| 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 STORY OF HEREWARD THE WAKE
 WILLIAM of Normandy had won the battle of Hastings, but he
had not won England. Harold was dead, but the people would
not call William king. For five days after the battle he
waited, expecting the English lords to come to do homage to
him, as their new master. But not one came. The people were
full of grief and anger at the death of Harold, and of
sullen hate for the conqueror. They would not own him as
After five days, William waited no longer. More soldiers had
come from Normandy to replace those who had been killed at
the battle of Hastings. With these new soldiers William
marched through the land, and so fierce and terrible was he,
that he forced the people to own him as king. By December
all the south of England was in William's power, and on
Christmas Day he was crowned at Westminster.
Scarcely a year before, the people had crowded to the same
place to see Harold, and to cheer and welcome him as their
king. Now all was changed. The people were sullen and
silent, the way was lined with Norman soldiers, and Norman
faces and Norman costumes were everywhere to be seen.
Stigand, the archbishop who had crowned Harold,
 refused to
crown William, and William in wrath retorted that he was no
true bishop, and that he did not wish to be crowned by him.
Yet William forced Stigand to be present at the coronation.
Once again, as so short a time before, the voice of the
bishop rang through the great church, "Do you take William
of Normandy to be your king?" Once again the answer came,
"We do." But this time the question was asked and answered
in French, and the English voices were silent. So the
question was asked again in English, and the answer came
from unwilling English lips, but not from English hearts,
"We do." Then an echoing cry was heard without—not the
shout of a glad people, but a cry of agony and despair. The
Norman soldiers, instead of keeping order, had begun to
fight and kill. They had set fire to the houses near the
church, and were slaying and robbing. Those within the
church rushed out, some in fear, others eager to join the
robbers. William was left alone with only the bishops and
Then for the first time in his life the great William was
afraid. Through the windows of the church he could see the
flicker of flames, and could hear the savage yells of
soldiers and the shrieks of frightened women and children.
Yet he did not know whether the English had risen in revolt,
or whether it was only his own wild soldiers who were
attacking the people.
But whatever it might be William meant to be King of
England—a king crowned and anointed. So although his cheek was
pale and his voice shook, he forced the archbishop to go on
with the ceremony.
With trembling hands the archbishop placed the crown upon
William's head—not Harold's crown, but a new one
glittering with splendid gems—and in a hurried and
mumbling voice he finished the service. Then
kneeling at the altar, promised to fear God, to rule the
people well, and to keep the laws of Alfred and Edward, "so
that the people be true to me," he added.
As he stood up no shout greeted him, the church was silent
and empty. He passed down the aisle in lonely splendour,
followed only by the trembling priests, while without was
heard the sound of the crackling flames mingled with fierce
yells and curses.
William was crowned, but the English rejected him as king.
They wanted an English king. But alas! there was no strong
man whom they could choose. Harold's brave brothers had all
died with him as Hastings. There, too, had fallen the
noblest and the best of the English lords. There was no one
left who seemed to have any right to the throne, except the
little boy Edgar the Ætheling, Edmund Ironside's grandson.
Even he did not seem to be English, for he had lived nearly
all his life in Hungary, and could hardly speak his own
language. But at least he was not Norman, so the English
chose him to be king.
The people of Northumberland rose in fierce rebellion
against William, and he in as fierce anger marched against
them with his soldiers. From north to south he laid waste to
the country, burning towns, destroying farms, killing
cattle, murdering the people, till the whole of
Northumberland was one dreary desert. So fierce and terrible
was his wrath that even the ploughs and farming tools were
destroyed, and the land lay untilled and desolate. Those of
the people who were not killed in battle died miserably of
cold and hunger. When William marched south again, he left
only blackened ruins and dismal waste, where happy homes and
smiling fields had been. From very need, most of
English lords now bowed
 to William and owned him master.
Even Edgar came to him to do homage and strange to say
William treated him kindly. Perhaps he felt that he was so
strong and Edgar so weak, that he had no need to fear him.
Still the English were not all conquered. In the Isle of
Ely, in what is called the Fen country, the people made one
last stand. There, under the leadership of a brave
Englishman called Hereward, they held out against William.
In the time of Edward the Confessor, Hereward had been
banished for some reason, perhaps because he had quarrelled
with one of Edward's Norman friends. He had lived for many
years across the sea in a country called Flanders. But when
he heard that Edward was dead, that Harold was also dead,
and that William the Norman had seized the crown of England,
Hereward came back determined to fight for his own land.
All the noblest and bravest of the English who still
resisted William gathered to Hereward and they made their
camp in the Isle of Ely. The monks who already lived there
shared their monastery with the soldiers. So in the great
hall peaceful monks and warlike men sat side by side at
meals, and the walls which had been hung with holy relics
and pictures of saints were now covered with weapons and
Hereward built a castle at Ely, but it was a wooden one,
while all through England the Normans were building strong
fortresses of stone, such as the English had never seen
Hereward hoped that, from his castle at Ely, he would
gradually win all England again. But the hope was vain, for
William was too strong. Yet it took him a long time to
conquer Hereward. Like Harold, Hereward was a good general,
and he was both clever and brave.
 After trying vainly to find a way through the marshes and
fens to Hereward's camp, William decided at last to build a
road strong enough and broad enough to carry his army over.
So the soldiers set to work at once with stones, wood, and
skins of animals, to make a strong, broad, solid road. When
it was finished William's men marched over it to attack
Hereward's men in their own camp, but the English fought
desperately, and the Normans were driven back.
In those days people believed in witches. So William next
found a poor old woman who was supposed to be a witch. He
built a wooden tower, placed it on wheels, and with the
witch inside, pushed it along the road, at the head of the
Norman army. This poor old woman was meant to cast a spell
over the English soldiers, so that they would not be able to
fight any more. Of course she could really do them no harm,
and Hereward and his men captured the tower and burned it
up, witch and all. Again William had failed.
Hereward had brought large stores of food into the camp, and
he and his men hunted wild animals, so that there was always
enough to eat, although the fare was plain. But the monks
who were used to living a very easy life and to having fine
things to eat and drink, grew tired of fighting and of plain
food, and they sent a message to William telling him of a
secret way through the fens to the camp.
So Hereward who could not be conquered was betrayed.
One evening the Norman soldiers, led by the wicked monks,
came stealthily through the thick woods among the marshes.
In the gathering dusk they came creeping, silent and eager.
Then, when they were close upon the camp, they burst with
wild cries upon the unsuspecting
 English, and, when the sun
had set, the sky was red with the flames from burning
Many lay dead, many were taken prisoners. To the prisoners
William was very cruel. He put out their eyes, cut off their
hands, and treated them so dreadfully that they cried aloud,
"It is better to fall into the hands of God than into those
of the Norman tyrant."
Hereward escaped, and with some of his bravest followers
continued to fight, although all hope of freedom for England
was gone. But he, too, yielded at length and bowed his proud
head to the conqueror. William of Normandy was at last
master of all England. He was indeed William the Conqueror.
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