HotFreeBooks.com
History of the English People, Volume I (of 8) - Early England, 449-1071; Foreign Kings, 1071-1204; The Charter, 1204-1216
by John Richard Green
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The first sign of these troubles was seen when the death of Eadred in 955 handed over the realm to a child king, his nephew Eadwig. Eadwig was swayed by a woman of high lineage, AEthelgifu; and the quarrel between her and the older counsellors of Eadred broke into open strife at the coronation feast. On the young king's insolent withdrawal to her chamber Dunstan, at the bidding of the Witan, drew him roughly back to his seat. But the feast was no sooner ended than a sentence of outlawry drove the abbot over sea, while the triumph of AEthelgifu was crowned in 957 by the marriage of her daughter to the king and the spoliation of the monasteries which Dunstan had befriended. As the new queen was Eadwig's kinswoman the religious opinion of the day regarded his marriage as incestuous, and it was followed by a revolution. At the opening of 958 Archbishop Odo parted the King from his wife by solemn sentence; while the Mercians and Northumbrians rose in revolt, proclaimed Eadwig's brother Eadgar their king, and recalled Dunstan. The death of Eadwig a few months later restored the unity of the realm; but his successor Eadgar was only a boy of sixteen and at the outset of his reign the direction of affairs must have lain in the hands of Dunstan, whose elevation to the see of Canterbury set him at the head of the Church as of the State. The noblest tribute to his rule lies in the silence of our chroniclers. His work indeed was a work of settlement, and such a work was best done by the simple enforcement of peace. During the years of rest in which King and Primate enforced justice and order northman and Englishman drew together into a single people. Their union was the result of no direct policy of fusion; on the contrary Dunstan's policy preserved to the conquered Danelaw its local rights and local usages. But he recognized the men of the Danelaw as Englishmen, he employed northmen in the royal service, and promoted them to high posts in Church and State. For the rest he trusted to time, and time justified his trust. The fusion was marked by a memorable change in the name of the land. Slowly as the conquering tribes had learned to know themselves, by the one national name of Englishmen, they learned yet more slowly to stamp their name on the land they had won. It was not till Eadgar's day that the name of Britain passed into the name of Engla-land, the land of Englishmen, England. The same vigorous rule which secured rest for the country during these years of national union told on the growth of material prosperity. Commerce sprang into a wider life. Its extension is seen in the complaint that men learned fierceness from the Saxon of Germany, effeminacy from the Fleming, and drunkenness from the Dane. The laws of AEthelred which provide for the protection and regulation of foreign trade only recognize a state of things which grew up under Eadgar. "Men of the Empire," traders of Lower Lorraine and the Rhine-land, "Men of Rouen," traders from the new Norman duchy of the Seine, were seen in the streets of London. It was in Eadgar's day indeed that London rose to the commercial greatness it has held ever since.

[Sidenote: Eadward the Martyr]

Though Eadgar reigned for sixteen years, he was still in the prime of manhood when he died in 975. His death gave a fresh opening to the great nobles. He had bequeathed the crown to his elder son Eadward; but the ealdorman of East-Anglia, AEthelwine, rose at once to set a younger child, AEthelred, on the throne. But the two primates of Canterbury and York who had joined in setting the crown on the head of Eadgar now joined in setting it on the head of Eadward, and Dunstan remained as before master of the realm. The boy's reign however was troubled by strife between the monastic party and their opponents till in 979 the quarrel was cut short by his murder at Corfe, and with the accession of AEthelred, the power of Dunstan made way for that of ealdorman AEthelwine and the queen-mother. Some years of tranquillity followed this victory; but though AEthelwine preserved order at home he showed little sense of the danger which threatened from abroad. The North was girding itself for a fresh, onset on England. The Scandinavian peoples had drawn together into their kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; and it was no longer in isolated bands but in national hosts that they were about to seek conquests in the South. As AEthelred drew to manhood some chance descents on the coast told of this fresh stir in the North, and the usual result of the northman's presence was seen in new risings among the Welsh.

[Sidenote: AEthelred]

In 991 ealdorman Brihtnoth of East-Anglia fell in battle with a Norwegian force at Maldon, and the withdrawal of the pirates had to be bought by money. AEthelwine too died at this moment, and the death of the two ealdormen left AEthelred free to act as King. But his aim was rather to save the Crown from his nobles than England from the northmen. Handsome and pleasant of address, the young King's pride showed itself in a string of imperial titles, and his restless and self-confident temper drove him to push the pretensions of the Crown to their furthest extent. His aim throughout his reign was to free himself from the dictation of the great nobles, and it was his indifference to their "rede" or counsel that won him the name of "AEthelred the Redeless." From the first he struck boldly at his foes, and AElfric, the ealdorman of Central Wessex, whom the death of his rival AEthelwine left supreme in the realm, was driven possibly by fear to desert to a Danish force which he was sent in 992 to drive from the coast. AEthelred turned from his triumph at home to meet the forces of the Danish and Norwegian kings, Swein and Olaf, which anchored off London in 994. His policy through-out was a policy of diplomacy rather than of arms, and a treaty of subsidy gave time for intrigues which parted the invaders till troubles at home drew both again to the North. AEthelrod took quick advantage of his success at home and abroad; the place of the great ealdormen in the royal councils was taken by court-thegns, in whom we see the rudiments of a ministry, while the king's fleet attacked the pirates' haunts in Cumberland and the Cotentin. But in spite of all this activity the news of a fresh invasion found England more weak and broken than ever. The rise of the "new men" only widened the breach between the court and the great nobles, and their resentment showed itself in delays which foiled every attempt of AEthelred to meet the pirate-bands who still clung to the coast.

[Sidenote: Swein]

They came probably from the other side of the Channel, and it was to clear them away as well as secure himself against Swein's threatened descent that AEthelred took a step which brought England in contact with a land over-sea. Normandy, where the northmen had settled a hundred years before, was now growing into a great power, and it was to win the friendship of Normandy and to close its harbours against Swein that AEthelred in 1002 took the Norman Duke's daughter, Emma, to wife. The same dread of invasion gave birth to a panic of treason from the northern mercenaries whom the king had drawn to settle in the land as a fighting force against their brethren; and an order of AEthelred brought about a general massacre of them on St. Brice's day. Wedding and murder however proved feeble defences against Swein. His fleet reached the coast in 1003, and for four years he marched through the length and breadth of southern and eastern England, "lighting his war-beacons as he went" in blazing homestead and town. Then for a heavy bribe he withdrew, to prepare for a later and more terrible onset. But there was no rest for the realm. The fiercest of the Norwegian jarls took his place, and from Wessex the war extended over Mercia and East-Anglia. In 1012 Canterbury was taken and sacked, AEltheah the Archbishop dragged to Greenwich, and there in default of ransom brutally slain. The Danes set him in the midst of their husting, pelting him with bones and skulls of oxen, till one more pitiful than the rest clove his head with an axe. Meanwhile the court was torn with intrigue and strife, with quarrels between the court-thegns in their greed of power and yet fiercer quarrels between these favourites and the nobles whom they superseded in the royal councils. The King's policy of finding aid among his new ministers broke down when these became themselves ealdormen. With their local position they took up the feudal claims of independence; and Eadric, whom AEthelred raised to be ealdorman of Mercia, became a power that overawed the Crown. In this paralysis of the central authority all organization and union was lost. "Shire would not help other" when Swein returned in 1013. The war was terrible but short. Everywhere the country was pitilessly harried, churches plundered, men slaughtered. But, with the one exception of London, there was no attempt at resistance. Oxford and Winchester flung open their gates. The thegns of Wessex submitted to the northmen at Bath. Even London was forced at last to give way, and AEthelred fled over-sea to a refuge in Normandy.

[Sidenote: Cnut]

He was soon called back again. In the opening of 1014 Swein died suddenly at Gainsborough; and the spell of terror was broken. The Witan recalled "their own born lord," and AEthelred returned to see the Danish fleet under Swein's son, Cnut, sail away to the North. It was but to plan a more terrible return. Youth of nineteen as he was, Cnut showed from the first the vigour of his temper. Setting aside his brother he made himself king of Denmark; and at once gathered a splendid fleet for a fresh attack on England, whose king and nobles were again at strife, and where a bitter quarrel between ealdorman Eadric of Mercia and AEthelred's son Eadmund Ironside broke the strength of the realm. The desertion of Eadric to Cnut as soon as he appeared off the coast threw open England to his arms; Wessex and Mercia submitted to him; and though the loyalty of London enabled Eadmund, when his father's death raised him in 1016 to the throne, to struggle bravely for a few months against the Danes, a decisive overthrow at Assandun and a treaty of partition which this wrested from him at Olney were soon followed by the young king's death. Cnut was left master of the realm. His first acts of government showed little but the temper of the mere northman, passionate, revengeful, uniting the guile of the savage with his thirst for blood. Eadric of Mercia, whose aid had given him the Crown, was felled by an axe-blow at the king's signal; a murder removed Eadwig, the brother of Eadmund Ironside, while the children of Eadmund were hunted even into Hungary by his ruthless hate. But from a savage such as this the young conqueror rose abruptly into a wise and temperate king. His aim during twenty years seems to have been to obliterate from men's minds the foreign character of his rule and the bloodshed in which it had begun.

