Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE RULE OF THE NORMANS
 FOR five years, after he became King, William was chiefly
occupied in putting down English revolts. The
disturbances arose in all parts of the country, but the
northern counties were the most obstinate. The city of
York repeatedly served as a center of resistance.
Terrible punishment was finally inflicted upon that
rebellious region. The inhabitants were driven out or
put to death. Not a house or building of any kind was
left standing. Nothing was spared which could serve as
food or shelter for human beings. The entire region
was left uninhabited and desolate, and for centuries
afterward it bore the mark of the Conqueror's
 By such a cruel treatment, William at last convinced
the English that he was determined to be master of
their country. Those who had supported Harold, or had
resisted the Normans, he punished by seizing their
lands on the ground that they were forfeited. To many
of the English he restored their lands, after they had
taken an oath to support and serve him. Other
forfeited lands were used to reward his followers.
Norman lords thus took the place which English thegns
and earls had held as landlords, and the common people
became subject to the Normans, as they had formerly
been to their English masters. The method of
landholding which William established was already well
known in Normandy, and other countries of western
Europe, and is what we know as "feudal
William I, The Conqueror
Under this system, all the land belonged in theory to
the King; but most of it was occupied by great lords,
who held it on condition that they assist the King in
war. Each lord was bound to furnish a certain number
of armed and mounted warriors, in proportion to the
size of his estate. To get men with whom to fulfill
this obligation, these "tenants-in-chief," as they were
called, granted portions of their lands to
"sub-tenants," on similar conditions. These in turn
sub-let to others; and so it went on, down to the
simple peasants (called "villains"), who actually
 the soil. The name given to an estate which was held
on condition of military service was "benefice" or
"fief." The fiefholder became the "vassal" or personal
dependent to his lord. When he was put in possession
of his land, the "vassal" knelt unarmed before his
lord, placed both hands in his, and swore to be "his
man" (homo, in Latin), and to serve him as a
vassal ought to serve his lord. This was called "doing
homage." Then the vassal arose, and the lord gave him
the kiss of peace, and the vassal swore
"fealty,"—that is, fidelity,—to him. Fiefs
were generally hereditary, the son of a deceased vassal
being permitted to succeed to his father's estates, on
condition that he paid a sum of money, did homage, and
swore fealty to the lord of the fief.
The lords owed their vassals "protection," while the
vassals owed "service" to their lords. This service
was partly military service, as mounted knights, for
forty days each year. The lord could also call upon
his vassals to come to his court, at certain times, and
assist him with their counsel and advice. In addition,
he might call upon them to serve him on certain
occasions by giving him money—which they in turn
collected from their villains. These payments were
called "aids," and could be collected on three
occasions,—when the lord's eldest son was made a
knight, when his eldest daughter was married, and to
ransom the lord himself, if he should be taken captive.
On the Continent, the feudal system weakened the power
of the King because it created a tie between the lords
and their tenants which was stronger than the tie which
bound them to the King. Thus, if a great lord in
France rebelled, his tenants supported him rather than
the King, and the whole land was filled with confusion.
 William took pains to prevent his lords from becoming
too powerful. The estates of the great landowners were
scattered in different parts of the country, so that no
man might be able to collect a great army in one
place. He also kept up the old hundred and shire
courts, and refused to allow the lords such judicial
independence as they enjoyed on the Continent. Above
all, he required every landholder to take an oath of
allegiance to support the King, before and above his
immediate lord. With these changes, William made the
feudal system a means by which he could control not
only the conquered English, but his Norman barons as
Against such control the haughty Normans protested.
The result was that no sooner were the English
conquered than the Norman barons rebelled. This was
the first of a series of revolts which lasted for a
hundred years, in which the barons of England sought to
win for themselves the powers possessed by the feudal
nobles of other lands. In putting down such
rebellions, William and his successors could count upon
the support of the English people and of the great
churchmen; for these saw that the rule of the King,
harsh though it might be, was better than the tyranny
of the feudal barons. Thus these feudal revolts
failed, equally with those of the conquered English.
Under William's stern rule, certain and terrible
punishment was the lot of all evil-doers.
"The good order which William established was such,"
says the Chronicle, "that any man might travel
all over the kingdom, with a bosom full of gold,
unmolested; and no man durst kill another, no matter
how great was the injury which he might have received
 Like all the Normans, William was very fond of hunting,
and reserved the forests of England for his own
"He made large forests for the deer, and enacted laws
that whoever killed a hart or a hind should be blinded.
He forbade also the killing of wild boars; and he loved
the tall stags as if he were their father."
Hunting the Stag
He even drove whole villages from their homes, and
destroyed houses and churches, in order to make a great
New Forest for his Hunting.
One deed of William's, which seemed to his subjects an
act of oppression, we now see was a wise and
statesmanlike act. This was making the "Domesday
Survey." He caused commissioners to go throughout the
land, and prepare a census of all the lands, with the
names of their owners, and their value.
"So very narrowly did he cause the survey to be made,"
says the writer of the Chronicle, "that there
was not a single rood of land, nor—it is shameful
to relate that which he thought it no shame to
do—was there an ox, or a cow, or a pig passed by,
and not set down in the accounts."
