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Chapter 7

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. A.D. 1066--1087.


The king who had conquered England was a brave, strong man, who had been used to fighting and struggling ever since he was a young child.

He really feared God, and was in many ways a good man; but it had not been right of him to come and take another people's country by force; and the having done one wrong thing often makes people grow worse and worse. Many of the English were unwilling to have William as their king, and his Norman friends were angry that he would not let them have more of the English lands, nor break the English laws. So they were often rising up against him; and each time he had to put them down he grew more harsh and stern. He did not want to be cruel; but he did many cruel things, because it was the only way to keep England.

When the people of Northumberland rose against him, and tried to get back the old set of kings, he had the whole country wasted with fire and sword, till hardly a town or village was left standing. He did this to punish the Northumbrians, and frighten the rest. But he did another thing that was worse, because it was only for his own amusement. In Hampshire, near his castle of Winchester, there was a great space of heathy ground, and holly copse and beeches and oaks above it, with deer and boars running wild in the glades--a beautiful place for hunting, only that there were so many villages in it that the creatures were disturbed and killed. William liked hunting more than anything else--his people said he loved the high deer as if he was their father,--and to keep the place clear for them, he turned out all the inhabitants, and pulled down their houses, and made laws against any one killing his game. The place he thus cleared is still called the New Forest, though it is a thousand years old.

An old Norman law that the English grumbled about very much was, that as soon as a bell was rung, at eight o'clock every evening, everyone was to put out candle and fire, and go to bed. The bell was called the curfew, and many old churches ring it still.

William caused a great list to be made of all the lands in the country, and who held them. We have this list still, and it is called Domesday Book. It shows that a great deal had been taken from the English and given to the Normans. The king built castles, with immensely thick, strong walls, and loop-hole windows, whence to shoot arrows; and here he placed his Normans to keep the English down. But the Normans were even more unruly than the English, and only his strong hand kept them in order. They rode about in armor--helmets on their heads, a shirt of mail, made of iron linked together, over their bodies, gloves and boots of iron, swords by their sides, and lances in their hands--and thus they could bear down all before them. They called themselves knights, and were always made to take an oath to befriend the weak, and poor, and helpless; but they did not often keep it towards the poor English.

William had four sons--Robert, who was called Court-hose or Short-legs; William, called Rufus, because he had red hair; Henry, called Beau- clerc or the fine scholar; and Richard, who was still a lad when he was killed by a stag in the New Forest.

Robert, the eldest, was a wild, rude, thoughtless youth; but he fancied himself fit to govern Normandy, and asked his father to give it up to him. King William answered, "I never take my clothes off before I go to bed," meaning that Robert must wait for his death. Robert could not bear to be laughed at, and was very angry. Soon after, when he was in the castle court, his two brothers, William and Henry, grew riotous, and poured water down from the upper windows on him and his friends. He flew into a passion, dashed up-stairs with his sword in his hand, and might have killed his brothers if their father had not come in to protect them. Then he threw himself on his horse and galloped away, persuaded some friends to join him, and actually fought a battle with his own father, in which the old king was thrown off his horse, and hurt in the hand; but we must do the prince the justice to say that when he recognized his father in the knight whom he had unseated, he was filled with grief and horror, and eagerly sought his pardon, and tenderly raised him from the ground. Then Robert wandered about, living on money that his mother, Queen Matilda, sent him, though his father was angry with her for doing so, and this made the first quarrel the husband and wife had ever had.

Not long after, William went to war with the King of France. He had caused a city to be burnt down, and was riding through the ruins, when his horse trod on some hot ashes, and began to plunge. The king was thrown forward on the saddle, and, being a very heavy, stout man, was so much hurt, that, after a few weeks, in the year 1087, he died at a little monastery, a short way from Rouen, the chief city of his dukedom of Normandy.

He was the greatest man of his time, and he had much good in him; and when he lay on his death-bed he grieved much for all the evil he had brought upon the English; but that could not undo it. He had been a great church-builder, and so were his Norman bishops and barons. You always know their work, because it has round pillars, and round arches, with broad borders of zig-zags, and all manner of patterns round them.

In the end, the coming of the Normans did the English much good, by brightening them up and making them less dull and heavy; but they did not like having a king and court who talked French, and cared more for Normandy than for England.


Charlotte M. Yonge