Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER VI.

THE NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND.

From the time of Rollo's settlement in Normandy, the communications of the Normans with England had become more and more frequent and important for the two countries. The success of the invasions of the Danes in England in the tenth century, and the reigns of three kings of the Danish line, had obliged the princes of the Saxon race to take refuge in Normandy, the duke of which, Richard I, had given his daughter Emma in marriage to their grandfather Ethelred II. At the end of the Danish rule in England, a national message was sent to Prince Edward in Normandy, to announce to him that the people had elected him king, upon condition that he should bring but few Normans with him. Edward obeyed, and came attended by very few followers. On his arrival he was proclaimed king, and crowned in the cathedral of Winchester, A. D. 1042. On handing him the crown and scepter, the bishop made him a long speech upon the duties of royalty, and the mild and equitable government of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors. As he was unmarried, he selected for his queen Edith, daughter of the powerful and popular man to whose influence especially he owed his kingdom-Godwin, the father of Harold, who ere long was to play a part as short as it is memorable in the history of England. The withdrawal of the Danes, and the complete destruction of their dominion, by awakening patriotic thoughts, had rendered the old "Anglo-Saxon customs dearer to the people. They desired to restore them in all their pristine purity, freed from all that the mixture of races had added to them of foreign matter. This wish led them to revert to the times which preceded the great Danish invasion, to the reign of Ethelred, whose institutions and laws were sought out with a view to their establishment. Their restoration took place to the utmost extent possible; the name of King Edward became connected with it, and it was soon a popular saying that this good king had restored the good laws of his father Ethelred.

Every Dane in any way connected with the former government had been expelled ; but the English, restored to liberty, did not drive from their habitations the laborious and peaceable Danes who, swearing obedience to the common law, were content to exist simply as cultivators or citizens. The Saxon people did not, by way of re. prisal, levy extra taxes on them, or render their condition worse than their own. In the eastern, and especially in the northern provinces, the children of Scandinavians continued to exceed in number those of the Anglo-Saxons; hence these provinces were distinguished from the midland and southern by a remarkable difference of idiom, manners, and local customs, but not the slightest resistance was raised to the government of the Saxon king. Social equality soon drew together and fused the two nations, formerly hostile. This union of all the inhabitants of the English soil, proved formidable to foreign invaders, who stayed their ambitious projects, and no northern kings ventured on disturbing the peace that England was now enjoying. These kings, on the contrary, sent mes

, sages of peace and friendship to the peaceable Edward. “We will,” said they, "allow you to reign unmolested over your country, and we will content ourselves with the land which God has given us to rule.”

Fortune now seemed favorable to the Anglo-Saxons; but, under this outward appearance of prosperity and independence, the germs of fresh troubles and national ruin were silently developing themselves. Edward, half a Norman by birth, and brought up from his infancy in Normandy, had returned almost a stranger to the land of his forefathers; the language of his youth had been that of a foreign people; he had grown old among other men and other manners than the manners and men of England; his friends, his companions in pleasures and hardships, his nearest relatives, and the husband of his sister, all dwelt across the sea. He had sworn to bring with him only a small number of Normans; and but few in fact accompanied him, but many arrived afterward; those who had loved him when in exile, or assisted him when in poverty, eagerly beset his palace. He could not restrain himself from welcoming them to his home and his table, nor even from preferring them to those formerly unknown to him, but to whom he was indebted for his home, his table, and his royal dignity. The irresistible strength of old affections led him so far astray from the path of prudence as to confer the high dignities and great offices of the country on men born on other soil, and without any real affection for England. The fortresses of the island were placed in the keeping of Norman captains; Norman priests obtained English bishoprics, and became chaplains, councilors, and trusted confidants of the king:

A number of persons styling themselves relatives of Edward's mother crossed the straits, and were sure to be well received. No one who solicited in the Norman tongue ever met with a refusal. This language even banished from the palace the Anglo-Saxon, which was become an object of ridicule to the foreign courtiers, and no flattering discourse was any longer addressed to the king but in Norman French. Such of the English nobility as were most ambitious tried to speak the new and favorite language of the court, and even in their own mansions stam. mered French as being that fittest for a man of birth and education ; they changed their long Saxon mantles for the short cloaks of the Normans; in writing they imitated the lengthened form of the Norman letters; and instead of signing their names to civil acts, they suspended to them seals of wax, in the Norman manner. Every one of the national customs, even in the most indifferent things, was abandoned to the lower orders.

But the people who had shed their blood that Eng. land might be free, and who were little struck by the grace and elegance of the new fashions, imagined that they beheld the government by foreigners revived under a mere change of appearances. They cursed the fatal marriage of Ethelred with a Norman woman, that union, contracted to save the country from a foreign invasion, but from which there now resulted a new invasion, a new conquest, under the mask of peace and friendship.

