Charles Dickens.

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" The Saxons," reported Duke William's outposts of Nor-
man soldiers, who were instructed to retire as King Harold's
army advanced, " rush on us through their pillaged country,
with the fury of madmen."

" Let them come, and come soon ! " said Duke William.

Some proposals for a reconciliation were made, but were
soon abandoned. In the middle of the month of October, in
the year one thousand and sixty-six, the Normans and the Eng-
lish came front to front. All night the armies lay encamped
before each other, in a part of the country then called Senlac,
now called (in remembrance of them) Battle. With the first
dawn of day, they arose. There, in the faint light, were the
English on a hill \ a wood behind them ; in their midst, the
royal banner representing a fighting warrior, woven in gold
thread, adorned with precious stones ; beneath the banner, as
it rustled in the wind, stood King Harold on foot, with two of
his remaining brothers by his side ; around them, still and silent
as the dead, clustered the whole English army, — every soldier
covered by his shield, and bearing in his hand his dreaded
English battle-axe.

On an opposite hill, in three lines, archers, foot-soldiers,
horsemen, was the Norman force. Of a sudden, a great battle-
cry, " God help us ! " burst from the Norman lines. The Eng-
lish answered with their own battle-cry, " God's Rood !
Holy Rood ! " The Normans then came sweeping down the
hill to attack the English.

There was one tall Norman knight who rode before the Nor-
man army on a prancing horse, throwing up his heavy sword
and catching it, and singing of the bravery of his countrymen.
An English knight, who rode out from the English force to
meet him, fell by this knight's hand. Another English knight
rode out, and he fell too. But then a third rode out, and killed
♦•^^ Norman. This was* in the first beginning of the fight. It
soon raged everywhere


The English, keeping side by side, in a great mass, cared no
more for the showers of Norman arrows than if they had been
showers of Norman rain. When the Norman horsemen rode
against them, with their battle-axes they cut men and horses
down. The Normans gave way. The English pressed forward.
A cry went forth among the Norman troops that Duke William
was killed. Duke William took off his helmet, in order that his
face might be distinctly seen, and rode along the line before
his men. This gave them courage. As they turned again to face
the English, some of their Norman horse divided the pursuing
body of the English from the rest ; and thus all that foremost
portion of the English army fell, fighting bravely. The main
body still remaining firm, heedless of the Norman arrows, and,
with their battle-axes, cutting down the crowds of horsemen
when they rode up like forests of young trees, — Duke William
pretended to retreat. The eager English followed. The Nor-
man army closed again, and fell upon them with great slaughter.

" Still," said Duke William, " there are thousands of the
English, firm as rocks around their king. Shoot upward, Nor-
man archers, that your arrows may fall down upon their faces."

The sun rose high, and sank, and the battle still raged.
Through all the wild October day, the clash and din resounded
in the air. In the red sunset, and in the white moonlight, heaps
upon heaps of dead men lay strewed, a dreadful spectacle, all
over the ground. King Harold wounded with an arrow, in the
eye, was nearly blind. His brothers were already killed.
Twenty Norman knights, whose battered armor had flashed
fiery and golden in the sunshine all day long, and now looked
silvery in the moonlight, dashed forward to seize the royal ban-
ner from the English knights and soldiers still faithfully col-
lected round their blinded king. The king received a mortal
wound and dropped. The English broke and fled. The Nor-
mans rallied, and the day was lost.

O, what a sight beneath the moon and stars, when lights
were shining in the tent of victorious Duke William, which
was pitched near the spot where Harold fell ; and he and his
knights were carousing within ; and soldiers with torches, going
slowly to and fro, without, sought for the corpse of Harold
among piles of dead ; and the warrior, worked in golden thread
and precious stones, lay low, all torn and soiled with blood ;
and the three Norman lions kept watch over the field 1




Upon the ground where the brave Harold fell, William the
Norman afterwards founded an abbey, which, under the name
of Battle Abbey, was a rich and splendid place through many
a troubled year, though now it is a gray ruin overgrown with ivy.
But the first work he had to do was to conquer the English
thoroughly ; and that, as you know by this time, was hard work
for any man.

