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authority, that Edward's promise to William was made
at the time of William's visit to England, and that
William's homage to Edward was done in the character
of a destined successor to the English crown.

William then came to England a mere duke and went
back to Normandy a king expectant. But the value of
his hopes, to the value of the promise made to him, are
quite another matter. Most likely they were rated on
both sides far above their real value. King and duke
may both have believed that they were making a settle-
ment which the English nation was bound to respect. If
so, Edward at least was undeceived within a few months.

The notion of a king disposing of his crown by his
own act belongs to the same range of ideas as the law of
strict hereditary succession. It implies that kingship is
a possession and not an office. Neither the heathen nor


the Christian English had ever admitted that doctrine ;
but it was fast growing on the continent. Our forefathers
had always combined respect for the kingly house with
some measure of choice among the members of that house.
Edward himself was not the lawful heir according to
the notions of a modern lawyer; for he was chosen
while the son of his elder brother was living. Every
English king held his crown by the gift of the great
assembly of the nation, though the choice of the nation
was usually limited to the descendants of former kings,
and though the full-grown son of the late king was
seldom opposed. Christianity had strengthened the elec-
tion principle. The king lost his old sanctity as the
son of Woden ; he gained a new sanctity as the Lord's
anointed. But kingship thereby became more distinctly
an office, a great post, like a bishopric, to which its holder
had to be lawfully chosen and admitted by solemn rites.
But of that office he could be lawfully deprived, nor
could he hand it on to a successor either according -to his
own will or according to any strict law of succession.
The wishes of the late king, like the wishes of the late
bishop, went for something with the electors. But that
was all. All that Edward could really do for his kins-
men was to promise to make, when the time came, a
recommendation to the Witan in his favour. The Witan
might then deal as they thought good with a recom-
mendation so unusual as to choose to the kingship of
England a man who was neither a native nor a conqueror
of England nor the descendant of any English king.

When the time came, Edward did make a recommend-
ation to the Witan, but it was not in favour of William.
The English influences under which he was brought


during his last fourteen years taught him better what the
law of England was and what was the duty of an English
king. But at the time of William's visit Edward may
well have believed that he could by his own act settle
his crown on his Norman kinsman as his undoubted suc-
cessor in case he died without a son. And it may be that
Edward was bound by a vow not to leave a son. And if
Edward so thought, William naturally thought so yet
more ; he would sincerely believe himself to be the law-
ful heir of the crown of England, the sole lawful successor,
except in one contingency which was perhaps impossible
and certainly unlikely.

The memorials of these times, so full on some points,
are meagre on others. Of those writers who mention the
bequest or promise none mention it at any time when it is
supposed to have happened ; they mention it at some later
time when it began to be of practical importance. No
English Avriter speaks of William's claim till the time
when he was about practically to assert it ; no Norman
writer speaks of it till he tells the tale of Harold's visit
and oath to William. We therefore cannot say how far
the promise was known either in England or on the
continent. But it could not be kept altogether hid, even
if either party wished it to be hid. English statesmen
must have known of it, and must have guided their policy
accordingly, whether it was generally known in the
country or not. AVilliam's position, both in his own
duchy and among neighbouring princes, would be greatly
improved if he could be looked upon as a future king.
As heir to the crown of England, he may have more
earnestly wooed the descendant of former wearers of
the crown ; and Matilda and her father may have looked


more favourably on a suitor to whom the crown of Eng-
land was promised. On the other hand, the existence of
such a foreign claimant made it more needful than ever
for Englishmen to be ready with an English successor,
in the royal house or out of it, the moment the reigning
king should pass away.

