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tween the different sources, some of which are
evidently derived from oral tradition, proceed-
ing from those who had engaged in the conflict ;
many of these warriors wore out their old age
in the convent of St. Evroul; and we receive
the tale as modified by the imperfect recol-
lection of the old, and the ignorance, perhaps,
of the youth by whom it was transmitted to us.
Many points must remain open to doubt, and
particularly as to the order of events ; but their


1066 general nature seems to have been preserved
with truth and sincerity.

3. It must have been very evident to Wil-
tory ' liam, from the first moment of success, that the
defeat of Harold was not the conquest of the
kingdom. He had no maps, no itineraries, no
personal knowledge of the land, no friends whom
he knew of amongst the English, no guides
whom he could trust. All before him was lost
in distance and darkness, but he fully appre-
ciated his difficulties, and felt that, whether
success or discomfiture awaited him, the first
and most important step which he had to adopt,
was to secure an easy access to Normandy, and,
in particular, to and from the ports at his com-
mand ; the river of Dieppe, (the town then not
existing,) the mouth of the Seine, and Barfleur :
the latter the most distant, but which has been
found by experience to offer the readiest pas-
sage to the Isle of Wight, the outwork, as it
were, to the continent Island of Britain. He,
therefore, immediately established a military
position in Sussex ; then, probably, at once de-
vising that territorial division, whose aspect
differs altogether from that prevailing in other
portions of England. In the next place, igno-
rant as he was in other respects, of the re-
sources of England, and, perhaps, even of its
means of defence, he well knew that the great
body of Harold's troops engaged in the conflict,
had been drawn from Harold's own earldom, and


more particularly from its southern portions ;
and that, consequently, the slaughter which had
ensued had deprived these districts of their
natural defenders. Hence, he would know
that, besides Sussex, the shires of Hants,
Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Hertford, Berks, and
Oxford would he peculiarly open to his attacks ;
and these constitute the scene of his first cam-

He began his operations against Romney :
it might be important to dislodge the English
from this position, protected by the marshes ;
but he had another object besides. The men
of Romney had defeated and slain a detached
party of his troops, and he punished them for
this act with great ferocity, which, without
doubt, had its moral influence in inspiring
alarm. Proud in the recollection of their old
English blood, the men of Kent seemed fully
prepared to resist the Conqueror. Not one
of the seven sons of Godwin was there to lead
them, but they assembled in great numbers in
and about Dover. Harold had added to the And Dover,
original Roman fortifications : the castle, one
of the very few then subsisting in England,
was deemed impregnable ; but the spirit of the
English was broken. Appalled at William's
approach, the garrison proposed to surrender.
Before, however, they could bring forth the
keys, the town was wrapt in flames, their
roofs of thatch and frames of timber were



blazing. It is said that the Norman soldiers,
eager for prey and rapine, had cast in the
taken, burning brands ; and so extensive was the
conflagration, that even towards the close of
William's reign, when Domesday was compiled,
the burgesses were unable to pay the valued
rents of their properties. If this destruction
were accidental, it, nevertheless, served William
well. By clearing the ground below, it ren-
dered the castle more defensible, and prevented
a sturdy population from again engaging in op-
position to his authority. Dover was also the
chief of the maritime stations, from which
vessels might come forth and harass him in
time of trouble. All these chances of danger
were quelled by the fire.

4. William's troops suffered greatly from
sickness whilst at Dover : his advance altogether
had been tardy. Canterbury had full time to
prepare for defence. As yet no Norman forces
whatever had approached London. Archbishop
Stigand had returned to his cathedral. Agel-
noth, a man of great influence, and possibly
one of the Godwin family, commanded in the
city. A third individual of great importance
was ^Egelsine, abbot of St. Augustine's. He
had recently obtained, from Pope Alexander,
the mitre which exempted him from episcopal
jurisdiction : perhaps, the earliest example of
this mischievous innovation in England, which,
subsequently, involved both See and Abbey



