| In the Days of William the Conqueror|
|by Eva March Tappan|
|Story of the life of William the Conqueror, telling of his boyhood in Normandy, beset by dangers, of his knighting by the King of France and of the after-deeds which made him famous, including the conquest of England. Ages 11-15 |
THE LITTLE DUKE
N spite of King Henry's urgent hospitality, Duke
Robert was much too eager to be on his way to Rome to
linger for many days in the French court, and before a
week had passed he had begun his journey.
It was a great company. Many of Robert's nobles
accompanied him, among them Drogo, count of his new
possession, the Vexin, and Toustain, his chamberlain
and favorite attendant. Not all of these travellers
went necessarily for the good of their souls and the
forgiveness of their sins, as Robert put it; some went
because a pilgrimage was an exceedingly interesting
expedition. No one knew what perils might be met by
the way, and the flavor of danger gave an added zest to
the enjoyment of seeing new countries and journeying in
unknown places. Moreover, to have gone on a pilgrimage
was with many people a strong title to a peculiar
 respect and deference that could be gained in no other
way. There was another advantage, though perhaps no one
counted upon it in setting out—the
memory of such a journey, combined with a little
imagination, would provide a man with enough materials
for story-telling to the circle around his hall fire
for all the rest of his life.
There was a long train of servants and attendants. The
men that cared for the horses would make quite a troop
by themselves, for there must be war-horses, in case
any fighting was necessary; and there must be
pleasure-horses, for every once in a while Robert would
forget that he was a humble pilgrim, and then the whole
party would canter along the way as merrily as if they
were on a pleasure trip instead of a pilgrimage. There
must be many beasts of burden, and their load was by no
means light, for they bore the provisions for man and
horse, and all the other necessities for the journey.
Many of the pack-horses were loaded with skins filled
with wine, sewn up and coated thickly with pitch. There
were harbingers, of course, whose special duty it was
to ride in advance of the rest of the company and arrange
lodg-  ings and entertainment wherever they could be had; but such
places were few, and it was desirable that the
pilgrims should be able to stop to rest wherever they
Through France they went, through Switzerland,—or
rather, what are now France and Switzerland,—over the
Alps, and into Rome. So far the duke was a pilgrim,—
when he did not forget it,—but on leaving Rome he
became a mere traveller, and set out for
Constantinople, and then for the Holy Land. Frequent
tidings came by messenger to the little boy at the
French court. One man reported the duke's great
humility, and said that when a warder struck him with
his staff and told him not to loiter by the way, Robert
bore the blow meekly, saying that it was the duty of
pilgrims to suffer.
Then came another tale of his prank in Rome, where he
threw a rich mantle over the shoulders of a statue of
the Emperor Constantine, "to protect him from the wind
and cold," said this merry pilgrim.
The Norman notion of a jest was not exactly in
accordance with modern ideas, and the Normans seem to
have found it exceedingly amusing
 that when in Constantinople the duke entered the
handsome audience chamber of the Emperor of the East he
rolled up his embroidered cloak, dropped it on the
floor, and made a seat of it, refusing to take it when
he left, because it was "not the custom of the Normans
to carry their seats away with them." Equally
entertaining they thought the speech of Robert when a
Norman on his homeward way saw him borne in a litter by
four black slaves, and asked the duke what message he
would send to Normandy. "Tell them," said Robert, "that
you saw four demons bearing me to Paradise."
Everywhere he lavished great sums of money. He was
Robert the Magnificent wherever he went, and often
Robert the Reckless. The story is that in entering
Constantinople he had his horse shod with shoes of
silver. They were but slightly nailed on, so that they
might drop off by the way and be picked up by whosoever
would. At Jerusalem he made a better use of his wealth
by paying for the great numbers of needy pilgrims
outside the city the golden bezant demanded of each of
them before they were allowed to enter.
Robert was wildly extravagant in his
expendi-  tures, and also in his penances, but it was an extravagant
age. The scenes of remorse were as theatrical as the
scenes of crime were tragic. Only a few years before
Robert's pilgrimage, Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou,
made three journeys to the Holy Land, and once on
reaching Jerusalem he had himself bound to a hurdle and
dragged through the streets of the city, while by his
own orders two of his servants scourged him most
unmercifully amidst his cries of "Have pity, O Lord,
have pity!" Robert's excesses were no greater than
those of his contemporaries, and there seems no reason
for the story that arose that he was insane.
