"And what wouldst thou like best?" he asked of Halfdan.
"Cows," said the boy.
"How many wouldst thou like to have?"
"So many, that when they went to the lake to drink, they should stand as tight round the lake as they could stand."
"That would be a great house-keeping!" said the king; "and now, Harald, what wouldst thou have?" "Followers."
"And how many of them?"
"Oh, so many as would eat up all Halfdan's cows at a single meal!"
Olaf laughed, and said, "Here, mother, thou art bringing up a king."
In fact, Guttorm and Halfdan followed the quiet life of their father, but Harald was of far different temper. When Olaf returned from his exile in Russia, young Harald, who was scarcely fifteen, joined him with all the followers he could muster, and insisted on taking part in the battle of Stiklestad.
Olaf told him he was too young; but Harald boldly answered, "I am not so weak but I can handle the sword; and as to that, I have a notion of tying the sword to my hand;" and then the brave boy sung out some verses, composed on the spur of the moment, according to a talent often found among the Northmen, and highly valued:
"Our army's wing, where I shall stand, I will hold good with heart and hand; My mother's eye shall joy to see, A batter'd, blood-stain'd shield from me. The brave young skald should gaily go Into the fray, change blow for blow; Cheer on his men, gain inch by inch, And from the spear-point never flinch."
Olaf saw plainly that his high-spirited mother had infused her own temper into her youngest son as entirely as into himself, and yielded his consent that Harald should take part in the battle. It was a mournful beginning for a young warrior. Harald beheld the fall of his noble brother, and was himself severely wounded. He was led from the field by a faithful bonder, who hid him in his house; but the spirit of the young minstrel warrior was undaunted, and, during his recovery, he sung thus:
"My wounds were bleeding as I rode, And down the hill the bonders strode, Killing the wounded with the sword, The followers of their rightful lord. From wood to wood I crept along, Unnoticed by the bonder throng; 'Who knows,' I thought, 'a day may come, My name may yet be great at home.'"
As soon as his wounds were healed, Harald took refuge in Russia, and thence travelled to Constantinople, where he became one of the renowned guards of the Greek Emperor, composed of hired Northmen and Saxons, and called Vaeringer, or Varangians, from the word Wehr, a defence. He went from Constantinople to the Holy Land, bathed in the Jordan, paid his devotions at Jerusalem, and killed the robbers on the way. Strange stories were told of his adventures at Constantinople, of the Empress Zoe having fallen in love with him, and of his refusal to return her affection; upon which she raised an accusation against him, that he had misapplied the pay of the Vaeringers, and threw him into prison, whence, as the story related, he was freed by a lady, who was commissioned to rescue him by St. Olaf, his brother, who appeared to her in a dream. She brought him a rope ladder, and he escaped to his ship, broke through the chains that guarded the harbor, and sailed northward through the Black Sea, composing on his voyage sixteen songs in honor of Elisif, the Russian king's daughter, whom he married on his arrival at Novogorod. He obtained with her great riches, which he added to the treasures he had brought from Constantinople.
St. Olaf's son, Magnus, was reigning in Norway, and Harald Hardrada designed to obtain from him a portion of the kingdom, to winch, by the old Norwegian law, every descendant of Harald Harfagre had an equal claim. Harald united with his cousin Swend, who had been dispossessed of an earldom by Magnus, and they advanced together; but Harald was inclined, if possible, rather to decide the matter by a treaty, than by force of arms; while Swend, on the other hand, wished for war and revenge.
One evening, as the two allies were sitting together, Swend asked Harald what he valued most of all his property.
"My banner, Land-Waster," answered Harald.
"It has always been said that this banner carries victory with it, and so I have ever found it."
"I will believe in that when thou hast borne it in three battles with thy nephew Magnus, and won them all."
"I know my kindred with king Magnus," answered Harald, "without thy recalling it; and though we are now in arms against him, our meeting may be of another sort."
They came to high words, Swend reproaching his ally with breaking his agreement. Harald distrusted his intentions, and, at night, did not, as usual, sleep in a tent on the deck of his ship, but left a billet of wood in his place. At midnight a man rowed silently up to the side of the ship, crept up to the tent, and struck so violent a blow with his axe, that it remained sticking in the wood, while the murderer retired to his boat, and rowed away in the dark.
Harald, convinced of this treachery, deserted Swend, and went to join Magnus, who met him in a friendly manner, and invited him, with sixty of his men, to a banquet.
After the feast, Magnus went round the table, distributing gifts of robes and weapons to the sixty men; but when he came to Harald, he held up two sticks, and asked which of them he would choose. Harald took the nearest, and Magnus declared that therewith he gave up to him half his power and land in Norway, making him of equal right with himself, and only reserving the first seat when they should be together at any time.
Harald sent for all the treasure he had brought home, declaring that they would likewise divide their riches; and the gold was weighed out, and placed in two equal heaps, each on an ox-hide. But Magnus had no riches to contribute, for he said that the turmoils in the country had so impoverished him, that all the gold he possessed was the ring on his finger, which his father, St. Olaf, had given him at their last parting. Even this, Harald said, smiling, perhaps belonged rightfully to him, since it was, at first, the property of his father, Sigurd Syr. However, the two kings parted amicably, and reigned together without disagreements of any consequence, for the remembrance of St. Olaf seemed always to be a link between his son and brother. Magnus, the more gentle of the two, died just as his uncle had led him to enter on a war of ambition with Swend, King of Denmark.
Norwegian traditions relate that he dreamt that his father, St. Olaf, appeared to him, saying, "Wilt thou choose, my son, to follow me, or to become a long-lived and powerful king, at the cost of a crime that can never be expiated?"
"Do thou choose for me, father," he answered.
"Then follow me," replied the spirit.
Magnus awoke, told the dream, sickened, and died, leaving the whole of Norway to Harald Hardrada, and declaring that it would be just not to molest Swend in his possession of Denmark.
Harald reigned prosperously, until, in an evil hour, he received Tostig, the son of Godwin, and listened to his invitation to come and invade England, and revenge him on his brother Harold. He fitted out a great armament, sailed up the Humber, plundered and burnt Scarborough, defeated the young earls of Mercia and Northumberland, and summoned York to surrender.
The citizens, dreading an assault, promised to yield the next day; and, accordingly, early in the morning, Hardrada, Tostig and a small band of followers, set out from their camp at Stamford Bridge, on the banks of the Ouse, to receive the keys. The day was bright and warm, though late in September, and the Northmen had left behind them their shirts of mail, and only bore sword, shield, and helmet; even Harald himself had left behind his hawberk Emma, and only wore a blue robe embroidered with gold, and a rich helmet.
As they were approaching the city, they suddenly beheld a cloud of dust, and beneath it the glitter of armor, glancing, as the Norwegians said, like sparkling ice. As they came nearer, they could distinguish the red dragon standard of Wessex, proving that there was the king whom they had supposed to be far away on the south coast, watching to prevent the landing of William of Normandy.
Though taken by surprise, outnumbered, and half-armed, Hardrada did not lose courage. He sent messengers to summon the rest of his men, and planting in the midst his banner, Land-Waster, ranged his troops round it in a circle, with the ends of their spears resting on the ground, and the points turned outward.
Twenty horsemen, in full armor, advanced from the Saxon army, and one of them, riding close up to the circle, called out, "Where is Earl Tostig, the son of Godwin?"
"He is here!" replied Tostig.
"Thy brother salutes thee, offers thee peace, his friendship, and the Earldom of Northumbria; nay, rather than not be friends with thee, he would give thee the third of his kingdom."
"If he had held this language a year ago," replied Tostig, who knew the speaker but too well, "he would have saved the lives of many men. But what will he offer my noble ally, King Harold Sigurdson?"
"Seven feet of English earth," answered the horseman, proudly scanning the gigantic figure of the Sea-King, "or maybe a little more."
"Then," said Tostig, "King Harold, my brother, may prepare for battle. Never shall it be said that the son of Godwin forsook the son of Sigurd." It must have been a strange look that passed between those two brothers, thus on the verge of a deadly strife, each surrounded with dangers that could scarcely be averted, and but of late actuated with bitter hate, but, at the decisive moment, that hatred giving way, and their hearts yearning to each other, with the memories of long-past days, yet both too proud to show how they were mutually touched, too far pledged to their separate parties to follow the impulse that would have drawn them once together in love. It was too late; the battle must be fought—the brothers' deeds had decided their lot.
The Saxon horseman rode off, and the Norwegian King asked, who was the man who had been speaking so well.
"It was King Harold Godwinson," said Tostig.
"Why did I not learn this sooner?" said Hardrada. "He should never have had to boast of the slaughter of our men."
"It may have been imprudent," said Tostig, "but he was willing to grant me peace and a great dominion. If one of us must die, I had rather he should slay me, than I slay him."
So spoke Tostig, who had, of late, been rushing from country to country to stir up foes against his brother. Surely he would have given worlds to check the ruin he had wrought, though his sense of honor would not allow him to forsake his ally.
"He is but a little man, but he sits firmly in his stirrups," returned Harald Hardrada; and then, to cheer his men in their desperate case, he chanted aloud one of his impromptu war-songs:
"Advance, advance, The helmets glance; But blue swords play In our array.
"Advance, advance, No hawberks glance— But hearts are here That know no fear."
"These verses sound but ill," said the Sea-King, interrupting himself; "we will make some better;" and, careful of his verses as a Skald in his last battle, as well as in his first, he sung:
"In battle morn we seek no lee, With skulking head and bending knee, Behind the hollow shield; With eye and hand we guard the head, Courage and promptness stand instead, Of hawberk, on this field."