He ravaged several counties ; he burned and plundered
many towns ; he laid waste scores upon scores of miles of pleas-
ant country ; he destroyed innumerable lives. At length
Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, with other representatives
of the clergy and the people, went to his camp, and submitted
to him. Edgar, the insignificant son of Edmund Ironside, was
proclaimed king by others, but nothing came of it. He fled to
Scotland afterwards, where his sister, who was young and
beautiful, married the Scottish king. Edgar himself was not
important enough for anybody to care much about him.

On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster
Abbey, under the title of William the First ; but he is best
known as William the Conqueror. It was a strange coronation.
One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the
Normans, in French, if they would have Duke William for their
king. They answered Yes. Another of the bishops put the same
question to the Saxons, in English, They, too, answered Yes,
with a loud shout. The noise being heard by a guard of Nor-
man horse-soldiers outside, was mistaken for resistance on the
part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the neigh-
boring houses, and a tumult ensued, in the midst of which the
king, being left alone in the abbey with a few priests (and they
all being in a terrible fright together) was hurriedly crowned.
When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern
the English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare-
say you think, as I do, that, if we except the Great Alfred, he
might pretty easily have done that.

Numbers of the English nobles had been killed in the last
disastrous battle. Their estates, and the estates of all the nobles


who had fought against him there, King WilUam seized upon,
and gave to his own Norman knights and nobles. Many great
EngHsh families of the present time acquired their English
lands in this way, and are very proud of it.

But what is got by force must be maintained by force. These
nobles were obliged to build castles all over England, to defend
their new property ; and, do what he would, the king could
neither soothe nor quell the nation as he wished. He gradually
introduced the Norman language and the Norman customs ;
yet for a long time, the great body of the English remained
sullen and revengeful. On his going over to Normandy, to
visit his subjects there, the oppressions of his half-brother Odo,
whom he left in charge of his English kingdom, drove the peo-
ple mad. The men of Kent even invited over, to take posses-
sion of Dover, their old enemy, Count Eustace of Boulogne,
who had left the fray when the Dover man was slain at his own
fireside. The men of Pereford, aided by the Welsh, and com-
manded by a chief named Edric the Wild, drove the Normans
out of their country. Some of those who had been dispossessed
of their lands banded together in the North of England, some
in Scotland, some in the thick woods and marshes ; and when-
soever they could fall upon the Normans, or upon the English
who had submitted to the Normans, they fought, despoiled, and
murdered, like the desperate outlaws that they were. Conspira-
cies were set on foot for a general massacre of the Normans,
like the old massacre of the Danes. In short, the English were
in a murderous mood all through the kingdom.

King William, fearing he might lose his conquest, came
back and tried to pacify the London people by soft words. He
then set forth to repress the country people by stern deeds.
Among the towns which he besieged, and where he killed and
maimed the inhabitants without any distinction, sparing none,
young or old, armed or unarmed, were Oxford, Warwick, Lei-
cester, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln, York. In all these places,
and in many others, fire and sword worked their utmost horrors,
and made the land dreadful to behold. The streams and rivers
were discolored with blood ; the sky was blackened with smoke ;
the fields were wastes of ashes ; the waysides w^ere heaped up
with dead. Such are the fatal results of conquest and ambi-
tion ! Although William was a harsh and angry man, I do not
suppose that he deliberately meant to work this shocking ruin,
when he invaded England. But what he had got by the strong
hand, he could only keep by the strong hand ; and in so doing
he made England a great grave. /


