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William the Conqueror

by Edward A. Freeman D.C.L., LL. D.

Macmillan and Co., 1913

  1. Introduction
  2. The Early Years of William
  3. William's First Visit to England
  4. The Reign of William in Normandy
  5. Harold's Oath to William
  6. The Negotiations of Duke William
  7. William's Invasion of England
  8. The Conquest of England
  9. The Settlement of England
  10. The Revolts against William
  11. The Last Years of William


If William came back from England looking forward to a future crown, the thought might even then flash across his mind that he was not likely to win that crown without fighting for it. As yet his business was still to fight for the duchy of Normandy. But he had now to fight, not to win his duchy, but only to keep it. For five years he had to strive both against rebellious subjects and against invading enemies, among whom King Henry of Paris is again the foremost. Whatever motives had led the French king to help William at Val-es-dunes had now passed away. He had fallen back on his former state of abiding enmity towards Normandy and her duke. But this short period definitely fixed the position of Normandy and her duke in Gaul and in Europe. At its beginning William is still the Bastard of Falaise, who may or may not be able to keep himself in the ducal chair, his right to which is still disputed. At the end of it, if he is not yet the Conqueror and the Great, he has shown all the gifts that were needed to win him either name. He is the greatest vassal of the French crown, a vassal more powerful than the overlord whose invasions of his duchy he has had to drive back.

These invasions of Normandy by the King of the French and his allies fall into two periods. At first Henry appears in Normandy as the supporter of Normans in open revolt against their duke. But revolts are personal and local; there is no rebellion like that which was crushed at Val-es-dunes, spreading over a large part of the duchy. In the second period, the invaders have no such starting-point. There are still traitors; there are still rebels; but all that they can do is to join the invaders after they have entered the land. William is still only making his way to the universal good will of his duchy: but he is fast making it.

There is, first of all, an obscure tale of a revolt of an unfixed date, but which must have happened between 1048 and 1053. The rebel, William Busac of the house of Eu, is said to have defended the castle of Eu against the duke and to have gone into banishment in France. But the year that followed William's visit to England saw the far more memorable revolt of William Count of Arques. He had drawn the Duke's suspicions on him, and he had to receive a ducal garrison in his great fortress by Dieppe. But the garrison betrayed the castle to its own master. Open revolt and havoc followed, in which Count William was supported by the king and by several other princes. Among them was Ingelram Count of Ponthieu, husband of the duke's sister Adelaide. Another enemy was Guy Count of Gascony, afterwards Duke William the Eighth of Aquitaine. What quarrel a prince in the furthest corner of Gaul could have with the Duke of the Normans does not appear; but neither Count William nor his allies could withstand the loyal Normans and their prince. Count Ingelram was killed; the other princes withdrew to devise greater efforts against Normandy. Count William lost his castle and part of his estates, and left the duchy of his free will. The Duke's politic forbearance at last won him the general good will of his subjects. We hear of no more open revolts till that of William's own son many years after. But the assaults of foreign enemies, helped sometimes by Norman traitors, begin again the next year on a greater scale.

William the ruler and warrior had now a short breathing-space. He had doubtless come back from England more bent than ever on his marriage with Matilda of Flanders. Notwithstanding the decree of a Pope and a Council entitled to special respect, the marriage was celebrated, not very long after William's return to Normandy, in the year of the revolt of William of Arques. In the course of the year 1053 Count Baldwin brought his daughter to the Norman frontier at Eu, and there she became the bride of William. We know not what emboldened William to risk so daring a step at this particular time, or what led Baldwin to consent to it. If it was suggested by the imprisonment of Pope Leo by William's countrymen in Italy, in the hope that a consent to the marriage would be wrung out of the captive pontiff, that hope was disappointed. The marriage raised much opposition in Normandy. It was denounced by Archbishop Malger of Rouen, the brother of the dispossessed Count of Arques. His character certainly added no weight to his censures; but the same act in a saint would have been set down as a sign of holy boldness. Presently, whether for his faults or for his merits, Malger was deposed in a synod of the Norman Church, and William found him a worthier successor in the learned and holy Maurilius. But a greater man than Malger also opposed the marriage, and the controversy thus introduces us to one who fills a place second only to that of William himself in the Norman and English history of the time.

This was Lanfranc of Pavia, the lawyer, the scholar, the model monk, the ecclesiastical statesman, who, as prior of the newly founded abbey of Bec, was already one of the innermost counsellors of the Duke. As duke and king, as prior, abbot, and archbishop, William and Lanfranc ruled side by side, each helping the work of the other till the end of their joint lives. Once only, at this time, was their friendship broken for a moment. Lanfranc spoke against the marriage, and ventured to rebuke the Duke himself. William's wrath was kindled; he ordered Lanfranc into banishment and took a baser revenge by laying waste part of the lands of the abbey. But the quarrel was soon made up. Lanfranc presently left Normandy, not as a banished man, but as the envoy of its sovereign, commissioned to work for the confirmation of the marriage at the papal court. He worked, and his work was crowned with success, but not with speedy success. It was not till six years after the marriage, not till the year 1059, that Lanfranc obtained the wished for confirmation, not from Leo, but from his remote successor Nicolas the Second. The sin of those who had contracted the unlawful union was purged by various good works, among which the foundation of the two stately abbeys of Caen was conspicuous.

This story illustrates many points in the character of William and of his time. His will is not to be thwarted, whether in a matter of marriage or of any other. But he does not hurry matters; he waits for a favourable opportunity. Something, we know not what, must have made the year 1053 more favourable than the year 1049. We mark also William's relations to the Church. He is at no time disposed to submit quietly to the bidding of the spiritual power, when it interferes with his rights or even when it crosses his will. Yet he is really anxious for ecclesiastical reform; he promotes men like Maurilius and Lanfranc; perhaps he is not displeased when the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, in the case of Malger, frees him from a troublesome censor. But the worse side of him also comes out. William could forgive rebels, but he could not bear the personal rebuke even of his friend. Under this feeling he punishes a whole body of men for the offence of one. To lay waste the lands of Bec for the rebuke of Lanfranc was like an ordinary prince of the time; it was unlike William, if he had not been stirred up by a censure which touched his wife as well as himself. But above all, the bargain between William and Lanfranc is characteristic of the man and the age. Lanfranc goes to Rome to support a marriage which he had censured in Normandy. But there is no formal inconsistency, no forsaking of any principle. Lanfranc holds an uncanonical marriage to be a sin, and he denounces it. He does not withdraw his judgement as to its sinfulness. He simply uses his influence with a power that can forgive the sin to get it forgiven.

While William's marriage was debated at Rome, he had to fight hard in Normandy. His warfare and his negotiations ended about the same time, and the two things may have had their bearing on one another. William had now to undergo a new form of trial. The King of the French had never put forth his full strength when he was simply backing Norman rebels. William had now, in two successive invasions, to withstand the whole power of the King, and of as many of his vassals as the King could bring to his standard. In the first invasion, in 1054, the Norman writers speak rhetorically of warriors from Burgundy, Auvergne, and Gascony; but it is hard to see any troops from a greater distance than Bourges. The princes who followed Henry seem to have been only the nearer vassals of the Crown. Chief among them are Theobald Count of Chartres, of a house of old hostile to Normandy, and Guy the new Count of Ponthieu, to be often heard of again. If not Geoffrey of Anjou himself, his subjects from Tours were also there. Normandy was to be invaded on two sides, on both banks of the Seine. The King and his allies sought to wrest from William the western part of Normandy, the older and the more thoroughly French part. No attack seems to have been designed on the Bessin or the Cotentin. William was to be allowed to keep those parts of his duchy, against which he had to fight when the King was his ally at Val-es-dunes.

