Everybody knows that William II, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, defeated Harold near Hastings, and established himself on the throne of this kingdom. Most persons of ordinary education are cognizant of many other facts connected with his history and that of his Queen Matilda: — the unauthenticated tale of his courtship; the conspiracies against him both in Normandy and England; the revolt of his son Robert; the compilation of Domesday; the fatal injury at Mantes; his death, and the disgraceful scenes which followed it. Hume and Henry, Turner and Lingard, one or all of our national historians are to be found on the shelves of every English gentleman's library. I am not going to fight the battle over again, nor repeat the often told story of the Conquest and its consequences. It is a personal and domestic, not a general or political, history I am writing, and the great public events of the reign of William the Conqueror will be only alluded to in support or contradiction of statements which are disputable, or when newly discovered or hitherto neglected details can add to their interest or contribute to their illustration.
There are two recently published works which it may be thought have anticipated to a great degree the observations I am about to make respecting the Conqueror: Mr. Cobbe's "History of the Norman Kings of England," [History of the Norman Kings of England, by Thomas Cobbe, Barrister-at-Law. 8vo. Lond. 1869] and Mr. Freeman's "History of the Norman Conquest." ["History of the Norman Conquest, by Edward A. Freeman, M.A. 4 vols. 8vo. London, 1870. The same observations may apply to the late Sir F. Palgrave's still earlier "History of Normandy and England," published in 1864, an unfinished work, as fanciful as it is fascinating.] Over a portion of the ground of both I shall naturally have to go; but there are only five chapters of the first which bear slightly upon my subject, and the four massive volumes already issued of the latter, valuable as they must undoubtedly prove to the historical student as an exhaustive collection and minute examination of the principal contemporary authorities, have nothing in common with my less pretentious pages beyond the obvious fact of being indebted to the same sources of information.
While, as I have already remarked, the name and fame of William the Conqueror are familiar to all, our national historians are uncertain of the date of his birth; divided in opinion as to the social position of his mother and her parents; at issue respecting the name of her father and the period of her marriage; puzzled by the story of William's courtship of Matilda, which the most incredulous cannot furnish fair evidence of being purely apocryphal; equally unable to prove or disprove the previous marriage of Matilda and the parentage of the mysterious Gundrada; and totally ignorant of the order of birth of the undoubted children of William, and even of the exact names and number of the female portion of them. Strange as this may appear to many of my readers, such is nevertheless the case, as I found on examination of the materials requisite for the compilation of this memoir.
William "the Great," "the Elder," "the Bastard," or "the Conqueror," undoubtedly died in September, 1087, and according to a contemporary historian [Ordericus Vitalis] he was at that period close upon sixty, in which case he must have been born in 1027 or 1028; but by the same historian he is made to assert upon his death-bed that he was sixty-four, which would place the date of his birth in 1023 or 1024, and there are not wanting authorities to corroborate his own — if it be his own — statement, as I shall show to all whom it may concern in the following chapter, it being undesirable to enter into dry discussions of dates in the body of the memoir.
His father was Robert I, Duke of Normandy, styled by some "the Magnificent," from his liberalities and love of splendour; "the Jerusalemite," in consequence of his pilgrimage; and by others less courteously "the Devil," though wherefore or at what period has not been satisfactorily ascertained. From a passage in "L'Estoire de Seint Ædward le Rei," it would appear there was a tradition in the family of Rollo, of one of his descendants (Richard I?) having beaten and bound his Satanic majesty,
"E Duc Richard de'apres li vint,
Ki li diable ateint e tint
E le venqait e le lia."
Robert was the second son of Richard II, Duke of Normandy, by his wife Judith, daughter of Conan le Tort (the Crooked), Count of Rennes, and sister of the half blood to Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany; and it was during the lifetime of his father, and while Robert was only Count of the Hiemois, and it may be in his nonage that he first saw Herleve, Harlett, or Arlot (for it is written in all manner of ways), daughter of a burgess of Falaise, an accident the results of which were the subjugation of England and the succession of a line of kings unsurpassed for valour and power by the greatest sovereigns in Europe.
"The trade of Herleve's father," says the most recent writer on the subject, "seems to be agreed on at all hands. He was a burgess of Falaise, and a tanner." [Freeman; History of the Norman Conquest, vol. ii. p. 61I]
Why particularly a tanner, I am at a loss to discover. By the Norman chroniclers he is called in Latin Pelletarius and Pelleciarius [Guill. de Jumièges, "Parentes matris ejus, pelliciarii existiterant" whence the modern word pelisse, from the French pelice, pelisson] and in French Pelletier and Parmentier , never by any authority Tanneur or Coriarius. Pelletier signifies a furrier, skinner, or fellmonger, and Parmeniier a tailor. [Permentarius seu Parmentarias ex Paramentarius qui vestes parat, id est ornat nostris olim Parmentier qui hodie, tailleur d'habits. Ducange in voce. "Parmentier, or taylor," Cotgrave. One MS. reads "Pantonnier," which is simply an abusive epithet, signifying "a lewd, stubborn, saucy knave." Ibid.] Now the insult offered to William at Alencon, where a skin was hung out and beaten to the cry of "La Pel, la Pel al Parmentier," in allusion to his maternal origin, is more applicable to the trade of a dealer in furs or leather than to a tanner. The vendor of furs must have been of some importance in those days, when garments lined or trimmed with fur were worn by both sexes and all classes; from the princely ermine, the sumptuous sable, the vair and minie-vair of the nobility to the humble budge or lambskin of the citizen or artizan. Leather must also have been in great demand, for not only were leathern jackets and leggings worn by workmen, but archers and the common soldiery were equipped with leathern Jaques; that is, coats made of what is called "jacked leather," and the Anglo-Saxons we find wearing helmets made of the same material. The furrier, skinner, or leather-seller would then, as in the present day, not only sell the materials but the robes, mantles, or vestments, the jaques, or coats of which they were made, or with which they were lined and ornamented, and "Parmentier" (tailor) would be considered probably in the eleventh century a more contemptuous allusion to the maternal descent of the chivalrous young duke than "Pelletier," furrier, or skinner. It is true that at Falaise there were in former times many tanneries, of which only three of importance remained in 1830 (Galeron,"Histoire de Falaise," p. 121); but we learn from Wace that in the eleventh century it was equally well known as the abode of furriers or skinners: "U peletiers aveit asez" (Roman de Rou, l. 9462), and it by no means follows that the father of Herleve should of necessity have been of the former "unsavory calling." There is no reason that a tanner should be less respectable than a furrier, [All authorities do not agree as to the "obloquy" attached to the leather trade insisted on by Sir F. Palgrave. "The tanners, the furriers, the goldsmiths, and the jewellers' arts, so far as they relate to dress, will appear to have been practised with great success by the Normans, and so far as we can judge from record, with as much honour as profit." — Strutt: Dress and Habits of the People of England, vol. i. part 3, cap. I] and the distinction may be thought by some of little consequence, particularly as in the eleventh century the trades might have been combined; but it would be interesting to ascertain the origin of the English designation, which is certainly not justified by either the French or the Latin versions of the story.
And who were the parents of Herleve, whatever may have been their occupation? Here, again, we meet with nothing but contradictions: Fact and Fiction, like the old powers of light and darkness, struggling for mastery. That her father was a burgess of Falaise in some way of trade is incontestable. Sir Francis Palgrave (Hist. of Norm.), upon the authority of Alberic de Troisfontaines, says he was a brewer as well as a tanner, a combination of crafts prohibited in England. But what was his name? By one he is called Fulbert and Robert; by another Richard, with the sobriquet or descriptive appellation of Saburpyr, which has yet to be explained; while a third names him indifferently "Herbert or Verperay." [Ducarel: Ant. Ang.-Norm. Galeron, Histoire de Falaise (1830), p. 81, has "La Fille de Vertprey."] Her mother, as the wife of Richard, is named Helen, and represented as a descendant of the royal Anglo-Saxon family; while, as the wife of Robert, she is said to be one Dodo or Duxia, who came with her liusband from the neighbourhood of Liège and settled at Falaise.
The narrator of this last version also tells us that Count Robert saw the daughter of his provost or bailiff dancing, and fell in love with her, but that the daughter of the tanner was substituted for her. Another story is that it was Herleve herself whom he first saw dancing; and the third version is that Robert, returning from hunting, saw Herleve washing linen in the brook which runs through the dell below the castle; while the tradition popular in the place itself is that he observed her so occupied from a window of the castle, which is still pointed out to the tourist, as well as the very apartment in which William was born, though it is doubtful if any portion whatever of the original structure is in existence, or that he could possibly have discerned her from it in any case. Whether any grains of truth will ever be picked out of this bushel of fable I will not presume to say.
There is nothing improbable in either of the former stories, but as they differ one from another, no dependence can be placed on any one of them. Count Robert, a young, gay, voluptuous prince, would not be many days in Falaise without knowing by sight every girl with any pretension to beauty in his little capital. He is just as likely to have seen Herleve at mass or in the market, in the streets of Falaise, or in the shop of her father, probably his own furrier, for according to certain local documents it would seem that William was born in a house belonging to his grandfather in the old market-place of that town, and that he was baptized in the parish church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. [Langevin: Recherches Historiques sur Falaise, 1814. The site on which the present building stands is described in old documents as "Le manoir du Duc Guillaume." Galeron, Histoire de Falaise, p. 93.] This fact is curiously corroborative of the story told by Wace in the Roman de Rou of the infamous William Talvas, Seigneur of Belesme, who being one day in the streets of Falaise, was accosted by a burgess, and laughingly invited to enter a house (not the castle, observe), in which the infant William was being nursed, and look upon the child of his liege lord, Talvas being a feudatory of the Count. That he did so, and cursed the babe, adding prophetically, "for by thee and by thy descendants great mischief will be worked to me and mine." The grandfather's house being in the market-place strengthens my belief in his calling, as a dealer in furs and skins would be likely to have his shop there; while, if simply a tanner, he would more probably have resided on the banks of the brook in the dell, where the tanneries are at present. All we can tolerably rely on is, that Robert, while only Count of the Hiemois, became enamoured of the daughter of a burgess of Falaise, that he made her his mistress, and had by her two children: William, who succeeded him, and Adelaide, or Adeliza, who eventually married Enguerrand, Count of Ponthieu, and has been an awful stumbling-block in the paths of the genealogists (vide p. 121).