Before many months had passed, a sad message came to
the little boy at the French court, for Robert had died
at NicŠa, by poison, it was thought. As a mark of
special honor, permission was given that he should be
buried in the Byzantine basilica of Saint Mary.
"It is the beginning of troubles," said Alain of
Brittany to himself, and he set out to have an
interview with William. "Much depends upon what kind of
boy he is," thought Alain, "and a year may have changed
 The change had indeed been great, and in Alain's eyes
it was for the better in every respect. The boy had
grown tall and large, and had a manly bearing, which
pleased the governor of Normandy.
"Do you know what you are to be when you grow up?"
"Yes," said the boy. "My father was Duke of Normandy,
and that is what I am to be."
"And supposing that there are people who will try to
keep you from being duke?" said Alain, to see what the
boy would say.
"But I am the duke," said William. "No one can keep me
"And what will you do if they take your castles?"
"I shall say, 'This is my castle, and you must give it
"And what will you say if they do not give it up?"
"Then I shall not say anything to the people in my
castle, but I shall say to my men: 'Bring up the
arbalests, tear down the walls, put up the scaling
ladders;' and I shall go first, and I shall say: 'Come
on, my men, follow me; rally round my gonfalon;
 strike with your swords. This is my castle, and no one
shall keep it away from me.' " The boy drew himself up
to his full height. His cheeks blazed and his eyes
flashed as he paced quickly up and down the room, now
thrusting an imaginary lance, and now drawing an
"There's not another child like him in France," thought
Alain. "He's not much more than eight years old, and he
looks as if he were twelve. He's a fine boy, and he
shall have his duchy, if there's any power in my right
"Why did you put your hand on your sword?" asked
"In these times one must remember where his sword is,"
said Alain. The boy was silent for a moment; then he
"I have a sword, and it is larger than the one that I
used to have, because I am a bigger boy. If I am Duke
of Normandy, when shall I be big enough to go to
Falaise? Isn't that my castle?"
"I believe you captured it," said Alain with a smile.
William looked abashed.
"I was only a little boy then," he said. "I should know
better now; but I mean, shall I
 have to grow much taller before I am a real duke? I'm
stronger than any other boy of my age—not one of them
can bend my bow—and I can throw a spear and ride a
horse—my father said perhaps I might go to fight when I
could ride a horse—and I can wear heavier armor than
any other boy at the court. What shall I have to do
before I go to Normandy?"
"Perhaps we shall ask you to go to Normandy very soon,"
said Alain, "if King Henry is willing."
"Did my father have to ask King Henry if he might go to
his castle?" asked the boy.
"No," said Alain with a little smile, "King Henry asked
your father for permission to go to his own; and when
you are grown up, I think it will be you to whom people
will come to ask what they may do. But tell me, would
you be afraid to go where men were trying to take your
castles and to kill you?"
"No," said the boy simply. "There were people who tried
to kill my father, and he wasn't afraid; but where is
my mother, and where is Adelaide? Now that my father is
dead, I want to take care of them."
"And so you shall when you are older," said
 Alain; "but they are in a safe castle, and strong men
are guarding them."
"I shall be a strong man soon;" said William, drawing
himself up, "and I shall learn all there is to know
about fighting. Thorold is teaching me. I like Thorold.
He taught me how to ride, and King Henry hasn't a horse
that can throw me. Could my father ride better than
Soon Alain took his farewell, and went away.
"He's a brave boy," he said to himself, as he rode
through the castle gate. "I almost wish he was in
Normandy, and yet, perhaps King Henry is right in
keeping him here. He might be murdered in a day."
HE RODE THROUGH THE CASTLE GATE
And indeed, there was murder and robbery and
devastation in every corner of Normandy. People
believed that as soon as a king was dead, whatever laws
he had made ceased to be of force, and that any
promises that they had made to him were no longer
binding; and so between the death of a king and the
proclamation of what was called the "king's peace,"—a
peace which was not peace at all, unless it was
accompanied by an enforcement of the claims of the next
heir as king,—every man did what he chose, and most
 of the nobles thought that such a break was the proper
time to revenge themselves on their enemies, a time for
burning and pillage and murder.
