| 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 |
A STERN RULE
HE king was seated firmly on his throne. The south was
submissive; the north was a wilderness. Far to the
northwest was one last stronghold, the city of Chester,
and William now set out to subdue it, and so complete
the circle of his conquests. He was at York, and it was
not long after Christmas, in a bitter northern winter;
but William gave the order to march to Chester, and the
It was a terrible march. There were no roads. It was a
wild, rough country at best, with streams, forests,
valleys, and jagged hills, difficult in summer even
for fresh, enthusiastic troops; but in the winter to
make a way through valleys choked with snow, over hills
bleak and slippery, and through forests that were
masses of icy thorns and tangled icy boughs, would have
been hard enough for men born and bred in the north. It
was doubly hard for the soldiers from the sunny land of
France, wearied by the previous campaigns, their first
 enthusiasm exhausted by this never satisfied
commander, who was ever crying, "On, on," and it is no
wonder that the murmurs grew louder and louder.
"I wish I was back in my own Anjou," said one soldier
under his breath to a man from Brittany.
"Brittany isn't so bad a place," said the Breton. "We
had enough to eat there, and here we may live on fogs
and icicles or else starve."
"If any one denies that I, a man from Maine, am a good
fighter, he is a false-hearted traitor and a liar,"
said a man from Maine, looking cautiously around him,
and then strutting up and down in grotesque imitation
of the "champion." Every one laughed, but one said:—
"There's as much earnest as fun in that, my friend from
Maine; for not many men would have been willing to go
up the scaling ladder first as you did at Exeter."
"Then if you will agree that I am not a coward, I will
say that I don't want to fight any more of these
English. They strike like demons."
"I'd as soon fight a demon as anything else," said the
man of Anjou; "and I'd go up two scaling ladders to eat
a good dinner in a comfortable hall with a red fire on
the hearth and plenty of tapestry
 to keep the wind out." More and more did such feelings
spread, till at last some one was found bold enough to
say to the king:—
"King William, your soldiers would speak with you."
Then the king went forth to his men, and one said,
though not without some trembling:—
"King William, we are tired of hunger and cold and of
this continual marching on and on. Your orders are too
hard for men to carry out. Give us our dismissal." Not
a moment did the king hesitate. He stood before them
"You who are faithful, follow me. You who are cowards,
get you gone; it is nothing to me whether you follow or
not." Now the soldiers could not make their way to
France alone and without the resources of the king.
They had hoped to make him turn back, or at least, to
offer them higher wages, but the plan had failed. There
was nothing to do but to follow him and by their
bravery to try to make him forget their attempted
desertion. They went on through forest and marsh, in
the midst of snow and icy rain, and Chester was taken.
The army marched south. On the plain of Sarum William
reviewed his troops and rewarded them.
 England was quiet, but it was not all peace and
happiness through the land. There was discontent and
bitter hatred and sometimes revolt, but William was
king; and revolt was no longer against a man seeking
power, but against a man holding power. William was
never intentionally cruel. He had no wish to maim, to
starve, to slaughter; but having set before him the
single aim of subduing England, he would allow nothing
to stand in his way. He would tear down a rebellious
castle and put its defenders to the sword; but
afterward, and almost without being asked, he would
grant a free pardon to the man who had closed the
castle gates against him.
Now that he was fairly settled in England, swarms of
people came from the continent; for they looked upon
England as a new country where, if a man was only a
good soldier and vassal, he might receive broad
stretches of land. Whole families came. An old rhyme
"William de Coningsby
Came out of Brittany
With his wife Tiffany
And his maide Maufas
And his dogge Hardigras."
 William never despised the English. He tried to learn
their language, encouraged marriages between English
and Normans, and when he was not engaged in subduing
his new people, he did all that he could to make them
friendly with his old subjects. Unfortunately, many of
the conqueror's army and of those that came after them
were men of low birth, and the English despised them
even while they yielded.
"These adventurers," said one English noble to another,
"they are a rabble, and they follow a low-born king."
"There is no place here for an Englishman," said the
other, "and I mean to take my own good sword and cut my
way to the east. The emperor will always give an
Englishman a welcome."
