Page images

of less importance the oaths were taken from the royal officer or provost, the priest, and six Saxons, or six villeins of each town, as the Normans termed them. This inquiry occupied six years, during which William's commissioners traversed the whole of England, with the exception of the mountainous country to the north and the west of Yorkshire, that is to say, the five modern counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancaster. Perhaps in this extent of country, so cruelly devastated at two several times, there was not sufficient cultivated land, the divisions of property were too unsettled, for it to be useful or possible to make the returns ; perhaps, also, the commissioners of the Norman king feared that if they carried their assizes into the townships of Northumbria, the Saxon words might be rung in their ears which had been the signal for the massacre of Vaulcher the Lorrain, and his hundred men.

Be this as it may, the rent-roll, or, to use the ancient term, the terrier of the Norman conquest, makes po mention of the conquered domains beyond the province of York. The drawing-up of this roll for each province mentioned, was modelled on an uniform plan. The name of the king was placed at the head. with the list, of his lands and revenues in the province ; then followed the names of the chief and smaller proprietors, in the order of their military rank, and territorial wealth. The Saxons who had been spared, by special favour, in the general spoliation, were only found in the lowest ranks ; for the small number of men of that race, who were still free proprietors, or tenants in their own right under the king, as the conquerors expressed it, were such only of very small estates; they were inscribed at the end of each chapter under the title of thanes of the king, or with divers qualifications of domestic offices in the household of the conqueror. The rest of the names of an Anglo-Saxon character, which are scattered here and there throughout the roll, belong to farmers of a few fractions, larger or smaller, of the estates of the Norman earls, knights, serjeants-at-arms, and bowmen.

Such is the authentic book, preserved to the present day, from which most of the instances of expropriation recorded in this narrative have been derived. This invaluable book, in which the entire conquest was registered, in order that the remembrance of it might never be effaced, was called by the Normans the Great Roll, the Royal Roll, or the Roll of Winchester, because it was kept in the treasury of Winchester Cathedral. The Saxons called it by a more solemn name, the book of the last judgment, Doomsday-Book, perhaps because it contained the sentence of their irrevocable expropriation. But if this book was a warrant of disposession to the English nation, it was no less so to some of the foreign usurpers. Their commander cunningly availed himself of it to make the numerous mutations of property operate to his advantage, and to legitimate his personal pretensions to many of the lands seized and occupied by others. He claimed proprietorship, by inheritance, of all that had been in the possession of Edward, the last king but one of the AngloSaxons, of Harold the last king, and of all Harold's family : by the same title he laid claim to all public property, and to the supreme lordship of all towns unless he had expressly alienated them, wholly or partly, by an authenticated diploma, par lettre et saisine, as the Norman lawyers say.

In the moment of victory, at that time of brotherhood between the commander and his companions, no one had thought of the formalities of letters-patent and of seisin and each of those to whom William had said before the battle, “ What I shall take, you will take,” had made himself master of his portion, but, after the conquest, the soldiers of the invasion found that the power which they had raised over the heads of the English, weighed, in part at least, heavily on their own. It was thus that William de Warrenne's right to the lands of two free Englishmen in the county of Norfolk, was contested, because they had formerly been

dependancies of a royal manor of Edward ; it was the same with one of Eustace's domains, in the province of Huntingdon, and also with fifteen acres of land held by Miles Crispin, in that of Berks. An estate occupied by Engelry in the county of Essex, was, in the words of the Great Roll, seized into the king's hands, because Engelry had not sent to give an account of his title. The king seized in the same manner all the lands to which he laid claim, and of which the holders, though Normans, could not or would not render account,

Another pretension on his part, was, that each domain which, in the Saxon times had paid to king Edward any rent or service, should, although held by a Norman, pay the same rent or the same service. This claim, founded on succession to the rights of an English king, which could not be recognised by those who had disinherited the English race, was, from the first, badly received by the conquerors. Freedom from imposts or services in money, except some voluntary contributions, appeared to them the inviolable prerogative of their victory ; and they looked upon the condition of customary tax-payers as wholly confined to the conquered nation. Many resisted the claims of their commander, disdaining to bear the imposition of personal servitude for the land which they had conquered But there were some who weakly yielded, and their concession, whether voluntary, or bought by King William, weakened the opposition of the others. Raoul the Courbespine refused for a long time to pay any rent for the houses that he had taken in the town of Canterbury, and Hugh de Montfort for the lands that he occupied in the county of Essex. These two chiefs could indulge their haughty tempers with impunity, but the pride of men of less power and importance was sometimes severely punished. One Osbert called the Fisherman, not choosing to pay the rent that his land had formerly given to king Edward, as a dependance of his domain, was expropriated by the royal agents, and his estate offered to whoever would pay for him : Raoul Taille-bois paid, says the Great Roll, and took possession of the land as forfeited by Osbert the Fisherman,