It was his death-song. Early in the battle his throat was pierced by an arrow; and learning his death, Harold Godwinson sent once more to offer Tostig pardon, and leave to the Northmen to return home; but they refused quarter, and Tostig would not forsake them. The other Northmen from the ships joined them, and the fight raged with more fury than ever in the "death-ring," as the Skalds termed it, round the banner Land-Waster. Tostig fell there, and only a few fled to their ships, protected by a brave Norseman, who stood alone to guard Stamford bridge, then only consisting of a few planks, till an Englishman crept under, thrust up his spear, and slew him from below.
However, Harold's condition was too critical to allow of his wasting his strength on a defeated foe; he allowed Hardrada's son to return unmolested to Norway with his fleet and the remains of his army, and he gave great offence to his men by not sharing the plunder of the camp with them.
So died the last of the Sea-Kings, by the last Anglo-Saxon victory.
THE NORMAN INVASION. (1066.)
The Duke of Normandy seems to have considered himself secure of the fair realm of England, by the well-known choice of Edward the Confessor, and was reckoning on the prospects of ruling there, where the language and habits of his race were already making great progress.
On a winter day, however, early in 1066, as William, cross-bow in hand, was hunting in the forests near Rouen, a horseman galloped up to him and gave him, in a low voice, the information that his cousin, King Edward of England, was dead, and that Earl Harold of Kent had been crowned in his stead.
With fierce rage were these tidings given, for the bearer of them was no other than Tostig, who attempted to bring the Normans against his brother, before seeking the aid of Harald Hardrada in the north.
No less was the ire of the Norman Duke excited, but he was of too stern and reserved a nature to allow his wrath to break out at once into words. Sport, however, was at an end for him; he threw down his cross-bow, and walked out of the forest, his fine but hard features bearing so dark and gloomy an expression, that no one dared to ask what had disturbed him.
Without a word, he entered the castle, and there strode up and down the hall, his hands playing with the fastenings of his cloak, until suddenly throwing himself on a bench, he drew his mantle over his face, turned it to the wall, and became lost in deep musings.
His knights stood round, silent and perplexed, till a voice was heard humming a tune at a little distance, and the person entered who, more than any other, shared the counsels of Duke William, namely, William Fitzosborn, Count de Breteuil, son of that Osborn the seneschal who had been murdered in the Duke's chamber.
The two Williams were of the same age, had been brought up together, and Fitzosborn now enjoyed the office of seneschal, and was on a more intimate footing with his lord than any other was admitted to by the dark and reserved prince. All the knights gathered round him to ask what ailed the Duke.
"Ah!" said he, "you will soon hear news that will not please you;" and as William, roused by his voice, sat up on the bench, he continued: "Sir, why hide what troubles you? It is rumored in the town that the King of England is dead, and that Harold has broken his faith, and seized the realm."
"You are right," replied the Duke. "I am grieved at the death of King Edward, and at the wrong Harold has done me."
Fitzosborn answered with such counsels as his master would best be pleased to hear. "Sir, no one should grieve over what cannot be undone, far less over what may be mended. There is no cure for King Edward's death, but there is a remedy for Harold's evil deeds. You have warlike vassals; he has an unjust cause. What needs there, save a good heart? for what is well begun, is half done."
William's wishes lay in the direction his friend pointed out, but he was wary, and weighed his means before undertaking the expedition against so powerful and wealthy a state as England. His resources seemed as nothing in comparison with those of England; his dukedom was but a petty state, himself a mere vassal; and though he had reason to hope that the English were disaffected toward Harold, yet, on the other hand, he was not confident of the support of his own vassals—wild, turbulent men, only kept in cheek by his iron rule, without much personal attachment to one so unbending and harsh, and likely to be unwilling to assist in his personal aggrandizement.
He paused and calculated, waiting so long that Tostig, in his impatience, went to Norway, and tried to find a prompter for Harold. Messages in the meantime passed between Normandy and England without effect. William claimed the performance of the oaths at Rouen, and Harold denied any obligation to him, offering to be his ally if he would renounce the throne, but otherwise defying him as an enemy.
Having at length decided, William summoned his vassals to meet at Lillebonne, and requested their aid in asserting his right to the English Crown.
When he left them to deliberate, all with one consent agreed that they would have nothing to do with foreign expeditions. What should they gain? The Duke had no right to ask their feudal service for aught but guarding their own frontier. Fitzosborn should he the spokesman, and explain the result of their parliament.
In came the Duke, and Fitzosborn, standing forth, spoke thus: "Never, my lord, were men so zealous as those you see here. They will serve you as truly beyond sea as in Normandy. Push forward, and spare them not. He who has hitherto furnished one man-at-arms, will equip two; he who has led twenty knights, will bring forty. I myself offer you sixty ships well filled with fighting men."
Fitzosborn was stopped by a general outcry of indignation and dissent, and the assembly tumultuously dispersed; but not one of the vassals was allowed to quit Lillebonne till after a private conference with William, and determined as they might be when altogether, yet not a count or baron of them all could withstand the Duke when alone with him; and it ended in their separately engaging to do just as Fitzosborn had promised for them; and going home to build ships from their woods, choose out the most stalwart villains on their estates to be equipped as men-at-arms and archers, to cause their armorers to head the cloth-yard shafts, repair the hawberks of linked chains of steel, and the high-pointed helmets, as yet without visors, and the face only guarded by a projection over the nose. Every one had some hope of advantage to be gained in England; barons expected additional fiefs, peasants intended to become nobles, and throughout the spring preparations went on merrily; the Duchess Matilda taking part in them, by causing a vessel to be built for the Duke himself, on the figure-head of which was carved a likeness of their youngest son William, blowing an ivory horn.
William, in the meantime, sought for allies in every quarter, beginning with writing to beg the sanction of the Pope, Alexander II., as Harold's perjury might be considered an ecclesiastical offence.
The Saxons were then in no favor at Rome; they had refused to accept a Norman Primate appointed by Edward; and Stigand, their chosen Archbishop, was at present suspended by the Court of Rome, for having obtained his office by simony: the whole Anglo-Saxon Church was reported to be in a very bad and corrupt state, and besides, Rome had never enjoyed the power and influence there that the Normans had permitted her. Lanfranc, Abbot, of St. Stephens, at Caen, and one of the persons most highly esteemed by William, was an Italian of great repute at Rome, and thus everything conspired to make the Pope willing to favor the attempt upon England.
He therefore returned him a Bull (a letter so called from the golden bull, or bulla, appended to it), appointing him, as the champion of the Church, to chastise the impious perjurer Harold, and sent him a consecrated banner, and a gold ring containing a relic of St. Peter.
Thus sanctioned, William applied to his liege lord Philippe I. of France, offering to pay homage for England as well as Normandy; but Philippe, a dull, heavy, indolent man, with no love for his great vassal, refused him any aid; and William, though he made the application for form's sake, was well pleased to have it so.
"If I succeed," he said, "I shall be under the fewer obligations."
When he requested aid from Matilda's brother Baldwin, Count of Flanders, the answer he received was a query, how much land in England he would allot as a recompense. He sent, in return, a piece of blank parchment; but others say, that instead of being an absolute blank, it contained his signature, and was filled up by Baldwin, with the promise of a pension of three hundred marks.
Everything was at length in readiness; nine hundred ships, or rather large open boats, were assembled at the mouth of the Dive; lesser barks came in continually, and counts, barons, and knights, led in their trains of horsemen and archers.
All William's friends were round him, and his two half-brothers, the sons of Arlette, Robert, Count of Eu, and Odo, the warlike Bishop of Bayeux. Matilda was to govern in his absence, and his eldest son, Robert, a boy of thirteen, was brought forward, and received the homage of the vassals, in order that he might be owned as heir of Normandy, in case any mishap should befall his father on the expedition.
Nothing delayed the enterprise but adverse winds, and these prevailed so long that the feudal army had nearly exhausted their forty days' stock of provisions; knight and man-at-arms murmured, and the Duke was continually going to pray in the Church of St. Valery, looking up at the weathercock every time he came out.
On the eve of St. Michael, the Duke's anxious face became cheerful, for a favorable wind had set in, and the word was given to embark. Horses were led into the ships, the shields hung round the gunwale, and the warriors crowded in, the Duke, in his own Mora, leading the way, the Pope's banner at his mast's head, and a lantern at the stern to guide the rest.
By morning, however, he outstripped all the fleet, and the sailor at the mast-head could see not one; but gradually first one sail, then another, came in sight, and by the evening of Michaelmas-day, 1066, the whole nine hundred were bearing, down upon Pevensey.
Those adverse winds had done Willium more favor than he guessed, for they had delayed him till Harold had been obliged to quit his post of observation in Sussex, and go to oppose the Northmen at York, and thus there was no one to interfere with the landing of the Normans, who disembarked as peacefully at Pevensey as if it had been Rouen itself.
William was almost the first to leap on shore; but as he did so, his foot slipped, and he fell. Rising, with his hands full of mud, he called out, "Here have I taken possession of the land which by God's help I hope to win!" Catching his humor, one of his knights tore a handful of thatch from a neighboring cottage, and put it into his hand, saying, "Sir, I give you seizin of this place, and promise that I shall see you lord of it before a month is past."
The troops were landed first, then the horses, and lastly the carpenters, who set up at once three wooden forts, which had been brought in the ships prepared to be put together. After dinner, William ordered all the ships to be burnt, to cut off all hope of return. He continued for several days at Pevensey, exercising the troops: and viewing the country. In one of these expeditions, he gave, what was thought, a remarkable proof of strength; for on a hot day, as they were mounting a steep hill, Fitzosborn grew faint and exhausted by the weight of his ponderous iron hawberk. The Duke bade him take it off, and putting it on over his own, climbed the hill and returned to his camp wearing both at once.
His landing, though he saw no one, had in reality been watched by a South-Saxon Thane, who, having counted Ins ships and seen his array, mounted, and, without resting day or night, rode to York, where, as Harold was dining, two days after the battle of Stamford Bridge, he rushed into the hall, crying out, "The Normans are come! they have built a fort at Pevensey!"
