| 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 |
"WILL YOU YIELD?"
T was Lent when William landed in Normandy, but it
became a season of rejoicing, for the whole land was
wild with delight at the success of the duke. The
Normans declared that he had brought over from England
three times as much gold as there was in the whole of
Gaul. Never had they seen such robes of state and such
vestments for the church. They were especially curious
to see the English nobles with their blue eyes, light
flowing hair, long mustaches, and names that no
Frenchman could pronounce. Most interesting of them all
was the young Edgar. William did not recognize his
claim to the throne, but he looked upon the boy as
ranking highest among the English nobles, and treated
him with special respect as well as affection.
The great celebration of Easter was to be held at
Fécamp, the pretty town nestling by the little
 stream that flowed between the two ranges of hills.
Here the great mass of the treasures and curiosities
was brought, and here assembled William and his
family, the English nobles, the Norman knights and
higher clergy, and William's many guests from among his
allies who had helped him to win these treasures.
At Fécamp was the old church built by William's
great-grandfather, Richard the Fearless, and here was
the Easter rejoicing to be. Silken tapestries worked by
English hands hung from the roof-beams. Flowers were
placed in every little recess. In at the eastern
windows the morning sunlight shone through the stained
glass and cast slowly moving flecks of brilliant color
upon the white and gold vestments of the clergy.
All was light and brilliancy. The gleam of the precious
stones that adorned the holy vessels of the altar was
reflected in the vivid coloring of the dresses of the
ladies of the court. One wore a long green garment
edged with a band of gold embroidery. Over this was a
tunic of deep blue with a gold belt fastened with a red
cord and tassel, while a red mantle, with lining of
white silk, served as the "dominical," or covering
 women must wear when receiving the Holy Communion.
Another wore a tunic of soft cream-colored woollen with
a red belt. Her blue mantle was clasped at the neck
with a golden clasp set with garnets. In her hand she
carried a small blue bag. Over her head and falling
down her back was a long white veil. Beside her was the
wife of a noble in a pink tunic edged with purple and
gold. Her mantle was of purple lined with light blue,
and about her neck was a double string of softly
gleaming pearls. Women usually wore their hair either
flowing loosely or in four long braids falling in
front, two on either side of the face. Often their
foreheads were all ablaze with bands of jewels. The men
were hardly less gorgeous, for their mantles were of
every color that could be dreamed of, and they were
fastened at the shoulder by clasps set with jewels from
which the light flashed at every movement.
Most of William's life had been spent on the
battle-field, in besieging the retreat of an enemy, or
in the gloom of some dull gray castle, and it is no
wonder that the hour of safety and quiet in the midst
of joyful faces and brilliant gala attire gave him a
happiness which it was not often his lot to enjoy.
 After the Easter service came the feast, and that was
splendid with the spoils of England. The English guests
winced when they saw the drinking cups made of the
horns of the wild bull, and bound top and bottom with
bands of gold, and the golden dishes, incrusted with
glowing jewels of red and blue and green and yellow,
which had been familiar to them in other scenes of
feasting, brought forth to grace this celebration of
their conqueror. They must bear and be silent; the time
might come—who could tell?
Two months later the church which Matilda had built at
Caen was to be dedicated, and this was another splendid
ceremonial. Before the voyage to England, William and
Matilda had vowed to devote their little daughter
Cecily to a convent life, and on this day the child was
brought to the altar, solemnly set apart from her
brothers and sisters, and specially given up to the
service of the church.
The whole summer was a time of triumph and jubilee for
duke and duchess. From one end of the duchy to the
other they travelled, receiving everywhere the highest
honor that the people could pay, and leaving all behind
 in the generosity of the gifts that William bestowed
upon nobles and clergy, such gifts "as neither king nor
emperor had ever made before," say the old chroniclers
with delight. To the knights he gave horses richly
caparisoned, each bearing a helmet and a shining coat
of mail. There were beautiful mantles and jewelled
swords, and hangings for their cold stone walls. Well
might England tremble, for there seemed no end to his
treasures. To the churches of Normandy he gave ingots
of gold; copies of the Gospels, beautifully written on
vellum, whose covers were inlaid with gold and precious
stones; relics of saints and martyrs in cases that were
worth a knight's ransom; censers of glowing copper of
most elaborate workmanship, made in close imitation of
the temple at Jerusalem or the great church at Rome.
