| Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|A story of Normandy in the time of William the Conqueror, giving a vivid picture of manners and customs through the eyes of two boys of the court. Describes castle life, dress, amusements, training for knighthood, and other aspects of feudal life. Also relates stories of William's early days, as well as tales of his Northmen forefathers, Duke Robert the Magnificent, Little Duke Richard, and Rolf the Ganger. Ages 8-10 |
OLD HERVE TELLS ANOTHER STORY
 Though the tournament had been several days before, the
children were still talking about it to Mater Herve. At
last, when they had all told everything they could
remember, Henri said to the old man, "Now, Master
Herve, you must tell us a story; it's your
"Well, well," said old Herve, "what shall it be?"
"Tell us something about Duke William!" exclaimed
Marie. "You have told us about other dukes, but I would
like to know something more about him."
"Our Duke William is a wonderful man," said Herve, "but
great and strong and powerful as he is now, I can
remember the time, forty years
ago, when he was just a tiny baby, and folks said that
when he first reached out his little hand he clutched
hold of a straw from the floor where he lay and held it
so tightly that the wise women who saw him declared it
was a sign he
 would hold fast in after life to whatever
dominion he might win.
"But it didn't look much then, nor for a long while
after, as if he would ever have much dominion to hold."
"Why not?" asked Blanchette.
"Because none of the Norman nobles were his friends.
They all hated the helpless baby; for though his father
was the Duke Robert the Magnificent, and the true
descendant of Rolf the Ganger, his mother was not noble
but the daughter of a tanner of leather which, you
know, is a grade looked down on in Normandy. She was a
very beautiful girl, and Duke Robert had first seen her
one day when she was washing clothes in the little
stream that flows near the castle of Falaise where he
was then living."
"Why was he called 'the Magnificent'?" asked Alan.
"Well," said Herve, "that was because he was very rich
and spent a great deal of money, though often he spent
it very foolishly. He was very fond of little William,
and proud of his handsome face and bright ways. But
when William was only seven years old Duke Robert made
up his mind to go on a pilgrimage."
 "Why do people go on pilgrimages, Master Herve?"
interrupted one of the pages.
"They go because they want to pray at some holy place
to have their sins forgiven," answered Herve.
"Did you ever go?" asked another of the children.
"No," replied Master Herve, "but my father did once. He
went to Saint Michael's Mount, a very holy island near
Normandy. It was when I was a little chap not half so
big as Josef there," and Herve nodded to little Josef
sitting between Blanchette and Marie. "It was the year
1000, and for some reason or another folks got it into
their heads that the world was coming to an end. So
they thought a good deal about their sins and the next
world, and all who could started off on pilgrimages."
"Did the world come to an end?" asked little
Josef, with wide eyes.
"No, no child!" laughed Master Herve. "This is the same
old world that it was sixty-six years ago. Nothing
happened, but people had got so in the habit of making
pilgrimages that pilgrims have been plenty ever since.
 many of them are noble, too, like Duke Robert the
"Did he walk all the way?" inquired Blanchette. "And
did he carry a staff and wear a brown robe and a
broad-brimmed hat and a rope around his waist, like the
pilgrims who come here so often to eat and stay all
"Do you suppose he wore a hair shirt, Master Herve,
like Duke William Long-Sword?" asked Henri.
"Indeed he didn't," replied old Herve with
another laugh; "Duke Robert wasn't that kind! He put on
his best clothes and went off on horseback and took
along quantities of good things to eat and ever so many
people to wait on him; and when he got tired riding he
had six black men to carry him in a kind of fancy bed.
I dare say he did get tired, though," added Herve, "for
it wasn't to any of the shrines in Normandy that he
went; no, Duke Robert had made up his mind to go way
off to Jerusalem.
"Before he started he gathered the Norman nobles
together and insisted that they promise to be loyal to
little William; he wished them to consider him their
overlord while he was away. The nobles were very proud
and haughty, and
 most of them didn't at all like the
idea of promising loyalty to the little boy. But at
last they consented, though some of them were very
angry about it and said a great many disagreeable
things behind Duke Robert's back.
"Duke Robert, however, placed little William in the
care of his cousin, Alan of Brittany, and then set out
on his pilgrimage.
"Everything about his party was very splendid, and as
he came near the Holy Land he had his horse shod with
silver shoes and ordered them nailed on so loosely that
every once in a while one would tumble off in the road
for anybody to pick up who happened along. Of course
this was ]
a very silly thing to do, but Duke Robert seemed to
like to do queer extravagant things.
"It was a long, long journey; but a last he reached
Jerusalem and prayed at all the holy places, and then
he started home again. But he never came back to
Normandy, for he died on the way.
"The journey had taken three years, so William was ten
years old when the news reached Normandy that his
father was dead. He was a very friendless little boy
indeed; and before long
 his guardian, Alan of Brittany,
was murdered. Everybody was fighting everybody else and
there was no safety anywhere. To be sure, things
weren't quite so bad from Wednesday evenings till
"Why was that?" asked one of the children.
