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    Ch. 8 - William the First

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    Chapter 8
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    UPON the ground where the brave Harold fell, William the Norman
    afterwards founded an abbey, which, under the name of Battle Abbey,
    was a rich and splendid place through many a troubled year, though
    now it is a grey ruin overgrown with ivy. But the first work he
    had to do, was to conquer the English thoroughly; and that, as you
    know by this time, was hard work for any man.

    He ravaged several counties; he burned and plundered many towns; he
    laid waste scores upon scores of miles of pleasant country; he
    destroyed innumerable lives. At length STIGAND, Archbishop of
    Canterbury, with other representatives of the clergy and the
    people, went to his camp, and submitted to him. EDGAR, the
    insignificant son of Edmund Ironside, was proclaimed King by
    others, but nothing came of it. He fled to Scotland afterwards,
    where his sister, who was young and beautiful, married the Scottish
    King. Edgar himself was not important enough for anybody to care
    much about him.

    On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey, under
    the title of WILLIAM THE FIRST; but he is best known as WILLIAM THE
    CONQUEROR. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who
    performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would
    have Duke William for their king? They answered Yes. Another of
    the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They
    too answered Yes, with a loud shout. The noise being heard by a
    guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, was mistaken for resistance
    on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the
    neighbouring houses, and a tumult ensued; in the midst of which the
    King, being left alone in the Abbey, with a few priests (and they
    all being in a terrible fright together), was hurriedly crowned.
    When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the
    English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you
    think, as I do, that if we except the Great Alfred, he might pretty
    easily have done that.

    Numbers of the English nobles had been killed in the last
    disastrous battle. Their estates, and the estates of all the
    nobles who had fought against him there, King William seized upon,
    and gave to his own Norman knights and nobles. Many great English
    families of the present time acquired their English lands in this
    way, and are very proud of it.

    But what is got by force must be maintained by force. These nobles
    were obliged to build castles all over England, to defend their new
    property; and, do what he would, the King could neither soothe nor
    quell the nation as he wished. He gradually introduced the Norman
    language and the Norman customs; yet, for a long time the great
    body of the English remained sullen and revengeful. On his going
    over to Normandy, to visit his subjects there, the oppressions of
    his half-brother ODO, whom he left in charge of his English
    kingdom, drove the people mad. The men of Kent even invited over,
    to take possession of Dover, their old enemy Count Eustace of
    Boulogne, who had led the fray when the Dover man was slain at his
    own fireside. The men of Hereford, aided by the Welsh, and
    commanded by a chief named EDRIC THE WILD, drove the Normans out of
    their country. Some of those who had been dispossessed of their
    lands, banded together in the North of England; some, in Scotland;
    some, in the thick woods and marshes; and whensoever they could
    fall upon the Normans, or upon the English who had submitted to the
    Normans, they fought, despoiled, and murdered, like the desperate
    outlaws that they were. Conspiracies were set on foot for a
    general massacre of the Normans, like the old massacre of the
    Danes. In short, the English were in a murderous mood all through
    the kingdom.

    King William, fearing he might lose his conquest, came back, and
    tried to pacify the London people by soft words. He then set forth
    to repress the country people by stern deeds. Among the towns
    which he besieged, and where he killed and maimed the inhabitants
    without any distinction, sparing none, young or old, armed or
    unarmed, were Oxford, Warwick, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby,
    Lincoln, York. In all these places, and in many others, fire and
    sword worked their utmost horrors, and made the land dreadful to
    behold. The streams and rivers were discoloured with blood; the
    sky was blackened with smoke; the fields were wastes of ashes; the
    waysides were heaped up with dead. Such are the fatal results of
    conquest and ambition! Although William was a harsh and angry man,
    I do not suppose that he deliberately meant to work this shocking
    ruin, when he invaded England. But what he had got by the strong
    hand, he could only keep by the strong hand, and in so doing he
    made England a great grave.

    Two sons of Harold, by name EDMUND and GODWIN, came over from
    Ireland, with some ships, against the Normans, but were defeated.
    This was scarcely done, when the outlaws in the woods so harassed
    York, that the Governor sent to the King for help. The King
    despatched a general and a large force to occupy the town of
    Durham. The Bishop of that place met the general outside the town,
    and warned him not to enter, as he would be in danger there. The
    general cared nothing for the warning, and went in with all his
    men. That night, on every hill within sight of Durham, signal
    fires were seen to blaze. When the morning dawned, the English,
    who had assembled in great strength, forced the gates, rushed into
    the town, and slew the Normans every one. The English afterwards
    besought the Danes to come and help them. The Danes came, with two
    hundred and forty ships. The outlawed nobles joined them; they
    captured York, and drove the Normans out of that city. Then,
    William bribed the Danes to go away; and took such vengeance on the
    English, that all the former fire and sword, smoke and ashes, death
    and ruin, were nothing compared with it. In melancholy songs, and
    doleful stories, it was still sung and told by cottage fires on
    winter evenings, a hundred years afterwards, how, in those dreadful
    days of the Normans, there was not, from the River Humber to the
    River Tyne, one inhabited village left, nor one cultivated field -
    how there was nothing but a dismal ruin, where the human creatures
    and the beasts lay dead together.