"So say I," said the other heartily. "My country is
mine no longer; it belongs to these vagabonds. I will
go to Denmark. The Danes were better friends to us than
this great Norman with his haughty crew." So it was
that while many people came to England, many left their
country for foreign lands. Even if a man had sworn
fealty to the king and was in his own house, he knew
not when some wild band of marauders might
 come upon him,—against the king's will, of course,
but the king was far away. It was better to defend
one's goods than to try to restore them; and so the
houses were filled with weapons, and the doors were
barred and bolted.
Many hid themselves in the wide tracts of forests.
Sometimes whole families with their servants, if they
had any, went to the wild-wood. "The conqueror has
stolen from us, why should we not take back what we
can?" they said; and so they fell upon the Normans who
came their way. The usual punishments did so little in
preventing these assassinations that a law was made
imposing a fine upon the people of every district in
which a murdered man was found. To avoid this fine the
English would, whenever a man was found dead, destroy
his clothes and weapons, and then they would declare
that the body was that of an Englishman. To meet this
state of things, a law was made that every man found
murdered should be regarded as a Frenchman unless two
men and two women, all near relatives of the murdered
man, should swear that he was English.
Although the conquered people never felt the
 least affection for William, they admitted that he was
a just man, if he was severe; but for his companions
they seem to have felt only scorn and hatred. They were
willing to fight under the king, and especially if they
could fight Frenchmen, for they looked upon all who
spoke the French language as belonging to their
oppressors. William had subdued English with French,
and now he would subdue French with English, for Maine
had revolted. Le Mans, which he had conquered ten
years before, was determined to be free.
Matilda seems never to have made any long stay in
England, for so long as William must be away from his
duchy, so long must she and Robert stay in Normandy to
rule over it. It was at their call that William crossed
the Channel. He appeared before Le Mans with his army,
and the conquest was only the old story repeated; for
instead of fighting, he appealed to the men of Le Mans
to surrender, that there might be no bloodshed. After
one day's deliberation the town yielded, and William
was as merciful as usual to his fallen foe.
The one instance in which he seems to have shown no
mercy is in the case of the great Earl Waltheof, to
whom he had given his niece Judith
 in marriage. It seems that Roger, son of the king's old
friend, Fitz-Osbern, wished his sister to marry a
Breton noble. For some reason the king forbade the
Nevertheless, there was a great wedding, and many
prominent men were present, both English and Normans,
although they knew that it was against the king's will.
Very bold were they in their speeches.
"He has stolen our land from us," said a Saxon.
"And we," said a Norman, "what have we received? We
put him on a throne—the grandson of a tanner on a
throne—and he has rewarded us with half-barren tracts
of land. The land in Normandy is rich with vineyards
and with grain fields. This reward of ours is rich in
fogs and forests." Then arose another Norman and
turned to Earl Waltheof, who had sat silent, pouring
the last drops of wine in his horn into another and
then back again.
"Earl Waltheof," said he, "all that you English need is
a man to lead. You are the man. If you and we two
Normans unite, we can bring back the days of Edward. We
need do no harm to the king, but we can prevent the
oppressions of his nobles. Moreover, William is in
Normandy, he is
 fighting, and he may never be able to return, and—"
"William not return?" said another Norman; "he has
spent his life in battles and never yet has he received
a wound. He'll return."
"Let him, when we are ready to receive him," said the
first Norman. "There may be another Senlac, and if
there is we will finish Battle Abbey, but it shall be
in memory of William's defeat, not of his victory. We
do not all love him any more than you do." Waltheof
seemed to have heard not a word of this speech. At last
he yielded against his will, and troops began to
"Do not hasten to cross the seas," wrote William's
chief adviser to the absent king. "It would be a shame
for you to have to come to us to drive out a handful of
traitors and robbers." The royal forces met the
conspirators and subdued them after one battle.
Waltheof might have escaped, but trusting in his
comparative innocence, he crossed the Channel, went
straight to William, and begged for his forgiveness.
Instead of receiving pardon, he was executed—the last
of the English earls, and the only man executed, save
for crime, in the whole of William's reign.
