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but between the campaign of Varaville and the cam-
paign of Le Mans came the tardy papal confirmation
of William's marriage. The Duke and Duchess, now
at last man and wife in the eye of the Church, began to
carry out the works of penance which were allotted to
them. The abbeys of Caen, William's Saint Stephen's,
Matilda's Holy Trinity, now began to arise. Yet, at


this moment of reparation, one or two facts seem to
place William's government of his duchy in a less
favourable light than usual. The last French invasion
was followed by confiscations and banishments among
the chief men of Normandy. Roger of Montgomery
and his wife Mabel, who certainly was capable of any
deed of blood or treachery, are charged with acting as
false accusers. We see also that, as late as the day of
Varaville, there were Norman traitors. Robert of
Escalfoy had taken the Angevin side, and had defended
his castle against the Duke. He died in a strange way,
after snatching an apple from the hand of his own
wife. His nephew Arnold remained in rebellion three
years, and was simply required to go to the wars in
Apulia. It is hard to believe that the Duke had
poisoned the apple, if poisoned it was ; but finding
treason still at work among his nobles, he may have
too hastily listened to charges against men who had
done him good service, and who were to do him good
service again.

Five years after the combat at Varaville, William
really began to deserve, though not as yet to receive, the
name of Conqueror. For he now did a work second only
to the conquest of England. He won the city of Le Mans
and the whole land of Maine. Between the tale of Maine
and the tale of England there is much of direct likeness.
Both lands were won against the will of their inhabitants ;
but both conquests were made with an elaborate show of
legal right. William's earlier conquests in Maine had
been won, not from any count of Maine, but from
Geoffrey of Anjou, who had occupied the country to the
prejudice of two successive counts, Hugh and Herbert.


He had further imprisoned the Bishop of Le Mans,
Gervase of the house of Belleme, though the King of
the French had at his request granted to the Count of
Anjou for life royal rights over the bishopric of Le
Mans. The bishops of Le Mans, who thus, unlike the
bishops of Normandy, held their temporalities of the
distant king and not of the local count, held a very
independent position. The citizens of Le Mans too
had large privileges and a high spirit to defend them ;
the city was in a marked way the head of the district.
Thus it commonly carried with it the action of the
whole country. In Maine there were three rival powers,
the prince, the Church, and the people. The position
of the counts was further weakened by the claims to
their homage made by the princes on either side of
them in Normandy and Anjou ; the position of the
Bishop, vassal, till Gervase's late act, of the King only,
was really a higher one. Geoffrey had been received at
Le Mans with the good will of the citizens, and both
Bishop and Count sought shelter with William. Gervase
was removed from the strife by promotion to the highest
place in the French kingdom, the archbishopric of
Rheims. The young Count Herbert, driven from his
county, commended himself to William. He became
his man ; he agreed to hold his dominions of him, and
to marry one of his daughters. If he died childless, his
father-in-law was to take the fief into his own hands.
But to unite the old and new dynasties, Herbert's
youngest sister Margaret was to marry William's eldest
son Robert. If female descent went for anything, it
is not clear why Herbert passed by the rights of his
two elder sisters, Gersendis, wife of Azo Marquess of


Liguria, and Paula, wife of John of La Fleche on
the borders of Maine and Anjou. And sons both of
Gersendis and of Paula did actually reign at Le Mans,
while no child either of Herbert or of Margaret ever
came into being.