Herleve is said to have been extremely beautiful, and was not yielded to the young Count by her father without considerable reluctance. The proposal, made to him by "a discreet ambassador,'' was received with the greatest indignation; but on consulting, we are told, his brother, who was a holy hermit in the neighbouring forest of Govert or Gouffern, a man of great sanctity,
"Ne fust un suen frere, un seint hom
Qui ont de grand relligion.
Qu'en Govert ont son armitage."
Benoît de Sainte-More.
[Nouvelle Histoire de Normandie, par M. le Baron de la Frenay.]
and who expressed his opinion that nothing could be refused to their liege lord (an acknowledgment of the "droit de seigneur" savouring more of policy than piety), his scruples were overcome, and Herleve was surrendered to the Count, by whom, we are told, she was treated with all affection and respect, as his wife, according to the old Danish custom which still lingered in Normandy, whereby such connections were not regarded in the disreputable light they are at the present day. According to Benoît, the girl was exceedingly proud of her position, insisted on riding to the castle on a palfrey, and refused to enter it by a wicket. "Since the Duke has sent for me, why are his doors closed against me? Throw open the gates, beaux amis !" And her commands were immediately obeyed.
Upon Robert's succession to the dukedom on the death of his elder brother Richard, in 1027, the father of Herleve was appointed his chamberlain, having therefore the care of the robes which he had probably made. Her brother Walter was also attached in some capacity to his person. Their residence in the market-place, we may presume, was now exchanged for an official one, either at Falaise or Rouen, and Herleve and her children were no doubt installed in the ducal apartments. The gossip of the day informs us that William, immediately on being born, was placed on the straw or rushes with which, according to the custom of that period, the chamber was strewn, and clasped a quantity of it so firmly in his arms, that, coupled with the story that Herleve had dreamed — she saw a tree arise from her body, the branches of which spread out till they overshadowed all Normandy — the nurse was induced to exclaim, "What a great lord wilt thou be! Much wilt thou conquer and obtain. Quickly hast thou filled thy hands and thine arms with the first stuff thou couldst lay hold of." "The Duke," adds the same chronicler, "loved the child as much as if he had been born in wedlock, and caused him to be as richly and as nobly cared for." [Benoît de Sainte-More; Roger de Hoveden]
A stronger proof of his affection was soon to be displayed. After Duke Robert had ruled Normandy some seven or eight years, he called together at Fécamp the chief persons in his dominions, announced to them his intention to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and his desire to settle the succession previously to undertaking a perilous journey from which he might never return. His auditors, amongst whom was his uncle Robert, Archbishop of Rouen and Count of Evreux, who had himself pretensions to that succession, strongly opposed his proposition. To leave Normandy under such circumstances would be
ruin to it. The Duke was conjured to remain at home and protect the duchy from the inroads of the Bretons and Burgundians. [If this be true, neither Guy Count of Burgundy nor Alain Count of Brittany could surely have been present, as asserted by writers.] Robert, however, was not to be dissuaded from his purpose. "Seigneurs," he said, "you speak truly. I have no direct heir, but I have a little boy, who, if it please you, shall be your Duke, acting under the advice of the King of France, who will be his protector. He is little, but he will grow. I acknowledge him my son. Receive him and you will do well. It may please God that I shall return. If not, he will have been brought up amongst you. He will do honour to his culture, and, if you will promise to love and loyally serve him, I will leave him in my place."
As there were no short-hand writers in those days, no "interviewers," nor any of those means of obtaining and transmitting to the public verbatim reports of the speeches or conversations of important personages, we must take with a considerable quantity of salt the orations placed in their mouths by even contemporary chroniclers. Suffice it to say, therefore, that the boy was sent for, and, whether heartily or not, the whole assemblage took the oath of allegiance and did homage to the youthful William, then between seven and eight years of age.
Duke Robert lost no time in setting out on his pilgrimage, conducting on the way his son to Paris, where he caused him to do homage to the King for the Duchy of Normandy, and received personal assurance of the royal protection.
We hear nothing of Herleve after the birth of William until she appears as the lawful wife of a Norman knight named Herluin de Conteville, [Père Anselm, vol. ii, p. 470, has the following astounding marginal note: —" D'autres le nomment Gilbert de Crepon"! There may be "more in this than meets the eye" at present.] of whom little is known beyond the fact that he was a widower, father of a son named Ralph, on whom William is said to have bestowed large domains, besides heaping honours and possessions on Herluin, both in Normandy and England, though no one knows what or where. He held the honour of Sainte Marie Eglise, a portion of the Comté of Mortain, but whether the gift of the Conqueror to him, or a family possession, does not appear. He had a castle there, and founded in its neighbourhood the Abbey of Grestain, in which he and his wife were buried. There is tolerably sufficient evidence that, as I have already stated, Herleve had by Duke Robert a daughter, named Adeliza, or Adelaide, of whom I shall have much to say anon; but the date of Herleve's marriage to Herluin is uncertain, William of Malmesbury stating it to have taken place before the death of Robert, while the monk of Jumièges, a contemporary, asserts the contrary. My own opinion is that the contemporary chronicler is in this instance wrong. He either knew nothing, or suppressed his knowledge of Robert's lawful marriage with Estrith, sister of Canute the Great, and widow of UIf, a distinguished Dane, who was murdered by order of his brother-in-law in 1025. Robert is said to have ill used and repudiated her, at what exact period is unknown; but he had no issue by her, which might possibly be one cause of his displeasure. It seems to me most probable that the marriage of Herleve and Herluin was consequent on that of Duke Robert with Estrith, and shortly after the birth of Adeliza her second child, who at the period of the pilgrimage could not have been more than six, William being only between seven and eight.
At the time, therefore, of the Council of Fecamp Herleve would be with her husband, which may account for her not being mentioned by any historian in connection with that event, or associated in any way with the care or education of her son. Gilbert Comte d'Eu, was appointed his guardian, and Alain Count of Brittany, governor of Normandy during the Duke's absence; the latter act being a politic one, as Alain could not with honour harass a province committed to his charge.
Duke Robert died on his return from Jerusalem at Nikaia in Bithynia, poisoned, as it is reported, by Raoul, surnamed Mouin, and no sooner did the intelligence reach Normandy than the young heir to the duchy was subjected to all imaginable dangers and distresses.
Thurkild or Thorold, as he was indifferently called, Lord of Neufmarché-en-Lions, to whose special care his person and education were confided, and Gilbert Comte d'Eu, his guardian, were murdered by assassins hired by Raoul de Gacé, son of Archbishop Robert. [See vol. ii p. 3] Osbern de Crepon, son of Herfast, his Dapifer (steward of the household), was slain by William de Montgomeri at Vaudreuil, while sleeping in the very chamber of his young sovereign; and Alain Count of Brittany poisoned in 1040, while besieging the castle of Montgomeri, whose lord, Roger, the first we know of that name, and father of the above William, had been already banished Normandy. The guilt of this deed was thrown upon Alain's own subjects by the Normans, and bandied back by them to their accusers. Duke William himself was long afterwards charged with the crime, which, considering he was at that time a mere child, was a slander unworthy refutation, but no doubt engendered by the ill-fame of his subsequent treacheries. "Often by night," William is reported to have said, "I was secretly taken from the chamber of my palace by my uncle Walter, through fear of my own relations, and conducted to the dwellings and retreats of the poor, that I might escape from discovery by the traitors who sought my death."
This uncle Walter was the brother of his mother, Herleve, who, as well as her father, Fulbert — if such was his name — was taken into the service of Duke Robert as soon as he succeeded to the duchy; but we hear no more of Fulbert the chamberlain, nor of Walter, save that he subscribed the foundation-charter of the Abbey of Fontenay, and had a daughter named Matilda married to Raoul Taisson 2nd. (Vide vol. ii p. 105.)
It would be extremely interesting if we could ascertain the amount of authority Orderic Vital possessed for the long account he makes the Conqueror give of himself on his death-bed, and from which I have made the above quotation. Prone as our ancient chroniclers are to compose orations for the illustrious personages whose deeds they record, I cannot wholly discredit this "last dying speech and confession" of William the Conqueror. It is just possible that the King might have said "words to that effect," as Orderic phrases it, and that some one in attendance blessed with a good memory may have subsequently written down or repeated them with tolerable fidelity to Orderic himself. At all events, there is nothing in the discourse that is not fairly borne out by contemporary evidence, and, if not veritably an autobiography, has such strong claims on our consideration, that I at first determined to print a translation of it "in extenso;" but the narrative is interlaced with so many long-winded passages of self-accusation, professions of penitence, pious ejaculations, and recitals of what he had done for the Church, that I felt it would be wearisome to the general reader, and therefore I have only cited such portions of it as may throw light upon the incidents of his childhood, or tend to the verification of dates.
The lawful protectors and faithful servants of the young Duke having been slaughtered or poisoned, his authority was set at nought by his turbulent vassals. "The feuds against him were many, and his friends few. Most were ill inclined towards him: even those whom his father loved, he found haughty and evil disposed. The barons warred upon each other. The strong oppressed the weak, and he could not prevent it, for he lacked the power to do justice to all. So they burned and pillaged the villages, and robbed the villagers, injuring them in many ways." [Ord. Vit.] Roger de Toeni, a collateral descendant of the line of Rollo, refused all allegiance to the illegitimate grandson of the Furrier of Falaise, and commenced ravaging the lands around him, especially those of Humphrey de Vielles. The spoiler was, however, defeated in a sanguinary combat by Roger de Beaumont, son of Humphrey, and paid for his aggression with his own life and those of two of his sons, Halbert and Elinance. [Ibid.] A guardian being still needed for the young Duke, a council was summoned, and with William's consent Raoul de Gacé, the murderer of bis former guardian, Count Gilbert, was, strange to say, selected to succeed his victim as tutor to the boy, and commander-in-chief of his army. It is fairly presumable that policy alone could have dictated this choice, as in the case of Alain of Brittany it appears "a practical appeal to the honour of a possible rival," [Freeman: Norman Conquest] Raoul being a nephew of Richard II, and consequently having claims on the succession.