Conqueror indeed as he was, the Dane was no foreigner in the sense that the Norman was a foreigner after him. His language differed little from the English tongue. He brought in no new system of tenure or government. Cnut ruled in fact not as a foreign conqueror but as a native king. He dismissed his Danish host, and retaining only a trained band of household troops or "hus-carls" to serve as a body-guard relied boldly for support within his realm on the justice and good government he secured it. He fell back on "Eadgar's Law," on the old constitution of the realm, for his rule of government; and owned no difference between Dane and Englishman among his subjects. He identified himself even with the patriotism which had withstood the stranger. The Church had been the centre of the national resistance; Archbishop AElfheah had been slain by Danish hands. But Cnut sought the friendship of the Church; he translated AElfheah's body with great pomp to Canterbury; he atoned for his father's ravages by gifts to the religious houses; he protected English pilgrims even against the robber-lords of the Alps. His love for monks broke out in a song which he composed as he listened to their chaunt at Ely. "Merrily sang the monks of Ely when Cnut King rowed by" across the vast fen-waters that surrounded their abbey. "Row, boatmen, near the land, and hear we these monks sing." A letter which Cnut wrote after twelve years of rule to his English subjects marks the grandeur of his character and the noble conception he had formed of kingship. "I have vowed to God to lead a right life in all things," wrote the king, "to rule justly and piously my realms and subjects, and to administer just judgement to all. If heretofore I have done aught beyond what was just, through headiness or negligence of youth, I am ready, with God's help, to amend it utterly." No royal officer, either for fear of the king or for favour of any, is to consent to injustice, none is to do wrong to rich or poor "as they would value my friendship and their own well-being." He especially denounces unfair exactions: "I have no need that money be heaped together for me by unjust demands." "I have sent this letter before me," Cnut ends, "that all the people of my realm may rejoice in my well-doing; for as you yourselves know, never have I spared, nor will I spare, to spend myself and my toil in what is needful and good for my people."

[Sidenote: Cnut and Scotland]

Cnut's greatest gift to his people was that of peace. With him began the long internal tranquillity which was from this time to be the keynote of the national history. Without, the Dane was no longer a terror; on the contrary it was English ships and English soldiers who now appeared in the North and followed Cnut in his campaigns against Wend or Norwegian. Within, the exhaustion which follows a long anarchy gave fresh strength to the Crown, and Cnut's own ruling temper was backed by the force of hus-carls at his disposal. The four Earls of Northumberland, Mercia, Wessex, and East-Anglia, whom he set in the place of the older caldormen, knew themselves to be the creatures of his will; the ablest indeed of their number, Godwine, earl of Wessex, was the minister or close counsellor of the King. The troubles along the Northern border were ended by a memorable act of policy. From Eadgar's day the Scots had pressed further and further across the Firth of Forth till a victory of their king Malcolm over Earl Eadwulf at Carham in 1018 made him master of Northern Northumbria. In 1031 Cnut advanced to the North, but the quarrel ended in a formal cession of the district between the Forth and the Tweed, Lothian as it was called, to the Scot-king on his doing homage to Cnut. The gain told at once on the character of the Northern kingdom. The kings of the Scots had till now been rulers simply of Gaelic and Celtic peoples; but from the moment that Lothian with its English farmers and English seamen became a part of their dominions it became the most important part. The kings fixed their seat at Edinburgh, and in the midst of an English population passed from Gaelic chieftains into the Saxon rulers of a mingled people.

[Sidenote: Cnut's Sons]

But the greatness of Cnut's rule hung solely on the greatness of his temper, and the Danish power was shaken by his death in 1035. The empire he had built up at once fell to pieces. He had bequeathed both England and Denmark to his son Harthacnut; but the boy's absence enabled his brother, Harald Harefoot, to acquire all England save Godwine's earldom of Wessex, and in the end even Godwine was forced to submit to him. Harald's death in 1040 averted a conflict between the brothers, and placed Harthacnut quietly on the throne. But the love which Cnut's justice had won turned to hatred before the lawlessness of his successors. The long peace sickened men of their bloodshed and violence. "Never was a bloodier deed done in the land since the Danes came," ran a popular song, when Harald's men seized AElfred, a brother of Eadmund Ironside, who returned to England from Normandy where he had found a refuge since his father's flight to its shores. Every tenth man among his followers was killed, the rest sold for slaves, and AElfred's eyes torn out at Ely. Harthacnut, more savage than his predecessor, dug up his brother's body and flung it into a marsh; while a rising at Worcester against his hus-carls was punished by the burning of the town and the pillage of the shire. The young king's death was no less brutal than his life; in 1042 "he died as he stood at his drink in the house of Osgod Clapa at Lambeth." England wearied of rulers such as these: but their crimes helped her to free herself from the impossible dream of Cnut. The North, still more barbarous than herself, could give her no new element of progress or civilization. It was the consciousness of this and a hatred of rulers such as Harald and Harthacnut which co-operated with the old feeling of reverence for the past in calling back the line of AElfred to the throne.

[Sidenote: Eadward the Confessor]

It is in such transitional moments of a nation's history that it needs the cool prudence, the sensitive selfishness, the quick perception of what is possible, which distinguished the adroit politician whom the death of Cnut left supreme in England. Originally of obscure origin, Godwine's ability had raised him high in the royal favour; he was allied to Cnut by marriage, entrusted by him with the earldom of Wessex, and at last made the Viceroy or justiciar of the King in the government of the realm. In the wars of Scandinavia he had shown courage and skill at the head of a body of English troops, but his true field of action lay at home. Shrewd, eloquent, an active administrator, Godwine united vigilance, industry, and caution with a singular dexterity in the management of men. During the troubled years that followed the death of Cnut he did his best to continue his master's policy in securing the internal union of England under a Danish sovereign and in preserving her connexion with the North. But at the death of Harthacnut Cnut's policy had become impossible, and abandoning the Danish cause Godwine drifted with the tide of popular feeling which called Eadward, the one living son of AEthelred, to the throne. Eadward had lived from his youth in exile at the court of Normandy. A halo of tenderness spread in after-time round this last king of the old English stock; legends told of his pious simplicity, his blitheness and gentleness of mood, the holiness that gained him his name of "Confessor" and enshrined him as a saint in his abbey-church at Westminster. Gleemen sang in manlier tones of the long peace and glories of his reign, how warriors and wise counsellors stood round his throne, and Welsh and Scot and Briton obeyed him. His was the one figure that stood out bright against the darkness when England lay trodden under foot by Norman conquerors; and so dear became his memory that liberty and independence itself seemed incarnate in his name. Instead of freedom, the subjects of William or Henry called for the "good laws of Eadward the Confessor." But it was as a mere shadow of the past that the exile really returned to the throne of AElfred; there was something shadow-like in his thin form, his delicate complexion, his transparent womanly hands; and it is almost as a shadow that he glides over the political stage. The work of government was done by sterner hands.

[Sidenote: Godwine]

Throughout his earlier reign, in fact, England lay in the hands of its three Earls, Siward of Northumbria, Leofric of Mercia, and Godwine of Wessex, and it seemed as if the feudal tendency to provincial separation against which AEthelred had struggled was to triumph with the death of Cnut. What hindered this severance was the greed of Godwine. Siward was isolated in the North: Leofric's earldom was but a fragment of Mercia. But the Earl of Wessex, already master of the wealthiest part of England, seized district after district for his house. His son Swein secured an earldom in the south-west; his son Harold became earl of East-Anglia; his nephew Beorn was established in Central England: while the marriage of his daughter Eadgyth to the king himself gave Godwine a hold upon the throne. Policy led the earl, as it led his son, rather to aim at winning England itself than at breaking up England to win a mere fief in it. But his aim found a sudden check through the lawlessness of his son Swein. Swein seduced the abbess of Leominster, sent her home again with a yet more outrageous demand of her hand in marriage, and on the king's refusal to grant it fled from the realm. Godwine's influence secured his pardon, but on his very return to seek it Swein murdered his cousin Beorn who had opposed the reconciliation and again fled to Flanders. A storm of national indignation followed him over-sea. The meeting of the Wise men branded him as "nithing," the "utterly worthless," yet in a year his father wrested a new pardon from the King and restored him to his earldom. The scandalous inlawing of such a criminal left Godwine alone in a struggle which soon arose with Eadward himself. The king was a stranger in his realm, and his sympathies lay naturally with the home and friends of his youth and exile. He spoke the Norman tongue. He used in Norman fashion a seal for his charters. He set Norman favourites in the highest posts of Church and State. Foreigners such as these, though hostile to the minister, were powerless against Godwine's influence and ability, and when at a later time they ventured to stand alone against him they fell without a blow. But the general ill-will at Swein's inlawing enabled them to stir Eadward to attack the earl, and in 1051 a trivial quarrel brought the opportunity of a decisive break with him. On his return from a visit to the court Eustace, Count of Boulogne, the husband of the king's sister, demanded quarters for his train in Dover. Strife arose, and many both of the burghers and foreigners were slain. All Godwine's better nature withstood Eadward when the king angrily bade him exact vengeance from the town for the affront to his kinsman; and he claimed a fair trial for the townsmen. But Eadward looked on his refusal as an outrage, and the quarrel widened into open strife. Godwine at once gathered his forces and marched upon Gloucester, demanding the expulsion of the foreign favourites. But even in a just quarrel the country was cold in his support. The earls of Mercia and Northumberland united their forces to those of Eadward at Gloucester, and marched with the king to a gathering of the Witenagemot at London. Godwine again appeared in arms, but Swein's outlawry was renewed, and the Earl of Wessex, declining with his usual prudence a useless struggle, withdrew over sea to Flanders.

