| 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 |
"WILLIAM KNOWS HOW"
HERE could hardly have been a heavier blow to William
than to find that the castle of his birthplace, the
home of his childish memories, was the very centre of
the attack upon him. It is no wonder that he was
aroused to a fury of indignation. He was no longer
alone, as he had been at King Henry's court when he was
forced to give up his border fort. He had by his side a
wise man, well skilled in the art of war, his guardian,
Ralph Wacey, and by his advice the duke called out all
the nobles who were faithful to him to rally around his
In the castle of Falaise was the traitor governor with
some few of William's friends who could not be sent
away without arousing suspicion, and as many of Henry's
men as could well be brought within its walls. On three
sides of the fort was the steep and rocky precipice
 at whose foot clustered the houses of the town. About
the town was a wall, and beyond the wall were encamped
the forces of the French.
All was arranged. The French troops were to make their
way through the town, carry on a pretended siege for a
short time, and then the traitor within the castle was
to be false to his trust and surrender the fort to the
soldiers of the king. Henry's commander outside the
wall of the town had no thought of a surprise. The
castle was sure, the people in the town would not dare
to make any resistance, and there was little
possibility of the duke's coming against them; so one
morning they leisurely made ready to enter the town.
The leader had not yet fully armed himself for the
fight when rapid hoofbeats were heard, and a horseman
galloped at full speed into the royal camp. His horse
was wet with sweat and covered thickly with dust and
foam. The rider dropped from his saddle and fell on the
ground at the feet of the commander. He tried in vain
to speak, for his mouth was so parched and dry that he
could not utter a word. With a great effort he pointed
feebly down the road. Men brought
 water. They wiped away the stifling dust. They lifted
him up. They poured wine down his throat. Again he
pointed and whispered a single word. It was, "William!"
and he fell back on the ground weak and helpless.
Now William had not so many men as the king, but every
man was true and resolute. They fell like a storm-wind
upon the French camp, and the king's troops fled for
their lives. So far it was well for the Normans, but
there were foes in the castle, William knew that; and
how would it be with the town? From the lack of heavy
engines of war in the abandoned French camp, the king's
men evidently did not expect very much difficulty in
entering the town. How would it be when the Normans
should try to enter?
The time that he had to wait in uncertainty could
almost be measured by minutes, for men on the walls had
quickly recognized the young duke. He was their duke,
and their home was his. He was coming to his own, and
never did an heir come to his own with greater
"Welcome! Welcome!" they shouted. "Hail to the son of
Arletta! Welcome!" Banners and strips of bright-colored
cloth and green
 branches of trees were waved joyfully as the Norman
forces entered the Norman town. Women held up their
children to see the duke.
"That's he," they called, "on the black horse. Look at
him! See how he rides! His father used to ride like
that, and his mother was one of us, and he is our own
duke. Look at him! Hail to the son of Arletta!" And
one peasant woman, who was holding up her baby and who
had nothing else to wave, actually waved the baby in
her excitement as the duke rode by, and the baby's
cries mingled with the cheers of the people.
Now ever since William was seven years old he had lived
among stern warriors. They had taken care of him as a
valuable piece of property, and they had guarded him
from injury as they would have guarded a piece of
property. He had trusted King Henry, and the king had
met him with coldness and blame and imprisonment. Never
before, since the death of his father, had the young
duke received a sincere, hearty welcome. It is no
wonder that ever after this day his love for the town
below the precipice was firm and sure.
Through the familiar streets he rode at the
 head of the line. Past the river Ante they went, and
his cheeks burned under the cold steel of his helmet as
he remembered the insult of the boy whom he had pushed
into the stream.
"Hail to our duke, the son of Arletta!" the people
cried. And under the steel helmet the stern young duke
smiled, and with fresh courage rode up the winding way
to the castle. Not quite pleasing to the proud Norman
nobles were these cries of "Arletta," but it was no
time to be critical; friendly enthusiasm was worth more
than pride just then.
"You have taken the castle once," said Ralph Wacey, who
had heard of William's childish exploit, "and it ought
to be easy to take it again."
"Easy or not easy, we will have it," said William, and
in a moment his wrath came back at the thought that it
was the castle of the town of Falaise, the castle of
his own home, that had rebelled.
