| 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 |
ROBERT THE PILGRIM
am the grandson of Richard the Fearless as well as
he, and I will never do homage to my proud cousin." So
said Alain of Brittany, and again the little boy saw
his father mount the great war-horse, and ride swiftly
down the hill. He was followed by a troop of fighters,
for there were plenty of men who would do anything for
money, and Robert had "sous of Rouen" enough to hire as
large an army as he chose.
When his little son saw the preparations, he
straightway asserted his right to go with the company.
"I am a soldier, too," he said, "and you let the other
soldiers go. I have a sword and a coat of mail, and I
can give the commands—you know I can. I've taken a
castle, too. You know you had to surrender. Won't you
let me go?"
"A soldier must ride a horse," said the duke, "and you
can only ride a pony. The next time
 I go out to fight, then, if you are big enough to ride
a horse, perhaps I will take you with me.—I believe
the youngster would be as brave as "any old fighter,"
he muttered to himself proudly.
Alain, too, had summoned his vassals—men of high
rank, brave warriors with a brave leader—and yet, when
Robert's men dashed upon them, suddenly rushing up from
the glen where they had been hidden, they fled for
their lives. The enemy pursued, hunted them down like
wolves, killed horse and rider without mercy, until
more than half the noble army had been slain. There was
one more expedition against Alain—an angry, pitiless campaign.
Would Alain submit, or did he prefer, first to have his
land devastated, and then to submit? Alain yielded, and
did homage. Then he turned sullenly to leave the
presence of the duke, but Robert called him back.
"Alain, my cousin," said he, "I have fought you as
fiercely as I know how to fight, for I was holding to
what I believe is my lawful due. Do you blame me for
"Every man has a right to his own," said Alain
evasively; but the duke had more to say.
"I thought it was mine. You thought it was
 yours. We fought it out fairly and squarely, and I have
won. Do you bear malice for the result of an honest
No," said Alain hesitatingly.
"I have made my own way," said the duke. "I have never
sought aid or favor or advice from any man. This is the
first time that I have asked a man for his friendship,
but now I want a friend, not a conquered enemy. Will
you give me your hand and swear to be, not my vassal,
but my friend?" Alain turned slowly toward the duke.
Then he glanced at his cousin's face. There was an
appealing look that no one had ever seen before on the
countenance of the proud noble. The fiery, warm-hearted
Alain melted in an instant. He laid his hand in that of
the duke, and said:—
"I will be your friend, and whatever you ask in the
name of our friendship, that will I do."
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Robert;
"and the time may come when I shall ask the greatest
favor that one man could ask of another in this the
duchy of Normandy, and I shall trust you as never
before did one man trust another." Then in a moment,
Robert was the same proud, headstrong, self-sufficient
 that he had always been, and for a while Alain almost
fancied that those few minutes had been a dream.
It was but a short time after this that Robert called
together the earls and barons and bishops and abbots of
his duchy, every man of mark among those who paid him
homage. In their robes of state they came to the
appointed place, each one followed by a company of
armed men. It was a brilliant assemblage. There was the
Archbishop of Rouen, the uncle with whom Robert had
fought, and whom he had afterward made chief of his
council, and there was his cousin, Alain of Brittany.
No one could even guess why they had been summoned.
They knew of no question great enough to call out the
whole ducal council. Not one of them had the least
suspicion of what was to come, nor would they have
known any better even if they had heard the duke's last
command to a chamberlain just before he entered the
council room. It was this:—
"'When you hear me strike three times with the hilt of
my sword, bring in my son; and see to it that he is
dressed in the richest attire that
 the castle will furnish." Then the duke entered the
room where the whole dazzling company awaited his
presence. After the usual forms of opening a council of
state had been completed, then, without word of
introduction, Robert expressed his will.
"It is well to be duke of a wide realm," said he, "but
one must care for the good of his soul. I have sinned,
and I must do penance, or else suffer forever and ever
the punishment due to my misdeeds."