The two armies entered Normandy; that which was to act on the left of the Seine was led by the King, the other by his brother Odo. Against the King William made ready to act himself; eastern Normandy was left to its own loyal nobles. But all Normandy was now loyal; the men of the Saxon and Danish lands were as ready to fight for their duke against the King as they had been to fight against King and Duke together. But William avoided pitched battles; indeed pitched battles are rare in the continental warfare of the time. War consists largely in surprises, and still more in the attack and defence of fortified places. The plan of William's present campaign was wholly defensive; provisions and cattle were to be carried out of the French line of march; the Duke on his side, the other Norman leaders on the other side, were to watch the enemy and attack them at any favourable moment. The commanders east of the Seine, Count Robert of Eu, Hugh of Gournay, William Crispin, and Walter Giffard, found their opportunity when the French had entered the unfortified town of Mortemer and had given themselves up to revelry. Fire and sword did the work. The whole French army was slain, scattered, or taken prisoners. Ode escaped; Guy of Ponthieu was taken. The Duke's success was still easier. The tale runs that the news from Mortemer, suddenly announced to the King's army in the dead of the night, struck them with panic, and led to a hasty retreat out of the land.

This campaign is truly Norman; it is wholly unlike the simple warfare of England. A traitorous Englishman did nothing or helped the enemy; a patriotic Englishman gave battle to the enemy the first time he had a chance. But no English commander of the eleventh century was likely to lay so subtle a plan as this, and, if he had laid such a plan, he would hardly have found an English army able to carry it out. Harold, who refused to lay waste a rood of English ground, would hardly have looked quietly on while many roods of English ground were wasted by the enemy. With all the valour of the Normans, what before all things distinguished them from other nations was their craft. William could indeed fight a pitched battle when a pitched battle served his purpose; but he could control himself, he could control his followers, even to the point of enduring to look quietly on the havoc of their own land till the right moment. He who could do this was indeed practising for his calling as Conqueror. And if the details of the story, details specially characteristic, are to be believed, William showed something also of that grim pleasantry which was another marked feature in the Norman character. The startling message which struck the French army with panic was deliberately sent with that end. The messenger sent climbs a tree or a rock, and, with a voice as from another world, bids the French awake; they are sleeping too long; let them go and bury their friends who are lying dead at Mortemer. These touches bring home to us the character of the man and the people with whom our forefathers had presently to deal. William was the greatest of his race, but he was essentially of his race; he was Norman to the backbone.

Of the French army one division had been surprised and cut to pieces, the other had left Normandy without striking a blow. The war was not yet quite over; the French still kept Tillieres; William accordingly fortified the stronghold of Breteuil as a cheek upon it. And he entrusted the command to a man who will soon be memorable, his personal friend William, son of his old guardian Osbern. King Henry was now glad to conclude a peace on somewhat remarkable terms. William had the king's leave to take what he could from Count Geoffrey of Anjou. He now annexed Cenomannian--that is just now Angevin--territory at more points than one, but chiefly on the line of his earlier advances to Domfront and Ambrieres. Ambrieres had perhaps been lost; for William now sent Geoffrey a challenge to come on the fortieth day. He came on the fortieth day, and found Ambrieres strongly fortified and occupied by a Norman garrison. With Geoffrey came the Breton prince Ode, and William or Peter Duke of Aquitaine. They besieged the castle; but Norman accounts add that they all fled on William's approach to relieve it.

Three years of peace now followed, but in 1058 King Henry, this time in partnership with Geoffrey of Anjou, ventured another invasion of Normandy. He might say that he had never been fairly beaten in his former campaign, but that he had been simply cheated out of the land by Norman wiles. This time he had a second experience of Norman wiles and of Norman strength too. King and Count entered the land and ravaged far and wide. William, as before, allowed the enemy to waste the land. He watched and followed them till he found a favourable moment for attack. The people in general zealously helped the Duke's schemes, but some traitors of rank were still leagued with the Count of Anjou. While William bided his time, the invaders burned Caen. This place, so famous in Norman history, was not one of the ancient cities of the land. It was now merely growing into importance, and it was as yet undefended by walls or castle. But when the ravagers turned eastward, William found the opportunity that he had waited for. As the French were crossing the ford of Varaville on the Dive, near the mouth of that river, he came suddenly on them, and slaughtered a large part of the army under the eyes of the king who had already crossed. The remnant marched out of Normandy.

Henry now made peace, and restored Tillieres. Not long after, in 1060, the King died, leaving his young son Philip, who had been already crowned, as his successor, under the guardianship of William's father-in-law Baldwin. Geoffrey of Anjou and William of Aquitaine also died, and the Angevin power was weakened by the division of Geoffrey's dominions between his nephews. William's position was greatly strengthened, now that France, under the new regent, had become friendly, while Anjou was no longer able to do mischief. William had now nothing to fear from his neighbours, and the way was soon opened for his great continental conquest. But what effect had these events on William's views on England? About the time of the second French invasion of Normandy Earl Harold became beyond doubt the first man in England, and for the first time a chance of the royal succession was opened to him. In 1057, the year before Varaville, the AEtheling Edward, the King's selected successor, died soon after his coming to England; in the same year died the King's nephew Earl Ralph and Leofric Earl of the Mercians, the only Englishmen whose influence could at all compare with that of Harold. Harold's succession now became possible; it became even likely, if Edward should die while Edgar the son of the AEtheling was still under age. William had no shadow of excuse for interfering, but he doubtless was watching the internal affairs of England. Harold was certainly watching the affairs of Gaul. About this time, most likely in the year 1058, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way back he looked diligently into the state of things among the various vassals of the French crown. His exact purpose is veiled in ambiguous language; but we can hardly doubt that his object was to contract alliances with the continental enemies of Normandy. Such views looked to the distant future, as William had as yet been guilty of no unfriendly act towards England. But it was well to come to an understanding with King Henry, Count Geoffrey, and Duke William of Aquitaine, in case a time should come when their interests and those of England would be the same. But the deaths of all those princes must have put an end to all hopes of common action between England and any Gaulish power. The Emperor Henry also, the firm ally of England, was dead. It was now clear that, if England should ever have to withstand a Norman attack, she would have to withstand it wholly by her own strength, or with such help as she might find among the kindred powers of the North.

William's great continental conquest is drawing nigh; but between the campaign of Varaville and the campaign of Le Mans came the tardy papal confirmation of William's marriage. The Duke and Duchess, now at last man and wife in the eye of the Church, began to carry out the works of penance which were allotted to them. The abbeys of Caen, William's Saint Stephen's, Matilda's Holy Trinity, now began to arise. Yet, at this moment of reparation, one or two facts seem to place William's government of his duchy in a less favourable light than usual. The last French invasion was followed by confiscations and banishments among the chief men of Normandy. Roger of Montgomery and his wife Mabel, who certainly was capable of any deed of blood or treachery, are charged with acting as false accusers. We see also that, as late as the day of Varaville, there were Norman traitors. Robert of Escalfoy had taken the Angevin side, and had defended his castle against the Duke. He died in a strange way, after snatching an apple from the hand of his own wife. His nephew Arnold remained in rebellion three years, and was simply required to go to the wars in Apulia. It is hard to believe that the Duke had poisoned the apple, if poisoned it was; but finding treason still at work among his nobles, he may have too hastily listened to charges against men who had done him good service, and who were to do him good service again.