So it was in Normandy, as soon as it was known that the
duke was dead. The nobles who made promises to serve
him if he would protect them, now said that there was
no one to protect them, and so they were freed from all
service. William was proclaimed duke. "But what does
that amount to?" said the nobles scornfully. "He is
only a child. A child cannot see to it that we have
justice done us, and he cannot lead us in battle. We
want a strong man for our duke—and we do not
want the grandson of a tanner."
There was no very definite law of succession to the
dukedom, and if Robert had left a grown-up brother, or
if there had been any one person with a good claim to
the duchy on whom the nobles could unite, the little
boy at King Henry's court would have had small chance
of ever becoming the ruler of Normandy, even if he
could ride any horse in the royal stables; but the
difficulty was that there were so many people who
 the boy's inheritance ought to be theirs. Rollo, the
Norman chieftain, who had been the first duke of
Normandy, had left many descendants, and every one of
these was sure that no one else had so good a right to
rule the land as himself. There were six of these
relatives whose claims had some shadow of justice; but
of the six, one was a monk, one a priest, and one an
archbishop. Of the other three, one was Alain of
Brittany, who held himself in honor bound to save for
the child the lands that had been intrusted to him;
another was William, Count of Arques, a half-brother of
Duke Robert; and the third was Guy of Burgundy, a
nephew of Robert.
There was another reason for the turbulence in the
duchy. No one was allowed to build a castle without the
permission of the ruler of the country; but in Robert's
time he had been so sure that he could put down any
uprising, that he had made no objection to the erection
of a castle wherever any one chose to put one. Now very
few of these strongholds were at all like what we
should call a castle to-day. Not all of them were of
stone, by any means. Even a square wooden tower with a
moat and a drawbridge was
 called a castle; but in the three districts of
Normandy in which the greatest number of fighters
lived there were at least one hundred and thirty-two
built so solidly that even now their remains may be seen.
Every noble who had built a castle stood by himself,
and in spite of what they had said, these men were not
at all eager to have a strong man become duke and limit
their independence. So it was that, instead of uniting
at to revolt against William, they all revolted against
one another, and against all law and order.
Every man did just as he chose, and many chose to
avenge any wrongs that they fancied had been done them.
Robbery and fire and murder were in every corner of
Normandy. Nothing could quiet the disorder but a duke
who ruled either by undisputed right or by irresistible
William was only a child, but he had one great
advantage—his guardians were true to him and to his
interests. One guardian has already been mentioned, the
brave Alain of Brittany, whose special care was that
the duchy of Normandy should be held for Robert's son.
The second was the old soldier Thorold. The third was
Seneschal Osbern, and the fourth was Count
 Gilbert of Eu. King Henry was a kind of overlord to
these men, and the boy was still at his court.
There were others whose friendliness to William was of
the greatest value, those men who had gone on the
pilgrimage with Robert, and who were now beginning to
return to Normandy. They brought with them the relics
of saints and martyrs that Robert had collected in the
east, and had intrusted to his chamberlain Toustain to
present to the Abbey of CÚrisy. Robert had founded this
abbey not long before he went on his pilgrimage, and he
had expected to be buried within its walls. He had
endowed it richly, but no more valuable gift could he
have bestowed upon it than those bits of hair and bone
and wood, those fragments of gowns and scourges and
psalters; for men who came to look upon them never
failed to leave a generous offering in the fortunate
church to whose care they had been intrusted. Few of
these visitors went away without a thought of Duke
Robert and some gain of friendliness toward the little
boy whom he had loved so well. As for the travellers
themselves, people thought of them with a sincere
reverence, because they had been pilgrims. Then they
re-  membered that Robert, too, had been a pilgrim, and
many of them began to feel that the child whom he had
left in their care was fairly entitled to their
loyalty. Moreover, these pilgrims had been chosen
friends of Robert's, and their support of his child was
worth much. All these strong allies of William were
called together by Alain.
"I have asked you to meet," he said, "to decide whether
it is best for the young duke to remain in Paris or to
return to Normandy." Then said one of the councillors:—
"The duke is far safer in Paris than he would be here."
"Surely," said another, "there are enough who are loyal
to defend a child and a castle."
"Yes, we can fight armed forces," said the first, "but
can we fight poison or assassination?"
"There is another side," said one who until then had been
silent. "Soldiers need a gonfalon rally about; so do
our nobles of Normandy need to see the duke. They think of
him as a child in the French court. Let them see him for
themselves, a bold, brave, handsome boy on his own
rightful heritage, and I believe that they will be far
more likely to stand by him."