The attack was furious, and the defence desperate, for
the faithless governor knew full well that death was
the just penalty of such guilt as his. The Normans
fought fiercely, but the castle
 was strong. Forenoon, afternoon, sunset,—still they
fought, the attack as violent and the defence as
obstinate as in the early morning. Just as darkness
began to hide the assaulters from their foes within the
castle, the duke's men succeeded in making a breach in
the outer wall.
The false governor put up a white flag and begged for
mercy. Few men would have refused to be merciful after
such a victory and in the first great joy of their lives.
William pardoned the traitor on condition of his
leaving Normandy forever. The district which he had
held as a vassal of the duke was, of course, taken from
him; and a large share of this land, the first winnings
of that sword which was to conquer wherever it was
unsheathed, William immediately presented to the
mother whom he had scarcely seen since the days of his
early childhood in Falaise.
When Tillières was surrendered, one condition was that
it should not be restored for four years; but King
Henry, ever faithless, paid no heed to his promise, and
soon the fort stood in all its early might, the
stonework repaired and strengthened, the roofs and
floors renewed; and
 now, instead of being a protection to Normandy, it was
a constant threat of invasion and conquest.
In the middle of the eleventh century there seems to be
nothing but fighting. The governments were weak; if
men would protect their rights they must fight for
them. It was not only one man and his retainers
fighting against another man with the men whom he could
bring into the field; in the chain of feudalism every
man had sworn to give military service to some one of
greater power than he, and every man had sworn to give
protection to several men who were of less power than
he. Whenever any link of the chain was touched, the
whole chain quivered.
In those troublous times,—those days of destruction,
rebellion, and the foulest of treachery,—the one
power in the land was the church. The church cried
"Peace," and peace there was to an extent that would
have seemed impossible. Too wise to require what no
fear of her thunders would force men to grant, the
church limited her demand for peace to Sunday and the
last three days of each week. During those days not a
 sword was to be unsheathed, not a blow struck. The
"It is the peace of God. Whoever shall break it, let
him be accursed." Then they turned their lighted tapers
downward and extinguished them, while the people
"And so may God extinguish the joys of every one who
shall refuse to observe peace and justice." Whoever
broke this law was shut out of the church. If he died
before bringing about a reconciliation, he was
forbidden to receive Christian burial. The only way for
him to win forgiveness was to confess his fault with
all meekness, atone for whatever wrong he had done,
leave home and friends, and spend many years of penance
With this law of the church and William's increasing
power, the condition of Normandy became greatly
improved. He offered free pardon to all who would lay
down their arms, and gave generous rewards to those who
were true to him. He was interested in commerce, he
encouraged manufactures, he maintained peace with the
neighboring states wherever peace was possible. His
relations with King Henry of
 France were of the only character that could be wisely
maintained with that changeable monarch; that is, he
was on the terms of peace and allegiance that were
proper between vassal and suzerain, but he did not
neglect to make friends with those nobles especially
who had some reason to dislike the king of France.
After all the murders and revolts, there seemed to have
come a time of peace. Even the duke might borrow a few
days for rest end pleasure.
William and his court went to Valognes—"pleasant
Valognes." Day after day they hunted in the forest and
feasted at the castle. One night, after the guests had
departed full of plans for the next day's hunt, the
last day before the duke was to return to Rouen,
William was so sound asleep that not even a loud
knocking on the gate aroused him.
"Open, open!" a voice cried. "Enemies are coming, fly!
Rise, wretches, you will all be murdered!"
"It's the duke's jester," said one of the household
sleepily. "He's trying to play some trick on us. Go
down and let him in. The
 duke will be angry if he is kept out all night." So the
door was opened and the jester burst in.
"Where's my master?" he cried, "where's William?
William, where are you?" and in spite of the
half-laughing, half-sleepy attempts of the watchman to stop
him, he made his way to the door of William's chamber
and beat upon it madly.
"Master, master," he cried, "open the door, open it!
They are coming to kill you! Fly, fly!"
"Who are you?" said William.
"Gallet, master, your own jester. I heard them at
Bayeux. I slept in the stable and—" But William had
thrown open his door, and there was a strange figure,
for the jester wore a close-fitting doublet of red on
the right side and yellow on the left. His right
stocking was yellow and the left was red. Over his
doublet was a coat of all the colors of the rainbow. A
yellow hood covered his head, pointed, and with little
bells hanging from every point. In his hand was a wand
with what had been a fool's head, but now it was
flattened and broken where its owner had beaten it
against the door.