If Herbert ever actually got possession of his country,
his possession of it was short. He died in 1063 before
either of the contemplated marriages had been carried
out. William therefore stood towards Maine as he
expected to stand with regard to England. The sove-
reign of each country had made a formal settlement of
his dominions in his favour. It was to be seen whether
those who were most immediately concerned would
accept that settlement. Was the rule either of Maine
or of England to be handed over in this way, like a
mere property, without the people who were to be
ruled speaking their minds on the matter^ What the
people of England said to this question in 1066 we shall
hear presently; what the people of Maine said in 1063
we hear now. We know not why they had submitted
to the Angevin count ; they had now no mind to merge
their country in the dominions of the Norman duke.
The Bishop was neutral ; but the nobles and the citizens
of Le Mans were of one mind in refusing William's
demand to be received as count by virtue of the agree-
ment with Herbert. They chose rulers for themselves.
Passing by Gersendis and Paula and their sons, they
sent for Herbert's aunt Biota and her husband Walter
Count of Mantes. Strangely enough, Walter, son of
Godgifu daughter of ^Ethelred, was a possible, though
not a likely, candidate for the rule of England as well
as of Maine. The people of Maine are not likely


to have thought of this bit of genealogy. But it was
doubtless present to the minds alike of William and of

William thus, for the first but not for the last time,
claimed the rule of a people who had no mind to have
him as their ruler. Yet, morally worthless as were his
claims over Maine, in the merely technical way of look-
ing at things, he had more to say than most princes
have who annex the lands of their neighbours. He
had a perfectly good right by the terms of the agree-
ment with Herbert. And it might be argued by any
who admitted the Norman claim to the homage of
Maine, that on the failure of male heirs the country
reverted to the overlord. Yet female succession was
now coming in. Anjou had passed to the sons of
Geoffrey's sister ; it had not fallen back to the French
king. There was thus a twofold answer to William's
claim, that Herbert could not grant away even the
rights of his sisters, still less the rights of his people.
Still it was characteristic of William that he had a case
that might be plausibly argued. The people of Maine
had fallen back on the old Teutonic right. They had
chosen a prince connected with the old stock, but who
was not the next heir according to any rule of succes-
sion. Walter was hardly worthy of such an exceptional
honour ; he showed no more energy in Maine than his
brother Ralph had shown in England. The city was
defended by Geoffrey, lord of Mayenne, a valiant man
who fills a large place in the local history. But no
valour or skill could withstand William's plan of war-
fare. He invaded Maine in much the same sort in
which he had defended Normandy. He gave out that


he wished to win Maine without shedding man's blood.
He fought no battles ; he did not attack the city, which
he left to be the last spot that should be devoured. He
harried the open country, he occupied the smaller posts,
till the citizens were driven, against Geoffrey's will, to
surrender. William entered Le Mans ; he was received,
we are told, with joy. When men make the best of a bad
bargain, they sometimes persuade themselves that they
are really pleased. William, as ever, shed no blood ;
he harmed none of the men who had become his sub-
jects ; but Le Mans was to be bridled ; its citizens needed
a castle and a Norman garrison to keep them in their
new allegiance. Walter and Biota surrendered their
claims on Maine and became William's guests at Falaise.
Meanwhile Geoffrey of Mayenne refused to submit, and
withstood the new Count of Maine in his stronghold.
William laid siege to Mayenne, and took it by the
favoured Norman argument of fire. All Maine was now
in the hands of the Conqueror.

William had now made a greater conquest than any
Norman duke had made before him. He had won a
fertile county and a noble city, and he had won them, in
the ideas of his own age, with honour. Are we to believe
that he sullied his conquest by putting his late com-
petitors, his present guests, to death by poison ? They
died conveniently for him, and they died in his own
house. Such a death was strange ; but strange things
do happen. William gradually came to shrink from no
crime for which he could find a technical defence ; but
no advocate could have said anything on behalf of the
poisoning of Walter and Biota. Another member of the
house of Maine, Margaret the betrothed of his son Robert,



died about the same time ; and her at least WiDiam had
every motive to keep alive. One who was more danger-
ous than Walter, if he suffered anything, only suffered
banishment. Of Geoffrey of Mayenne we hear no more
till William had again to fight for the possession of

William had thus, in the year 1063, reached the
height of his power and fame as a continental prince. In
a conquest on Gaulish soil he had rehearsed the greater
conquest which he was before long to make beyond sea.
Three years, eventful in England, outwardly uneventful
in Normandy, still part us from William's second visit to
our shores. But in the course of these three years one
event must have happened, which, without a blow being
struck or a treaty being signed, did more for his hopes
than any battle or any treaty. At some unrecorded
time, but at a time which must come within these years,
Harold Earl of the West-Saxons became the guest and
the man of William Duke of the Normans.