 When the inquiry was finished, the results were set
down in a great book, which still exists, and is called
the "Domesday Book,"—perhaps because its entries
were like those of the Last Judgment, which spare no
man. William's object in taking this survey was to
find out what taxes he could levy, and what men he
could raise for England's defense in time of war. But
the chief value of Domesday Book now is that it gives
us so much information concerning the condition of
England in that far off time.
A Portion of Domesday Book
Even after his conquest of England, William continued
to be Duke of Normandy, and ruled that land as a vassal
of the King of France. Quarrels between the French
king and his too powerful vassal were frequent, and
whenever a rebellion broke out against the Norman power
the French King was sure to aid it.
Towards the close of William's life, his eldest son
Robert asked to have Normandy as a fief of his own; and
when William refused this, Robert joined the French
King in making war. This war caused William's death,
in 1087. William had captured and burned the city of
Mantes, in France, and while he was riding about in the
 city his horse stumbled in the hot ashes. The King was
thrown violently against the pommel of his saddle. He
was very fat and was already ill, and this injury was
such that he never recovered from it.
Before his death, it is said that he bequeathed
Normandy to Robert, and England to his second son,
"And what do you give me, father?" cried Henry, the
youngest of his sons.
"Five thousand pounds weight of silver out of my
"But what can I do with silver, if I have no lands?"
cried the boy.
"Be patient, my son," said the dying King, "and have
trust in the Lord; let thine elders go before thee, and
thy time will come."
And so it proved, for although William II. ruled
England after his father's death, and Robert ruled
Normandy, in the end both England and Normandy came
into the hands of their younger brother Henry.
William II. (1087-1100) was called William "Rufus," or
"the Red," because of his complexion. He had the bad
qualities of his father, without the good traits. He
was selfish, cruel, and wicked, and broke all his
promises of good government. Even the good Anselm,
Archbishop of Canterbury, was so persecuted that he
fled from the kingdom, and he did not return until this
reign was finished.
The Red King's death was as violent as his life was
wicked. He was slain while hunting alone in the New
Forest, which his father had made; and his dead body
was found by a charcoal burner, with an arrow piercing
his heart. Who shot the fatal arrow, and why, no man
 William Rufus left no children, so his younger brother
Henry I. (1100-1135) now secured the English
crown, and kept it in spite of the claims of his older
brother Robert. Henry I. was born in England,
spoke English, and had an English wife; moreover, he
issued a "charter" in which he promised the people good
government. The English, therefore, came to his help
when Robert attempted to secure the crown. With an
English army, Henry later invaded Normandy, where he
defeated Robert and his
 knights in a great battle. Robert was captured, and
spent the rest of his life as a prisoner in an English
castle, while Normandy was again united with the
English crown. With the exception of this war, Henry's
reign was a peaceful one. He ruled for thirty-five
years, with such strictness and order that he was
called "the Lion of Justice."
King Henry's only son was drowned while returning from
Normandy. Henry then planned to leave his crown to his
daughter, Matilda. Although England had never had a
woman as ruler, he persuaded the barons to swear
allegiance to Matilda as their future Queen, and he
married her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in France.
After Henry's death, however, Matilda's cousin, Stephen
of Blois, seized the crown. The London citizens and a
majority of the barons supported him, but the others
supported Matilda. The result was a civil war which
continued throughout Stephen's reign. The suffering
caused by this war was increased by the cruelty of the
barons, whom neither party could control.
"The rich men," says the English Chronicle,
"filled the land full of castles. They greatly
oppressed the wretched people by making them work on
these castles, and when the castles were finished they
filled them with devils and evil men. Then they took
those whom they suspected to have any goods, by night
and by day, seizing both men and women, and they put
them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured
them with pains unspeakable, for never were any martyrs
tormented as these were. I can not, and I may not,
tell of all the tortures that they inflicted upon the
wretched men of this
 land; and this state of things lasted the nineteen
years that Stephen was King, and ever grew worse and
The Norman Castle of Rochester
This anarchy was ended by Henry II., the son of Matilda
and Geoffrey. His father took Normandy for him, from
Stephen. Then, upon his father's death, young Henry
became Count of Anjou, as well as Duke of Normandy. By
marriage with the heiress of the duchy of Aquitaine, he
gained another vast territory in France. Then, as a
youth of nineteen, he turned to England to conquer the
remainder of his mother's inheritance.
Henry of Anjou was more vigorous and skillful than
Stephen, so he won from him fortress after fortress.
When Stephen's son died, Stephen gave up the struggle.
In a treaty made at Wallingford, it was agreed that
Stephen should be King for the remainder of his life,
but that upon his death the crown should go to Henry of
The civil war thus came to an end; and Stephen and
Henry joined forces against the barons, and destroyed
the castles which had sprung up all over the land.
About a year later, in 1154, Stephen died, and the
crown of England passed to Matilda's son,
Henry II., the first of the "Angevin" or
"Plantagenet" line of Kings.
Map of Possessions of Henry II