[Sidenote: Harold]

But the wrath of the nation was appeased by his fall. Great as were Godwine's faults, he was the one man who now stood between England and the rule of the strangers who flocked to the Court; and a year had hardly passed when he was strong enough to return. At the appearance of his fleet in the Thames in 1052 Eadward was once more forced to yield. The foreign prelates and bishops fled over sea, outlawed by the same meeting of the Wise men which restored Godwine to his home. But he returned only to die, and the direction of affairs passed quietly to his son Harold. Harold came to power unfettered by the obstacles which beset his father, and for twelve years he was the actual governor of the realm. The courage, the ability, the genius for administration, the ambition and subtlety of Godwine were found again in his son. In the internal government of England he followed out his father's policy while avoiding its excesses. Peace was preserved, justice administered, and the realm increased in wealth and prosperity. Its gold work and embroidery became famous in the markets of Flanders and France. Disturbances from without were crushed sternly and rapidly; Harold's military talents displayed themselves in a campaign against Wales, and in the boldness and rapidity with which, arming his troops with weapons adapted for mountain conflict, he penetrated to the heart of its fastnesses and reduced the country to complete submission. With the gift of the Northumbrian earldom on Siward's death to his brother Tostig all England save a small part of the older Mercia lay in the hands of the house of Godwine, and as the waning health of the king, the death of his nephew, the son of Eadmund who had returned from Hungary as his heir, and the childhood of the AEtheling Eadgar who stood next in blood, removed obstacle after obstacle to his plans, Harold patiently but steadily moved forward to the throne.

[Sidenote: Normandy]

But his advance was watched by one even more able and ambitious than himself. For the last half-century England had been drawing nearer to the Norman land which fronted it across the Channel. As we pass nowadays through Normandy, it is English history which is round about us. The name of hamlet after hamlet has memories for English ears; a fragment of castle wall marks the home of the Bruce, a tiny village preserves the name of the Percy. The very look of the country and its people seem familiar to us; the Norman peasant in his cap and blouse recalls the build and features of the small English farmer; the fields about Caen, with their dense hedgerows, their elms, their apple-orchards, are the very picture of an English country-side. Huge cathedrals lift themselves over the red-tiled roofs of little market towns, the models of stately fabrics which superseded the lowlier churches of AElfred or Dunstan, while the windy heights that look over orchard and meadowland are crowned with the square grey keeps which Normandy gave to the cliffs of Richmond and the banks of Thames. It was Hrolf the Ganger, or Walker, a pirate leader like Guthrum or Hasting, who wrested this land from the French king, Charles the Simple, in 912, at the moment when AElfred's children were beginning their conquest of the English Danelaw. The treaty of Clair-on-Epte in which France purchased peace by this cession of the coast was a close imitation of the Peace of Wedmore. Hrolf, like Guthrum, was baptized, received the king's daughter in marriage, and became his vassal for the territory which now took the name of "the Northman's land" or Normandy. But vassalage and the new faith sat lightly on the Dane. No such ties of blood and speech tended to unite the northman with the French among whom he settled along the Seine as united him to the Englishmen among whom he settled along the Humber. William Longsword, the son of Hrolf, though wavering towards France and Christianity, remained a northman in heart; he called in a Danish colony to occupy his conquest of the Cotentin, the peninsula which runs out from St. Michael's Mount to the cliffs of Cherbourg, and reared his boy among the northmen of Bayeux where the Danish tongue and fashions most stubbornly held their own. A heathen reaction followed his death, and the bulk of the Normans, with the child Duke Richard, fell away for the time from Christianity, while new pirate-fleets came swarming up the Seine. To the close of the century the whole people were still "Pirates" to the French around them, their land the "Pirates' land," their Duke the "Pirates' Duke." Yet in the end the same forces which merged the Dane in the Englishman told even more powerfully on the Dane in France. No race has ever shown a greater power of absorbing all the nobler characteristics of the peoples with whom they came in contact, or of infusing their own energy into them. During the long reign of Duke Richard the Fearless, the son of William Longsword, a reign which lasted from 945 to 996, the heathen Norman pirates became French Christians and feudal at heart. The old Norse language lived only at Bayeux and in a few local names. As the old Northern freedom died silently away, the descendants of the pirates became feudal nobles and the "Pirates' land" sank into the most loyal of the fiefs of France.

[Sidenote: Duke William]

From the moment of their settlement on the Frankish coast, the Normans had been jealously watched by the English kings; and the anxiety of AEthelred for their friendship set a Norman woman on the English throne. The marriage of Emma with AEthelred brought about a close political connexion between the two countries. It was in Normandy that the King found a refuge from Swein's invasion, and his younger boys grew up in exile at the Norman court. Their presence there drew the eyes of every Norman to the rich land which offered so tempting a prey across the Channel. The energy which they had shown in winning their land from the Franks, in absorbing the French civilization and the French religion, was now showing itself in adventures on far-off shores, in crusades against the Moslem of Spain or the Arabs of Sicily. It was this spirit of adventure that roused the Norman Duke Robert to sail against England in Cnut's day under pretext of setting AEthelred's children on its throne, but the wreck of his fleet in a storm put an end to a project which might have anticipated the work of his son. It was that son, William the Great, as men of his own day styled him, William the Conqueror as he was to stamp himself by one event on English history, who was now Duke of Normandy. The full grandeur of his indomitable will, his large and patient statesmanship, the loftiness of aim which lifts him out of the petty incidents of his age, were as yet only partly disclosed. But there never had been a moment from his boyhood when he was not among the greatest of men. His life from the very first was one long mastering of difficulty after difficulty. The shame of his birth remained in his name of "the Bastard." His father Robert had seen Arlotta, a tanner's daughter of the town, as she washed her linen in a little brook by Falaise; and loving her he had made her the mother of his boy. The departure of Robert on a pilgrimage from which he never returned left William a child-ruler among the most turbulent baronage in Christendom; treason and anarchy surrounded him as he grew to manhood; and disorder broke at last into open revolt. But in 1047 a fierce combat of horse on the slopes of Val-es-dunes beside Caen left the young Duke master of his duchy and he soon made his mastery felt. "Normans" said a Norman poet "must be trodden down and kept under foot, for he only that bridles them may use them at his need." In the stern order he forced on the land Normandy from this hour felt the bridle of its Duke.

[Sidenote: William and France]

Secure at home, William seized the moment of Godwine's exile to visit England, and received from his cousin, King Eadward, as he afterwards asserted, a promise of succession to his throne. Such a promise however, unconfirmed by the Witenagemot, was valueless; and the return of Godwine must have at once cut short the young Duke's hopes. He found in fact work enough to do in his own duchy, for the discontent of his baronage at the stern justice of his rule found support in the jealousy which his power raised in the states around him, and it was only after two great victories at Mortemer and Varaville and six years of hard fighting that outer and inner foes were alike trodden under foot. In 1060 William stood first among the princes of France. Maine submitted to his rule. Britanny was reduced to obedience by a single march. While some of the rebel barons rotted in the Duke's dungeons and some were driven into exile, the land settled down into a peace which gave room for a quick upgrowth of wealth and culture. Learning and education found their centre in the school of Bec, which the teaching of a Lombard scholar, Lanfranc, raised in a few years into the most famous school of Christendom. Lanfranc's first contact with William, if it showed the Duke's imperious temper, showed too his marvellous insight into men. In a strife with the Papacy which William provoked by his marriage with Matilda, a daughter of the Count of Flanders, Lanfranc took the side of Rome. His opposition was met by a sentence of banishment, and the Prior had hardly set out on a lame horse, the only one his house could afford, when he was overtaken by the Duke, impatient that he should quit Normandy. "Give me a better horse and I shall go the quicker," replied the imperturbable Lombard, and William's wrath passed into laughter and good will. From that hour Lanfranc became his minister and counsellor, whether for affairs in the duchy itself or for the more daring schemes of ambition which opened up across the Channel.

[Sidenote: William and England]

William's hopes of the English crown are said to have been revived by a storm which threw Harold, while cruising in the Channel, on the coast of Ponthieu. Its count sold him to the Duke; and as the price of return to England William forced him to swear on the relics of saints to support his claim to its throne. But, true or no, the oath told little on Harold's course. As the childless King drew to his grave one obstacle after another was cleared from the earl's path. His brother Tostig had become his most dangerous rival; but a revolt of the Northumbrians drove Tostig to Flanders, and the earl was able to win over the Mercian house of Leofric to his cause by owning Morkere, the brother of the Mercian Earl Eadwine, as his brother's successor. His aim was in fact attained without a struggle. In the opening of 1066 the nobles and bishops who gathered round the death-bed of the Confessor passed quietly from it to the election and coronation of Harold. But at Eouen the news was welcomed with a burst of furious passion, and the Duke of Normandy at once prepared to enforce his claim by arms. William did not claim the Crown. He claimed simply the right which he afterwards used when his sword had won it of presenting himself for election by the nation, and he believed himself entitled so to present himself by the direct commendation of the Confessor. The actual election of Harold which stood in his way, hurried as it was, he did not recognize as valid. But with this constitutional claim was inextricably mingled resentment at the private wrong which Harold had done him, and a resolve to exact vengeance on the man whom he regarded as untrue to his oath. The difficulties in the way of his enterprise were indeed enormous. He could reckon on no support within England itself. At home he had to extort the consent of his own reluctant baronage; to gather a motley host from every quarter of France and to keep it together for months; to create a fleet, to cut down the very trees, to build, to launch, to man the vessels; and to find time amidst all this for the common business of government, for negotiations with Denmark and the Empire, with France, Britanny, and Anjou, with Flanders and with Rome which had been estranged from England by Archbishop Stigand's acceptance of his pallium from one who was not owned as a canonical Pope.

