of their ancient counts. This was Hugh the son of Azo Marquess of Liguria and of Gersendis the sister of the last Count Herbert. The Normans were driven out of Le Mans; Azo came to take possession in the name of his son, but he and the citizens did not long agree. He went back, leaving his wife and son under the guardianship of Geoffrey of Mayenne. Presently the men of Le Mans threw off princely rule altogether and proclaimed the earliest COMMUNE in Northern Gaul. Here then, as at Exeter, William had to strive against an armed commonwealth, and, as at Exeter, we specially wish to know what were to be the relations between the capital and the county at large. The mass of the people throughout Maine threw themselves zealously into the cause of the commonwealth. But their zeal might not have lasted long, if, according to the usual run of things in such cases, they had simply exchanged the lordship of their hereditary masters for the corporate lordship of the citizens of Le Mans. To the nobles the change was naturally distasteful. They had to swear to the COMMUNE, but many of them, Geoffrey for one, had no thought of keeping their oaths. Dissensions arose; Hugh went back to Italy; Geoffrey occupied the castle of Le Mans, and the citizens dislodged him only by the dangerous help of the other prince who claimed the overlordship of Maine, Count Fulk of Anjou.
If Maine was to have a master from outside, the lord of Anjou hardly promised better than the lord of Normandy. But men in despair grasp at anything. The strange thing is that Fulk disappears now from the story; William steps in instead. And it was at least as much in his English as in his Norman character that the Duke and King won back the revolted land. A place in his army was held by English warriors, seemingly under the command of Hereward himself. Men who had fought for freedom in their own land now fought at the bidding of their Conqueror to put down freedom in another land. They went willingly; the English Chronicler describes the campaign with glee, and breaks into verse--or incorporates a contemporary ballad--at the tale of English victory. Few men of that day would see that the cause of Maine was in truth the cause of England. If York and Exeter could not act in concert with one another, still less could either act in concert with Le Mans. Englishmen serving in Maine would fancy that they were avenging their own wrongs by laying waste the lands of any man who spoke the French tongue. On William's part, the employment of Englishmen, the employment of Hereward, was another stroke of policy. It was more fully following out the system which led Englishmen against Exeter, which led Eadric and his comrades into Scotland. For in every English soldier whom William carried into Maine he won a loyal English subject. To men who had fought under his banners beyond the sea he would be no longer the Conqueror but the victorious captain; they would need some very special oppression at home to make them revolt against the chief whose laurels they had helped to win. As our own gleeman tells the tale, they did little beyond harrying the helpless land; but in continental writers we can trace a regular campaign, in which we hear of no battles, but of many sieges. William, as before, subdued the land piecemeal, keeping the city for the last. When he drew near to Le Mans, its defenders surrendered at his summons, to escape fire and slaughter by speedy submission. The new COMMUNE was abolished, but the Conqueror swore to observe all the ancient rights of the city.
All this time we have heard nothing of Count Fulk. Presently we find him warring against nobles of Maine who had taken William's part, and leaguing with the Bretons against William himself. The King set forth with his whole force, Norman and English; but peace was made by the mediation of an unnamed Roman cardinal, abetted, we are told, by the chief Norman nobles. Success against confederated Anjou and Britanny might be doubtful, with Maine and England wavering in their allegiance, and France, Scotland, and Flanders, possible enemies in the distance. The rights of the Count of Anjou over Maine were formally acknowledged, and William's eldest son Robert did homage to Fulk for the county. Each prince stipulated for the safety and favour of all subjects of the other who had taken his side. Between Normandy and Anjou there was peace during the rest of the days of William; in Maine we shall see yet another revolt, though only a partial one.
William went back to England in 1073. In 1074 he went to the continent for a longer absence. As the time just after the first completion of the Conquest is spoken of as a time when Normans and English were beginning to sit down side by side in peace, so the years which followed the submission of Ely are spoken of as a time of special oppression. This fact is not unconnected with the King's frequent absences from England. Whatever we say of William's own position, he was a check on smaller oppressors. Things were always worse when the eye of the great master was no longer watching. William's one weakness was that of putting overmuch trust in his immediate kinsfolk and friends. Of the two special oppressors, William Fitz-Osbern had thrown away his life in Flanders; but Bishop Ode was still at work, till several years later his king and brother struck him down with a truly righteous blow.
The year 1074, not a year of fighting, was pro-eminently a year of intrigue. William's enemies on the continent strove to turn the representative of the West-Saxon kings to help their ends. Edgar flits to and fro between Scotland and Flanders, and the King of the French tempts him with the offer of a convenient settlement on the march of France, Normandy, and Flanders. Edgar sets forth from Scotland, but is driven back by a storm; Malcolm and Margaret then change their minds, and bid him make his peace with King William. William gladly accepts his submission; an embassy is sent to bring him with all worship to the King in Normandy. He abides for several years in William's court contented and despised, receiving a daily pension and the profits of estates in England of no great extent which the King of a moment held by the grant of a rival who could afford to be magnanimous.
