Copyright
Edward Augustus Freeman.

William the Conqueror online

. (page 11 of 14)
Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 11 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


God has put asunder, surely it was he. This mysterious
saying must have a reference to some definite act or plan
of which we have no other record. And some slight ap-
proach to the process of winning Ireland without weapons
does appear in the ecclesiastical intercourse between
England and Ireland which now begins. Both the native
Irish princes and the Danes of the east coast begin to



150 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

treat Lanfranc as their metropolitan, and to send bishops
to him for consecration. The name of the King of the
English is never mentioned in the letters which passed
between the English primate and the kings and bishops
of Ireland. It may be that William was biding his time
for some act of special wisdom; but our speculations
cannot go any further than those of the Peterborough
Chronicler.

Eevolt within the kingdom and invasion from without
both began in the year in which the Conquest was brought
to an end. William's ecclesiastical reforms were inter-
rupted by the revolt of the Fenland. William's authority
was never fully acknowledged in that corner of England,
while he wore his crown and held his councils elsewhere.
But the place where disturbances began, the abbey of
Peterborough, was certainly in William's obedience.
The warfare made memorable by the name of Hereward
began in June 1070, and a Scottish harrying of Northern
England, the second of five which are laid to the charge
of Malcolm, took place in the same year, and most
likely about the same time. The English movement
is connected alike with the course of the Danish fleet
and with the appointment of Turold to the abbey of
Peterborough. William had bribed the Danish com-
manders to forsake their English allies, and he allowed
them to ravage the coast. A later bribe took them back
to Denmark; but not till they had shown themselves
in the waters of Ely. The people, largely of Danish
descent, flocked to . them, thinking, as the Chronicler
says, that they would win the whole land. The move-
ment was doubtless in favour of the kingship of Swegen.
But nothing was done by Danes and English together



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 151

save to plunder Peterborough abbey. Hereward, said
to have been the nephew of Turold's English predecessor,
doubtless looked on the holy place, under a Norman
abbot, as part of the enemy's country.

The name of Hereward has gathered round it such a
mass of fiction, old and new, that it is hard to disentangle
the few details of his real history. His descent and
birth-place are uncertain ; but he was assuredly a man
of Lincolnshire, and assuredly not the son of Earl Leofric.
For some unknown cause, he had been banished in the
days of Edward or of Harold. He now came back to lead
his countrymen against William. He was the soul of the
movement of which the abbey of Ely became the centre.
The isle, then easily defensible, was the last English
ground on which the Conqueror was defied by English-
men fighting for England. The men of the Fenland
were zealous ; the monks of Ely were zealous ; helpers
came in from other parts of England. English leaders
left their shelter in Scotland to share the dangers of
their countrymen; even Edwin and Morkere at last
plucked up heart to leave William's court and join the
patriotic movement. Edwin was pursued; he was
betrayed by traitors ; he was overtaken and slain, to
William's deep grief, we are told. His brother reached
the isle, and helped in its defence. William now felt
that the revolt called for his own presence and his full
energies. The isle was stoutly attacked and stoutly de-
fended, till, according to one version, the monks betrayed
the stronghold to the King. According to another,
Morkere was induced to surrender by promises of mercy
which William failed to fulfil. In any case, before the
year 1071 was ended, the isle of Ely was in William's



152 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

hands. Hereward alone with a few companions made
their way out by sea. William was less merciful than
usual; still no man was put to death. Some were
mutilated, some imprisoned; Morkere and other chief
men spent the rest of their days in bonds. The temper
of the Conqueror had now fearfully hardened. Still he
could honour a valiant enemy; those who resisted to
the last fared best. All the legends of Hereward's later
days speak of him as admitted to William's peace and
favour. One makes him die quietly, another kills him
at the hands of Norman enemies, but not at William's
bidding or with William's knowledge. Evidence a little
better suggests that he bore arms for his new sovereign
beyond the sea ; and an entry in Domesday also suggests
that he held lands under Count Eobert of Mortain in
Warwickshire. It would suit William's policy, when he
received Hereward to his favour, to make him exchange
lands near to the scene of his exploits for lands in a
distant shire held under the lordship of the King's
brother.

