Edward Augustus Freeman.

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or one so largely for the behoof of foreigners, yet there
was nothing new in the thing itself. Danes had settled
under Cnut, and Normans and other Frenchmen under
Edward. Confiscation of land was the everyday pun-


ishment for various public and private crimes. In any
change, such as we should call a change of ministry, as
at the fall and the return of Godwine, outlawry and
forfeiture of lands was the usual doom of the weaker
party, a milder doom than the judicial massacres of
later ages. Even a conquest of England was nothing
new, and William at this stage contrasted favourably
with Cnut, whose early days were marked by the death
of not a few. William, at any rate since his crowning,
had shed the blood of no man. Men perhaps thought
that things might have been much worse, and that they
were not unlikely to mend. Anyhow, weakened, cowed,
isolated, the people of the conquered shires submitted
humbly to the Conqueror's will. It needed a kind of
oppression of which William himself was never guilty
to stir them into actual revolt.

The provocation was not long in coming. Within
three months after his coronation, William paid a visit
to his native duchy. The ruler of two states could not
be always in either ; he owed it to his old subjects to
show himself among them in his new character ; and
his absence might pass as a sign of the trust he put
in his new subjects. But the means which he took
to secure their obedience brought out his one weak
point. We cannot believe that he really wished to
goad the people into rebellion; yet the choice of his
lieutenants might seem almost like it. He was led"
astray by partiality for his brother and for his dearest
friend. To Bishop Odo of Bayeux, and to William
Fitz-Osbern, the son of his early guardian, he gave
earldoms, that of Kent to Odo, that of Hereford to


William. The Conqueror was determined before all
things that his kingdom should be united and obedient ;
England should not be split up like Gaul and Germany ;
he would have no man in England whose formal homage
should carry with it as little of practical obedience as
his own homage to the King of the French. A Norman
earl of all Wessex or all Mercia might strive after
such a position. William therefore forsook the old
practice of dividing the whole kingdom into earldoms.
In the peaceful central shires he would himself rule
through his sheriffs and other immediate officers ; he
would appoint earls only in dangerous border districts
where they were needed as military commanders. All
William's earls were in fact marquesses, guardians of a
march or frontier. Odo had to keep Kent against attacks
from the continent; William Fitz-Osbern had to keep Here-
fordshire against the Welsh and the independent English.
This last shire had its own local warfare. William's
authority did not yet reach over all the shires beyond
London and Hereford ; but Harold had allowed some of
Edward's Norman favourites to keep power there. Here-
ford then and part of its shire formed an isolated part of
William's dominions, while the lands around remained
unsubdued. William Fitz-Osbern had to guard this
dangerous land as earl But during the King's absence
both he and Odo received larger commissions as viceroys
over the whole kingdom. Odo guarded the South and
William the North and North-East. Norwich, a town
dangerous from its easy communication with Denmark,
was specially under his care. The nominal earls of the
rest of the land, Edwin, Morkere, and Waltheof, with
Edgar, King of a moment, Archbishop Stigand, and a


number of other chief men, William took with him to
Normandy. Nominally his cherished friends and guests,
they went in truth, as one of the English Chroniclers
calls them, as hostages.

William's stay in Normandy lasted about six months.
It was chiefly devoted to rejoicings and religious cere-
monies, but partly to Norman legislation. Eich gifts
from the spoils of England were given to the churches
of Normandy ; gifts richer still were sent to the Church
of Eome whose favour had wrought so much for
William. In exchange for the banner of Saint Peter,
Harold's standard of the Fighting-man was sent as an
offering to the head of all churches. While William
was in Normandy, Archbishop Maurilius of Rouen died.
The whole duchy named Lanfranc as his successor ; but
he declined the post, and was himself sent to Rome to
bring the pallium for the new archbishop John, a kins-
man of the ducal house. Lanfranc doubtless refused the
see of Rouen only because he was designed for a yet
greater post in England; the subtlest diplomatist in
Europe was not sent to Rome merely to ask for the pal-
lium for Archbishop John.

