Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens' complete works online

. (page 8 of 84)
Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 8 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


kia Unde the King, knowing that he had that claim, would
have murdered him, perhaps, but fbr his escape.

The youth and innocence of the pretty little William Frrz-
RoBERT (for that was his name) made him many friends at
that time. When he became a j'oung man, the King of
France, uniting with the French Counts of Anjou and Flan-
ders, supported his cause against the King of England, and
took many of the King's towns and castles in Normandy.
But, King Henr}', artful and cunning always, bribed some of
William's friends with money, some with 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 tins King's life was
in such bai^gains, and he believed (as many another King has
done since, and as one King did in France a veiy little time
ago) that every man's ti-uth and honor can be bought at some



Digitized by



Google



78 A CHILD'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

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 pal-
ace surrounded by his guards, without having a sword and
buckler at his bedside.

To strengthen his power, the King with great ceremony be-
trothed his eldest daughter Matilda, then a diild onl}* eight
years old, to be the wife of Henry the Fifth, the Emperor of
Grermany. To raise her marriage-portion, he taxed the £^-
lish people in a most oppressive manner ; then ti^ated them
to a great procession to restore their good humor ; and sent
Matilda away, in fine state, with the German ambassadors,
to be educated in the country of her future husband.

And now his Queen, Maud the Good, unhappily died. It
was a sad thought for that gentle lady, that the only hope
witli which she had married a man whom she had never kyved
— the hope of reconciling the Norman and English raoes —
had failed. At the ver}* time of her death, Normandy and
all Fi'ance was in arms against England ; for, so soon as his
last danger was over. King Henr}* had been false to all the
French i)owers he had promised, bribed, and bought, and
they had naturally united against him. Alter some fighting,
however, in which few suffered but the unhappy common
people (who always suffered, whatsoever was the matter), he
began to promise, bribe, and buy again ; and by tliose means,
and by the help of the Pope, who exerted himself to save
more bloodshed, and by solemnly declaring, over and over
again, that he i-eally was in earnest this time, and would keep
his word, tlie King made peace.

One of the first consequences of this peace was, that the
King went over to Noimandy with his son Prince William and
a great retinue, to have the Prince acknowle<^;ed as his suc-
cessor by the Norman nobles, and to oonti'act the i>romiseil
marriage (this was one of the many promises the King had
broken) between him and the daughter of the Count of An-
jou. Both these things werc tiiumi^liantly done, witii great



Digitized by



Google



HENRY THE nRST. 79

show and rejoicing ; and on the twentj'-fifth of November, in
tiie year one tiionsand one hundred and twenty, the whole
retinue prepared to embark at the Port of Barfleur, {(^ the
voyage home.

On that day, and at that place, there came to the King,
Fitz-Stepben, a sea-captain, and said : —

^^ My liege, my father served your father all his Hfe, upon
the sea. He steered the ship with the golden boy upon the
prow, in which your father sailed to conquer £Agland. I be-
seech yoa to grant me the same office. I have a fair vessel
in the harbor here, called The White Ship, manned by fifty
sailors of renown. I pray you, Sire, to let your servant have
the honor of steering you in The White Ship to England.*'

"I am sorry, friend," replied the King, '' that my vessel
is already chosen, and that I cannot (therefore) sail with the
son of the man who sei*ved my father. But the Prince and
all his company shall go along with you, in the fair White
Ship, manned by the fifty sail(n*s of renown."

An hour or two afterwards, the King set sail in the vessel
he had chosen, accompanied by other vessels, and, sailing all
Digbt with a fair and gentle wind, arrived upon the coast of
England in the morning. While it was yet night, the people
in some of those ships heard a faint wild cry come over the
sea, and wondered what it was.

Now, the Prince was a dissolute, debauched young man of
eighteen, who bore no love to the English, and had declared
fhski when he came to the throne he would yoke them to tlie
plough like oxen. He ?rent aboard The White Ship, with
one hundred and forty youthful Nobles like himself, among
whom were eighteen noble ladies of the highest rank. All
this gay company, with their servants and the fifty sailors,
made three hundred souls aboard the fair White Ship.

" Give three casks of wine, Fitz-Stephen," said the Prince,
" to the fifty sailors of renown ! My father the King has
sailed out of the harbor. What time is there to make merry
bere, and yet reach England with the rest? "



Digitized by



Google



80 A CHILD'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

"Prince," said Fits-Stephen, '* before morning, my fifty
and The White Ship shall overtake the swiftest vessel in at-
tendance on jour father the King, if we sail at midnight I **

Then, the Pnnce commanded to make merry; and the
sailors drank out the three casks of wine ; and tiie Prince
and all the noble company danced in the moonlight on the
deck of The White Ship.

