| 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 |
GUEST OR PRISONER?
LL acts of William's protectors were done in his name,
and now messengers were sent to those of the nobles who
still wished for a united, peaceful duchy to say that
William, Duke of Normandy, had called together his
council. The first business was to choose new
guardians, and now the boy was of legal age to have a
voice in the matter.
Whether by his own wise instincts or by the advice of
his council, his choice was Ralph of Wacey, the son of
that Archbishop of Rouen whom Duke Robert had besieged
in his castle at Evreu. Now Ralph had been the murderer
of Count Gilbert, but this appeal to his honor
conquered his hostility. He became military tutor to
William and commander-in-chief of the armies of
Normandy, and from that time he was one of the
boy-duke's strongest supporters.
Ralph ruled with a heavy hand. From one
 rebellious vassal to another he sped, ever leaving
behind him peace, and an obedience that, on the
surface, at least, bore every mark of loyalty. Under
his firm, steady control, the duchy might have become a
land of law-keepers instead of law breakers, had it not
been for the ruler of a neighboring domain who now
began to lend a listening ear to all complaints that
came from the treacherous nobles that dwelt in
Normandy. This ruler was King Henry of France. Not long
after the election of Ralph as William's guardian, he
sent a formal demand for the young duke to come to
Evreux to do him homage. William's council straightway
assembled to consider the matter.
"Never has there been such a going to and fro between
Paris and every part of Normandy as of late," said one
of the councillors significantly.
"You mean by that that King Henry is a friend to Norman
traitors?" asked another bluntly.
"That is a thing which I would not say," said the
first; "but I hardly think he has forgotten that
Normandy was once a part of the land of the Franks, and
that his own capital stands on a river that is
controlled by another power."
 "For three generations the kings of France have owed
much to the dukes of Normandy," said another, "and save
for Duke Robert, King Henry would have been no king."
"King Henry said, 'I thank you,' and gave the duke the
Vexin," said a fourth; "but that is past. Perhaps he
would be willing to let Normandy keep the thanks, if he
could take back the Vexin."
"Perhaps he would like also the Norman sea-coast.
Perhaps he would like to have Rouen a French city once
more," said another.
"I think he would," said gravely the one that had first
spoken. "But the question just now is whether the duke
shall be advised to go to Evreux to pay homage to the
king. I admit that I do not like the place. To leave
the stronghold of Vaudreuil—and go nearer the French
capital seems to be full of danger."
"The duke could have a large train of attendants," said
one, "and every one of them should be armed from head
to foot. To refuse to pay homage would be to plunge the
land into war with France. Just now the friends of the
duke seem to be in power, but not every one who bends
the knee is faithful. There may be many a traitor among
 those who seem to be truest. A refusal to pay homage
may be only the pretext for which the king is waiting."
"A king who would seize upon a second kingdom would
wait for no—" began one, but stopped; for the duke,
who had been listening closely to every word, had risen
He was only a boy of twelve years, but most of them had
been spent among grave, stern warriors. Hardly an hour
of his life had been free from danger. Many a time he
had listened to his guardians while they discussed in
which place there was least chance of his being
murdered, and whether some knight who had seemed to be
loyalty itself was more likely to stand by him or to
attempt to kill him. He had learned of arms and
warfare, understanding perfectly that some failure to
know how to defend a stronghold might lose him a
castle, that some slight lack of skill in arms might
cost him his life. Hawking and hunting had been almost
his only recreations, and even in the hunting-field
there were many dangers for one who threw himself into
the chase with such headlong eagerness and delight.