"He is going to resign the kingdom," thought the
councillors, and more than one of them formed in a
moment a scheme to secure the dukedom for himself. But
Robert went on:—
"There is one way by which a man may wipe away even the
darkest crime, and that way will I take. This is what I
will do. Bare-headed, bare-footed, in the guise of a
pilgrim, and with staff in hand, I will go to
Jerusalem; and when once my feet have trodden on the
holy ground, then shall I be freed from my sins. Then
will I return and rule my duchy—and woe to him who
has been an unfaithful vassal. I shall find means to
make him regret his falseness," said
 the duke haughtily, for humility was not exactly his
most prominent virtue. Then arose one of his relatives.
"Duke Robert, my cousin," said he, "I am most heartily
sorry that such a thought has entered your mind. I can
only guess whom we have to thank for this," and he
glanced toward the Archbishop of Rouen, "but I am safe
in saying that if any one has had a hope of gain for
himself in persuading—"
"My thoughts are my own," said the duke proudly. "If
there is any one here who can say that he had word or
whisper of my plan before this day, let him speak."
There was silence for a moment, then another councillor
"A lordless land is open to every foe," he said.
"Normandy is strong, but we have on every side
territories that are envious of her wealth, of her
power, of her alliance with King Henry of France. We
have brave leaders, and we can call out brave soldiers,
but what is all our bravery without a commander who
holds his place by a right that none can dispute? It is
well to cleanse one's self from sin, but shall our land
fall into revolt and ruin that it may be
 done so hastily? Duke Robert, you are a young man, let
the pilgrimage wait. In years to come, if you would
make a pilgrimage, you can leave us in quiet fealty to
a rightful ruler. Go now, and who is there to whom we
can pay our homage? Who will stand with unquestionable
right at the head of this realm?"
Robert stood silent for a moment, gazing at the face of
one and then of another. Through the minds of at least
three of those present flashed the thought: "I am
closely akin. I have the right to rule in his place—and
Silently the duke looked at them. Then, still without a
word, he unsheathed his sword and beat with the hilt
sharply three times upon the heavy table before him.
What did it mean? It was mysterious, and in those days
whatever was a mystery was expected to be of satanic
origin. What evil spirits might come forth at the magic
call? Those brave fighters gazed into Robert's face as
if spellbound. They actually feared. He was called
"Robert the Devil." Would he make good his name?
The curtain was drawn aside, and there stepped
 forward into the council room a handsome boy of seven
years. He was dressed in a tunic of the richest,
softest silk, falling to the knees. It was of a deep
blue, and all around its lower edge and about the
opening at the neck there was a wide border of
elaborate silken embroidery, with a pearl gleaming here
and there among the brilliant colors. No thought of
fear had the child. He stood for a moment looking about
the room. Then when he saw the duke, he went quietly to
him and said:—
"Father, the chamberlain said that you wanted me."
"I do, and the man here that does not want you is an
unfaithful vassal, and on him will I wreak my
vengeance." He held the boy up in his arms and kissed
him before them all. Then he said:—
"If any one among you dares to say that I am leaving
you without a head, let him come forth. This child is
my son. That he is the offspring of a peasant mother
matters naught to you. Look at him; will he not be a
fit man to represent you at court, to lead you in
battle, and to render you justice? He is little, but he
 grow. He is beautiful, gallant, and brave. I name him
as my heir, and I here give him possession of the duchy
of Normandy. From this moment he is your liege lord.
Refuse to acknowledge him, if you wish to meet the
penalty that is inflicted upon a faithless vassal."
The whole assemblage was so taken by surprise that not
a word was spoken. The duke waited for a moment, then
he turned to Alain of Brittany.
"Alain of Brittany, my cousin, my friend," he
said significantly, "to you I intrust my son's
possessions. I appoint you governor of Normandy until I
return; and if I do not return, then are you governor
until my boy is of age to rule his own domain. Do you
accept the trust?"
"I do," said Alain gravely.