No time was to be lost, and at the dawn Harold and all his army were marching southward, sending a summons to the thanes and franklins of each county as he passed, to gather to the defence of the country.
His speed was too great, however, for the great mass of the people to be able to join him, even if they had been so minded, and they were for the most part disposed to take no part in the struggle, following the example of the young Earls of Mercia, Edwin and Morkar, who held aloof, unwilling alike to join Harold or the Normans.
When Harold reached London, his army was so much lessened by fatigue and desertion, that his mother, Gytha, and his two youngest brothers, Gyrtha and Leofwyn, advised him not to risk a battle, but to lay the country waste before the Normans, and starve them out of England. Harold answered, with the generous spirit that had been defaced and clouded by his ambition, "Would you have me ruin my kingdom? By my faith, it were treason. I will rather try the chances of a battle with such men as I have, and trust to my own valor and the goodness of my cause."
"Yet," said Gyrtha, "if it be so, forbear thyself to fight. Either willingly or under force, thou art sworn to Duke William. Thine oath will weigh down thine arm in battle, but we, who are all unpledged, are free to fight in defence of our realm. Thou wilt aid us if we are defeated, avenge us if we are slain."
Harold disregarded this advice, and was resolved to lead the host himself; he gathered his followers from Kent and Wessex, and marched southward.
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS. (1066.)
The first night after leaving London, Harold slept at Waltham Abbey, and had much conference with the Abbot, who was his friend, and appointed two Monks, named Osgood and Ailric, to attend him closely in the coming battle.
On the 12th of October, Harold found himself seven miles from the enemy, and halted his men on Heathfield-hill, near Hastings, the most advantageous ground he could find.
On the highest point he planted his standard bearing the figure of a man in armor, and marshalling his Saxons round it, commanded them to entrench themselves within a rampart and ditch, and to plant within them a sort of poles, on the upper part of which, nearly the height of a man from the ground, they interwove a fence of wattled branches, so that while the front rank might pass under to man the rampart, the rear might be sheltered from the arrows of the enemy.
These orders given, Harold and Gyrtha rode together to a hill, whence they beheld the Norman camp, when for a moment Harold was so alarmed at the number of their tents that he spoke of returning to London and acting as his mother had advised; but Gyrtha showed him that it was too late; he could not turn back from the very face of the enemy, without being supposed to fly, and thus yielding his kingdom at once.
Three Saxons presently came to the brothers who had been seized as spies by the Normans, and, by order of William, led throughout his camp, and then sent away to report what they had seen. Their story was that the Norman soldiers were all Priests, at which Harold laughed, since they had been deceived by the short-cut locks and smooth chins of the Normans, such as in England were only worn by ecclesiastics, warriors always wearing flowing locks and thick moustaches.
Several messages passed between the two camps, William sending offers of honors and wealth to Harold and Gyrtha if they would cease their resistance; but when all were rejected, he sent another herald to defy Harold as a perjured traitor under the ban of the Church;—a declaration which so startled the Saxons, that it took strong efforts on the part of the gallant Gyrtha to inspirit them to stand by his brother.
This over, William addressed his soldiers from a little hillock, and put on his armor, hanging-round his neck, as a witness of Harold's falsehood, one of the relics on which the oath had been taken. He chanced to put on his hawberk with the wrong side before, and seeing some of his men disconcerted, fancying this a token of ill, he told them that it boded that his dukedom should be turned to a kingdom.
His horse was a beautiful Spanish barb sent him by the King of Castile; and so gallantly did he ride, that there was a shout of delight from his men, and a cry, "Never was such a Knight under Heaven! A fair Count he is, and a fair king he will be! Shame on him who fails him!"
William held in his hand the Pope's banner, and called for the standard-bearer of Normandy; but no one liked to take the charge, fearful of being hindered from gaining distinction by feats of personal prowess. Each elder knight of fame begged to be excused, and at last it was committed to Tunstan the White, a young man probably so called because he had yet to win an achievement for his spotless shield.
The army was in three troops, each drawn up in the form of a wedge, the archers forming the point; and the reserve of horse was committed to Bishop Odo, who rode up and down among the men, a hawberk over his rochet and a club in his hand.
On went the Normans in the light of the rising sun of the 13th of October, Taillefer, a minstrel-knight, riding first, playing on his harp and singing the war-song of Roland the Paladin. At seven o'clock they were before the Saxon camp, and Fitzosborn and the body under his command dashed up the hill, under a cloud of arrows, shouting, "Notre Dame! Dieu aide!" while the Saxons within, crying out, "Holy Rood!" cut down with their battle-axes all who gained the rampart, and at length drove them back again.
A second onset was equally unsuccessful, and William, observing that the wattled fence protected the Saxons from the arrows, ordered the archers to shoot their arrows no longer point blank, but into the sky, so that they might fall on the heads of the Saxons. Thus directed, these shafts harassed the defenders grievously; and Harold himself was pierced in the left eye, and almost disabled from further exertion in the command.
Yet at noon, the Normans had been baffled at every quarter, and William, growing desperate, led a party to attack the entrance of the camp. Again he was repulsed, and driven back on some rough ground, where many horses fell, and among them his own Spanish charger. A cry arose that the Duke was slain; the Normans fled, the Saxons broke out of their camp in pursuit, when William, throwing off his helmet and striking with his lance, recalled his troops, shouting, "Look at me! I live, and by Gods grace I will conquer." All the Saxons who had left the camp were slain, their short battle-axes being unfit to cope with the heavy swords and long lances of their enemies; and taught by this success, William caused some of his troops to feign a flight, draw them beyond the rampart, turn on them, and cut them down. The manoeuvre was repeated at different parts of the camp till the rampart was stripped of defenders, and the Normans forced their way into it, cut down the wattled fence, and gave admittance to the host of horse and foot who rushed over the outworks.
Yet still the standard floated in the midst of a brave band who—
"Though thick the shafts as snow. Though charging knights like whirlwinds go, Though bill-men ply the ghastly blow, Still fought around their King."
All who came near that close-serried ring of steadfast Saxon strength were cut down, and the piles of dead Normans round them were becoming ramparts, when twenty knights bound themselves by an oath that the standard should be taken, spurred their horses against the ranks, and by main force, with the loss of ten of their number, forced an opening. Ere the ranks could close, William and his whole force were charging into the gap made for a moment, trampling down the brave men, slaughtering on all sides, yet still unable to break through to the standard.
"Till utter darkness closed her wing O'er their thin host and wounded King."
Man by man the noble Saxons were hewn down as the Normans cut their way through them, no more able to drive them back than if they had been the trees of the forest. Gyrtha, the true-hearted and noble, fell under the sword of a Norman knight, Leofwyn lay near him in his blood, yet still Harold's voice was heard cheering on his men, and still his standard streamed above their heads.
At sunset, that well-known voice was no longer heard, and the setting sun beheld Tunstan the White perform the crowning achievement of the day, uproot the standard banner of Normandy that the morning beams had seen committed to his charge. Not an earl or thane of Wessex was living; and heaps of slain lay thick on Heathfield hill, and the valley round a very lake of blood. Senlac, or Sanglac, was its old name, and sounded but too appropriate to the French ears of the Conqueror, as, in a moment of sorrow for the fearful loss of life he beheld, he vowed that here should stand an Abbey where prayer should be made for pardon for his sins and for the repose of the souls of the slaughtered. Darkness came on; but the Saxons, retreating under its cover, were still so undaunted that the Normans could hardly venture to move about the field except in considerable parties, and Eustace of Boulogne, while speaking to the Duke, was felled to the earth by a sudden blow.
In the morning, Gytha, the widow of Godwin, who had lost four children by the perjury and ambition of one of them, came to entreat permission to bury. Gyrtha and Leofwyn lay near together at the foot of the banner. Harold was sought in vain, till Edith of the Swan neck, a lady he had loved, was brought to help in the melancholy quest.
She declared a defaced and mangled corpse to be that of Harold, and it was carried, with those of the two brothers, to the Abbey of Waltham, where it was placed beneath a stone bearing the two sorrowful words, "Infelix Harold."
Years passed on, and the people had long become accustomed to the Norman yoke, when there was much talk among them of a hermit, who dwelt in a cell not far from the town, in the utmost penitence and humility. He was seldom seen, his face was deeply scarred, and he had lost his left eye, and nothing was known of his name or history; but he was deeply revered for his sanctity, and when Henry Beauclerc once visited Chester, he sought a private interview with the mysterious penitent.
It is said, that when the hermit lay on his death-bed, he owned himself to be Harold, son of Godwin, once King of England for seven months. He had been borne from the bloody hill, between life and death, in the darkness of the evening, by the two faithful monks, Osgood and Ailric, and tended in secret till he recovered from his wounds.
Since that time he had been living in penitence and contrition, unknown to and apart from the world, and died at length, trusting that his forty years' repentance might be accepted.
If this tale be true, what a warning might not he have bestowed on the young prince Henry, destined to run a like course of perjury and ambition, and to feel it turn back upon him in the dreariness of desolate old age, when "he never smiled again." Had not the penitent Harold more peace at the last than the king Henry?
The same story is told of almost every king missed in a lost battle.
Arthur, borne away to die at Avalon, and believed to be among the fairies; Rodrigo, the last of the Goths, whose steed Orelio and horned helmet lay on the banks of the river, and whose name was found centuries after on a rude gravestone, near a hermitage; James IV., whom the Scots by turns hoped to see return from pilgrimage, and pitied as they looked at Lord Home's border tower; the gallant Don Sebastian, the last of the glorious race of Portuguese Kings, never seen after his shout of "Let us die!" in the tumult of Alcacer, yet long looked for by his loving people—of each in turn the belief has arisen among the subjects who clung to the hope of seeing the beloved prince, and dwelt on the doubt whether his corpse was identified. In the cases of Harold and Rodrigo—generous men tempted into fearful and ruinous crimes—one would hope the tale was true, and that the time for repentance was vouchsafed to them; nor are their stories entirely without authority.
