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land. His home sorrows were now pressing heavily on
him. His eldest son was a rebel and an exile ; about
this time his second son died in the New Forest; ac-
cording to one version, his daughter, the betrothed of
Edwin, who had never forgotten her English lover, was
now promised to the Spanish King Alfonso, and died
in answer to her own prayers before the marriage was
celebrated. And now the partner of William's life was
taken from him four years after his one difference
with her. On November 3, 1083, Matilda died after
a long sickness, to her husband's lasting grief. She
was buried in her own church at Caen, and churches
in England received gifts from William on behalf of
her soul.

The mourner had soon again to play the warrior.


Nearly the whole of William's few remaining years
were spent in a struggle which in earlier times he would
surely have ended in a day. Maine, city and county,
did not call for a third conquest ; but a single baron of
Maine defied William's power, and a single castle of
Maine held out against him for three years. Hubert,
Viscount of Beaumont and Fresnay, revolted on some
slight quarrel. The siege of his castle of Sainte-Su-
sanne went on from the death of Matilda till the last
year but one of William's reign. The tale is full of
picturesque detail ; but William had little personal
share in it. The best captains of Normandy tried their
strength in vain against this one donjon on its rock.
William at last made peace with the subject who was
too strong for him. Hubert came to England and
received the King's pardon. Practically the pardon
was the other way.

Thus for the last eleven years of his life William
ceased to be the Conqueror. Engaged only in small
enterprises, he was unsuccessful in all. One last success
was indeed in store for him ; but that was to be pur-
chased with his own life. As he turned away in defeat
from this castle and that, as he felt the full bitterness
of domestic sorrow, he may have thought, as others
thought for him, that the curse of Waltheof, the curse
of the New Forest, was ever tracking his steps. If so,
his crimes were done in England, and their vengeance
came in Normandy. In England there was no further
room for his mission as Conqueror ; he had no longer
foes to overcome. He had an act of justice to do, and
he did it. He had his kingdom to guard, and he


guarded it. He had to take the great step which should
make his kingdom one for ever ; and he had, perhaps
without fully knowing what he did, to bid the picture
of his reign be painted for all time as no reign before or
after has been painted.



OF two events of these last years of the Conqueror's
reign, events of very different degrees of importance,
we have already spoken. The Welsh expedition of
William was the only recorded fighting on British
ground, and that lay without the bounds of the king-
dom of England. William now made Normandy his
chief dwelling-place, but he was constantly called over to
England. The Welsh campaign proves his presence in
England in 1081 ; he was again in England in 1082,
but he went back to Normandy between the two visits.
The visit of 1082 was a memorable one; there is no
more characteristic act of the Conqueror than the deed
which marks it. The cruelty and insolence of his
brother Odo, whom he had trusted so much more than
he deserved, had passed all bounds. In avenging the
death of Walcher he had done deeds such as William
never did himself or allowed any other man to do.
And now, beguiled by a soothsayer who said that one
of his name should be the next Pope, he dreamed of
succeeding to the throne of Gregory the Seventh. He
made all kinds of preparations to secure his succession,


and he was at last about to set forth for Italy at the
head of something like an army. His schemes were by
no means to the liking of his brother. William came
suddenly over from Normandy, and met Odo in the Isle
of Wight. There the King got together as many as
he could of the great men of the realm. Before them
he arraigned Odo for all his crimes. He had left him
as the lieutenant of his kingdom, and he had shown him-
self the common oppressor of every class of men in the
realm. Last of all, he had beguiled the warriors who
were needed for the defence of England against the
Danes and Irish to follow him on his wild schemes in
Italy. How was he to deal with such a brother, Wil-
liam asked of his wise men.