It was only for a short time that William could have
had any reasonable hope of a peaceful succession. The
time of Norman influence in England was short. The
revolution of September 1052 brought Godwine back,
and placed the rule of England again in English hands.
Many Normans were banished, above all Archbishop
Robert and Bishop Ulf. The death of Godwine the next
year placed the chief power in the hands of his son
Harold. This change undoubtedly made Edward more
disposed to the national cause. Of Godwine, the man to
whom he owed his crown, he was clearly in awe; to
Godwine's sons he was personally attached. We know
not how Edward was led to look on his promise to
William as void. That he was so led is quite plain.
He sent for his nephew the JEtheling Edward from
Hungary, clearly as his intended successor. When the
^Etheling died in 1057, leaving a son under age, men
seem to have gradually come to look to Harold as the
probable successor. He clearly held a special position
above that of an ordinary earl ; but there is no need to
suppose any formal act in his favour till the time of the
King's death, January 5, 1066. On his deathbed Edward
did all that he legally could do on behalf of Harold by
recommending him to the Witan for election as the next
king. That he then either made a new or renewed an


old nomination in favour of William is a fable which is
set aside by the witness of the contemporary English
writers. William's claim rested wholly on that earlier
nomination which could hardly have been made at any
other time than his visit to England.

We have now to follow William back to Normandy,
for the remaining years of his purely ducal reign. The
expectant king had doubtless thoughts and hopes which
he had not had before. But we can guess at them only :
they are not recorded.


A.D. 1052-1063.

IF William came back from England looking forward to
a future crown, the thought might even then flash across
his mind that he was not likely to win that crown with-
out fighting for it. As yet his business was still to
fight for the duchy of Normandy. But he had now to
fight, not to win his duchy, but only to keep it. For
five years he had to strive both against rebellious subjects
and against invading enemies, among whom King Henry
of Paris is again the foremost. Whatever motives had
led the French king to help William at Val-es-dunes had
now passed away. He had fallen back on his former
state of abiding enmity towards Normandy and her
duke. But this short period definitely fixed the position
of Normandy and her duke in Gaul and in Europe.
At its beginning William is still the Bastard of Falaise,
who may or may not be able to keep himself in the ducal
chair, his right to which is still disputed. At the end
of it, if he is not yet the Conqueror and the Great, he
has shown all the gifts that were needed to win him
either name. He is the greatest vassal of the French
crown, a vassal more powerful than the overlord


whose invasions of his duchy he has had to drive

These invasions of Normandy by the King of the
French and his allies fall into two periods. At first
Henry appears in Normandy as the supporter of Nor-
mans in open revolt against their duke. But revolts
are personal and local ; there is no rebellion like that
which was crushed at Val-es-dunes, spreading over a
large part of the duchy. In the second period, the in-
vaders have no such starting-point. There are still
traitors ; there are still rebels ; but all that they can do is
to join the invaders after they have entered the land.
William is still only making his way to the universal
good will of his duchy : but he is fast making it.

There is, first of all, an obscure tale of a revolt of an
unfixed date, but which must have happened between
1048 and 1053. The rebel, William Busac of the house
of Eu, is said to have defended the castle of Eu against
the duke and to have gone into banishment in France.
But the year that followed William's visit to England
saw the far more memorable revolt of William Count
of Arques. He had drawn the Duke's suspicions on
him, and he had to receive a ducal garrison in his great
fortress by Dieppe. But the garrison betrayed the
castle to its own master. Open revolt and havoc fol-
lowed, in which Count William was supported by the
king and by several other princes. Among them was
Ingelram Count of Ponthieu, husband of the duke's
sister Adelaide. Another enemy was Guy Count of
Gascony, afterwards Duke William the Eighth of Aqui-
taine. What quarrel a prince in the furthest corner of
Gaul could have with the Duke of the Normans does


not appear ; but neither Count William nor his allies
could withstand the loyal Normans and their prince.
Count Ingelram was killed ; the other princes withdrew
to devise greater efforts against Normandy. Count
William lost his castle and part of his estates, and left
the duchy of his free will. The Duke's politic forbearance
at last won him the general good will of his subjects.
We hear of no more open revolts till that of William's
own son many years after. But the assaults of foreign
enemies, helped sometimes by Norman traitors, begin
again the next year on a greater scale.