Harold had three young children, who wandered about under the care of their grandmother, Gytha, at one time finding a shelter in the Holms, those two islets in the British Channel, at another taking refuge in Ireland, whence they at length escaped to Norway, and the daughter married one of the Kings of Novgorod, the beginning of the Empire of Russia. Ulfnoth, the only remaining son of the bold Godwinsons, was the hostage that Edward the Confessor had placed in the hands of the Duke of Normandy; he was seized upon once more by William Rufus, and remained in captivity till his death. The Conqueror kept his vow, and erected the splendid Battle Abbey on the field that gave him a kingdom. The high altar stood where Harold's banner had been planted, and the enclosures surrounded every spot where the conflict had raged.
They were measured out by the corpses of Normans and Saxons. The Battle-roll, a list of every Norman who had borne arms there, was lodged in the keeping of the Abbot, and contains the names of many a good old English family which has held the same land generation after generation, English now, though then called the Norman spoiler, but it is to be feared, that the roll was much tampered with to gratify family vanity. Battle Abbey was one of the greatest and richest foundations. The Abbot was a friar, and, according to the unfortunate habit of exempting monasteries from the Bishop's jurisdiction, was subject to no government but the Pope's; and this led to frequent disputes between the Abbot and the see of Winchester.
It was overthrown in the Reformation, and is now a mere ruin; but its beautiful arches still remain to show that, better than any other conqueror, William knew how to honor a battle-field. There is but one other Battle Abbey in the world—Batalha in Portugal—which covers the plain of Aljubarota, where Joao I. won his kingdom from Castile; and as his wife was a daughter of John of Gaunt, a most noble and high-minded princess, it is most probable that she suggested the work after the example of her great ancestor; nay, when the visitor enters the nave, and is reminded by the architecture of Winchester, it seems as if Philippa of Lancaster might have both proposed the foundation, and sent to England for the plan, to the Architect and Bishop, William of Wykeham.
Nor is Battle Abbey the only remaining monument of Hastings. Matilda's own handiwork prepared her thank offering of tapestry, recording her husband's victory; and this work, done as it was for a gift to Heaven, not a vainglorious record, still endures in the very cathedral to which she gave it, one of the choicest historical witnesses that have come down to our times. We might be apt to regret that she did not present her work to Battle Abbey, where it would have been most appropriate; but as the Puritans would most likely have called it a Popish vestment savoring of idolatry, we are consoled by thinking it probably owes its preservation to her having chosen to give it as a hanging on festival days to the Cathedral at Bayeux, the see of her husband's half-brother, Odo, who shared in all the toils and dangers of the expedition, and whom she has taken especial care to represent for the benefit of the townspeople of Bayeux; for wherever we find his broad face, large person, shaven crown, and the chequered red and green suit by which she expressed his wadded garment, his name is always found in large letters; and he is evidently in his full glory when we find him, club in hand, at the beginning of the battle, and these words worked round him: Odo Eps. (episcopus) baculum tenens, confortat pueros. He was one of the bad, warlike Bishops of those irregular times, and brought many disasters on himself by his turbulence and haughtiness.
Matilda's tapestry is a long narrow strip, little more than half a yard in breadth. It begins with Harold's journey to Normandy, and ends unfinished in the midst of the battle; and most curious it is. The drawing is of course rude, and the coloring very droll, the horses being red and green, or blue, and, invariably, the off-leg of a different color from the other three, while the ways in which both horses and men fall at Hastings make the scene very diverting.
Her castles, houses, and more especially Westminster Abbey, are of all the colors in the rainbow, and much smaller than the persons entering them, and yet in every figure there is spirit, in every face expression, and throughout, William, Harold, and Odo, bear countenances which are not to be mistaken. Harold has moustaches, which none of the Normans wore. There we find Harold taking his extorted oath; the death of King Edward, the Saxons gazing with horror at the three-tailed comet; the ship-building of yellow, green, and red boards, cut out of trees with most ludicrous foliage; the moon just as it is described; the disembarkation, where a bare-legged mariner wades out, anchor in hand; the very comical foraging party; the repast upon landing, where Odo is saying grace with two fingers raised in benediction, while the meat is served on shields, and fowls carried round spitted upon arrows. Then follows the battle, where William is seen raising his helmet by its nose-guard, and looking exceedingly fierce as he rallies his men; where horses and men tumble head over heels, and where, finally, Matilda broke off with a pattern of hawberks traced out, and no heads or legs put to them. What stayed her hand? Was it her grief at the conduct of her first-born that took from her all heart to proceed with her memorial, or was it only the hand of death that closed her toil, her womanly record of her husband's achievements?
The border must not be forgotten. It is a narrow edge above and below. At first it is worked with subjects from Phaedrus's fables (on having translated which was rested the fame of Henry's scholarship), and very cleverly are they chosen; for, as if in comment on Harold's visit to Rouen, we find in near neighborhood the stork with her head in the wolf's mouth, and the crow letting fall her cheese into the fox's jaws.
Matilda did not upbraid the Normans by working the Parliament of Lillebonne, but she or her designer surely had it in mind when a herd of frightened beasts was drawn, an ape in front of them making an oration to what may be a lion, as it is much bigger than the rest; but as Matilda never saw a lion, the likeness is not remarkable.
Further on are representations of agriculture, sowing, reaping, &c. Wherever there is a voyage, fishes swim above and below, and in the battle there is a border plentiful in dead men.
The Bayeux tapestry—the "Toile de St. Jean," as it is there called, from the feast-day when the cathedral was hung with it—remained unknown and forgotten, till it was brought to light by one of the last people that could have been expected—Napoleon. He was then full of his plan for invading England, and called general attention to the toile de St. Jean, to bring to mind the Norman Invasion, and show that England had once been conquered.
So she had, but he had to deal with the sons of both victors, and of those who were slain. Now vanquished, Norman and Saxon were one, and by the great mercy of Heaven upon their offspring, the English, not one battle has been fought, since Hastings, with a Continental foe upon English ground.
May that mercy be still vouchsafed us!
THE CAMP OF REFUGE. (1067-1072.)
King of England. 1066. William I.
In the fen country of Lincolnshire, there lived, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, a wealthy Saxon franklin named Leofric, Lord of Bourn. He was related to the great Earls of Mercia, and his brother Brand was Abbot of Peterborough, so that he, and his wife Ediva, were persons of consideration in their own neighborhood. They had a son named Hereward, and called, for some unknown, reason, Le Wake, a youth of great height and personal strength, and of so fierce and violent a disposition, that he disturbed the peace of the neighborhood to such a degree that he was banished from the realm. His high spirit found fit occupation in the armies of foreign princes: and pilgrims and minstrels brought home such reports of his prowess, that the people of Bourn no longer regarded him as a turbulent young scapegrace, but considered him as their pride and glory.
After a brilliant career abroad, Hereward married a Flemish lady, and was settled on her estates when the tidings reached him that his father was dead, and that his aged mother had been despoiled of her property, and cruelly treated, by a Norman to whom William the Conqueror had presented the estate of Bourn. No sooner did he receive this intelligence, than he set off with his wife, and, arriving in Lincolnshire, communicated in secret with his old friends at Bourn, collected a small band, attacked the Norman, drove him away, and re-instated Ediva in his paternal home.
But this exploit only exposed him to further perils. Normans were in possession of every castle around; his cousins, the young Earls Edwin find Morkar, had submitted to the Conqueror; Edwin was betrothed to Agatha, William's daughter; and their sister Lucy was married to an Angevin named Ivo Taillebois bringing him a portion of their lands, in right of which he called himself Viscount of Spalding. Their submission had availed them little; they, as well as Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon (son of Siward, and husband of the Conqueror's niece, Judith), were feeling that a hand of iron was over them, and regretting every day that he had not made common cause against the enemy before he had fully established his power. Selfishness, jealousy, and wavering, had overthrown and ruined the Saxons. Each had sought to secure his own lands and life, careless of his neighbors. No one had the spirit of Frithric, Abbot of St. Alban's, who blocked up the Conqueror's march with trunks of trees, and when asked by William why he had injured his woods for the sake of making an unavailing resistance, replied, "I did my duty. If every one had done as much, you would not be here." According to their own tradition, the men of Kent, coming forward, each carrying a branch of a tree, so that they advanced unperceived, "a moving wood," so encumbered William's passage that he could not proceed till he had taken an oath to respect their privileges. London, too, preserved its rights, owing to the management of a burgess, called Ansgard, who conducted the treaty with the Normans and would not admit them into the city till its liberties were secured.
William himself was anxious to be regarded not as a conqueror, but as reigning by inheritence from the Confessor. For this cause, when Matilda was crowned, he caused a Norman baron, Marmion of Fontenaye, to ride into the midst of Westminster Hall, and, throwing down his gauntlet, defy any man to single combat who denied the rights of William and Matilda. He himself took the old coronation oath drawn up by St. Dunstan, and pledged himself to execute justice according to the old laws of Alfred and Edward.
But William, whatever might be his own good intentions, was pressed by circumstances. He had lured his Normans across the channel with hopes of rich plunder in England, and knight and squire, man-at-arms and archer, were eager for their reward. Norman, Breton, Angevin, clamored for possession: families of peasants crossed the sea, expecting, in right of their French tongue, to be gentry at once, and lords of the churl Saxons; while the Saxons, fully conscious of their own nobility, and possessors of the soil for five hundred years, derided them in such rhymes as these:
"William de Coningsby Came out of Brittany With his wife Tiffany, And his maid Manfas, And his dog Hardigras."