One would not expect such a childhood to make
 a boy gentle and tender-hearted, but it could hardly
fail to bring him to an early maturity, to make him
bold and strong and hardy, and to give him coolness and
judgment far beyond his years. This was why, when the
young duke arose to speak, his council turned toward
him, not with the mere polite attention of vassals to
their feudal chief, not even with a keen curiosity to
see what a boy of his age would say, but with much the
same kind of consideration that they would have shown
to the expression of opinion of a man of twice his
It hardly seemed possible that he was but a boy of
twelve, so dignified and composed did he seem. He was
tall and strong and well developed, and more than one
of the councillors before him said to himself, "If I
were on a field of battle, I should rather have him for
a friend than a foe." Quietly assuming that the final
decision lay in his own hands, the boy said:—
I have listened to the advice of my councillors.
Since I am the duke of Normandy, I must not fear
danger, neither must I plunge my country into war with
France. I will go to the king and I will say, 'King
Henry, I am now
 fully twelve years of age, and I come to you not only
to do homage to my liege lord, but to ask the honor of
knighthood from the king of France.' "
"Never was there such wisdom in so young a head," said
one councillor to another, as they went out of the
room. "Boy as he is, he has cut the knot when we could
not. However it may be about going to do homage
whenever and wherever the king of France may ask it, a
young noble may go to an older one and demand the blow
of the sword that shall make him a knight, and for this
he must go to whatever place the older shall name."
"Surely," said another; "and no train of attendants can
be too long for a young duke who is on his way to
receive the golden spurs."
"It shall be as splendid an escort as the Norman duchy
can furnish," said the nobles; and forthwith each one
of them called out every man who was a vassal to him
and owed him military service, to come to the appointed
place with as handsome an equipment as he could
command. The duke was unarmed,—for a vassal must not
appear in arms to do homage to his suzerain,—but every
one else was in full armor.
 The horses had been groomed until they fairly shone.
The coats of mail and the bright shields and lances and
helmets glittered in the sunshine the brilliant as the
company set out. William was at its head, carefully
guarded by Ralph of Wacey and twenty of the strongest
men and most experienced fighters. A little distance
before the ducal line rode ten men as advance warders,
for who could tell what danger might be lying in wait
for the young man upon whom so much depended? The rear
was as closely watched; for although their force was
so strong that they needed to have little fear of a
direct attack, who knew what treacherous foes might be
about them ready to cut the duke from his defenders?
King Henry received the duke with calm courage, but
glanced with a shade of annoyance, the nobles thought,
at the great company of armed men.
"You come to a friendly court in full array, it seems,"
he said to the duke.
"I have many friends who wish to see me receive the
golden spurs," said the young noble, and the king was
silent. A messenger had been sent to King Henry long
before the company set
 out to say to him that William would ask for
knighthood, and so all things had been made ready. The
ceremony of homage was short, and then came the
preparations for receiving the accolade, and these
were by no means short or simple.
Every part of the preliminary rites was full of
significance. First came the bath followed by the white
tunic to indicate the purity which was expected of
every true knight. Over the white tunic was put a red
robe to call to mind the blood that the knight must
always be ready to shed in a righteous cause. Over the
red robe was drawn a close black coat, that the knight
might never forget that death will finally come to all
If this ceremony had taken place in France, William
would have been required to fast for twenty-four hours,
to spend a night alone in the church praying before the
altar, to confess and receive absolution, to attend
service in the church and listen to a sermon about his
new life and its duties; but the Normans were much
inclined to feel that knighthood was more closely
connected with warriors than with priests, and so much
of the usual religious ceremony was omitted.
 The rite, however, took place in the church, and it is
possible that William followed the French custom of
advancing to the altar with his sword hanging by a
scarf about his neck; and that the priest took it off,
laid it upon the altar, and blessed it. William
advanced to the king and knelt before him with hands
clasped, and said:—
"I am come to you, King Henry of France, to ask that I
may be armed as a knight, and that all forms may be
fulfilled that are necessary to my having the right to
serve and command in all ranks." The king asked:—
"To what purpose do you wish to become a knight? Is it
because you seek to be rich, to take your ease, to be
held in honor among men without doing that which shall
make you deserving of honor?" Then William answered:—
"I do not seek to become a knight for any honor save
that of punishing those who do evil, of protecting the
innocent and avenging their wrongs, and of maintaining
true religion. If I am admitted to the noble rank of
knighthood, I will endeavor to perform its duties
faithfully and well."