 "And it was all his wicked wife," said an English
thegn; "she wanted to get rid of her husband, and she
told King William falsely that the earl had engaged a
Danish fleet to come over to fight against him."
"King William made her marry Waltheof," said another;
"she did not wish to be his wife."
"He was the best man in England," said the first.
"Perhaps she is sorry now. At any rate, it was she who
besought the king to let the earl's body be taken from
the hole between the cross-roads and buried at the
convent of Croyland."
"She was afraid his spirit would trouble her," said the
first, "and I don't wonder. The cousin of a friend of
my wife's knows a man who has been at the convent, and
he said that this Judith came there and brought a rich
silken drapery, costly enough to be a prince's ransom,
to throw over his tomb; but that whenever she tried to
lay it down, an arm that no one could see would thrust
it back as if a strong wind had blown it; and he says
that at last she dropped the cloth on the ground and
would never come near the tomb again."
And what had become of Edgar, heir to the
 English throne, last of the male line of the old royal
family? For a long while he seemed to be at the call of
any one that wanted to use him as a figurehead for a
revolt. Apparently William had no special fear of him
so long as he remained in England, or was visiting his
sister who had married the king of Scotland; but,
finally, King Philip of France, not so young as he was,
but fully as pert, and as jealous of William as ever,
invited Edgar to make his home in a French castle;
then, although William did not interfere, he kept a
close watch of the English prince.
Edgar set out for France in a finely decorated vessel
laden with beautiful furs and many other rich presents
from the Scotch king. If the vessel had been as
seaworthy as it was handsome, the story might have had
a different ending; but a great storm arose, and the
ship was driven upon the coast of England. Without the
load of gifts, Edgar and his men made their way back to
Scotland as best they could.
"It is the will of God," said the Scotch king. "He has
sent His storm that you may not resist the man whom He
has chosen to rule. Do not fight against the decree of
God, but send
mes-  sengers to William and ask that there may be peace
Edgar yielded, as he always did to whatever the last
speaker advised. The messengers were sent, and King
William replied with the utmost friendliness.
"I would gladly show all kindness," said William, "to
him who is first of the English nobles." Then William
sent an honorable embassy to bring Edgar to Normandy.
Edgar was now the guest of a king, and he travelled in
as much luxury as the times would permit. At every
castle on the way a feast was made for him and his
party. This time the sea was kind to him, and he came
to the Norman court in safety. The king gave him one
silver pound a day, and for many years he lived at the
Norman court, satisfied with his silver pound, his dogs
and horses, and the small manors which William allowed
him in England.
There were three of William's deeds that especially
aroused the wrath of the people,—the law of the curfew
bell, the forming of the New Forest, and the compiling
of the Doomsday Book. The curfew was a bell that rang
at sunset in summer and at eight o'clock in winter,
and when it
 struck, the fire on the hearth must be covered with
ashes and the lights put out. This was an old
regulation on the continent in order to prevent fires,
and it was especially necessary in London, where there
were only wooden houses; but it was new to the English,
and though they were such early risers that few of them
cared to sit up later or had lights good enough to make
longer evenings a pleasure, they felt it a great act
of tyranny to oblige them to blow out their candles at
any fixed time.
The curfew law hurt their pride rather than did them
any real injury; but they had a more serious grievance
in the forming of the New Forest, as it was called, and
as it has been called for eight hundred years. William
had chosen Winchester, the favorite home of the Saxon
kings, as his own dwelling place. It is north of the
Isle of Wight, and easily approached from the sea. A
little to the southwest of the city, and bordering on
the shore, was a fertile tract of land containing some
sixty thousand acres. It was partly wooded and partly
open, and in the open places were homes of some of the
English and some small settlements. These people were
driven away to find
 an abode where they could, and their houses were torn
down. More trees were planted, so as to make it as
nearly like a wild country as possible.
No one knows just why William did this. It may have
been in order to provide a place for the landing of his
Norman forces that would be safe even in a time of
general revolt. The deep forest would also be a good
place for meetings of conspirators; and to prevent any
dangers arising from such meetings there were most
severe laws against carrying weapons into this region.