"Is this one of your pranks?" demanded the duke
 "I heard them, indeed I did, and I saw the horses and
the arms, and they are coming to kill you, and I love
you, master, and if they come, you will never, never
again see the light of day. Fly, master, fly!"
One glance at the face of the jester was enough. This
was no untimely prank; it was fearful truth. William
made the sign of the cross. He thrust on a tunic,
buckled on a sword, caught up a travelling cloak and
ran, barefooted and bareheaded, to the stables. He was
only nineteen years of age, but he showed the wisdom of
sixty, for he trusted no one. Whom could he trust in
all his duchy but the poor jester? He saddled his horse
and fled. From whom? To whom? Who could say?
The galloping of horses was heard, and it seemed but a
moment before the castle was surrounded. Armed men
swarmed from turret to dungeon. Where was William? The
servants stood pale and trembling. They did not know,
they said, and by their faces they told the truth. They
clustered in a frightened group, terrified and silent.
There was another group of the invaders,
loud and angry, for the duke was nowhere to be
 found. Between these two groups, playing tricks on one
man and then on another, was the jester. He was in high
spirits. He tossed his stick with the broken fool's
head. He whirled it around and around.
"One fool's head is broken," he said, "but the other
fool's head is sound," and then he felt for the corners
of his hood and shook his bells. "Too late, my brave
men, too late," he cried, whirling around on the yellow
foot and then on the red one, and turning somersaults
in the very midst of the angry group. "William is gone.
O William! Where's William? He'll make ready for you;
William knows how. William knows, he does. You gave him
a bad night, and he'll give you a bad day. How wise you
are! Glad am I that I am a fool! William knows, he
Now a jester might be tormented and he might be beaten,
but no man cared really to injure one of these
quick-witted, half-mad beings, for no one knew what
evil might befall him who struck a deadly blow. So the
jester jeered at them to his heart's content, but long
before his antics were over, they were on their horses
"Death to him! Death to him!"
Down the same road by which the traitors had come,
William galloped. It was bright moonlight. The shadow
of every rock and of every tree was black and dense.
Who could tell behind which one an enemy might lurk,
ready to spring out and strike the fatal blow? He heard
horsemen coming furiously up the road. He slipped into
the gloom of a thicket, and stood with his hands
closely clasping his horse's nose, lest the animal
should neigh as the others came near. The horsemen
dashed on. In their excited talk he was sure that he
heard his own name. He was but a little way from the
castle. His enemies would fail to find him, and then
they would follow on his tracks. Not a moment could be
lost. He thrust into his horse's sides the cruel Norman
spurs that were fastened to the stirrups. The river
Vire lay before him. If it was low tide, he could cross
by the ford; if high, he must go far around. The tide
was out, and he splashed through the shallow water in
safety. Close by the shore on the opposite side stood
the tiny stone church of Saint Clement, every line of
it clear and distinct in the moonlight.
DOWN THE SAME ROAD BY WHICH THE TRAITORS HAD COME WILLIAM GALLOPED
"God has helped me," said the fugitive. "To thank him
cannot delay me." He sprang from
 his horse and burst into the little church. He threw
himself before the altar. It was but a moment. On, on!
they were pursuing. Bayeux lay before him, but—what
was it that he had heard of Bayeux? Oh, the jester had
said that his enemies were there. He must go north by
lanes and by-paths between Bayeux and the sea; then he
would pass Rye and come to the districts that he
believed were faithful to him. The moon had long since
set, but he had galloped on through the darkness. The
east began to brighten. Here and there the sleepy
twitter of a bird came from some tree above his head.
Dew fell from the branches as he dashed by. There was a
stone tower. Whose was it? No matter, every one was
false; and once more the cruel spurs were plunged into
the horse's bleeding sides.
All was quiet and peaceful in the castle. Hubert, its
lord, stood just without the gate. Before him was the
little church, and he was on his way to matins. He
stopped a moment to look at the east, which was
brightening with the rising sun. Then he turned to the
west. He heard a furious galloping. What fugitive was
 this? No criminal must pass his castle gate. He sprang
forward and caught the bridle rein. The horse was
covered with foam and blood. On its back was a man
without shoes or stockings, bareheaded, covered with
dust. His mantle was torn to shreds by the briers
through which he had come. His face was bleeding. He
was clinging to his horse's neck, and as Hubert caught
the bridle he sank to the ground. For a moment Hubert
stood silent in amazement. Then he fell on his knees
before the horseman.