Five years after the combat at Varaville, William really began to deserve, though not as yet to receive, the name of Conqueror. For he now did a work second only to the conquest of England. He won the city of Le Mans and the whole land of Maine. Between the tale of Maine and the tale of England there is much of direct likeness. Both lands were won against the will of their inhabitants; but both conquests were made with an elaborate show of legal right. William's earlier conquests in Maine had been won, not from any count of Maine, but from Geoffrey of Anjou, who had occupied the country to the prejudice of two successive counts, Hugh and Herbert. He had further imprisoned the Bishop of Le Mans, Gervase of the house of Belleme, though the King of the French had at his request granted to the Count of Anjou for life royal rights over the bishopric of Le Mans. The bishops of Le Mans, who thus, unlike the bishops of Normandy, held their temporalities of the distant king and not of the local count, held a very independent position. The citizens of Le Mans too had large privileges and a high spirit to defend them; the city was in a marked way the head of the district. Thus it commonly carried with it the action of the whole country. In Maine there were three rival powers, the prince, the Church, and the people. The position of the counts was further weakened by the claims to their homage made by the princes on either side of them in Normandy and Anjou; the position of the Bishop, vassal, till Gervase's late act, of the King only, was really a higher one. Geoffrey had been received at Le Mans with the good will of the citizens, and both Bishop and Count sought shelter with William. Gervase was removed from the strife by promotion to the highest place in the French kingdom, the archbishopric of Rheims. The young Count Herbert, driven from his county, commended himself to William. He became his man; he agreed to hold his dominions of him, and to marry one of his daughters. If he died childless, his father-in-law was to take the fief into his own hands. But to unite the old and new dynasties, Herbert's youngest sister Margaret was to marry William's eldest son Robert. If female descent went for anything, it is not clear why Herbert passed by the rights of his two elder sisters, Gersendis, wife of Azo Marquess of Liguria, and Paula, wife of John of La Fleche on the borders of Maine and Anjou. And sons both of Gersendis and of Paula did actually reign at Le Mans, while no child either of Herbert or of Margaret ever came into being.

If Herbert ever actually got possession of his country, his possession of it was short. He died in 1063 before either of the contemplated marriages had been carried out. William therefore stood towards Maine as he expected to stand with regard to England. The sovereign of each country had made a formal settlement of his dominions in his favour. It was to be seen whether those who were most immediately concerned would accept that settlement. Was the rule either of Maine or of England to be handed over in this way, like a mere property, without the people who were to be ruled speaking their minds on the matter? What the people of England said to this question in 1066 we shall hear presently; what the people of Maine said in 1063 we hear now. We know not why they had submitted to the Angevin count; they had now no mind to merge their country in the dominions of the Norman duke. The Bishop was neutral; but the nobles and the citizens of Le Mans were of one mind in refusing William's demand to be received as count by virtue of the agreement with Herbert. They chose rulers for themselves. Passing by Gersendis and Paula and their sons, they sent for Herbert's aunt Biota and her husband Walter Count of Mantes. Strangely enough, Walter, son of Godgifu daughter of AEthelred, was a possible, though not a likely, candidate for the rule of England as well as of Maine. The people of Maine are not likely to have thought of this bit of genealogy. But it was doubtless present to the minds alike of William and of Harold.

William thus, for the first but not for the last time, claimed the rule of a people who had no mind to have him as their ruler. Yet, morally worthless as were his claims over Maine, in the merely technical way of looking at things, he had more to say than most princes have who annex the lands of their neighbours. He had a perfectly good right by the terms of the agreement with Herbert. And it might be argued by any who admitted the Norman claim to the homage of Maine, that on the failure of male heirs the country reverted to the overlord. Yet female succession was now coming in. Anjou had passed to the sons of Geoffrey's sister; it had not fallen back to the French king. There was thus a twofold answer to William's claim, that Herbert could not grant away even the rights of his sisters, still less the rights of his people. Still it was characteristic of William that he had a case that might be plausibly argued. The people of Maine had fallen back on the old Teutonic right. They had chosen a prince connected with the old stock, but who was not the next heir according to any rule of succession. Walter was hardly worthy of such an exceptional honour; he showed no more energy in Maine than his brother Ralph had shown in England. The city was defended by Geoffrey, lord of Mayenne, a valiant man who fills a large place in the local history. But no valour or skill could withstand William's plan of warfare. He invaded Maine in much the same sort in which he had defended Normandy. He gave out that he wished to win Maine without shedding man's blood. He fought no battles; he did not attack the city, which he left to be the last spot that should be devoured. He harried the open country, he occupied the smaller posts, till the citizens were driven, against Geoffrey's will, to surrender. William entered Le Mans; he was received, we are told, with joy. When men make the best of a bad bargain, they sometimes persuade themselves that they are really pleased. William, as ever, shed no blood; he harmed none of the men who had become his subjects; but Le Mans was to be bridled; its citizens needed a castle and a Norman garrison to keep them in their new allegiance. Walter and Biota surrendered their claims on Maine and became William's guests at Falaise. Meanwhile Geoffrey of Mayenne refused to submit, and withstood the new Count of Maine in his stronghold. William laid siege to Mayenne, and took it by the favoured Norman argument of fire. All Maine was now in the hands of the Conqueror.

William had now made a greater conquest than any Norman duke had made before him. He had won a county and a noble city, and he had won them, in the ideas of his own age, with honour. Are we to believe that he sullied his conquest by putting his late competitors, his present guests, to death by poison? They died conveniently for him, and they died in his own house. Such a death was strange; but strange things do happen. William gradually came to shrink from no crime for which he could find a technical defence; but no advocate could have said anything on behalf of the poisoning of Walter and Biota. Another member of the house of Maine, Margaret the betrothed of his son Robert, died about the same time; and her at least William had every motive to keep alive. One who was more dangerous than Walter, if he suffered anything, only suffered banishment. Of Geoffrey of Mayenne we hear no more till William had again to fight for the possession of Maine.

William had thus, in the year 1063, reached the height of his power and fame as a continental prince. In a conquest on Gaulish soil he had rehearsed the greater conquest which he was before long to make beyond sea. Three years, eventful in England, outwardly uneventful in Normandy, still part us from William's second visit to our shores. But in the course of these three years one event must have happened, which, without a blow being struck or a treaty being signed, did more for his hopes than any battle or any treaty. At some unrecorded time, but at a time which must come within these years, Harold Earl of the West-Saxons became the guest and the man of William Duke of the Normans.

Chapter V. Harold's Oath to William: A.D. 1064?