This is what some say, but others recall the fact that
the one amusement that seemed to give the king any
pleasure was hunting, and they believe that his only
reason for making this tract of land into a desert was
that he might have near his home a good field for his
Now among the earlier kings of England hunting had
been as serious a business as repelling Danish
invaders, and two hundred years before this time King
Ethelwulf had feared lest some day England should be
deserted and be given up to wild beasts. Only one
hundred years before the coming of the Normans a
certain Welsh prince was required to present every year
a tribute of three
 hundred wolves' heads. Even in William's day, there
were not only deer, but there were wolves and wild
boars that must be killed for the safety of the flocks
and herds. To destroy these would have been a
praiseworthy deed; but to hunt merely for the pleasure
of killing was not so common in England as in France,
and many of the English looked upon William's enjoyment
of the chase with a real horror. Whatever William's
reasons were, the New Forest was made.
The desire of the poor people to remain in their old
home was looked upon by the Normans much as the desire
of a horse to remain in the same place and with the
master whom he knows and loves is often looked upon
to-day. To drive these people out from home to live or
die as they might, seemed to the Normans as innocent a
deed as it seems to some people of to-day to drop a petted
kitten in a strange street and abandon it to its fate.
Even those among the English who were well-to-do would
not look upon these evictions of the poor people as
nearly so much of a crime as was the severity of the
laws against trespassing within the limits of the
king's hunting ground. William "loved the wild
animals as if he was their father," says the
Anglo-  Saxon Chronicle with a touch of grim irony, and he
decreed terrible penalties for every trespass. The man
that shot a deer must lose both his eyes—a punishment
which generally resulted in death. People stood aghast
"The hand of God will be upon him. A curse rests upon
his forest. That he might have idle sport, he has made
men suffer, and suffering will surely come to him and
The third deed of William which was especially
objectionable to the English was the compilation of the
Doomsday Book. The Danes had come many times, and might
come again, and in any case it was necessary that the
king should know what money he could collect for the
expenses of the kingdom and for its protection. He had
tried to levy a tax on land; but the value of land
varied so widely in different places that the tax was
not fairly apportioned, and so it was exceedingly hard
to collect. There was another reason for the
"You told us," said the Norman nobles, "that the land
which we should win with our swords should be our own,
and now you tax us to increase your own hoard." William
 "You think of yourselves; I think of the country. You
plan to raise flocks and cultivate the ground and make
yourselves rich; I plan to strengthen the kingdom, lest
some day an enemy fall upon us and we have not the
means of defence."
Whether the holders of land were pleased or not, the
survey did not stop. Commissioners were appointed to
go all over England except in the northern districts,
where the land had perhaps been little cultivated since
the great devastation. They did their work thoroughly.
"How much woodland, meadow, pasture, and ploughed land
is there?" the commissioners asked. "How many people?
How many cows, oxen, sheep, swine? How much did the
manor bring in when King Edward reigned? How much when
King William gave it? How much does it bring in now?"
The people, both English and Normans, were most
indignant about this book. The curfew bell was not so
serious a matter after all, and as for the New Forest,
they could easily keep out of it; but this census was a
different thing. The commissioners came to every
house, and the people said:—
"It is a shame for a great king to send men to peer
into the private affairs of his people. What
 is it to him whether we have a hive of bees or not?"
Nevertheless, the survey went on, and the records were
put into a great book and kept in the king's treasury
at Winchester. The Normans called this book the
King's Roll, or the Winchester Roll; but
the Saxons named it indignantly the Doomsday Book, or
the book of final decisions.
Early in the August of 1086, a remarkable meeting was
held at Sarum. It was common on the continent for one
man to pay homage to several persons. If dissensions
arose between any two or three persons, it was
sometimes a question with which one the vassal should
stand. William meant to have no such trouble; and he
called together his bishops, abbots, nobles, every man
in the kingdom who held a piece of land, and required
them to swear to obey him against all other men.
In 1066, England had one conqueror; in 1070, one king;
in 1086, the land became one country.
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