But the laugh proved to be on the side of the new comers, and the Saxon, whether Earl, Thane, Franklin, or Ceorl, though he could trace his line up to Odin, and had held his land since Hengist first won Thanet, must give place to Hardigras and his master. And though our sympathies are all with the dispossessed Saxons, and the Normans appear as needy and rapacious spoilers, there is no cause for us to lament their coming. Without the Norman aristocracy, and the high spirit of chivalry and adventure thus infused, England could scarcely have attained her greatness; for, though many great men had existed among the unmixed Anglo-Saxon race, they had never been able to rouse the nation from the heavy, dull, stolid sensuality into which, to this day, an uncultivated Englishman is liable to fall.
One Norman, the gallant Gilbert Fitz-Richard, deserves to be remembered as an exception to the grasping temper of his countrymen. He would accept neither gold nor lands for the services he had rendered at Hastings. He said he had come in obedience to the summons of his feudal chief, and not for spoil, and, now his term of service was at an end, he would go back to his own inheritance, with which he was content, without the plunder of the widow and orphan.
For it was thus that William first strove to satisfy his followers. Every rich Saxon widow or heiress who could be found was compelled to marry a Norman baron or knight; but when there proved to be not a sufficiency of these unfortunate ladies, he was obliged to find other pretexts less apparently honorable. Every noble who had fought in the cause of Harold was declared a traitor, and his lands adjudged to be forfeited, and this filled the Earldoms of Wessex and Sussex with great numbers of Normans, who counted their wealth at so many Englishmen apiece, and made no scruple of putting their own immediate followers into the manors whence they thrust the ancient owners. As to the great nobles, they were treated so harshly that they were all longing, if possible, to throw off the yoke, and make the stand which they should have made a year ago, when William had won nothing but the single, hard-fought battle of Hastings.
Some of the Norman adventurers took great state on them, all the more, probably, because they had been nobodies in their own country. One of the most haughty of all was the Spalding Viscount, Ivo, whose surname of Taillebois seems to betray somewhat of his origin in Anjou. He was noted for his pompous language and insolent bearing; he insisted on his vassals kneeling on one knee when they addressed him, and he and his men-at-arms took every opportunity of tormenting the Saxons. He set his dogs at their flocks, lamed or drowned their cattle, killed their poultry, and, above all, harassed a few brethren of the Abbey of Croyland, who inhabited a grange not far from Spalding, to such a degree, that he obliged them at last to retreat to the Abbey, and then filled the house with monks from Anjou; and though the Abbot Ingulf was William's secretary, he could obtain no redress.
Such a neighbor as this was not likely to allow the re-instated Ediva to remain at Bourn in peace, and Hereward found that he must continue in arms, for her protection and his own. He placed his wife, Torfrida, in a convent, and, collecting his friends around him, kept up a constant warfare with the Normans, until at length he succeeded in fortifying the Isle of Ely, and establishing there what he called the Camp of Refuge, as it gave shelter to any Saxon who had suffered from the violence of the Normans, or would not adopt the new habits they tried to enforce.
The weak, helpless, and aged, were sheltered by the monastery and its buildings; the strong, enrolled in Hereward's gallant band. Some of them were of higher rank than himself, and in order that he might be on a par with them, as well as with his Norman enemies, he sought the order of knighthood from his uncle, Abbot Brand.
The Normans in general were knighted by lay nobles, and though their prince, William Rufus, received the order from Lanfranc, they would not acknowledge Hereward as a knight, though they could not help respecting his truth, honor, and courage; and it was a common saying among them, that if there had been only four men like him in England, they should never have gained a footing there. No wonder, when he never hesitated to fight singly with seven Normans at once, and each of his five principal followers was a match for three. They were Ibe Winter, his brother-in-arms; Eghelric, his cousin; Ital; Alfric; and Sexwald.
Many fugitives of high rank did Hereward receive in his Camp of Refuge. He had nearly been honored by the presence of his hereditary sovereign, Edgar the Etheling, but the plan failed. He did, however, shelter his two cousins, Morkar and Edwin. They had suffered much from the insolence of the Normans, and experienced the futility of the promises in which they had trusted, until at length they had been driven to join a rising in the North. It had been quickly suppressed, and the worst of all the cruelties of the Normans had avenged it, while the two earls, now become outlaws, fled to the Camp of Refuge. Thence Edwin was sent on a mission to Scotland, but on the way he was attacked by a party of his enemies and slain, after a gallant resistance. He was the handsomest man of his time, and his betrothed, Agatha, was devotedly attached to him; it is even said that the stern William himself wept when the bloody head of his daughter's lover was presented to him. A curious gold ornament has been of late years found in the field where Edwin was killed, and antiquaries allow us to imagine that it might have been a love-token from the Norman princess to the Saxon earl.
Another fugitive in Hereward's camp was the high-spirited Abbot Frithric, whose steady opposition to the illegal encroachments of the Normans had given great offence to William. Once Frithric had combined with other influential ecclesiastics to require of the Conqueror another oath to abide by the old English laws, and thus brought on himself an accusation of rebellion and sentence of banishment. He assembled his monks, and told them the time was come when, according to the words of Holy Scripture, they must flee from city to city, bade them, farewell, and, taking nothing with him but a few books, safely reached the Camp of Refuge, where he soon after died.
Thorold, the new Norman Abbot of Malmesbury, kept a body of archers in his pay, and whenever his monks resisted any of his improper measures, he used to call out, "Here, my men-at-arms!" At length the Conqueror heard of his proceedings. "I'll find him his match!" cried William. "I will send him to Peterborough, 'where Hereward will give him as much fighting as he likes."
To Peterborough, then, Thorold was appointed on the death of Hereward's uncle, Abbot Brand, while the poor monks of Malmesbury received for their new superior a certain Guerin de Lire, who disinterred and threw away the bones of his Saxon predecessors, and took all the treasure in the coffers of the convent, in order that he might display his riches in the eyes of those who had seen him poor.
Yet all the Norman clergy were not such as these, and never should be forgotten the beautiful answer of Guimond, a monk of St. Leufroi, such a priest as Fitz-Richard was a knight. William had summoned him to England, and he came without delay; but when he was told it was for the purpose of raising him to high dignity, he spoke thus: "Many causes forbid me to seek dignity and power; I will not mention all. I will only say that I see not how I could ever properly be the head of men whose manners and language I do not understand, and whose fathers, brothers, and friends, have been slain by your sword, disinherited, exiled, imprisoned, or harshly enslaved by you. Search the Holy Scriptures whether any law permits that the shepherd should be forced on the flock by their enemy. Can you divide what you have won by war and bloodshed, with one who has laid aside his own goods for the sake of Christ? All priests are forbidden to meddle with rapine, or to take any share of the prey, even as an offering at the altar; for, as the Scriptures say, 'He that bringeth an offering of the goods of the poor, is as one that slayeth the son before the father's eyes.' When I remember these commands of God, I am filled with terror; I look on England as one great prey, and dread to touch it or its treasures, as I should a red-hot iron."
Guimond then returned to Normandy, uninjured by the Conqueror, who, with all his faults, never took offence at such rebukes; but the worldly-minded clergy were excessively affronted at his censure of their rapacity, and raised such a persecution against him that he was obliged to take refuge in Italy.
As soon as the news arrived at the Camp of Refuge that the warlike Thorold had been appointed to Peterborough, Hereward and his hand hastened to the Abbey, and, probably with the consent of the Saxon monks, carried off all the treasures into the midst of the fens. Thorold, with one hundred and sixty men-at-arms, soon made his appearance, was installed as Abbot, and quickly made friends with his Norman neighbor, Ivo Taillebois.
They agreed to make an expedition against the robber Saxons, and united their forces, but Thorold appears to have been not quite as willing to face Hereward as to threaten his monks, and let Ivo advance into the midst of an extensive wood of alders, while he remained in the rear with some other Normans of distinction. Ivo sought through the whole wood without meeting a Saxon, and returning to the spot where he had left the Abbot, found no one there, for Hereward had quitted the wood on the opposite side, made a circuit, and falling suddenly on Thorold and his party, carried them off to the fens, and kept them there till they had paid a heavy ransom.
In 1072, the fifth year of the Camp of Refuge, it had assumed so formidable an aspect, that William thought it necessary to take vigorous measures against it, more especially as there had been lately a commencement of correspondence with the Danes. The difficulty was to reach it, for the treacherous ground of the fens afforded no firm footing for an army; there was not water enough for boats, no station for archers, no space for a charge of the ponderous knights, amongst the reedy pools. William decided on constructing a causeway, and employed workmen to cut trenches to drain off the water, and raise the bank of stones and turf, under the superintendence of Ivo Taillebois. However, Hereward was on the alert, harassing them perpetually, breaking on them sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, in such strange, unexpected ways, that at last the viscount came to the conclusion that he must have magic arts to aid him, and persuaded the king to let him send for a witch to work against him by counter spells. Accordingly, she was installed in a wooden tower raised at the end of the part of the causeway which was completed, and the workmen were beginning to advance boldly under her protection, when suddenly smoke and flame came driving upon them. Hereward had set fire to the dry reeds, and, spreading quickly, the flame cut off their retreat, and the unhappy woman perished, with many of the Normans.
Again and again were the Norman attacks disconcerted, and all that they could attempt was a blockade, which lasted many months, and might probably have been sustained many more by the hardy warriors, if some of the monks of Ely, growing weary of the privations they endured, had not gone in secret to the king, and offered to show him a way across the Marches, on condition that the wealth of the Abbey was secured.
Accordingly, a band of Normans crossed the fens, took the Saxons by surprise, killed a thousand men, and forced the camp. Hereward and his five comrades still fought on, crossed bogs where the enemy did not dare to follow them, and at length escaped into the low lands of Lincoln, where they met with some Saxon fishermen, who were in the habit of supplying a Norman station of soldiers. These Saxons willingly received the warriors into their boats, and hid them under heaps of straw, while they carried their fish as usual to the Normans. While the Normans were in full security, Hereward and his men suddenly attacked them, killed some, put the rest to flight, and seized their horses.