When, at last, she shot out of the harbor of Barflear, there
was not a sober seaman on board. But the sails were all aet,
and the oars all going merrily. Fitz-Stephen had the helm.
The gay young nobles and the beautifhl ladies, wrapped in
mantles of vadous bright colors to protect them from the
cold, talked, laughed, and sang. The Prince enoooraged
the fifty sailors to row harder yet, for the honor of The White
Ship.

Crash ! A terrific cry broke from three huiidred hearts.
It was the cry the people in the distant vessels of the Kia^
heard faintly on the water. The White Ship had strueb upoa
a rock -— was filling — going down !

Fita-Stephen hurried the Prince into a boat, with some few
Nobles. *'*' Push off," he whispered ; ^^ and row to the land.
It is not far, and the sea is smooth. The rest of us nniet
die."

But, as they rowed away, fast, from the sinking ship, the
Prince heard the voice of his sister MAmE, the Countess of
Perche, calling fbr help. He never in his life had been eo
good as he was then. He cried in an agony, ^^ Row back at
an}' risk ! I cannot bear to leave her 1 "

They rowed back. As the Prince held out his arms to
catch his sister, such numbers leaped in that the boat was
overset. And in the same instant The White Ship went
down.

Only two men floated. They both clung to the main yard
of the ship, which had broken from the masti and now sap-
lK>rted them. One asked the other who he was? He satd^
^^I am a nobleman, Godret b}* name, the son of Gilbert



Digitized by



Google



HENRY THE FIBST. 81

VE L*AiOLB. And you?'' said he. <^ I am Berold, a pooit
butcher of Rouen," was the answer. Then, they said to*
gether, " Lord be merciful to us both ! '* and tried to encour^
age one another, as they drifted in the cold benumbing sea
on that unfortunate November night.

By-and-by, another man came swimming towards them,
whom they knew, when he pushed aside his long wet hair, to
he Fite^tephen. " Where is the Prince? " said he. '' Gone !
Gone ! " the two cried together. ^ ^ Neither he, nor his l»x>ther,
nor his sister, nor the King^s nieoe, nor her brother, nor any
one of all Uie braye three hundred, nolde or commoner, ex-
cept we tlH'ee, has risen above the water I " Fit2-8tephen,
with a ghastly face, cried, ^^ Woe ! woe, to me ! " and sunk
to the bottom.

The other two clung to the yard for some hours. At length
Uie yonng noble said faintly, ^^I am exhausted, and cliilled
with the ooM, and can hold no longer. Farew^, good friend !
God preserre you ! " So,' he dropped and sunk ; and of all
the brittiant orowd, the poor Butcher of Rouen alone was
saved. In the morning some fishermen saw him floating in
his sheep-skin coat, and got him into their boat — the sole
seiater of the dismal tale.

¥er three days, no one dared to carry the intelligence to
the King. At length they sent into his presenee a little boy,
who, weeping bitterly and kneeling at his feet, told him that
The White Ship was lost with all cm board. The King fell
to tiie ground like a dead man, and never, never afterwards
was seen to smile.

But he plotted again, and promised again, and bribed and
bought again, in his old deceitful way. Having no son to
succeed Inm^ after aU his pains (^^The Prince will never
y^e ua to the i^iigh, now I " said the English people), he
took a seeond wtfe *-r ADBtAis or Aldoe, a Dake's dai^htei^
and thePope^e nie^. Havntg no moi*^, children, however,
be |«rof)oaed ^ the Barom to^swear thftt they ^uld recognize
as his successor his daughter Matilda, whon^, i^-sh^ was npw

6



Digitized by



Google



82 A CHILD»S HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

a widow, he married to the eldest son of the Count of Anjou,
Geoffrey, snrnamed Plamtagekbt, from a custom he had of
wearing a sprig of flowering broom (called Gen^t in French)
in his cap for a feather. As one false man usuall}' makes
many, and as a false King, in particular, is pretty certain to
make a false Court, the Barons took the oath about the suc-
cession of Matilda (and her diildren after her) , twice over,
without in the least Intending to keep it. The King was now
relieved from any remaining fears of William Fitz-Bobert, by
his death in the Monastery of St. Omer, in Franoe, at twenty-
six years old, of a {»ke-wound in the hand. And as Matilda
gave birtii to three sons, he thought the succession to the
throne secure.

lie spent most of the latter part of his life, which was
troubled by ftunily quarrels, in Normandy, to be near Ma-
tilda. When he had reigned upwards of thirty-five 3'ear8,
and was sixty ^seven years old, he died of an indfgestuMi and
fever, brought on by eating, when he was &r fVom well, of a
fish called Lamprey, against which he had often been can*
Honed by his physicians. His remains were brought over lo
Reading Abbey to be buried.