[Sidenote: Stamford Bridge]

But his rival's difficulties were hardly less than his own. Harold was threatened with invasion not only by William but by his brother Tostig, who had taken refuge in Norway and secured the aid of its king, Harald Hardrada. The fleet and army he had gathered lay watching for months along the coast. His one standing force was his body of hus-carls, but their numbers only enabled them to act as the nucleus of an army. On the other hand the Land-fyrd or general levy of fighting-men was a body easy to raise for any single encounter but hard to keep together. To assemble such a force was to bring labour to a standstill. The men gathered under the King's standard were the farmers and ploughmen of their fields. The ships were the fishing-vessels of the coast. In September the task of holding them together became impossible, but their dispersion had hardly taken place when the two clouds which had so long been gathering burst at once upon the realm. A change of wind released the landlocked armament of William; but before changing, the wind which prisoned the Duke brought the host of Tostig and Harald Hardrada to the coast of Yorkshire. The King hastened with his household troops to the north and repulsed the Norwegians in a decisive overthrow at Stamford Bridge, but ere he could hurry back to London the Norman host had crossed the sea and William, who had anchored on the twenty-eighth of September off Pevensey, was ravaging the coast to bring his rival to an engagement. His merciless ravages succeeded in drawing Harold from London to the south; but the King wisely refused to attack with the troops he had hastily summoned to his banner. If he was forced to give battle, he resolved to give it on ground he had himself chosen, and advancing near enough to the coast to check William's ravages he entrenched himself on a hill known afterwards as that of Senlac, a low spur of the Sussex downs near Hastings. His position covered London and drove William to concentrate his forces. With a host subsisting by pillage, to concentrate is to starve; and no alternative was left to the Duke but a decisive victory or ruin.

[Sidenote: Battle of Hastings]

On the fourteenth of October William led his men at dawn along the higher ground that leads from Hastings to the battle-field which Harold had chosen. From the mound of Telham the Normans saw the host of the English gathered thickly behind a rough trench and a stockade on the height of Senlac. Marshy ground covered their right; on the left, the most exposed part of the position, the hus-carls or body-guard of Harold, men in full armour and wielding huge axes, were grouped round the Golden Dragon of Wessex and the Standard of the King. The rest of the ground was covered by thick masses of half-armed rustics who had flocked at Harold's summons to the fight with the stranger. It was against the centre of this formidable position that William arrayed his Norman knighthood, while the mercenary forces he had gathered in France and Britanny were ordered to attack its flanks. A general charge of the Norman foot opened the battle; in front rode the minstrel Taillefer, tossing his sword in the air and catching it again while he chaunted the song of Roland. He was the first of the host who struck a blow, and he was the first to fall. The charge broke vainly on the stout stockade behind which the English warriors plied axe and javelin with fierce cries of "Out, out," and the repulse of the Norman footmen was followed by a repulse of the Norman horse. Again and again the Duke rallied and led them to the fatal stockade. All the fury of fight that glowed in his Norseman's blood, all the headlong valour that spurred him over the slopes of Val-es-dunes, mingled that day with the coolness of head, the dogged perseverance, the inexhaustible faculty of resource which shone at Mortemer and Varaville. His Breton troops, entangled in the marshy ground on his left, broke in disorder, and as panic spread through the army a cry arose that the Duke was slain. William tore off his helmet; "I live," he shouted, "and by God's help I will conquer yet." Maddened by a fresh repulse, the Duke spurred right at the Standard; unhorsed, his terrible mace struck down Gyrth, the King's brother; again dismounted, a blow from his hand hurled to the ground an unmannerly rider who would not lend him his steed. Amidst the roar and tumult of the battle he turned the flight he had arrested into the means of victory. Broken as the stockade was by his desperate onset, the shield-wall of the warriors behind it still held the Normans at bay till William by a feint of flight drew a part of the English force from their post of vantage. Turning on his disorderly pursuers, the Duke cut them to pieces, broke through the abandoned line, and made himself master of the central ground. Meanwhile the French and Bretons made good their ascent on either flank. At three the hill seemed won, at six the fight still raged around the Standard where Harold's hus-carls stood stubbornly at bay on a spot marked afterwards by the high altar of Battle Abbey. An order from the Duke at last brought his archers to the front. Their arrow-flight told heavily on the dense masses crowded around the King and as the sun went down a shaft pierced Harold's right eye. He fell between the royal ensigns, and the battle closed with a desperate melly over his corpse.

Night covered the flight of the English army: but William was quick to reap the advantage of his victory. Securing Romney and Dover, he marched by Canterbury upon London. Faction and intrigue were doing his work for him as he advanced; for Harold's brothers had fallen with the King on the field of Senlac, and there was none of the house of Godwine to contest the crown. Of the old royal line there remained but a single boy, Eadgar the AEtheling. He was chosen king; but the choice gave little strength to the national cause. The widow of the Confessor surrendered Winchester to the Duke. The bishops gathered at London inclined to submission. The citizens themselves faltered as William, passing by their walls, gave Southwark to the flames. The throne of the boy-king really rested for support on the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria, Eadwine and Morkere; and William, crossing the Thames at Wallingford and marching into Hertfordshire, threatened to cut them off from their earldoms. The masterly movement forced the Earls to hurry home, and London gave way at once. Eadgar himself was at the head of the deputation who came to offer the crown to the Norman Duke. "They bowed to him," says the English annalist pathetically, "for need." They bowed to the Norman as they had bowed to the Dane, and William accepted the crown in the spirit of Cnut. London indeed was secured by the erection of a fortress which afterwards grew into the Tower, but William desired to reign not as a Conqueror but as a lawful king. At Christmas he received the crown at Westminster from the hands of Archbishop Ealdred amid shouts of "Yea, Yea," from his new English subjects. Fines from the greater landowners atoned for a resistance which now counted as rebellion; but with this exception every measure of the new sovereign showed his desire of ruling as a successor of Eadward or AElfred. As yet indeed the greater part of England remained quietly aloof from him, and he can hardly be said to have been recognized as king by Northumberland or the greater part of Mercia. But to the east of a line which stretched from Norwich to Dorsetshire his rule was unquestioned, and over this portion he ruled as an English king. His soldiers were kept in strict order. No change was made in law or custom. The privileges of London were recognized by a royal writ which still remains, the most venerable of its muniments, among the city's archives. Peace and order were restored. William even attempted, though in vain, to learn the English tongue that he might personally administer justice to the suitors in his court. The kingdom seemed so tranquil that only a few months had passed after the battle of Senlac when leaving England in charge of his brother, Odo Bishop of Bayeux, and his minister, William Fitz-Osbern, the King returned in 1067 for a while to Normandy. The peace he left was soon indeed disturbed. Bishop Odo's tyranny forced the Kentishmen to seek aid from Count Eustace of Boulogne; while the Welsh princes supported a similar rising against Norman oppression in the west. But as yet the bulk of the land held fairly to the new king. Dover was saved from Eustace; and the discontented fled over sea to seek refuge in lands as far off as Constantinople, where Englishmen from this time formed great part of the body-guard or Varangians of the Eastern Emperors. William returned to take his place again as an English king. It was with an English force that he subdued a rising in the south-west with Exeter at its head, and it was at the head of an English army that he completed his work by marching to the North. His march brought Eadwine and Morkere again to submission; a fresh rising ended in the occupation of York, and England as far as the Tees lay quietly at William's feet.

[Sidenote: The Norman Conquest]

It was in fact only the national revolt of 1068 that transformed the King into a conqueror. The signal for this revolt came from Swein, king of Denmark, who had for two years past been preparing to dispute England with the Norman, but on the appearance of his fleet in the Humber all northern, all western and south-western England rose as one man. Eadgar the AEtheling with a band of exiles who had found refuge in Scotland took the head of the Northumbrian revolt; in the south-west the men of Devon, Somerset, and Dorset gathered to the sieges of Exeter and Montacute; while a new Norman castle at Shrewsbury alone bridled a rising in the West. So ably had the revolt been planned that even William was taken by surprise. The outbreak was heralded by a storm of York and the slaughter of three thousand Normans who formed its garrison. The news of this slaughter reached William as he was hunting in the forest of Dean; and in a wild outburst of wrath he swore "by the splendour of God" to avenge himself on the North. But wrath went hand in hand with the coolest statesmanship. The centre of resistance lay in the Danish fleet, and pushing rapidly to the Humber with a handful of horsemen William bought at a heavy price its inactivity and withdrawal. Then turning westward with the troops that gathered round him he swept the Welsh border and relieved Shrewsbury while William Fitz-Osbern broke the rising around Exeter. His success set the King free to fulfil his oath of vengeance on the North. After a long delay before the flooded waters of the Aire he entered York and ravaged the whole country as far as the Tees. Town and village were harried and burned, their inhabitants were slain or driven over the Scottish border. The coast was especially wasted that no hold might remain for future landings of the Danes. Crops, cattle, the very implements of husbandry were so mercilessly destroyed that a famine which followed is said to have swept off more than a hundred thousand victims. Half a century later indeed the land still lay bare of culture and deserted of men for sixty miles northward of York. The work of vengeance once over, William led his army back from the Tees to York, and thence to Chester and the West. Never had he shown the grandeur of his character so memorably as in this terrible march. The winter was hard, the roads choked with snowdrifts or broken by torrents, provisions failed; and his army, storm-beaten and forced to devour its horses for food, broke out into mutiny at the order to cross the bleak moorlands that part Yorkshire from the West. The mercenaries from Anjou and Britanny demanded their release from service. William granted their prayer with scorn. On foot, at the head of the troops which still clung to him, he forced his way by paths inaccessible to horses, often helping the men with his own hands to clear the road, and as the army descended upon Chester the resistance of the English died away.