The Norman King also endeavoured to levy on his own countrymen, in the towns and the estates in his dominions, the ancient duty established by the Saxon law. As regards the English inhabitants of these towns and estates, besides this tax, rigorously exacted under the title of local custom and often doubled or tripled, they were further subject to a casual, arbitrary, and unequal contribution, capriciously and harshly levied, which the Normans called tuille or tuillage. The Great Roll gives a list of the king's burgesses liable to this tax, in the order of the cities, towns, and boroughs : “These are the burgesses of the king at Colchester :-Keolman, who holds one house and five acres of land ; Leofwin, who holds two houses and twenty-five acres, Ulfric, Edwin, Wulfstan, Manwin,” etc. The Norman chiefs and soldiers also levied tuille on the Saxons, who had fallen to them, either in the towns, or the rural districts. This is what was called in the language of the conquerors, having a burgess, or a free Saxon; and in this sense freemen were counted by the head, sold, given, engaged, lent, or even divided into half-shares by the Normans. The great Roll says that a certain Viscount had in the town of Ipswich two Saxon burgesses, one in pledge, and the other for debts ; and that King William had, by an authentic act, lent the Saxon Edwig to Raoul Taille-bois, to keep him as long as be lived.

Many quarrels amongst the conquerors for the spoil of the conquered, many incasions of Normans upon Normans, as the roll of inquiry has it, were also registered in every corner of England. For example, William de Warrenne, in the county of Bedford, had disseized Walter Espee of half a hyde, or half an acre of land, and had taken from him two horses. Elsewhere, it was Hugh de Corbon who had usurped from Roger Bigot, half of a free Englishman, that is to say five acres of land. In the county of Hants, William de la Chesnage clained from Priot a certain piece of land, on the pretext that it belonged to the Saxon, whose possessions he had taken. This latter instance, and many others of the same nature, prove that the Normans regarded as their legitimate property all that the former proprietor might legally have claimed ; and that the foreign invader, considering himself as a natural successor, made the same investigations, and instituted the same civil prosecutions, as the Saxon's heir might have done. He called upon the English inhabitants of the district, as witnesses, to attest the extent of the rights given him by his substitution in the place of the man whom he had killed or expelled. The memory of the inhabitants, disturbed by the sufferings and tumult of the conquest, often responded imperfectly to these inquiries; the Norman, also, who wished to dispute the right of his countrymen, refused to abide by the deposition of this vile populace of the vanquished nation. In this case, the only means of terminating the dispute was either a trial by single combat, or a judgment in the King's court.

The Norman terrier speaks, in many places, of unjust invasions, seizures, and claims. It is certainly a strange thing to meet with this word justice in the register of the expropriation of an entire people ; and it would be impossible to understand this book, if we did not reflect, at each sentence, that in it inheritance signifies the spoliation of an Englishman, that every Englishman despoiled by a Norman is there termed the predecessor of the Norman ; that for a Norman to be just is to have abstained from taking the possession of an Englishman, who had been killed, or driven out by any other Norman ; and that to act otherwise is called injustice: which is proved by the following passage. “In the county of Bedford, Raoul Taille-bois has unjustly disseized Nigel of five hydes of land, which are well known to have formed part of the inheritance of his predecessor, and part of which is still occupied by the concubine of Nigel.”

Some of the dispossessed Saxons ventured to present themselves before the Commissioners of the Inquiry to claim their rights; there were some even whose names were enrolled in the register, with terms of bumble supplication, never employed by a Norman. These men declared that they were poor and wretched ; and appealed to the clemency and mercy of the king. Those who, after much cringing, were suffered to retain some small portion of their paternal inheritance, were forced to pay for this favour by degrading and absurd services, or to receive it under the no less humiliating title of alms. In the roll, sons are said to hold the possessions of their fathers as an alms. Free women keep their fields as an alms. Another woman remains in the enjoyment of her husband's estate, on condition of feeding the king's dogs. And, lastly, a mother and son receive their ancient inheritance as a gift, on condition of their offering up prayers daily for the soul of the king's son, Richard.