Meanwhile William's choice of lieutenants bore its
fruit in England. They wrought such oppression as
William himself never wrought. The inferior leaders
did as they thought good, and the two earls restrained
them not. The earls meanwhile were in one point there
faithfully carrying out the policy of their master in the
building of castles; a work, which specially when the
work of Odo and William Fitz-Osbern, is always spoken
of by 'the native writers with marked horror. The
castles were the -badges and the instruments of the Con-


quest, the special means of holding the land in bondage.
Meanwhile tumults broke forth in various parts. The
slaughter of Copsige, William's earl in Northumberland,
took place about the time of the King's sailing for
Normandy. In independent Herefordshire the leading
Englishman in those parts, Eadric, whom the Normans
called the Wild, allied himself with the Welsh, harried
the obedient lands, and threatened the castle of Here-
ford. Nothing was done on either side beyond harrying
and skirmishes ; but Eadric's corner of the land remained
unsubdued. The men of Kent made a strange foreign
alliance with Eustace of Boulogne, the brother-in-law
of Edward, the man whose deeds had led to the
great movement of Edward's reign, to the banishment
and the return of Godwine. He had fought against
England on Senlac, and was' one of four who had dealt
the last blow to the wounded Harold. But the oppres-
sion of Odo made the Kentishmen glad to seek any help
against him. Eustace, now William's enemy, came over,
and gave help in an unsuccessful attack on Dover castle.
Meanwhile in the obedient shires men were making
ready for revolt; in the unsubdued lands they were
making ready for more active defence. Many went
beyond sea to ask for foreign help, specially in the
kindred lands of Denmark and Northern Germany.
Against this threatening movement William's strength
lay in the incapacity of his enemies for combined action.
The whole land never rose at once, and Danish help did
not come at the times or in the shape when it could
have done most good.

The news of these movements brought William back


to England in December. He kept the Midwinter feast
and assembly at Westminster ; there the absent Eustace
was, by a characteristic stroke of policy, arraigned as a
traitor. He was a foreign prince against whom the Duke
of the Normans might have led a Norman army. But
he had also become an English landowner, and in that
character he was accountable to the King and Witan of
England. He suffered the traitor's punishment of con-
fiscation of lands. Afterwards he contrived to win back
William's favour, and he left great English possessions
to his second wife and his son. Another stroke of policy
was to send an embassy to Denmark, to ward off the
hostile purposes of Swegen, and to choose as ambassador
an English prelate who had been in high favour with
both Edward and Harold, vEthelsige, Abbot of Eamsey.
It came perhaps of his mission that Swegen practically
did nothing for two years. The envoy's own life was
a chequered one. He lost William's favour, and sought
shelter in Denmark. He again regained William's favour
perhaps by some service at the Danish court and
died in possession of his abbey.

It is instructive to see how in this same assembly
William bestowed several great offices. The earldom
of Northumberland was vacant by the slaughter of
two earls, the bishopric of Dorchester by the peaceful
death of its bishop. William had no real authority in
any part of Northumberland, or in more than a small
part of the diocese of Dorchester. But he dealt with
both earldom and bishopric as in his own power. It was
now that he granted Northumberland to Gospatric. The
appointment to the bishopric was the beginning of a new
system. Englishmen were now to give way step by step


to strangers in the highest offices and greatest estates of
the land. He had already made two Norman earls, but
they were to act as military commanders. He now made
an English earl, whose earldom was likely to be either
nominal or fatal. The appointment of Remigius of
Fecamp to the see of Dorchester was of more real im-
portance. It is the beginning of William's ecclesiastical
reign, the first step in William's scheme of making the
Church his instrument in keeping down the conquered.
While William lived, no Englishman was appointed to
a bishopric. As bishoprics became vacant by death,
foreigners were nominated, and excuses were often found
for hastening a vacancy by deprivation. At the end of
William's reign one English bishop only was left. With
abbots, as having less temporal power than bishops, the
rule was less strict. Foreigners were preferred, but
Englishmen were not wholly shut out. And the general
process of confiscation and regrant of lands was vigor-
ously carried out. The Kentish revolt and the general
movement must have led to many forfeitures and to
further grants to loyal men of either nation. As the
English Chronicles pithily puts it, " the King gave away
every man's land."