Edgar's after-life showed that he belonged to that class of men who, as a rule slothful and listless, can yet on occasion act with energy, and who act most creditably on behalf of others. But William had no need to fear him, and he was easily turned into a friend and a dependant. Edgar, first of Englishmen by descent, was hardly an Englishman by birth. William had now to deal with the Englishman who stood next to Edgar in dignity and far above him in personal estimation. We have reached the great turning-point in William's reign and character, the black and mysterious tale of the fate of Waltheof. The Earl of Northumberland, Northampton, and Huntingdon, was not the only earl in England of English birth. The earldom of the East-Angles was held by a born Englishman who was more hateful than any stranger. Ralph of Wader was the one Englishman who had fought at William's side against England. He often passes for a native of Britanny, and he certainly held lands and castles in that country; but he was Breton only by the mother's side. For Domesday and the Chronicles show that he was the son of an elder Earl Ralph, who had been STALLER or master of the horse in Edward's days, and who is expressly said to have been born in Norfolk. The unusual name suggests that the elder Ralph was not of English descent. He survived the coming of William, and his son fought on Senlac among the countrymen of his mother. This treason implies an unrecorded banishment in the days of Edward or Harold. Already earl in 1069, he had in that year acted vigorously for William against the Danes. But he now conspired against him along with Roger, the younger son of William Fitz-Osbern, who had succeeded his father in the earldom of Hereford, while his Norman estates had passed to his elder brother William. What grounds of complaint either Ralph or Roger had against William we know not; but that the loyalty of the Earl of Hereford was doubtful throughout the year 1074 appears from several letters of rebuke and counsel sent to him by the Regent Lanfranc. At last the wielder of both swords took to his spiritual arms, and pronounced the Earl excommunicate, till he should submit to the King's mercy and make restitution to the King and to all men whom he had wronged. Roger remained stiff- necked under the Primate's censure, and presently committed an act of direct disobedience. The next year, 1075, he gave his sister Emma in marriage to Earl Ralph. This marriage the King had forbidden, on some unrecorded ground of state policy. Most likely he already suspected both earls, and thought any tie between them dangerous. The notice shows William stepping in to do, as an act of policy, what under his successors became a matter of course, done with the sole object of making money. The BRIDE-ALE--the name that lurks in the modern shape of BRIDAL--was held at Exning in Cambridgeshire; bishops and abbots were guests of the excommunicated Roger; Waltheof was there, and many Breton comrades of Ralph. In their cups they began to plot how they might drive the King out of the kingdom. Charges, both true and false, were brought against William; in a mixed gathering of Normans, English, and Bretons, almost every act of William's life might pass as a wrong done to some part of the company, even though some others of the company were his accomplices. Above all, the two earls Ralph and Roger made a distinct proposal to their fellow-earl Waltheof. King William should be driven out of the land; one of the three should be King; the other two should remain earls, ruling each over a third of the kingdom. Such a scheme might attract earls, but no one else; it would undo William's best and greatest work; it would throw back the growing unity of the kingdom by all the steps that it had taken during several generations.
Now what amount of favour did Waltheof give to these schemes? Weighing the accounts, it would seem that, in the excitement of the bride-ale, he consented to the treason, but that he thought better of it the next morning. He went to Lanfranc, at once regent and ghostly father, and confessed to him whatever he had to confess. The Primate assigned his penitent some ecclesiastical penances; the Regent bade the Earl go into Normandy and tell the whole tale to the King. Waltheof went, with gifts in hand; he told his story and craved forgiveness. William made light of the matter, and kept Waltheof with him, but seemingly not under restraint, till he came back to England.
Meanwhile the other two earls were in open rebellion. Ralph, half Breton by birth and earl of a Danish land, asked help in Britanny and Denmark. Bretons from Britanny and Bretons settled in England flocked to him. King Swegen, now almost at the end of his reign and life, listened to the call of the rebels, and sent a fleet under the command of his son Cnut, the future saint, together with an earl named Hakon. The revolt in England was soon put down, both in East and West. The rebel earls met with no support save from those who were under their immediate influence. The country acted zealously for the King. Lanfranc could report that Earl Ralph and his army were fleeing, and that the King's men, French and English, were chasing them. In another letter he could add, with some strength of language, that the kingdom was cleansed from the filth of the Bretons. At Norwich only the castle was valiantly defended by the newly married Countess Emma. Roger was taken prisoner; Ralph fled to Britanny; their followers were punished with various mutilations, save the defenders of Norwich, who were admitted to terms. The Countess joined her husband in Britanny, and in days to come Ralph did something to redeem so many treasons by dying as an armed pilgrim in the first crusade.
The main point of this story is that the revolt met with no English support whatever. Not only did Bishop Wulfstan march along with his fierce Norman brethren Ode and Geoffrey; the English people everywhere were against the rebels. For this revolt offered no attraction to English feeling; had the undertaking been less hopeless, nothing could have been gained by exchanging the rule of William for that of Ralph or Roger. It might have been different if the Danes had played their part better. The rebellion broke out while William was in Normandy; it was the sailing of the Danish fleet which brought him back to England. But never did enterprise bring less honour on its leaders than this last Danish voyage up the Humber. All that the holy Cnut did was to plunder the minster of Saint Peter at York and to sail away.
His coming however seems to have altogether changed the King's feelings with regard to Waltheof. As yet he had not been dealt with as a prisoner or an enemy. He now came back to England with the King, and William's first act was to imprison both Waltheof and Roger. The imprisonment of Roger, a rebel taken in arms, was a matter of course. As for Waltheof, whatever he had promised at the bride-ale, he had done no disloyal act; he had had no share in the rebellion, and he had told the King all that he knew. But he had listened to traitors, and it might be dangerous to leave him at large when a Danish fleet, led by his old comrade Cnut, was actually afloat. Still what followed is strange indeed, specially strange with William as its chief doer.
At the Midwinter Gemot of 1075-1076 Roger and Waltheof were brought to trial. Ralph was condemned in absence, like Eustace of Boulogne. Roger was sentenced to forfeiture and imprisonment for life. Waltheof made his defence; his sentence was deferred; he was kept at Winchester in a straiter imprisonment than before. At the Pentecostal Gemot of 1076, held at Westminster, his case was again argued, and he was sentenced to death. On the last day of May the last English earl was beheaded on the hills above Winchester.
Such a sentence and execution, strange at any time, is specially strange under William. Whatever Waltheof had done, his offence was lighter than that of Roger; yet Waltheof has the heavier and Roger the lighter punishment. With Scroggs or Jeffreys on the bench, it might have been argued that Waltheof's confession to the King did not, in strictness of law, wipe out the guilt of his original promise to the conspirators; but William the Great did not commonly act after the fashion of Scroggs and Jeffreys. To deprive Waltheof of his earldom might doubtless be prudent; a man who had even listened to traitors might be deemed unfit for such a trust. It might be wise to keep him safe under the King's eye, like Edwin, Morkere, and Edgar. But why should he be picked out for death, when the far more guilty Roger was allowed to live? Why should he be chosen as the one victim of a prince who never before or after, in Normandy or in England, doomed any man to die on a political charge? These are questions hard to answer. It is not enough to say that Waltheof was an Englishman, that it was William's policy gradually to get rid of Englishmen in high places, and that the time was now come to get rid of the last. For such a policy forfeiture, or at most imprisonment, would have been enough. While other Englishmen lost lands, honours, at most liberty, Waltheof alone lost his life by a judicial sentence. It is likely enough that many Normans hungered for the lands and honours of the one Englishman who still held the highest rank in England. Still forfeiture without death might have satisfied even them. But Waltheof was not only earl of three shires; he was husband of the King's near kinswoman. We are told that Judith was the enemy and accuser of her husband. This may have touched William's one weak point. Yet he would hardly have swerved from the practice of his whole life to please the bloody caprice of a niece who longed for the death of her husband. And if Judith longed for Waltheof's death, it was not from a wish to supply his place with another. Legend says that she refused a second husband offered her by the King; it is certain that she remained a widow.