The lord of Normandy and Maine could now stop and reckon his chances of becoming lord of England also. While our authorities enable us to put together a fairly full account of both Norman and English events, they throw no light on the way in which men in either land looked at events in the other. Yet we might give much to know what William and Harold at this time thought of one another. Nothing had as yet happened to make the two great rivals either national or personal enemies. England and Normandy were at peace, and the great duke and the great earl had most likely had no personal dealings with one another. They were rivals in the sense that each looked forward to succeed to the English crown whenever the reigning king should die. But neither had as yet put forward his claim in any shape that the other could look on as any formal wrong to himself. If William and Harold had ever met, it could have been only during Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever negotiations Harold made during that journey were negotiations unfriendly to William; still he may, in the course of that journey, have visited Normandy as well as France or Anjou. It is hard to avoid the thought that the tale of Harold's visit to William, of his oath to William, arose out of something that happened on Harold's way back from his Roman pilgrimage. To that journey we can give an approximate date. Of any other journey we have no date and no certain detail. We can say only that the fact that no English writer makes any mention of any such visit, of any such oath, is, under the circumstances, the strongest proof that the story of the visit and the oath has some kind of foundation. Yet if we grant thus much, the story reads on the whole as if it happened a few years later than the English earl's return from Rome.

It is therefore most likely that Harold did pay a second visit to Gaul, whether a first or a second visit to Normandy, at some time nearer to Edward's death than the year 1058. The English writers are silent; the Norman writers give no date or impossible dates; they connect the visit with a war in Britanny; but that war is without a date. We are driven to choose the year which is least rich in events in the English annals. Harold could not have paid a visit of several months to Normandy either in 1063 or in 1065. Of those years the first was the year of Harold's great war in Wales, when he found how the Britons might be overcome by their own arms, when he broke the power of Gruffydd, and granted the Welsh kingdom to princes who became the men of Earl Harold as well as of King Edward. Harold's visit to Normandy is said to have taken place in the summer and autumn mouths; but the summer and autumn of 1065 were taken up by the building and destruction of Harold's hunting-seat in Wales and by the greater events of the revolt and pacification of Northumberland. But the year 1064 is a blank in the English annals till the last days of December, and no action of Harold's in that year is recorded. It is therefore the only possible year among those just before Edward's death. Harold's visit and oath to William may very well have taken place in that year; but that is all.

We know as little for certain as to the circumstances of the visit or the nature of the oath. We can say only that Harold did something which enabled William to charge him with perjury and breach of the duty of a vassal. It is inconceivable in itself, and unlike the formal scrupulousness of William's character, to fancy that he made his appeal to all Christendom without any ground at all. The Norman writers contradict one another so thoroughly in every detail of the story that we can look on no part of it as trustworthy. Yet such a story can hardly have grown up so near to the alleged time without some kernel of truth in it. And herein comes the strong corroborative witness that the English writers, denying every other charge against Harold, pass this one by without notice. We can hardly doubt that Harold swore some oath to William which he did not keep. More than this it would be rash to say except as an avowed guess.

As our nearest approach to fixing the date is to take that year which is not impossible, so, to fix the occasion of the visit, we can only take that one among the Norman versions which is also not impossible. All the main versions represent Harold as wrecked on the coast of Ponthieu, as imprisoned, according to the barbarous law of wreck, by Count Guy, and as delivered by the intervention of William. If any part of the story is true, this is. But as to the circumstances which led to the shipwreck there is no agreement. Harold assuredly was not sent to announce to William a devise of the crown in his favour made with the consent of the Witan of England and confirmed by the oaths of Stigand, Godwine, Siward, and Leofric. Stigand became Archbishop in September 1052: Godwine died at Easter 1053. The devise must therefore have taken place, and Harold's journey must have taken place, within those few most unlikely months, the very time when Norman influence was overthrown. Another version makes Harold go, against the King's warnings, to bring back his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, who had been given as hostages on the return of Godwine, and had been entrusted by the King to the keeping of Duke William. This version is one degree less absurd; but no such hostages are known to have been given, and if they were, the patriotic party, in the full swing of triumph, would hardly have allowed them to be sent to Normandy. A third version makes Harold's presence the result of mere accident. He is sailing to Wales or Flanders, or simply taking his pleasure in the Channel, when he is cast by a storm on the coast of Ponthieu. Of these three accounts we may choose the third as the only one that is possible. It is also one out of which the others may have grown, while it is hard to see how the third could have arisen out of either of the others. Harold then, we may suppose, fell accidentally into the clutches of Guy, and was rescued from them, at some cost in ransom and in grants of land, by Guy's overlord Duke William.

The whole story is eminently characteristic of William. He would be honestly indignant at Guy's base treatment of Harold, and he would feel it his part as Guy's overlord to redress the wrong. But he would also be alive to the advantage of getting his rival into his power on so honourable a pretext. Simply to establish a claim to gratitude on the part of Harold would be something. But he might easily do more, and, according to all accounts, he did more. Harold, we are told, as the Duke's friend and guest, returns the obligation under which the Duke has laid him by joining him in one or more expeditions against the Bretons. The man who had just smitten the Bret-Welsh of the island might well be asked to fight, and might well be ready to fight, against the Bret-Welsh of the mainland. The services of Harold won him high honour; he was admitted into the ranks of Norman knighthood, and engaged to marry one of William's daughters. Now, at any time to which we can fix Harold's visit, all William's daughters must have been mere children. Harold, on the other hand, seems to have been a little older than William. Yet there is nothing unlikely in the engagement, and it is the one point in which all the different versions, contradicting each other on every other point, agree without exception. Whatever else Harold promises, he promises this, and in some versions he does not promise anything else.

Here then we surely have the kernel of truth round which a mass of fable, varying in different reports, has gathered. On no other point is there any agreement. The place is unfixed; half a dozen Norman towns and castles are made the scene of the oath. The form of the oath is unfixed; in some accounts it is the ordinary oath of homage; in others it is an oath of fearful solemnity, taken on the holiest relics. In one well-known account, Harold is even made to swear on hidden relics, not knowing on what he is swearing. Here is matter for much thought. To hold that one form of oath or promise is more binding than another upsets all true confidence between man and man. The notion of the specially binding nature of the oath by relies assumes that, in case of breach of the oath, every holy person to whose relies despite has been done will become the personal enemy of the perjurer. But the last story of all is the most instructive. William's formal, and more than formal, religion abhorred a false oath, in himself or in another man. But, so long as he keeps himself personally clear from the guilt, he does not scruple to put another man under special temptation, and, while believing in the power of the holy relics, he does not scruple to abuse them to a purpose of fraud. Surely, if Harold did break his oath, the wrath of the saints would fall more justly on William. Whether the tale be true or false, it equally illustrates the feelings of the time, and assuredly its truth or falsehood concerns the character of William far more than that of Harold.

What it was that Harold swore, whether in this specially solemn fashion or in any other, is left equally uncertain. In any case he engages to marry a daughter of William--as to which daughter the statements are endless--and in most versions he engages to do something more. He becomes the man of William, much as William had become the man of Edward. He promises to give his sister in marriage to an unnamed Norman baron. Moreover he promises to secure the kingdom of England for William at Edward's death. Perhaps he is himself to hold the kingdom or part of it under William; in any case William is to be the overlord; in the more usual story, William is to be himself the immediate king, with Harold as his highest and most favoured subject. Meanwhile Harold is to act in William's interest, to receive a Norman garrison in Dover castle, and to build other castles at other points. But no two stories agree, and not a few know nothing of anything beyond the promise of marriage.