"Why, that was because there was so much lawlessness
and bloodshed that the church proclaimed what was
called the 'Truce of God,' which meant that people must
not rob or kill each other on certain days of the week.
But between Mondays and Wednesdays," went on the old
man with a sigh, "they seemed to make up for lost time.
Of course there is still a good deal of quarreling and
fighting here and there in Normandy, but it's nothing
to what it was when Duke William was a boy!"
"What did he do?" asked Alan.
"Well, to tell the truth," answered the old man, "I
don't know how in the world the lad ever managed to
pull along and hold his own against all he had to
contend with; but he did it somehow. I guess just
because he's a born ruler. When he was fifteen he
demanded to be made a knight."
"Oh, Master Herve," exclaimed Henri,
 "did you know Hugh
is to be made a knight and go with Count Bertram to
"Yes," said Herve, "Hugh will be twenty-one and has
served his time as page and squire. But Duke William
was only fifteen, remember, yet a brave knight he was;
and he had to be alert and fearless, for his
enemies were all about him. One time he had a very
narrow escape. He was at his castle of Valognes, and
sound asleep in the middle of the night, when suddenly
there came a quick knocking at his door; it was his
"His fool?" echoed one of the younger pages,
"Yes," said Marie, "I remember last year when the Baron
of Gisors came to visit Count Bertram, how he brought
along a funny little man they called his fool. He was
queerly dressed, and had a cap all covered with bells
like a falcon wears!"
"And it jingled all the while," broke in Blanchette,
"and he carried a short stick that he called a bauble;
it had a little head with donkey ears carved at one
end! And he capered around and said anything he pleased
to the baron, and everybody laughed at him!"
 "Yes," said Herve, "many nobles and kings keep such a
fool, or jester, whose business it is to amuse them.
But when William's fool knocked on his door with his
bauble that night, it wasn't any joke. 'Master!' he
cried, 'Quick, get up! I have just heard of a plot your
enemies have made against you, and they are coming now
to take you!'
"William jumped out of bed, hurried on his clothes,
rushed down the winding stair to the stable, jumped on
the back of his horse and galloped out into the dark,
off toward his strong castle of Falaise.
"All night he galloped, helter-skelter, over fields and
ditches, any way that was the shortest cut to Falaise.
"Duke William never forgot that wild ride for his life;
and, long after, he had the helter-skelter path he had
taken made into a fine road which is called 'the Duke's
"But though William was safe for a time at Falaise, his
enemies were still plotting against him; and soon his
cousin, Guy of Burgundy, Began to claim that he ought
to be duke instead of William.
"Then William gathered together all his
 friends he
could and got the King of France to help him. Guy of
Burgundy, collected all the Normans who were enemies of
William and a great battle was fought at a place called
Val-es-Dunes. In the end William conquered, and after
that almost all the nobles went over to his side.
"Yes, indeed, out Duke William is a wonderful man,"
repeated old Herve, "and the greatest ruler Normandy
has ever had."
"Who will rule Normandy while he is gone to Britain?"
"Why," said Master Herve, "I hear it said the Duchess
Matilda will. Duke William has such a high opinion of
his wife, the duchess, that he is not afraid to trust
Normandy to her care."
"Mother says Duchess Matilda is a wonderful woman,"
said Blanchette, "and that nobody can embroider so well
as she can!"
"Yes," answered Herve, "she is a great lady. Duke
William had a good deal of trouble to get her, but he
was so in love with her that he won out in the end."
"Why did he have trouble to get her?" asked Marie.
"Well," said old Herve, "I guess she was
enough, and so was her father the rich and powerful
Count of Flanders, but it seems some people said she
and William were relations and the laws of the church
forbid relations to marry each other. I don't believe
they are more than fourth or fifth cousins, if that;
but at any rate some of William's enemies told a
different story to the Pope, the head of the church, so
for four years the lovers were kept apart. Then one day
Duke William hurried up to his castle of Eu, on the
border of Flanders and Normandy, met the Lady Matilda,
and they were quickly married by a parish priest and
then came to William's palace in the city of Rouen. And
if they had no splendid processions at their wedding
they had plenty afterward, for all the way to Rouen the
people cheered them and gave great parties for them and
greeted them right royally. And everybody said there
wasn't a handsomer couple in all Normandy.
"The Pope was greatly displeased about it, but at last
he forgave them, only making each promise to build a
church as penance for getting married without his
"And did they build them?" asked Blanchette.
 "Yes, indeed, child!" answered Herve. "Duke William and
Duchess Matilda always keep their word. They began the
churches right away in the city of Caen, and they are
so fine and grand that it has taken these twenty years
since to finish them. They built them right willingly
for all Normandy knows that the duke and duchess love
each other and their marriage is very happy.
"But run along now, children! I have told you enough
for one day!"
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