He had to answer himself ; no other man dared to
speak. William then gave his judgement. The com-
mon enemy of the whole realm should not be spared
because he was the King's brother. He should be
seized and put in ward. As none dared to seize him,
the King seized him with his own hands. And now,
for the first time in England, we hear words which were
often heard again. The bishop stained with blood and
sacrilege appealed to the privileges of his order. He
was a clerk, a bishop ; no man might judge him but the
Pope. William, taught, so men said, by Lanfranc, had
his answer ready. " I do not seize a clerk or a bishop ;
I seize my earl whom I set over my kingdom." So the
Earl of Kent was carried off to a prison in Normandy,
and Pope Gregory himself pleaded in vain for the release
of the Bishop of Bayeux.

The mind of William was just now mainly given to
the affairs of his island kingdom. In the winter of


1083 he hastened from the death-bed of his wife to the
siege of Sainte-Susanne, and thence to the Midwinter
Gem6t in England. The chief object of the assembly
was the specially distasteful one of laying on of a tax.
In the course of the next year, six shillings was levied
on every hide of land to meet a pressing need. The
powers of the North were again threatening; the
danger, if it was danger, was greater than when Wal-
theof smote the Normans in the gate at York. Swegen
and his successor Harold were dead. Cnut the Saint
reigned in Denmark, the son-in-law of Eobert of
Flanders. This alliance with William's enemy joined
with his remembrance of his own two failures to stir
up the Danish king to a yearning for some exploit in
England. English exiles were still found to urge him
to the enterprise. William's conquest had scattered
banished or discontented Englishmen over all Europe.
Many had made their way to the Eastern Rome ; they
had joined the Warangian guard, the surest support of
the Imperial throne, and at Dyrrhachion, as on Senlac,
the axe of England had met the lance of Normandy in
battle. Others had fled to the North; they prayed
Cnut to avenge the death of his kinsman Harold and
to deliver England from the yoke of men so an Eng-
lish writer living in Denmark spoke of them of Roman
speech. Thus the Greek at one end of Europe, the
Norman at the other, still kept on the name of Rome.
The fleet of Denmark was joined by the fleet of
Flanders ; a smaller contingent was promised by the
devout and peaceful Olaf of Norway, who himself felt
no call to take a share in the work of war.

Against this danger William strengthened himself


by the help of the tax that he had just levied. He
could hardly have dreamed of defending England
against Danish invaders by English weapons only. But
he thought as little of trusting the work to his own Nor-
mans. With the money of England he hired a host of
mercenaries, horse and foot, from France and Britanny,
even from Maine where Hubert was still defying him
at Sainte - Susanne. He gathered this force on the
mainland, and came back at its head, a force such as
England had never before seen ; men wondered how
the land might feed them all. The King's men,
French and English, had to feed them, each man ac-
cording to the amount of his land. And now William
did what Harold had refused to do ; he laid waste the
whole coast that lay open to attack from Denmark and
Flanders. But no Danes, no Flemings, came. Disputes
arose between Cnut and his brother Olaf, and the great
enterprise came to nothing. William kept part of his
mercenaries in England, and part he sent to their homes.
Cnut was murdered in a church by his own subjects,
and was canonized as Sanctus Canutus by a Pope who
could not speak the Scandinavian name.

Meanwhile, at the Midwinter Gem6t of 1085-1086,
held in due form at Gloucester, William did one of his
greatest acts. "The King had mickle thought and
sooth deep speech with his Witan about his land, how it
were set and with whilk men." In that " deep speech,"
so called in our own tongue, lurks a name well known
and dear to every Englishman. The result of that famous
parliament is set forth at length by the Chronicler. The
King sent his men into each shire, men who did indeed
set down In their writ how the land was set and of


what men. In that writ we have a record in the Roman
tongue no less precious than the Chronicles in our own.
For that writ became the Book of Winchester, the book
to which our fathers gave the name of Domesday, the
book of judgement that spared no man.