From the 'Penny Magazine.' The Norman conquerors of England were rapidly absorbed by the conquered people : and the union of the two races took place at a period much earlier than has generally been stated by our historians. Though beaten in the field, after a long and stern struggle for their independence, and though perhaps decimated by seven dreadful years of war and carnage, the Saxons remained incomparably more numerous than their invaders, and it was considered an easier and a wiser task to conciliate them than to exterminate them. From his first coming into England, and, indeed, before his arrival, William the Conqueror had a strong party among the Saxon and Dano-Saxon thanes ; this party rejoiced at his coming, and grew in numbers and strength after the battle of Hastings. To keep it steady to his interests, William at a very early period began to give these great thanes Norman wives. Several of these brides were of the highest rank. Thus the Conqueror gave his own niece Judith in marriage to the great Saxon earl Waltheof, whose warlike qualities, and great popularity with the Saxon people, might have made him formidable as an enemy many years after the catastrophe at Hastings. William even promised one of his own daughters to Edwin, Earl of Mercia, brotherin-law to the late King Harold ; and it appears that this marriage would have taken place, if suspicions had not been excited by the conduct of Edwin, who soon after fled from the Conqueror's court to put himself at the head of a formidable insurrection in the north country. Other young maidens from beyond sea, sisters or daughters to some of the noblest of the Conqueror's followers, were affianced to the sons of rich Saxons who had hoped to preserve their wealth by remaining quiet. But the more frequent inter-marriages among the chiefs of the two nations were those in which Norman barons and knights espoused Saxon heiresses. The fathers and brothers of many noble thanes, and of many great holders of land, perished in battle, either at Hastings or in the course of the seven years' war which followed that event; and by the ordinary dispositions of nature there was many a rich Saxon family that had daughters and no sons. By right of his feudal supremacy and kingly prerogative, William became guardian to all these Saxon orphans, and disposed of their lands and fortunes as he chose ; and over such heiresses as were not orphans he could exercise a control through their peace-seeking fathers. It was better to please the Saxon people by marrying these heiresses to his barons and knights, than to keep up a constant exasperation by forcibly seizing and giving away their estates ; and it should appear, in spite of the frequent bravadoes about the rights of conquest, that the Norman chiefs considered the best rights to such estates, or the title least likely to be questioned, to be the hands of the Saxon heiresses whose ancestors had held them for ages. It is mentioned by several of the chroniclers, who were either contemporary or lived near the time, that many of the Norman and foreign adventurers who made part of William's first army of invasion, made no other bargain with him than that they should be married to Saxon heiresses, or to other rich young women in England. These chroniclers could not be expected to record all the marriages which took place between the two races (such a piece of family history would throw great light upon an important part of our national history), but they mention cases enough to prove the frequency of such alliances, and they speak of them as a fixed principle in the Conqueror's polity. In one generation the children proceeding from these marriages were numerous, and in these children the distinction between Norman and Saxon was already lost. But other and far more numerous internarriages took place among those classes that were too poor or obscure to attract the notice of King William's


historians. The home marriage-market was thinned by the long wars in the south and the north, the east and the west. The young Saxon women were fair and florid, and the young soldiers and camp-followers that came from Normandy and other parts of France seldom, if ever, brought wives with them: the circumstances and natural feelings of these parties would be decisive of the matter ; but, no doubt, it would enter into the policy of the Conqueror to keep these young soldiers (many of whom were not his own subjects) in England, and in his own service, by encouraging and promoting their marriages with the unprovided Saxon maidens. Although not specifically mentioned by the monkish writers, the only annalists of those times, we can glean incidentally that these matehes became very common shortly after the battle of Hastings, that they continued throughout the long war, and that they became still more frequent when the Conqueror crushed the last great insurrection in the country north of Trent, and finally subdued the Saxon spirit of independence. And these marriages among the commonalty contributed more than any other single cause to the disarming of mutual animosities, and to the tranquillizing of the kingdom.

William of Poictiers, the Conqueror's chaplain and chronicler, who is believed to have accompanied his hero and patron on his expedition to England, speaks with something like rapture of the beauty of countenance, the fair complexion, and long flowing hair of the Saxons. There is, however, no good reason to doubt the longestablished opinion, that physically, as well as morally, the fusion of new brisk blood in the great but somewhat sluggish Anglo-Saxon stream was highly advaptageous. If the Northmen, or Normans, had achieved the conquest of England on their first starting from Norway and the other shores of the North Sea, they would have differed very little in race or breed from the Saxons and Danes; but during the century and a half or more that these Scandinavian followers of Rollo had been settled in the north-west of France, or in those regions to which they imparted the name of Normandy, they had been greatly intermixed with Frankish, and Celtic, and other blood ; their princes and chiefs had intermarried with royal or noble Franks, their followers with the common people of the country or of the states adjacent to it. Hence black hair and black eyes, and hands and feet of comparatively small size, were common among the real Normans who first came to England with the Conqueror, and long before that event the Normans had entirely lost their original Scandinavian language, and spoke nothing but a dialect of the French, as afterwards in England the mixed race lost the use of the French language, and spoke pothing but English. If it took a longer time in England than it had taken in France to identify the language of the conquerors with the conquered, and if a good deal of the French dialect the Normans brought with them into England was fused and mixed with the staple of the growing English language, it was certainly not owing to the slow mixture of the two races, but to other powerful causes, such as the close and long-continued connection between England and Normandy and the adjacent countries, the infant and transition state of our language at the time of the Conquest, the somewhat more advanced state of language and civilization in France, the great influx of foreign churchmen, and the tendency of the Latin (the language of the Church) to promote the use of words that sprung from Latin roots, and that were taken from dialects which were but derivatives of the Latin, When Rollo obtained an undisturbed possession of his duchy of Normandy he retained no dominion elsewhere, and he appears to have given up almost immediately every connection with the country from which he had come ; but the Conqueror and his descendants retained possession of Normandy and of other French-speaking states for more than one hundred and sixty years; and during all this period our kings were frequently on the continent for long periods at a time, and many of

« PreviousContinue »