Meanwhile, most likely in the summer months of
1070, Malcolm ravaged Cleveland, Durham, and other
districts where there must have been little left to ravage.
Meanwhile the ^Etheling Edgar and his sisters, with
other English exiles, sought shelter in Scotland, and
were hospitably received. At the same time Gospatric,
now William's earl in Northumberland, retaliated by
a harrying of Scottish Cumberland, which provoked
Malcolm to greater cruelties. It was said that there
was no house in Scotland so poor that it had not
an English bondman. Presently some of Malcolm's
English guests joined the defenders of Ely; those of



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 153

highest birth stayed in Scotland, and Malcolm, after
much striving, persuaded Margaret the sister of Edgar
to become his wife. Her praises are written in Scottish
history, and the marriage had no small share in the pro-
cess which made the Scottish kings and the lands which
formed their real kingdom practically English. The
sons and grandsons of Margaret, sprung of the Old-
English kingly house, were far more English within their
own realm than the Norman and Angevin kings of
Southern England. But within the English border men
looked at things with other eyes. Thrice again did
Malcolm ravage England ; two and twenty years later
he was slain in his last visit of havoc. William mean-
while and his earls at least drew to themselves some
measure of loyalty from the men of Northern England
as the guardians of the land against the Scot.

For the present however Malcolm's invasion was
only avenged by Gospatric's harrying in Cumberland.
The year 1071 called William to Ely ; in the early
part of 1072 his presence was still needed on the main-
land ; in August he found leisure for a march against
Scotland. He went as an English king, to assert the
rights of the English crown, to avenge wrongs done to
the English land ; and on such an errand Englishmen
followed him gladly. Eadric, the defender of Here-
fordshire, had made his peace with the King, and he
now held a place of high honour in his army. But if
William met with any armed resistance on his Scottish
expedition, it did not amount to a pitched battle. He
passed through Lothian into Scotland ; he crossed
Forth and drew near to Tay, and there, by the round
tower of Abernethy, the King of Scots swore oaths



154 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

and gave hostages and became the man of the King of
the English. William might now call himself, like
his West -Saxon predecessors, Bretwalda and Basileus
of the isle of Britain. This was the highest point of
his fortune. Duke of the Normans, King of the Eng-
lish, he was undisputed lord from the march of Anjou
to the narrow sea between Caithness and Orkney.

The exact terms of the treaty between William's
royal vassal and his overlord are unknown. But one of
them was clearly the removal of Edgar from Scot-
land. Before long he was on the continent. William
had not yet learned that Edgar was less dangerous in
Britain than in any other part of the world, and that
he was safest of all in William's own court. Homage
done and hostages received, the Lord of all Britain
returned to his immediate kingdom. His march is
connected with many legendary stories. In real history
it is marked by the foundation of the castle of Durham,
and by the Conqueror's confirmation of the privileges
of the palatine bishops. If all the earls of England
had been like the earls of Chester, and all the bishops
like the bishops of Durham, England would assuredly
have split up, like Germany, into a loose federation of
temporal and spiritual princes. This it was William's
special work to hinder ; but he doubtless saw that the
exceptional privileges of one or two favoured lord-
ships, standing in marked contrast to the rest, would
not really interfere with his great plan of union. And
William would hardly have confirmed the sees of Lon-
don or Winchester in the privileges which he allowed
to the distant see of Durham. He now also made
a grant of earldoms, the object of which is less clear



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 155

than that of most of his actions. It is not easy to say
why Grospatric was deprived of his earldom. His
former acts of hostility to William had been covered by
his pardon and reappointment in 1069 ; and since then
he had acted as a loyal, if perhaps an indiscreet,
guardian of the land. Two greater earldoms than his
had become vacant by the revolt, the death, the im-
prisonment, of Edwin and Morkere. But these
William had no intention of filling. He would not
have in his realm anything so dangerous as an earl of
the Mercians or the Northumbrians in the old sense,
whether English or Norman. But the defence of the
northern frontier needed an earl to rule Northumber-
land in the later sense, the land north of the Tyne.
And after the fate of Robert of Comines, William
could not as yet put a Norman earl in so perilous a
post. But the Englishman whom he chose was open
to the same charges as the deposed Gospatric. For he
was Waltheof the son of Siward, the hero of the storm
of York in 1069. Already Earl of Northampton and
Huntingdon, he was at this time high in the King's
personal favour, perhaps already the husband of the
King's niece. One side of William's policy comes out
here. Union was sometimes helped by division. There
were men whom William loved to make great, but whom
he had no mind to make dangerous. He gave them
vast estates, but estates for the most part scattered over
different parts of the kingdom. It was only in the
border earldoms and in Cornwall that he allowed any-
thing at all near to the lordship of a whole shire to be
put in the hands of a single man. One Norman and one
Englishman held two earldoms together ; but they were