It is not my intention, as I have already stated, to recapitulate in these pages all the well-known events of this period, which properly belong to the general histories of Normandy and England. It is to the personal acts of the Conqueror I confine myself in this chapter; but in the lives of his companions I shall frequently have to mention many important incidents of his reign in which he was not individually concerned.
We learn from William of Malmesbury that the young Duke was knighted by his liege lord and protector, Henry, King of France, at the earliest period prescribed by the laws of chivalry, which, according to the Council of Constance wherein they are mentioned, appears in the eleventh century to have been the age of twelve — the education for knighthood commencing at seven, and princes being allowed to dispense with the probationary stages of page and squire.
Orderic makes him say, "At the time my father went into voluntary exile, intrusting to me the Duchy of Normandy, I was a mere youth of eight years of age, and from that day to this I have always borne the weight of arms," which accords with the above calculation; and as there is no record of his having visited King Henry within ten years after doing homage to him on the occasion he alluded to, it seems probable that he received the "accolade" on his first appearance in the field, when, in conjunction with that monarch, he summoned his own Castle of Tillières to surrender, to preserve peace with Henry, who represented it as a standing menace to France. William would have been at that time about twelve years old.
Shortly after this, Turstain, surnamed Goz, who commanded in the Hiemois, raised the standard of rebellion, and had the audacity to garrison the Castle of Falaise itself against the Duke. William, incensed by the personal insult of making his native town the head-quarters of a revolt against him, assembled his forces, and under the guidance of his guardian, Raoul de Gacé, laid siege to the place. A breach was soon made in the outer walls; but night coming on prevented the assault, and before morning Turstain, foreseeing his inability to defend the castle, sought a parley, and was allowed life and liberty on condition of perpetual exile.
As William advanced in age and stature, says Wace, he waxed strong, for he was prudent and took care to protect himself on all sides, and began to display qualities which increased his popularity with his subjects, who felt he was born to rule. The first day he put on armour and vaulted on his destrier (war-horse) without the assistance of the stirrup, was one of rejoicing throughout his dominions. His proficiency in all military exercises, the soundness of his judgment, his love of justice and his devotion to the Church, are loudly vaunted by his principal panegyrist, Guillaume de Poitiers, but could not reconcile the proud descendants of Rollo to the sway of a base-born boy, whose grandfather had been a tradesman. Guy of Burgundy, son of his aunt Judith, who had been brought up with him from infancy, who had received knighthood at his hands, and to whom he had given Vernon and Brionne, conspired against him with the Viscounts of the Bessin and the Cotentin, offering to share the duchy with them if they would assist him to depose his cousin, whose gifts of a portion of the duchy he evidently considered bribes to induce him to forego his claim to the whole as grandson of Duke Richard II.
The plot was deeply laid, and the Duke's escape almost miraculous. He was passionately fond of hunting, and had been sojourning for some days at Valognes, partly for that pleasure and partly for business. One night, after a good day's sport, when he had dismissed his companions and betaken himself to rest, he was roused "in the season of his first sleep" by his court-fool or jester, Galet or Galot, who, beating the walls with a staff ["Un pel," most probably the staff of his office, a baton with a fool's head, called a bauble.] he wore slung about his neck, shouted, "Open! open! open! ye are dead men else: where art thou, William? Wherefore dost thou sleep? Up! up! If thou art found here thou wilt die! Thine enemies are arming around thee! If they find thee here thou wilt never leave the Cotentin, or live till the morning!" William arose hastily, and in nothing hut his shirt and drawers, with a capa (short hood and cloak) thrown over his shoulders -- not stopping even to look for his spurs -- leaped on his horse and rode for his life all night, unattended, as it would seem, by friend or servant, fording the river Vire, by favour of an ebbing tide, and landing safely near the church of St. Clement, in the province of Bayeux; but the city itself was in the hands of his enemies, and he was therefore compelled to avoid it. After a brief halt in the church, and a fervent prayer to God for help in his extremity, he resumed his flight, taking a road between Bayeux and the sea, and just before sunrise reached Rie, where he found the lord of the place, one Hubert, standing at the gate of his own hostel or castle, "scenting the morning air." He was about to pass him when Hubert, recognising his Sovereign in such disorder and with his horse in a foam, exclaimed, "How is it, fair sir, you travel thus?" "Hubert," said the Duke, "dare I trust you?" "Of a truth," answered Hubert, "most assuredly! Speak! and speak boldly!" "I will have no secrets from you then," said William; "my enemies pursue me, with intent to take my life. I know they have sworn to slay me!" Thereupon the loyal vassal prayed the Duke to alight and enter his castle, while he procured him a good fresh horse; then calling three of his sons, "Mount! mount!" he cried; "behold your lord! Leave him not till you have lodged him safely in Falaise." Then giving them minute instructions as to the road they should take, and warning them to avoid all towns, he bade them God-speed; and after their departure remained upon his bridge (drawbridge) awaiting the arrival of the Duke's pursuers. "He looked out over valley and over hill," says the old Norman poet, "and listened anxiously," but not for long. The conspirators came galloping up, and seeing Hubert they halted, and taking him apart inquired eagerly if he had seen the Bastard pass, and conjured him to tell them which road he had taken. "He passed but now," answered Hubert; "you may soon overtake him; but stay, I will go with you and be your guide, for I should like to strike the first blow at him, and be assured I will if we come up with him." Leading them of course by a totally different route, and by round-about ways, he gave time to William to cross the ford of Folpendant and reach Falaise -- in a sad plight it is true, but, as Wace observes naively, "what mattered that so that he was safe?"
There was great alarm the next day, for no one knew what had become of the Duke. The road from Valognes was covered with his fugitive followers, who believed him to have been murdered, or to have perished in his attempt to cross the Vire, and men cursed heartily one Grimoult du Plessis, whom they rightly suspected of being the principal traitor, for having foully made away with his lord.
William, scarcely knowing whom he could trust, and not feeling himself strong enough to attack the rebellious Viscounts, who now openly espoused the cause of Guy of Burgundy and commenced seizing the revenues of the duchy wherever they could lay hands on them, resolved to appeal to the King of France, who had promised his father to protect him, and solicit his assistance to put down the rebellion. He found the King at Poissy. Henry's conduct towards his young liegeman had latterly been anything but friendly. On this occasion, however, either from a qualm of conscience or more probably from a desire to prevent the aggrandisement of the house of Burgundy, he responded favourably and promptly to the appeal, and at the head of a strong force -- principally cavalry -- marched into Normandy and formed a junction with the army of the Duke at Val-es-Dunes between Caen and Argence, in the neighbourhood of which the enemy had taken up their position (A.D. 1047).
Previous to the commencement of the action King Henry observed a body of horse drawn up by themselves at some distance from the rebel forces, and asked the Duke, "Who are they with lances and gonfanons and in rich harness that stand aloof from either powers? Know you anything of their intentions? To which side will they hold when the battle begins?" "Sire," answered William, "I believe to my side, for their leader is Raoul Tesson, who has no cause of quarrel or anger with me."
And so it proved. Raoul Taisson was seigneur de Cingueleiz, and one of the most powerful barons in the country. Although William had given him no cause of offence, he had by some influence been drawn into the conspiracy, and had sworn to smite the Duke wherever he met with him. He had brought with him to the field upwards of one hundred and twenty knights, but at the sight of William he felt some compunction, and delayed joining the rebel forces. The Viscounts made him great promises, but his own knights besought him not to make war upon his liege lord. They represented to him that he could not deny that he was the Duke's "man." That he had done homage to him before his father and his barons, and that disloyalty to him would render him unworthy of fief and barony. Their remonstrances decided the hesitating Raoul. "You say well, sirs," he answered, "and so shall it be." Then commanding them to stand fast where they were, he spurred across the plain alone, shouting his war-cry, "Tur aie" or "Turie," for there is a curious controversy about it (though, considering he was Lord of Thury-en-Cingueleiz, there need be none), and riding up to the Duke laughingly, struck him slightly with his glove, saying, "What I swore to do I have done; I have now acquitted myself of my oath to smite you wherever I found you, and from this time forth I will do you no other wrong or felony." William briefly thanked him, and Raoul rode back to his people. Now this is a very early mention of gloves, which do not appear on the hands of either the civil or military personages in illuminations of the 11th century, or in the Bayeux Tapestry. We know, however, that during the reign of Ethelred (A.D. 979-1016) five pairs of gloves were presented to him by a society of German merchants for the protection of their trade, which is a proof of their great rarity. I have seen two instances of females being represented with a glove or rather muffler on one hand, having a thumb but no fingers, like the earliest mail gauntlets, which in the 12th century were simply the extremities of the sleeves of the hauberk, out of which the hand could be slipped through an oval opening at the palm. The Norman hauberk, however, at the date of the Battle of Val-es-Dunes, had no such terminations -- the sleeves being loose and not reaching even to the wrists, sometimes barely to the elbow. The hands of the warriors in the Bayeux Tapestry (a work of some twenty or thirty years later) are all bare, even when they carry hawks, and the Norman poet has in more than one instance introduced the fashions of his own time in his graphic descriptions. I do not throw any doubt upon the incident, but simply question the instrument, as such statements are too often inconsiderately quoted as proofs of the existence of a fashion or article of attire at a period much earlier than there is any authority for placing it. Some nineteen years later we hear again of gloves, those of Conan Duke of Brittany having been poisoned most conveniently for the Conqueror, when he was preparing for the descent upon England.