The Great Survey was made in the course of the first
seven months of the year 1086. Commissioners were
sent into every shire, who inquired by the oaths of the
men of the hundreds by whom the land had been held in
King Edward's days and what it was worth then, by
whom it was held at the time of the survey and what
it was worth then ; and lastly, whether its worth could
be raised. Nothing was to be left out. "So sooth
narrowly did he let spear it out, that there was not
a hide or a yard of land, nor further it is shame to
tell, and it thought him no shame to do an ox nor
a cow nor a swine was left that was not set in his writ."
This kind of searching inquiry, never liked at any
time, would be specially grievous then. The taking of
the survey led to disturbances in many places, in which
not a few lives were lost. While the work was going
on, William went to and fro till he knew thoroughly
how this land was set and of what men. He had now
a list of all men, French and English, who held land in
his kingdom. And it was not enough to have their
names in a writ ; he would see them face to face. On
the making of the survey followed that great assembly,
that great work of legislation, which was the crown of
William's life as a ruler and lawgiver of England. The
usual assemblies of the year had been held at Win-
chester and Westminster. An extraordinary assembly
was held in the plain of Salisbury on the first day of


August. The work of that assembly has been already
spoken of. It was now that all the owners of land in
the kingdom became the men of the King ; it was now
that England became one, with no fear of being again
parted asunder.

The close connexion between the Great Survey and
the law and the oath of Salisbury is plain. It was a
great matter for the King to get in the gold certainly
and, we may add, fairly. William would deal with no
man otherwise than according to law as he understood
the law. But he sought for more than this. He would
not only know what this land could be made to pay ; he
would know the state of his kingdom in every detail ;
he would know its military strength ; he would know
whether his own will, in the long process of taking from
this man and giving to that, had been really carried out.
Domesday is before all things a record of the great con-
fiscation, a record of that gradual change by which, in
less than twenty years, the greater part of the land of
England had been transferred from native to foreign
owners. And nothing shows like Domesday in what
a formally legal fashion that transfer was carried out.
What were the principles on which it was carried out,
we have already seen. All private property in land came
only from the grant of King William. It had all passed
into his hands by lawful forfeiture; he might keep it
himself ; he might give it back to its old owner or grant
it to a new one. So it was at the general redemption
of lands; so it was whenever fresh conquests or fresh
revolts threw fresh lands into the King's hands. The
principle is so thoroughly taken for granted, that we


are a little startled to find it incidentally set forth in so
many words in a case of no special importance. A priest
named Eobert held a single yardland in alms of the
King ; he became a monk in the monastery of Stow-in-
Lindesey, and his yardland became the property of the
house. One hardly sees why this case should have been
picked out for a solemn declaration of the general law.
Yet, as " the day on which the English redeemed their
lands " is spoken of only casually in the case of a par-
ticular estate, so the principle that no man could hold
lands except by the King's grant (" Non licet terrain
alicui habere nisi regis concessu ") is brought in only to
illustrate the wrongful dealing of Robert and the monks
of Stow in the case of a very small holding indeed.

All this is a vast system of legal fictions; for
William's whole position, the whole scheme of his
government, rested on a system of legal fictions.
Domesday is full of them; one might almost say that
there is nothing else there. A very attentive study of
Domesday might bring out the fact that William was
a foreign conqueror, and that the book itself was a
record of the process by which he took the lands of the
natives who had fought against him to reward the
strangers who had fought for him. But nothing of this
kind appears on the surface of the record. The great
facts of the Conquest are put out of sight. William is
taken for granted, not only as the lawful king, but as
the immediate successor of Edward. The "time of
King Edward" and the "time of^King William" are
the two times that the law knows of. The compilers
of the record are put to some curious shifts to describe
the time between "the day when King Edward was