William could soon grant lands in new parts of Eng-
land. In February 1068 he for the first time went forth
to warfare with those whom he called his subjects, but
who had never submitted to him. In the course of the
year a large part of England was in arms against him.
But there was no concert ; the West rose and the North
rose; but the West rose first, and the North did not
rise till the West had been subdued. Western England


threw off the purely passive state which had lasted
through the year 1067. Hitherto each side had left the
other alone. But now the men of the West made ready
for a more direct opposition to the foreign government.
If they could not drive William out of what he had al-
ready won, they would at least keep him from coming
any further. Exeter, the greatest city of the West, was
the natural centre of resistance ; the smaller towns, at
least of Devonshire and Dorset entered into a league
with the capital. They seem to have aimed, like Italian
cities in the like case, at the formation of a civic con-
federation, which might perhaps find it expedient to ac-
knowledge William as an external lord, but which would
maintain perfect internal independence. Still, as Gytha,
widow of Godwine, mother of Harold, was within the
walls of Exeter, the movement was doubtless also in
some sort on behalf of the House of Godwine. In any
case, Exeter and the lands and towns in its alliance with
Exeter strengthened themselves in every way against

Things were not now as on the day of Senlac, when
Englishmen on their own soil withstood one who, however
he might cloke his enterprise, was to them simply a foreign
invader. But William was not yet, as he was in some
later struggles, the de facto king of the whole land, whom
all had acknowledged, and opposition to whom was in
form rebellion. He now held an intermediate position.
He was still an invader ; for Exeter had never submitted
to him ; but the crowned King of the English, peacefully
ruling over many shires, was hardly a mere invader ;
resistance to him would have the air of rebellion in the
eyes of many besides William and his flatterers. And


they could not see, what we plainly see, what William
perhaps dimly saw, that it was in the long run better
for Exeter, or any other part of England, to share, even
in conquest, the fate of the whole land, rather than to keep
on a precarious independence to the aggravation of the
common bondage. This we feel throughout ; William,
with whatever motive, is fighting for the unity of Eng-
land. We therefore cannot seriously regret his successes.
But none the less honour is due to the men whom the
duty of the moment bade to withstand him. They could
not see things as we see them by the light of eight
hundred years.

The movement evidently stirred several shires ; but it
is only of Exeter that we hear any details. William never
used force till he had tried negotiation. He sent messen-
gers demanding that the citizens should take oaths to him
and receive him within their walls. The choice lay now
between unconditional submission and valiant resistance.
But the chief men of the city chose a middle course
which could gain nothing. They answered as an Italian
city might have answered a Swabian Emperor. They
would not receive the King within their walls ; they
would take no oaths to him ; but they would pay him
the tribute which they had paid to earlier kings. That
is, they would not have him as king, but only as over-
lord over a commonwealth otherwise independent.
William's answer was short ; "It is not my custom to
take subjects on those conditions." He set out on his
march ; his policy was to overcome the rebellious English
by the arms of the loyal English. He called out the
fyrd, the militia, of all or some of the shires under his
obedience. They answered his call ; to disobey it would


have needed greater courage than to wield the axe on
Senlac. This use of English troops became William's
custom in all his later wars, in England and on the
mainland ; but of course he did not trust to English
troops only. The plan of the campaign was that which
had won Le Mans and London. The towns of Dorset
were frightfully harried on the march to the capital of
the West. Disunion at once broke out ; the leading men
in Exeter sent to offer unconditional submission and to
give hostages. But the commonalty disowned the agree-
ment ; notwithstanding the blinding of one of the host-
ages before the walls, they defended the city valiantly
for eighteen days. It was only when the walls began
to crumble away beneath William's mining-engines that
the men of Exeter at last submitted to his mercy. And
William's mercy could be trusted. No man was harmed
in life, limb, or goods. But, to hinder further revolts, a
castle was at once begun, and the payments made by
the city to the King were largely raised.