Two sons of Harold, by name Edmund and Godwin, came
over from Ireland with some ships against the Normans, but
were defeated. This was scarcely done, when the outlaws in
the woods so harassed York, that the governor sent to the king
for help. The king despatched a general and a large force to
occupy the town of Durham. The bishop of that place met the
general outside the town, and warned him not to enter, as he
would be in danger there. The general cared nothing for the
warning, and went in with all his men. That night, on every hill
within sight of Durham, signal-fires were seen to blaze. When
the morning dawned, the English, who had assembled in great
strength, forced the gates, rushed into the town, and slew the
Normans every one. The English afterwards besought the
Danes to come and help them. The Danes came with two
hundred and forty ships. The outlawed nobles joined them ;
they captured York, and drove the Normans oat of that city.
Then William bribed the Danes to go away, and took such
vengeance on the English, that all the former fire and sword,
smoke and ashes, death and ruin, were nothing compared with
it. In melancholy songs and doleful stories, it was still sung
and told by cottage-fires, on winter evenings a hundred years
afterwards, how, in those dreadful days of the Normans, there
was not, from the River Humber to the River Tyne, one in-
habited village left, nor one cultivated field, — how there was
nothing but a dismal ruin, where the h^^man creatures and the
beasts lay dead together.

The outlaws had, at this time, whac they called a Camp of
Refuge, in the midst of the fens of Cambridgeshire. Protected
by those marshy grounds which were difficult of approach, they
lay among the reeds and rushes, and were hidden l3y the mists
that rose up from the watery earth. Now there also was at thai
time, over the sea in Flanders, an Englishman named Here^
ward, whose father had died in his absence, and whose property
had been given to a Norman. When he heard of this wrong
that had been done him (from such of the exiled English as
chanced to wander into that country), he longed for revenge ;
and joining the outlaws in their camp of refuge, became their
commander. He was so good a soldier, that the Normans sup-
posed him to be aided by enchantment. William, even after he
had made a road three miles in length across the Cambridge-
shire marshes, on purpose to attack this supposed enchanter,
thought it necessary to engage an old lady who pretended to be
a sorceress, to come and do a little enchantment in the royal
cause. For this purpose she was pushed on before the troops


in a wooden tower ; but Hereward very soon disposed of this
unfortunate sorceress, by burning her, tower and all.

The monks of the convent of Ely, near at hand, however,
who were fond of good living, and who found it very uncom-
fortable to have the country blockaded and their supplies of
meat and drink cut off, showed the king a secret way of sur-
prising the camp. So Hereward was soon defeated. Whether
he afterwards died quietly, or whether he was killed after kill-
ing sixteen of the men who attacked him (as some old rhymes
relate that he did), I cannot say. His defeat put an end to the
Camp of Refuge ; and, very soon afterwards, the king, victori-
ous both in Scotland and in England, quelled the last rebellious
English noble. He then surrounded himself with Norman
lords, enriched by the property of English nobles ; had a great
survey made of all the land in England, which was entered as
the property o'^ its new owners, on a roll called Doomsday
Book ; obliged ibe people to put out their fires and candles at a
certain hour every night, on the ringing of a bell which was
called The Curfew ; introduced the Norman dresses and man-
ners ; made the Normans masters everywhere, and the English
servants ; turned out the English bishops, and put Normans in
their places ; and showed himself to be the Conqueror indeed.

But, even with his own Normans, he had a restless life.
They were always hungering and thirsting for the riches of the
English ; and the more he gave, the more they wanted. His
priests were as greedy as his soldiers. We know of only one
Norman who plainly told his master the king, that he had come
with him to England to do his duty as a faithful servant, and
that property taken by force from other men had no charms for
him. His name was Guilbert. We should not forget his name ;
for it is good to remember and to honor honest men.

Besides all these troubles, William the Conqueror was
troubled by quarrels among his sons. He had three living.
Robert, called Curthose, because of his short legs ; William,
called Rufus, or the Red, from the color of his hair; and
Henry, fond of learning, and called, in the Norman language,
Beauclerc, or Fine-Scholar. When Robert grew up, he asked
of his father the government of Normandy, which he had nomi-
nally possessed, as a child, under his mother Matilda. The
king refusing to grant it, Robert became jealous and discon-
tented ; and happening one day, while in this temper, to be
ridiculed by his brothers, who threw water on him from a bal-
cony as he was walking before the door, he drew his sword,
njshed up stairs, and was only prevented by the king himself