"My duke, my duke," he cried, "what has happened? Where
are your followers? Who has done this? Who pursues you?
Trust me, and I will save you as I would save myself.
Have I not sworn to be your loyal vassal, to be
faithful to you as well as to God?"
"Many have sworn to be faithful," said William sadly,
"but I trust you;" and then he told Hubert the story of
the pursuit and the escape. They are on my track," he
said; "I must flee."
"Then will I give you a guard," said Hubert, "and one
that will not fail you." So Hubert brought him food and
wine and clothes, and set the duke upon his own good
 "Fear not, my lord," said he; "the horse is strong and
sure of foot, and he will hold out well to your
journey's end." Then called he his three sons, three
"Buckle on your swords, my three brave knights," said
he, "for here is my lord and yours. Foul traitors have
wished to murder him. Save him. Give your life for his,
if need be. God gives glory and honor to him who dies
for the lord to whom he has sworn to be faithful."
"We swear to be true to our own sovereign lord, Duke
William of Normandy," said the three young men, making
the sign of the cross. Then William and his guards left
the sun on their left, and rode swiftly to the river
Orne and crossed over, and soon the duke was safe in
his own castle of Falaise.
Then was there great rejoicing, for the roads were full
of peasants wandering to and fro, and saying with
sadness and many tears, "Where is our duke? Is he a
prisoner, is he wounded, or perchance is he slain? Who
are the knaves that have done this?" And when they knew
that he was neither a prisoner nor wounded nor
 slain, then were they joyful, and the heart of every
one of them was glad.
But who were these foes that pursued William so
savagely, and whose first move was an attempt at
assassination? The leader was one Guy of Burgundy, his
own cousin. Guy had spent much of his childhood at
Falaise, and had received knighthood from William's
hands. William had made him lord of two castles, and
had treated him as if he was a younger brother. To this
young man who had every reason for being loyal to his
cousin, went one Grimbald, whose castle of Plessis was
in the district of Bayeux.
"Did it ever enter your mind," said Grimbald, "that you
are rightful heir to the dukedom of Normandy?"
"My father claimed no such right," said Guy, "and
surely I have no claim that he had not."
"That is but a childish excuse," said Grimbald.
"William's father had but a peasant wife. You are the
lawful heir to the dukedom. You need only to stretch
out your hand to take that which is your own. Do you
not wish to be duke?" Then Guy began to wish for it,
 soon he was sure that he had a right to the dukedom.
All William's kindness was forgotten. From one noble to
another this new claimant went. To the lords of the
strong castles in western Normandy he said:—
"If I am duke, I shall content myself with the eastern
part of the duchy, and you may go on building your
castles and live in the independence which day by day
you are losing under the rule of him who now unjustly
holds control." Western Normandy stood by Guy, while
eastern Normandy armed itself and was ready to fight to
the death to maintain the rights of William.
The first act of the conspirators was the attempt to
murder William which was frustrated by the devotion of
the jester Gallet. Now the duke was in his castle. He
knew who were false to him and who were true, but he
had not the forces to conquer his foes. Whom should he
ask? Up and down the room he paced. Suddenly he struck
his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"I will do it," he said. "I do not bow down to one who
has wronged me, I make him of
 service to me. I claim that which I have a right to
claim, and if he gives it, it shall atone for the harm
that he has done me." Straightway he started for the
"To you as my suzerain I am come," he said.
You owe me protection. I am come to claim it. It was to
you that my father, setting out on a holy pilgrimage,
intrusted my interests. Had he done nothing to warrant
him in his trust? Do you not hold your kingdom to-day
because of the aid that he gave you? You came to him in
your need with but twelve knights, and he treated you
with honor and put you on the throne of France." Henry
made no reply, and the duke went on:—
"The western districts will hold by my cousin. I can
name you over the traitors one by one. You know well
that not one of those men can unite Normandy or rule it
if it is united, and you know that I can, if you help
me to overcome these rebels." Still Henry was silent.
Then said the duke:—
"It rests with you whether you will have Normandy
united and under a strong hand, or whether you will
have bloodshed and robbery
 and murder. Even if these men should ask to be your
vassals, what kind of subjects, think you, will rebels
and traitors become? Will they be any more true to you
than they have been to me?" For the third time in
William's few years of life, it had been shown that to
throw one's self frankly upon the generosity of either
Frenchman or Norman would often arouse in him a spirit
of chivalry and honor. King Henry spoke at last.
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