For two years William was able to busy himself in castle-building and in measures for holding down the conquered land. How effective these were was seen when the last act of the conquest was reached. All hope of Danish aid was now gone, but Englishmen still looked for help to Scotland where Eadgar the AEtheling had again found refuge and where his sister Margaret had become wife of King Malcolm. It was probably some assurance of Malcolm's aid which roused the Mercian Earls, Eadwine and Morkere, to a fresh rising in 1071. But the revolt was at once foiled by the vigilance of the Conqueror. Eadwine fell in an obscure skirmish, while Morkere found shelter for a while in the fen country where a desperate band of patriots gathered round an outlawed leader, Hereward. Nowhere had William found so stubborn a resistance: but a causeway two miles long was at last driven across the marshes, and the last hopes of English freedom died in the surrender of Ely. It was as the unquestioned master of England that William marched to the North, crossed the Lowlands and the Forth, and saw Malcolm appear in his camp upon the Tay to swear fealty at his feet.



BOOK II ENGLAND UNDER FOREIGN KINGS 1071-1204

AUTHORITIES FOR BOOK II 1071-1204

Among the Norman chroniclers Orderic becomes from this point particularly valuable and detailed. The Chronicle and Florence of Worcester remain the primary English authorities, while Simeon of Durham gives much special information on northern matters. For the reign of William the Red the chief source of information is Eadmer, a monk of Canterbury, in his "Historia Noverum" and "Life of Anselm." William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon are both contemporary authorities during that of Henry the First; the latter remains a brief but accurate annalist; the former is the leader of a new historic school, who treat English events as part of the history of the world, and emulate classic models by a more philosophical arrangement of their materials. To these the opening of Stephen's reign adds the "Gesta Stephani," a record in great detail by one of the King's clerks, and the Hexham Chroniclers.

All this wealth of historical material however suddenly leaves us in the chaos of civil war. Even the Chronicle dies out in the midst of Stephen's reign, and the close at the same time of the works we have noted leaves a blank in our historical literature which extends over the early years of Henry the Second. But this dearth is followed by a vast outburst of historical industry. For the Beket struggle we have the mass of the Archbishop's own correspondence with that of Foliot and John of Salisbury. From 1169 to 1192 our primary authority is the Chronicle known as that of Benedict of Peterborough, whose authorship Professor Stubbs has shown to be more probably due to the royal treasurer, Bishop Richard Fitz-Neal. This is continued to 1201 by Roger of Howden in a record of equally official value. William of Newburgh's history, which ends in 1198, is a work of the classical school, like William of Malmesbury's. It is distinguished by its fairness and good sense. To these may be added the Chronicle of Ralph Niger, with the additions of Ralph of Coggeshall, that of Gervase of Canterbury, and the interesting life of St. Hugh of Lincoln.

But the intellectual energy of Henry the Second's time is shown even more remarkably in the mass of general literature which lies behind these distinctively historical sources, in the treatises of John of Salisbury, the voluminous works of Giraldus Cambrensis, the "Trifles" and satires of Walter Map, Glanvill's treatise on Law, Richard Fitz-Neal's "Dialogue on the Exchequer," to which we owe our knowledge of Henry's financial system, the romances of Gaimar and of Wace, the poem of the San Graal. But this intellectual fertility is far from ceasing with Henry the Second. The thirteenth century has hardly begun when the romantic impulse quickens even the old English tongue in the long poem of Layamon. The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes and an "Itinerarium Regis" supplement Roger of Howden for Richard's reign. With John we enter upon the Annals of Barnwell and are aided by the invaluable series of the Chroniclers of St. Albans. Among the side topics of the time, we may find much information as to the Jews in Toovey's "Anglia Judaica"; the Chronicle of Jocelyn of Brakelond gives us a peep into social and monastic life; the Cistercian revival may be traced in the records of the Cistercian abbeys in Dugdale's Monasticon; the Charter Rolls give some information as to municipal history; and constitutional developement may be traced in the documents collected by Professor Stubbs in his "Select Charters."



CHAPTER I THE CONQUEROR 1071-1085



[Sidenote: The Foreign Kings]

In the five hundred years that followed the landing of Hengest Britain had become England, and its conquest had ended in the settlement of its conquerors, in their conversion to Christianity, in the birth of a national literature, of an imperfect civilization, of a rough political order. But through the whole of this earlier age every attempt to fuse the various tribes of conquerors into a single nation had failed. The effort of Northumbria to extend her rule over all England had been foiled by the resistance of Mercia; that of Mercia by the resistance of Wessex. Wessex herself, even under the guidance of great kings and statesmen, had no sooner reduced the country to a seeming unity than local independence rose again at the call of the Northmen. The sense of a single England deepened with the pressure of the invaders; the monarchy of AElfred and his house broadened into an English kingdom; but still tribal jealousies battled with national unity. Northumbrian lay apart from West-Saxon, Northman from Englishman. A common national sympathy held the country roughly together, but a real national union had yet to come. It came with foreign rule. The rule of the Danish kings broke local jealousies as they had never been broken before, and bequeathed a new England to Godwine and the Confessor. But Cnut was more Englishman than Northman, and his system of government was an English system. The true foreign yoke was only felt when England saw its conqueror in William the Norman.

For nearly a century and a half, from the hour when William turned triumphant from the fens of Ely to the hour when John fled defeated from Norman shores, our story is one of foreign masters. Kings from Normandy were followed by kings from Anjou. But whether under Norman or Angevin Englishmen were a subject race, conquered and ruled by men of strange blood and of strange speech. And yet it was in these years of subjection that England first became really England. Provincial differences were finally crushed into national unity by the pressure of the stranger. The firm government of her foreign kings secured the land a long and almost unbroken peace in which the new nation grew to a sense of its oneness, and this consciousness was strengthened by the political ability which in Henry the First gave it administrative order and in Henry the Second built up the fabric of its law. New elements of social life were developed alike by the suffering and the prosperity of the times. The wrong which had been done by the degradation of the free landowner into a feudal dependant was partially redressed by the degradation of the bulk of the English lords themselves into a middle class as they were pushed from their place by the foreign baronage who settled on English soil; and this social change was accompanied by a gradual enrichment and elevation of the class of servile and semi-servile cultivators which had lifted them at the close of this period into almost complete freedom. The middle class which was thus created was reinforced by the upgrowth of a corresponding class in our towns. Commerce and trade were promoted by the justice and policy of the foreign kings; and with their advance rose the political importance of the trader. The boroughs of England, which at the opening of this period were for the most part mere villages, were rich enough at its close to buy liberty from the Crown and to stand ready for the mightier part they were to play in the developement of our parliament. The shame of conquest, the oppression of the conquerors, begot a moral and religious revival which raised religion into a living thing; while the close connexion with the Continent which foreign conquest brought about secured for England a new communion with the artistic and intellectual life of the world without her.

[Sidenote: William the Conqueror]

In a word, it is to the stern discipline of our foreign kings that we owe not merely English wealth and English freedom but England herself. And of these foreign masters the greatest was William of Normandy. In William the wild impulses of the northman's blood mingled strangely with the cool temper of the modern statesman. As he was the last, so he was the most terrible outcome of the northern race. The very spirit of the sea-robbers from whom he sprang seemed embodied in his gigantic form, his enormous strength, his savage countenance, his desperate bravery, the fury of his wrath, the ruthlessness of his revenge. "No knight under heaven," his enemies owned, "was William's peer." Boy as he was at Val-es-dunes, horse and man went down before his lance. All the fierce gaiety of his nature broke out in the warfare of his youth, in his rout of fifteen Angevins with but five men at his back, in his defiant ride over the ground which Geoffry Martel claimed from him, a ride with hawk on fist as if war and the chase were one. No man could bend William's bow. His mace crashed its way through a ring of English warriors to the foot of the Standard. He rose to his greatest height at moments when other men despaired. His voice rang out as a trumpet when his soldiers fled before the English charge at Senlac, and his rally turned the flight into a means of victory. In his winter march on Chester he strode afoot at the head of his fainting troops and helped with his own hand to clear a road through the snowdrifts. And with the northman's daring broke out the northman's pitilessness. When the townsmen of Alencon hung raw hides along their walls in scorn of the "tanner's" grandson, William tore out his prisoners' eyes, hewed off their hands and feet, and flung them into the town. Hundreds of Hampshire men were driven from their homes to make him a hunting-ground and his harrying of Northumbria left Northern England a desolate waste. Of men's love or hate he recked little. His grim look, his pride, his silence, his wild outbursts of passion, left William lonely even in his court. His subjects trembled as he passed. "So stark and fierce was he," writes the English chronicler, "that none dared resist his will." His very wrath was solitary. "To no man spake he and no man dared speak to him" when the news reached him of Harold's seizure of the throne. It was only when he passed from his palace to the loneliness of the woods that the King's temper unbent. "He loved the wild deer as though he had been their father."

