Charles Dickens.

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two brothers. As one time, when he was reduced to great dis-
tress for want of water, the generous Robert not only permittsd



his men to get water, but sent Fine-Scholar wine from his own
table ; and on deing remonstrated with by the Red King, said,
** What ! shall we let our own brother die of thirst ? Where
shall we get anothei when he is gone ? " At another time the
Red King, riding alone on the shore of the bay, looking up at
the castle, was taken by two of Fine-Scholar's men, one of
whom was about to khl him, when he cried out, " Hold, knave !
1 am the King of England ! " The story says that the soldier
raised him from the ground respectfully and humbly, and that
the king took him into his service. The story may or may not
be true ; but at any rate, it is true that Fine-Scholar could not
hold out against his united brothers, and that he abandoned
Mount St. Michael, and wandered about, — as poor and forlorn
as other scholars have been sometimes known to be.

The Scotch became unquiet in the Red King's time, and
were twice defeated, — the second time with the loss of their
king, Malcolm, and his son. The Welsh became unquiet too.
Against them Rufus was less successful ; for they fought among
their native mountains, and did great execution on the king's
troops . Robert of Normandy became unquiet too ; and com-
plaining that his brother, the king, did not faithfully perform
his part of their agreement, took up arms, and obtained assist-
ance from the King of France, whom Rufus, in the end, bought
off with vast sums of money. England became unquiet too.
Lord Mowbray, the powerful Earl of Northumberland, headed
a great conspiracy to depose the king, and to place upon the
throne Stephen, the Conqueror's near relative. The plot was
discovered ; all the chief conspirators were seized ; some were
fined, some were put in prison, some were put to death. The
Earl of Northumberland himself was shut up in a dungeon be-
neath Windsor Castle, where he died an old man thirty long
years afterwards. The priests in England were more unquiet
than any other class or power ; for the Red King treated them
with such small ceremony, that he refused to appoint new
bishops or archbishops when the old ones died, but kept all the
wealth belonging to those offices in his own hands. In return
for this, the priests wrote his life when he was dead, and abused
him well. I am inclined to think myself that there was little to
choose between the priests and the Red King ; that both sides
were greedy and designing, and that they were fairly matched.

The Red King was false of heart, selfish, covetous, and
mean. He had a worthy minister in his favorite, Ralph, nick-
named — for almost every famous person had a nickname in
those rough dajs — Flambard, or the Firebrand. Once the


king, being ill, became penitent, and made Anselm, a foreign
priest and a good man, Archbishop of Canterbury. But he no
sooner got well again, than he repented of his repentance, and
persisted in wrongfully keeping to himself some of the wealth
belonging to the archbishopric. This led to violent disputes,
which were aggravated by there being in Rome, at that time,
two rival popes ; each of whom declared he was the only real,
original, infallible pope, who couldn't make a mistake. . At last
Anselm, knowing the Red King's character, and not feeling
himself safe in England, asked leave to return abroad. The
Red King gladly gave it ; for he knew that as soon as Anselm
was gone he could begin to store up all the Canterbury money
dgain for his own use.

By such metns, and by taxing and oppressing the English
people in everj possible way, the Red King became very rich.
When he wanted money for any purpose, he raised it by some
rneans or other, and cared nothing for the injustice he did, or
the misery he caused. Having the opportunity of buying from
Robert the whole duchy of Normandy for five years, he taxed,
the English people more than ever, and made the very convents
sell their plate and valuables to supply him with the means to
make the purchase. But he was as quick and eager in putting
down revolt, as he was in raising money ; for a part of the
Norman people objecting — very naturally, I think — to being
sold in this way, he headed an army against them with all the
speed and energy of his father. He was so impatient, that he
embarked for Normandy in a great gale of wind. And when
the sailors told him it was dangerous to go to sea in such angry
weather, he replied, " Hoist sail and away ! Did you ever hear
of a king who was drowned ? "