Their use at that period may from their rarity have been limited to princely and noble personages, but the absence of them in the Bayeux Tapestry is too remarkable to be passed without notice.
Pardon, therefore, kind reader, this digression. We will return to the battle.
The fight commenced. On one side the shout arose of "Montjoie!" the war-cry of the French, and "Dex aie!" (God aid); which was that of Normandy, answered by Renouf de Bricasard with "Saint Sever! Sire Saint Sever!" and by Hamon-aux-Dents with "Saint Amant! Sire Saint Amant!" William, for the first time in hand-to-hand combat, made desperate efforts to reach the perjured Viscounts, who were pointed out to him, but he does not appear to have been able to close with them. Encountering, however, one of Renouf's vassals named Hardé, a native of Bayeux, and renowned for Ins prowess, he drove his sword into his throat, where it was unprotected by armour, and Hardé fell from his horse dead.
King Henry fought bravely, but had not fared so well. Twice, if not thrice, he had been unhorsed and in great peril. The first time by a nameless knight of the Cotentin -- a circumstance long commemorated in a popular rhyme: --
"From Cotentin came the lance
Which unhorsed the King of France,"
and a second time by Hamon-aux-Dents, Lord of Thorigny, Maissi, and Creulli; but both paid with their lives for the honour of the deed. The unknown knight being unhorsed in turn by one of the king's followers, and trampled to death by the heavy horses of the French cavalry, and Hamon-with-the-Teeth in like manner mortally wounded and carried off dead on his shield to Esquai, where they buried him in front of the church. [Rom. de Rou. The "Chroniqne de Normandie" gives to Guillesen, the uncle of Hamon, the honour of having first unhorsed the King.]
Raoul Taisson had remained aloof and stationary till after the first shock of the contending armies, then, at the head of his company, dashed into the mêlée on William's side, and fought gallantly against the rebels. "I know not how to recount his high deeds," says the chronicler, "nor how many he overthrew that day." A panic seized the Viscount of the Bessin, and throwing away his lance and shield, he fled for his life "with outstretched neck," as Wace graphically describes it, followed by the most faint-hearted of his people. Neel de Saint-Sauveur, Viscount of the Cotentin, called for his valour and high bearing "Noble Chef de Faucon," still bravely contended against increasing odds; but at length, exhausted by his exertions, and seeing the struggle hopeless, reluctantly and regretfully quitted the field, and the rout became general. Such numbers were driven into the river Orne, where they were either drowned or killed by their pursuers, that the mills of Borbillion are said to have been stopped by the dead bodies.
Wace, whom I have followed almost verbatim in this account of the Duke's first general action, says nothing of the part taken therein by the principal mover of the rebellion, Guy of Burgundy, nor by the arch-traitor Grimoult du Plessis, only that the former fled to Brionne, botly pursued by William, where in his castle he sustained a siege for three years. He was eventually forced to surrender all the lands the Duke had given him in Normandy, and subsequently retired to his native country, while Grimoult was seized and imprisoned at Rouen, where he confessed his felonious attempt on the Duke's life at Valognes, accusing as an accomplice a knight named Salle, the son of Huon. Salle challenged Grimoult to a trial by battle, and a day was appointed for the combat; but in the morning Grimoult was found dead in his dungeon, and was buried in his fetters.
The victory of Val-es-Dunes greatly increased the power and popularity of the Duke of Normandy, now of full age and approved valour and ability. He had very shortly an opportunity of returning the obligations he was under to the French king for the ready and important assistance he had rendered to him in the suppression of that serious rebellion.
A war had broken out between King Henry and Geoffrey Martel, Count of Anjou, and William marched with a powerful force to the aid of his suzeraine. So daring, we are told, was his conduct, and so brilliant the feats of arms which distinguished him in this expedition, though they are not particularized, that he was highly lauded by the king, who nevertheless cautioned him against the extreme rashness with which he exposed his valuable life.
The Count of Anjou revenged himself by marching into Normandy and occupying and garrisoning Alencon, one of the Duke's border fortresses. William in turn entered the state of Maine, of which Geoffrey was now virtually the sovereign, in the capacity of guardian of its Count Hugh, who was a minor, and besieged Domfront. But treason still lurked about the Norman prince. Intelligence was conveyed to the Angevine commander in Domfront, by some Norman noble unnamed, that William had left the main body of his army on a foraging expedition, attended by only fifty men-at-arms, and the direction he had taken. Three hundred horse and seven hundred foot were immediately despatched to intercept and capture him. There can be no doubt that the numbers are greatly exaggerated, but it may be perfectly true that William, with his fifty followers, put to flight a formidable force, pursuing them to the very gates of the town, and taking one prisoner with his own hand.
William of Poitiers, the contemporary biographer and enthusiastic panegyrist of "the Conqueror," who had thus early begun to deserve that title, tells also a story connected with this siege of Domfront, which is probable enough, and too characteristic of the manners of the age to be omitted, were it only "ben trovato."
Tidings having been brought to the Duke that the Count of Anjou was on his march with a considerable force to raise the siege, he despatched Roger de Montgomeri and William, son of that Osbern the Dapifer who was murdered at Vaudreuil, with, according to Wace's version, a third knight named William, the son of Thierry, to meet Geoffrey and demand an explanation of his conduct. The Count informed them that it was his intention to be before Domfront the next morning, where he would meet the Duke, and, that William might recognize him, he would be on a white horse and bear a gilded shield. The envoys answered that he need not give himself the trouble to travel so far. William would meet him on the road in the morning, armed and mounted in such wise as they described to him. William kept his word; but the Count appears to have thought better of it, and had retreated before daybreak, to the great disappointment of the Normans.
It is singular that this story should have been quoted some years ago to prove that heraldic insignia were known and borne in the eleventh century, when the evidence it affords us is exactly to the contrary. Had such personal distinctions existed at that period,"the Normans," as Mr. Freeman has justly observed, "could hardly have needed to be told what kind of shield Geoffrey would carry."
Leaving a sufficient force before Domfront, William marched suddenly by night upo)n Alencon, his own disloyal town, which had opened its gates to his enemy. The hostile garrison here insulted the Duke by hanging out skins or furs, and shouting "La Pel! La Pel al parmentier!" which, as I have already observed, was twitting him with his maternal descent from a tailor.
Stung to the quick, the grandson of the tailor swore "by the splendour of God," -- his habitual oath, -- that the limbs of men who had so mocked him should be lopped like the branches of a tree; and he kept his cruel oath. He took the town by assault, and two-and-thirty of the defenders had their hands and feet cut off, and cast over the castle walls, as a terrible warning to those who still held the castle. It was not in vain. The garrison surrendered, on condition that their lives and limbs should be spared. Hurrying back to Domfront, whither the tidings of the fate of Alencon had preceded him, he received the almost immediate submission of that fortress, the garrison only stipulating for the retention of their weapons as well as their limbs. Domfront became a border fortress of Normandy, in addition to Alencon on the southern frontier of the duchy; and William, after marching triumphantly through Maine, and fortifying the Castle of Ambrières, returned, covered with laurels, to Rouen.
Flushed with conquest, and feeling secure for the first time of his paternal dominions, the Duke of Normandy, at the urgent request of his councillors, looked about him for a wife, and appears as early as 1049 to have made overtures for the hand of Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders; for at the Council of Rheims, held on the 1st of October in that year, the marriage was prohibited. The whole story of Matilda's early life, of her indignant rejection and subsequent acceptance of the hand of William of Normandy, because, forsooth, she thought he must be a man of great courage and high daring who could venture to come and beat her in her father's own palace, [Badouin d'Avennes] is so involved in mystery that a volume might be written on this subject alone. Is there any truth whatever in the popular story of her brutal treatment by William? Which of the versions, if any, is to be trusted; and }f there be the least foundation for it, when did the outrage, unpardonable under any circumstances, take place? Matilda, it is evident by her resentment of another's refusal of herself, and her vindictive conduct towards the culprit when she had become Queen of England, was not of a forgiving nature. Could such a woman ever have lived upon such terms of affection as we are told she did with a husband, who, regardless of her sex and her rank, had publicly insulted and assaulted her, as not even, in that still barbarous age, the lowest ruffian in his senses would have done? What was her offence? She, the grand-daughter of a king of France, legitimately descended on both sides from the greatest sovereigns in Europe, had naturally objected to become the wife of the base-born grandson of a tradesman of Falaise. Supposing this part of the story to be true, which has at least probability in its favour, can it be believed that when William, some time after his offer had been courteously declined by Count Baldwin, learned by report the reason Matilda had given for her refusal, that even ailowing for the violence of his temper and the ferocity of his nature as evidenced by those who had insulted him at Alencon, would have traveled from Normandy to Lille in Flanders, forced his way into the chamber of the Count's daughter, dragged her about it by her hair, and, dashing her on the floor, spurned and trampled
upon her as she lay at his feet? -- or, according to another account, intercepted her on her way home from church at Bruges, and brutally beat her and
wounded her with his spurs? The spurs of that day, be it remembered, were not rowelled, but made with one spear-shaped point, which might have inflicted on a female a mortal wound! As indeed he is stated, with equal truth, to have done on a later occasion, when irritated at being detained by Matilda
after he had mounted his horse, he struck at her with his heel so that the spur ran into her breast and she died! -- some seventeen years before she did die.
Another story of her death having been caused by his cruelty towards her, will be told in its proper place. Here I have only to repeat that such a "courtship," despite the slanderous old proverb --
" A woman, a spaniel, and a walnut-tree,
The more you beat them the better they be,"
could never have been forgiven by such a woman as Matilda of Flanders. Prudence, however, might have counselled the submission both of father and daughter under some circumstances; and I shall return to this subject in my investigation of another mystery connected with this highly eulogized lady, observing only that the consent of both father and daughter must have been obtained in 1049, or the papal inhibition would have been unnecessary.
