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England had her free-born men and her born serfs now, as in the days of King Harold, Edward the Confessor, and King Alfred. Throughout Europe the great body of the cultivators of the soil were serfs. The legal restrictions and disabilities which chained the labouring classes in England all existed before the Conquest, nor, though individuals suffered, was any class of the community deprived by that revolution of rights which it bad previously possessed, or depressed to a lower position in the state than it had previously occupied. The Conquest had been destructive and dreadful, and a foreign yoke is odious at its first pressure. But in proportion as the races became mixed, these distinctions were forgotten; and even under the sons of the Conqueror, Rufus and the Beauclerc, England on the whole was a milder and better governed country than almost any other on the continent of Europe—not less free, not more oppressed by kings and baronage, and much less frequently distracted and wasted by internal war than the French kingdom, or any of the great states which then surrounded and now form integral parts of that kingdom.
Henry Beauclerc, who, on all necessary occasions, boasted of his English birth, determined to espouse an English wife as soon as he was seated on the throne. The lady of his choice was, to use the words of the Saxon Chronicle, “ Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scots, and of Margaret the good queen, the relation of King Edward, and of the right kingly kin of England.” This descendant of the great Alfred had been sent from Scotland in her childhood to be educated by her aunt Christina, Edgar Atheling's second sister, who was abbess of Wilton in Wiltshire. As she grew up, several of the Norman captains, who had become great lords in England, aspired to the honour of her hand ; but though several matches had been negotiated, none had been concluded. It should appear that the Red King acknowledged the importance of the fair Saxon of the ancient royal line, by preventing his powerful vassal William de Garenne from marrying her. When proposals were first made on the part of King Henry, Maud showed an aversion to the match. But she was assailed by irresistible arguments. “O noblest and fairest among women,” said her Saxon advisers, “if thou wilt thou canst restore the ancient honour of England, and be a pledge of reconciliation and friendship !" When the fair Saxon yielded, some of the Norman nobles, neither liking to see an English woman raised to be their queen, nor the power of their king confirmed by a union which would endear him to the native race, and render him less dependent on Norman arms, raised a new obstacle, by asserting that Maud was a nun, and that she had been seen wearing the veil. If true, this was insurmountable. Henry postponed the marriage, and applied to Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to institute an inquiry. Anselm, being himself eager for the match, and very friendly to the English people, caused the royal maiden to be brought before him, and then questioned her gently with his own voice. To the archbishop Maud denied that she had ever taken the vows, or, of her free will, worn the veil ; and she offered to give full proof of this before all the prelates of England. “I must confess," she said, “ that I have sometimes appeared veiled; but listen unto the cause : in my first
l youth, when I was living under her care, my aunt, to save me, as she said, from the lust of the Normans, who attacked all females, was accustomed to throw a piece of black stuff over my head ; and if I refused to cover myself with it, she would treat me very roughly. In her presence I wore that black covering, but as soon as she was out of sight I threw it on the ground and trampled it under foot in childish anger.” After receiving this naive explanation, which is by itself worth a chapter of ordinary history, the learned and venerable archbishop called a council of bishops, abbots, and monks, and summoned before this council the gentle and lovely Maud, and many of her witnesses, of both sexes and of both races. Tvo archdeacons, who had expressly visited the convent in which the young lady had been brought up, deposed that public report and the testimony of the nuns of that godly house agreed with and confirmed the declaration which Maud had made to the archbishop. The council unanimously decreed that the young lady was free, and could dispose of herself in marriage. On Sunday, the 11th of November, A.D. 1100, or little more than three months after the accession of the Beauclerc, the marriage was celebrated, and the Saxon queen was crowned with great pomp and solemnity. According to the chroniclers, both Norman and English, she proved a loving and obedient wife, as beautiful in mind as in person, being distinguished by a love of learning and great charity to the poor. Her elevation to the throne filled the hearts of the Saxon part of the nation with exceeding great joy. No son of the gentle Maud lived to succeed the Beauclerc, and through this misfortune England was visited by the miseries inseparably connected with disputed successions and civil wars. Yet this union between the blood of the Conqueror and the blocd of King Alfred had a great and beneficial effect : it served as an example to some of the Norman baronage, it gave the court of the Beauclerc more of an English or Saxon character, and contributed to do away with many invidious distinctions.
51.-ROBERT THE CAPTIVE.
BURKE. The Crusade being successfully finished by the taking of Jerusalem, Robert returned into Europe. He had acquired great reputation in that war, in which he had no interest; his real and valuable rights he prosecuted with languor. Yet such was the respect paid to his title, and such the attraction of his personal ac complishments, that when he had at last taken possession of his Norman territories, and entered England with an army to assert his birthright, he found most of the Norman barons, and many of the English, in readiness to join him. But the diligence of Anselm, who employed all his credit to keep the people firm to the oath they had taken, prevented him from profiting of the general inclination in his favour. His friends began to fall off by degrees, so that he was induced, as well by the situation of his affairs, as the flexibility of his temper, to submit to a treaty op the plan of that he had formerly entered into with his brother Rufus.