William the ruler and warrior had now a short
breathing-space. He had doubtless come back from
England more bent than ever on his marriage with
Matilda of Flanders. Notwithstanding the decree of
a Pope and a Council entitled to special respect, the
marriage was celebrated, not very long after William's
return to Normandy, in the year of the revolt of William
of Arques. In the course of the year 1053 Count Baldwin
brought his daughter to the Norman frontier at Eu, and
there she became the bride of William. We know not
what emboldened William to risk so daring a step at this
particular time, or what led Baldwin to consent to it. If
it was suggested by the imprisonment of Pope Leo by
William's countrymen in Italy, in the hope that a con-
sent to the marriage would be wrung out of the captive
pontiff, that hope was disappointed. The marriage
raised much opposition in Normandy. It was denounced
by Archbishop Malger of Rouen, the brother of the
dispossessed Count of Arques. His character certainly
added no weight to his censures ; but the same act in


a saint would have been set down as a sign of holy bold-
ness. Presently, whether for his faults or for his merits,
Malger was deposed in a synod of the Norman Church,
and William found him a worthier successor in the learned
and holy Maurilius. But a greater man than Malger also
opposed the marriage, and the controversy thus introduces
us to one who fills a place second only to that of William
himself in the Norman and English history of the time.
This was Lanfranc of Pavia, the lawyer, the scholar, the
model monk, the ecclesiastical statesman, who, as prior
of the newly founded abbey of Bee, was already one of the
innermost counsellors of the Duke. As duke and king,
as prior, abbot, and archbishop, William and Lanfranc
ruled side by side, each helping the work of the other
till the end of their joint lives. Once only, at this time,
was their friendship broken for a moment. Lanfranc
spoke against the marriage, and ventured to rebuke the
Duke himself. William's wrath was kindled ; he ordered
Lanfranc into banishment and took a baser revenge by
laying waste part of the lands of the abbey. But the
quarrel was soon made up. Lanfranc presently left
Normandy, not as a banished man, but as the envoy of
its sovereign, commissioned to work for the confirma-
tion of the marriage at the papal court. He worked,
and his work was crowned with success, but not with
speedy success. It was not till six years after the mar-
riage, not till the year 1059, that Lanfranc obtained the
Avished for confirmation, not from Leo, but from his
remote successor Nicolas the Second. The sin of those
who had contracted the unlawful union was purged by
various good works, among which the foundation of the
two stately abbeys of Caen was conspicuous.


This story illustrates many points in the character of
William and of his time. His will is not to be thwarted,
whether in a matter of marriage or of any other. But
he does not hurry matters ; he waits for a favourable
opportunity. Something, we know not what, must have
made the year 1053 more favourable than the year
1049. We mark also William's relations to the Church.
He is at no time disposed to submit quietly to the bid-
ding of the spiritual power, when it interferes with his
rights or even when it crosses his will. Yet he is really
anxious for ecclesiastical reform ; he promotes men like
Maurilius and Lanfranc; perhaps he is not displeased
when the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, in the
case of Malger, frees him from a troublesome censor.
But the worse side of him also comes out. William
could forgive rebels, but he could not bear the personal
rebuke even of his friend. Under this feeling he pun-
ishes a whole body of men for the offence of one. To
lay waste the lands of Bee for the rebuke of Lanfranc
was like an ordinary prince of the time ; it was unlike
William, if he had not been stirred up by a censure
which touched his wife as well as himself. But above
all, the bargain between William and Lanfranc is
characteristic of the man and the age. Lanfranc goes
to Rome to support a marriage which he had censured
in Normandy. But there is no formal inconsistency, no
forsaking of any principle. Lanfranc holds an uncanon-
ical marriage to be a sin, and he denounces it. He does
not withdraw his judgement as to its sinfulness. He
simply uses his influence with a power that can forgive
the sin to get it forgiven.