In 1051 William visited England, accompanied by an imposing retinue, and was received with great honour and affection by King Edward the Confessor. It was at this period some promise was apparently given to the Duke of Normandy respecting the succession to the English throne, though the precise fact has never been successfully established.
William returned to Normandy only to find his rights again disputed and his rule defied by members of his own family. After suppressing a revolt by William, surnamed Busac, the son of the half-brother of his grandfather, Duke Richard "the Good," and banishing him from Normandy, a serious conspiracy and most alarming coalition demanded the exercise of all his courage and ability. Secretly instigated by his uncle, Malger, Archbishop of Rouen, and openly abetted by Henry, King of France, alternately the friend and foe of his valorous vassal; William of Arques, Count of Talou, brother of the primate, raised the standard of rebellion against his nephew and liege lord in 1053, claiming the duchy as the legitimate son of Richard II. The Duke was again at Valognes when this new outbreak was reported to him. With his usual promptitude he immediately took horse, and outstripping his small escort reached Arques with only six followers. Fortunately, however, he encountered in its neighbourhood a force comprising three hundred knights, who had marched of their own accord from Rouen on receipt of the tidings. William, undismayed by their report of the strength of the enemy, exclaimed "They will fly at my sight!" and perceiving, as he spoke, the Count returning to the castle from some expedition at the head of a considerable body of troops, he at once set spurs to his horse, and galloping up the hill with his few hundred followers charged the rebels so furiously that they speedily gave way and fled for safety into the fortress, pursued to the very gates by the Duke, who but for the rapidity with which they were closed against him would have entered with the runaways and crushed the revolt at a blow.
My narrative being limited to an account of the personal sayings and doings (" les Gestes et Faictes," as the old chroniclers call them) of the Conqueror, I
leave the subsequent siege and surrender of Arques, the banishment of the Count of Talou, and temporary pacification of the duchy to the historians of Normandy. The gallant exploit above recorded is the only one I have found related of the Duke in connection with this rebellion.
During the brief lull that succeeded this storm, the marriage of William and Matilda appears to have taken place, whether in defiance of the pontifical inhibition or after its removal is not quite clear; neither are the grounds on which it was issued, though generally understood to have been nearness of kin. It is remarkable, however, that Pope Leo IX, who prohibited the marriage, was at this moment a captive in the power of the Normans at Benevento, and his authority might have been set at nought or a dispensation extorted from him. At all events, Count Baldwin conducted his daughter to Eu in Normandy, where the long-delayed and forbidden marriage was celebrated, and the fair Duchess of Normandy thence proceeded with her husband to Rouen, where they were received with every demonstration of joy.
The treacherous and dissolute Archbishop Malger, in an extraordinary fit of virtuous indignation, excommunicated the newly married pair for having dared to disobey the commands of the Church. It does not appear, however, to have much affected the illustrious culprits. Nevertheless, Duke William did not forget it when two years later he was called upon to pronounce sentence on his unworthy uncle, found guilty in solemn council at Lisieux of all kinds of crimes and offences, including, of course, the study and practice of the black art. He deposed him from his see, and banished him to the Channel Islands, "where," says Wace, "he led the life that best pleased him." Magic or witchcraft formed generally one of the "counts in the indictment" of any criminal in that age of ignorance and gross superstition, and he was accused of having "a private devil" on his establishment ("un deable privé"), whom many had heard speak, but no one had ever seen. This familiar spirit was named "Toret," or "Toiret," which Monsieur Pluquet says is the diminutive of Thor, or Thur, the Scandinavian deity; while Sir Francis Palgrave contends it is pure high Dutch, and simply signifies Folly. (Query: If the cards called Torot, and used by the gipsies in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to tell fortunes with, derived their appellation from the same root, whichever it may be?)
Whether or not the ex-primate was indebted to this invisible friend for the information he communicated to his boatmen when sailing, during his exile, off the French coast, is not recorded; but he warned them to be careful, as he knew for certain that one of the persons on board would die that day, though he could not say which, nor from what cause. They listened to him, but thought no more about it. It was summer, the day was hot, and Malger was seated near the rudder, without his drawers or hose. They were just entering some port, when, suddenly rising or changing his position, his feet became entangled in his clothes, and he fell overboard, head foremost. His body was found, after some search, between two rocks, and carried to Cherbourg, where he was buried.
To return, however, to the Conqueror. But a few months of domestic peace were allowed him. A new and formidable league was entered into against him by his old enemy, the Count of Anjou, and his old friend, the jealous and capricious King of France. The Duke of Normandy was his vassal, but was becoming so powerful that he might one day be his master, or, at least, an independent sovereign and dangerous neighbour. In 1054 the hostile army entered the duchy in two divisions. The left, under the command of the King himself, marching by Mantes, to attack Evreux and Rouen; the right, by Aumale, to Mortemer, a spot now celebrated as the scene of one of the fiercest conflicts of the eleventh century, terminating in the complete defeat and destruction of this portion of the invading army, so many prisoners being taken that there was not a prison in all Normandy which was not full of Frenchmen. The principal details of the battle of Mortemer will be found in subsequent chapters, devoted to some who were leaders in the victorious army. William was encamped meanwhile on one bank of the Seine, watching the French King, who had taken up a position on the other. The joyful tidings were quickly communicated to him, and, after thanking God "with clasped hands and tears in his eyes," he determined to send to King Henry the news of the battle himself, but in so mysterious a manner that it should increase his dismay and distress.
The device appears to us now as absurdly childish, but it seems to have produced the desired effect. A messenger, Ralph de Toeni (as Orderic makes William himself tell us), the grandson of that Roger who was one of the first to refuse allegiance to William in his childhood, was intrusted with its execution.
In the dead of the night he approached the royal quarters, and climbing a tree, or, according to others, mounting some eminence, overhanging the King's tent, he shouted,"Frenchmen! Frenchmen! arise, arise! Prepare for flight -- ye sleep too long! Away, and bury your friends who have been slain at Mortemer!"
The King, who heard this cry, was greatly alarmed and astonished. No attempt appears to have been made to capture the audacious bearer of this terrible intelligence, but an inquiry was made throughout the camp to ascertain whether any one had heard a rumour of such a disaster having befallen the other division of the army. While the King was in consultation with his officers, fugitives from the field of battle arrived and confirmed the fatal news. The French, panic struck, decamped with all speed, setting fire to their tents and huts, and with the King made the best of their way homeward. The Duke, always careful to preserve an appearance of respect for his feudal obligations, declined to pursue him, saying, "Let him go; he has had quite enough to trouble and cross him."
True, for the time he had, but not sufficient to make him wiser for the future. He had made a truce with William, and pledged himself not to interfere again in any quarrel between the Duke and his implacable enemy, Geofirey Martel; nevertheless, he declared that he would sooner perjure himself than not have his revenge for the battle of Mortemer. In the following August, while the corn was yet standing, he burst once more into Normandy, ravaging the Hiemois and overrunning the whole country of the Bessin as far as the sea, burning the towns and villages, and plundering the inhabitants without mercy.
The news of this sudden and unprovoked inroad reached the Duke at Falaise, and grieved him sorely. He called to arms all the forces in his dominions, even the countrymen ("villeins," as they are termed in the language of that day), and who responded to the call loyally with pikes and clubs and any weapons they could arm themselves with. It was, in fact, a levée en masse to repel an invader. But the policy of the Duke was not to give battle to the enemy on their first entrance into his dominions, but to bide his time, and fall on them when least expected on their return. He contented himself with strengthening and garrisoning all his castles and fortified places, and waited patiently till, laden with plunder and flushed with the success of their unopposed march through one half of the country, they at length faced about, and were preparing to cross the river Dive to carry fire and sword into the other half. Duke William, who had received most accurate information of every step the marauders had taken or intended to take, led his forces through the valley of Bavent, unperceived by the enemy, and as soon as his feudal lord, the King and the vanguard of his army had crossed the river at Varaville, rushed upon the rearguard and the long train of baggage-waggons which were slowly following the main body. "Then," says Wace, "began a fierce mêlée -- many blows of spears and swords. The knights charged with their lances, the archers shot with their bows, and the villeins laid about them with their iron-shod staves, driving the French along the causeway, which was long and in bad repair, and they being encumbered by their plunder, and consequently impeded in their progress, broke their ranks and were thrown into utter confusion. The great press was at the bridge, which, being old, gave way under the weight of the crowd and the force of a remarkably high tide, and fell in with all that were upon it. In every direction armour was to be seen floating and men plunging and sinking, none but good swimmers having a chance of life. Cries of despair arose from the numbers who by the fall of the bridge were left without means of escape. They rushed along the bank of the river, seeking for fords and flinging away their arms and booty, cursing themselves for having taken it, the Normans pursuing and sparing none, till all who had not crossed the bridge were drowned, slain, or made prisoners. From the height of Bastebourg the King looked down on Varaville and Cabourg. He saw the marshes and the valleys which lay stretched out before him, the swollen river, and the broken bridge. He marked the struggles of his soldiers, the numbers seized and bound or struggling in the water. He could help or save none. "He was speechless with sorrow and indignation; his limbs trembled, his face burned with rage. With a heavy heart he returned to France, and never again bore shield or spear" -- " whether as penance or not," adds the poet, "I do not know." Henry was, in fact, advanced in age at this time, and died two years after his return to Paris.
Mr. Freeman remarks that Wace is the only author who mentions a bridge, Benoît de Sainte-More and others only speaking of a ford. He therefore considers that Wace is in error, and describes the locality as it was in his time. It may be so, but I cannot hold that the argument is conclusive without some evidence to show that there was no old wooden bridge existing at the date of the battle of Varaville. The breaking of the bridge appears to me like a piece of local information, and the unusual rising of the tide which he relies upon would assist in its destruction as well as render the fords impassable. The Prebend of Bayeux is more to be trusted on such a point than any other chronicler.