from putting them to death. That same night, he hotly
departed with some followers from his father's court, anr!
endeavored to take the Castle of Rouen by surprise. Failinir
in this, he shut himself up in another castle in Normandy, which
the king besieged, and where Robert one day unhorsed and
and nearly killed him without knowing who he was. His sub-
mission when he discovered his father, and the intercession o\
the queen and others, reconciled them, but not soundly ; foi
Robert soon strayed abroad, and went from court to court with
his complaints. He was a gay, careless, thoughtless fellow,
spending all he got on musicians and dancers ; but his mother
loved him, and often, against the king's command, supplied him
with money through a messenger named Samson. At length
the incensed king swore he would tear out Samson's eyes ; and
Samson, thinking that his only hope of safety was in becoming
a monk, became one, went on such errands no more, and kept
his eyes in his head.

All this time, from the turbulent day of his strange corona*
tion, the Conqueror had been struggling, you see, at any cost
of cruelty and bloodshed, to maintain what he had seized. All
his reign he struggled still, with the same object ever before
him. He was a stern, bold man, and he succeeded in it.

He loved money, and was particular in his eating ; but he
had only leisure to indulge one other passion, and that was his
love of hunting. He carried it to such a height, that he ordered
whole villages and towns to be swept away to make forests for
the deer. Not satisfied with sixty-eight royal forests, he laid
waste an immense district to form another in Hampshire,
called the New Forest. The many thousands of miserable
peasants who saw their little houses pulled down, and them-
selves and children turned into the open country without a shel-
ter, detested him for his merciless addition to their many
sufferings ; and when in the twenty-first year of his reign (which
proved to be the last), he went over to Rouen, England was as
full of hatred against him as if every leaf on every tree in all
his royal forests had been a curse upon his head. In the New
Forest, his son Richard (for he had four sons) had been gored
to death by a stag ; and the people said that this so cruelly
made forest would yet be fatal to others of the Conqueror s

He was engaged in a dispute with the king of France about
some territory. While he stayed at Rouen, negotiating with
that king, he kept his bed and took medicines ; being advised
by his physicians to do so, on account of having grown to an



unwieldy size. Word being brought to him that the king of
France made light of this, and joked about it, he swore in a
great rage that he should rue his jests. He assembled his
army, marched into the disputed territory, burnt — his old way !
— the vines, the crops and fruit, and set the town of Nantes on
fire. But in an evil hour ; for, as he rode over the hot ruins,
his horse, setting his hoofs upon some burning embers, started,
threw him forward against the pommel of the saddle, and gave
him a mortal hurt. For six weeks he lay dying in a monastery
near Rouen, and then made his will, giving England to William,
Normandy to Robert, and five thousand pounds to Henry.
And now his violent deeds lay heavy on his mind. He ordered
money to be given to many English churches and monasteries,
and — which was much better repentance — released his prisoners
of state, some of whom had been confined in his dungeons
twenty years.

It was a September morning, and the sun was rising, when
the king was awakened from slumber by the sound of a church-
bell. " What.bell is chat?" he faintly asked. They told him
it was the bell of the chapel of Saint Mary. " I commend my
soul," said he, " to Mary ! " and died.

Think of his name. The Conqueror, and then consider how
he lay in death ! The moment he was dead, his physicians,
priests, and nobles, not knowing what contest for the throne
might now take place, or what might happen in it, hasteneil
away, each man for himself and his own property ; the merce-
nary servants of the court began to rob and plunder ; the body
of the king, in the indecent strife, was rolled from the bed, and
lay alone for hours upon the ground. O Conqueror ! of whom
so many great names are proud now, of whom so many great
names thought nothing then, it were better to have conquered
one true heart than England !

By and by the priests came creeping in wdth prayers and can-
dles, and a good knight, named Herluin, undertook (which no
one else would do) to convey the body to Caen, in Normandy, in
order that it might be buried in St. Stephen's Church there, which
the Conqueror had founded. But fire, of which he had made
such bad use in his life, seemed to follow him of itself in death.
A great conflagration broke out in the town when the body was
placed in the church ; and those present running out to ex-
tinguish the flames, it was once again left alone.

