« PreviousContinue »
Meantime, the Norman troops were approaching at several points, and traversing in all directions the provinces of Surrey, Sussex, and Hants, plundering and burning the towns and hamlets, and massacreing the men, whether armed or unarmed. Five hundred horse advanced as far as the southern suburb of London, came to an engagement with a body of Saxons who opposed them, and in retreating, burnt all the buildings on the right bank of the Thames. William, judging from this proof, that the citizens had not yet renounced all intention of defending themselves, instead of approaching and laying siege to London, proceeded towards the west, and passed the Thames at the ford of Wallingford, in the province of Berks. He established an intrenched camp in this place, and left troops there, to intercept any succours from the western provinces : then, directing his course towards the northeast, he himself encamped at Berkhamstead, in Hertfordshire, to cut off in the same manner all communication between London and the north, and to prevent the return of the sons of Alfgar, in case they should repent of their inaction. By this manquvre the Saxon metropolis was hemmed in on all sides ; numerous foraging parties ravaged the environs, and intercepted the supplies, without engaging in any decisive battle. More than once the Londoners gare battle to the Normans; but by degrees they were wearied out, and succumbed, not so much to the strength of the enemy, as to the fear of famine, and to the discouraging thought that they were cut off from all succour. King Edgar, the Archbishops Stigand and Eldred, Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester, several other priests, chiefs of high rank, and the principal citizens of the town, obeying necessity, says a contemporary Saxon Chronicle, repaired to the Norman camp, at Berkhamstead, and there tendered their submission, to the misfortune of their country. They gave hostages to the foreigner, and took the oaths of peace aud fidelity to him, and, in return, he promised to be kind and clement towards them. Then he marched towards London, and, regardless of his promise, permitted everything in his course to be devastated.
36.—THE CORONATION OF THE CONQUEROR. THIERRY. Upon the road from Berkhamstead to London there was a rich monastery called the Abbey of St. Alban, situated near the vast ruins of an ancient Roman municipal town. On approaching the estates of this convent, William observed with surprise large trunks of trees, arranged so as to intercept his passage, or render it difficult. He had Frithric, the Abbot of St. Albans, brought before him ; Why," demanded the conqueror, “hast thou had thy timber felled in this manner ?”_-“I have done my duty,” replied the Saxon monk ; "and if all those of my order had acted in the same way, as they might and should have done, perhaps thou would'st not have penetrated so far into our country.” William did not go on to London, but stopping some miles distant, he sent forward a strong detachment of soldiers with orders to erect a fortress in the heart of the city, for his residence. Whilst these works were rapidly proceeding, the Norman council of war were discussing, in the camp near London, the means of completing the conquest, so successfully commenced. The intimate friends of William said, that, in order to render the inhabitants of the yet unsubdued provinces less stubborn in their resistance, it was desirable that, previous to any further invasion, the chief of the conquest should take the title of king of the English. This proposition was, undoubtedly, the most agreeable to the Duke of Normandy, but, always politic, he feigned indifference to it, and concealed his own wishes, for fear of appearing to his companions in fortune too ambitious of a dignity which would give him the pre-eminence over them, as well as over the
conquered nation, and destroy the kind of military equality and brotherhood which in the camp, put them on the same footing with their chief. William made modest excuses, and demanded at least some delay, saying, that he had not come to England for the purpose of making his own fortune, but that of the whole Norman people ; that, moreover, were it the will of God that he should be king, the time to take this title had not yet arrived, as too many provinces and too many men were still to be brought to submission.
The majority of the captains of the Norman race were disposed to take these hypocritical scruples literally, and to decide, that in fact it was not yet time to elect a king, when a chief of the auxiliary bands, Aimery de Thouars, who had less cause to take umbrage at William's elevation than the natives of Normandy, addressed them with warmth, saying in the style of a flatterer and a mercenary soldier :-“It is an excess of modesty to ask men-at-arms whether they desire that their lord should be king, soldiers are not expected to take part in discussions of this nature, and moreover, our debates only serve to retard that which we all wish to see accomplished without delay.” Those among the Normans, who, after the feigned excuses of William, would have ventured to agree with him, quite changed their opinion when the Poictevin had spoken, for fear of appearing to be outdone by him in allegiance and devotion to the common chief. They therefore resolved unanimously that previous to proceeding any further with the conquest, Duke William should be crowned king of England by the little number of Saxons whom he had succeeded in terrifying or corrupting.