About this time, also, that arch-disturber of every neighbour's peace, Geofirey Martel, of whose intrigues we hear so much, and of his personal prowess so little, passed away, and Duke William was relieved from the ceaseless machinations and maraudings of two powerful enemies.
William's acquisition of the county of Maine, partly by bequest and partly by force of arms, curiously as it illustrates his crafty policy more fully developed in his subsequent conquest of England, is another portion of the history of Normandy, the details of which belong to the annalist rather than the biographer. I shall only refer hereafter to two circumstances in connection with it, one of which affects the Conqueror's family, and the other some of his followers.
We have now arrived at the date of Harold's appearance in Normandy; and here again, beyond the well-known facts of his being driven on the coast of Ponthieu, imprisoned by its Count Wido (Guy), and released at the instance of the Duke of the Normans, of his oath on the relics, and his promise to marry one of William's daughters, all of which have been told over and over in every history of England, we are left on several points in utter ignorance, both as to motives and circumstances, which might have had a most important influence on the events recorded.
Three different versions of Harold's voyage are given, having no agreement with each other beyond the fact of his having sailed from Bosham in Sussex, and by accident or mistake landed in the dominions of Count Wido. That curious relic, the Bayeux Tapestry, which minutely represents his embarkation, supports, I think, the statement of William of Malmesbury, that Harold was simply bent on a sporting expedition, and had no mission to Normandy or any intention of visiting its duke, but was driven by contrary winds on the coast of Ponthieu, where, according to the barbarous custom, not specially of that country, but of the whole coast from Brittany to Flanders, called "the law of Langan," he was seized and imprisoned for the sake of ransom. Not only on this point, but on nearly all the principal circumstances connected with Harold's sojourn in Normandy, such contradictory statements are confidently made by the only writers who could possibly have known anything of the facts, that we in the nineteenth century can really place no reliance on the details with which any one of them has furnished us; and the nature of this work forbids a critical examination, which could only result in the expression of an individual opinion as to probabilities, and neither conclusively settle a single question in debate nor have any interest for the general reader. The expedition to Brittany, in which Harold accompanied Duke William, does not appear to have been signalised by any personal exploit. The time and place wherein the Duke gave arms to Harold, and Harold is asserted to have taken an oath of some description to him, are variously recorded, and we have nothing certain in the way of stirring incident till we arrive at the memorable year 1066 and the invasion of England.
Wace graphically describes the effect produced on William by the tidings of the death of King Edward the Confessor, and the assumption of the crown by Harold. The Duke was hunting in the park of Quevily, near Rouen. He had his bow in his hand, which he had just bent, when "a sergeant" (man-at-arms), who had come from England, approached him and imparted to him privately the news. He immediately quitted the park in great anger, impatiently untying and tying repeatedly the laces or cords of his mantle. He spoke to no man, and no man ventured to speak to him. Crossing the Seine in a boat, he entered his palace and sat down moodily on a bench in the hall, covering his face with his cloak and leaning his head against a column, restlessly turning himself from one side to the other. His attendants wondered what ailed him, and inquired anxiously of his seneschal, William of Breteuil, who entered the hall "humming a tune," -- a trait of character which curiously reminds us of the whisthng of an eminent personage at a critical moment of the late siege of Paris, -- if he could explain the cause of their master's emotion. The Duke looking up, "the bold son of Osbern" told him that it was useless to attempt concealing the news he had heard, for it had already spread throughout the city, and was known to every man in Rouen; that instead of mourning he should up and be doing, cross the sea and dethrone the usurper.
We may pretty well be assured that the Duke had come to that determination in his own mind already, and required no prompting from any one.
After a select council, which was attended by the chief men in the duchy, including William's half-brothers Odo and Robert and Eudo al Chapel who had married the Duke's half-sister Muriel, a general one was called at Lillebonne. The Duke laid his case before them, and notwithstanding the hesitation of some and the actual dissent of others, the personal influence of the prince prevailed, and the promise of each baron to provide a certain number of ships and soldiers was, there and then, entered in a book. Of these barons and their contingents, their deeds and their fate, I have to speak separately, and in lieu of a repetition of the often-told tales of the muster at the mouth of the Dive, the landing at Pevensey, and the decisive battle of Hastings, I shall select from the general account such incidents only as are strictly connected with the person of the Conqueror, to whom this chapter is dedicated.
In the "Mora," the splendid ship said to have been presented to him by his duchess, favoured by a south wind, for which he had waited long and anxiously, first beside the Dive and secondly at St. Valery, piloted by Stephen the son of Airard, the Duke of Normandy led his enormous fleet -- enormous taking it even at the lowest calculation, which, according to Wace, who says he heard it from his father, was nearly seven hundred sail -- from the confluence of the Somme to the coast of Sussex, and on the morning of Thursday, 28th of September, cast anchor, and the whole army immediately disembarked in good order and without the slightest opposition.
Old and well-worn as the story is, I must not omit it. William, in descending from his ship, missed his footing and fell full length upon the sand. Anticipating the effect of such an evil omen on his superstitious followers, he exclaimed, "By the splendour of God, I have taken seisin of England! -- 1 hold its earth in my hands!" Hearing which a soldier pulled a piece of thatch from a cottage on the beach, and offered it to the Duke as seisin not only of the land, but of all it contained. "I accept it," said William, "and may God be with me!"
Wace tells us that two vessels foundered, it might be from overlading. In one of them was lost a clerk, who was supposed to possess the gift of prophecy, and had declared that William's voyage would be prosperous, and that Harold would yield to him without a blow. "A poor prophet was he," observed the Duke, when he heard of his being drowned, "who could not foretell the time and cause of his own death. Weak would be the man who believed in the predictions of such an astrologer."
On the morning of Saturday, the 14th of October, the Duke, having heard mass and received the Communion, advanced with his whole army from Hastings to Telham Hill, whence they could observe the English forces encamped on the rising ground, called by Orderic, Senlac. [Notwithstanding the protest of Mr. M. A. Lower, I have kept the name given by Orderic to the site of the present village of Battle, as it must have been so called in his time; and the tradition recorded by William of Neuburgh, that "on the spot where the greatest slaughter was made there exuded after every gentle shower real, and, as it were, recent blood -- as though the voice of so much Christian gore shed by the hands of Christian brethren still cried to the Lord from the ground that had drunk it in," certainly favours the derivation of the word from Sanguelac, the origin of the tradition being evidently the redness of the chalybeate springs in that locality, which still retains in the various forms of "Saint lake," "Saint lache," "The lake," and "Battle lake," some memory of the name given to it by the Normans.]
At Telham, or Hetheland, as it was then called, another well-known incident occurred. In putting on his hauberk William, or his armour-bearer, mistook the back of it for the front. As in the case of his fall on the sands, he quickly and cleverly represented the omen as one of happy import, and laughingly reassured his alarmed attendants by declaring it to be a sign that from a duke he should be turned into a king. Mounting a noble Spanish warhorse, which Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville, had brought to him as a present from a king who highly esteemed him, William rode to the head of his forces, and learning from an officer, who had been sent to reconnoitre the enemy, that Harold's standard was planted on the summit of the hill facing him, vowed that, if God gave him the victory, he would build a monastery to His honour on the spot where that standard was now waving. A monk of Marmoutier, who heard him, requested the monastery should be dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, and William signified his assent thereto.
I have previously stated that I would not fight the battle of Hastings over again. There is scarcely any conflict recorded in English history the general features of which are so familiar to all of us, and nothing specially new in the details has been discovered by recent writers. The ground has been gone over, literally as well as figuratively, foot by foot, by the local historian, Mr. Mark Anthony Lower, and by the latest narrator of the Norman Conquest, Mr. Edward Freeman, both of whom have laboured assiduously and successfully in the work of identification of places, and minute topographical description of the principal positions occupied by the rival hosts. My business is solely with the personal exploits performed on them, and I shall therefore have to refer frequently to the battle in my separate notices of the most celebrated leaders of the invading army, restricting myself in this chapter to those of the Conqueror only. In the Bayeux Tapestry we behold him armed in his hauberk, which was not the coat of chain mail of the thirteenth century, but the geringhed byrnie of the eleventh and twelfth, consisting of iron rings, not linked together and forming a garment of themselves, but sewn or strongly fastened flat upon a tunic of leather or of quilted linen, buckram, canvas, or some strong material descending to the midleg, and which, being open in the skirts both before and behind for convenience in riding, gave it the appearance of a jacket with short breeches attached to it, if, indeed, such was not actually the case in some instances. The sleeves were loose, and reached only just below the elbow. The legs were defended simply by bands of leather bound round the hose crosswise. The helmet was sharply conical, with a back-piece to protect the neck, and a single bar in front defending the nose. William is depicted in the Tapestry lifting his helmet by this nasal, in order to reassure his soldiers, a report of his being killed having caused them to waver at a critical moment of the combat. "Behold me," he exclaimed, "I live, and by God's grace I will conquer."
[Benoît says -- "Son chef désarma en la battaille
E del heaume et de la ventaille." By ventaille (avant-taille) he must mean the nasal, as there appears no other protection for the face until some time after the Conquest, when a great variety of ventailles were introduced.]
Armed with lance and mace, or rather warclub, the latter slung, as we find in another instance, at his saddle-bow, bearing his long, kite-shaped shield, and bestriding his noble Spanish steed, the Duke of the Normans no doubt deserved the eulogy of Haimon, Viscount of Thouars, who declared a warrior so well armed had never been seen under heaven, and that the noble Count would be a noble king. Thus armed and equipped, and with the relics round his neck on which Harold is reported to have sworn, William sought the Saxon king as eagerly as at Val-es-Dunes he had sought the rebel viscounts, Renouf and Neel, and similarly in vain. He was intercepted by Harold's brother Gurth, who, casting a javelin at him, killed his horse. The rider fell with it, but, unwounded himself, was on his feet in an instant, and rushing at Gurth, felled him with one blow of his terrible club.
