| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR—THE DEATH OF THE KING
 WILLIAM was ruler of the land, but English hearts never
accepted him. Norman and Englishman lived side by side, yet
a wide sea of hatred kept them apart.
As he had promised, William rewarded the Norman barons and
nobles who had helped him to conquer England. He gave them
the lands and goods of the conquered people, so it was not
wonderful that there was fierce hatred between the two
The Normans were greedy, and they not only took the lands
which William gave them, but they forced the English to pay
large sums of money too. Every high position was filled by
Normans, and the English were forced to be the servants and
slaves of these proud Norman masters.
The Normans talked a great deal of "right," but the more
they talked of right, the more wrong they did. The very
sheriffs and judges, who ought to have seen that the laws
were kept and that justice was done, were more greedy than
thieves and robbers, and the king was greediest of all. He
made the people pay tolls and taxes until they had hardly
any money left. Much of this money he took away with him to
France, much he kept locked up in his strong treasure-room.
As if he had not already spoiled enough of the country
 in battle, William next laid waste a great part in the south,
simply because he was very fond of hunting and he wanted a
good hunting-ground. He turned the people out of their
houses, burning and ruining whole villages in order to make
a great place in which to ride and hunt. He called this
place the New Forest and it is so called to this day.
Having made this forest, William also made forest laws.
These laws were very cruel. If any person was found hunting
or killing the deer or other wild animals, his eyes were put
out or his hands and ears were cut off. So the poor people,
who had been driven from their homes dared not even kill the
wild animals for food.
William did not do much that was kind, but some things which
he did were wise. Among the wise things was the law which he
made that all lights and fires must be put out at eight
o'clock at night.
Nowadays we should think it very hard indeed if all fires
and lights had to be put out at eight o'clock. But in those
days people used to rise very early, and go to be very
early, so that it was not a great hardship. It was really a
wise rule, because nearly all the houses were built of wood,
and if people were careless and went to bed leaving large
fires burning, the houses were apt to catch fire. In a town
all built of wood, if one house caught fire sometimes a
whole street would be burned to the ground before the fire
could be put out.
By this wise law William made the danger of fires much less.
Every night at eight o'clock a bell was rung. This bell was
called "the curfew," from the French words "couvre feu" which means "cover
Another wise thing which William did was to make what is
called the Domesday Book, or book of judgment. This was a
very big book in which a description of all the
 great houses
and lands in the kingdom was written down, with the names of
the people to whom the land and houses belonged. This book
was very useful at the time, and it has been very useful
since. For one thing it shows us how much land was taken
from the English and given to the Normans.
When William gave the Normans land he did not give it to
them for nothing. In return they had to promise to come to
help the King in battle and to bring men with them. The more
land they got the more men they had to promise to provide in
time of war. When William wished to know how many men a
certain lord would bring to fight for him, he only needed to
look at his great book to see how much land he had. This
plan of paying for land by fighting was called the feudal
system, and it lasted in England for many years.
William spent a great deal of time in Normandy, for, though
he was proud to be King of England, he loved his Norman home
far better. It was in Normandy that he died.
William had been fighting with the King of France, and, with
his usual cruelty, he had burned a town belonging to that
king. While William was riding about among the ruins, his
horse stepped upon some hot ashes, stumbled, and he was
thrown to the ground. William was by this time very fat and
old, and the fall hurt him so much that in a few days he
Only two of William's sons were with him at the time.
Robert, the eldest, had quarrelled with his father long
before, and was far away. But, as he lay dying, William
wished to be at peace with every one. He forgave Robert and
left the crown of Normandy to him. "And," he said, "although
the crown of England is not mine to give away, I should like
William to have it." And the son, eager to
 claim his
father's crown, seized the great signet ring which the dying
king still wore, and drew it from his finger.
To Henry, his youngest son, William left a large sum of
Then William and Henry hurried off to England; the one to
demand the crown, the other to make sure of his treasure.
The great Conqueror was left to die alone.
A strange thing happened while William was being buried.
Fire broke out in the streets just as it had done when he
was being crowned. The people who were carrying the bier
fled, so once more the Conqueror was left alone with a few
priests. They would have buried him hurriedly but, as they
began the service, a young man stepped forward and stopped
them. "This ground," he said, "was taken from my father by
the very king whom you now wish to bury here. He has no
right to the land. It is mine, not his. I refuse to allow
him to be buried in it."
So even in death the Conqueror was to find no resting-place.
But the priests bargained with the young man, and at last,
for the sum of sixty shillings, he allowed them to bury the
King in his ground.
And there the Conqueror was at last laid to rest.
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