"Is there any one here who has aught of objection to
bring forward?" asked the duke. He would have been a
bold man who dared to brave the will of "Robert the
Devil" to his face, and not a word was said. There was
another reason for the silence. Alain was the strongest
of the three that had had some hope of the kingdom, and
his voice was hushed by the dignity offered him
 as governor of Normandy for, it might be, many years;
and, moreover, although the charge of the interests of
a tanner's grandchild and the maintenance of his rights
would be at best no easy and no welcome task, he felt
himself in honor bound to grant, for the sake of his
promised friendship, what the duke had asked of him.
As for the others, they knew well that the first claim
set forth by any one of them would be the signal for
determined opposition on the part of the rest. There
had been no opportunity to gain any man's support by
bribes or promises or threats. No man present knew what
allies he could count upon. The result of it was that
one by one the bishops, archbishops, barons, and all
the haughty company of nobles meekly folded their
hands, hardened by the grasp of the sword and browned
by the sun of many battlefields, and laid them, within
the hands of the tanner's grandchild, and promised to
be faithful to him as their feudal chief.
During the long, tiresome ceremonial the little boy was
perfectly composed. He had more than once seen a vassal
do homage to his father, and he felt a manly pride in
behaving just as he had seen his father behave on
 There was something more. There had been little slights
and rebuffs on the part of the nobles, and there had
been words whose meaning he did not know, but with a
child's quick sensitiveness he had felt that the nobles
were not his friends, and it is no wonder that he had
an instinctive pleasure in seeing them bow down before
him. He might well sit quietly and receive with a
certain childish dignity their oaths of fealty.
"If I were the Duke of Normandy, I would not leave a
boy like that so that every one who wanted the dukedom
might strike a blow at him," said one noble, as they
went out from the council chamber.
"What can he do?" said another. "Who knows what sins
Robert the Devil may have to answer for? It may be no
wonder that he wants to go on a pilgrimage."
"No one would think that the mother of that boy was a
peasant," said the first.
"The duke never seems to think of it, either. The child
is his, and that is enough in his mind. He does not
seem to remember that the blood of the tanner's
daughter flows in the veins of the boy," said the
 It is enough to make one think he is right to look at
that child. I don't believe there is another boy in
Normandy as brave and as handsome as he. They say it is
really a pretty sight to watch him train that little
company of youngsters. I suppose you heard about his
leading them up to his father's castle and calling on
the duke to surrender?"
"No, but I did hear that when he was playing one day on
the bank of the Ante below the castle, a much larger
boy than he came up behind him and whispered, 'This is
where your father first met Arletta.' The little
fellow understood somehow that it was an insult to his
mother, and they say that the small child whirled around,
and in the wink of an eye the other boy was in the
water, for the blow was so sudden that he had no idea what
was coming. Then the seven-year-old baby took his
sister by the hand and walked off, never looking over
his shoulder, and with his head high up in the air,
just exactly as the duke carries his."
"It's a fine thing to be governor of Normandy," said
the first, after a moment's pause; "but for all that, I
don't envy Alain of Brittany."
 "No one but Duke Robert would have thought of making
him the child's guardian, a man whom he had just
pursued almost to the death."
"What will you wager that he will be faithful?"
"I'll wager my castle that he will have a hard time of
it if Duke Robert isn't at home within a year, and that
either the child or Alain will suddenly die. Did you
see the face of William of Montgomery? I did, and if
he does not mean mischief, I am no prophet."
"The duke has been generous with him."
"What is, hold fast; what is to come, be grateful for;
what is past, forget. That's William's way of doing
The feudal system was a great chain. Each one of those
who had sworn to be true to the child William had
received promises of fealty from men who paid him dues
and were dependent upon him for protection. Now
William, in his turn, must pay his homage to the king.
Robert had made most careful provision for Arletta,
and as the grand procession swept away from Falaise one
bright morning, she watched it, with her little
daughter Adelaide, from a window that was hung with the
Griev-  ing to lose her son, she was nevertheless greatly comforted
by the thought that it was her son for whose
sake all this splendid cavalcade was marching to
Paris. Moreover, this separation was to her almost a
mark of nobility, for while peasant mothers might keep
their boys, the sons of nobles were taken from them at
the age of seven and put under the care of men, either
at home or in some friendly castle, that they might the
sooner learn the duties of knighthood.