He then summoned a knight of Maine to dismount and give him his horse. The knight disloyally refused to assist his sovereign. The Duke, incensed at his conduct, unseated him by force, and mounting the horse returned to the charge. This second horse was also killed under him by a Saxon, who is described by a writer, supposed to be Guy, Bishop of Amiens, as "filius Hellocis" (the son of Hello or Helloc?), and who shared the same fate as Gurth. Count Eustace of Boulogne then offered his horse to the Duke, and again he plunged into the thickest of the fight. A blow from a Saxon axe beat in his helmet and nearly unhorsed him; a spear-thrust he parried, and slew the assailant.
These are the particular deeds recorded of him, and we may fairly give him credit for many others, without believing the astounding assertion of the supposed Guy of Amiens, that William killed during that day two thousand Saxons with his own hand!
On the spot where Harold had fallen -- his brain pierced through the eye by a chance arrow -- where the standards of "the Dragon" and "the Fighting Man" had been so gallantly defended -- under the branches it may be of "the ancient apple-tree" which gave the first name to the battle -- a space was cleared of the thickly-heaped dead, the standard of the Normans planted, and the tent of the Conqueror pitched for the night. There, after he had thanked God for giving him the victory, food and wine were brought to him. He was divested of his armour, and his shield and helmet, battered by many blows, were shown to the surrounding soldiers, who with shouts compared him to all the paladins of Charlemagne; and there William, despite the remonstrances of Walter Giffard, feasted and slept amidst the piles of the dead and the groans of the dying! A butcher supping in his reeking slaughterhouse might equally excite our disgust, but his hands would at least be unstained with the blood of his fellow-creatures.
It is not my intention to follow the Conqueror step by step through his devastating progress towards London, nor does it accord with the plan of this work to enter into the details of the general political events of the reign of the first Norman King of England. I pass over, for the present, his coronation, with its attendant tumult and firing of houses by his savage soldiery, his visit to Normandy in 1067, and that of Matilda to England the following year. Of the various revolts and conspiracies against him I shall have to speak in my sketches of the principal actors in them. I shall also have occasion to refer in them to other of his expeditions to Normandy and his campaigns in the north of England, where he "made a wilderness, and called it peace," a quotation I admit worn threadbare, but never more applicable than to the subjugator of England.
I hasten at once to the period when the star of William began to pale, when victory no longer waited on his standard, and domestic discords added to the bitterness of defeat.
His eldest son, Robert, whom he had formerly associated with his mother in the government of Normandy, and subsequently named as his successor to that duchy, was excited to rebellion by the state of poverty and dependence in which he was kept by his suspicious and avaricious father. He claimed immediate possession of Normandy and Maine, and a share of the realm of England.
To the King's remonstrances and lectures, he answered petulantly, that he did not come to hear sermons, of which he had heard enough from the tutors who taught him grammar; and on William's peremptory refusal to grant his requests retired in dudgeon, and shortly afterwards, incensed by an ill-timed frolic of his younger brothers, William and Henry, who threw some water upon him from an upper story of a house in which they were playing at dice, he broke out into open rebellion, and with a small band of adherents, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Castle of Rouen.
Matilda's secret support of this disobedient son, to whom she sent large supplies of money and jewels, caused serious quarrels between her and her husband. This rash, ungovernable young man, whose personal appearance was far from prepossessing — as he is described by contemporary writers as heavy-faced, corpulent, and with legs so short and devoid of symmetry that his father gave him the name of Gambaron, in other words, Court-heuse — Swas his mother's favourite. She is reported to have declared that were hS dead and buried, she would gladly give her own life to resuscitate him.
Robert, supported by Philip, King of France, was besieged in the Castle of Gerberoi by William in person, and in a sally, the Conqueror received from his own son the first wound he had ever met with in all the battles he had fought. Of this personal encounter there are as many different versions as there arp narrators. The most popular is, that Robert was unconscious of the person he had wounded and unhorsed until the King's voice revealed the startling fact, when he immediately dismounted, and expressing his contrition and imploring pardon for his unintentional crime, placed him on his own horse and led him safely from the field. One writer says William's fury was so great that he heaped curses on his son's head, which no entreaties could ever induce him to revoke. Another, in flat contradiction, asserts that he was so touched by the respect and remorse of Robert that he forgave him on the spot, and thenceforth held him in great esteem.
That some sort of family reconciliation did take place appears evident from a charter granted in 1082 by William and his Queen to the Church of the Holy Trinity at Caen, to which are affixed the signatures of the three sons -- Robert, William, and Henry. This charter is also remarkable for the fact that, amongst the lands granted to the church is Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, which was part of the manor of Michinhampton, previously held by Brihtric Meaw, whom Matilda had so unjustly deprived of all his estates in revenge for his having slighted her early affection. "Hell hath no fury like a woman foiled," says an old dramatist, and this still mysterious story might be adduced in support of the assertion. I shall have to recur to it hereafter.
On the 2nd of November, 1083, Queen Matilda died, after a lingering illness, at Caen, in Normandy, and was buried in the church of her own foundation. A story was circulated in the reign of her son, Henry I, concerning the immediate cause of her decease, which may be classed with that of her wooing by William. Matilda is reported to have discovered an intrigue between her husband and the daughter of a priest, and in her jealousy had the girl hamstrung, which so exasperated William that he beat her, or caused her to be beaten to death with a horse's bridle. [William of Malmesbury, Book III]
Four years afterwards William himself followed her to the grave. Is it necessary to recapitulate the oft-repeated story of the coarse jest of Philip, King of France, on the increasing corpulence of the Conqueror, of William's furious retort, of his burning of Mantes, the stumbling of his steed on the hot embers and consequent fatal injury of the rider?
He was borne on a litter to Rouen. But the noise of the city was too great for him, and by his own directions he was conveyed to the Priory attached to the Church of St. Gervaise, standing on a hill to the west of the town. There, attended by Gilbert Maminot, Bishop of Lisieux, Guntred, Abbot of Jumièges, and others well skilled in medicine, he lingered some six or seven weeks, and then conscience-stricken on the approach of death, he is said to have uttered that remarkable "discourse" which I have alluded to, and quoted from in the early part of the chapter, wherein he confesses himself to have been the barbarous murderer of many thousands, both old and young, and tremblingly recounts, as a set-off, that he has erected and endowed seventeen convents of monks and six of nuns during his government of Normandy.
He had already given that duchy to his eldest son Robert, a grant which he seems to have regretted, but could not amend. "I know for certain," he observed, "that the country which is subject to his dominion will be truly wretched. He is a proud and silly prodigal, and will have long to suffer severe misfortune" -- a singular proof of "the great esteem" in which the King held his son after the affair at Gerberoi! "I appoint no one my heir to the Crown of England," he continued, "for I did not attain that high honour by hereditary right, but I wrested it from the perjured King Harold, in a desperate battle, with much effusion of human blood, and it was by the slaughter and banishment of his adherents that I subjugated England to my rule." He expressed, however, a hope that his son William, who from his earliest years had been always attached to him, would succeed to the throne, and enjoy a prosperous reign.
"And what do you give me, my father?" exclaimed Henry, his youngest surviving son. "Five thousand pounds of silver from my treasury," replied the King. "But what shall I do with this money, having no corner of the earth which I can call my own?" rejoined the young Prince. "My son," said the dying Monarch, "be contented with your lot, and trust in the Lord. Suffer patiently your elder brothers to precede you. Robert will have Normandy, and William England; but you will in turn succeed to all the dominions which belong to me, and you will surpass your brothers in wealth and power." This prophetic declaration throws a little doubt upon the authenticity of this otherwise most interesting narrative. Orderic outlived King Henry I; and the seventh book, in which the above discourse appears, was written after that monarch's death, when the prediction had been fulfilled or might be safely invented. Nevertheless, words are put into William's mouth which deserve consideration, and those whom it may concern are referred to the following chapter. On Thursday, 9th of September, at sunrise, the King, awaking from a tranquil sleep, heard the sound of the great bell of the Cathedral of Rouen, and inquiring the cause, was told by the attendants that it was tolling for primes in the Church of St. Mary. Then the King, lifting up his hands, said, "I commend myself to Mary, the Holy Mother of God, my heavenly Mistress, that by her blessed intercession I may be reconciled to her well-beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ," and instantly expired.
Although prepared for the event, the suddenness of its occurrence startled and astonished his attendants, who, says the chronicler, "became as men who had lost their wits." Notwithstanding, the wealthier of them had wit enough to mount their horses and depart in haste to secure their property, while the servants observing that their masters had disappeared, laid hands on the arms, the plate, the robes, the linen, and all the royal furniture, and made off with their plunder, leaving the corpse of the Conqueror almost naked on the floor, "from the hour of primes to that of tierce."
Later in the day the Archbishop of Rouen, attended by the clergy and the monks, went in procession to St. Gervaise, and after the customary prayer for the dead, ordered the body to be conveyed to Caen for sepulture in the Abbey of St. Stephen, which William had founded; but not one of his relations or retinue was present to take charge of the corpse. At length a knight named Herluin, undertook the office for the love of God and the honour of his country. He caused the body to be embalmed at his own expense, and then carried in a hearse to the port, where it was placed on board a vessel in the Seine, and brought by water and land to Caen. But the misadventures of the remains of the once great and dreaded Conqueror were not to end here. An alarming fire broke out in the city as the funeral procession was on its way to the abbey, and mourners, clergy, and laity rushed to look after the safety of their own houses and assist in extinguishing the flames, leaving only a few monks to accompany the hearse to the gates of St. Stephen's. When the company had reassembled, mass was said, and Gilbert, Bishop of Evreux, ascending the pulpit, pronounced a long panegyric on the deceased sovereign, extolling his valour, justice, and piety, the severity with which he punished robbers and oppressors, and the protection he afforded to the defenceless poor, upon which a man named Ascelin, the son of Arthur, stepped forward and in a loud voice said: "The ground whereon you stand was the courtyard of my father's house, which that man for whom you are bidden to pray, when he was yet but Duke of Normandy, took forcible possession of, and in defiance of all justice by an exercise of tyrannical power he founded this abbey. I therefore lay claim to this land and demand its restitution, and in God's name forbid the body of the spoiler being covered with earth which is my property and buried in my inheritance."