in dissensions, greatly to their common detri-

It does not seem that Canterbury was very
defensible. William had already excited great
terror : the opulent citizens, (and they are dis-
tinguished as such,) dreaded pillage, and without
waiting for the approach of William, they prof-
fered their submission, and did homage to the
Conqueror. They gave the bad precedent of
being the first community which had made a
formal and uncoerced submission, of their own
free will, and unenforced by the sword. The
transaction, therefore, was of great importance,
and produced a corresponding effect, and very
many flocked in to make their terms with their
future Sovereign. But Abbot ^Egelsine , had
been no party to this transaction ; on the con-
trary, he exhorted the English to die in the
defence of their country, like the Macchabees
of old, rather than to submit. William ad-
vanced till within a day's march of London.
Not far from the River Thames, below the
reach of Greenhithe, is a tract still protected
"By marshes, and exhibiting the remains of
woodland, in the centre of which is the ancient
station of Swanscombe. Here Sweno, the Dane,
had encamped amidst the mounds and fortifi-
cations of an earlier age, but which, thence-
forth, received their name from his occupation
of the locality. According to the tradition, so
long the pride of Kent, as William advanced,



1066 he saw the wood, like another Birnam, moving
towards him ; and when the branches were
thrown down, he beheld the men of Kent in
battle array, headed by the Abbot ^Egelsine.
9 How was William, so little expecting opposi-
tion, appalled at this array, threatening not only
difficulty but danger ! A parley took place ; the
men of Kent, Stigand being amongst them,
demanded the preservation of their ancient
liberties. William assented to the terms, and
entering Rochester, conducted by the confede-
rates, he was acknowledged by the kingdom of
Kent as their legitimate ruler. The poetry in
this tradition must not induce us to reject its
substantive truth ; nor must we any longer con-
Kentish sign the incident to the romance of history. It

privileges. **

is to this treaty that the men of Kent ascribe
the territorial privileges which their county still
enjoys ; the immunity which protects the land
from forfeiture, or, according to the old rhyme,
" the father to the bough, the son to the plough,"
and possibly the equal division of the land
amongst the male issue. The first of these
rights appears always to have been peculiar
to Kent ; the latter prevailed to a very
large extent in other parts of England, in
different customary tenures, and still exists
in the immediate vicinity of London. The
hamlet of Kentish Town, now merged in
the metropolis, perhaps commemorates some
migration of an antient community. The his-


tory of Gavelkind is one of the most vexed ^ ioee
questions amongst our legal antiquaries, and
I shall not pursue it ; contenting myself with
the observation, that, taking the transactions
of the wood of Swanscombe at their lowest
value, they fully evidence the main fact, that
the Kentish men, having awed the Conqueror
into an unwilling pacification, received from
the beginning that greater share of indulgence
which allowed them to retain a large portion
of their antient usages undisturbed.

5. From Rochester, William, sending out
a detachment to begin the siege of London,
crossed the country to Winchester. The city
had been assigned in dowry to Editha. Wil-
liam, claiming as the heir and kinsman of the
Confessor, was bound to respect his widow.
He therefore entered not within the walls, but
required that the citizens, as elsewhere, should
render tribute and proper fealty ; and consult-
ing with the queen, they assented. Still send-
ing on forces to London, William proceeded
through Surrey and Berks, not attempting to
cross the Thames until he passed over at Wai- Moves

1 on London.

lingford. This point was said by the great Duke
of Maiiborough to be peculiarly defensible, and
it subsequently became of much importance
in the civil wars. William chose it, without
doubt, for the purpose of defending London
from attacks on the Mercian side. Here he
was followed by Archbishop Stigand, who now


1066 sought the king's peace, and abandoning the
cause of the Atheling, proffered his homage ; and
William, on his part, made a show of accept-
ing him, in the words of the chronicle, as his
spiritual father. In the meanwhile, London still
continued untouched ; but William now ad-
vanced, and his forces spread all around the
stubborn city. When stationed on the walls of
London, the burghers might see the circling
horizon glowing with red flame.
siege of William, when he beoran to conduct the siege