You will wonder how it was that even careless Robert came
to sell his dominions. It happened thus. It had long been
the custom for many English people to make journeys to Jeru-
salem, which were called pilgrimages, in order that they might
pray beside the tomb of our Saviour there. Jerusalem belong-
ing to the Turks, and the Turks hating Christianity, these
Christian travellers were often insulted and ill-used. The pil-
grims bore it patiently for some time ; but at length a remark-
able man of great earnestness and eloquence, called Peter the
Hermit, began to preach in various places against the Turks,
and to declare that it was the duty of good Christians to drive
away those unbelievers from the tomb of our Saviour, and to
take possession of it and protect it. An excitement, such as
the world had never known before, was created. Thousands


and thousands of men, of all ranks and conditions, departed
for Jerusalem to make war against the Turks. The war is
called in history the First Crusade ; and every Crusader wore
a cross marked on his right shoulder.

All the Crusaders were not zealous Christians. Among
them were vast numbers of the restless, idle, profligate and
adventurous spirits of the time. Some became Crusaders for
the love of change ; some in hope of plunder ; some because
they had nothing to do at home ; some because they did what
the priests told them ; some because they liked to see foreign
countries ; some because they were fond of knocking men
about, and would as soon knock a Turk about as a Christian.
Robert of Normandy may have been influenced by all these
motives; and by a kind desire, besides, to save the Christian
pilgrims from bad treatment in future. He wanted to raise a
number of armed men, and go to the Crusade. He could not
do so without money. He had no money ; and he sold his do-
minions to his brother, the Red King, for five years. With the
large sum thus obtained, he fitted out his Crusaders gallantly,
and went away to Jerusalem in martial state. The Red King,
who made money out of everything, stayed at home, busily
squeezing more money out of Normans and English.

After three years of great hardship and suffering, from
shipwreck at sea, from travel in strange lands, from hunger,
thirst, and fever, upon the burning sands of the desert and
from the fury of the Turks, — the valiant Ciusaders got posses-
sion of our Saviour's tomb. The Turks were still resisting and
fighting bravely, but this success increased the general desire
in Europe to join the Crusade. Another great French duke
was proposing to sell his dominions for a term to the rich Red
King, when the Red King's reign came to a sudden and violent

You have not forgotten the New Forest which the Conqueror
made, and which the miserable people whose homes he had
laid waste so hated. The cruelty of the forest-laws, and the
torture and death they brought upon the peasantry, increased
this hatred. The poor, persecuted country-people believed that
the New Forest was enchanted. , They said that in thunder-
storms, and on dark nights, demons appeared, moving beneath
the branches of the gloomy trees. They said that a terrible
spectre had foretold to Norman hunters that the Red King
should be punished there. And now, in the pleasant season of
May, when the Red King had reigned almost thirteen years,
and a second prince of the Conqueror's blood — another Rich-


ard, the son of Duke Robert — was killed by an arrow in this
dreaded forest, the people said that the second time was not
the last, and that there was another death to come.

It was a lonely forest, accursed in the people's heart for the
wicked deeds that have been done to make it ; and no man,
save the king and his courtiers and huntsmen, liked to stray
there. But, in reality, it was like any other forest. In the
spring, the green leaves broke out of the bud ; in the summer,
flourished heartily, and made deep shades ; in the winter,
shrivelled, and blew down and lay in brown heaps on the moss.
Some trees were stately, and grew high and strong ; some had
fallen of themselves : some were felled by the forester's axe ;
some were hollow, and the rabbits burrowed at their roots ;
some few were struck by lightning, and stood white and bare.
There were hillsides covered with rich fern, on which the morn-
ing dew so beautifully sparkled ; there were brooks where the
deer went down to drink, or over which the whole herd bounded,
flying from the arrows of the huntsmen ; there were sunny
glades and solemn places where but little light came through
the rustling leaves. The songs of the birds in the New Forest
were pleasanter to hear than the shouts of fighting men out-
side ; and even when the Red King and his court came hunt-
ing through its solitudes, cursing loud and riding hard, with a
jingling of stirrups and bridles and knives and daggers, they
did much less harm there than among the English or Normans ;
and the stags died (as they lived) far easier than the people.