Now if William really required Harold to swear to all these things, it must have been simply in order to have an occasion against him. If Harold really swore to all of them, it must have been simply because he felt that he was practically in William's power, without any serious intention of keeping the oath. If Harold took any such oath, he undoubtedly broke it; but we may safely say that any guilt on his part lay wholly in taking the oath, not in breaking it. For he swore to do what he could not do, and what it would have been a crime to do, if he could. If the King himself could not dispose of the crown, still less could the most powerful subject. Harold could at most promise William his "vote and interest," whenever the election came. But no one can believe that even Harold's influence could have obtained the crown for William. His influence lay in his being the embodiment of the national feeling; for him to appear as the supporter of William would have been to lose the crown for himself without gaining it for William. Others in England and in Scandinavia would have been glad of it. And the engagements to surrender Dover castle and the like were simply engagements on the part of an English earl to play the traitor against England. If William really called on Harold to swear to all this, he did so, not with any hope that the oath would be kept, but simply to put his competitor as far as possible in the wrong. But most likely Harold swore only to something much simpler. Next to the universal agreement about the marriage comes the very general agreement that Harold became William's man. In these two statements we have probably the whole truth. In those days men took the obligation of homage upon themselves very easily. Homage was no degradation, even in the highest; a man often did homage to any one from whom he had received any great benefit, and Harold had received a very great benefit from William. Nor did homage to a new lord imply treason to the old one. Harold, delivered by William from Guy's dungeon, would be eager to do for William any act of friendship. The homage would be little more than binding himself in the strongest form so to do. The relation of homage could be made to mean anything or nothing, as might be convenient. The man might often understand it in one sense and the lord in another. If Harold became the man of William, he would look on the act as little more than an expression of good will and gratitude towards his benefactor, his future father-in-law, his commander in the Breton war. He would not look on it as forbidding him to accept the English crown if it were offered to him. Harold, the man of Duke William, might become a king, if he could, just as William, the man of King Philip, might become a king, if he could. As things went in those days, both the homage and the promise of marriage were capable of being looked on very lightly.

But it was not in the temper or in the circumstances of William to put any such easy meaning on either promise. The oath might, if needful, be construed very strictly, and William was disposed to construe it very strictly. Harold had not promised William a crown, which was not his to promise; but he had promised to do that which might be held to forbid him to take a crown which William held to be his own. If the man owed his lord any duty at all, it was surely his duty not to thwart his lord's wishes in such a matter. If therefore, when the vacancy of the throne came, Harold took the crown himself, or even failed to promote William's claim to it, William might argue that he had not rightly discharged the duty of a man to his lord. He could make an appeal to the world against the new king, as a perjured man, who had failed to help his lord in the matter where his lord most needed his help. And, if the oath really had been taken on relics of special holiness, he could further appeal to the religious feelings of the time against the man who had done despite to the saints. If he should be driven to claim the crown by arms, he could give the war the character of a crusade. All this in the end William did, and all this, we may be sure, he looked forward to doing, when he caused Harold to become his man. The mere obligation of homage would, in the skilful hands of William and Lanfranc, be quite enough to work on men's minds, as William wished to work on them. To Harold meanwhile and to those in England who heard the story, the engagement would not seem to carry any of these consequences. The mere homage then, which Harold could hardly refuse, would answer William's purpose nearly as well as any of these fuller obligations which Harold would surely have refused. And when a man older than William engaged to marry William's child- daughter, we must bear in mind the lightness with which such promises were made. William could not seriously expect that this engagement would be kept, if anything should lead Harold to another marriage. The promise was meant simply to add another count to the charges against Harold when the time should come. Yet on this point it is not clear that the oath was broken. Harold undoubtedly married Ealdgyth, daughter of AElfgar and widow of Gruffydd, and not any daughter of William. But in one version Harold is made to say that the daughter of William whom he had engaged to marry was dead. And that one of William's daughters did die very early there seems little doubt.

Whatever William did Lanfranc no doubt at least helped to plan. The Norman duke was subtle, but the Italian churchman was subtler still. In this long series of schemes and negotiations which led to the conquest of England, we are dealing with two of the greatest recorded masters of statecraft. We may call their policy dishonest and immoral, and so it was. But it was hardly more dishonest and immoral than most of the diplomacy of later times. William's object was, without any formal breach of faith on his own part, to entrap Harold into an engagement which might be understood in different senses, and which, in the sense which William chose to put upon it, Harold was sure to break. Two men, themselves of virtuous life, a rigid churchman and a layman of unusual religious strictness, do not scruple to throw temptation in the way of a fellow man in the hope that he will yield to that temptation. They exact a promise, because the promise is likely to be broken, and because its breach would suit their purposes. Through all William's policy a strong regard for formal right as he chose to understand formal right, is not only found in company with much practical wrong, but is made the direct instrument of carrying out that wrong. Never was trap more cunningly laid than that in which William now entangled Harold. Never was greater wrong done without the breach of any formal precept of right. William and Lanfranc broke no oath themselves, and that was enough for them. But it was no sin in their eyes to beguile another into engagements which he would understand in one way and they in another; they even, as their admirers tell the story, beguile him into engagements at once unlawful and impossible, because their interests would be promoted by his breach of those engagements. William, in short, under the spiritual guidance of Lanfranc, made Harold swear because he himself would gain by being able to denounce Harold as perjured.

The moral question need not be further discussed; but we should greatly like to know how far the fact of Harold's oath, whatever its nature, was known in England? On this point we have no trustworthy authority. The English writers say nothing about the whole matter; to the Norman writers this point was of no interest. No one mentions this point, except Harold's romantic biographer at the beginning of the thirteenth century. His statements are of no value, except as showing how long Harold's memory was cherished. According to him, Harold formally laid the matter before the Witan, and they unanimously voted that the oath--more, in his version, than a mere oath of homage--was not binding. It is not likely that such a vote was ever formally passed, but its terms would only express what every Englishman would feel. The oath, whatever its terms, had given William a great advantage; but every Englishman would argue both that the oath, whatever its terms, could not hinder the English nation from offering Harold the crown, and that it could not bind Harold to refuse the crown if it should be so offered.

Chapter VI. The Negotiations of Duke William: January-October 1066

If the time that has been suggested was the real time of Harold's oath to William, its fulfilment became a practical question in little more than a year. How the year 1065 passed in Normandy we have no record; in England its later months saw the revolt of Northumberland against Harold's brother Tostig, and the reconciliation which Harold made between the revolters and the king to the damage of his brother's interests. Then came Edward's sickness, of which he died on January 5, 1066. He had on his deathbed recommended Harold to the assembled Witan as his successor in the kingdom. The candidate was at once elected. Whether William, Edgar, or any other, was spoken of we know not; but as to the recommendation of Edward and the consequent election of Harold the English writers are express. The next day Edward was buried, and Harold was crowned in regular form by Ealdred Archbishop of York in Edward's new church at Westminster. Northumberland refused to acknowledge him; but the malcontents were won over by the coming of the king and his friend Saint Wulfstan Bishop of Worcester. It was most likely now, as a seal of this reconciliation, that Harold married Ealdgyth, the sister of the two northern earls Edwin and Morkere, and the widow of the Welsh king Gruffydd. He doubtless hoped in this way to win the loyalty of the earls and their followers.