You may perhaps hear the cunning and promise^breakii^
of King Henry the First, called '' policy" by some people,
and " diplomacy *' by others. Neither of these fine words
will in the least mean that it was true ; and nothing that is
not true can possibly be good.

His greatest merit, that I know of, was his fore of learn-
ing. I should have given him greater credit even for that, if
it had been strong enough to induce him to spare the eyes of
a certain poet he once took prisoner, who was a knight be-
sides. But he ordered the poet's eyes to be torn fh>fn his
head, because he had laughed at him in his verses ; and the
poet, in the pain of that torture, dashed ovt his own brains
against his prison wall. King Henry the Firet was avaricious,
revengeful, and So false, that I suppose a man never lived
whose word was less to be relied upon.



Digitized by



Google



MATIU>A AND 8T£PUEN. 83



CHAPTER XL

ENGLAND UNDER MATILDA AND STEPHEN.

The King was no sooner dead than all the plans and
schemes he had labored at so long, and lied so much for,
cmmbled away like a hollow heap of sand. Stephen, whom
he had never mistrusted or suspected, started up to claim the
tiirone.

>>tephen was the son of A del a, the Conqneror's daughter,
married to the Count of Blc^. To Stephen, and to his
brother Henrt, the late King had been liberal ; making Hen-
rj Bishop of Winchester, and finding a good marriage for
Stephen, and much enriching him. This did not prevent
Stephen from hastil}' producing a false witness, a servant of
the late King, to swear that the King had named him Ibr his
heir upon his death-bed. On this evidence the Archbishop)
of Canterbuiy crowned him. The new King, so suddenly-
made, lost not a moment in seizing the Royal treasure, and
hiring foreign soldiers with some of it to protect his throne-

If the dead King had even done as the false witness said,
he would have had small right to will awa}' the English peo-
ple, like so many sheep and oxen, without their consent.
Bat he had, in fact, bequeathed all his territory to Matilda ;
who, supported by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, soon began
lo dispute the crown. Some of the powcrAil barons and
priests took her side ; some took Stephen's ; all fortified their
castles; and again the miserable English people were in-
volved in war, from which they cotild never deriX-e advantage
whosoever was victorious, and in which all partks plundered,
tortured, starved, and ruined thetn.



Digitized by



Google



84 A CHILD'S UISTOKY OF ENGLAND.

Five years had passed since tlie death of Ileniy the First —
and during those five years there had been two terrible inva-
sions by the people of Scotland under tiieir King, David,
who was at last defeated with all his army — when Matilda,
attended by her brother Robert and a lai-ge force, appeared
in England to maintain her clauu. A battle was fought be-
tween her ti'oops and King Stephen's at Lincoln ; in which
the King himself was taken prisoner, after bravely fighting
until his battle-axe and sword were broken, and was carried
into strict confin^nent at Gloucester. Matilda tlien aiibmiUed
herself to the Priests, and the Priests crowned her Queen of
England.

She did not long enjoy this dignity. The i>eople of Lon-
don had a great atfeetion for Stephen ; many of the Barons
considered it degrading to be ruled by a woomn ; and the
Queen's temper was so haughty that she made innumerable
enemies. The people of London I'evolted ; and, in alliance
with the troops of Stephen, besieged her at Winchester,
where they took her brother Robert prisoner, whom, as her
best soldier and chief general, she was glad to exchange for
Stephen himself, who thus r^ained liis liberty. Then, the
long war went on afVesh. Once, she was pressed so hard in
the Castle of Oxford, in the winter weather when the snow
lay thick upon the ground, that her only chance of escape
was to dress herself all in white, and, a<K!ompanied by no
more than three fhithAil Knights, dressed in like manner that
thoii' figures might not be seen from Stephen's camp as they
passed over the snow, to steal away on foot, cix)S8 the frozen
Thames, walk a long distance, and at last gallop away on
horseback. All this she did, but to no great purpose then ;
for her brother dying while the struggle was yet going on, she
at last withdrew to Normandy.