Collecting others of his scattered followers, Hereward kept up his warfare from his own house at Bourn, continually harassing the Normans, until at length he took prisoner his old enemy, Ivo Taillebois, and, as the price of his liberty, required him to make his peace with the Conqueror. This was good news to William, who highly esteemed his valor and constancy, and could accuse him of no breach of faith, since he had made no engagements to him. Hereward was therefore received as a subject of King William, retained his own estate, and died there at a good old age, respected by both Saxons and Normans.
There is, indeed, an old Norman-French poem, that declares it was for the love of a noble Saxon lady, named Alftrude, that Hereward ceased to struggle with the victors. According to this story, Alftrude, an heiress of great wealth, was so charmed by the report of Hereward's fame, that she offered him her hand, and persuaded him to make peace with William. It is further said, that one afternoon, as he lay asleep under a tree, a band of armed men, among whom were several Bretons, surrounded and murdered him, though not till he had slain fifteen of them.
But this story is not likely to be true, since we know that Hereward was already married, and the testimony of more than one ancient English chronicler declares that he spent his latter years in peace and honor. He was the only one of the Saxon chieftains who thus closed his days in his native home—the only one who had not sought to preserve his own possessions at the expense of his country, and who had broken no oaths nor engagements. His exploits are told in old ballads and half-romantic histories, and it is not safe to believe them implicitly, but his existence and his gallant resistance are certain.
Many years after, the remains of a wooden fort, the citadel, so to speak of the Camp of Refuge, still existed in the Isle of Ely, and was called by the peasantry Hereward's Castle. The treacherous monks of Ely were well punished by having forty men-at-arms quartered on their Abbey.
Of the captives taken in the camp, many were most cruelly treated, their eyes put out, and their hands cut off; others were imprisoned, and many slain. Morkar, who was here taken, spent the rest of his life in the same captivity as Ulfnoth, Stigand, and many other Saxons of distinction, with the one gleam of hope when liberated at William's death, and then the bitter disappointment of renewed seizure and captivity. If it could be any consolation to them, these Saxons were not William's only captives. Bishop Odo, of Bayeux, whom William had made Earl of Kent, after giving a great deal of trouble to his brother the king, and to Archbishop Lanfranc, by his avarice and violence, heard a prediction that the next Pope should be named Odo, and set off to try to bring about its fulfilment in his own person, carrying with him an immense quantity of ill-gotten treasure, and a large number of troops, commanded by Hugh the Wolf, Earl of Chester.
However, Odo had reckoned without King William, and he had but just set sail, when William, setting off from Normandy, met him in the Channel, took his ships, and making him land in the Isle of Wight, and convoking an assembly of knights, declared his offences, and asked them what such a brother deserved.
Between fear of the king and fear of the Bishop, no one ventured to answer, upon which William sentenced him to imprisonment; and when he declared that no one but the Pope had a right to judge him, answered, "I do not try you, the Bishop of Bayeux, but the Earl of Kent," and sent him closely guarded to Normandy.
Another Norman state-prisoner was Roger Fitzosborn, the son of William's early friend, who had died soon after the Conquest. Roger's offence was the bestowing his sister Emma in marriage without the consent of the king, and in addition, much seditious language was used at the wedding banquet, where, unhappily, was present Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon, the last Saxon noble.
Roger, finding himself in danger, broke out into open rebellion, but was soon made prisoner. Still the king would have pardoned him for the sake of his father, whom William seems to have regarded with much more affection that he be stowed on any one else, and, as a mark of kindness, sent him a costly robe. The proud and passionate Roger, disdaining the gift, kindled a fire, and burnt the garment on the dungeon floor; and William, deeply affronted, swore in return that he should never pass the threshold of his prison.
Waltheof, who was innocent of all save being present at the unfortunate feast, might have been spared but for the wickedness of his wife, Judith, William's niece, who had been married to him when it was her uncle's policy to conciliate the Saxons. She hated and despised the Saxon churl given her for a lord, kind, generous, and pious though he was; and having set her affections on a young Norman, herself became the accuser of her husband. Waltheof succeeded in disproving the calumnies, and the best and wisest Normans spoke in his favor; but the spite of Ivo Taillebois, and the hatred of his wife, prevailed, and he was sentenced to die.
He was executed at Winchester, where, lest the inhabitants should attempt a rescue, he was led out, early in the morning, to St. Giles's hill, outside the walls. He wore the robes of an earl, and gave them to the priests who attended him, and to the poor people who followed him. When he came to the spot he knelt down to pray, begging the soldiers to wait till he had said the Lord's Prayer; but he had only come to "Lead us not into temptation," when one of them severed his head from his body with one blow of a sword.
His body was hastily thrown into a hole; but the Saxons, who loved him greatly, disinterred it in secret, and contrived to carry it all the way to Croyland, where it was buried with due honors, and we may think of Hereward le Wake attending the funeral of the son of the stalwart old Siward Biorn.
As to the perfidious Judith, she reaped the reward of her crimes; she was not permitted to marry her Norman lover, and he was stripped of all the wealth she expected as the widow of Waltbeof. This was secured to her infant daughter, and was so considerable, that at one time William thought the little Matilda of Huntingdon a fit match for his son Robert; but Robert despised the Saxon blood, and made this project an excuse for one of his rebellions. Matilda was, however, a royal bride, since her hand was given to David I. of Scotland, the representative of the old race of Cerdic, and a most excellent prince, with whom she was much happier than she could well have: been with the unstable Robert Courtheuse.
THE LAST SAXON BISHOP. (1008-1095.)
Kings of England. 1066. William I. 1087. William II.
The last saint of the Anglo-Saxon Church, the Bishop who lived from the days of Edward the Confessor, to the evil times of the Red King, was Wulstan of Worcester, a homely old man, of plain English character, and of great piety. The quiet, even tenor of his life is truly like a "soft green isle" in the midst of the turbulent storms and tempests of the Norman Conquest.
Wulstan was born at Long Itchington, a village in Warwickshire, in the time of Ethelred the Unready. He was the son of the Thane Athelstan, and was educated in the monasteries of Evesham and Peterborough. When he had been trained in such learning as these could afford, he came home for a few years, and entered into the sports and occupations of the noble youths of the time, without parting with the piety and purity of his conventual life, and steadily resisting temptation.
His parents were grown old, and having become impoverished, perhaps by the exactions perpetrated either by the Danes, or to bribe them away, retired from the world, and entered convents at Worcester. Wulstan, wishing to devote himself to the Church, sought the service of the Bishop, who ordained him to the priesthood.
He lived, though a secular priest, with monastic strictness, and in time obtained permission from the Bishop to become a monk in the convent, where he continued for twenty-five years, and at length became Prior of the Convent. The Prior was the person next in office to the Abbot, and governed the monastery in his absence; and in some religious orders, where there was no Abbot, the Prior was the superior.
Wulstan's habits in the convent show us what the devotional life of that time was. Each day he bent the knee at each verse of the seven Penitential Psalms, and the same at the 119th Psalm at night. He would lock himself into the church, and pray aloud with tears and cries, and at night he would often retire into some solitary spot, the graveyard, or lonely village church, to pray and meditate. His bed was the church floor, or a narrow board, and stern were his habits of fasting and mortification; but all the time he was full of activity in the cause of the poor, and, finishing his devotions early in the morning, gave up the whole day to attend to the common people, sitting at the church door to listen to, and redress, as far as in him lay, the grievances that they brought him—at any rate, to console and advise. The rude, secular country clergy, at that time, it may be feared, a corrupt, untaught race, had in great measure ceased to instruct or exhort their flocks, and even refund baptism without payment. He did his best to remedy these abuses, and from all parts of the country children were brought to the good Prior for baptism. Every Sunday, too, he preached, and the Worcestershire people flocked from all sides to hear his plain, forcible language, though he never failed to rebuke them sharply for their most prevalent sins.
The fame of the holy Prior of Worcester began to spread, and on one occasion Earl Harold himself came thirty miles out of his way to confess his sins to him and desire his prayers.
About the year 1062, two Roman Cardinals came to Worcester with Aldred, who had just been translated from that see to the Archbishopric of York. They spent the whole of Lent in Wulstan's monastery; and when, at Easter, they returned to the court of Edward the Confessor, they recommended him for the Bishop to succeed Aldred; and Aldred himself, Archbishop Stigand, and Harold, all concurred in the same advice. The people and clergy of Worcester with one voice chose the good Prior Wulstan; his election was confirmed by the king, and he received the appointment. He long struggled against it, protesting that he would rather lose his head than be made a Bishop; but he was persuaded at last by an old hermit, who rebuked him for his resistance as for a sin. He received the pastoral staff from King Edward, and was consecrated by his former Bishop, Aldred.
As a Bishop he was more active than ever, constantly riding from place to place to visit the different towns and villages; and, as he went, repeating the Psalms and Litany, his attendant priests making the responses; while his chamberlain carried a purse, from which every one who asked alms was sure to be supplied. He never passed a church without praying in it, and never reached his resting-place for the night without paying his first visit to the church. Wherever he went, crowds of every rank poured out to meet him, and he never sent them away without the full Church service, and a sermon; nay, more—each poor serf might come to him, pour out his troubles, whether temporal, or whether his heart had been touched by the good words he had heard. Above all, Wulstan delighted in giving his blessing in Confirmation, and would go on from morning till night without food, till all his clergy were worn out, though he seemed to know no weariness.