While William's marriage was debated at Rome, he
had to fight hard in Normandy. His warfare and his
negotiations ended about the same time, and the two
things may have had their bearing on one another.
William had now to undergo a new form of trial. The
King of the French had never put forth his full strength
when he was simply backing Norman rebels. William
had now, in two successive invasions, to withstand the
whole power of the King, and of as many of his vassals
as the King could bring to his standard. In the first
invasion, in 1054, the Norman writers speak rhetorically
of warriors from Burgundy, Auvergne, and Gascony ;
but it is hard to see any troops from a greater distance
than Bourges. The princes who followed Henry seem to
have been only the nearer vassals of the Crown. Chief
among them are Theobald Count of Chartres, of a
house of old hostile to Normandy, and Guy the new
Count of Ponthieu, to be often heard of again. If not
Geoffrey of Anjou himself, his subjects from Tours were
also there. Normandy was to be invaded on two sides,
on both banks of the Seine. The King and his allies
sought to wrest from William the western part of Nor-
mandy, the older and the more thoroughly French part.
No attack seems to have been designed on the Bessin or
the Cotentin. William was to be allowed to keep those
parts of his duchy, against which he had to fight when
the King was his ally at Val-es-dunes.

The two armies entered Normandy ; that which was
to act on the left of the Seine was led by the King, the
other by his brother Odo. Against the King William
made ready to act himself ; eastern Normandy was left to
its own loyal nobles. But all Normandy was now loyal ;


the men of the Saxon and Danish lands were as ready
to fight for their duke against the King as they had been
to fight against King and Duke together. But William
avoided pitched battles ; indeed pitched battles are rare
in the continental warfare of the time. War consists
largely in surprises, and still more in the attack and de-
fence of fortified places. The plan of William's present
campaign was wholly defensive; provisions and cattle
were to be carried out of the French line of march ; the
Duke on his side, the other Norman leaders on the other
side, were to watch the enemy and attack them at any
favourable moment. The commanders east of the Seine,
Count Robert of Eu, Hugh of Gournay, William Crispin,
and Walter Giffard, found their opportunity when the
French had entered the unfortified town of Mortemer
and had given themselves up to revelry. Fire and sword
did the work. The whole French army was slain, scat-
tered, or taken prisoners. Odo escaped ; Guy of Ponthieu
was taken. The Duke's success was still easier. The
tale runs that the news from Mortemer, suddenly an-
nounced to the King's army in the dead of the night,
struck them with panic, and led to a hasty retreat out
of the land.

This campaign is truly Norman ; it is wholly unlike
the simple warfare of England. A traitorous Englishman
did nothing or helped the enemy ; a patriotic Englishman
gave battle to the enemy the first time he had a chance.
But no English commander of the eleventh century
was likely to lay so subtle a plan as this, and, if he had
laid such a plan, he would hardly have found an English
army able to carry it out. Harold, who refused to lay
waste a rood of English ground, would hardly have


looked quietly on while many roods of English ground
were wasted by the enemy. With all the valour of the
Normans, what before all things distinguished them
from other nations was their craft. William could in-
deed fight a pitched battle when a pitched battle served
his purpose ; but he could control himself, he could con-
trol his followers, even to the point of enduring to look
quietly on the havoc of their own land till the right
moment. He who could do this was indeed practising
for his calling as Conqueror. And if the details of the
story, details specially characteristic, are to be believed,
William showed something also of that grim pleasantry
which was another marked feature in the Norman char-
acter. The startling message which struck the French
army with panic was deliberately sent with that end.
The messenger sent climbs a tree or a rock, and, with a
voice as from another world, bids the French awake;
they are sleeping too long ; let them go and bury their
friends who are lying dead at Mortemer. These touches
bring home to us the character of the man and the
people with whom our forefathers had presently to deal.
William was the greatest of his race, but he was essen-
tially of his race ; he was Norman to the backbone.

Of the French army one division had been surprised
and cut to pieces, the other had left Normandy without
striking a blow. The war was not yet quite over ; the
French still kept Tillieres ; William accordingly forti-
fied the stronghold of Breteuil as a check upon it.
And he entrusted the command to a man who will soon
be memorable, his personal friend William, son of his
old guardian Osbern. King Henry was now glad
to conclude a peace on somewhat remarkable terms.