j n person, occupied two points, and chose
for his own stations Barking on the east, and
the ancient Palace of Westminster on the west.
The siege now began in earnest. Catapult and
Balista cast their showers upon the dwellings ;
and the old Roman walls, ascribed to Julius
Caesar, or to Constantine, shook before the re-
peated blows of the battering-rams. So strong
was the city, that it defied the attack ; it was
long before the citizens would acknowledge that
they felt terror ; and here also were those men
of most renown, the Northern Thanes, the men
of Anglo-Danish race, together with their me-
tropolitan, Aldred, determined upon resistance.
Singleness of counsel might even yet have pre-
vailed, but Stigand had set the example of
defection, and the Normans had many lurking
friends. There was a citizen of note, one
Ansgard, who in former battles had received
so many wounds that he was unable to walk,


and was borne about the narrow streets in a ioeo
litter. A secret negotiation was opened be-
tween him and William. Ansgard summoned
the rulers of the city, expatiated upon the
threatening dangers, and exhorted them to sub-
mit to William's authority, as King Edward's
lawful heir. They assented to the proposal, and
Ansgard repaired to the presence of the Con-
queror. With fair words and fairer promises
was the Elderman received ; and on his return,
he addressed the full folkmoot of council and
citizens, senatus et vulgus., for the two orders
are distinctly marked, expatiating upon Wil-
liam's magnificence and glory, "wise as Solo-
mon, bountiful as Charlemagne, ready in fight
like the great Alexander." All resistance
vanished. Edwin and Morcar, who seem at submit to 1


first to have hovered about London, and then
returned to it, were amongst the first who
gave in their adhesion to the Norman. Arch-
bishop Aldred and Wolfstan of Worcester fol-
lowed their example ; the Londoners renounced
Edgar as lightly as they had accepted him ;
throwing open their gates, they proceeded as
suppliants to the presence of the Norman,
bearing with them the keys of the city, and
delivering to him the person of his infant
competitor. William was holding his court
in the palace where the Confessor had been
accustomed to wear his crown. Courteously
did he greet the Atheling : he kissed the child ;
VOL. m. BB


and harsh as his character may have been, he
never deviated from kindness towards the de-
scendant of Cerdic, often as he was provoked,
often as Edgar disdained his protection, or rose
against his power.

g 6. None of these submissions made Wil-
liam king ; and now ensued those transactions
which really placed him on the throne, the assump-

Kcasons for

tion of the crown, in which we have to consider
whether William acted with crafty policy, or
the English, blindly, ignorantly, or influenced
by culpable servility. When discussing Wil-
liam's assumption of the royal authority, it is
needful to consider in this action both the per-
sonal character of the man, and the nature of
his office. It is in the latter point that the
chief difficulty lies. To identify William at
the period of his accession, to understand the
true sentiments of the parties, we must guard
against the deception exercised by titles of dig-
nity, and recollect that though the symbol con-
tinues the same, the value annexed to it has
sustained the greatest change. The first pro-
position that William should assume the title
of king proceeded from the English themselves,
the bishops declaring, on the part of the people,
that they were accustomed to be ruled by none
but regal authority; a suggestion ascribed to
the corruption of his gifts, or the terror excited
by his power. Yet, are such representations
correct? Do they not rather exhibit the pre-


possession of the modern writer than the facts ioce
and feelings of the eleventh century? Surely
the influence of the prelates over the people
was legitimate. They were the chief members
of the great council, the parliament, if you wortbr>
choose so to call it, who could then be assem-
bled ; and with respect to the general conduct
of the English, a closer examination of the prin-
ciples still existing in our constitution will show
that self-preservation at this juncture prompted
them to take refuge under the Norman sceptre
as their only protection against anarchy, and in
the conviction that by thus acting, they best
served their country's cause.