The accession of Harold was perfectly regular according to English law. In later times endless fables arose; but the Norman writers of the time do not deny the facts of the recommendation, election, and coronation. They slur them over, or, while admitting the mere facts, they represent each act as in some way invalid. No writer near the time asserts a deathbed nomination of William; they speak only of a nomination at some earlier time. But some Norman writers represent Harold as crowned by Stigand Archbishop of Canterbury. This was not, in the ideas of those times, a trifling question. A coronation was then not a mere pageant; it was the actual admission to the kingly office. Till his crowning and anointing, the claimant of the crown was like a bishop-elect before his consecration. He had, by birth or election, the sole right to become king; it was the coronation that made him king. And as the ceremony took the form of an ecclesiastical sacrament, its validity might seem to depend on the lawful position of the officiating bishop. In England to perform that ceremony was the right and duty of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but the canonical position of Stigand was doubtful. He had been appointed on the flight of Robert; he had received the PALLIUM, the badge of arch-episcopal rank, only from the usurping Benedict the Tenth. It was therefore good policy in Harold to be crowned by Ealdred, to whose position there was no objection. This is the only difference of fact between the English and Norman versions at this stage. And the difference is easily explained. At William's coronation the king walked to the altar between the two archbishops, but it was Ealdred who actually performed the ceremony. Harold's coronation doubtless followed the same order. But if Stigand took any part in that coronation, it was easy to give out that he took that special part on which the validity of the rite depended.

Still, if Harold's accession was perfectly lawful, it was none the less strange and unusual. Except the Danish kings chosen under more or less of compulsion, he was the first king who did not belong to the West-Saxon kingly house. Such a choice could be justified only on the ground that that house contained no qualified candidate. Its only known members were the children of the AEtheling Edward, young Edgar and his sisters. Now Edgar would certainly have been passed by in favour of any better qualified member of the kingly house, as his father had been passed by in favour of King Edward. And the same principle would, as things stood, justify passing him by in favour of a qualified candidate not of the kingly house. But Edgar's right to the crown is never spoken of till a generation or two later, when the doctrines of hereditary right had gained much greater strength, and when Henry the Second, great-grandson through his mother of Edgar's sister Margaret, insisted on his descent from the old kings. This distinction is important, because Harold is often called an usurper, as keeping out Edgar the heir by birth. But those who called him an usurper at the time called him so as keeping out William the heir by bequest. William's own election was out of the question. He was no more of the English kingly house than Harold; he was a foreigner and an utter stranger. Had Englishmen been minded to choose a foreigner, they doubtless would have chosen Swegen of Denmark. He had found supporters when Edward was chosen; he was afterwards appealed to to deliver England from William. He was no more of the English kingly house than Harold or William; but he was grandson of a man who had reigned over England, Northumberland might have preferred him to Harold; any part of England would have preferred him to William. In fact any choice that could have been made must have had something strange about it. Edgar himself, the one surviving male of the old stock, besides his youth, was neither born in the land nor the son of a crowned king. Those two qualifications had always been deemed of great moment; an elaborate pedigree went for little; actual royal birth went for a great deal. There was now no son of a king to choose. Had there been even a child who was at once a son of Edward and a sister's son of Harold, he might have reigned with his uncle as his guardian and counsellor. As it was, there was nothing to do but to choose the man who, though not of kingly blood, had ruled England well for thirteen years.

The case thus put seemed plain to every Englishman, at all events to every man in Wessex, East-Anglia, and southern Mercia. But it would not seem so plain in OTHER lands. To the greater part of Western Europe William's claim might really seem the better. William himself doubtless thought his own claim the better; he deluded himself as he deluded others. But we are more concerned with William as a statesman; and if it be statesmanship to adapt means to ends, whatever the ends may be, if it be statesmanship to make men believe that the worse cause is the better, then no man ever showed higher statesmanship than William showed in his great pleading before all Western Christendom. It is a sign of the times that it was a pleading before all Western Christendom. Others had claimed crowns; none had taken such pains to convince all mankind that the claim was a good one. Such an appeal to public opinion marks on one side a great advance. It was a great step towards the ideas of International Law and even of European concert. It showed that the days of mere force were over, that the days of subtle diplomacy had begun. Possibly the change was not without its dark side; it may be doubted whether a change from force to fraud is wholly a gain. Still it was an appeal from the mere argument of the sword to something which at least professed to be right and reason. William does not draw the sword till he has convinced himself and everybody else that he is drawing it in a just cause. In that age the appeal naturally took a religious shape. Herein lay its immediate strength; herein lay its weakness as regarded the times to come. William appealed to Emperor, kings, princes, Christian men great and small, in every Christian land. He would persuade all; he would ask help of all. But above all he appealed to the head of Christendom, the Bishop of Rome. William in his own person could afford to do so; where he reigned, in Normandy or in England, there was no fear of Roman encroachments; he was fully minded to be in all causes and over all persons within his dominions supreme. While he lived, no Pope ventured to dispute his right. But by acknowledging the right of the Pope to dispose of crowns, or at least to judge as to the right to crowns, he prepared many days of humiliation for kings in general and specially for his own successors. One man in Western Europe could see further than William, perhaps even further than Lanfranc. The chief counsellor of Pope Alexander the Second was the Archdeacon Hildebrand, the future Gregory the Seventh. If William outwitted the world, Hildebrand outwitted William. William's appeal to the Pope to decide between two claimants for the English crown strengthened Gregory not a little in his daring claim to dispose of the crowns of Rome, of Italy, and of Germany. Still this recognition of Roman claims led more directly to the humiliation of William's successor in his own kingdom. Moreover William's successful attempt to represent his enterprise as a holy war, a crusade before crusades were heard of, did much to suggest and to make ready the way for the real crusades a generation later. It was not till after William's death that Urban preached the crusade, but it was during William's life that Gregory planned it.

The appeal was strangely successful. William convinced, or seemed to convince, all men out of England and Scandinavia that his claim to the English crown was just and holy, and that it was a good work to help him to assert it in arms. He persuaded his own subjects; he certainly did not constrain them. He persuaded some foreign princes to give him actual help, some to join his muster in person; he persuaded all to help him so far as not to hinder their subjects from joining him as volunteers. And all this was done by sheer persuasion, by argument good or bad. In adapting of means to ends, in applying to each class of men that kind of argument which best suited it, the diplomacy, the statesmanship, of William was perfect. Again we ask, How far was it the statesmanship of William, how far of Lanfranc? But a prince need not do everything with his own hands and say everything with his own tongue. It was no small part of the statesmanship of William to find out Lanfranc, to appreciate him and to trust him. And when two subtle brains were at work, more could be done by the two working in partnership than by either working alone.