 "Still, there is the danger," said the first that had
"Yes," said the silent one; "but shall we save the
child and leave him a beggar, or shall we let him share
the risk, that we may help him to hold fast to that
which is of right his own?"
"Moreover," said another, "are we so sure that he is
safe in Paris? King Henry owed his throne to Duke
Robert, but France would not be unwilling to possess
Normandy and the Norman sea-coast. A child's life is a
small matter when one wants a kingdom. A child may
easily die or disappear. There would be no other
claimant on whom so many would unite, and in the tumult
and confusion Normandy could easily be made a part of
Finally it was decided that William should be taken to
Vaudreuil, the castle that Robert had recommended as a
safe place for the boy. It was situated on an island in
the river Eure, and a river would be a better
protection than a moat. Moreover, it was in the
district of Evreux in Normandy, and yet not too far
from the French domain to call upon King Henry in case
of need; for after all, no one could believe that he
would forget what
 was due to the son of the man who had befriended him in
the days when he most needed a friend.
First, however, the king's permission to remove the boy to
Vaudreuil must be gained. The councillors had looked
upon this as hardly more than a matter of form, but
much to their surprise King Henry began to make
objections; the boy was safer with him, he said; a
removal would interfere with his military education,
The councillors became a little alarmed when the escort
returned without the young duke. They had thought of
King Henry as of one upon whom they might call for aid.
Was it possible that he really had plans against the
boy and his heritage? Shut up in one of Henry's strong
castles, he might be held all his life as a captive;
and then there were a hundred means by which a child
that was in the way might be disposed of, and no one be
the wiser. A second escort was sent with more emphatic
demands than the first, and after some delay, the king
yielded. Thorold was appointed to take command of the
escorting party. It was an unfortunate journey for him,
for soon after reaching Vaudreuil he was murdered by
some unknown assassin.
 It was a hard life for a boy in the stern, gray castle
on the island.
"Why cannot my mother and Adelaide live with me?" the
boy demanded. The guardians had thought it best that
Arletta should be kept away from her son, so that the
people might remember only that he was the child of
Duke Robert, but they said:—
"You know that you are to be a great soldier, and a
soldier must learn of men, not of women."
"But a soldier must take care of women," said the boy.
His guardians made no reply, but before long they told
him that his mother had married a loyal knight, Herlwin
of Conteville, and that Adelaide was safe in their
"I wanted to take care of them myself," said the boy
"Some day you will be able to," said his guardians.
Meanwhile it was all that they could do to take care of
him. Not a moment, night or day, could he be left
alone; for, although they could perhaps prepare for an
armed attack, who could tell when an assassin might
steal into the
strong-  hold? Who could be sure that the members of the young duke's
own train were faithful? A strong hand laid upon the
boy's throat, a drop of poison forced gently between
his lips as he slept, and Normandy would be the
helpless prey of him who might have the power to take
it. Gilbert, Count of Eu, had already been murdered,
and the faithful Alain of Brittany had been poisoned as
he was besieging the castle of William of Montgomery.
Who knew when a like fate would befall the young duke?
Osbern slept in the boy's room at night, and watched
him by day as he would watch some precious jewel.
Walter, his mother's brother, was always on guard; but
in spite of all their vigilance, there came a terrible
night when William of Montgomery and his men forced
their way into the castle, coming so suddenly and so
powerfully that even before an alarm could be made, the
faithful Osbern was stabbed as he lay asleep in the bed
beside the duke. In the darkness the murderers believed
that they had slain the duke himself, and while they
were rejoicing, Walter hid the boy and carried him
away to safety; not to some stone castle, but
 to the cottages of the poor, where no one would think
of looking for him.
This was only one of the many attempts that were made
to kill William, and only one of the many times that he
was rescued by the bravery and quickness of his uncle.
When the castle failed, the cottage was always his
Every one of the men who had been chosen as guardians
for William had been killed by the boy's enemies.
Lawlessness was everywhere. If a man was not robbed, it
was because he had nothing that was of value to his
stronger neighbor; if he was not murdered, it was
because his neighbor had nothing to gain by his death.
To these robbers and murderers the fact that a son of
their former duke was alive and among them was a
continual threat of vengeance. If the boy could be
killed, they were safe, they thought, from fear of
punishment or interference. Thus far these men had
triumphed. Would they continue to triumph?
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