Upon a day in August, the Red King, now reconciled to
his brother, Fine-Scholar, came with a great train in hunt in
the New Forest. Fine-Scholar was of the party. They were
a merry party, and had lain all night at Malwood-Keep, a hunt-
ing lodge in the forest, where they had made good cheer, both
at supper and breakfast, and drunk a deal of wine. The
party dispersed in various directions, as the custom of hunters
then was. The king took with him only Sir Walter Tyrrel,
who was a famous sportsman, and to whom he had given, be-
fore they mounted horse that morning, two fine arrows.

The last time the king was ever seen alive, he was riding
with Sir Walter Tyrrel, and their dogs were hunting together.

It was almost night when a poor charcoal-burner, passing
through the forest with his cart, come upon the solitary body
of a dead man, shot with an arrow in the breast, and still bleed-
ing. He got it into his cart. It was the body of the king.
Shaken and tumbled, with its red beard all whitened with lime
aPkd dotted with blood, it was driven in the cart by the char-



coal burner next day to Winchester Cathedral, where it was
received and buried.

Sir Walter Tyrrel, who escaped to Normandy, and claimed
the protection of the king of France, swore, in France, that the
Red King was suddenly shot dead by an arrow from an unseen
hand, while they were hunting together ; that he was fearful of
being suspected as the king's murderer; and that he instantly
set spurs to his horse, and fled to the sea-shore. Others de-
clared that the king and Sir Walter Tyrrel were hunting in
company, a little before sunset, standing in bushes opposite
one another, when a stag came between them ; that the king
drew his bow and took aim, but the string broke ; that the king
then cried, " Shoot, Walter, in the Devil's name ! " that Sir
Walter shot ; that the arrow glanced against a tree, was turned
aside from the stag, and struck the king from his horse, dead.

By whose hand the Red King really fell, and whether that
hand despatched the arrow to his breast by accident or by
design, is only known to God. Some think his brother may
have caused him to be killed ; but the Red King had made so
many enemies, both among priests and people, that suspicion
may reasonably rest upon a less unnatural murderer. Men
know no more than that he was found dead in the New Forest,
which the suffering people had regarded as a doomed ground
for his race.



Fine-Scholar, on hearing of the Red King's death, hurried
to Winchester with as much speed as Rufus himself had made,
to seize the royal treasure. But the keeper of the treasure,
who had been one of the hunting-party in the forest, made
haste to Winchester too, and, arriving there at about the same
time, refused to yield it up. Upon this, Fine-Scholar drew his
sword, and threatened to kill the treasurer ; who might have
paid for his fidelity with his life, but that he knew longer resist-
ance to be useless, when he found the prince supported by a
company of powerful barons, who declared they were deter-
mined to make him king. The treasurer, therefore, gave up
"^C5 money, and jewels of the crown ; and on the third day after


the death of the Red King, being a Sunday, Fine-Scholar stood
before the high ahar in Westminster Abbey, and made a sol-
emn declaration, that he would resign the Church property
which his brother had seized ; that he would do no wrong to
the nobles ; and that he would restore to the people the laws of
Edward the Confessor, with all the improvements of William
the Conqueror. So began the reign of King Henry the First.

The people were attached to their new king, both because
he had known distresses, and because he was an Englishman
by birth, and not a Norman. To strengthen this last hold upon
them, the king wished to marry an English lady ; and could
think of no other wife than Maud the Good, the daughter of
the king of Scotland. Although this good princess did not
love the king, she was so affected by the representations the
nobles made to her of the great charity it would be in her to
unite the Norman and Saxon races, and prevent hatred and
bloodshed between them for the future*, that she consented to
become his wife. After some disputing among the priests, who
said that as she had been in a convent in her youth, and had
worn the veil of a nun, she could not lawfully be married, —
against which the princess stated that her aunt, with whom she
had lived in her youth, had indeed sometimes thrown a piece
of black stuff over her, but for no other reason than because
the nun's veil was the only dress the conquering Normans re-
spected in girl or woman, and not because she had taken the
vows of a nun, which she never had, — she was declared free to
marry, and. was made King Henry's queen. A good queen she
was, — beautiful, kind-hearted, and worthy of a better husband
than the king.