To the Pope were sent still greater gifts, and among
them was the captured banner of Harold, representing
to the Pope his own increasing power and the fealty of
him who was the most powerful sovereign of western
William had wished to remain in Normandy and spend
Christmas with his family, but there was trouble in
England. Although he was called
 king of the whole country, his actual rule was over
only the southeastern portion. To leave a land,
nominally his kingdom, but practically unsubmissive, in
charge of two men who, however firm rulers they might
be, despised the people who were in their care, and who
permitted the Normans to rob and oppress them as they
would, could hardly fail to bring about revolt, and
revolt there was from one end of the land to the other.
Fortunately for William, this rebellion had no general
leader, and the revolters were not united. The feeling
of bitterness was universal, but it showed itself first
in one place and then in another, so that William could
deal with the uprisings one by one. Matilda was
already addressed as Queen, and he had hoped to carry
her with him to England that she might be crowned; but
this was no time for any coronation ceremonies, so once
more he left her in Normandy as regent. His son Robert
was thirteen, and William directed that she should rule
in the name of the boy. Then he set sail for his
He did not meet the English as a conqueror who had
returned hastily from another land to suppress an
uprising, but as their king who was
 ready to show kindness to his loyal subjects. He held
the usual Christmas court, and received with much
courtesy all who came to it. He listened to their
suggestions, and as far as possible gave them whatever
The centre of the revolt in the west was the city of
Exeter, and Exeter had shut itself up behind its strong
old walls with their towers and battlements, and had
made no acknowledgment of the Norman invader as its
lawful king. It was a rich, haughty old city, with
citizens who were proud of their independence, and were
determined not to yield to this "no man's son" from
over the seas.
These citizens went at the business of a revolt with
some idea of system and union. There were many foreign
merchants dwelling in Exeter, and these they induced to
join the struggle. To the neighboring districts they
sent messages urging them to unite against the invader.
In Exeter dwelt the mother of Harold, and her mourning
for her three sons was a constant reminder of the
destruction and death that had come with the coming of
To this proud old city William sent a message:—
 "William, King of England, asks that his city of Exeter
receive him within its walls, and that its citizens
swear to be faithful to him." Then the citizens replied
"We will pay the tribute that we have been used to pay,
but we will not take any oath to the king, nor will we
admit him within our walls."
"No subjects do I receive on such conditions," answered
William, and rode straight toward Exeter, ravaging the
land about the city.
"The king is encamped for the night but four miles
away," reported a spy. Then there was much debate
within the town about what should be done.
"Our walls are thick and strong," said one; "let him
"The king is a terrible man," said another; "it is of
no use to resist him. Never yet did he fail to work his
will in whatever way he would."
"It may be," said one of the older men, "that he does
not understand that our city has always been
independent. Let us send a company forth to meet him
and parley with him; then can we tell better what there
is for us to do." So a company of the older men went
forth to meet the king and parley with him; but when
they saw the array of
 soldiers, they hesitated; and when in the midst of the
soldiers, with a strong guard on either hand, they saw
the hostages, young men of their city, who had been
sent to dwell with Harold as a proof of the good-will
of the town, they stopped short.
"That is my own son," said one of the men in horror,
"the one in the blue tunic and the red mantle. Who
knows what this cruel king will do to our children?"
"He is angry," said another; "parleying will do no
good." They went forward, but at the first sight of
William's face they saw that parley would, indeed, be
useless. For a moment they were silent. Then the father
of the hostage came forward trembling and said:—
"King William, we beg your forgiveness for the wild
speeches that have been made. We are sent by the
citizens of Exeter to meet you. The town will yield and
open her gates when you come near."
"Is this the speech of all?" asked William sternly.
"Of all," they answered.
"Then I will go forward, and if the city shall fling
wide its gates and, man by man, shall swear fealty to
me, then will I grant it a free pardon."
 The little group went back half in hope and half in
"What did he say?" called the citizens, crowding
eagerly about them; but when they knew, then were they
"You were not sent to surrender, but to parley," they
"But he has our hostages, and one of them is my own
boy," said the old man huskily.