A.D. 1064?

THE lord of Normandy and Maine could now stop and
reckon his chances of becoming lord of England also.
While our authorities enable us to put together a fairly
full account of both Norman and English events, they
throw no light on the way in which men in either land
looked at events in the other. Yet we might give much
to know what William and Harold at this time thought
of one another. Nothing had as yet happened to make
the two great rivals either national or personal enemies.
England and Normandy were at peace, and the great
duke and the great earl had most likely had no personal
dealings with one another. They were rivals in the sense
that each looked forward to succeed to the English crown
whenever the reigning king should die. But neither had
as yet put forward his claim in any shape that the other
could look on as any formal wrong to himself. If Wil-
liam and Harold had ever met, it could have been only
during Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever negotiations
Harold made during that journey were negotiations un-
friendly to William ; still he may, in the course of that
journey, have visited Normandy as well as France or


Anjou. It is hard to avoid the thought that the tale of
Harold's visit to William, of his oath to William, arose
out of something that happened on Harold's way back
from his Koman pilgrimage. To that journey we can
give an approximate date. Of any other journey we have
no date and no certain detail. We can say only that the
fact that no English writer makes any mention of any
such visit, of any such oath, is, under the circumstances,
the strongest proof that the story of the visit and the
oath has some kind of foundation. Yet if we grant thus
much, the story reads on the whole as if it happened
a few years later than the English earl's return from

It is therefore most likely that Harold did pay a second
visit to Gaul, whether a first or a second visit to Nor-
mandy, at some time nearer to Edward's death than the
year 1058. The English writers are silent; the Norman
writers give no date or impossible dates ; they connect
the visit with a war in Britanny ; but that war is with-
out a date. We are driven to choose the year which is
least rich in events in the English annals. Harold could
not have paid a visit of several months to Normandy
either in 1063 or in 1065. Of those years the first was
the year of Harold's great war in Wales, when he found
how the Britons might be overcome by their own arms,
when he broke the power of GrufFydd, and granted the
Welsh kingdom to princes who became the men of Earl
Harold as well as of King Edward. Harold's visit to
Normandy is said to have taken place in the summer and
autumn months ; but the summer and autumn of 1065
were taken up by the building and destruction of Harold's
hunting-seat in Wales and by the greater events of the


revolt and pacification of Northumberland. But the year
1064 is a blank in the English annals till the last days of
December, and no action of Harold's in that year is
recorded. It is therefore the only possible year among
those just before Edward's death. Harold's visit and
oath to William may very well have taken place in that
year ; but that is all.

We know as little for certain as to the circumstances
of the visit or the nature of the oath. We can say only
that Harold did something which enabled William to
charge him with perjury and breach of the duty of a
vassal. It is inconceivable in itself, and unlike the formal
scrupulousness of William's character, to fancy that he
made his appeal to all Christendom without any ground
at all. The Norman writers contradict one another so
thoroughly in every detail of the story that we can look
on no part of it as trustworthy. Yet such a story can
hardly have grown up so near to the alleged time without
some kernel of truth in it. And herein comes the strong
corroborative witness that the English writers, denying
every other charge against Harold, pass this one by
without notice. We can hardly doubt that Harold swore
some oath to William which he did not keep. More
than this it would be rash to say except as an avowed