Christmas day, then approaching, was fixed on for the ceremony. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had taken the oath of peace to the conqueror, in his camp at Berkhamstead, was invited to come and impose hands on, and crown him, according to ancient custom, in the church of the monastery of the West, in English, West-rnynster, near London. Stigand refused to go and consecrate a man stained with human blood, and an invader of the rights of another. But Eldred, Archbishop of York, more circumspect and prudent, say the ancient historians, recognising the necessity of conforming to the times, and not acting contrary to the decrees of God, by whom the powers of the earth are exalted, consented to perform this office for the formidable foreigner. The West Minster was prepared and decorated as in the ancient days, when, in accordance with the free votes of the principal men of England, the king of their choice presented himself there, to receive the investiture of the power which they had committed to him. But this preliminary election, without which the title of king was nothing beyond a vain mockery, and a bitter insult from the stronger party, did not take place in the case of the Norman chief. He left his camp of foreigners, and marched through double rows formed by them, as far as the monastery, where he was received by some Saxons, who were overcome with terror, or, at most, affected a steady and unconstrained demeanour in their cowardly and servile office. At some distance, all the avenues leading to the church, the public places, and the streets of the suburb were filled with armed cavaliers, who, according to the ancient narratives, were to keep down the rebels, and guard the safety of those whose offices required them to be in the interior of the Minster ;-two hundred and sixty chiefs of the army, the staff of the conqueror, entered with their duke.
The ceremony commenced by Geoffrey, bishop of Coutances, asking the Normans in the French language, if they all desired that their general should take the title of king of the English ; at the same time the Archbishop of York inquired of the English, in the Saxon tongue, if they would have the Norman for their king. On this, such vehement acclamations were raised in the church, that they resounded beyond the gates, and reached the ears of the cavaliers who filled the neighbouring
streets. They mistook this confused noise for a cry of alarm, and, in obedience to their secret orders, immediately set fire to the houses. Several rushed towards the church, and, at the sight of their drawn swords, and the flames of the conflagration, all the attendants, Normans as well as Saxons, dispersed. The latter hastened to extinguish the fire, the former to plunder during the trouble and disorder. The ceremony was interrupted by this unexpected tumult, and there only remained hastily to complete it, the duke, Archbishop Eldred, and some priests of both nations. Trembling they received from him whom they called king, and who, according to an ancient narrative, himself trembled as much as they, the oath to treat the Anglo-Saxon people as well as the best of the kings whom they had ever elected.
That very day, the town of London had reason to know the worth of such an oath from the mouth of a foreign conqueror ; an enormous war-tribute was imposed on the citizens, and their hostages were imprisoned. William himself, who could not in his heart believe that the benediction of Eldred, and the acclamations of a few cowards could suffice to make him a king of England, in the legal sense of the word, puzzled to find a suitable style to adopt in his manifestos, sometimes falsely entitled himself, King by hereditary succession, and at others, with great justice, King by the edge of the sword. But if he was doubtful about his formulas, he had no hesitation in his acts, and took his proper place by the attitude of hostility and defiance that he maintained towards the people. He did not yet venture into London, in spite of his garrison, and the fortified retrenchments which they had hastily constructed for him. He left the city, to wait in the neighbouring country until his engineers should have given more solidity to these works, and have laid the foundation of two other fortresses, to repress, says a Norman writer, the changeable spirit of a too numerous and fierce population,
Leaving Lincoln, which by a kind of French euphony, they called Nicole, the invading army marched upon York, and, at a place where the streams, whose junction forms the great river Humber, approach each other, they encountered the confederated army of the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh. There, as at the battle of Hastings, by their superiority in numbers and in armour, they drove the enemy from their position, which they vainly endeavoured to defend foot by foot. A great number of the English perished, the rest sought an asylum within the walls of York; but the conquerors, closely pursuing them, made a breach in the walls and entered into the town, massacreing all, say the chronicles, from infants to old men. The remains of the patriotic army, or (to use the language of the Norman historians), the army of the rebels and brigands, descended the river Humber in boats ; they then proceeded north, towards the country of the Scotch, or towards the English territories on the borders of Scotland. This became the rallying point for those who had been vanquished at York, “thither,” says an old Chronicler, “the noble chiefs, Edwin and Morkar retired, as well as other men of great distinction, bishops, clerks, men of all conditions, saddened by seeing their cause the weakest, but not resigning themselves to slavery.”
The conquerors built a citadel in the centre of the town of York, which thus became a Norman stronghold, and the bulwark of the conquest in the north. Its towers, filled with five hundred men in full armour, attended by several thousand esquires, and servants-at-arms, menaced the country of the Northumbrians. However, the invasion was not then carried into that country, and it is even doubtful if the province of York was ever wholly occupied, from the ocean to the mountains. The capital, subdued before its territory, was the advanced post of the Normans, and a post still perilous they worked day and night in tracing their lines of defence ; they forced the poor Saxons who had escaped the massacre, to dig trenches, and repair for their enemies the ruins which their enemies had made. Fearful of being besieged, in their turn, they collected food and provisions from all parts, and heaped them up in their dungeons. At this time, the Archbishop of York, Eldred, he who had officiated at the consecration of the foreign king, entered his metropolis to celebrate some religious solemnity. On his arrival he sent to his estates, situated at a short distance from York, for supplies for his own use ; and his servants, bringing horses and waggons, laden with corn and other provisions, chanced to meet at one of the gates, the viscount, or Norman governor of the town, surrounded by a long escort. “Who are you," demanded the Norman, “and to whom are you taking these supplies ?” “We are the servants of the Archbishop,” they replied, "and these things are for the use of his house. “ The viscount, caring little for the Archbishop and his household, signed to the men-at-arms who formed his escort, to convey the horses and waggons to the citadel of York, and to stow away the provisions in the Norman magazines.