By what arguments did the Duke of the Normans and the Prior of Bec convince mankind that the worse cause was the better? We must always remember the transitional character of the age. England was in political matters in advance of other Western lands; that is, it lagged behind other Western lands. It had not gone so far on the downward course. It kept far more than Gaul or even Germany of the old Teutonic institutions, the substance of which later ages have won back under new shapes. Many things were understood in England which are now again understood everywhere, but which were no longer understood in France or in the lands held of the French crown. The popular election of kings comes foremost. Hugh Capet was an elective king as much as Harold; but the French kings had made their crown the most strictly hereditary of all crowns. They avoided any interregnum by having their sons crowned in their lifetime. So with the great fiefs of the crown. The notion of kingship as an office conferred by the nation, of a duchy or county as an office held under the king, was still fully alive in England; in Gaul it was forgotten. Kingdom, duchies, counties, had all become possessions instead of offices, possessions passing by hereditary succession of some kind. But no rule of hereditary succession was universally or generally accepted. To this day the kingdoms of Europe differ as to the question of female succession, and it is but slowly that the doctrine of representation has ousted the more obvious doctrine of nearness of kin. All these points were then utterly unsettled; crowns, save of course that of the Empire, were to pass by hereditary right; only what was hereditary right? At such a time claims would be pressed which would have seemed absurd either earlier or later. To Englishmen, if it seemed strange to elect one who was not of the stock of Cerdic, it seemed much more strange to be called on to accept without election, or to elect as a matter of course, one who was not of the stock of Cerdic and who was a stranger into the bargain. Out of England it would not seem strange when William set forth that Edward, having no direct heirs, had chosen his near kinsman William as his successor. Put by itself, that statement had a plausible sound. The transmission of a crown by bequest belongs to the same range of ideas as its transmission by hereditary right; both assume the crown to be a property and not an office. Edward's nomination of Harold, the election of Harold, the fact that William's kindred to Edward lay outside the royal line of England, the fact that there was, in the person of Edgar, a nearer kinsman within that royal line, could all be slurred over or explained away or even turned to William's profit. Let it be that Edward on his death-bed had recommended Harold, and that the Witan had elected Harold. The recommendation was wrung from a dying man in opposition to an earlier act done when he was able to act freely. The election was brought about by force or fraud; if it was free, it was of no force against William's earlier claim of kindred and bequest. As for Edgar, as few people in England thought of him, still fewer out of England would have ever heard of him. It is more strange that the bastardy of William did not tell against him, as it had once told in his own duchy. But this fact again marks the transitional age. Altogether the tale that a man who was no kinsman of the late king had taken to himself the crown which the king had bequeathed to a kinsman, might, even without further aggravation, be easily made to sound like a tale of wrong.

But the case gained tenfold strength when William added that the doer of the wrong was of all men the one most specially bound not to do it. The usurper was in any case William's man, bound to act in all things for his lord. Perhaps he was more; perhaps he had directly sworn to receive William as king. Perhaps he had promised all this with an oath of special solemnity. It would be easy to enlarge on all these further counts as making up an amount of guilt which William not only had the right to chastise, but which he would be lacking in duty if he failed to chastise. He had to punish the perjurer, to avenge the wrongs of the saints. Surely all who should help him in so doing would be helping in a righteous work.

The answer to all this was obvious. Putting the case at the very worst, assuming that Harold had sworn all that he is ever said to have sworn, assuming that he swore it in the most solemn way in which he is ever said to have sworn it, William's claim was not thereby made one whit better. Whatever Harold's own guilt might be, the people of England had no share in it. Nothing that Harold had done could bar their right to choose their king freely. Even if Harold declined the crown, that would not bind the electors to choose William. But when the notion of choosing kings had begun to sound strange, all this would go for nothing. There would be no need even to urge that in any case the wrong done by Harold to William gave William a CASUS BELLI against Harold, and that William, if victorious, might claim the crown of England, as a possession of Harold's, by right of conquest. In fact William never claimed the crown by conquest, as conquest is commonly understood. He always represented himself as the lawful heir, unhappily driven to use force to obtain his rights. The other pleas were quite enough to satisfy most men out of England and Scandinavia. William's work was to claim the crown of which he was unjustly deprived, and withal to deal out a righteous chastisement on the unrighteous and ungodly man by whom he had been deprived of it.

In the hands of diplomatists like William and Lanfranc, all these arguments, none of which had in itself the slightest strength, were enough to turn the great mass of continental opinion in William's favour. But he could add further arguments specially adapted to different classes of minds. He could hold out the prospect of plunder, the prospect of lands and honours in a land whose wealth was already proverbial. It might of course be answered that the enterprise against England was hazardous and its success unlikely. But in such matters, men listen rather to their hopes than to their fears. To the Normans it would be easy, not only to make out a case against Harold, but to rake up old grudges against the English nation. Under Harold the son of Cnut, Alfred, a prince half Norman by birth, wholly Norman by education, the brother of the late king, the lawful heir to the crown, had been betrayed and murdered by somebody. A widespread belief laid the deed to the charge of the father of the new king. This story might easily be made a ground of national complaint by Normandy against England, and it was easy to infer that Harold had some share in the alleged crime of Godwine. It was easy to dwell on later events, on the driving of so many Normans out of England, with Archbishop Robert at their head. Nay, not only had the lawful primate been driven out, but an usurper had been set in his place, and this usurping archbishop had been made to bestow a mockery of consecration on the usurping king. The proposed aggression on England was even represented as a missionary work, undertaken for the good of the souls of the benighted islanders. For, though the English were undoubtedly devout after their own fashion, there was much in the ecclesiastical state of England which displeased strict churchmen beyond sea, much that William, when he had the power, deemed it his duty to reform. The insular position of England naturally parted it in many things from the usages and feelings of the mainland, and it was not hard to get up a feeling against the nation as well as against its king. All this could not really strengthen William's claim; but it made men look more favourably on his enterprise.

The fact that the Witan were actually in session at Edward's death had made it possible to carry out Harold's election and coronation with extreme speed. The electors had made their choice before William had any opportunity of formally laying his claim before them. This was really an advantage to him; he could the better represent the election and coronation as invalid. His first step was of course to send an embassy to Harold to call on him even now to fulfil his oath. The accounts of this embassy, of which we have no English account, differ as much as the different accounts of the oath. Each version of course makes William demand and Harold refuse whatever it had made Harold swear. These demands and refusals range from the resignation of the kingdom to a marriage with William's daughter. And it is hard to separate this embassy from later messages between the rivals. In all William demands, Harold refuses; the arguments on each side are likely to be genuine. Harold is called on to give up the crown to William, to hold it of William, to hold part of the kingdom of William, to submit the question to the judgement of the Pope, lastly, if he will do nothing else, at least to marry William's daughter. Different writers place these demands at different times, immediately after Harold's election or immediately before the battle. The last challenge to a single combat between Harold and William of course appears only on the eve of the battle. Now none of these accounts come from contemporary partisans of Harold; every one is touched by hostile feeling towards him. Thus the constitutional language that is put into his mouth, almost startling from its modern sound, has greater value. A King of the English can do nothing without the consent of his Witan. They gave him the kingdom; without their consent, he cannot resign it or dismember it or agree to hold it of any man; without their consent, he cannot even marry a foreign wife. Or he answers that the daughter of William whom he promised to marry is dead, and that the sister whom he promised to give to a Norman is dead also. Harold does not deny the fact of his oath--whatever its nature; he justifies its breach because it was taken against is will, and because it was in itself of no strength, as binding him to do impossible things. He does not deny Edward's earlier promise to William; but, as a testament is of no force while the testator liveth, he argues that it is cancelled by Edward's later nomination of himself. In truth there is hardly any difference between the disputants as to matters of fact. One side admits at least a plighting of homage on the part of Harold; the other side admits Harold's nomination and election. The real difference is as to the legal effect of either. Herein comes William's policy. The question was one of English law and of nothing else, a matter for the Witan of England and for no other judges. William, by ingeniously mixing all kinds of irrelevant issues, contrived to remove the dispute from the region of municipal into that of international law, a law whose chief representative was the Bishop of Rome. By winning the Pope to his side, William could give his aggression the air of a religious war; but in so doing, he unwittingly undermined the throne that he was seeking and the thrones of all other princes.