In two or three years after her withdrawal her cause ap-
peared in KngUmd, afresh, in the person of her son Henry,
young Plaotageiiet, yrUo^ at only eighteen years of age, was
ver}- powerfhl : not only ou account of his mother having



Digitized by



Google



MATILDA AND STEPHEN. 86

resigned all Normaiidj to him, but alao fit>m his having roai*-
ried Eleanob, the divorced wife of the French Kiug, a bad
wofflan, who had great possessions in France. Louis, the
French King, not relishing this arrangement, helped Eustace^
Klag Stephen's son, to invade Normandy : but Henry drove
their united forces out of that country, and then returned
here to assist his partisans, whom t^e King was then besieg-
iag at WalUngford upon the Thames. Here, for two days,
divided oaly \jy the river, the two armies lay encamped op-
t)os|t0 to one another— on th^ eve, as it seejued to all men,
of another desperate fight, when the Earl of A&undel took
heart and a«id ^* that it was not reasonable to prolong the
unspeakable miseries of two kingdoms to minister to the
ambition of two pfinees."

Uany other noblemen repeating and 8U{>poi'ting this when
it was once uttered, Stephen and young Pktntagenet went
down, each to his own bank of the riv^, and held a conver*
sation across it, in which they arranged a truce ; very much
to the dissatisfaction of Eustace, who swaggered away with
some li^lowers, and laid violent hands on the Abbey of St,
Ednmnd's^Bury, where he presently died mad. The truc^
led to a solemn oouncil at Winchester, in which it was agreed
that Stephen should retain the crown, on condition of his
decUring Henry his successor ; that William, another son of
the King's, should inherit his Other's rightful possessions ;
and that ail the Crown lands which Stephen had given away
skouU be recalled, and all the Castles he had permitted to be
built deBK>lished. Thus terminated the bitter war, which had
DOW lasted fifteen years, and had again laid England waste.
Iq the next year Stepheh died, after a troubled reign of
mneteen years*

Although King Stephen was, fbr the time in which he lived,
a humane and moderate man, with many excellent qualities ;
Slid although nothing worse is known of him than his usurpa*
tion of the Crown, which he probably excused to himself by
tbB consideration that King Henry the First was an usurper



Digitized by



Google



36 A CHILD'S raSTORY OF ENGLAND.

too — which was no excuse at all; the people of England
suffered more in these dread nineteen years, than at any for-
mer period even of their suffering history. In the division of
the nobility between the two rival claimants of the Crown,
and in the growth of what is called the Feudal System (which
made the peasants the born vassals and mere slaves of the
Barons) , every Noble had his strong Castle, where he reigned
the cruel king of all the neighboring people. Accordingly,
he perpetrated whatever cruelties he chose. And never were
worse cruelties committed upon earth than in wretched Eng-
land in those nineteen years.

The writers who were living then describe them fearfully.
They say that the castles were filled with devils rather than
with men ; that the peasants, men and women, were put into
dungeons for their gold and silver, were tortured with fire
and smoke, were hung up by the thumbs, were hung up by
the heels with great weights to their heads, were torn with
jagged irons, killed with hunger, broken to death in narrow
chests filled with sharp-pointed stones, murdered in countless
fiendish ways. In England there was no com, no meat, no
cheese, no butter, tliei'e were no tilled lands, no harvests.
Ashes of burnt towns, and drear}' wastes, were all that the
traveller, fearful of the robbers who prowled abroad at all
hours, would see in a long da/s Journey ; and fh>m sunrise
until night, he would not come upon a home.

The clerg}' sometimes suffered, and heavily too, fW)m pil-
lage, but many of them had castles of their own, and fought
in helmet and armor like the barons, and drew lots with other
fighting men for their share of booty. The Pope (or Bishop
of Rome), on King Stephen's resisting his ambition, laid
England under an interdict at one period of this reign ;
which means that he allowed no service to be performed in
the churches, no couples to be married, no bells to be rung,
no dead bodies to be buried. Any man having the power to
refuse these things, no matter whether he were called a Pope
or a Poulterer, would, of course jiave the power of afl9ieting



Digitized by



Google



MATILDA AND STEPHEN. 87

niunbers of innocent people. That nothing might be want-
iog to the miseries of King Stephen's time, the Pope threw
in this contribution to the public store — not very like the
widow's contribution as I think, when Our Saviour sat in
Jerusalem over-against the Treasury, '' and she threw in two
mites, whi<^ make a fiurthing/'



Digitized by



Google



A CHttiyB HISTORY OF BNCiLAHD.