When the pontiff, the friend of the conquerors, felt himself touched by the conquest, there arose in the depth of his soul an indignation hitherto unknown to his calm and prudent character. Eldred started off immediately to the Conqueror's quarters, and appeared before him, in his pontifical robes, and holding his pastoral staff; William rose to offer him, according to the custom of the times, the kiss of peace; but the Saxon prelate drew back, and said :—“Listen to me, king William : thou wast a foreigner, and nevertheless, it being God's will that our nation should be chastised, thou didst obtain, at the cost of much bloodshed, the kingdom of England ; I anointed thee king; I crowned and blessed thee with mine own hands; but now I curse thee, thee and thy race ; for thou hast merited it, having become the persecutor of the church of God, and the oppressor of his ministers.”
The Norman king listened unmoved to the impotent malediction of the old priest; he even restrained the indignation of his flatterers, who, trembling with rage, and half unsheathing their swords, desired to revenge the insolence of the Saxon. He permitted Eldred to return to his church at York in peace and safety ; but this adventure left in the heart of the Archbishop a feeling of deep sorrow, and perhaps of remorse for having contributed to the establishment of the foreign dominion. His dreams of ambition thus dispelled by actual experience, the melancholy conviction that he was neither exempt from the insults of the foreigner, nor from the general slavery, threw him into a slow malady, which, by degrees, wasted his strength. The following year, when the Saxons, having rallied anew, advanced to attack the town of York, Eldred's melancholy was redoubled, and, as if he feared death less than the presence of those men who still remained faithful to their country, he prayed to God, say the chronicles, to take him from this world, that he might not be a witness of the total ruin of his country, and the destruction of his church,
THIERRY. In order to give a fixed basis to the demands he made for contributions, or services of money (to use the language of the age), William had a great territorial inquiry made, and an universal register drawn up of all the changes of property caused in England by the conquest ; he wished to know into what hands, through the whole extent of the kingdom, the possessions of the Saxons had passed ; and how many of the conquered people still held their inheritances, in virtue of private treaties, concluded with himself or with his barons ; how many acres were contained in each rural domain ; what number of acres would suffice to maintain a man-at-arms, and how many men-at-arms there were in each county or shire of England ; what was the gross amount of the produce of the cities, towns, villages, and hamlets; what was the exact property of each count, baron, knight, and serjeant-at-arms; how much land each one had, how many tenants in fee, how many Saxons, cattle, and ploughs.
This work, in which modern historians have seen evidence of genius, and a grand monument of national utility, was simply the result of the peculiar position of the Norman king, as head of the conquering army, and of the necessity of establishing some sort of order amidst the chaos caused by the conquest. So true is this, that in other conquests, of which the details have been transmitted to us, in that of Greece by the Latin crusaders in the thirteenth century, for example, we find the same kind of inquest made by the leaders of the invasion, on an entirely similar plan.
In accordance with the orders of King William, Henry de Ferrieres, Walter Giffard, Adam, brother of Eudes, the Seneschal, and Renie, bishop of Lincoln, with others chosen from among the law officers, and the keepers of the royal treasury, traversed all the counties of England, holding in every place of any importance, their assembly, or council of inquiry. They summoned before them the Norman Viscount of each Saxon province, or shire, to whom the Saxons still applied in their language, the ancient title of shire-reve, or sheriff. They convoked, or ordered the viscount to convoke, all the Norman barons of the province, who stated the precise bounds of their possessions, and their territorial jurisdictions; then some of the officers of the inquiry, or commissioners delegated by them, visited each large domain, and each district or hundred, as the Saxons expressed it. There they made the French men-at-arms of each lord, and the English inhabitants of the hundred, declare on oath how many freeholders and farmers there were on each estate, what portion was occupied by each in their own right, or at will; the names of the actual tenants ; the names of those who had held property before the conquest; and the divers mutations of the same consequent thereon ; so that, say the narratives of the time, they exacted three declarations as to each estate, what they were in the time of King Edward, what they were when King William made grant of them, and what at the time of the inquiry. Below each return this formula was inscribed sworn to by all the French and all the English of the hundred.
In each township inquiry was made what imposts the inhabitants had paid to former kings, and what the town yielded to the officers of the conqueror : it was also ascertained how many houses had been destroyed by the war of the conquest, or to make way for the construction of fortresses, how many the conquerors had taken, how many Saxon families, reduced to extreme indigence, were not in a position to pay any thing. In the cities the oaths were administered by the high Norman authorities, who assembled the Saxon citizens in their ancient council chamber, now the property of the king, or of some foreign soldier ; and in places