156 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

earldoms far apart. Roger of Montgomery held the
earldoms of Shrewsbury and Sussex, and Waltheof to
his midland earldom of Northampton and Huntingdon
now added the rule of distant Northumberland. The men
who had fought most stoutly against William were the
men whom he most willingly received to favour. Eadric
and Hereward were honoured ; Waltheof was honoured
more highly. He ranked along with the greatest Nor-
mans; his position was perhaps higher than any but
the King's born kinsmen. But the whole tale of Wal-
theof is a problem that touches the character of the king
under whom he rose and fell. Lifted up higher than
any other man among the conquered, he was the one man
whom William put to death on a political charge. It is
hard to see the reasons for either his rise or his fall.
It was doubtless mainly his end which won him the
abiding reverence of his countrymen. His valour and
his piety are loudly praised. But his valour we know
only from his one personal exploit at York ; his piety
was consistent with a base murder. In other matters,
he seems amiable, irresolute, and of a scrupulous con-
science, and Northumbrian morality perhaps saw no
great crime in a murder committed under the traditions
of a Northumbrian deadly feud. Long before Waltheof
was born, his grandfather Earl Ealdred had been killed
by a certain Carl. The sons of Carl had fought by his
side at York ; but, notwithstanding this comradeship,
the first act of Waltheof 's rule in Northumberland was to
send men to slay them beyond the bounds of his earldom.
A crime that was perhaps admired in Northumberland
and unheard of elsewhere did not lose him either the
favour of the King or the friendship of his neighbour



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 157

Bishop Walcher, a reforming prelate with whom Wal-
theof acted in concert. And when he was chosen as the
single exception to William's merciful rule, it was not
for this undoubted crime, but on charges of which, even
if guilty, he might well have been forgiven.

The sojourn of William on the continent in 1072
carries us out of England and Normandy into the
general affairs of Europe. Signs may have already
showed themselves of what was coming to the south of
Normandy ; but the interest of the moment lay in the
country of Matilda. Flanders, long the firm ally of Nor-
mandy, was now to change into a bitter enemy. Count
Baldwin died in 1067; his successor of the same name
died three years later, and a war followed between his
widow Eichildis, the guardian of his young son Arnulf,
and his brother Eobert the Frisian. Robert had won
fame in the East ; he had received the sovereignty of
Friesland a name which takes in Holland and Zealand
and he was now invited to deliver Flanders from the
oppressions of Eichildis. Meanwhile, Matilda was acting
as regent of Normandy, with Earl William of Here-
ford as her counsellor. Eichildis sought help of her son's
two overlords, King Henry of Germany and King
Philip of France. Philip came in person ; the Ger-
man succours were too late. From Normandy came
Earl William with a small party of knights. The kings
had been asked for armies; to the Earl she offered
herself, and he came to fight for his bride. But early
in 1071 Philip, Arnulf, and William, were all over-
thrown by Eobert the Frisian in the battle of Cassel.
Arnulf and Earl William were killed ; Philip made



158 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

peace with Robert, henceforth undisputed Count of
Flanders.