For he was a cunning and unscrupulous man, though firm
and clever. He cared very little for his word, and took any
means to gain his ends. AH this is shown in his treatment of
his brother Robert, — Robert, who had suffered him to be re-
freshed with water, and who had sent him the wine from his
own table, when he was shut up, with the crows flying below
him, parched with thirst, in the castle on the top of St. Mi-
chael's Mount, where his Red brother would have let him die.

Before the king began to deal with Robert, he removed and
disgraced all the favorites of the late king ; who were for the
most part base characters, much detested by the people. Flam-
bard, or Firebrand, whom the late king had made Bishop of
Durham, of all things in the world, Henry imprisoned in the
Tower ; but Firebrand was a great joker and a jolly companion,
and made himself so popular with his guards, that they pre-


tended to know nothing about a long rope that was sent into
his prison at the bottom of a deep flagon of wine. The guards
took the wine, and Firebrand took the rope ; with which, when
they were fast asleep, he let himself down from a window in
the night, and so got cleverly aboard ship and away to Nor-

Now Robert, when his brother, Fine-Scholar came to the
throne, was still absent in the Holy Land. Henry pretended
that Robert had been made sovereign of that country, and he
had been away so long, that the ignorant people believed it.
But, behold, when Henry had been some time king of England,
Robert came home to Normandy 1 having leisurely returned
from Jerusalem through Italy, m which beautiful country he
had enjoyed himself very much, and had married a lady as
beautiful as itself. In Normandy, he found Firebrand waitin;]^
to urge him to assert his claim to the English crown, and de-
clare war against King Henry. This after great loss of time
in feasting and dancing with his beautiful Italian wife among
his Norman friends, he at last did.

The English in general were on King Henry's side though
many of the Normans were on Robert's. But the English
sailors deserted the king, and took a great part of the English
fleet over to Normandy ; so that Robert came to invade this
country in no foreign vessels, but in English ships. The virtu-
ous Anselm, however, whom Henry had invited back from
abroad, and made Archbishop of Canterbury, was steadfast in
the king's cause ; and it was so well supported, that the two
armies, instead' of fighting, made a peace. Poor Robert, who
trusted anybody and everybody, readily trusted his brother, the
king ; and agreed to go home and receive a pension from Eng-
land, on condition that all his followers were fully pardoned.
This the king very faithfully promised ; but Robert was no
sooner gone than he began to punish them.

Among them was the Earl of Shrewsbury, who, on being
summoned by the king to answer to five-and-forty accusations,
rode away to one of his strong castles, shut-himself up therein,
called around him his tenants and vassals, and fought for his
liberty, but was defeated and banished. Robert, with all his
faults, was so true to his word, that, when he first heard of this
nobleman having risen against his brother, he laid waste the
Earl of Shrewsbury's estates in Normandy to show the king
that he would favor no breach of their treaty. Finding, on
better information, afterwards, that the earl's only crime was
having been his friend, he came over to England, in his old


thoughtless, warm-hearted way, to intercede with the king, and
remind him of the solemn promise to pardon all his followers.

This confidence might have put the false king to the blush,
but it did not. Pretending to be very friendly, he so surrounded
his brother with spies and traps, that Robert, who was quite in
his power, had nothing for it but to renounce his pension, and
escape while he cou4d. Getting home to Normandy, and un'
derstanding the king better now, he naturally allied himself
with his old friend the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had still thirty
castles in that country. This is exactly what Henry wanted.
He immediately declared that Robert had broken the treaty,
and next year invaded Normandy.

He pretended that he came to deliver the Normans at their
own request, from his brother's misrule. There is reason to
fear that his misrule was bad enough ; for his beautiful wife
had died, leaving him with an infant son ; and his court was
again so careless, dissipated, and ill-regulated, that it was said
he sometimes lay in bed of a day for want of clothes to put
on, — his attendants having stolen all his dresses. But he
headed his army like a brave prince and a gallant soldier, though
he had the misfortune to be taken prisoner by King Henry,
with four hundred of his knights. Among them was poor
harmless Edgar Atheling who loved Robert well. Edgar was
not important enough to be severe with. The King afterwards
gave him a small pension, which he lived upon and died upon
in peace, among the quiet woods and fields of England.