Gytha, when the city yielded, withdrew to the Steep
Holm, and thence to Flanders. Her grandsons fled to
Ireland ; from thence, in the course of the same year
and the next, they twice landed in Somerset and Devon-
shire. The Irish Danes who followed them could not
be kept back from plunder. Englishmen as well as
Normans withstood them, and the hopes of the House
of Godwine came to an end.

On the conquest of Exeter followed the submission of
the whole West. All the land south of the Thames
was now in William's obedience. Gloucestershire seems
to have submitted at the same time ; the submission of



Worcestershire is without date. A vast confiscation of
lands followed, most likely by slow degrees. Its most
memorable feature is that nearly all Cornwall was
granted to William's brother Robert Count of Mortain.
His vast estate grew into the famous Cornish earldom and
duchy of later times. Southern England was now con-
quered, and, as the North had not stirred during the stir-
ring of the West, the whole land was outwardly at peace.
William now deemed it safe to bring his wife to share his
new greatness. The Duchess Matilda came over to Eng-
land, and was hallowed to Queen at Westminster by Arch-
bishop Ealdred. We may believe that no part of his
success gave William truer pleasure. But the presence
of the Lady was important in another way. It was
doubtless by design that she gave birth on English soil to
her youngest son, afterwards the renowned King Henry
the First. He alone of William's children was in any
sense an Englishman. Born on English ground, son of
a crowned King and his Lady, Englishmen, looked on
him as a countryman. And his father saw the wisdom
of encouraging such a feeling. Henry, surnamed in
after days the Clerk, was brought up with special care ;
he was trained in many branches of learning unusual
among the princes of his age, among them in a thorough
knowledge of the tongue of his native land.

The campaign of Exeter is of all William's English
campaigns the richest in political teaching. We see
how near the cities of England came for a moment as
we shall presently see a chief city of northern Gaul
to running the same course as the cities of Italy and
Provence. Signs of the same tendency may sometimes be


suspected elsewhere, but they are not so clearly revealed.
William's later campaigns are of the deepest importance in
English history ; they are far richer in recorded personal
actors than the siege of Exeter ; but they hardly throw so
much light on the character of "William and his states-
manship. William is throughout ever ready, but never
hasty always willing to wait when waiting seems the
best policy always ready to accept a nominal success
when there is a chance of turning it into a real one, but
never accepting nominal success as a cover for defeat,
never losing an inch of ground without at once taking
measures to recover it. By this means, he has in the
former part of 1068 extended his dominion to the
Land's End ; before the end of the year he extends it to
the Tees. In the next year he has indeed to win it back
again ; but he does win it back and more also. Early in
1070 he was at last, in deed as well as in name, full
King over all England.

The North was making ready for war while the war
in the West went on, but one part of England did nothing
to help the other. In the summer the movement in the
North took shape. The nominal earls Edwin, Morkere,
and Gospatric, with the JEtheling Edgar and others,
left William's court to put themselves at the head of the
movement. Edwin was specially aggrieved, because
the king had promised him one of his daughters in
marriage, but had delayed giving her to him. The Eng-
lish formed alliances with the dependent princes of
Wales and Scotland, and stood ready to withstand any
attack. William set forth ; as he had taken Exeter, he
took Warwick, perhaps Leicester. This was enough for
Edwin and Morkere. They submitted, and were again


received to favour. More valiant spirits withdrew
northward, ready to defend Durham as the last shelter
of independence, while Edgar and Gospatric fled to the
court of Malcolm of Scotland. William went on, receiv-
ing the submission of Nottingham and York ; thence he
turned southward, receiving on his way the submission
of Lincoln, Cambridge, and Huntingdon. Again he
deemed it his policy to establish his power in the lands
which he had already won rather than to jeopard matters
by at once pressing farther. In the conquered towns
he built castles, and he placed permanent garrisons in
each district by granting estates to his Norman and
other followers. Different towns and districts suffered
in different degrees, according doubtless to the measure
of resistance met with in each. Lincoln and Lincoln-
shire were on the whole favourably treated. An unusual
number of Englishmen kept lands and offices in city and
shire. At Leicester and Northampton, and in their
shires, the wide confiscations and great destruction of
houses point to a stout resistance. And though Durham
was still untouched, and though William had assuredly
no present purpose of attacking Scotland, he found it
expedient to receive with all favour a nominal submis-
sion brought from the King of Scots by the hands of the
Bishop of Durham.