His clergy seem to have had much of the sluggishness of the Saxon, and were often impatient of a temper, both of devotion and energy, so much beyond them. If one was absent from the night service, the Bishop would take no notice till it was over; but when all the others were gone back to bed, he would wake the defaulter, and make him go through the service with no companion but himself, making the responses. They did not like him to put them out, as he often did on their journeys, while going through the Psalms, by dwelling on the "prayer-verses;" and most especially did they dislike his leading them to church, whatever season or weather it might be, to chant matins before it was light. Once, at Marlow, when it was a long way to church, very muddy, and with a cold rain falling, one of his clergy, in hopes of making him turn back, led him into the worst part of the swamp, where he sunk up to his knees in mud, and lost his shoe; but he took no notice until, after the service was over, he had returned to his lodgings, half dead with cold, and then, instead of expressing any anger, he only ordered search to be made for the shoe.
Wulstan took no part in what we should call politics; he thought it his duty to render his submission to the King whom the people had chosen, and to strive only to amend the life of the men of the country. He was in high favor with Harold during his short reign, and was for some time at court, where the fine Saxon gentlemen learnt to dread the neighborhood of the old Bishop; for Wulstan considered their luxury as worthy of blame, and especially attacked their long flowing hair. If any of them placed their heads within, his reach, he would crop off "the first-fruits of their curls" with his own little knife, enjoining them to have the rest cut off; and yet, if Wulstan saw the children of the choir with their dress disordered, he would smooth it with his own hands, and when told the condescension did not become a Bishop, made answer, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
Aldred, Wulstan's former Bishop, now Archbishop of York, was the anointer of both Harold and William the Conqueror. He kept fair with the Normans as long as he could, but at last, driven to extremity by the miseries they inflicted on his unhappy diocese, he went to William arrayed in his full episcopal robes, solemnly revoked his coronation blessing, denounced a curse on him and his race, and then, returning to York, there died of grief.
Eghelwin, Bishop of Durham, gave good advice to Comyn, the Norman Earl, but it was unheeded, and the townsmen rose in the night and burnt Comyn to death, with all his followers, as they lay overcome with wine and sleep in the plundered houses. The rising of the northern counties followed, and Eghelwin was so far involved in it, that he was obliged to fly. He took shelter in the Camp of Refuge, was made prisoner when it was betrayed, and spent the rest of his life in one of William's prisons.
Our good Wulstan had a happier lot, and spent his time in his own round of quiet duties in his diocese, binding up the wounds inflicted by the cruel oppressors, but exhorting the Saxons to bear them patiently, and see in them the chastisement of their own crimes. "It is the scourge of God that ye are suffering," he said; and when they replied that they had never been half so bad as the Normans, he said, "God is using their wickedness to punish your evil deserts, as the devil, of his own evil will, yet by God's righteous will, punishes those with whom he suffers. Do ye, when ye are angry, care what becomes of the staff wherewith ye strike?"
He had his own share of troubles and anxieties, but he met them in his trustful spirit, and straight-forward way. At Easter, 1070, a council was held at Winchester, at which he was summoned to attend. He was one of the five last Saxon Bishops; Stigand, who held both at once the primacy and the see of Winchester; his brother, Eghelmar, Bishop of Elmham; Eghelsie, of Selsey; and the Bishop of Durham, Eghelwin, who was in the Camp of Refuge.
Two cardinals were present to represent the Pope, and on account of his simony, Stigand was deposed and imprisoned, while Eghelric and Eghelmar were also degraded. Yet Wulstan, clear of conscience, and certain of the validity of his own election, was not affrighted; so far from it, he boldly called on the King to restore some lands that Aldred of York had kept back from the see of Worcester.
Thomas, Aldred's successor, claimed them by a pretended jurisdiction over Worcester, and the decision was put off for a court of the great men of the realm, which did not take place till several fresh appointments had been made. Lanfranc, the Italian, Abbot of Bec, had become Archbishop of Canterbury, and was, of course, interested in guarding the jurisdiction of the Archiepiscopal see.
Wulstan, in this critical time, was exactly like himself. He fell asleep while Thomas was arguing, and when time was given him to think of his answer, he spent it in singing the service of the hour, though his priests were in terror lest they should be ridiculed for it. "Know you not," he answered, "that the Lord hath said, 'When ye stand before king and rulers, take no thought what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak.' Our Lord can give me speech to-day to defend my right, and overthrow their might." Accordingly, his honest statement prevailed, and he gained his cause.
There is a beautiful legend that Lanfranc, thinking the simple old Saxon too rude and ignorant for his office, summoned him to a synod at Westminster, and there called on him to deliver up his pastoral staff and ring. Wulstan rose, and said he had known from the first that he was not worthy of his dignity, and had taken it only at the bidding of his master, King Edward. To him, therefore, who gave the staff, he would resign it. Advancing to the Confessor's tomb, he said, "Master, thou knowest how unwillingly I took this office, forced to it by thee. Behold a new king—a new law—a new primate; they decree new rights, and promulgate new statutes. Thee they accuse of error in having so commanded—me of presumption, in having obeyed. Then, indeed, thou wast liable to err, being mortal—now, being with God, thou canst not err. Not to these who require what they did not give, but to thee, who hast given, I render up my staff. Take this, my master, and deliver it to whom thou wilt."
He laid it on the tomb, took off his episcopal robes, and sat down among the monks. The legend goes on to say, that the staff remained embedded in the stone, and no hand could wrench it away, till Wulstan himself again took it up, when it yielded without effort. The King and Archbishop fell down at his feet, and entreated his pardon and blessing.
Such is the story told a century after; and surely we may believe that, without the miracle, the old man's touching appeal to his dead King, and his humility, convinced Lanfranc that it had been foul shame to think of deposing such a man because his learning was not extensive, nor his manners like those of the courtly Norman. Be that as it may, thenceforth Lanfranc and Wulstan worked hand in hand, and we find the Archbishop begging him to undertake the visitation of the diocese of Chester, which was unsafe for the Norman prelates. One great work accomplished by the help of Wulstan was, the putting an end to a horrible slave-trade with Ireland, whither Saxon serfs were sold, not by Normans, but by their own country people, who had long carried it on before the Conquest. Lanfranc persuaded William to abolish it, but the rude Saxon slave-merchants cared nothing for his edicts, until the Bishop of Worcester came to Bristol, and preached against the traffic, staying a month or two at a time, every year, till the minds of the people of Bristol were so altered, that they not only gave up the trade, but acquired such a horror of it that they tore out the eyes of the last person who persisted in it.
The favor and esteem with which Wulstan was regarded did not cease, but he was obliged to spend a life of constraint. The Archbishop made him keep a band of armed retainers to preserve the peace of the country, and they were new and strange companions for the old monk; but as he thought his presence kept them from evil, he did not remain aloof, dining with them each day in the public hall, and even while they sat long over the wine, remaining with them, pledging them good-humoredly in a little cup, which he pretended to taste, and ruminating on the Psalms in the midst of their noisy mirth.
These were the days of church-building—the days of the circular arch, round column, and zigzag moulding; of doorways whose round arch, adorned with border after border of rich or quaint device, almost bewilder us with the multiplicity of detail; of low square towers, and solid walls; of that kind of architecture called Norman, but more properly a branch of the Romanesque of Italy.
Each new Roman Bishop or Abbot thought it his business to renew his clumsy old Saxon minster, and we have few cathedrals whose present structure does not date from the days of the Conqueror or his sons. Walkelyn, Bishop of Winchester, obtained a grant from William of as much timber from Hempage Wood as could be cut in four days and nights; whereupon Walkelyn assembled a huge company of workmen, and made such good use of the time, that when the king passed that way, he cried out, "Am I bewitched, or have I taken leave of my senses? Had I not a most delectable wood in this spot?" where now only stumps were to be seen.
Wulstan had always been a church-builder, and he renewed his cathedral after the Norman fashion; but when it was finished, and the workmen began to pull down the old one, which had been built by St. Oswald, he stood watching them in silence, till at last he shed tears. "Poor creatures that we are," said he, "we destroy the work of the saints, and think in our pride that we improve upon it. Those blessed men knew not how to build fine churches, but they knew how to sacrifice themselves to God, whatever roof might be over them, and to draw their flocks after them. Now, all we think of is to rear up piles of stones, while we care not for souls."
Wulstan lived to a great age, survived William and Lanfrane, and assisted to consecrate Anselm. In the last year of his life he kept each festival with still greater solemnity than ever, and his feast for the poor overflowed more than ever before; his stores were exhausted, though he had collected an unusual quantity, and his clergy begged him to shut the gates against the crowds still gathering; but he refused, saying none should go empty away, and some gifts from his rich friends arrived opportunely to supply the need. The Bishop sat in the midst as feasting with them, now grown too feeble to wait on them, as he had always done hitherto.
At Whitsuntide, 1094, he was taken ill, and lingered under a slow fever till the new year, when he died in peace and joy on the 19th of January. His greatest friend, Robert, the Bishop of Hereford, a learned man, understanding all the science of the time, a judge, and a courtly Lorrainer, yet who loved to spend whole days with the unlettered Saxon, came to lay him in his grave. He received, as a gift from the convent, the lambskin cloak that Wulstan used to wear, in spite of the laughter of the gay prelates arrayed in costly furs, keeping his ground by saying, that "the furs of cunning animals did not befit a plain man." He went home to Hereford, and soon after died, having, it is said, been warned in a vision by St. Wulstan that he must soon prepare to follow him.
THE CONQUEROR. (1066-1087.)
In speaking of William, the Norman Conqueror, we are speaking of a really great man; and great men are always hard to understand or deal with in history, for, as their minds are above common understandings, their contemporary historians generally enter into their views less than any one else, and it is only the result that proves their wisdom and far-sight. Moreover, their temptations and their sins are on a larger scale than those of other men, and some of the actions that they perform make a disproportionate impression by the cry that they occasion—the evil is remembered, not the good that their main policy effected.