alive and dead " and the day " when King William
came into England." That coming might have been
as peaceful as the coming of James the First or George
the First. The two great battles are more than once
referred to, but only casually in the mention of par-
ticular persons. A very sharp critic might guess that
one of them had something to do with King William's
coming into England ; but that is all. Harold appears
only as Earl ; it is only in two or three places that we
hear of a "time of Harold," and even of Harold " seizing
the kingdom" and "reigning." These two or three
places stand out in such contrast to the general language
of the record that we are led to think that the scribe
must have copied some earlier record or taken down the
words of some witness, and must have forgotten to
translate them into more loyal formulae. So in recording
who held the land in King Edward's day and who in
King William's, there is nothing to show that in so
many cases the holder under Edward had been turned
out to make room for the holder under William. The
former holder is marked by the perfectly colourless
word " ancestor " (" antecessor "), a word as yet meaning,
not "forefather," but "predecessor" of any kind. In
Domesday the word is most commonly an euphemism
for "dispossessed Englishman." It is a still more dis-
tinct euphemism where the Norman holder is in more
than one place called the "heir" of the dispossessed

The formulae of Domesday are the most speaking
witness to the spirit of outward legality which ruled
every act of William. In this way they are wonder-
fully instructive; but from the formulae alone no one


could ever make the real facts of William's coming
and reign. It is the incidental notices which make us
more at home in the local and personal life of this reign
than of any reign before or for a long time after. The
Commissioners had to report whether the King's will
had been everywhere carried out, whether every man,
great and small, French and English, had what the
King meant him to have, neither more nor less. And
they had often to report a state of things different from
what the King had meant to be. Many men had not
all that King William had meant them to have, and
many others had much more. Normans had taken
both from Englishmen and from other Normans ;
Englishmen had taken from Englishmen; some had
taken from ecclesiastical bodies ; some had taken from
King William himself ; nay King William himself holds
lands which he ought to give up to another man. This
last .entry at least shows that William was fully ready to
do right, according to his notions of right. So also the
King's two brothers are set down among the chief offend-
ers. Of these unlawful holdings of land, marked in the
technical language of the Survey as invasiones and occupa-
tiones, many were doubtless real cases of violent seizure,
without excuse even according to William's reading of
the law. But this does not always follow, even when
the language of the Survey would seem to imply it.
Words implying violence, per vim and the like, are used
in the legal language of all ages, where no force has
been used, merely to mark a possession as illegal. We
are startled at finding the Apostle Paul set down as one
of the offenders ; but the words " sanctus Paulus in-
vasit" mean no more than that the canons of Saint


Paul's church in London held lands to which the Com-
missioners held that they had no good title. It is these
cases where one man held land which another claimed
that gave opportunity for those personal details, stories,
notices of tenures and customs, which make Domesday
the most precious store of knowledge of the time.

One fruitful and instructive source of dispute comes
from the way in which the lands in this or that district
were commonly granted out. The in-comer, commonly
a foreigner, received all the lands which such and such
a man, commonly a dispossessed Englishman, held 'in
that shire or district. The grantee stepped exactly
into the place of the antecessor ; he inherited all his rights
and all his burthens. He inherited therewith any dis-
putes as to the extent of the lands of the antecessor or
as to the nature of his tenure. And new disputes arose
in the process of transfer. One common source of dis-
pute was when the former owner, besides lands which
were strictly his own, held lands on lease, subject to a
reversionary interest on the part of the Crown or the
Church. The lease or sale emere is the usual word of
Church lands for three lives to return to the Church at
the end of the third life was very common. If the ante-
cessor was himself the third life, the grantee, his heir,
had no claim to the land ; and in any case he could take
in only with all its existing liabilities. But the grantee
often took possession of the whole of the land held by the
antecessor, as if it were all alike his own. A crowd of
complaints followed from all manner of injured persons
and bodies, great and small, French and English, lay and
clerical. The Commissioners seem to have fairly heard
all, and to have fairly reported all for the King to judge


of. It is their care to do right to all men which has
given us such strange glimpses of the inner life of an
age which had none like it before or after.