    The outlaws had, at this time, what they called a Camp of Refuge,
    in the midst of the fens of Cambridgeshire. Protected by those
    marshy grounds which were difficult of approach, they lay among the
    reeds and rushes, and were hidden by the mists that rose up from
    the watery earth. Now, there also was, at that time, over the sea
    in Flanders, an Englishman named HEREWARD, whose father had died in
    his absence, and whose property had been given to a Norman. When
    he heard of this wrong that had been done him (from such of the
    exiled English as chanced to wander into that country), he longed
    for revenge; and joining the outlaws in their camp of refuge,
    became their commander. He was so good a soldier, that the Normans
    supposed him to be aided by enchantment. William, even after he
    had made a road three miles in length across the Cambridgeshire
    marshes, on purpose to attack this supposed enchanter, thought it
    necessary to engage an old lady, who pretended to be a sorceress,
    to come and do a little enchantment in the royal cause. For this
    purpose she was pushed on before the troops in a wooden tower; but
    Hereward very soon disposed of this unfortunate sorceress, by
    burning her, tower and all. The monks of the convent of Ely near
    at hand, however, who were fond of good living, and who found it
    very uncomfortable to have the country blockaded and their supplies
    of meat and drink cut off, showed the King a secret way of
    surprising the camp. So Hereward was soon defeated. Whether he
    afterwards died quietly, or whether he was killed after killing
    sixteen of the men who attacked him (as some old rhymes relate that
    he did), I cannot say. His defeat put an end to the Camp of
    Refuge; and, very soon afterwards, the King, victorious both in
    Scotland and in England, quelled the last rebellious English noble.
    He then surrounded himself with Norman lords, enriched by the
    property of English nobles; had a great survey made of all the land
    in England, which was entered as the property of its new owners, on
    a roll called Doomsday Book; obliged the people to put out their
    fires and candles at a certain hour every night, on the ringing of
    a bell which was called The Curfew; introduced the Norman dresses
    and manners; made the Normans masters everywhere, and the English,
    servants; turned out the English bishops, and put Normans in their
    places; and showed himself to be the Conqueror indeed.

    But, even with his own Normans, he had a restless life. They were
    always hungering and thirsting for the riches of the English; and
    the more he gave, the more they wanted. His priests were as greedy
    as his soldiers. We know of only one Norman who plainly told his
    master, the King, that he had come with him to England to do his
    duty as a faithful servant, and that property taken by force from
    other men had no charms for him. His name was GUILBERT. We should
    not forget his name, for it is good to remember and to honour
    honest men.

    Besides all these troubles, William the Conqueror was troubled by
    quarrels among his sons. He had three living. ROBERT, called
    CURTHOSE, because of his short legs; WILLIAM, called RUFUS or the
    Red, from the colour of his hair; and HENRY, fond of learning, and
    called, in the Norman language, BEAUCLERC, or Fine-Scholar. When
    Robert grew up, he asked of his father the government of Normandy,
    which he had nominally possessed, as a child, under his mother,
    MATILDA. The King refusing to grant it, Robert became jealous and
    discontented; and happening one day, while in this temper, to be
    ridiculed by his brothers, who threw water on him from a balcony as
    he was walking before the door, he drew his sword, rushed up-
    stairs, and was only prevented by the King himself from putting
    them to death. That same night, he hotly departed with some
    followers from his father's court, and endeavoured to take the
    Castle of Rouen by surprise. Failing in this, he shut himself up
    in another Castle in Normandy, which the King besieged, and where
    Robert one day unhorsed and nearly killed him without knowing who
    he was. His submission when he discovered his father, and the
    intercession of the queen and others, reconciled them; but not
    soundly; for Robert soon strayed abroad, and went from court to
    court with his complaints. He was a gay, careless, thoughtless
    fellow, spending all he got on musicians and dancers; but his
    mother loved him, and often, against the King's command, supplied
    him with money through a messenger named SAMSON. At length the
    incensed King swore he would tear out Samson's eyes; and Samson,
    thinking that his only hope of safety was in becoming a monk,
    became one, went on such errands no more, and kept his eyes in his

    All this time, from the turbulent day of his strange coronation,
    the Conqueror had been struggling, you see, at any cost of cruelty
    and bloodshed, to maintain what he had seized. All his reign, he
    struggled still, with the same object ever before him. He was a
    stern, bold man, and he succeeded in it.