William had the king's leave to take what he could
from Count Geoffrey of Anjou. He now annexed
Cenomannian that is just now Angevin territory at
more points than one, but chiefly on the line of his
earlier advances to Domfront and Ambrieres. Ambrieres
had perhaps been lost ; for William now sent Geoffrey
a challenge to come on the fortieth day. He came on
the fortieth day> and found Ambrieres strongly forti-
fied and occupied by a Norman garrison. With
Geoffrey came the Breton prince Odo, and William or
Peter Duke of Aquitaine. They besieged the castle ;
but Norman accounts add that they all fled on William's
approach to relieve it.

Three years of peace now followed, but in 1058
King Henry, this time in partnership with Geoffrey of
Anjou, ventured another invasion of Normandy. He
might say that he had never been fairly beaten in his for-
mer campaign, but that he had been simply cheated out
of the land by Norman wiles. This time he had a second
experience of Norman wiles and of Norman strength
too. King and Count entered the land and ravaged
far and wide. William, as before, allowed the enemy to
waste the land. He watched and followed them till
he found a favourable moment for attack. The people
in general zealously helped the Duke's schemes, but
some traitors of rank were still leagued with the Count
of Anjou. While William bided his time, the invaders
burned Caen. This place, so famous in Norman history,
was not one of the ancient cities of the land. It was
now merely growing into importance, and it was as yet
undefended by walls or castle. But when the ravagers


turned eastward, William found the opportunity that he
had waited for. As the French were crossing the ford of
Varaville on the Dive, near the mouth of that river, he
came suddenly on them, and slaughtered a large part of
the army under the eyes of the king who had already
crossed. The remnant marched out of Normandy.

Henry now made peace, and restored Tillieres. Not
long after, in 1060, the King died, leaving his young
son Philip, who had been already crowned, as his
successor, under the guardianship of William's father-
in-law Baldwin. Geoffrey of Anjou and William of
Aquitaine also died, and the Angevin power was weak-
ened by the division of Geoffrey's dominions between his
nephews. William's position was greatly strengthened,
now that France, under the new regent, had become
friendly, while Anjou was no longer able to do mischief.
William had now nothing to fear from his neighbours,
and the way was soon opened for his great continental
conquest. But what effect had these events on Wil-
liam's views on England 1 About the time of the second
French invasion of Normandy Earl Harold became
beyond doubt the first man in England, and for
the first time a chance of the royal succession was
opened to him. In 1057, the year before Varaville,
the ^Etheling Edward, the King's selected successor,
died soon after his coming to England ; in the same
year died the King's nephew Earl Ealph and Leofric
Earl of the Mercians, the only Englishmen whose
influence could at all compare with that of Harold.
Harold's succession now became possible ; it became
even likely, if Edward should die while Edgar the
son of the ^Etheling was still under age. William


had no shadow of excuse for interfering, but he
doubtless was watching the internal affairs of England.
Harold was certainly watching the affairs of Gaul.
About this time, most likely in the year 1058, he made
a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way back he looked
diligently into the state of things among the various
vassals of the French crown. His exact purpose is veiled
in ambiguous language ; but we can hardly doubt that
his object was to contract alliances with the continental
enemies of Normandy. Such views looked to the distant
future, as William had as yet been guilty of no un-
friendly act towards England. But it was well to come
to an understanding with King Henry, Count Geoffrey,
and Duke William of Aquitaine, in case a time should
come when their interests and those of England would
be the same. But the deaths of all those princes must
have put an end to all hopes of common action between
England and any Gaulish power. The Emperor Henry
also, the firm ally of England, was dead. It was now
clear that, if England should ever have to withstand a
Norman attack, she would have to withstand it
wholly by her own strength, or with such help as she
might find among the kindred powers of the North.

William's great continental conquest is drawing nigh ;

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 3 of 14)