The general Survey followed by the general homage
might seem to mark William's work in England, his work
as an English statesman, as done. He could hardly have
had time to redress the many cases of wrong which the
Survey laid before him ; but he was able to wring yet
another tax out of the nation according to his new and
more certain register. He then, for the last time, crossed
to Normandy with his new hoard. The Chronicler and
other writers of the time dwell on the physical portents
of these two years, the storms, the fires, the plagues, the
sharp hunger, the deaths of famous men on both sides of
the sea. Of the year 1087, the last year of the Con-
queror, it needs the full strength of our ancient tongue
to set forth the signs and wonders. The King had left
England safe, peaceful, thoroughly bowed down under
the yoke, cursing the ruler who taxed her and granted
away her lands, yet half blessing him for the "good
frith" that he made against the murderer, the robber, and
the ravisher. But the land that he had won was neither
to see his end nor to shelter his dust. One last gleam
of success was, after so many reverses, to crown his
arms; but it was success which was indeed unworthy
of the Conqueror who had entered Exeter and Le Mans
in peaceful triumph. And the death-blow was now to
come to him who, after so many years of warfare,
stooped at last for the first time to cruel and petty
havoc without an object.

The border -land of France and Normandy, the


French Vexin, the land of which Mantes is the capital,
had always been disputed between kingdom and duchy.
Border wars had been common ; just at this time the
inroads of the French commanders at Mantes are said
to have been specially destructive. William not only
demanded redress from the King, but called for the sur-
render of the whole Vexin. What followed is a familiar
story. Philip makes a foolish jest on the bodily state of
his great rival, unable just then to carry out his threats.
" The King of the English lies in at Rouen ; there will be
a great show of candles at his churching." As at Alen-
<jon in his youth, so now, William, who could pass by
real injuries, was stung to the uttermost by personal
mockery. By the splendour of God, when he rose up
again, he would light a hundred thousand candles at
Philip's cost. He kept his word at the cost of Philip's
subjects. The ballads of the day told how he went
forth and gathered the fruits of autumn in the fields and
orchards and vineyards of the enemy. But he did
more than gather fruits; the candles of his churching
were indeed lighted in the burning streets of Mantes.
The picture of William the Great directing in person
mere brutal havoc like this is strange even after the
harrying of Northumberland and the making of the
New Forest. Eiding to and fro among the flames,
bidding his men with glee to heap on the fuel, gladdened
at the sight of burning houses and churches, a false step
of his horse gave him his death-blow. Carried to Rouen,
to the priory of Saint Gervase near the city, he lingered
from August 15 to September 7, and then the reign and
life of the Conqueror came to an end. Forsaken by his
children, his body stripped and well nigh forgotten, the


loyalty of one honest knight, Herlwin of Conteville,
bears his body to his grave in his own church at Caen.
His very grave is disputed ; a dispossessed antecessor
claims the ground as his own, and the dead body of the
Conqueror has to wait while its last resting-place is
bought with money. Into that resting-place force alone
can thrust his bulky frame, and the rites of his burial are
as wildly cut short as were the rites of his crowning.
With much striving he had at last won his seven feet of
ground ; but he was not to keep it for ever. Keligious
warfare broke down his tomb and scattered his bones,
save one treasured relic. Civil revolution swept away
the one remaining fragment. And now, while we seek
in vain beneath the open sky for the rifled tombs of
Harold and of Waltheof, a stone beneath the vault of
Saint Stephen's still tells us where the bones of William
once lay but where they lie no longer.

There is no need to doubt the striking details of the
death and burial of the Conqueror. We shrink from
giving the same trust to the long tale of penitence which
is put into the mouth of the dying King. He may, in
that awful hour, have seen the wrong-doing of the last
one-and-twenty years of his life ; he hardly threw his
repentance into the shape of a detailed autobiographical
confession. But the more authentic sayings and doings
of William's death-bed enable us to follow his course as
an English statesman almost to his last moments. His
end was one of devotion, of prayers and almsgiving, and
of opening of the prison to them that were bound. All
save one of his political prisoners, English and Norman,
he willingly set free. Morkere and his companions


from Ely, Walfnoth son of Godwine, hostage for Harold's
faith, Wulf son of Harold and Ealdgyth, taken, we can

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 13 of 14)