Then all the knights in their shining armor
 gathered about the young duke. Then, too, came the
ladies of the court in their most brilliant attire, and
together they put the young man's armor upon him, piece
by piece; first the golden spurs, then the coat of
mail, the cuirass, and last of all the sword. Then the
ladies and the knights drew back, and William,
glittering in his flashing steel, advanced to the king
and again knelt before him. The king unsheathed his own
sword, a sword that had been reddened by the blood of
many battles, and gave the duke the accolade,—that is,
three light blows on the shoulder or the nape of the
"In the name of God, Saint Michael, and Saint George, I
dub thee knight. Be valiant, bold, and loyal."
Again the brilliant company gathered around him. The
knights flashed their swords over their heads and
embraced him and welcomed him among them. A helmet was
brought him, and a horse was led up to the church door.
The newly made knight sprang upon its back, disdaining
to make use of the stirrups, and galloped back and
forth, poising his lance and brandishing his sword. One
of the old chroniclers says:—
 "It was a sight both pleasant and terrible to see him
guiding his horse's career, flashing with his sword,
gleaming with his shield, and threatening with his
casque and javelins."
After all this came a most elaborate feast, when every
one drank to his health and every one rejoiced in his
new honors. Generous gifts were made to the minstrels
and to all that had helped to entertain the guests; and
finally large sums of money were distributed among the
servants, that every one, even the humblest, might be
glad in the young knight's gladness.
The homage was performed, the ceremony of knighthood
was completed, the pleasures of the feast and the
rejoicing were at an end, the formal farewell had been
said, and the Normans prepared to set out on their
homeward march to Falaise. William was about to mount
his horse, when a chamberlain from King Henry stood
before him, saying:—
"I am the bearer of a message from the king. It is
this: 'King Henry of France, suzerain of the duchy of
Normandy, summons his vassal, William, Duke of
Normandy, to appear before him.' " The faces of the
Normans were grave,
 but William still looked upon the king as the guardian
whom his father had chosen, and without hesitation he
advanced with only a small bodyguard to the royal
audience chamber. The king gave him no word of
greeting, but looked at him sternly and said:—
"I am little pleased, my young sir knight, with the
reports that have come to me in regard to this new fort
of yours at Tillières."
"My councillors have told me," answered William, "that
the fort at Tillières was built by Richard the Good,
the father of my father."
"It matters not," said the king, with a frown, "the
fort stands, and it is garrisoned, and its men are
making continual incursions into my territory."
"If that is true," said William, "I am very sorry. I
will send a messenger to the commander of the fort. If
my men have made incursions into your lands, they shall
be punished, and there shall be no more annoyance."
" 'No more annoyance!' " repeated the king angrily, "and
'If it is true!' I tell you, young sir, a vassal is not
to arm himself against his suzerain. The fort at
Tillières is a menace and
 a threat, and it must fall; and until it falls, I look
upon you as a rebellious vassal. Perchance your
councillors have told you how a rebellious vassal is to
be treated." The king spoke harshly, and sat gazing
with the utmost sternness at the young duke.
Mature as he was by reason of his bitter experience,
William was but a boy after all, and in such a strait
as this even an older and wiser head might well have
been puzzled. He was silent.
"You cannot speak?" said the king. "Then I will provide
one that can speak for you. A messenger is in readiness
to bear to the commander of the fort at Tillières your
orders that it be razed to the ground."
What could the boy do? He was in the hands of the king,
practically a prisoner at his court. Then, too, he had
spent many months in Henry's care, and he was
accustomed to obey him as he would obey a father. There
was no opportunity to consult his councillors; he must
decide the matter himself.
"Here is a scribe," said the king. "Will you send to
the governor of the fort an order to raze
 it to the ground, and will you seal the order with your
"I will," said William slowly.