CHAPTER Xn.

ENGLAND UNDER HENRY THE SECOND.

Part the First.

Henry Plant agenet, when he was but twenty-one jeare
old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, accord-
ing to his agreement made witli the late King at Win-
chester. Six weeks after Stephen's death, he and his Queen,
Eleanor, were crowned in that city ; into which they rode on
horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shout-
ing and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of
flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The
King had great possessions, and (what with his own rights,
and what with those of his wife) was lord of one-third part
of France. He was a young man of vigor, ability, and reso-
lution, and immediately applied himself to remove some of
the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He
revoked all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on
either side, during the late struggles ; he obliged numbers of
disoi-derly soldiers to depart from England ; he reclaimed all
the castles belonging to the Crown ; and he forced the wicked
nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of
eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been
inflicted on the people. The King's brother, Geoffrey, rose
against him in France, while he was so well employed, and
rendered it necessary for liim to repair to that country;
where, after he had subdued and made a friendly arrange-
ment witli his brother (who did not live long), his ambition



Digitized by



Google



HENRY THE SECOND, 89

t6 triccctc Us posseasiotis involved hiok in a war with the
Frtoch King, Louis, with whom ha had been on such fViendly
terms just before, that to the French King's infant daughter,
then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little
sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. How-
ever, the war came to nothing at last, aiid the Pope made
the two Kings (Heads again.
Now^ the clergy, in the troubles of tb« Ust reign, had gone

00 very ill indeed* Theie were aU kinds of criminals among
them — miurder^rs, thieves, and vagabonds; and the worst
of the matter was, that the good priests would not give up
the bad priests to justice, wlien they committed. crimes, but
pernsted in slielteiing and diel<ending them. The King, well
knowing that there could be no peaee or rest in England
while such tlungs lasted, resolved to reduce the power of tJbe
^^VS^ \ snd, when he had I'eigned seven years, found (as he
considered) a good opportunity for doing so, in the death of
the Aichbishop- of Canterbury. ^^I will have for the new
Archbidiop," thought the King, '^ a friend in whom I can
trast, who will help me to humble these rebellious priests,
and to have them dealt with, when they do wrong, as othev
men who do wrong are dealt with/' So, he resolved to
make his favorite, ^e new Arohbishop; and this favorite
was so extraordinary a man, and his Uoify is so curious, that

1 must tell yon all abo«t him.

Once upon a tnne, a worth}- merchant of London, named
GasBRT X BtcKm, made a pilgiiniage to the Holy Land^
and was taken prisoner by a ^araeen lord. This lord, who
treated him khWHy and* not fiOoe a slave, had one fair daughter^
who feM in k)ire with .the wnrchant; and who tokl him that
she wanted to become a Christian, and was willing to marry
bim if they eo«ld fly to a Christian eonatry. The merchant
returned her love, until he found an opportunity to escape;
when he did not trouble himself about the Saracen lady, but
escaped with his servant Riehard., who bad been taken pris-
oner along with him, and anived in £ngland and forgot her^



Digitized by



Google



90 A CHILD'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

The Saracen lady, who was more loving than the merdiant,
left her father's hoase in disguise to follow him, and made
her way, under many hardships, to the sea-shore. The mer-
chant had taught her only two English words (for I suppose
he must have learnt the Saracen tongue himself, and made
love in that language), of which London was one, and his
own name, Gilbert, the other. She went among tiie shl|)s,
sajing, ^^ London ! London ! " over and over again, until the
JMiilors understood that she wanted to find an English vessel
that would carry her there ; so they sliowed her such a ship,
and she paid for her passage with some of her Jewels, and
sailed away. Well I The merchant was sitting in his count-
ing-house in London one day, wlien he heard a great noise in
the street ; and presently Richard came running in from the
warehouse, with his eyes wide open and his breath almost
^ne, saying, ^^ Master, master, here is the Saracen lady I"
The merchant thought Richard was mad ; but Richard said,
^* No, master I As I live, the Saracen lady is going up and
down the city, calling Gilbert I Gilbert ! " Then, he took
the merchant by the sleeve, and pointed out at window ; and



Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 8 of 84)