Unless William assumed the supreme autho-
rity, they must seek out another king ; even
Sweno of Denmark would have been welcomed.
Without a king, they had no chance of security
in hearth or home. Our feeling with regard to
the royal authority is very different to that Necesit y for
which then prevailed. With us, royalty is the
realization of a theory : with the Anglo-Saxons,
royalty was a necessity. It was not a mere pre-
judice or prestige which influenced the various
ranks and orders to urge that William should
be anointed and crowned, but the most cogent
sense of immediate need. We may respect the
royal office, we may appreciate that exalted
station, we may truly be pervaded with loyalty,
we may entertain affection for the sovereign's
person ; but, in our present state of society, and



^ still more under our present imperial form of

government, we do not in the least appreciate
how an Anglo-Saxon was compelled to be con-
stantly thinking of the king, as much as every
soldier thinks of his general, every child of his
parent, every servant of his master. Without a
king, the body politic was paralyzed : they re-
quired a king de facto, an active king, a reality :
one who could sit on the judicial bench, judge
the offender, decide the controversy, bear the
Edgar barred shield, wield the sword. Edgar, the effigy of a

by his youth. ~*>

king, was disqualified, not by the meanness of
his capacity, an imputation which, in spite of
the partial testimony of the monkish flatterer
of the Norman line, is contradicted by the
whole tenor of his life, but by helpless infancy.
All this resulted from the peculiarities of the
Anglo-Saxon constitution : a period during which
there was a mutual balance of the powers of
subject and sovereign ; effected not so much by
the means of any national legislature or assem-
bly, as by the division of authority between the
courts of the people, the folk-courts, and the
prerogative jurisdiction of the king's court, both
being essential to the well being of the commu-

7. When the first burst of enthusiasm ex-
cited by the proclamation of the Atheling had
subsided, then the English were roused to a full
sense of their impending danger. They were
appalled by the absence of a king. Rarely


delegating his powers to others, no veil of eti-
quette, no train of attendants, no mist of forms
and ceremonies concealed the sovereign from the i n thoseda ys ,
people : his hall was open ; the king presided

in his own court, listened to the complaints of relen>
his people on the throne, at the gate, beneath
the tree, commanded his own soldiers, pro-
nounced the sentence upon the traitor, spoke
out his favours, invested his prelates, opened
his own purse with his own hands. All the
active powers of the commonwealth sprang
from the very person of the king, as the
visible centre of unity, the centre around which
every sphere revolved. Those who are ac-
quainted with the affairs of the United Pro-
vinces, are aware how many of the needful
powers of government were in abeyance during
the non-existence of a Stadtholder, and how
much therefore the appointment of such a head
was recommended under any circumstances of

political danger, and this in communities which, ^ sesof

cases of

severally, possessed sovereign power. But the
closest approximation to the condition of the
Anglo-Saxon commonwealth, wanting a king,
may be obtained by considering what would
have been the state of England, if, upon the
abdication of James, William of Orange had
not proceeded to take possession of the throne ;
and Parliament, repudiating the Stewarts, and
yet not daring to supply the royal authority
by any power of their own, or by any fiction


of law, an absolute interregnum had ensued.
What then would have been the state of Eng-
land ? The king is the source of all justice :

Abeyance of

the J uc *ges are merely his delegates. With the
death of the king, all the powers which he
has granted by his commissions of every de-
scription expire. Borough and manerial courts
continue to subsist, and may continue to punish
such offences as are within their local cogni-
zance ; but none of the offences requiring the
jurisdiction of Sessions or Quarter Sessions,
Assize, or Oyer and Terminer, or jail delivery,
can be redressed. No judgment can be given
in Westminster Hall ; King's Bench, Common
Pleas, Exchequer, are all defunct : no chiefs
or puisne justices, no Lord Chancellor to ad-
minister equity ; no capias can be issued, no
writ of execution sealed; none of the public
revenues can be lawfully collected. All the
sources of discretionary grace and favour are
dried up ; the recorder has passed sentence, but
the mayor cannot pardon ; no tenant of crown-
lands can obtain a renewal of his lease; no
dignity can be granted, no bishopric bestowed ;
yet more, the army, the navy, are entirely dis-
banded : no one can dare to give the word of
command. In short, all the branches of pub-
lic and national administration and jurisdiction
would have come to an end.

8. Moreover, the powers of ruling as the
sovereign of the Anglo-Saxon empire were deemed


to be so completely inherent in the king, the
sworn king, the anointed king, the crowned king,
as to render it impossible to supply the royal strong i ega i

position of a

authority by any other chief magistrate or form
of government. It is well known how strongly
the same sentiments prevailed in England during
the Commonwealth and Protectorate, and how
much they contributed towards the restoration
of the monarchy. Men felt that the value, the
efficacy, the sanctity of the title of king could
not be transferred or annexed to any other
name of dignity. Had Cromwell boldly acceded
to the humble Petition and advice, England
never would have seen Charles Stuart on
the throne. So innate and inveterate was the
opinion, that no republican lawyer, Daniel
Axtell himself, could ever well understand how
it was possible to arrest John Doe unless by
the king's writ of capias, or to imprison the
petty larcener unless the offence was duly laid
in the indictment as a breach of the king's
peace, and against his crown and dignity. But
let us consider the subject further. Let us en-
deavour to cause our thoughts to answer the
Anglo-Saxon thoughts, and the more will the
invincible reasons for the restoration of the
royal dignity open upon us. An Anglo-Saxon
King was, as all his successors ever have
been, a responsible functionary. He holds his
supreme dignity upon condition ; he must an-
swer for himself if need be. Concurrent with


the inauguration of the Anglo-Saxon King was


constitution- Ws covenant with his subjects : his throne was
to the 1 RO^ founded upon justice. Macma Charta did not
create the compact between king and people ;
the Petition of Right did not create the compact
between king and people; the Bill of Rights did
not create the compact between king and people ;
the Act of Settlement did not create the compact
between king and people ; that doctrine prevailed
long before. The king engaged to govern ac-
cording to law, and sealed the compact before
the altar. Those who only know the name of
Archbishop Dunstau in connexion with an idle
legend, or an exaggerated and perverted history,
or a poetical distortion of his character, will be
surprised to learn that he was the individual
who dictated the pact, defining the extent, and
limiting the abuse of sovereign power. He
penned the coronation oath ; and the corona-
tion oath developed became the British Consti-

Unless William consented to wear the crown

ammefhe as Ethelred had done, all these constitutional

legal position.

securities would be for ever lost. William hesi-
tated, and consulted with his Norman baronage.
" Great troubles still prevail," said he. He de-
sired tranquillity rather than glory. Should he
attain and be confirmed in the high dignity of
royalty, he wished that Matilda should wear the
crown by his side. His advisers reiterated
their request. Still he demurred, until Ayniery


of Thouars took up the discussion : he urged s 106(5
William not to delay, and all about him were
unanimous in the same sentiments ; and, cer-
tainly, if the English had good reasons for
seeking to induce the Conqueror to declare him-
self the legitimate successor of the Confessor,

i . , , i . i Normans

his own followers must have very smcerelv advise


concurred in that desire. By so doing, all the
laws, all the usages of England, would be pre-
served, and be their guarantee for their rights,
their possessions, and their liberties. National
pride, the honour of the Norman name, may
have had some share, self-interest more. Shrewd
and sound reasoners were the Normans in all
things of law and government. William had
long since promised his barons land and fee in
England. If he made his grants to them with-
out any definition of his own authority, without
any certain law, they would have had no law
to defend them. Duke William was almost a
despot in Normandy ; what would he be if
ruling as the victor in England ?

9. Furthermore, William, in assuming the jYj^Sio
royal title and in conforming to the constitution "
upon the postulation of the English, acted with
entire consistency. He had always asserted a
legal right : ostensibly, he had sought nothing
more. Godwin himself testified against Harold :
the father accused the usurpation of the son.
William might and did assert that he had of-
fered to submit the decision of his claim to an



adjudication, according to the course, either of
English or of Norman law. Harold had appealed
to the battle field : the event of the ordeal won
for the victor the rights of the usurper ; but
the Conquest was not to give him the mere
military right of ruling over England. Such,
at least, was the theoretical principle of Wil-
liam's first acquisition of the crown, a theory
never forgotten, though soon destined to be
counteracted by sorrow and misfortune.
wmiam'8 This compact was made with the English ;

promise to

but William asserted a far wider claim, and
promulgated his charter to the whole of his
empire. One faith to be kept, peace and seau-

Online LibraryFrancis PalgraveThe history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) → online text (page 24 of 41)