Among those who came from Normandy and France to visit King Edward, the most considerable was William,

? We find the trace, perhaps indeed the original expression of these national maledictions, in a passage of an ancient historian, in which the singular turn of idea and the vivacity of the language seem to reveal the style of the people : “The Almighty must have formed, at the same time, two plans of destruction for the English race, and have desired to lay for them a sort of military ambuscade ; for he let loose the Danes on one side, and on the other carefully created and cemented the Norman alliance; so that if by chance we escaped from the open assaults of the Danes, the bold cunning of the Normans might still be in readiness to surprise us." —Henry Huntingdon, Hist.

Duke of Normandy, bastard son of Robert, the late duke, whose violent temper had acquired for him the name of Robert le Diable. In his journey through England, A. D. 1051, he might have believed that he was still in his own territories. The fleet which he found at Dover was commanded by Normans; at Canterbury Norman soldiers composed the garrison of the fort; elsewhere other Normans came to salute him in the dress of captains or of prelates. Edward's favorites came to pay their respects to the chief of their native country; and, to use the language of that day, “thronged round their natural lord." William appeared in England more like a king than Ed. ward himself; and it was, probably, not long before his ambitious mind conceived the hope of becoming so without difficulty at the death of that prince, so much the slave of Norman influence. Indeed, such thoughts could not fail to arise in the breast of the son of Robert; how. ever, according to the testimony of a contemporary, he kept them perfectly secret, and never spoke of them to Edward, believing that things would of themselves take the course most to the advantage of his ambition. Nor did Edward, whether or not he thought of those projects, and of his having some day his friend and cousin for a successor, converse with him on the subject during his visit, yet he received him with great tenderness, and loaded him with all sorts of presents and assurances of affection.

At the death of Godwin, which took place in 1054, his eldest son, Harold, succeeded him in the command of all the country south of the Thames. He distinguished himself by his military talents, fully paid to the king that respectsul and submissive deference of which he was so jealous, and thus added rapidly to his renown and popularity among the Anglo-Saxons. Some ancient recitals say that even Edward loved him, and treated him like his own son; at least he did not feel toward him the kind of aversion mixed with fear with which Godwin had inspired him; nor had he any longer a pretext for detaining, as guarantees against the son, the two hostages whom he had received from the father. Toward the close of the year 1065 Harold, the brother of the one and the uncle of the other of these hostages, thinking the moment

De successione autem regni, spes adhuc aut mentio nulla facta inter eos fuit.-Hist. Ingulf. Croyland apud rer, anglic. Script., vol. i, p. 65.

favorable for obtaining their deliverance, asked the king's permission to go and claim them in his name from William, and bring them home to England. Edward, without any reluctance to part with the hostages, was alarmed, however, at Harold's intention of going into Normandy. “I will not restrain thee,” said he, “but if thou departest it will be without my consent; for thy journey will certainly bring some misfortune upon thyself and upon our country. I know Duke William, and his crafty spirit. He hates thee, and will grant thee nothing, unless he sees some great advantage therein; the only way to make him give up the hostages would be to send some other person than thee.” 1

Harold, brave and full of confidence, did not act upon this advice; but setting out, as if on a journey of pleasure, he embarked at one of the ports of Sussex, and repaired to Rouen. Duke William received the Saxon chief with great honors, and an appearance of frankness and cordiality; he told him that the two hostages were free at his mere request, and he might return with them immediately, but that, as a courteous guest, he ought not to be in such haste, but to stay at least for a few days, to see the towns and the amusements of the country. Harold went from town to town, and from castle to castle, and with his young companions took part in military jousts. Duke William made them chevaliers, that is, members of the high Norman military order, a sort of warlike fraternity, into which every man of wealth who devoted himself to arms might be introduced, under the auspices of some old member, who, with due ceremony, presented to him a sword, a baldrick plated with silver, and a lance decorated with a streamer. The Saxon warriors received from

1

Chronique et Normandie ; Recueil des hist, de la France, tom. xiii, p 223; Wace, Roman de Rou, tom. ii, p. 108.

? The institution of a superior class among those who devoted themselves to arms, and of a ceremonial, without which no one could be admitted into that military order, had been introduced into and propagated throughout all the west of Europe by the Germanic nations who had dismembered the Roman empire. This custom existed in Gaul; and, in the Roman tongue of that country, a member of the high military class was called a cavalier or chevalier, because at that time, throughout Gaul and on the Continent in general, horsemen formed the principal strength of armies. It was otherwise in England : perfection in equestrian skill was not at all considered in the idea entertained in that island of an accomplished warrior. The two only elements of the English idea were youth and strength; and the Saxon tongue gave the name of cniht, that is to say, young man, to the warrior who by the French, the Normans, the southern Gauls, and also the Germans, was designated horseman.

« VorigeDoorgaan »