All this brought King William to the continent,
while the invasion of Malcolm was still unavenged.
No open war followed between Normandy and Flanders;
but for the rest of their lives Robert and William were
enemies, and each helped the enemies of the other.
William gave his support to Baldwin brother of the
slain Arnulf, who strove to win Flanders from Robert.
But the real interest of this episode lies in the impres-
sion which was made in the lands east of Flanders. In
the troubled state of Germany, when Henry the Fourth
was striving with the Saxons, both sides seem to have
looked to the Conqueror of England with hope and
with fear. On this matter our English and Norman
authorities are silent, and the notices in the contem-
porary German writers are strangely unlike one an-
other. But they show at least that the prince who
ruled on both sides of the sea was largely in men's
thoughts. The Saxon enemy of Henry describes him
in his despair as seeking help in Denmark, France,
Aquitaine, and also of the King of the English, pro-
mising him the like help, if he should ever need it.
William and Henry had both to guard against Saxon
enmity, but the throne at Winchester stood firmer
than the throne at Goslar. But the historian of the
continental Saxons puts into William's mouth an answer
utterly unsuited to his position. He is made, when in
Normandy, to answer that, having won his kingdom by
force, he fears to leave it, lest he might not find his way
back again. Far more striking is the story told three
years later by Lambert of Herzfeld. Henry, when en-



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 159

gaged in an Hungarian war, heard that the famous Arch-
bishop Hanno of Koln had leagued with William JBostar
so is his earliest surname written King of the Eng-
lish, and that a vast army was coming to set the island
monarch on the German throne. The host never came ;
but Henry hastened back to guard his frontier against
barbarians. By that phrase a Teutonic writer can
hardly mean the insular part of William's subjects.

Now assuredly William never cherished, as his suc-
cessor probably did, so wild a dream as that of a kingly
crowning at Aachen, to be followed perhaps by an
imperial crowning at Rome. But that such schemes
were looked on as a practical danger against which the
actual German King had to guard, at least shows the
place which the Conqueror of England held in European
imagination.

For the three or four years immediately following
the surrender of Ely, William's journeys to and fro
between his kingdom and his duchy were specially
frequent. Matilda seems to have always stayed in
Normandy ; she is never mentioned in England after
the year of her coronation and the birth of her youngest
son, and she commonly acted as regent of the duchy.
In the course of 1072 we see William in England, in
Normandy, again in England, and in Scotland. In 1073
he was called beyond sea by a formidable movement.
His great continental conquest had risen against him ;
Le Mans and all Maine were again independent. City
and land chose for them a prince who came by female
descent from the stock of their ancient counts. This
was Hugh the son of Azo Marquess of Liguria and of
Gersendis the sister of the last Count Herbert. The



160 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

Normans were driven out of Le Mans ; Azo came to take
possession in the name of his son, but he and the citizens
did not long agree. He went back, leaving his wife and
son under the guardianship of Geoffrey of Mayenne.
Presently the men of Le Mans threw off princely rule
altogether and proclaimed the earliest commune in North-
ern Gaul. Here then, as at Exeter, William had to strive
against an armed commonwealth, and, as at Exeter, we
specially wish to know what were to be the relations be-
tween the capital and the county at large. The mass of
the people throughout Maine threw themselves zealously
into the cause of the commonwealth. But their zeal
might not have lasted long, if, according to the usual
run of things in such cases, they had simply exchanged
the lordship of their hereditary masters for the corporate
lordship of the citizens of Le Mans. To the nobles the
change was naturally distasteful. They had to swear to
the commune, but many of them, Geoffrey for one, had
no thought of keeping their oaths. Dissensions arose ;
Hugh went back to Italy ; Geoffrey occupied the castle
of Le Mans, and the citizens dislodged him only by
the dangerous help of the other prince who claimed
the overlordship of Maine, Count Fulk of Anjou.

If Maine was to have a master from outside, the lord
of Anjou hardly promised better than the lord of Nor-
mandy. But men in despair grasp at anything The
strange thing is that Fulk disappears now from the
story ; William steps in instead. And it was at least as
much in his English as in his Norman character that the
Duke and King won back the revolted land. A place
in his army was held by English warriors, seemingly
under the command of Hereward himself. Men who