[Sidenote: His rule]

It was the genius of William which lifted him out of this mere northman into a great general and a great statesman. The wary strategy of his French campaigns, the organization of his attack upon England, the victory at Senlac, the quick resource, the steady perseverance which achieved the Conquest showed the wide range of his generalship. His political ability had shown itself from the first moment of his accession to the ducal throne. William had the instinct of government. He had hardly reached manhood when Normandy lay peaceful at his feet. Revolt was crushed. Disorder was trampled under foot. The Duke "could never love a robber," be he baron or knave. The sternness of his temper stamped itself throughout upon his rule. "Stark he was to men that withstood him," says the Chronicler of his English system of government; "so harsh and cruel was he that none dared withstand his will. Earls that did aught against his bidding he cast into bonds; bishops he stripped of their bishopricks, abbots of their abbacies. He spared not his own brother: first he was in the land, but the King cast him into bondage. If a man would live and hold his lands, need it were he followed the King's will." Stern as such a rule was, its sternness gave rest to the land. Even amidst the sufferings which necessarily sprang from the circumstances of the Conquest itself, from the erection of castles or the enclosure of forests or the exactions which built up William's hoard at Winchester, Englishmen were unable to forget "the good peace he made in the land, so that a man might fare over his realm with a bosom full of gold." Strange touches too of a humanity far in advance of his age contrasted with this general temper of the Conqueror's government. One of the strongest traits in his character was an aversion to shed blood by process of law; he formally abolished the punishment of death, and only a single execution stains the annals of his reign. An edict yet more honourable to his humanity put an end to the slave-trade which had till then been carried on at the port of Bristol. The contrast between the ruthlessness and pitifulness of his public acts sprang indeed from a contrast within his temper itself. The pitiless warrior, the stern and aweful king was a tender and faithful husband, an affectionate father. The lonely silence of his bearing broke into gracious converse with pure and sacred souls like Anselm. If William was "stark" to rebel and baron, men noted that he was "mild to those that loved God."

[Sidenote: William and feudalism]

But the greatness of the Conqueror was seen in more than the order and peace which he imposed upon the land. Fortune had given him one of the greatest opportunities ever offered to a king of stamping his own genius on the destinies of a people; and it is the way in which he seized on this opportunity which has set William among the foremost statesmen of the world. The struggle which ended in the fens of Ely had wholly changed his position. He no longer held the land merely as its national and elected King. To his elective right he added the right of conquest. It is the way in which William grasped and employed this double power that marks the originality of his political genius, for the system of government which he devised was in fact the result of this double origin of his rule. It represented neither the purely feudal system of the Continent nor the system of the older English royalty: more truly perhaps it may be said to have represented both. As the conqueror of England William developed the military organization of feudalism so far as was necessary for the secure possession of his conquests. The ground was already prepared for such an organization. We have watched the beginnings of English feudalism in the warriors, the "companions" or "thegns" who were personally attached to the king's war-band and received estates from the folk-land in reward for their personal services. In later times this feudal distribution of estates had greatly increased as the bulk of the nobles followed the king's example and bound their tenants to themselves by a similar process of subinfeudation. The pure freeholders on the other hand, the class which formed the basis of the original English society, had been gradually reduced in number, partly through imitation of the class above them, but more through the pressure of the Danish wars and the social disturbance consequent upon them which forced these freemen to seek protectors among the thegns at the cost of their independence. Even before the reign of William therefore feudalism was superseding the older freedom in England as it had already superseded it in Germany or France. But the tendency was quickened and intensified by the Conquest. The desperate and universal resistance of the country forced William to hold by the sword what the sword had won; and an army strong enough to crush at any moment a national revolt was needful for the preservation of his throne. Such an army could only be maintained by a vast confiscation of the soil, and the failure of the English risings cleared the ground for its establishment. The greater part of the higher nobility fell in battle or fled into exile, while the lower thegnhood either forfeited the whole of their lands or redeemed a portion by the surrender of the rest. We see the completeness of the confiscation in the vast estates which William was enabled to grant to his more powerful followers. Two hundred manors in Kent with more than an equal number elsewhere rewarded the services of his brother Odo, and grants almost as large fell to William's counsellors Fitz-Osbern and Montgomery or to barons like the Mowbrays and the Clares. But the poorest soldier of fortune found his part in the spoil. The meanest Norman rose to wealth and power in this new dominion of his lord. Great or small, each manor thus granted was granted on condition of its holder's service at the King's call; a whole army was by this means encamped upon the soil; and William's summons could at any hour gather an overwhelming force around his standard.

Such a force however, effective as it was against the conquered English, was hardly less formidable to the Crown itself. When once it was established, William found himself fronted in his new realm by a feudal baronage, by the men whom he had so hardly bent to his will in Normandy, and who were as impatient of law, as jealous of the royal power, as eager for an unbridled military and judicial independence within their own manors, here as there. The political genius of the Conqueror was shown in his appreciation of this danger and in the skill with which he met it. Large as the estates he granted were, they were scattered over the country in such a way as to render union between the great landowners or the hereditary attachment of great areas of population to any one separate lord equally impossible. A yet wiser measure struck at the very root of feudalism. When the larger holdings were divided by their owners into smaller sub-tenancies, the under-tenants were bound by the same conditions of service to their lord as he to the Crown. "Hear, my lord," swore the vassal as kneeling bareheaded and without arms he placed his hands within those of his superior, "I become liege man of yours for life and limb and earthly regard; and I will keep faith and loyalty to you for life and death, God help me!" Then the kiss of his lord invested him with land as a "fief" to descend to him and his heirs for ever. In other countries such a vassal owed fealty to his lord against all foes, be they king or no. By the usage however which William enacted in England each sub-tenant, in addition to his oath of fealty to his lord, swore fealty directly to the Crown, and loyalty to the King was thus established as the supreme and universal duty of all Englishmen.

[Sidenote: William and England]

But the Conqueror's skill was shown not so much in these inner checks upon feudalism as in the counterbalancing forces which he provided without it. He was not only the head of the great garrison that held England down, he was legal and elected King of the English people. If as Conqueror he covered the country with a new military organization, as the successor of Eadward he maintained the judicial and administrative organization of the old English realm. At the danger of a severance of the land between the greater nobles he struck a final blow by the abolition of the four great earldoms. The shire became the largest unit of local government, and in each shire the royal nomination of sheriffs for its administration concentrated the whole executive power in the King's hands. The old legal constitution of the country gave him the whole judicial power, and William was jealous to retain and heighten this. While he preserved the local courts of the hundred and the shire he strengthened the jurisdiction of the King's Court, which seems even in the Confessor's day to have become more and more a court of highest appeal with a right to call up all cases from any lower jurisdiction to its bar. The control over the national revenue which had rested even in the most troubled times in the hands of the King was turned into a great financial power by the Conqueror's system. Over the whole face of the land a large part of the manors were burthened with special dues to the Crown: and it was for the purpose of ascertaining and recording these that William sent into each county the commissioners whose enquiries are recorded in his Domesday Book. A jury empannelled in each hundred declared on oath the extent and nature of each estate, the names, number, and condition of its inhabitants, its value before and after the Conquest, and the sums due from it to the Crown. These, with the Danegeld or land-tax levied since the days of AEthelred, formed as yet the main financial resources of the Crown, and their exaction carried the royal authority in its most direct form home to every landowner. But to these were added a revenue drawn from the old Crown domain, now largely increased by the confiscations of the Conquest, the ever-growing income from the judicial "fines" imposed by the King's judges in the King's courts, and the fees and redemptions paid to the Crown on the grant or renewal of every privilege or charter. A new source of revenue was found in the Jewish traders, many of whom followed William from Normandy, and who were glad to pay freely for the royal protection which enabled them to settle in their quarters or "Jewries" in all the principal towns of England.

[Sidenote: The Church]

William found a yet stronger check on his baronage in the organization of the Church. Its old dependence on the royal power was strictly enforced. Prelates were practically chosen by the King. Homage was exacted from bishop as from baron. No royal tenant could be excommunicated save by the King's leave. No synod could legislate without his previous assent and subsequent confirmation of its decrees. No papal letters could be received within the realm save by his permission. The King firmly repudiated the claims which were beginning to be put forward by the court of Rome. When Gregory VII. called on him to do fealty for his kingdom the King sternly refused to admit the claim. "Fealty I have never willed to do, nor will I do it now. I have never promised it, nor do I find that my predecessors did it to yours." William's reforms only tended to tighten this hold of the Crown on the clergy. Stigand was deposed; and the elevation of Lanfranc to the see of Canterbury was followed by the removal of most of the English prelates and by the appointment of Norman ecclesiastics in their place. The new archbishop did much to restore discipline, and William's own efforts were no doubt partly directed by a real desire for the religious improvement of his realm. But the foreign origin of the new prelates cut them off from the flocks they ruled and bound them firmly to the foreign throne; while their independent position was lessened by a change which seemed intended to preserve it. Ecclesiastical cases had till now been decided, like civil cases, in shire or hundred-court, where the bishop sate side by side with ealdorman or sheriff. They were now withdrawn from it to the separate court of the bishop. The change was pregnant with future trouble to the Crown; but for the moment it told mainly in removing the bishop from his traditional contact with the popular assembly and in effacing the memory of the original equality of the religious with the civil power.