William was a high-minded man, of mighty and wide purposes, one of the very few who understood what it was to be a king. He had the Norman qualities in their fullest perfection. He was devoutly religious, and in his private character was irreproachable, being the first Norman Duke unstained by licence, the first whose sons were all born of his princess wife. He was devout in his habits, full of alms-deeds; and strong and resolute as was his will, he kept it so upright and so truly desirous of the Divine glory and the Church's welfare, that he had no serious misunderstanding with the clergy, and lived on the most friendly terms with his great Archbishop, Lanfranc.
He was one of those mighty men who, in personal intercourse, have a force of nature that not merely renders opposition impossible, but absolutely masters the will and intention, so that there is not even the secret contradiction of mind. We have seen this in his dealings with both his own Normans and the Saxons who came in contact with him. His presence was so irresistible that men yielded to it unconsciously, but when absent from him they became themselves again, and in the reaction they committed treason against the pledges they seemed to have voluntarily given to him.
He was stern, fiercely stern. His standard and ideal were very high, such as, perhaps, only the saintly could attain to. The men who never quarrelled with him were Lanfranc, Edgar Atheling, and William Fitzosborn. The first was saintly and strong; the second, honest, upright, and simple; the third was endeared by boyish memories, and to these, perhaps, may be added Edward the Confessor and good Bishop Wulstan.
Many others William tried to love and trust—his uncle Odo, his own son, Earls Edwin and Morkar, Waltheof, the sons of Fitzosborn; but they all failed, grieved, and disappointed him. None was strong, noble, or disinterested enough not at one time or other to be a traitor; and, perhaps, his really honest, open enemy, Hereward le Wake, was the person whom he most valued and honored after the above mentioned.
And though his affection was hearty, his wrath when he was disappointed was tremendous. And his disappointments were many, partly because his standard was in every respect far above that of the men around him, and partly because his presence so far lifted them to his level, that, when they fell to their own, he was totally unprepared for the treachery and deceit such a fall involved.
Then down he came on them with implacable vengeance, he was so very "stark," as the old chronicle has it. Battle, devastation, plunder, lifelong imprisonment, confiscation, requited him who had drawn on himself the terrible wrath of William of Normandy. There were few soft places in that mighty heart; it could love, but it could not pity, and it could not forgive. He was of the true nature to be a Scourge of God.
Hardened and embittered by the selfish treasons that had beset his early boyhood, and which had forced him into manhood before his time, he came to England as one called thither by the late king's designation, and, therefore, the lawful heir. The Norman law, a confusion of the old Frank and Roman codes, and of the Norwegian pirate customs, he seems to have been glad to leave behind. His native Normans must be ruled by it, but he was an English king by inheritance, and English laws he would observe; Englishmen should have their national share in the royal favor, and in their native land.
But the design proved impracticable. The English had been split into fierce parties long before he came, and the West Saxon, the Mercian Angle, and Northumbrian Dane hated one another still, and all hated the Norman alike; and his Norman, French, and Breton importations lost no love among themselves, and viewed the English natives as conquered beings, whose spoil was unjustly withheld from them by the Duke King.
Rebellion began: by ones, twos, and threes, the nobles revolted, and were stamped out by William's iron heel, suffering his fierce, unrelenting justice—that highest justice that according to the Latin proverb becomes, in man's mind at least, the highest injustice. So England lay, trampled, bleeding, indignant, and raising a loud cry of misery; but, in real truth, the sufferers were in the first place the actual rebels, Saxon and Norman alike; next, those districts which had risen against his authority, and were barbarously devastated with fire and sword; and lastly, the places which, by the death or forfeiture of native lords, or by the enforced marriage of heiresses, fell into the hands of rapacious Norman adventurers, who treated their serfs with the brutal violence common in France.
Otherwise, things were left much as they were. The towns had little or no cause of complaint, and the lesser Saxon gentry, with the Franklins and the Earls, were unmolested, unless they happened to have vicious neighbors. The Curfew bell, about which so great a clamor was raised, was a universal regulation in Europe; it was a call to prayers, an intimation that it was bedtime, and a means of guarding against fire, when streets were often nothing but wooden booths thatched. The intense hatred that its introduction caused was only the true English dislike to anything like domiciliary interference.
The King has left us an undoubted testimony to the condition of the country, and the number of Saxons still holding tenures. Nineteen years after his Conquest, he held a council at Gloucester, the result of which was a great "numbering of the people"—a general census. To every city or town, commissioners were sent forth, who collected together the Shire reeve or Sheriff—the Viscount, as the Normans called him—the thegus, the parish priests, the reeves, and franklins, who were examined upon oath of the numbers, names, and holdings of the men of their place, both as they were in King Edward's days, and at that time. The lands had to be de scribed, whether plough lands or pasture, wood or waste; the mills and fisheries wore recorded, and each farmer's stock of oxen, cows, sheep, or swine. The English grumbled at the inquiry, called it tyranny, and expected worse to come of it, but there was no real cause for complaint. The primary object of the survey was the land-tax, the Danegeld, as it was called, because it was first raised to provide defences against the Danes, and every portion of arable land was assessed at a fair rate, according to ancient custom, but not that which lay waste. The entire record, including all England save London and the four northern counties, was preserved at Winchester, and called the Winchester Roll, or Domesday Book. It is one of the most interesting records in existence, showing, as it does, the exceeding antiquity of our existing divisions of townships, parishes and estates, and even of the families inhabiting them, of whom a fair proportion, chiefly of the lesser gentry, can point to evidence that they live on soil that was tilled by their fathers before the days of the Norman. It is far more satisfactory than the Battle Roll, which was much tampered with by the monks to gratify the ancestral vanity of gentlemen who were so persuaded that their ancestors ought to be found there, that they caused them to be inserted if they were missing. Of Domesday Book, however, there is no doubt, as the original copy is still extant in its fair old handwriting, showing the wonderful work that the French-speaking scribes made with English names of people and places. Queen Edith, the Confessor's widow, who was a large landholder, appears as Eddeve, Adeve, Adiva—by anything but her true old English name of Eadgyth. But it was much that the subdued English folk appeared there at all.
The most real grievance that the English had to complain of was the Forest Laws. The Dukes of Normandy had had many a quarrel in their Neustrian home with their subjects, on the vexed question of the chase, their greatest passion; and when William came into England as a victor, he was determined to rule all his own way in the waste and woodland. All the forests he took into his own hands, and the saying was that "the king loved the high deer as if he was their father;" any trespass was severely punched, and if he slaughter of any kind of game was a more serious thing than murder itself.
Chief of all, however, in people's minds, was his appropriation of the tract of Jettenwald, or the Giant's Wood, Ytene, in South Hants. A tempting hunting-ground extended nearly all the way from his royal city of Winchester, broad, bare chalk down, passing into heathy common, and forest waste, covered with holly and yew, and with noble oak and beech in its dells, fit covert for the mighty boar, the high deer, and an infinity of game beside.
With William's paternal feelings toward the deer, he thought the cotters and squatters, the churls and the serfs, on the borders of the wood, or in little clearings in the midst, mischievous interlopers, and at one swoop he expelled them all, and kept the Giant's Wood solely for himself and his deer, by the still remaining name of the New Forest.
Chroniclers talk of twenty-two mother churches and fifty-two parishes laid waste, but there is no doubt that this was a monstrous exaggeration, and that the population could not have been so dense. At any rate, whatever their numbers, the inhabitants were expelled, the animals were left unmolested for seven years, and then the Norman king enjoyed his sports there among his fierce nobility, little recking that all the English, and many of the Normans, longed that a curse should there light upon his head, or on that of his proud sons.
THE CONQUEROR'S CHILDREN. (1050-1087.)
The wife of William of Normandy was, as has been said, Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders. The wife of such a man as William has not much opportunity of showing her natural character, and we do not know much of hers. It appears, however, that she was strong-willed and vindictive, and, very little disposed to accept him. She had set her affections upon one Brihtric Meau, called Snow, from his fair complexion, a young English lord who had visited her father's court on a mission from Edward the Confessor, but who does not appear to have equally admired the lady. For seven years Matilda is said to have held out against William, until one twilight evening, when she was going home from church, in the streets of Bruges he rode up to her, beat her severely, and threw her into the gutter!
Wonderful to relate, the high-spirited demoiselle was subdued by this rough courtship, and gave her hand to her determined cousin without further resistance; nor do we hear that he ever beat her again. Indeed, if he did, he was not likely to let their good vassals be aware of it; and, in very truth, they seem to have been considered as models of peace and happiness. But it is much to be suspected that her nature remained proud and vindictive; for no sooner had her husband become master of England, than she caused the unfortunate Brihtric, who had disdained her love, to be stripped of all his manors in Gloucestershire, including Fairford, Tewkesbury, and the rich meadows around, and threw him into Winchester Castle, where he died; while Domesday Book witnesses to her revenge, by showing that the lands once his belonged to Queen Matilda.
The indication of character in a woman who had so little opportunity of independent action, is worth noting, as it serves to mark the spirit in which her children would be reared, and to explain why the sons so entirely fell short of all that was greatest and noblest in their father. The devotion, honor, and generosity, that made the iron of his composition bright as well as hard, was utterly wanting in them, or merely appeared in passing inconsistencies, and it is but too likely that they derived no gentler training from their mother. There were ten children, four sons and six daughters, but the names of these latter, are very difficult to distinguish, as Adela, Atheliza, Adelheid, or Alix, was a sort of feminine of Atheling, a Princess-Royal title, and was applied to most of the eldest daughters of the French and German-princes, or, when the senior was dead, or married, to the surviving eldest.
Cecily, Matilda's eldest daughter, was, even before her birth, decreed to be no Adela for whom contending potentates might struggle. She was to be the atonement for the parents' hasty, unlicensed marriage, in addition to their two beautiful abbeys at Caen. When the Abbaye aux Dames was consecrated, the little girl was led by her father to the foot of the altar, and there presented as his offering. She was educated with great care by a very learned though somewhat dissipated priest, took the veil, and, becoming abbess, ruled her nuns for many years, well contented and much respected.