"Your boy is no more to us than another," said the
citizens brutally. "You have betrayed us. He is only
the son of a traitor. Let what will come to a traitor's
son." Then they piled up arrows and great stones and
strengthened their walls and their gates. So it was
that when William came near, the gates were closed, and
on the top of the wall were men who shouted speeches of
defiance to their king. William's face grew white with
"Bring forward a hostage," he ordered, and the young
man in the red mantle was led forward in the sight of
"Put out his eyes," said the king. The soldiers
hesitated. "Obey," said the king. "It may be that the
city will yield. Let one die to save many."
An old man on the wall was listening intensely.
 "Take me," he cried, "King William, take me, and let my
boy go." The agonized voice reached even to the ears of
the king, but he shook his head. The old man's clasp on
the battlement relaxed, and he fell dead at the foot of
"Will you yield?" called the king, but the citizens
answered by a volley of arrows.
"Fire!" said William, and a fearful return was made.
The citizens shot again, and were jubilant as they saw
one soldier after another fall.
"Bring boiling water and stones and spears and
battle-axes," the citizens shouted, for little
companies of soldiers were creeping up to the wall.
They held shields over their heads, and the shields
were needed, for arrows were fired straight down at
them, heavy stones were rolled from the walls, and
boiling water was poured upon them; but the arrows
glanced off from the stout shields, the heavy stones
rolled harmless to the ground, and even the boiling
water did little injury. These men were dragging
ladders, and slowly and carefully they put them up
against the wall. Then, still under the shelter of the
shields, the soldiers swarmed up boldly; but the
citizens thrust at them with their spears, and swung
battle-  axes. Not a man could get a footing on the walls.
HEAVY STONES WERE ROLLED FROM THE WALLS
While all this hand-to-hand fighting was going on,
William's men had brought up the unwieldy machines for
slinging stones, and the arbalests, great crossbows on
wheels, that would fire arrows with violence enough to
send them through several persons. But the citizens,
too, had slings and arbalests, and after seventeen days
of such warfare William seemed no nearer victory than
Meanwhile, afar off from the fighting, some of the
soldiers had been digging a deep hole in the ground.
Then they dug a tunnel from this hole toward the city,
supporting the earth above them by strong wooden props.
When they were sure that they were well under the wall,
all the men left but one, and he soon followed them,
setting fire to each prop as he went. Then the soldiers
were drawn up nearer the city.
"See," cried the citizens on the wall, "he has stopped
fighting. He will yield. William the conqueror is
conquered. Let us—" But the wall was trembling under
their feet. It shuddered and fell. The king's soldiers
dashed through the breach, and the city was taken.
 "What shall we do?" wailed the citizens. "He shows no
mercy. Remember Alençon."
"In the name of the church we will go to him and beg
for mercy," said a priest; and out of the open gates
there went forth a pitiable company. First came the
clergy bearing the cross, the Gospels, and the sacred
vessels and relics of the church. After them came old
men and fair young maidens. Last came the fighters, and
with them were their wives and little children, and
they all fell down before the king and begged for
Whether from policy or from kindness, William pardoned
the repentant city, and forbade his soldiers to touch
the property of the citizens. The only penalty that he
demanded was an increase of tribute money and the
destruction of two score of houses to make room for the
castle which he intended to build. William marched on
to the west through Devonshire and Cornwall. The land
of those who rebelled was confiscated, and nearly all
Cornwall, besides many rich manors of Devonshire and
Somerset, was given to his brother Robert.
At last the king ventured to send for his queen. Once
more his favorite "Mora" crossed the
Chan-  nel, this time with a noble embassy, and returned with
Matilda and a goodly company of knights and lords and
ladies of the court. Some three centuries earlier,
because of the crime of a wicked queen, it had been
decreed that she who held the highest place in the land
should be known as the king's wife, and not as the
queen; but all this was forgotten, and Matilda was
crowned at Westminster.
After the coronation there was a feast, and into the
feasting hall came a newly appointed officer known as
the "champion." Straight up and down the hall he rode,
calling in a loud voice, "If any one denies that our
most gracious sovereign lord William and his spouse
Matilda are king and queen of England, he is a
false-hearted traitor and a liar; and here I, as
champion, do challenge him to single combat."
Several months later two thegns were talking of the
"No one ever heard before of a champion to prove that
the king was king," said one.