The answers which Harold either made, or which writers of his time thought that he ought to have made, are of the greatest moment in our constitutional history. The King is the doer of everything; but he can do nothing of moment without the consent of his Witan. They can say Yea or Nay to every proposal of the King. An energetic and popular king would get no answer but Yea to whatever he chose to ask. A king who often got the answer of Nay, Nay, was in great danger of losing his kingdom. The statesmanship of William knew how to turn this constitutional system, without making any change in the letter, into a despotism like that of Constantinople or Cordova. But the letter lived, to come to light again on occasion. The Revolution of 1399 was a falling back on the doctrines of 1066, and the Revolution of 1688 was a falling back on the doctrines of 1399. The principle at all three periods is that the power of the King is strictly limited by law, but that, within the limits which the law sets to his power, he acts according to his own discretion. King and Witan stand out as distinct powers, each of which needs the assent of the other to its acts, and which may always refuse that assent. The political work of the last two hundred years has been to hinder these direct collisions between King and Parliament by the ingenious conventional device of a body of men who shall be in name the ministers of the Crown, but in truth the ministers of one House of Parliament. We do not understand our own political history, still less can we understand the position and the statesmanship of the Conqueror, unless we fully take in what the English constitution in the eleventh century really was, how very modern-sounding are some of its doctrines, some of its forms. Statesmen of our own day might do well to study the meagre records of the Gemot of 1047. There is the earliest recorded instance of a debate on a question of foreign policy. Earl Godwine proposes to give help to Denmark, then at war with Norway. He is outvoted on the motion of Earl Leofric, the man of moderate politics, who appears as leader of the party of non-intervention. It may be that in some things we have not always advanced in the space of eight hundred years.

The negotiations of William with his own subjects, with foreign powers, and with the Pope, are hard to arrange in order. Several negotiations were doubtless going on at the same time. The embassy to Harold would of course come first of all. Till his demand had been made and refused, William could make no appeal elsewhere. We know not whether the embassy was sent before or after Harold's journey to Northumberland, before or after his marriage with Ealdgyth. If Harold was already married, the demand that he should marry William's daughter could have been meant only in mockery. Indeed, the whole embassy was so far meant in mockery that it was sent without any expectation that its demands would be listened to. It was sent to put Harold, from William's point of view, more thoroughly in the wrong, and to strengthen William's case against him. It would therefore be sent at the first moment; the only statement, from a very poor authority certainly, makes the embassy come on the tenth day after Edward's death. Next after the embassy would come William's appeal to his own subjects, though Lanfranc might well be pleading at Rome while William was pleading at Lillebonne. The Duke first consulted a select company, who promised their own services, but declined to pledge any one else. It was held that no Norman was bound to follow the Duke in an attempt to win for himself a crown beyond the sea. But voluntary help was soon ready. A meeting of the whole baronage of Normandy was held at Lillebonne. The assembly declined any obligation which could be turned into a precedent, and passed no general vote at all. But the barons were won over one by one, and each promised help in men and ships according to his means.

William had thus, with some difficulty, gained the support of his own subjects; but when he had once gained it, it was a zealous support. And as the flame spread from one part of Europe to another, the zeal of Normandy would wax keener and keener. The dealings of William with foreign powers are told us in a confused, piecemeal, and sometimes contradictory way. We hear that embassies went to the young King Henry of Germany, son of the great Emperor, the friend of England, and also to Swegen of Denmark. The Norman story runs that both princes promised William their active support. Yet Swegen, the near kinsman of Harold, was a friend of England, and the same writer who puts this promise into his mouth makes him send troops to help his English cousin. Young Henry or his advisers could have no motive for helping William; but subjects of the Empire were at least not hindered from joining his banner. To the French king William perhaps offered the bait of holding the crown of England of him; but Philip is said to have discouraged William's enterprise as much as he could. Still he did not hinder French subjects from taking a part in it. Of the princes who held of the French crown, Eustace of Boulogne, who joined the muster in person, and Guy of Ponthieu, William's own vassal, who sent his son, seem to have been the only ones who did more than allow the levying of volunteers in their dominions. A strange tale is told that Conan of Britanny took this moment for bringing up his own forgotten pretensions to the Norman duchy. If William was going to win England, let him give up Normandy to him. He presently, the tale goes, died of a strange form of poisoning, in which it is implied that William had a hand. This is the story of Walter and Biota over again. It is perhaps enough to say that the Breton writers know nothing of the tale.

But the great negotiation of all was with the Papal court. We might have thought that the envoy would be Lanfranc, so well skilled in Roman ways; but William perhaps needed him as a constant adviser by his own person. Gilbert, Archdeacon of Lisieux, was sent to Pope Alexander. No application could better suit papal interests than the one that was now made; but there were some moral difficulties. Not a few of the cardinals, Hildebrand tells us himself, argued, not without strong language towards Hildebrand, that the Church had nothing to do with such matters, and that it was sinful to encourage a claim which could not be enforced without bloodshed. But with many, with Hildebrand among them, the notion of the Church as a party or a power came before all thoughts of its higher duties. One side was carefully heard; the other seems not to have been heard at all. We hear of no summons to Harold, and the King of the English could not have pleaded at the Pope's bar without acknowledging that his case was at least doubtful. The judgement of Alexander or of Hildebrand was given for William. Harold was declared to be an usurper, perhaps declared excommunicated. The right to the English crown was declared to be in the Duke of the Normans, and William was solemnly blessed in the enterprise in which he was at once to win his own rights, to chastise the wrong-doer, to reform the spiritual state of the misguided islanders, to teach them fuller obedience to the Roman See and more regular payment of its temporal dues. William gained his immediate point; but his successors on the English throne paid the penalty. Hildebrand gained his point for ever, or for as long a time as men might be willing to accept the Bishop of Rome as a judge in any matters. The precedent by which Hildebrand, under another name, took on him to dispose of a higher crown than that of England was now fully established.

As an outward sign of papal favour, William received a consecrated banner and a ring containing a hair of Saint Peter. Here was something for men to fight for. The war was now a holy one. All who were ready to promote their souls' health by slaughter and plunder might flock to William's standard, to the standard of Saint Peter. Men came from most French-speaking lands, the Normans of Apulia and Sicily being of course not slow to take up the quarrel of their kinsfolk. But, next to his own Normandy, the lands which sent most help were Flanders, the land of Matilda, and Britanny, where the name of the Saxon might still be hateful. We must never forget that the host of William, the men who won England, the men who settled in England, were not an exclusively Norman body. Not Norman, but FRENCH, is the name most commonly opposed to ENGLISH, as the name of the conquering people. Each Norman severally would have scorned that name for himself personally; but it was the only name that could mark the whole of which he and his countrymen formed a part. Yet, if the Normans were but a part, they were the greatest and the noblest part; their presence alone redeemed the enterprise from being a simple enterprise of brigandage. The Norman Conquest was after all a Norman Conquest; men of other lands were merely helpers. So far as it was not Norman, it was Italian; the subtle wit of Lombard Lanfranc and Tuscan Hildebrand did as much to overthrow us as the lance and bow of Normandy.

Continue to Chapter 7

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