If William's policy ever seems less prudent than usual,
it was at the beginning of the next year, 1069. The
extreme North still stood out. William had twice com-
missioned English earls of Northumberland to take pos-
session if they could. He now risked the dangerous
step of sending a stranger. Robert of Cornwall was
appointed to the earldom forfeited by the flight of


Gospatric. While it was still winter, he went with his
force to Durham. By help of the Bishop, he was ad-
mitted into the city, but he and his whole force were
cut off by the people of Durham and its neighbourhood.
Robert's expedition in short led only to a revolt of
York, where Edgar was received and siege was laid to
the castle. William marched in person with all speed ;
he relieved the castle ; he recovered the city and
strengthened it by a second castle on the other side of
the river. Still he thought it prudent to take no pre-
sent steps against Durham. Soon after this came the
second attempt of Harold's sons in the West.

Later in this year William's final warfare for the
kingdom began. In August, 1069 the long-promised
help from Denmark came. Swegen sent his brother
Osbeorn and his sons Harold and Cnut, at the head of the
whole strength of Denmark and of other Northern lands.
If the two enterprises of Harold's sons had been planned
in concert with their Danish kinsmen, the invaders or
deliverers from opposite sides had failed to act together.
Nor are Swegen's own objects quite clear. He sought
to deliver England from William and his Normans, but
it is not so plain in whose interest he acted. He would
naturally seek the English crown for himself or for
one of his sons ; the sons of Harold he would rather
make earls than kings. But he could feel no interest
in the kingship of Edgar. Yet, when the Danish fleet
entered the H umber, and the whole force of the North
came to meet it, the English host had the heir of Cerdic
at its head. It is now that Waltheof the son of Siward,
Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, first stands out
as a leading actor. Gospatric too was there ; but this


time not Edwin and Morkere. Danes and English
joined and marched upon York ; the city was occupied ;
the castles were taken ; the Norman commanders were
made prisoners, but not till they had set fire to the
city and burned the greater part of it, along with the
metropolitan minster. It is amazing to read that, after
breaking down the castles, the English host dispersed,
and the Danish fleet withdrew into the Humber.

England was again ruined by lack of concert. The
news of the coming of the Danes led only to isolated
movements which were put down piecemeal. The men
of Somerset and Dorset and the men of Devonshire
and Cornwall were put down separately, and the move-
ment in Somerset was largely put down by English
troops. The citizens of Exeter, as well as the Norman
garrison of the castle, stood a siege on behalf of William.
A rising on the Welsh border under Eadric led only to
the burning of Shrewsbury; a rising in Staffordshire
was held by William to call for his own presence. But
he first marched into Lindesey, and drove the crews of
the Danish ships across into Holderness ; there he left
two Norman leaders, one of them his brother Robert of
Mortain and Cornwall ; he then went westward and
subdued Staffordshire, and marched towards York by
way of Nottingham. A constrained delay by the Aire
gave him an opportunity for negotiation with the Danish
leaders. Osbeorn took bribes to forsake the English
cause, and William reached and entered York without
resistance. He restored the castles and kept his Christ-
mas in the half-burned city. And now William forsook
his usual policy of clemency. The Northern shires had
been too hard to win. To weaken them, he decreed a


merciless harrying of the whole land, the direct effects of
which were seen for many years, and which left its mark
on English history for ages. Till the growth of modern
industry reversed the relative position of Northern and
Southern England, the old Northumbrian kingdom
never fully recovered from the blow dealt by William,
and remained the most backward part of the land.

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 8 of 14)