"No one would ever dare to say that he was not king,"
said the other.
"Not without an army," said the first.
 "It may be that some day we shall have a king who was
born among us, even if he is not of our own people."
"Yes, after we and our children and our children's
children are dead."
"Before then, perhaps. Have you not heard that in our
own Yorkshire the queen has given birth to a son?"
"No," said the other; "is it true?"
"It is true, and something else is true, for the king
says this boy shall be brought up as an Englishman,
and shall learn to speak our language as well as that
smooth, silly talk that they use at court."
"The king knows no English."
"True, but he says he will learn it."
"And so he would if it could be learned with a sword
and a spear."
All of England south of the Thames was now under
William's control, but there was trouble in the north.
The northern earls, Edwin and Morcar, were at
William's court, as was the boy Edgar. To Edgar, Morcar
came one day and whispered:—
"Do you wish to be king?"
"Yes," said the boy.
 "The north is free, and the north calls for you as its
king. Will you go?" The boy agreed, and he and the two
earls stole away from the court. Edwin had a special
grievance because King William had promised him one of
his daughters in marriage and had not yet been willing
to give the earl his bride. William pursued, capturing
one town after another on his way. The earls yielded,
and Edgar fled with a third earl to Scotland.
Wherever William went, he conquered; and wherever he
conquered, he distributed the forfeited land among his
loyal subjects, generally Normans. All over the country
rose the heavy, thick-walled castles with their square
dungeon towers, saying ever to the helpless people,
"Submit or be crushed."
On and on marched William. Nottingham yielded, and at
York the trembling citizens hastened to meet him even
before he had come near the walls of the city, and
brought hostages and begged him to accept the keys of
their city gates. How much against their will this was,
is shown by the eagerness with which they admitted
Edgar and his party only a few months later.
Now York was as important a town in the north as Exeter
was in the south, and the king again
has-  tened north and took a fearful revenge on the city.
The story is that he would have marched on to Durham at
break of day, but there was no break of day, for so
heavy a darkness shut down upon the land that no man
could see his neighbor. While the army stood in fear of
what might happen, a voice chanted from out of the
"Durham is the town of the holy Saint Cuthbert, and he
it is who forbids you to harm his sacred city or even
to enter it." It is just possible that William did not
care to go any farther at that time, and had arranged
the matter of the ghostly voice coming from the
darkness, as he did once before when he wished to drive
King Henry from Normandy. At any rate, he returned to
London, but to a lonely palace, for the queen and the
royal children had returned to Normandy, whose claims
could be no longer neglected.
William might well have felt discouraged if he had
known what the feeling was, for the sons of Harold came
from Ireland and made an attempt to enter England from
the west; and in the north the English were joyful over
the coming of the Danes, whom they had been urging to
join them as allies.
 The boy Edgar and Waltheof, Earl of Northampton, were
at the head of the army that now marched upon York.
They captured the city and the Norman garrison; and if
they had only been united, they might possibly have
held the north against the king. As it was, they soon
separated; it may be because of William's secret bribes
to the Danes. Earl Waltheof yielded and paid homage to
the king. William restored him to his estate and soon
afterward gave him his niece Judith in marriage.
William had conquered the north, but the English who
dwelt there might revolt at any moment, and at any
moment the Humber might be filled with Danish ships.
William's one purpose was to be master of England. Be
the means harsh or gentle, he would be master. Never
again should the north revolt. His favorite weapon was
starvation rather than the sword. Starvation should
meet every one who might venture to oppose his rule. He
swept over the land like a flame of fire. To and fro,
hither and thither, went the king and his men, leaving
behind them ruined crops, smoking storehouses, and
slaughtered animals. Property of every kind was burned.
Pestilence came. Men
 sickened or starved, or became slaves to anyone that
would give them a mouthful of food. Death was
everywhere, but William had had his way, and never
again did the north revolt.
And in York, the miserable, half-burned city, did the
king of England determine to celebrate his Christmas.
It should be kept with all ceremony, too, and the crown
and the royal robes were brought to York, and within
the walls of the half-ruined church, blackened by the
fires of warfare, and with ruin and desolation and
death on every side as far as the eye could see, the
priests chanted the Christmas songs of gladness, and
the king wore the crown which had been made sure by so
fearful a sacrifice.
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