"I give you most courteous invitation to remain as my
guest until word shall come that the castle of
Tillières has been levelled," said the king
ironically, and William was immediately escorted with
a guard to a part of the castle from which it would
have been almost impossible for his own men to reach
him or for him to escape.
The order was sealed with the duke's seal and sent to
the governor of the fort; but this independent
governor calmly refused to surrender. He returned a
brief message that the fort had been intrusted to him
by Robert, duke of Normandy, to watch and ward as the
heritage of his son William. It was impossible, he
said, that this son should have given the order to
destroy it, and he would surrender it to no one but the
duke himself in person.
The king was more angry than ever, and now he sent a
great armed force to tear down the castle. He expected
that the sight of his soldiers would be enough to make
the governor submit, but Gilbert Crispin was made of
unyield-  ing material. He shut himself up in the castle with his
men, and there he stayed. Henry's soldiers attacked
the fort, and the governor was more determined than
ever when among them he recognized some of the
traitorous Norman nobles, who either preferred to pay
their allegiance to a suzerain that would be chiefly in
another district, or who were eager to help on any kind
of warfare that they might the more readily find
opportunities for robbery and pillage.
Gilbert's reply to the king's messenger had left it to
be inferred that if the duke himself in person
commanded him to give up the fort, he would yield; but
when King Henry in a storm of anger had William taken
to Tillières, even then, with the duke before him,
Gilbert hesitated, and it was, only when the orders of
the duke were seconded by those of the council that he
submitted. The gates were thrown open, and the faithful
and his valiant men marched out. The castle was in the
hands of the French, and they at once set fire to it.
The roofs and floors were burned, and
the stone tower, blackened and despoiled, stood as a
gloomy monument to the unjust claims of the French
 Again the council met, and now Henry was recognized as
an undoubted foe.
"I am but young in knighthood," said William; "but when
I received my arms, I was told that a true knight would
never couch his lance against the noble who had given
him the accolade. Shall I be true to my oath of
knighthood, or shall I fight against my suzerain?"
"It is the duty of a knight to be faithful to him who
has admitted him to knighthood," said one of the
council, "and therefore as a loyal knight you cannot
couch your lance against him; but you are more than a
knight. King Henry is your feudal chief, and you are
his vassal. You owe him service, and he owes you
protection. If he has broken his promise of protection
by himself invading your lands, you are no longer
bound by your promise of service. As a knight you
cannot fight him; but as the duke of Normandy you are
bound to defend your country and protect it from every
one that would work it harm."
It was evident enough that King Henry intended to work
it harm. He seemed to have forgotten that the duke was
his ward, and that by every tie of honor he was bound
faith-  ful to the boy's interests. Apparently he had no
recollection of the fact that, save for the aid of
William's father, he would have had no power to harass
Henry began to march his forces into the district
beyond Tillières, and now the Norman council realized
that by surrendering the fort at the king's demand,
they had only weakened themselves without lessening his
longing for the broad and fertile lands of Normandy.
Faster and faster came the bands of Frenchmen into the
Norman boundaries, each company venturing farther than
those that had preceded it. Into the very centre of the
Norman domain they pushed their way.
If all Normandy had been faithful to William, there
would have been little chance for the ravages of any
foreign power; but some preferred the tumults of war to
the restraints of peace, some blamed the duke, boy as
he was, for the loss of the fort of Tillières, and
there were many among the proud nobles of Normandy who
still declared that they would never submit to the
"grandson of a tanner."
Even in the district of the Hiesmois, it was
 not difficult to find a traitor. In the very heart of
Falaise, in the castle itself, was the man whom the
council had trusted, and whom the bribes and promises
of Henry now succeeded in making unfaithful to his
trust. This traitor, governor of the castle, rid
himself one by one of the soldiers who would have stood
by their duke, and garrisoned the castle with men from
the forces of the French.
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