As our nearest approach to fixing the date is to take
that year which is not impossible, so, to fix the occasion
of the visit, we can only take that one among the Nor-
man versions which is also not impossible. All the
main versions represent Harold as wrecked on the coast
of Ponthieu, as imprisoned, according to the barbarous
law of wreck, by Count Guy, and as delivered by the


intervention of William. If any part of the story is true,
this is. But as to the circumstances which led to the
shipwreck there is no agreement. Harold assuredly was
not sent to announce to William a devise of the crown
in his favour made with the consent of the Witan of
England and confirmed by the oaths of Stigand, Godwine,
Siward, and Leofric. Stigand became Archbishop in
September 1052 : Godwine died at Easter 1053. The
devise must therefore have taken place, and Harold's
journey must have taken place, within those few most
unlikely months, the very time when Norman influence
was overthrown. Another version makes Harold go,
against the King's warnings, to bring back his brother
Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, who had been given
as hostages on the return of Godwine, and had been
entrusted by the King to the keeping of Duke William.
This version is one degree less absurd; but no such
hostages are known to have been given, and if they were,
the patriotic party, in the full swing of triumph, would
hardly have allowed them to be sent to Normandy. A
third version makes Harold's presence the result of mere
accident. He is sailing to Wales or Flanders, or simply
taking his pleasure in the Channel, when he is cast by a
storm on the coast of Ponthieu. Of these three accounts
we may choose the third as the only one that is possible.
It is also one out of which the others may have grown,
while it is hard to see how the third could have arisen
out of either of the others. Harold then, we may suppose,
fell accidentally into the clutches of Guy, and was rescued
from them, at some cost in ransom and in grants of land,
by Guy's overlord Duke William.

The whole story is eminently characteristic of William.


He would be honestly indignant at Guy's base treatment
of Harold, and he would feel it his part as Guy's over-
lord to redress the wrong. But he would also be alive
to the advantage of getting his rival into his power on so
honourable a pretext. Simply to establish a claim to grati-
tude on the part of Harold would be something. But he
might easily do more, and, according to all accounts, he
did more. Harold, we are told, as the Duke's friend
and guest, returns the obligation under which the Duke
has laid him by joining him in one or more expeditions
against the Bretons. The man who had just smitten the
Bret- Welsh of the island might well be asked to fight, and
might well be ready to fight, against the Bret- Welsh of the
mainland. The services of Harold won him high honour ;
he was admitted into the ranks of Norman knighthood,
and engaged to marry one of William's daughters. Now,
at any time to which we can fix Harold's visit, all
William's daughters must have been mere children.
Harold, on the other hand, seems to have been a little
older than William. Yet there is nothing unlikely in
the engagement, and it is the one point in which all the
different versions, contradicting each other on every other
point, agree without exception. Whatever else Harold
promises, he promises this, and in some versions he does
not promise anything else.

Here then we surely have the kernel of truth round
which a mass of fable, varying in different reports, has
gathered. On no other point is there any agreement.
The place is unfixed; half a dozen Norman towns and
castles are made the scene of the oath. The form of the
oath is unfixed; in some accounts it is the ordinary
oath of homage ; in others it is an oath of fearful solem-


nity, taken on the holiest relics. In one well-known
account, Harold is even made to swear on hidden relics,
not knowing on what he is swearing. Here is matter
for much thought. To hold that one form of oath or
promise is more binding than another upsets all true
confidence between man and man. The notion of the
specially binding nature of the oath by relics assumes
that, in case of breach of the oath, every holy person to
whose relics despite has been done will become the per-
sonal enemy of the perjurer. But the last story of all
is the most instructive. William's formal, and more
than formal, religion abhorred a false oath, in himself or
in another man. But, so long as he keeps himself per-
sonally clear from the guilt, he does not scruple to put
another man under special temptation, and, while believ-
ing in the power of the holy relics, he does not scruple
to abuse them to a purpose of fraud. Surely, if Harold
did break his oath, the wrath of the saints would fall
more justly on William. Whether the tale be true or
false, it equally illustrates the feelings of the time, and
assuredly its truth or falsehood concerns the character
of William far more than that of Harold.

