Page images
[ocr errors]



William was pitiless and unscrupulous, but not wantonly cruel. He evicted a tenantry to form a forest, and let his lands to the highest bidder; but he forbade the sale of slaves, abolished punishment by death, and tried honestly to do justice to every man. Never had the king's peace been so good; never were murder, robbery, and violence so unsparingly punished, as under the conqueror. His fame has suffered unfairly because the strong government which he introduced was less popular, especially in the hands of foreigners, than the disorder to which the people had been accustomed. His taxation and high rentals, even his admirable census, were thought unkingly, and ascribed to avarice; yet every man allowed that William kept royal state and generously rewarded those who served him; the people, could they have understood his policy, might have admired the man who spent a little money to keep foreign foes from our shores, while he yet never compromised England's honour in the field. In an age of gross profligacy, William's private life was severely pure. He found the Norman clergy illiterate; and before he died that province was the centre of European thought. He was a devout man for his times, and one who attended mass regularly, founded abbeys, and promoted good men when he could do it without loss to his own interests. But with Hildebrand for pope, and Lanfranc for primate, William inaugurated the greatest change in our his-tory, and commenced the substitution of criminal courts for a church inquisition. There were few to mourn for the iron soldier, whose tears at Edwin's death are the only womanly touch in his history. But those who remembered the drivelling superstition of Edward's court, the crafty and unscrupulous nature of Harold, and the long records of Anglo-Saxon feebleness, might admit that the change to Norman rule, though carried out with much suffering, had been good; and those who lived to witness the orgies of the second William's court, the feudal disorders of Normandy under Robert, or the worse horrors of Stephen's reign in England, might well look back with regret to "the famous baron," who " was mild to the good men who loved God, and beyond all measure severe to the men who

[blocks in formation]

gainsayed his will." It was doubtless the presage of future evil as well as grief for his old master, that almost broke the heart of Lanfranc when he heard of William's death.

A. S. Chronicle, A., 1085; Malmesbury, lib. iii., pp. 453-459; Orderic, vol. ii., p. 218; vol. iii., p. 3.

2 Eadmer, Hist. Nov., p. 361.



WILLIAM RUFUS lost no time in setting sail for England. He had a letter from his father for Lanfranc, and the primate was well inclined to a prince whom he had educated and consecrated knight; but as the price of his adhesion, he took care to exact a promise that William would show grace and right, defend the church, and follow Lanfranc's counsel. The English clergy would naturally follow their head, and William was politic enough to fulfil the terms of his father's bequest to the monasteries and royal servants, and even added large gifts to the churches of the crucifixes and precious plate which the treasury contained. His coronation at Winchester was apparently accepted by the nobles, but was not confirmed by a vote from the royal council. The English were well pleased at a change that promised to sever the connection with Normandy. But the great lords who owned estates in both countries, foresaw that they might be exposed to the hazards and losses of a divided allegiance. Enough of William's character was already known to show that his vices had no alloy of weakness, and that he would exact obedience as unsparingly as his father. Their first exercise of kingly power showed the difference between the brothers: Robert dismissed the prisoners or hostages at his father's court with presents proportioned to their rank; William took the earls Morcar, Siward, Beorn, and Wulfnoth, Harold's brother, with him to England, and at once consigned them again to a prison.



It was certain that the Norman barons would not long allow such excellent reasons and excuses for rebellion as a doubtful succession afforded, to rust for want of use. Eudes of Bayeux had been restored to his former position of nominal first man in the kingdom and his old jealousy of Lanfranc, the real depositary of power, soon revived. A rebellion was plotted with the principal lords, and so contrived as to break out in every part of the kingdom at the same time. Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester, succeeded in driving back the insurgent army of Shropshire and Herefordshire; but Norwich, Durham, and Bristol, fell into the hands of the rebels, who spread over the neighbouring districts, laying waste the country as if they had no share in it. In this extremity William appealed to the lesser gentry, chiefly of English origin, and promised them better laws, in particular some relaxation of the forest-laws, if they would support him in a cause that was really their own. The instinct of confidence in a new king had not yet been worn out by William's acts, and a well-appointed, though not very numerous, army of English obeyed the royal summons; all who failed to appear were branded as "nithings" or craven, and disgraced for life.* The king's chief care was to keep the coast in his own possession. Robert, who had not opposed his brother's accession, was now preparing to cross, on an invitation from the insurgents. His preparations were made too slowly; the first detachments were defeated as they arrived, and William had time to crush the rebellion. First storming the castle of Tonbridge, he advanced to Pevensey,3 and captured it after a siege of six weeks.

Compare the two statements: "Ad nutum illius (sc. Lanfranci) totius regni spectabat intuitus."-Eadmer, Hist. Nov., lib. i., p. 301. "So well did the king by the bishop (Eudes), that all England fared according to his counsel and as he would."-A. S. Chron., A., 1088.

2 Probably the nithing who failed to follow his lord in war, suffered civil disability, like the craven who was vanquished in a duel.

Flor. Wig., vol. ii., p. 23; Malmesbury, lib. iv., p. 489; A. S. Chron., A., 1088; Orderic, vol. iii., p. 273, 274. The length of the siege of Pevensey will explain the discrepancy in the words of Florence, "mediocri exercitu," with those of the Saxon Chronicle, "then came to him much people." The king's first success had decided the waverers. But it is clear that there was no great national movement to support William, though his cause was the English one.



Eudes of Bayeux was among the prisoners. The king incautiously trusted him to parley with the garrison of Rochester; Eudes broke his parole, and again joined the rebellion. But he had miscalculated his chances: the summer was very hot, and the garrison suffered so severely from the vermin bred among them, that they were forced to capitulate. The English, who had now mustered in force, clamoured that the traitor bishop and his confederates should be hanged. But the Normans would not allow their king to proceed to extremity against his countrymen. Eudes, who had blessed the Norman banners at Hastings, was allowed to slink unharmed through the camp, with the royal trumpets blaring, and the English imprecating curses on his head. The rebellion now died out, and William was able to revenge himself on his brother by invading Normandy. Through the faithlessness or corruption of the Norman barons, he had soon mastered half the fortresses in the duchy; Rouen itself was only preserved by a fight in the streets, in which Robert and Henry contended in person against a faction of the citizens. The French king, who came in to assist his Norman vassal, was bought off with English gold. But Robert had the one resource of being a good soldier; he sustained the war till the barons were weary of it, and after much bloodshed the brothers were reconciled. It was agreed that each should keep his own, even to the Norman castles which William held, that the estates of their partizans in either kingdom should be restored, and that if either king died childless, England and Normandy should be reunited under the survivor. Robert's renunciation of his claim, for the present, was in some degree compensated by the grant of large estates.

William was now undisturbed master of England, and his tiger-like disposition, rapacious, lustful, and cruel, soon showed itself. Lanfranc remonstrated with his pupil, and reminded him of old promises; he was met with the answer that men often promised more than they could perform. Yet there was

The chief reason why Eudes failed, seems to have been that he was better known than loved in Kent, where his manors had been. "Pene omnes optimates ejusdem provincia (sc. Cantia) erant cum rege.”—Flor. Wig., vol. ii., p. 23.

« PreviousContinue »