[Sidenote: William's death]

In any struggle with feudalism a national king, secure of the support of the Church, and backed by the royal hoard at Winchester, stood in different case from the merely feudal sovereigns of the Continent. The difference of power was seen as soon as the Conquest was fairly over, and the struggle which William had anticipated opened between the baronage and the Crown. The wisdom of his policy in the destruction of the great earldoms which had overshadowed the throne was shown in an attempt at their restoration made in 1075 by Roger, the son of his minister William Fitz-Osbern, and by the Breton, Ralf de Guader, whom the King had rewarded for his services at Senlac with the earldom of Norfolk. The rising was quickly suppressed, Roger thrown into prison, and Ralf driven over sea. The intrigues of the baronage soon found another leader in William's half-brother, the Bishop of Bayeux. Under pretence of aspiring by arms to the papacy Bishop Odo collected money and men, but the treasure was at once seized by the royal officers and the bishop arrested in the midst of the court. Even at the King's bidding no officer would venture to seize on a prelate of the Church; and it was with his own hands that William was forced to effect his arrest. The Conqueror was as successful against foes from without as against foes from within. The fear of the Danes, which had so long hung like a thunder-cloud over England, passed away before the host which William gathered in 1085 to meet a great armament assembled by king Cnut. A mutiny dispersed the Danish fleet, and the murder of its king removed all peril from the north. Scotland, already humbled by William's invasion, was bridled by the erection of a strong fortress at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and after penetrating with his army to the heart of Wales the King commenced its systematic reduction by settling three of his great barons along its frontier. It was not till his closing years that William's unvarying success was troubled by a fresh outbreak of the Norman baronage under his son Robert and by an attack which he was forced to meet in 1087 from France. Its king mocked at the Conqueror's unwieldy bulk and at the sickness which bound him to his bed at Rouen. "King William has as long a lying-in," laughed Philip, "as a woman behind her curtains." "When I get up," William swore grimly, "I will go to mass in Philip's land and bring a rich offering for my churching. I will offer a thousand candles for my fee. Flaming brands shall they be, and steel shall glitter over the fire they make." At harvest-tide town and hamlet flaring into ashes along the French border fulfilled the ruthless vow. But as the King rode down the steep street of Mantes which he had given to the flames his horse stumbled among the embers, and William was flung heavily against his saddle. He was borne home to Rouen to die. The sound of the minster bell woke him at dawn as he lay in the convent of St. Gervais, overlooking the city—it was the hour of prime—and stretching out his hands in prayer the King passed quietly away. Death itself took its colour from the savage solitude of his life. Priests and nobles fled as the last breath left him, and the Conqueror's body lay naked and lonely on the floor.



CHAPTER II THE NORMAN KINGS 1085-1154



[Sidenote: William the Red]

With the death of the Conqueror passed the terror which had held the barons in awe, while the severance of his dominions roused their hopes of successful resistance to the stern rule beneath which they had bowed. William bequeathed Normandy to his eldest son Robert; but William the Red, his second son, hastened with his father's ring to England where the influence of Lanfranc secured him the crown. The baronage seized the opportunity to rise in arms under pretext of supporting the claims of Robert, whose weakness of character gave full scope for the growth of feudal independence; and Bishop Odo, now freed from prison, placed himself at the head of the revolt. The new King was thrown almost wholly on the loyalty of his English subjects. But the national stamp which William had given to his kingship told at once. The English rallied to the royal standard; Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, the one surviving bishop of English blood, defeated the insurgents in the west; while the King, summoning the freemen of country and town to his host under pain of being branded as "nithing" or worthless, advanced with a large force against Rochester where the barons were concentrated. A plague which broke out among the garrison forced them to capitulate, and as the prisoners passed through the royal army cries of "gallows and cord" burst from the English ranks. The failure of a later conspiracy whose aim was to set on the throne a kinsman of the royal house, Stephen of Albemarle, with the capture and imprisonment of its head, Robert Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland, brought home at last to the baronage their helplessness in a strife with the King. The genius of the Conqueror had saved England from the danger of feudalism. But he had left as weighty a danger in the power which trod feudalism under foot. The power of the Crown was a purely personal power, restrained under the Conqueror by his own high sense of duty, but capable of becoming a pure despotism in the hands of his son. The nobles were at his feet, and the policy of his minister, Ranulf Flambard, loaded their estates with feudal obligations. Each tenant was held as bound to appear if needful thrice a year at the royal court, to pay a heavy fine or rent on succession to his estate, to contribute aid in case of the king's capture in war or the knighthood of the king's eldest son or the marriage of his eldest daughter. An heir who was still a minor passed into the king's wardship, and all profit from his lands went during the period of wardship to the king. If the estate fell to an heiress, her hand was at the king's disposal, and was generally sold by him to the highest bidder. These rights of "marriage" and "wardship" as well as the exaction of aids at the royal will poured wealth into the treasury while they impoverished and fettered the baronage. A fresh source of revenue was found in the Church. The same principles of feudal dependence were applied to its lands as to those of the nobles; and during the vacancy of a see or abbey its profits, like those of a minor, were swept into the royal hoard. William's profligacy and extravagance soon tempted him to abuse this resource, and so steadily did he refuse to appoint successors to prelates whom death removed that at the close of his reign one archbishoprick, four bishopricks, and eleven abbeys were found to be without pastors.

Vile as was this system of extortion and misrule but a single voice was raised in protest against it. Lanfranc had been followed in his abbey at Bec by the most famous of his scholars, Anselm of Aosta, an Italian like himself. Friends as they were, no two men could be more strangely unlike. Anselm had grown to manhood in the quiet solitude of his mountain-valley, a tenderhearted poet-dreamer, with a soul pure as the Alpine snows above him, and an intelligence keen and clear as the mountain-air. The whole temper of the man was painted in a dream of his youth. It seemed to him as though heaven lay, a stately palace, amid the gleaming hill-peaks, while the women reaping in the corn-fields of the valley became harvest-maidens of its king. They reaped idly, and Anselm, grieved at their sloth, hastily climbed the mountain side to accuse them to their lord. As he reached the palace the king's voice called him to his feet and he poured forth his tale; then at the royal bidding bread of an unearthly whiteness was set before him, and he ate and was refreshed. The dream passed with the morning; but the sense of heaven's nearness to earth, the fervid loyalty to the service of his Lord, the tender restfulness and peace in the Divine presence which it reflected lived on in the life of Anselm. Wandering like other Italian scholars to Normandy, he became a monk under Lanfranc, and on his teacher's removal to higher duties succeeded him in the direction of the Abbey of Bec. No teacher has ever thrown a greater spirit of love into his toil. "Force your scholars to improve!" he burst out to another teacher who relied on blows and compulsion. "Did you ever see a craftsman fashion a fair image out of a golden plate by blows alone? Does he not now gently press it and strike it with his tools, now with wise art yet more gently raise and shape it? What do your scholars turn into under this ceaseless beating?" "They turn only brutal," was the reply. "You have bad luck," was the keen answer, "in a training that only turns men into beasts." The worst natures softened before this tenderness and patience. Even the Conqueror, so harsh and terrible to others, became another man, gracious and easy of speech, with Anselm. But amidst his absorbing cares as a teacher, the Prior of Bec found time for philosophical speculations to which we owe the scientific inquiries which built up the theology of the Middle Ages. His famous works were the first attempts of any Christian thinker to elicit the idea of God from the very nature of the human reason. His passion for abstruse thought robbed him of food and sleep. Sometimes he could hardly pray. Often the night was a long watch till he could seize his conception and write it on the wax tablets which lay beside him. But not even a fever of intense thought such as this could draw Anselm's heart from its passionate tenderness and love. Sick monks in the infirmary could relish no drink save the juice which his hand squeezed for them from the grape-bunch. In the later days of his archbishoprick a hare chased by the hounds took refuge under his horse, and his gentle voice grew loud as he forbade a huntsman to stir in the chase while the creature darted off again to the woods. Even the greed of lands for the Church to which so many religious men yielded found its characteristic rebuke as the battling lawyers in such a suit saw Anselm quietly close his eyes in court and go peacefully to sleep.

[Sidenote: William and Anselm]

A sudden impulse of the Red King drew the abbot from these quiet studies into the storms of the world. The see of Canterbury had long been left without a Primate when a dangerous illness frightened the king into the promotion of Anselm. The Abbot, who happened at the time to be in England on the business of his house, was dragged to the royal couch and the cross forced into his hands. But William had no sooner recovered from his sickness than he found himself face to face with an opponent whose meek and loving temper rose into firmness and grandeur when it fronted the tyranny of the king. Much of the struggle between William and the Archbishop turned on questions such as the right of investiture, which have little bearing on our history, but the particular question at issue was of less importance than the fact of a contest at all. The boldness of Anselm's attitude not only broke the tradition of ecclesiastical servitude but infused through the nation at large a new spirit of independence. The real character of the strife appears in the Primate's answer when his remonstrances against the lawless exactions from the Church were met by a demand for a present on his own promotion, and his first offer of five hundred pounds was contemptuously refused. "Treat me as a free man," Anselm replied, "and I devote myself and all that I have to your service, but if you treat me as a slave you shall have neither me nor mine." A burst of the Red King's fury drove the Archbishop from court, and he finally decided to quit the country, but his example had not been lost, and the close of William's reign found a new spirit of freedom in England with which the greatest of the Conqueror's sons was glad to make terms. His exile however left William without a check. Supreme at home, he was full of ambition abroad. As a soldier the Red King was little inferior to his father. Normandy had been pledged to him by his brother Robert in exchange for a sum which enabled the Duke to march in the first Crusade for the delivery of the Holy Land, and a rebellion at Le Mans was subdued by the fierce energy with which William flung himself at the news of it into the first boat he found, and crossed the Channel in face of a storm. "Kings never drown," he replied contemptuously to the remonstrances of his followers. Homage was again wrested from Malcolm by a march to the Firth of Forth, and the subsequent death of that king threw Scotland into a disorder which enabled an army under Eadgar AEtheling to establish Eadgar, the son of Margaret, as an English feudatory on the throne. In Wales William was less triumphant, and the terrible losses inflicted on the heavy Norman cavalry in the fastnesses of Snowdon forced him to fall back on the slower but wiser policy of the Conqueror. But triumph and defeat alike ended in a strange and tragical close. In 1100 the Red King was found dead by peasants in a glade of the New Forest, with the arrow either of a hunter or an assassin in his breast.