What it was that Harold swore, whether in this
specially solemn fashion or in any other, is left equally
uncertain. In any case he engages to marry a daughter
of William as to which daughter the statements are
endless and in most versions he engages to do some-
thing more. He becomes the man of William, much as
William had become the man of Edward. He promises
to give his sister in marriage to an unnamed Norman
baron. Moreover he promises to secure the kingdom of
England for William at Edward's death. Perhaps he is


himself to hold the kingdom or part of it under William ;
in any case William is to be the overlord ; in the more
usual story, William is to be himself the immediate king,
with Harold as his highest and most favoured subject.
Meanwhile Harold is to act in William's interest, to
receive a Norman garrison in Dover castle, and to build
other castles at other points. But no two stories agree,
and not a few know nothing of anything beyond the
promise of marriage.

Now if William really required Harold to swear to
all these things, it must have been simply in order to
have an occasion against him. If Harold really swore to
all of them, it must have been simply because he felt that
he was practically in William's power, without any serious
intention of keeping the oath. If Harold took any such
oath, he undoubtedly broke it; but we may safely say that
any guilt on his part lay wholly in taking the oath, not in
breaking it. For he swore to do what he could not do,
and what it would have been a crime to do, if he could.
If the King himself could not dispose of the crown, still
less could the most powerful subject. Harold could at
most promise William his "vote and interest," whenever
the election came. But no one can believe that even
Harold's influence could have obtained the crown for
William. His influence lay in his being the embodiment
of the national feeling ; for him to appear as the sup-
porter of William would have been to lose the crown for
himself without gaining it for William. Others in Eng-
land and in Scandinavia would have been glad of it.
And the engagements to surrender Dover castle and the
like were simply engagements on the part of an English
earl to play the traitor against England. If William


really called on Harold to swear to all this, he did so,
not with any hope that the oath would be kept, but
simply to put his competitor as far as possible in the
wrong. But most likely Harold swore only to some-
thing much simpler. Next to the universal agreement
about the marriage comes the very general agreement
that Harold became William's man. In these two state-
ments we have probably the whole truth. In those days
men took the obligation of homage upon themselves
very easily. Homage was no degradation, even in the
highest; a man often did homage to any one from
whom he had received any great benefit, and Harold had
received a very great benefit from William. Nor did
homage to a new lord imply treason to the old one.
Harold, delivered by William from Guy's dungeon,
would be eager to do for William any act of friendship.
The homage would be little more than binding himself
in the strongest form so to do. The relation of homage
could be made to mean anything or nothing, as might
be convenient. The man might often understand it in
one sense and the lord in another. If Harold became the
man of William, he would look on the act as little more
than an expression of good will and gratitude towards
his benefactor, his future father-in-law, his commander
in the Breton war. He would not look on it as for-
bidding him to accept the English crown if it were
offered to him. Harold, the man of Duke William,
might become a king, if he could, just as William, the
man of King Philip, might become a king, if he could.
As things went in those days, both the homage and the
promise of marriage were capable of being looked on
very lightly.


But it was not in the temper or in the circumstances
of William to put any such easy meaning on either
promise. The oath might, if needful, be construed very
strictly, and William was disposed to construe it very
strictly. Harold had not promised William a crown,
which was not his to promise ; but he had promised to do
that which might be held to forbid him to take a crown
which William held to be his own. If the man owed
his lord any duty at all, it was surely his duty not to
thwart his lord's wishes in such a matter. If therefore,
when the vacancy of the throne came, Harold took the
crown himself, or even failed to promote William's claim
to it, William might argue that he had not rightly dis-
charged the duty of a man to his lord. He could make
an appeal to the world against the new king, as a perjured
man, who had failed to help his lord in the matter where
his lord most needed his help. And, if the oath really
had been taken on relics of special holiness, he could
further appeal to the religious feelings of the time against
the man who had done despite to the saints. If he should
be driven to claim the crown by arms, he could give the
war the character of a crusade. All this in the end

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 4 of 14)