It was not even buried in peace. It was about to be let
down in its royal robes into a tomb near the high altar, in pres-
ence of a great concourse of people, when a loud voice in the


crowd cried out, " This ground is mine ! Upon it stood my
fatJier's house. This king despoiled me of both ground and
house to build this church. In the great name of God, I here
forbid this body to be covered with the earth that is my right ! "
The priests and bishops present, knowing the speaker's right,
and knowing that the king had often denied him justice, paid
him down sixty shillings for the grave. Even then the corpse
was not at rest. The tomb was too small,' and they tried to
force it in. It broke, a dreadful smell arose, the people hurried
out into the air, and for the third time it was left alone.

Where were the Conqueror's three sons, that they were not
at their father's burial .'' Robert was lounging among ministrels,
dancers, and gamesters in France or Germany. Henry was
carrying his five thousand pounds safely away in a convenient
chest he had got made. William the Red was hurrying to
England to lay his hands upon the royal treasure and the crown.



William the Red, in breathless haste, secured the three
great forts of Dover, Pevensey, and Hastings, and made with
hot speed for Winchester, where the royal treasure was kept.
The treasurer delivering him the keys, he found that it amounted
to sixty thousand pounds in silver, besides gold and jewels.
Possessed of this wealth, he soon persuaded the Archbishop of
Canterbury to crown him, and became William the Second,
King of England.

Rufus was no sooner on the throne than he ordered into
prison again the unhappy state captives whom his father had set
free, and directed a goldsmith to ornament his father's tomb pro-
fusely with gold and silver. It would have been more dutiful
in him to have attended the sick Conqueror when he was dy-
ing ; but England itself, like this Red King who once governed
it, has sometimes made expensive tombs for dead men whom it
treated shabbily when they were alive.

The king's brother, Robert of Normandy, seeming quite
content to be only duke of that country, and the king's other
brother, Fine-Scholar, being quiet enough wdth his five thou-
sand pounds in a chest, the king flattered himself, we may sup-



pose, with the hope of an easy reign. But easy reigns were
difficult to have in those days. The turbulent Bishop Odo
(who had blessed the Norman army at the battle of Hastings,
and who, I dare say, took all the credit of the victory to him-
self) soon began, in concert with some powerful Norman nobles,
to trouble the Red King.

The truth seems to be, that this bishop and his friends, who
had lands in England and lands in Normandy, wished to hold
both under one sovereign : and greatly preferred a thoughtless,
good-natured person sucii as Robert was to Rufus ; who, though
far from being an amiable man in any respect, was keen, and
not to be imposed upon. They declared in Robert's favor, and
retired to their, castles (those castles were very troublesome to
kings) in a sullen humor. The Red King, seeing the Normans
thus falling from him, revenged himself upon them by appeal-
ing to the English, to whom he made a variety of promises,
which he never meant to perform, — in particular, promises to
soften the cruelty of the Forest Laws ; and w-ho, in return, so
aided him with their valor, that Odo was besieged in the Cas-
tle of Rochester, and forced to abandon it, and to depart from
England forever ; whereupon the other rebellious Norman
nobles w^ere soon reduced and scattered.

Then the Red King went over to Normandy, where the
people suffered greatly under the loose of Duke Robert.
The king's object was to seize upon the duke's duminions.
This the duke, of course, prepared to resist ; and miserable
war between the two brothers seemed inevitable, when the
powerful nobles on both sides, who had seen so much of war,
interfered to prevent it. A treaty was made. Each of the two
brothers agreed to give up something of his 'claims, and that
the longer liver of the two should inherit all the dominions of
the other. When they had come to this loving understanding,
they embraced, and joined their forces against Fine-Scholar,
who had bought some territory of Robert with a paitof his five
thousand pounds, and was considered a dangerous individual
in consequence.

St. Michael's Mount, in Normandy (there is another St.
Michael's Mount in Cornwall wonderfully like it), was then, as
it is now, a strong place, perched upon the top of a high rock,
around which when the tide is in^ the sea flows, leaving no
road to the main land. In this place Fine-Scholar shut himself
up with his soldiers, and here he was closely besieged by his

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 5 of 38)