[Sidenote: Henry the First]

Robert was at this moment on his return from the Holy Land, where his bravery had redeemed much of his earlier ill-fame, and the English crown was seized by his younger brother Henry in spite of the opposition of the baronage, who clung to the Duke of Normandy and the union of their estates on both sides the Channel under a single ruler. Their attitude threw Henry, as it had thrown Rufus, on the support of the English, and the two great measures which followed his coronation, his grant of a charter, and his marriage with Matilda, mark the new relation which this support brought about between the people and their king. Henry's Charter is important, not merely as a direct precedent for the Great Charter of John, but as the first limitation on the despotism established by the Conqueror and carried to such a height by his son. The "evil customs" by which the Red King had enslaved and plundered the Church were explicitly renounced in it, the unlimited demands made by both the Conqueror and his son on the baronage exchanged for customary fees, while the rights of the people itself, though recognized more vaguely, were not forgotten. The barons were held to do justice to their undertenants and to renounce tyrannical exactions from them, the king promising to restore order and the "law of Eadward," the old constitution of the realm, with the changes which his father had introduced. His marriage gave a significance to these promises which the meanest English peasant could understand. Edith, or Matilda, was the daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland and of Margaret, the sister of Eadgar AEtheling. She had been brought up in the nunnery of Romsey where her aunt Christina was a nun; and the veil which she had taken there formed an obstacle to her union with the King, which was only removed by the wisdom of Anselm. While Flambard, the embodiment of the Red King's despotism, was thrown into the Tower, the Archbishop's recall had been one of Henry's first acts after his accession. Matilda appeared before his court to tell her tale in words of passionate earnestness. She had been veiled in her childhood, she asserted, only to save her from the insults of the rude soldiery who infested the land, had flung the veil from her again and again, and had yielded at last to the unwomanly taunts, the actual blows of her aunt. "As often as I stood in her presence," the girl pleaded, "I wore the veil, trembling as I wore it with indignation and grief. But as soon as I could get out of her sight I used to snatch it from my head, fling it on the ground, and trample it under foot. That was the way, and none other, in which I was veiled." Anselm at once declared her free from conventual bonds, and the shout of the English multitude when he set the crown on Matilda's brow drowned the murmur of Churchman or of baron. The mockery of the Norman nobles, who nicknamed the king and his spouse Godric and Godgifu, was lost in the joy of the people at large. For the first time since the Conquest an English sovereign sat on the English throne. The blood of Cerdic and AElfred was to blend itself with that of Hrolf and the Conqueror. Henceforth it was impossible that the two peoples should remain parted from each other; so quick indeed was their union that the very name of Norman had passed away in half a century, and at the accession of Henry's grandson it was impossible to distinguish between the descendants of the conquerors and those of the conquered at Senlac.

[Sidenote: Henry and the Barons]

Charter and marriage roused an enthusiasm among his subjects which enabled Henry to defy the claims of his brother and the disaffection of his nobles. Early in 1101 Robert landed at Portsmouth to win the crown in arms. The great barons with hardly an exception stood aloof from the king. But the Norman Duke found himself face to face with an English army which gathered at Anselm's summons round Henry's standard. The temper of the English had rallied from the panic of Senlac. The soldiers who came to fight for their king "nowise feared the Normans." As Henry rode along their lines showing them how to keep firm their shield-wall against the lances of Robert's knighthood, he was met with shouts for battle. But king and duke alike shrank from a contest in which the victory of either side would have undone the Conqueror's work. The one saw his effort was hopeless, the other was only anxious to remove his rival from the realm, and by a peace which the Count of Meulan negotiated Robert recognized Henry as King of England while Henry gave up his fief in the Cotentin to his brother the Duke. Robert's retreat left Henry free to deal sternly with the barons who had forsaken him. Robert de Lacy was stripped of his manors in Yorkshire; Robert Malet was driven from his lands in Suffolk; Ivo of Grantmesnil lost his vast estates and went to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. But greater even than these was Robert of Belesme, the son of Roger of Montgomery, who held in England the earldoms of Shrewsbury and Arundel, while in Normandy he was Count of Ponthieu and Alencon. Robert stood at the head of the baronage in wealth and power: and his summons to the King's Court to answer for his refusal of aid to the king was answered by a haughty defiance. But again the Norman baronage had to feel the strength which English loyalty gave to the Crown. Sixty thousand Englishmen followed Henry to the attack of Robert's strongholds along the Welsh border. It was in vain that the nobles about the king, conscious that Robert's fall left them helpless in Henry's hands, strove to bring about a peace. The English soldiers shouted "Heed not these traitors, our lord King Henry," and with the people at his back the king stood firm. Only an early surrender saved Robert's life. He was suffered to retire to his estates in Normandy, but his English lands were confiscated to the Crown. "Rejoice, King Henry," shouted the English soldiers, "for you began to be a free king on that day when you conquered Robert of Belesme and drove him from the land." Master of his own realm and enriched by the confiscated lands of the ruined barons Henry crossed into Normandy, where the misgovernment of the Duke had alienated the clergy and tradesfolk, and where the outrages of nobles like Robert of Belesme forced the more peaceful classes to call the king to their aid. In 1106 his forces met those of his brother on the field of Tenchebray, and a decisive English victory on Norman soil avenged the shame of Hastings. The conquered duchy became a dependency of the English crown, and Henry's energies were frittered away through a quarter of a century in crushing its revolts, the hostility of the French, and the efforts of his nephew William, the son of Robert, to regain the crown which his father had lost.

[Sidenote: Henry's rule]

With the victory of Tenchebray Henry was free to enter on that work of administration which was to make his reign memorable in our history. Successful as his wars had been he was in heart no warrior but a statesman, and his greatness showed itself less in the field than in the council chamber. His outer bearing like his inner temper stood in marked contrast to that of his father. Well read, accomplished, easy and fluent of speech, the lord of a harem of mistresses, the centre of a gay court where poet and jongleur found a home, Henry remained cool, self-possessed, clear-sighted, hard, methodical, loveless himself, and neither seeking nor desiring his people's love, but wringing from them their gratitude and regard by sheer dint of good government. His work of order was necessarily a costly work; and the steady pressure of his taxation, a pressure made the harder by local famines and plagues during his reign, has left traces of the grumbling it roused in the pages of the English Chronicle. But even the Chronicler is forced to own amidst his grumblings that Henry "was a good man, and great was the awe of him." He had little of his father's creative genius, of that far-reaching originality by which the Conqueror stamped himself and his will on the very fabric of our history. But he had the passion for order, the love of justice, the faculty of organization, the power of steady and unwavering rule, which was needed to complete the Conqueror's work. His aim was peace, and the title of the Peace-loving King which was given him at his death showed with what a steadiness and constancy he carried out his aim. In Normandy indeed his work was ever and anon undone by outbreaks of its baronage, outbreaks sternly repressed only that the work might be patiently and calmly taken up again where it had been broken off. But in England his will was carried out with a perfect success. For more than a quarter of a century the land had rest. Without, the Scots were held in friendship, the Welsh were bridled by a steady and well-planned scheme of gradual conquest. Within, the licence of the baronage was held sternly down, and justice secured for all. "He governed with a strong hand," says Orderic, but the strong hand was the hand of a king, not of a tyrant. "Great was the awe of him," writes the annalist of Peterborough. "No man durst ill-do to another in his days. Peace he made for man and beast." Pitiless as were the blows he aimed at the nobles who withstood him, they were blows which his English subjects felt to be struck in their cause. "While he mastered by policy the foremost counts and lords and the boldest tyrants, he ever cherished and protected peaceful men and men of religion and men of the middle class." What impressed observers most was the unswerving, changeless temper of his rule. The stern justice, the terrible punishments he inflicted on all who broke his laws, were parts of a fixed system which differed widely from the capricious severity of a mere despot. Hardly less impressive was his unvarying success. Heavy as were the blows which destiny levelled at him, Henry bore and rose unconquered from all. To the end of his life the proudest barons lay bound and blinded in his prison. His hoard grew greater and greater. Normandy, toss as she might, lay helpless at his feet to the last. In England it was only after his death that men dared mutter what evil things they had thought of Henry the Peace-lover, or censure the pitilessness, the greed, and the lust which had blurred the wisdom and splendour of his rule.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse