WILLIAM, DUKE OF NORMANDY
WILLIAM, who was afterwards called the Conqueror, was
the son of a certain Robert who was Duke of Normandy.
It was said that, having been laid when he was born on
the floor of the room, he took firm
 hold of the straw that covered it—for in those days
straw was used for carpet even by rich and noble
people. It was thought that this was a sign that when
he should grow up he would be a great conqueror, who
would keep fast hold of everything on which he might
lay his hand.
When the boy was seven years old, his father the Duke
called together the nobles of the country, and said to
them, "I am resolved to journey to the place where our
Lord Christ died and was buried. But because I know
that this journey is full of dangers, I would have it
settled who should be Duke in my place if I should
die." The nobles answered him that it would be far
better that he should stay at home, and do his duty in
ruling his Duchy. But Duke Robert would not be
persuaded. He was steadfastly resolved to go. And that
it should be settled before he went who should succeed
him all were agreed. Thereupon he brought before the
nobles his young son William. "This is my son," he
said; "he is but little, but he will grow; he is one of
your own race, and he has been brought up among you."
The Norman nobles were but ill pleased, for the boy's
mother was nothing better than a tanner's daughter.
Nevertheless they agreed to do as the Duke wished, for
there was no one else whom they could agree to choose.
Therefore they took the oaths and did
 homage to him. So Duke Robert set out, and died not
many months afterwards on his journey.
The nobles, though they had sworn to have the young
William for their Duke, were but little disposed to
keep their oath. All through Normandy there was
confusion and trouble; every man did as he pleased,
making war upon his equals, and oppressing those who
were below him. They slew with the sword, or poisoned
first one and then another of the men who had charge of
the young Duke, and more than once they came very near
to killing the lad himself. Again and again did his
mother's brother, Walter by name, save him by taking
him from his castle, and hiding him in the cottages of
But now he was growing up and able to take care of
himself. So, when a certain Thurstan, by the help of
some French soldiers, seized the castle of Falaise, the
young William, calling all loyal Normans to his help,
attacked him, and had it not been for the coming of
night, would have taken the castle by storm. Thurstan,
seeing that he could not hold the place, gave it up,
and was suffered to depart, on condition that he should
never return to Normandy.
When William was about twenty years of age, all the
nobles of Normandy made a great conspiracy against him.
First they tried either to seize or slay him. It
chanced that he was hunting at a certain
 castle of his. One night, when he had fallen into his
first sleep, his jester burst into his room with his
staff in his hand, and awoke him, crying out, "If you
do not rise and fly for your life, you will never leave
this place a living man." Thereupon the young Duke
leapt from his bed, dressed himself in haste, and
mounted his horse. All that night he rode for his life.
It was moonlight, and so he could see his way. There
was a river to be crossed, but he came to it where the
tide was low, and so he was able to pass it without
danger. The ford by which he crossed was afterwards
called "The Duke's Way." At sunrise he came to a
certain place named Rye, where there was a church and
castle. The lord of the place was one Hubert, a loyal
man, who had no part in the conspiracy. Hubert was
standing at his gate, and seeing the Duke ride by at
full speed, called to him and asked why he rode at such
haste. "I am flying for my life," said the Duke.
Thereupon he ordered a fresh horse to be brought for
him, and bade his three sons ride with him for a guard,
not leaving him till they had lodged him safely in his
castle at Falaise.
And now Duke William, not having sufficient strength
among the loyal men of Normandy to meet the rebels,
sought help from his over-lord, Henry, King of the
French. King Henry granted his petition, and gathering
soldiers from his own people, marched to
 help the Duke. It was not long before the two armies,
the King and the Duke on the one side, and the rebels
on the other, met in battle.
There was a certain lord among the rebels named Ralph.
He was a powerful man, having among his followers one
hundred and twenty knights, each with a banner of his
own. This man had sworn that he would smite the Duke
wherever he might find him. But now he began to repent
of what he had done. It seemed to him a shameful thing
to stand in arms against his rightful lord, and all the
more so because
 the Duke had never done him any wrong. His knights also
urged him to return to the Duke, while divers of those
with whom he had conspired exhorted him to keep faith
with them, and promised him great reward for so doing.
For some time he stood doubtful; only he kept his men
apart both from the one army and the other. When
William saw what he was doing, he said to King Henry,
"Those yonder are the men of Ralph of Tessar; he has no
grudge against me; I doubt not but that they will soon
be on my side." And so indeed it turned out, for Ralph
took the advice of his knights. He bade them stay where
they were, but he himself galloped across the field,
and riding up to the Duke, struck him with his glove.
Thus he performed his oath. Afterwards, when the battle
was joined, he charged with his men against the rebels.
Fierce was the fight that day, a battle of knights
against knights. Nowhere was it fiercer than where King
Henry of France fought at the head of his men. Twice
was the King struck down from his horse, and each time
the warrior that struck him was himself slain. As for
the Duke, he bore himself most bravely, and with better
fortune than the King. He slew the most stalwart
champion of the rebels with his own hand. As this man
rode in the front rank, as if to challenge any that
might dare to attack him, William
 charged him, using, not his lance, as was constantly
the custom, but his sword. With this he smote the
champion such a blow between the throat and the chest
that the man fell dead from his horse.
Soon the rebels fled on every side. Many were slain in
the battle, and many fell in the flight, but yet more
perished in a flooded river which they were compelled
to cross. The very mill-wheels, it is said, were
stopped by the bodies of the dead.
It was on this day that William earned for the first
time the name of Conqueror.
After this he sought to win for his wife, Matilda,
daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders. It has been
said that he courted her in a very strange fashion.
First, for such is the story, he made his suit in a
peaceable way through her father. Her answer was this:
"I had sooner be a nun than the wife of a low-born
man." When William heard this, he mounted his horse,
and taking with him a few companions, rode to Bruges,
in which town the lady was then living. He found her
coming back from church, and leaping from his horse,
seized her by the hair, and beat and kicked her. But
when next Count Baldwin inquired of his daughter
whether she was willing to take any man for a husband,
she made this answer; "No husband will I have, except
it be William the Norman."
 However this may be, it is certain that the Pope
forbade the marriage. There was some kindred between
and such were not permitted to marry except by special
leave of the Pope. But William took no heed of the
Pope's forbidding. Matilda became his wife; and, after
awhile, the Pope granted him pardon.
There is no need to tell again what has been told
already in the foregoing chapters; how William,
getting Harold into his possession, made him swear to
be his man; how he gathered together a great host, and
coming to England, conquered King Harold in a great
battle on the hill of Senlac. It is said that when he
was leaping from his boat to the shore, he stumbled and
fell. His companions were greatly troubled at this
mishap, which seemed to them a bad beginning of the
enterprise. He who had so great a thing to accomplish
in England should not, they thought, stumble and fall
so soon as he touched its shore. But William did not
lose heart for a moment. Lifting up his hands, which
were full of earth, he cried in a loud voice, "See! I
have taken possession of this land of England."
The story of the battle also has been told; but this
may be said, that as no man had more to win in this
same battle, so no man bore himself more bravely.
 Many a warrior did he smite to the ground with the
great mace which he was wont to carry; one of them was
a brother of King Harold, one of the bravest and most
stalwart warriors on the English side. Nor did he fail
either in prudence, or such skill as a general should
show. It may be said that, beyond all doubt, Harold and
his Englishmen would have won the day at the battle of
Senlac, had not William, Duke of Normandy showed
himself so excellently good a soldier and leader.