King Henry was glad of the opportunity to appear
grateful to Duke Robert for the assistance that he had
rendered in his time of need, and the special court
which he held to receive the Normans was most
magnificent. The king sat on his royal throne. His
velvet mantle glittered with gold and was loaded with
ermine. Upon his head rested his jewelled crown.
Barons, bishops, archbishops, and officers of state
were around him, each in
his most gorgeous array.
When the ducal party appeared, the dazzling company
separated to the right and to the left, leaving a broad
aisle from the entrance up the long hall to the foot of
the throne. Slowly the duke and his men walked between
 lines, the duke leading his child. The boy's tunic was
of a deep crimson velvet, the richest that Italian
skill could produce, but with no touch of ornament.
Beside him was the duke, bare-footed, bare-headed, and
wearing the coarse gray cloak that marked him as one
who would make the great pilgrimage. His haughty
bearing, not to be disguised even by the garb of the
pilgrim, together with the beauty and animation of the
boy, held every eye.
They knelt at the foot of the throne, and King Henry
gave Robert a most gracious welcome. The duke then
formally presented William as his son and heir, and
said to the king:—
"King Henry, my liege, now that I am on the point of
departing on a holy pilgrimage for the good of my soul
and the forgiveness of my sins, I have brought to you
my son, to whom I have given my duchy, and I ask that
you will graciously receive his promise of fealty."
Then said the king:—
"I will receive it, and I will do all that can fall to
the share of him who is as faithful to his vassal as he
would have the vassal be to his lord." Then the little
boy knelt again before
 the throne. He folded his hands and laid them within
the hands of the king. Phrase by phrase he repeated
after his father:—
"I do now swear that from this day forth I will be your
man, that I will serve you with life and limb and
worldly honor, and that I will keep my faith and be
loyal to you forever." Then the king said:—
"I do now accept you as my true and honest vassal. I
will protect your person and your estate; and all
things that a lord should perform for his faithful
vassal, those will I do for you." The king then kissed
the boy and gave him a green twig and a bit of turf,
for in these feudal relations people had a theory that
all the land belonged to the king, and that in return
for the promised service of the vassal, he would allow
him to make use of a certain amount of it; and it was
this privilege which was signified by the presentation
of the twig and the turf.
Now things became less formal. Cupfuls of silver coins
were scattered among the poor people, and the king and
all the nobles partook of a great feast. King Henry was
most cordial to the duke, and especially attentive to
his little new vassal.
 He promised that the boy should have a home at his own
court, and there be trained in all such exercises of
chivalry as were fitting to be taught to the future
ruler of a great duchy like Normandy.
"You must grow fast, my little man," said one of the
French nobles to William, "for there isn't a handsomer
knight in King Henry's court than you will be."
"Will the king let me be a knight very soon?" asked the
child eagerly. "I'm a pretty big boy now."
"Judging from the way he behaves, he will do whatever
you wish," said the noble, with a meaning glance at
another who stood near him.
"What does that look signify?" asked the other, with a
little smile, as the boy wandered away to look at the
pictures on the tapestry.
"Need it signify anything?" asked the first.
"Even looks are not without meaning when one dwells in
a royal palace," said the other. "Do you mean that King
Henry will not always be as devoted to the interests of
his young vassal as he seems to-day?"
"Who shall say?" answered the first, with a shrug of
the shoulders. "Normandy is a fair
 country. It joins France; there would be no opposition
on this side."
"Do you not incline to think that Alain of Brittany
will keep faith with Robert?"
"Who knows?" said the first, with another shrug; "but
even if he does, there is William of Montgomery and the
Archbishop of Rouen. More than one man, more than two,
more than three, would be willing to accept the fertile
lands and the flourishing manufactories of Normandy.
Who knows what will happen?"
"Who knows?" said his companion.
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