Waltheof's death must thus remain a mystery, an isolated deed of blood unlike anything else in William's life. It seems to have been impolitic; it led to no revolt, but it called forth a new burst of English feeling. Waltheof was deemed the martyr of his people; he received the same popular canonization as more than one English patriot. Signs and wonders were wrought at his tomb at Crowland, till displays of miraculous power which were so inconsistent with loyalty and good order were straitly forbidden. The act itself marks a stage in the downward course of William's character. In itself, the harrying of Northumberland, the very invasion of England, with all the bloodshed that they caused, might be deemed blacker crimes than the unjust death of a single man. But as human nature stands, the less crime needs a worse man to do it. Crime, as ever, led to further crime and was itself the punishment of crime. In the eyes of William's contemporaries the death of Waltheof, the blackest act of William's life, was also its turning-point. From the day of the martyrdom on Saint Giles' hill the magic of William's name and William's arms passed away. Unfailing luck no longer waited on him; after Waltheof's death he never, till his last campaign of all, won a battle or took a town. In this change of William's fortunes the men of his own day saw the judgement of God upon his crime. And in the fact at least they were undoubtedly right. Henceforth, though William's real power abides unshaken, the tale of his warfare is chiefly a tale of petty defeats. The last eleven years of his life would never have won him the name of Conqueror. But in the higher walk of policy and legislation never was his nobler surname more truly deserved. Never did William the Great show himself so truly great as in these later years.
The death of Waltheof and the popular judgement on it suggest another act of William's which cannot have been far from it in point of time, and about which men spoke in his own day in the same spirit. If the judgement of God came on William for the beheading of Waltheof, it came on him also for the making of the New Forest. As to that forest there is a good deal of ancient exaggeration and a good deal of modern misconception. The word FOREST is often misunderstood. In its older meaning, a meaning which it still keeps in some parts, a forest has nothing to do with trees. It is a tract of land put outside the common law and subject to a stricter law of its own, and that commonly, probably always, to secure for the King the freer enjoyment of the pleasure of hunting. Such a forest William made in Hampshire; the impression which it made on men's minds at the time is shown by its having kept the name of the New Forest for eight hundred years. There is no reason to think that William laid waste any large tract of specially fruitful country, least of all that he laid waste a land thickly inhabited; for most of the Forest land never can have been such. But it is certain from Domesday and the Chronicle that William did AFFOREST a considerable tract of land in Hampshire; he set it apart for the purposes of hunting; he fenced it in by special and cruel laws--stopping indeed short of death--for the protection of his pleasures, and in this process some men lost their lands, and were driven from their homes. Some destruction of houses is here implied; some destruction of churches is not unlikely. The popular belief, which hardly differs from the account of writers one degree later than Domesday and the Chronicle, simply exaggerates the extent of destruction. There was no such wide-spread laying waste as is often supposed, because no such wide-spread laying waste was needed. But whatever was needed for William's purpose was done; and Domesday gives us the record. And the act surely makes, like the death of Waltheof, a downward stage in William's character. The harrying of Northumberland was in itself a far greater crime, and involved far more of human wretchedness. But it is not remembered in the same way, because it has left no such abiding memorial. But here again the lesser crime needed a worse man to do it. The harrying of Northumberland was a crime done with a political object; it was the extreme form of military severity; it was not vulgar robbery done with no higher motive than to secure the fuller enjoyment of a brutal sport. To this level William had now sunk. It was in truth now that hunting in England finally took the character of a mere sport. Hunting was no new thing; in an early state of society it is often a necessary thing. The hunting of Alfred is spoken of as a grave matter of business, as part of his kingly duty. He had to make war on the wild beasts, as he had to make war on the Danes. The hunting of William is simply a sport, not his duty or his business, but merely his pleasure. And to this pleasure, the pleasure of inflicting pain and slaughter, he did not scruple to sacrifice the rights of other men, and to guard his enjoyment by ruthless laws at which even in that rough age men shuddered.
For this crime the men of his day saw the punishment in the strange and frightful deaths of his offspring, two sons and a grandson, on the scene of his crime. One of these himself he saw, the death of his second son Richard, a youth of great promise, whose prolonged life might have saved England from the rule of William Rufus. He died in the Forest, about the year 1081, to the deep grief of his parents. And Domesday contains a touching entry, how William gave back his land to a despoiled Englishman as an offering for Richard's soul.
The forfeiture of three earls, the death of one, threw their honours and estates into the King's hands. Another fresh source of wealth came by the death of the Lady Edith, who had kept her royal rank and her great estates, and who died while the proceedings against Waltheof were going on. It was not now so important for William as it had been in the first years of the Conquest to reward his followers; he could now think of the royal hoard in the first place. Of the estates which now fell in to the Crown large parts were granted out. The house of Bigod, afterwards so renowned as Earls of Norfolk, owe their rise to their forefather's share in the forfeited lands of Earl Ralph. But William kept the greater part to himself; one lordship in Somerset, part of the lands of the Lady, he gave to the church of Saint Peter at Rome. Of the three earldoms, those of Hereford and East-Anglia were not filled up; the later earldoms of those lands have no connexion with the earls of William's day. Waltheof's southern earldoms of Northampton and Huntingdon became the dowry of his daughter Matilda; that of Huntingdon passed to his descendants the Kings of Scots. But Northumberland, close on the Scottish border, still needed an earl; but there is something strange in the choice of Bishop Walcher of Durham. It is possible that this appointment was a concession to English feeling stirred to wrath at the death of Waltheof. The days of English earls were over, and a Norman would have been looked on as Waltheof's murderer. The Lotharingian bishop was a stranger; but he was not a Norman, and he was no oppressor of Englishmen. But he was strangely unfit for the place. Not a fighting bishop like Ode and Geoffrey, he was chiefly devoted to spiritual affairs, specially to the revival of the monastic life, which had died out in Northern England since the Danish invasions. But his weak trust in unworthy favourites, English and foreign, led him to a fearful and memorable end. The Bishop was on terms of close friendship with Ligulf, an Englishman of the highest birth and uncle by marriage to Earl Waltheof. He had kept his estates; but the insolence of his Norman neighbours had caused him to come and live in the city of Durham near his friend the Bishop. His favour with Walcher roused the envy of some of the Bishop's favourites, who presently contrived his death. The Bishop lamented, and rebuked them; but he failed to "do justice," to punish the offenders sternly and speedily. He was therefore believed to be himself guilty of Ligulf's death. One of the most striking and instructive events of the time followed. On May 14, 1080, a full Gemot of the earldom was held at Gateshead to deal with the murder of Ligulf. This was one of those rare occasions when a strong feeling led every man to the assembly. The local Parliament took its ancient shape of an armed crowd, headed by the noblest Englishmen left in the earldom. There was no vote, no debate; the shout was "Short rede good rede, slay ye the Bishop." And to that cry, Walcher himself and his companions, the murderers of Ligulf among them, were slaughtered by the raging multitude who had gathered to avenge him.
The riot in which Walcher died was no real revolt against William's government. Such a local rising against a local wrong might have happened in the like case under Edward or Harold. No government could leave such a deed unpunished; but William's own ideas of justice would have been fully satisfied by the blinding or mutilation of a few ringleaders. But William was in Normandy in the midst of domestic and political cares. He sent his brother Ode to restore order, and his vengeance was frightful. The land was harried; innocent men were mutilated and put to death; others saved their lives by bribes. Earl after earl was set over a land so hard to rule. A certain Alberie was appointed, but he was removed as unfit. The fierce Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances tried his hand and resigned. At the time of William's death the earldom was held by Geoffrey's nephew Robert of Mowbray, a stern and gloomy stranger, but whom Englishmen reckoned among "good men," when he guarded the marches of England against the Scot.
After the death of Waltheof William seems to have stayed in Normandy for several years. His ill luck now began. Before the year 1076 was out, he entered, we know not why, on a Breton campaign. But he was driven from Dol by the combined forces of Britanny and France; Philip was ready to help any enemy of William. The Conqueror had now for the first time suffered defeat in his own person. He made peace with both enemies, promising his daughter Constance to Alan of Britanny. But the marriage did not follow till ten years later. The peace with France, as the English Chronicle says, "held little while;" Philip could not resist the temptation of helping William's eldest son Robert when the reckless young man rebelled against his father. With most of the qualities of an accomplished knight, Robert had few of those which make either a wise ruler or an honest man. A brave soldier, even a skilful captain, he was no general; ready of speech and free of hand, he was lavish rather than bountiful. He did not lack generous and noble feelings; but of a steady course, even in evil, he was incapable. As a ruler, he was no oppressor in his own person; but sloth, carelessness, love of pleasure, incapacity to say No, failure to do justice, caused more wretchedness than the oppression of those tyrants who hinder the oppressions of others. William would not set such an one over any part of his dominions before his time, and it was his policy to keep his children dependent on him. While he enriched his brothers, he did not give the smallest scrap of the spoils of England to his sons. But Robert deemed that he had a right to something greater than private estates. The nobles of Normandy had done homage to him as William's successor; he had done homage to Fulk for Maine, as if he were himself its count. He was now stirred up by evil companions to demand that, if his father would not give him part of his kingdom--the spirit of Edwin and Morkere had crossed the sea--he would at least give him Normandy and Maine. William refused with many pithy sayings. It was not his manner to take off his clothes till he went to bed. Robert now, with a band of discontented young nobles, plunged into border warfare against his father. He then wandered over a large part of Europe, begging and receiving money and squandering all that he got. His mother too sent him money, which led to the first quarrel between William and Matilda after so many years of faithful union. William rebuked his wife for helping his enemy in breach of his orders: she pleaded the mother's love for her first-born. The mother was forgiven, but her messenger, sentenced to loss of eyes, found shelter in a monastery.
At last in 1079 Philip gave Robert a settled dwelling-place in the border-fortress of Gerberoi. The strife between father and son became dangerous. William besieged the castle, to undergo before its walls his second defeat, to receive his first wound, and that at the hands of his own son. Pierced in the hand by the lance of Robert, his horse smitten by an arrow, the Conqueror fell to the ground, and was saved only by an Englishman, Tokig, son of Wiggod of Wallingford, who gave his life for his king. It seems an early softening of the tale which says that Robert dismounted and craved his father's pardon; it seems a later hardening which says that William pronounced a curse on his son. William Rufus too, known as yet only as the dutiful son of his father, was wounded in his defence. The blow was not only grievous to William's feelings as a father; it was a serious military defeat. The two wounded Williams and the rest of the besiegers escaped how they might, and the siege of Gerberoi was raised.
We next find the wise men of Normandy debating how to make peace between father and son. In the course of the year 1080 a peace was patched up, and a more honourable sphere was found for Robert's energies in an expedition into Scotland. In the autumn of the year of Gerberoi Malcolm had made another wasting inroad into Northumberland. With the King absent and Northumberland in confusion through the death of Walcher, this wrong went unavenged till the autumn of 1080. Robert gained no special glory in Scotland; a second quarrel with his father followed, and Robert remained a banished man during the last seven years of William's
In this same year 1080 a synod of the Norman Church was held, the Truce of God again renewed which we heard of years ago. The forms of outrage on which the Truce was meant to put a cheek, and which the strong hand of William had put down more thoroughly than the Truce would do, had clearly begun again during the confusions caused by the rebellion of Robert.
The two next years, 1081-1082, William was in England. His home sorrows were now pressing heavily on him. His eldest son was a rebel and an exile; about this time his second son died in the New Forest; according to one version, his daughter, the betrothed of Edwin, who had never forgotten her English lover, was now promised to the Spanish King Alfonso, and died--in answer to her own prayers- -before the marriage was celebrated. And now the partner of William's life was taken from him four years after his one difference with her. On November 3, 1083, Matilda died after a long sickness, to her husband's lasting grief. She was buried in her own church at Caen, and churches in England received gifts from William on behalf of her soul.
The mourner had soon again to play the warrior. Nearly the whole of William's few remaining years were spent in a struggle which in earlier times he would surely have ended in a day. Maine, city and county, did not call for a third conquest; but a single baron of Maine defied William's power, and a single castle of Maine held out against him for three years. Hubert, Viscount of Beaumont and Fresnay, revolted on some slight quarrel. The siege of his castle of Sainte-Susanne went on from the death of Matilda till the last year but one of William's reign. The tale is full of picturesque detail; but William had little personal share in it. The best captains of Normandy tried their strength in vain against this one donjon on its rock. William at last made peace with the subject who was too strong for him. Hubert came to England and received the King's pardon. Practically the pardon was the other way.
Thus for the last eleven years of his life William ceased to be the Conqueror. Engaged only in small enterprises, he was unsuccessful in all. One last success was indeed in store for him; but that was to be purchased with his own life. As he turned away in defeat from this castle and that, as he felt the full bitterness of domestic sorrow, he may have thought, as others thought for him, that the curse of Waltheof, the curse of the New Forest, was ever tracking his steps. If so, his crimes were done in England, and their vengeance came in Normandy. In England there was no further room for his mission as Conqueror; he had no longer foes to overcome. He had an act of justice to do, and he did it. He had his kingdom to guard, and he guarded it. He had to take the great step which should make his kingdom one for ever; and he had, perhaps without fully knowing what he did, to bid the picture of his reign be painted for all time as no reign before or after has been painted.
Chapter XI. The Last Years of William: 1081-1087
Of two events of these last years of the Conqueror's reign, events of very different degrees of importance, we have already spoken. The Welsh expedition of William was the only recorded fighting on British ground, and that lay without the bounds of the kingdom of England. William now made Normandy his chief dwelling-place, but he was constantly called over to England. The Welsh campaign proves his presence in England in 1081; he was again in England in 1082, but he went back to Normandy between the two visits. The visit of 1082 was a memorable one; there is no more characteristic act of the Conqueror than the deed which marks it. The cruelty and insolence of his brother Ode, whom he had trusted so much more than he deserved, had passed all bounds. In avenging the death of Walcher he had done deeds such as William never did himself or allowed any other man to do. And now, beguiled by a soothsayer who said that one of his name should be the next Pope, he dreamed of succeeding to the throne of Gregory the Seventh. He made all kinds of preparations to secure his succession, and he was at last about to set forth for Italy at the head of something like an army. His schemes were by no means to the liking of his brother. William came suddenly over from Normandy, and met Ode in the Isle of Wight. There the King got together as many as he could of the great men of the realm. Before them he arraigned Ode for all his crimes. He had left him as the lieutenant of his kingdom, and he had shown himself the common oppressor of every class of men in the realm. Last of all, he had beguiled the warriors who were needed for the defence of England against the Danes and Irish to follow him on his wild schemes in Italy. How was he to deal with such a brother, William asked of his wise men.
He had to answer himself; no other man dared to speak. William then gave his judgement. The common enemy of the whole realm should not be spared because he was the King's brother. He should be seized and put in ward. As none dared to seize him, the King seized him with his own hands. And now, for the first time in England, we hear words which were often heard again. The bishop stained with blood and sacrilege appealed to the privileges of his order. He was a clerk, a bishop; no man might judge him but the Pope. William, taught, so men said, by Lanfranc, had his answer ready. "I do not seize a clerk or a bishop; I seize my earl whom I set over my kingdom." So the Earl of Kent was carried off to a prison in Normandy, and Pope Gregory himself pleaded in vain for the release of the Bishop of Bayeux.
The mind of William was just now mainly given to the affairs of his island kingdom. In the winter of 1083 he hastened from the death- bed of his wife to the siege of Sainte-Susanne, and thence to the Midwinter Gemot in England. The chief object of the assembly was the specially distasteful one of laying on of a tax. In the course of the next year, six shillings was levied on every hide of land to meet a pressing need. The powers of the North were again threatening; the danger, if it was danger, was greater than when Waltheof smote the Normans in the gate at York. Swegen and his successor Harold were dead. Cnut the Saint reigned in Denmark, the son-in-law of Robert of Flanders. This alliance with William's enemy joined with his remembrance of his own two failures to stir up the Danish king to a yearning for some exploit in England. English exiles were still found to urge him to the enterprise. William's conquest had scattered banished or discontented Englishmen over all Europe. Many had made their way to the Eastern Rome; they had joined the Warangian guard, the surest support of the Imperial throne, and at Dyrrhachion, as on Senlac, the axe of England had met the lance of Normandy in battle. Others had fled to the North; they prayed Cnut to avenge the death of his kinsman Harold and to deliver England from the yoke of men--so an English writer living in Denmark spoke of them--of Roman speech. Thus the Greek at one end of Europe, the Norman at the other, still kept on the name of Rome. The fleet of Denmark was joined by the fleet of Flanders; a smaller contingent was promised by the devout and peaceful Olaf of Norway, who himself felt no call to take a share in the work of war.
Against this danger William strengthened himself by the help of the tax that he had just levied. He could hardly have dreamed of defending England against Danish invaders by English weapons only. But he thought as little of trusting the work to his own Normans. With the money of England he hired a host of mercenaries, horse and foot, from France and Britanny, even from Maine where Hubert was still defying him at Sainte-Susanne. He gathered this force on the mainland, and came back at its head, a force such as England had never before seen; men wondered how the land might feed them all. The King's men, French and English, had to feed them, each man according to the amount of his land. And now William did what Harold had refused to do; he laid waste the whole coast that lay open to attack from Denmark and Flanders. But no Danes, no Flemings, came. Disputes arose between Cnut and his brother Olaf, and the great enterprise came to nothing. William kept part of his mercenaries in England, and part he sent to their homes. Cnut was murdered in a church by his own subjects, and was canonized as
SANCTUS CANUTUS by a Pope who could not speak the Scandinavian name.
Meanwhile, at the Midwinter Gemot of 1085-1086, held in due form at Gloucester, William did one of his greatest acts. "The King had mickle thought and sooth deep speech with his Witan about his land, how it were set and with whilk men." In that "deep speech," so called in our own tongue, lurks a name well known and dear to every Englishman. The result of that famous parliament is set forth at length by the Chronicler. The King sent his men into each shire, men who did indeed set down in their writ how the land was set and of what men. In that writ we have a record in the Roman tongue no less precious than the Chronicles in our own. For that writ became the Book of Winchester, the book to which our fathers gave the name of Domesday, the book of judgement that spared no man.
The Great Survey was made in the course of the first seven months of the year 1086. Commissioners were sent into every shire, who inquired by the oaths of the men of the hundreds by whom the land had been held in King Edward's days and what it was worth then, by whom it was held at the time of the survey and what it was worth then; and lastly, whether its worth could be raised. Nothing was to be left out. "So sooth narrowly did he let spear it out, that there was not a hide or a yard of land, nor further--it is shame to tell, and it thought him no shame to do--an ox nor a cow nor a swine was left that was not set in his writ." This kind of searching inquiry, never liked at any time, would be specially grievous then. The taking of the survey led to disturbances in many places, in which not a few lives were lost. While the work was going on, William went to and fro till he knew thoroughly how this land was set and of what men. He had now a list of all men, French and English, who held land in his kingdom. And it was not enough to have their names in a writ; he would see them face to face. On the making of the survey followed that great assembly, that great work of legislation, which was the crown of William's life as a ruler and lawgiver of England. The usual assemblies of the year had been held at Winchester and Westminster. An extraordinary assembly was held in the plain of Salisbury on the first day of August. The work of that assembly has been already spoken of. It was now that all the owners of land in the kingdom became the men of the King; it was now that England became one, with no fear of being again parted asunder.
The close connexion between the Great Survey and the law and the oath of Salisbury is plain. It was a great matter for the King to get in the gold certainly and, we may add, fairly. William would deal with no man otherwise than according to law as he understood the law. But he sought for more than this. He would not only know what this land could be made to pay; he would know the state of his kingdom in every detail; he would know its military strength; he would know whether his own will, in the long process of taking from this man and giving to that, had been really carried out. Domesday is before all things a record of the great confiscation, a record of that gradual change by which, in less than twenty years, the greater part of the land of England had been transferred from native to foreign owners. And nothing shows like Domesday in what a formally legal fashion that transfer was carried out. What were the principles on which it was carried out, we have already seen. All private property in land came only from the grant of King William. It had all passed into his hands by lawful forfeiture; he might keep it himself; he might give it back to its old owner or grant it to a new one. So it was at the general redemption of lands; so it was whenever fresh conquests or fresh revolts threw fresh lands into the King's hands. The principle is so thoroughly taken for granted, that we are a little startled to find it incidentally set forth in so many words in a case of no special importance. A priest named Robert held a single yardland in alms of the King; he became a monk in the monastery of Stow-in-Lindesey, and his yardland became the property of the house. One hardly sees why this case should have been picked out for a solemn declaration of the general law. Yet, as "the day on which the English redeemed their lands" is spoken of only casually in the case of a particular estate, so the principle that no man could hold lands except by the King's grant ("Non licet terram alicui habere nisi regis concessu") is brought in only to illustrate the wrongful dealing of Robert and the monks of Stow in the case of a very small holding indeed.
All this is a vast system of legal fictions; for William's whole position, the whole scheme of his government, rested on a system of legal fictions. Domesday is full of them; one might almost say that there is nothing else there. A very attentive study of Domesday might bring out the fact that William was a foreign conqueror, and that the book itself was a record of the process by which he took the lands of the natives who had fought against him to reward the strangers who had fought for him. But nothing of this kind appears on the surface of the record. The great facts of the Conquest are put out of sight. William is taken for granted, not only as the lawful king, but as the immediate successor of Edward. The "time of King Edward" and the "time of King William" are the two times that the law knows of. The compilers of the record are put to some curious shifts to describe the time between "the day when King Edward was alive and dead" and the day "when King William came into England." That coming might have been as peaceful as the coming of James the First or George the First. The two great battles are more than once referred to, but only casually in the mention of particular persons. A very sharp critic might guess that one of them had something to do with King William's coming into England; but that is all. Harold appears only as Earl; it is only in two or three places that we hear of a "time of Harold," and even of Harold "seizing the kingdom" and "reigning." These two or three places stand out in such contrast to the general language of the record that we are led to think that the scribe must have copied some earlier record or taken down the words of some witness, and must have forgotten to translate them into more loyal formulae. So in recording who held the land in King Edward's day and who in King William's, there is nothing to show that in so many cases the holder under Edward had been turned out to make room for the holder under William. The former holder is marked by the perfectly colourless word "ancestor" ("antecessor"), a word as yet meaning, not "forefather," but "predecessor" of any kind. In Domesday the word is most commonly an euphemism for "dispossessed Englishman." It is a still more distinct euphemism where the Norman holder is in more than one place called the "heir" of the dispossessed Englishmen.
The formulae of Domesday are the most speaking witness to the spirit of outward legality which ruled every act of William. In this way they are wonderfully instructive; but from the formulae alone no one could ever make the real facts of William's coming and reign. It is the incidental notices which make us more at home in the local and personal life of this reign than of any reign before or for a long time after. The Commissioners had to report whether the King's will had been everywhere carried out, whether every man, great and small, French and English, had what the King meant him to have, neither more nor less. And they had often to report a state of things different from what the King had meant to be. Many men had not all that King William had meant them to have, and many others had much more. Normans had taken both from Englishmen and from other Normans. Englishmen had taken from Englishmen; some had taken from ecclesiastical bodies; some had taken from King William himself; nay King William himself holds lands which he ought to give up to another man. This last entry at least shows that William was fully ready to do right, according to his notions of right. So also the King's two brothers are set down among the chief offenders. Of these unlawful holdings of land, marked in the technical language of the Survey as INVASIONES and OCCUPATIONES, many were doubtless real cases of violent seizure, without excuse even according to William's reading of the law. But this does not always follow, even when the language of the Survey would seem to imply it. Words implying violence, PER VIM and the like, are used in the legal language of all ages, where no force has been used, merely to mark a possession as illegal. We are startled at finding the Apostle Paul set down as one of the offenders; but the words "sanctus Paulus invasit" mean no more than that the canons of Saint Paul's church in London held lands to which the Commissioners held that they had no good title. It is these cases where one man held land which another claimed that gave opportunity for those personal details, stories, notices of tenures and customs, which make Domesday the most precious store of knowledge of the time.
One fruitful and instructive source of dispute comes from the way in which the lands in this or that district were commonly granted out. The in-comer, commonly a foreigner, received all the lands which such and such a man, commonly a dispossessed Englishman, held in that shire or district. The grantee stepped exactly into the place of the ANTECESSOR; he inherited all his rights and all his burthens. He inherited therewith any disputes as to the extent of the lands of the ANTECESSOR or as to the nature of his tenure. And new disputes arose in the process of transfer. One common source of dispute was when the former owner, besides lands which were strictly his own, held lands on lease, subject to a reversionary interest on the part of the Crown or the Church. The lease or sale--EMERE is the usual word--of Church lands for three lives to return to the Church at the end of the third life was very common. If the ANTECESSOR was himself the third life, the grantee, his HEIR, had no claim to the land; and in any case he could take in only with all its existing liabilities. But the grantee often took possession of the whole of the land held by the ANTECESSOR, as if it were all alike his own. A crowd of complaints followed from all manner of injured persons and bodies, great and small, French and English, lay and clerical. The Commissioners seem to have fairly heard all, and to have fairly reported all for the King to judge of. It is their care to do right to all men which has given us such strange glimpses of the inner life of an age which had none like it before or after.
The general Survey followed by the general homage might seem to mark William's work in England, his work as an English statesman, as done. He could hardly have had time to redress the many cases of wrong which the Survey laid before him; but he was able to wring yet another tax out of the nation according to his new and more certain register. He then, for the last time, crossed to Normandy with his new hoard. The Chronicler and other writers of the time dwell on the physical portents of these two years, the storms, the fires, the plagues, the sharp hunger, the deaths of famous men on both sides of the sea. Of the year 1087, the last year of the Conqueror, it needs the full strength of our ancient tongue to set forth the signs and wonders. The King had left England safe, peaceful, thoroughly bowed down under the yoke, cursing the ruler who taxed her and granted away her lands, yet half blessing him for the "good frith" that he made against the murderer, the robber, and the ravisher. But the land that he had won was neither to see his end nor to shelter his dust. One last gleam of success was, after so many reverses, to crown his arms; but it was success which was indeed unworthy of the Conqueror who had entered Exeter and Le Mans in peaceful triumph. And the death-blow was now to come to him who, after so many years of warfare, stooped at last for the first time to cruel and petty havoc without an object.
The border-land of France and Normandy, the French Vexin, the land of which Mantes is the capital, had always been disputed between kingdom and duchy. Border wars had been common; just at this time the inroads of the French commanders at Mantes are said to have been specially destructive. William not only demanded redress from the King, but called for the surrender of the whole Vexin. What followed is a familiar story. Philip makes a foolish jest on the bodily state of his great rival, unable just then to carry out his threats. "The King of the English lies in at Rouen; there will be a great show of candles at his churching." As at Alencon in his youth, so now, William, who could pass by real injuries, was stung to the uttermost by personal mockery. By the splendour of God, when he rose up again, he would light a hundred thousand candles at Philip's cost. He kept his word at the cost of Philip's subjects. The ballads of the day told how he went forth and gathered the fruits of autumn in the fields and orchards and vineyards of the enemy. But he did more than gather fruits; the candles of his churching were indeed lighted in the burning streets of Mantes. The picture of William the Great directing in person mere brutal havoc like this is strange even after the harrying of Northumberland and the making of the New Forest. Riding to and fro among the flames, bidding his men with glee to heap on the fuel, gladdened at the sight of burning houses and churches, a false step of his horse gave him his death-blow. Carried to Rouen, to the priory of Saint Gervase near the city, he lingered from August 15 to September 7, and then the reign and life of the Conqueror came to an end. Forsaken by his children, his body stripped and well nigh forgotten, the loyalty of one honest knight, Herlwin of Conteville, bears his body to his grave in his own church at Caen. His very grave is disputed--a dispossessed ANTECESSOR claims the ground as his own, and the dead body of the Conqueror has to wait while its last resting-place is bought with money. Into that resting-place force alone can thrust his bulky frame, and the rites of his burial are as wildly cut short as were the rites of his crowning. With much striving he had at last won his seven feet of ground; but he was not to keep it for ever. Religious warfare broke down his tomb and scattered his bones, save one treasured relic. Civil revolution swept away the one remaining fragment. And now, while we seek in vain beneath the open sky for the rifled tombs of Harold and of Waltheof, a stone beneath the vault of Saint Stephen's still tells us where the bones of William once lay but where they lie no longer.
There is no need to doubt the striking details of the death and burial of the Conqueror. We shrink from giving the same trust to the long tale of penitence which is put into the mouth of the dying King. He may, in that awful hour, have seen the wrong-doing of the last one-and-twenty years of his life; he hardly threw his repentance into the shape of a detailed autobiographical confession. But the more authentic sayings and doings of William's death-bed enable us to follow his course as an English statesman almost to his last moments. His end was one of devotion, of prayers and almsgiving, and of opening of the prison to them that were bound. All save one of his political prisoners, English and Norman, he willingly set free. Morkere and his companions from Ely, Walfnoth son of Godwine, hostage for Harold's faith, Wulf son of Harold and Ealdgyth, taken, we can hardly doubt, as a babe when Chester opened its gates to William, were all set free; some indeed were put in bonds again by the King's successor. But Ode William would not set free; he knew too well how many would suffer if he were again let loose upon the world. But love of kindred was still strong; at last he yielded, sorely against his will, to the prayers and pledges of his other brother. Ode went forth from his prison, again Bishop of Bayeux, soon again to be Earl of Kent, and soon to prove William's foresight by his deeds.
William's disposal of his dominions on his death-bed carries on his political history almost to his last breath. Robert, the banished rebel, might seem to have forfeited all claims to the succession. But the doctrine of hereditary right had strengthened during the sixty years of William's life. He is made to say that, though he foresees the wretchedness of any land over which Robert should be the ruler, still he cannot keep him out of the duchy of Normandy which is his birthright. Of England he will not dare to dispose; he leaves the decision to God, seemingly to Archbishop Lanfranc as the vicar of God. He will only say that his wish is for his son William to succeed him in his kingdom, and he prays Lanfranc to crown him king, if he deem such a course to be right. Such a message was a virtual nomination, and William the Red succeeded his father in England, but kept his crown only by the help of loyal Englishmen against Norman rebels. William Rufus, it must be remembered, still under the tutelage of his father and Lanfranc, had not yet shown his bad qualities; he was known as yet only as the dutiful son who fought for his father against the rebel Robert. By ancient English law, that strong preference which was all that any man could claim of right belonged beyond doubt to the youngest of William's sons, the English AEtheling Henry. He alone was born in the land; he alone was the son of a crowned King and his Lady. It is perhaps with a knowledge of what followed that William is made to bid his youngest son wait while his eldest go before him; that he left him landless, but master of a hoard of silver, there is no reason to doubt. English feeling, which welcomed Henry thirteen years later, would doubtless have gladly seen his immediate accession; but it might have been hard, in dividing William's dominions, to have shut out the second son in favour of the third. And in the scheme of events by which conquered England was to rise again, the reign of Rufus, at the moment the darkest time of all, had its appointed share.
That England could rise again, that she could rise with a new life, strengthened by her momentary overthrow, was before all things owing to the lucky destiny which, if she was to be conquered, gave her William the Great as her Conqueror. It is as it is in all human affairs. William himself could not have done all that he did, wittingly and unwittingly, unless circumstances had been favourable to him; but favourable circumstances would have been useless, unless there had been a man like William to take advantage of them. What he did, wittingly or unwittingly, he did by virtue of his special position, the position of a foreign conqueror veiling his conquest under a legal claim. The hour and the man were alike needed. The man in his own hour wrought a work, partly conscious, partly unconscious. The more clearly any man understands his conscious work, the more sure is that conscious work to lead to further results of which he dreams not. So it was with the Conqueror of England. His purpose was to win and to keep the kingdom of England, and to hand it on to those who should come after him more firmly united than it had ever been before. In this work his spirit of formal legality, his shrinking from needless change, stood him in good stead. He saw that as the kingdom of England could best be won by putting forth a legal claim to it, so it could best be kept by putting on the character of a legal ruler, and reigning as the successor of the old kings seeking the unity of the kingdom; he saw, from the example both of England and of other lands, the dangers which threatened that unity; he saw what measures were needed to preserve it in his own day, measures which have preserved it ever since. Here is a work, a conscious work, which entitles the foreign Conqueror to a place among English statesmen, and to a place in their highest rank. Further than this we cannot conceive William himself to have looked. All that was to come of his work in future ages was of necessity hidden from his eyes, no less than from the eyes of smaller men. He had assuredly no formal purpose to make England Norman; but still less had he any thought that the final outcome of his work would make England on one side more truly English than if he had never crossed the sea. In his ecclesiastical work he saw the future still less clearly. He designed to reform what he deemed abuses, to bring the English Church into closer conformity with the other Churches of the West; he assuredly never dreamed that the issue of his reform would be the strife between Henry and Thomas and the humiliation of John. His error was that of forgetting that he himself could wield powers, that he could hold forces in check, which would be too strong for those who should come after him. At his purposes with regard to the relations of England and Normandy it would be vain to guess. The mere leaving of kingdom and duchy to different sons would not necessarily imply that he designed a complete or lasting separation. But assuredly William did not foresee that England, dragged into wars with France as the ally of Normandy, would remain the lasting rival of France after Normandy had been swallowed up in the French kingdom. If rivalry between England and France had not come in this way, it would doubtless have come in some other way; but this is the way in which it did come about. As a result of the union of Normandy and England under one ruler, it was part of William's work, but a work of which William had no thought. So it was with the increased connexion of every kind between England and the continent of Europe which followed on William's coming. With one part of Europe indeed the connexion of England was lessened. For three centuries before William's coming, dealings in war and peace with the Scandinavian kingdoms had made up a large part of English history. Since the baffled enterprise of the holy Cnut, our dealings with that part of Europe have been of only secondary account.
But in our view of William as an English statesman, the main feature of all is that spirit of formal legality of which we have so often spoken. Its direct effects, partly designed, partly undesigned, have affected our whole history to this day. It was his policy to disguise the fact of conquest, to cause all the spoils of conquest to be held, in outward form, according to the ancient law of England. The fiction became a fact, and the fact greatly helped in the process of fusion between Normans and English. The conquering race could not keep itself distinct from the conquered, and the form which the fusion took was for the conquerors to be lost in the greater mass of the conquered. William founded no new state, no new nation, no new constitution; he simply kept what he found, with such modifications as his position made needful. But without any formal change in the nature of English kingship, his position enabled him to clothe the crown with a practical power such as it had never held before, to make his rule, in short, a virtual despotism. These two facts determined the later course of English history, and they determined it to the lasting good of the English nation. The conservative instincts of William allowed our national life and our national institutions to live on unbroken through his conquest. But it was before all things the despotism of William, his despotism under legal forms, which preserved our national institutions to all time. As a less discerning conqueror might have swept our ancient laws and liberties away, so under a series of native kings those laws and liberties might have died out, as they died out in so many continental lands. But the despotism of the crown called forth the national spirit in a conscious and antagonistic shape; it called forth that spirit in men of both races alike, and made Normans and English one people. The old institutions lived on, to be clothed with a fresh life, to be modified as changed circumstances might make needful. The despotism of the Norman kings, the peculiar character of that despotism, enabled the great revolution of the thirteenth century to take the forms, which it took, at once conservative and progressive. So it was when, more than four centuries after William's day, England again saw a despotism carried on under the forms of law. Henry the Eighth reigned as William had reigned; he did not reign like his brother despots on the continent; the forms of law and freedom lived on. In the seventeenth century therefore, as in the thirteenth, the forms stood ready to be again clothed with a new life, to supply the means for another revolution, again at once conservative and progressive. It has been remarked a thousand times that, while other nations have been driven to destroy and to rebuild the political fabric, in England we have never had to destroy and to rebuild, but have found it enough to repair, to enlarge, and to improve. This characteristic of English history is mainly owing to the events of the eleventh century, and owing above all to the personal agency of William. As far as mortal man can guide the course of things when he is gone, the course of our national history since William's day has been the result of William's character and of William's acts. Well may we restore to him the surname that men gave him in his own day. He may worthily take his place as William the Great alongside of Alexander, Constantine, and Charles. They may have wrought in some sort a greater work, because they had a wider stage to work it on. But no man ever wrought a greater and more abiding work on the stage that fortune gave him than he
"Qui dux Normannis, qui Caesar praefuit Anglis."
Stranger and conqueror, his deeds won him a right to a place on the roll of English statesmen, and no man that came after him has won a right to a higher place.