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 161

had fought for freedom in their own land now fought at
the bidding of their Conqueror to put down freedom
in another land. They went willingly ; the English
Chronicler describes the campaign with glee, and breaks
into verse or incorporates a contemporary ballad at
the tale of English victory. Few men of that day would
see that the cause of Maine was in truth the cause of
England. If York and Exeter could not act in concert
with one another, still less could either act in concert
with Le Mans. Englishmen serving in Maine would
fancy that they were avenging their own wrongs by
laying waste the lands of any man who spoke the French
tongue. On William's part, the employment of English-
men, the employment of Hereward, was another stroke
of policy. It was more fully following out the system
which led Englishmen against Exeter, which led Eadric
and his comrades into Scotland. For in every English
soldier whom William carried into Maine he won a loyal
English subject. To men who had fought under his
banners beyond the sea he would be no longer the Con-
queror but the victorious captain; they would need
some very special oppression at home to make them revolt
against the chief whose laurels they had helped to win.
As our own gleeman tells the tale, they did little beyond
harrying the helpless land ; but in continental writers
we can trace a regular campaign, in which we hear of no
battles, but of many sieges. William, as before, subdued
the land piecemeal, keeping the city for the last. When
he drew near to Le Mans, its defenders surrendered at
his summons, to escape fire and slaughter by speedy sub-
mission. The new commune was abolished, but the Con-
queror swore to observe all the ancient rights of the city.

M



162 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

All this time we have heard nothing of Count Fulk.
Presently we find him warring against nobles of Maine
who had taken William's part, and leaguing with the
Bretons against William himself. The King set forth
with his whole force, Norman and English ; but peace
was made by the mediation of an unnamed Roman
cardinal, abetted, we are told, by the chief Norman
nobles. Success against confederated Anjou and Britanny
might be doubtful, with Maine and England wavering
in their allegiance, and France, Scotland, and Flanders,
possible enemies in the distance. The rights of the
Count of Anjou over Maine were formally acknowledged,
and William's eldest son Eobert did homage to Fulk for
the county. Each prince stipulated for the safety and
favour of all subjects of the other who had taken his
side. Between Normandy and Anjou there was peace
during the rest of the days of William ; in Maine we
shall see yet another revolt, though only a partial one.

William went back to England in 1073. In 1074 he
went to the continent for a longer absence. As the time
just after the first completion of the Conquest is spoken
of as a time when Normans and English were beginning
to sit down side by side in peace, so the years which
followed the submission of Ely are spoken of as a time
of special oppression. This fact is not unconnected with
the King's frequent absences from England. Whatever
we say of William's own position, he was a check on
smaller oppressors. Things were always worse when
the eye of the great master was no longer watching.
William's one weakness was that of putting overmuch
trust in his immediate kinsfolk and friends. Of the
two special oppressors, William Fitz-Osbern had thrown



x. THE REVOLTS AGAINST WILLIAM. 163

away his life in Flanders ; but Bishop Odo was still at
work, till several years later his king and brother struck
him down with a truly righteous blow.

The year 1074, not a year of fighting, was pre-
eminently a year of intrigue. William's enemies on the
continent strove to turn the representative of the West-
Saxon kings to help their ends. Edgar flits to and
fro between Scotland and Flanders, and the King of the
French tempts him with the offer of a convenient settle-
ment on the march of France, Normandy, and Flanders.
Edgar sets forth from Scotland, but is driven back by a
storm ; Malcolm and Margaret then change their minds,
and bid him make his peace with King William. Wil-
liam gladly accepts his submission ; an embassy is sent
to bring him with all worship to the King in Normandy.
He abides for several years in William's court, contented
and despised, receiving a daily pension and the profits
of estates in England of no great extent which the King
of a moment held by the grant of a rival who could
afford to be magnanimous.

Edgar's after-life showed that he belonged to that
class of men who, as a rule slothful and listless, can yet
on occasion act with energy, and who act most creditably
on behalf of others. But William had no need to fear him,
and he was easily turned into a friend and a dependant.
Edgar, first of Englishmen by descent, was hardly an
Englishman by birth. William had now to deal with the
Englishman who stood next to Edgar in dignity and far
above him in personal estimation. We have reached the
great turning-point in William's reign and character, the
black and mysterious tale of the fate of Waltheof. The



164 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. CHAP.

Earl of Northumberland, Northampton, and Huntingdon,
was not the only earl in England of English birth. The


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14

Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 11 of 14)