This awkward commentary on the character of the rigid administrator of justice, the chastiser of robbers, and the protector of the defenceless poor, caused considerable confusion and consternation in the assembly, more particularly when the testimony of the neighbours ofAscelin proved in support of his claim.
He was conferred with in private. Sixty shillings were paid to him on the spot, and a proportionable price agreed upon for the purchase of the rest of the property. William of Malmesbury says that Prince Henry was present, and paid "the brawler" a hundred pounds of silver to quiet his audacious demands.
Yet another mishap! — on lowering the corpse into the stone coffin which had already been placed in the grave, they were obliged to use some force, as the masons had made it too short. The consequence was, that the king being very corpulent, the bowels burst, and an intolerable stench, which the clouds of incense failed to subdue, caused a precipitate retreat of the mourners, and brought the funeral ceremonies to an abrupt conclusion. How this could occur with a body which had been embalmed I do not understand. The process must have been very hastily and unskilfully performed, or, what is more likely, omitted altogether.
This miserable close of the history of a mighty monarch has been moralized upon sufficiently. Never more efficiently than by his contemporary Orderic Vital. I leave the Conqueror in his grave, undazzled by his brilliant achievements in the field — admitting the astuteness of his policy, and regretting that in the whole of his life I have been unable to discover the least trait of magnanimity, the least indication of one truly humane or generous feeling. That he was not cruel for cruelty's sake is about the praise which may be accorded to the burglar who would find no particular pleasure in picking a lock if he could get nothing by it, but would not hesitate to commit murder if it were necessary for the security of his booty. Can an instance be cited of his having considered the interest of any one but himself, or refraining from any gratification that would entail loss or injury to others? "He loved the tall deer as though he were their father," and for the paternal pleasure of hunting and slaying them, he ruthlessly laid waste the lands and utterly ruined thousands upon thousands of the hapless people to whom he should have been a father, putting out the eyes of those who killed hart or hind within his forests! Courteous and debonnair to those who implicitly obeyed his behests or were instrumental to his far-sighted policy, he was "stark" to all who opposed him. Like Sheridan's Sir Anthony, he was compliance itself when he was not thwarted. No one more easily led — when he had his own way.
The favours conferred by him on his own family failed in nearly every instance to secure their affection or fidelity, and such remarkable ingratitude can only be accounted for by the distrust the recipients of his bounty entertained of the motives of their benefactor. To the same cause may fairly be attributed the otherwise inexplicable tergiversations of his feudal lord, Henry, King of France, one day his generous protector, and the next his bitter enemy.
His liberalities to his followers were cheaply bestowed at the expense of others, and not only unavoidable rewards for important services rendered, but excellent securities for their future good behaviour, as he could seize at his pleasure the broad lands they held of him, every acre of which he caused to be measured and valued, the number and condition of every human being, and the live stock upon their lands ascertained and recorded, so that not a rood of land nor a living soul, nor a pig, could escape his clutches, if, upon any pretence whatever, he thought fit to take possession of them. To this masterpiece of policy we are indebted for the great survey of England, known as Domesday Book, the worth of which to the student of English history is not lessened by the cause of its compilation.
His rigid administration of justice appears like a grim satire on the supreme contempt of it he exhibited in his own conduct. Indignation at the slightest infringement of the monopoly of murder, robbery, and wrong doing vested in his own person. Even the reputation for conjugal fidelity so eagerly claimed for him by his apologists, rests upon a very fragile foundation, and as we learn from William of Malmesbury, was circumstantially denied in his time. The same writer, while he considers it folly — good, easy man, — to believe such stories about "so great a king," unwittingly deprives the boasted continence of the Conqueror of any claim to rank amongst "his other virtues," whatever they may have been, by informing us that even in his youth he was so insensible to the allurements of beauty, that the gossip of the day attributed his indifference to a defect of Nature, and not to a sense of morality. "Love! his affections did not that way tend." Notwithstanding all the sentimental descriptions of his conjugal affection, I question whether he ever loved any one in the world but himself. With a will of iron he possessed a heart of stone, and the damning proof that he had not been able to secure the attachment of a single fellow-creature of any class is patent by the fact of his body being ignominiously stripped and utterly deserted the moment he was no longer to be feared.
But is there any real foundation for the stereo-typed assertion of that connubial fidelity and felicity which has been so greatly vaunted by modern writers; that uxorious devotion which is claimed for him as the "One virtue," which must be allowed to him "linked with a thousand crimes," of which it is admitted he was guilty?
The wife, whose loss he is said to have deplored so deeply, though crowned in England, was immediately sent back to Normandy, and from that day to the hour of her death was never again allowed to set foot in her doating husband's kingdom. With the exception of his hasty and brief visits to Normandy, rendered imperative by political events, the affectionate and faithful husband saw nothing of the beloved partner of his bosom for sixteen years! The Queen of England was compelled to be merely the vice-regent of the Duchy of Normandy. The latter portion of their married life was notoriously one constant scene of altercation, occasioned by Matilda's surreptitious support of her favourite son, Robert Court-heuse, against the father, who disliked and despised him, and the presence of William at her death-bed was purely accidental, as he happened to be at that moment in Normandy. The hypocrite, who had shed crocodile tears over the head of the conveniently murdered Edwin, has forfeited all claim to be considered a sincere mourner under any circumstances, unless they unfavourably affected his individual interests, and therefore the recorded long lamentation for the loss of his wife, if unfeigned, must be estimated according to the political importance he attached to her existence at that period.
Where is the slightest evidence of his affection? And now as regards his fidelity. There is certainly no conclusive evidence that William Peverel was the natural son of William of Normandy by the daughter of Ingleric, as stated in the reign of Elizabeth, not only by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald, but "the learned Gamden," who was a conscientious historian as well as a herald.
I perfectly agree with Mr. Freeman that "the uncorroborated assertions of a herald are not materials for history." I will go further, and contend that the uncorroborated assertions of any writer are not to be implicitly relied on, and though Mr. Freeman is not bound to believe the herald, his uncorroborated assertion to the contrary is of no greater value, — much less, indeed, when the characters of Glover and Camden are taken into consideration, who were the last men in the world to invent such a story, and had beyond doubt what they considered sufficient authority for their statements. That they did not cite it, is to be deplored; but such omissions were too common in those days; and the absence of any possible motive for their fabricating such a story must relieve them at least of the responsibility.
That scandals were in general circulation respecting the Conqueror as early as the thirteenth century is acknowledged by William of Malniesbury; and if we are to discredit the statement of Glover and Gamden as regards Peverel, and the report of Matilda's jealousy of the daughter of another priest recorded by Malmesbury, what answer is to be made to Pere Anselm and other writers who set down a natural daughter of King William as the wife of Hugh du Château-sur-Loir? Who was really the father of Thomas Archbishop of York, who, in 1081, in presence of King William, of Matilda his Queen, and their sons Robert and William, Archbishop Lanfranc, and other important personages, signed himself "Regis filius"? (Olivarius Vredius, Gen. Com. Fland. Prob. Tab. 3.) He and his brother Sampson, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, were two young clerks sent by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, to Liége, for their education. Thomas, a simple canon of Bayeux at the time of the Conquest, was, on the first opportunity, placed on the archiepiscopal throne of York! Brompton vaguely calls him the son of a priest; and we learn from an obituary appended to the "Liber Vitae Dunelmensis," in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, a MS. of uncertain date, that the names of his parents were Osbert and Muriel; ["Liber Vitæ Dunelm.," ed. Surtees Soc., pp. 139-40. Vide also tho notice of William Peverel, vol. ii., in which I have more fully discussed the subject.] but the Archbishop calls himself "son of the King" to the King's face? Has Vredius or his printer made a blunder? Did Thomas actually declare himself "Regis filius"?
A marvellous example of the successfulness of success, the long series of victories and advantages obtained by him threw a glory round his name as a king, in the blaze of which his crimes as a man were altogether overlooked, or but dimly discernible, by later historians; while his bounties to the Church, which he eagerly enumerated on his miserable death-bed, his enrichment and foundation of abbeys and convents, and the distribution of the enormous wealth he had wrung from his English subjects amongst the churches throughout his dominions, secured for him the few words of praise with which the old clerical chroniclers qualify their honest condemnation of his general conduct. In the present age we can only look upon them as the bribes which the superstition of those days, assiduously fostered by the priesthood, who reaped the benefit of them, induced the most atrocious criminals to believe would avert the anger of Heaven.
I must again observe, this is a personal and not a political history. I have dealt with the man, and not with the monarch, and if my estimate of his character be considered unfair, I can only appeal to the facts on which it is founded, his own confessions as reported by Orderic, and the testimony of chroniclers of his own age, who wrote while his sons Rufus and Henry were still on the throne, and who, much as they are to be commended for their frankness, could scarcely fail being influenced by considerations of the existing circumstances and the possible danger of stronger denunciation.
In future chapters further proof will be given incidentally of the cruelty, treachery, and rapacity of "this grasping and suspicious tyrant, hated alike by both nations, and harassed by enemies from his hearth to his utmost frontier," [Cobbe: History of the Norman Kings of England.] who, while justifying, by permission of an inscrutable Providence, the epithet of Conqueror, in its familiar acceptation, singularly throughout his career, from the moment he clutched the rushes in his infant grasp to the day he seized the crown of England, proved still more clearly his claim to the title, "Conquæstor" in its stricter sense of "Acquirer." [Vide Ducange in voce. The word was so understood in Normandy. Certain parishes on the left bank of the Ept, annexed by Hugh de Gournay to his domains, in the 12th century, were distinguished as "Les Conquets Hue de Gournay." — De la Marie. Recherches Hist.]
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.