And Robert, — poor, kind gerenous, wasteful, heedless
Robert, with so many faults, and yet with virtues that might
have made a better and a happier man, — what was the end of
him ? If the king had had the magnanimity to say with a kind
air, " Brother, tell me, before these noblemen, that from this
time you will be my faithful follower and friend, and never raise
your hand against me or my forces more," he might have
trusted Robert to the death. But the king was not a magnani-
mous man. He sentenced his brother to be confined for life
in one of the royal castles. In the beginning of his imprison-
ment he was allowed to ride out, guarded ; but he one day broke
away from his guard and galloped off. He had the evil for-
tune to ride into a swamp, where his horse stuck fast and he
was taken. When the king heard of it he ordered him to b«
blinded, which was done by putting a red-hot metal basin oH
his eyes.

And so, in darkness and in prison many years, he thought
of all his past life, — of the time he had wasted, of the treas


ure he had squandered, of the opportunities he had lost, of the
youth he had thrown away, of the talents he had neglected.
Sometimes, on fine autumn mornings, he would sit and think of
the old hunting parties in the free forest, where he had been the
foremost and gayest. Sometimes, in the still nights, he would
wake, and mourn for the many nights that had stolen past him
at the gaming-table ; sometimes would seem to hear, upon the
melancholy wind, the old songs of the minstrels ; sometimes
would dream, in his blindness, of the light and glitter of the Nor-
man court. Many and many a time, he groped back, in his
fancy, to Jerusalem, where he had fought so well ; or, at the
head of his brave companions, bowed his feathered helmet to
the shouts of welcome greeting him in Italy, and seemed again
to walk among the sunny vineyards, or on the shore of the blue
sea, with his lovely wife. And then, thinking of her grave, and
of his fatherless boy, he would stretch out his solitary arms and

At length, one day, there lay in prison, dead, with cruel and
disfiguring scars upon his eyelids, bandaged from his jailer's
sight, but on which the eternal heavens looked down, a worn
old man of eighty. He had once been Robert of Normandy.
Pity him !

At the time when Robert of Normandy was taken prisoner
by his brother, Robert's little son was only five years old. This
child was taken too, and carried before the king, sobbing and
crying ; for, young as he was, he knew he had good reason to
be afraid of his royal uncle. The king was not much accus-
tomed to pity those who were in his power, but his cold heart
seemed for the moment to soften towards the boy. He was
observed to make a great effort, as if to prevent himself from
being cruel, and ordered the child to be taken away ; where-
upon a certain baron, who had married a daughter of Duke
Robert's (by name, Helie of Saint Saon), took charge of him
tenderly. The king's gentleness did not last long. Before
two years were over, he sent messengers to this lord's castle to
seize the child and bring him away; The baron was not there
at the time ; but his servants were fahhful, and carried the boy
off in his sleep and hid him. When the baron came home and
was told what the king had done, he took the child abroad,
and leading him by the hand, went from king to king, and from
court to court, relating how the child had a claim to the throne
of England, and how his uncle the king, knowing that he had
had that claim, would have murdered him, perhaps but for his


The youth and innocence of the pretty little William Fitz-
Robert (for that was his name) made him many friends at that
time. When he became a young man, the King of France,
uniting with the French Counts of Anjou and Flanders, sup-
ported his cause against the King of England, and took many
of the king's towns and castles in Normandy. But King Henry,
arttul and cunning always, bribed some of William's friends with
money, some \vith promises, some with power. He bought off
the Count of Anjou, by promising to marry his eldest son, also,
named William, to the count's daughter ; and indeed the whole
trust of this king's life was in such bargains ; and he believed
(as many another king has done since, and as one king did in
France a very little time ago) that every man's truth and honor
can be bought at some price. For all this, he was so afraid
of William Fitz-Robert and his friends, that for a long time he
believed his life to be in danger ; and never lay down to sleep,
even in his palace, surrounded by his guards, without having a
sword and buckler at his bedside.

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 6 of 38)