    He loved money, and was particular in his eating, but he had only
    leisure to indulge one other passion, and that was his love of
    hunting. He carried it to such a height that he ordered whole
    villages and towns to be swept away to make forests for the deer.
    Not satisfied with sixty-eight Royal Forests, he laid waste an
    immense district, to form another in Hampshire, called the New
    Forest. The many thousands of miserable peasants who saw their
    little houses pulled down, and themselves and children turned into
    the open country without a shelter, detested him for his merciless
    addition to their many sufferings; and when, in the twenty-first
    year of his reign (which proved to be the last), he went over to
    Rouen, England was as full of hatred against him, as if every leaf
    on every tree in all his Royal Forests had been a curse upon his
    head. In the New Forest, his son Richard (for he had four sons)
    had been gored to death by a Stag; and the people said that this so
    cruelly-made Forest would yet be fatal to others of the Conqueror's

    He was engaged in a dispute with the King of France about some
    territory. While he stayed at Rouen, negotiating with that King,
    he kept his bed and took medicines: being advised by his
    physicians to do so, on account of having grown to an unwieldy
    size. Word being brought to him that the King of France made light
    of this, and joked about it, he swore in a great rage that he
    should rue his jests. He assembled his army, marched into the
    disputed territory, burnt - his old way! - the vines, the crops,
    and fruit, and set the town of Mantes on fire. But, in an evil
    hour; for, as he rode over the hot ruins, his horse, setting his
    hoofs upon some burning embers, started, threw him forward against
    the pommel of the saddle, and gave him a mortal hurt. For six
    weeks he lay dying in a monastery near Rouen, and then made his
    will, giving England to William, Normandy to Robert, and five
    thousand pounds to Henry. And now, his violent deeds lay heavy on
    his mind. He ordered money to be given to many English churches
    and monasteries, and - which was much better repentance - released
    his prisoners of state, some of whom had been confined in his
    dungeons twenty years.

    It was a September morning, and the sun was rising, when the King
    was awakened from slumber by the sound of a church bell. 'What
    bell is that?' he faintly asked. They told him it was the bell of
    the chapel of Saint Mary. 'I commend my soul,' said he, 'to Mary!'
    and died.

    Think of his name, The Conqueror, and then consider how he lay in
    death! The moment he was dead, his physicians, priests, and
    nobles, not knowing what contest for the throne might now take
    place, or what might happen in it, hastened away, each man for
    himself and his own property; the mercenary servants of the court
    began to rob and plunder; the body of the King, in the indecent
    strife, was rolled from the bed, and lay alone, for hours, upon the
    ground. O Conqueror, of whom so many great names are proud now, of
    whom so many great names thought nothing then, it were better to
    have conquered one true heart, than England!

    By-and-by, the priests came creeping in with prayers and candles;
    and a good knight, named HERLUIN, undertook (which no one else
    would do) to convey the body to Caen, in Normandy, in order that it
    might be buried in St. Stephen's church there, which the Conqueror
    had founded. But fire, of which he had made such bad use in his
    life, seemed to follow him of itself in death. A great
    conflagration broke out in the town when the body was placed in the
    church; and those present running out to extinguish the flames, it
    was once again left alone.

    It was not even buried in peace. It was about to be let down, in
    its Royal robes, into a tomb near the high altar, in presence of a
    great concourse of people, when a loud voice in the crowd cried
    out, 'This ground is mine! Upon it, stood my father's house. This
    King despoiled me of both ground and house to build this church.
    In the great name of GOD, I here forbid his body to be covered with
    the earth that is my right!' The priests and bishops present,
    knowing the speaker's right, and knowing that the King had often
    denied him justice, paid him down sixty shillings for the grave.
    Even then, the corpse was not at rest. The tomb was too small, and
    they tried to force it in. It broke, a dreadful smell arose, the
    people hurried out into the air, and, for the third time, it was
    left alone.

    Where were the Conqueror's three sons, that they were not at their
    father's burial? Robert was lounging among minstrels, dancers, and
    gamesters, in France or Germany. Henry was carrying his five
    thousand pounds safely away in a convenient chest he had got made.
    William the Red was hurrying to England, to lay hands upon the
    Royal treasure and the crown.
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