This treaty being made, Robert returned to his dukedom, and gave himself over to his natural indolence and dissipation. Uncured by his misfortunes of a loose generosity, that flowed indiscriminately on all, he mortgaged every branch of his revenue, and almost his whole domain. His barons, despising his indigence, and secure in the benignity of his temper, began to assume the unhappy privilege of sovereigns. They made war on each other at pleasure, and, pursuing their hostilities with the most scandalous license, they reduced that fine country to a deplorable condition. In vain did the people, ruined by the tyranny and divisions of the great, apply to Robert for protection ; neither from his circumstances, nor his character, was he able to afford them any effectual relief: whilst Henry, who by his bribes and artifices kept alive the disorder, of which he complained and profited, formed a party in Normandy to call him over, and to put the dukedom under his protection. Accordingly he prepared a considerable force for the expedition, and taxed his own subjects arbitrarily, and without mercy, for the relief he pretended to afford those of his brother. His preparations roused Robert from his indolence, and united likewise the greater part of his barons to his cause, unwilling to change a master, whose only fault was his indulgence of them, for the severe vigilance of Henry. The King of France espoused the same side ; and even in England some emotions were excited in favour of the duke by indignation for the wrongs he had suffered, and those he was going to suffer. Henry was alarmed,
but did not renounce his design. He was to the last degree jealous of his prerogative ; but knowing what immense resources kings may have in popularity, he called on this occasion a great council of his barons and prelates; and there, by his arts and his eloquence, in both which he was powerful, he persuaded the assembly to a hearty declaration in his favour, and to a large supply. Thus secured at home, he lost no time to pass over to the continent, and to bring the Norman army to a speedy engagement; they fought under the walls of Tenchebray, where the bravery and military genius of Robert, never more conspicuous than on that day, were borne down by the superior fortune and numbers of his ambitious brother. He was made prisoner; and notwithstanding all the tender pleas of their common blood, in spite of his virtues, and even of his misfortunes, which pleaded so strongly for mercy, the rigid conqueror held him in various prisons until his death, which did not happen until after a rigorous confinement of eighteen, some say twentyseven years. This was the end of a prince born with a thousand excellent qualities, which served no other purpose than to confirm, from the example of his misfortunes, that a facility of disposition, and a weak beneficence, are the greatest vices that can enter into the composition of a monarch, equally ruinous to himself and to his subjects.
The success of this battle put Henry in possession of Normandy, which he held ever after with very little disturbance. He fortified his new acquisition by demolishing the castles of those turbulent barons who had wasted, and afterwards enslaved, their country by their dissensions. Order and justice took place, until every thing was reduced to obedience ; then a severe and regular oppression succeeded the former disorderly tyranny. In England things took the same course. The king no longer doubted his fortune, and therefore no longer respected his promises or his charter. The forests, the savage passion of the Norman princes, for which both the prince and people paid so dearly, were maintained, increased, and guarded with laws more rigorous than before. Taxes were largely and arbitrarily assessed. But all this tyranny did not weaken, though it vexed, the nation, because the great men were kept in proper subjection, and justice was steadily administered.
52.-THE SHIPWRECK OF PRINCE WILLIAM.
SOUTHEY. When his elder brother was preparing an armament in Normandy, for the purpose of asserting his right to the English crown, the Red King permitted his subjects to fit out cruisers ; and these adventurers, who seem to have been the first that may be called privateers, rendered him good service ; for the Normans, knowing that there was no navy to oppose them, and that when they landed they were more likely to be received by their friends and confederates than to be attacked before they were collected in sufficient numbers for defence, began to cross the Channel, each at their own convenience, without concert, or any regard to mutual support ; and so many of them were intercepted and destroyed by these cruisers, that the attempt at invasion was, in consequence abandoned. The remainder of Rufus's reign, short as it was, sufficed, through his own vigorous policy and the carelessness of his antagonist, for him to acquire a superiority at sea, which enabled him, at any time, to invade Normandy.
Once when he was hunting, a messenger from beyond sea brought him news that the city of Mans, which he had added to his possessions, was besieged. He instantly turned his horse, and set off for the nearest port. The nobles who were in his company reminded him that it was necessary to call out troops, and wait for them. "I shall see who will follow me,” was his reply ; " and, if I understand the temper of the youth of this country, I shall have people enough." Waiting for nothing, he reached the port almost unattended, and embarked immediately, although it blew a storm. The sailors entreated him to have patience till the weather should abate, and the wind become more favourable. But he made answer, “I never neard of a king that was shipwrecked. Weigh anchor, and you will see that the winds will be with us !” He has been extolled for this act of characteristic impatience and resolution, because the event happened to be fortunate: celerity was of great importance ; and the news of his landing, as it was concluded that he came in force, sufficed for raising the siege. It was not in him a bravado in imitation of Cæsar : that well-known story was known to very few in those ages, - the Red King had neither inclination nor leisure for learning ; and it was even more in character with him than with Cæsar, the act itself being of more daring and less reasonable hardihood. On the other hand, he has been condemned, and with more justice, as manifesting here a spirit of audacious impiety, for which, among his other vices, he was peculiarly noted ; and there are writers who, falling into an opposite extreme, have presumed to say that this special sin was visited by a special judgment upon the person of his nephew, Prince William, — the pride and hope of his father, and, indeed, of the English nation, who saw in him the representative, by his mother's side, of the old Anglo-Saxon line. William's bravado would, no doubt, be remembered after that catastrophe with poignant feelings by the bereaved father ; but Henry Beauclerc had in his own conscience an unerring witness that his own sins of ambitiou had too surely deserved such a chastisement. Many shipwrecks have been attended with far greater loss of lives, and with far more dreadful circumstances ; but none can ever have produced so general an emotion in this country, nor has any single event ever been the occasion here of so much national suffering, as this, which opened the way for Stephen's usurpation.
After a successful campaign in France, happily concluded through the pope's mediation by a peace, Henry embarked from Barfleur for England, with this his only legitimate son, then recently married, and in his seventeenth year. One of the finest vessels in the fleet was a galley of fifty oars, called “ The White Ship,” and commanded by a certain Thomas Fitzstephens, whose grandfather had carried over the Conqueror when he invaded the kingdom which he won. Upon this ground Fitzstephens solicited the honour of now conveying the king, upon an occasion as much more joyful as it was less momentous. Henry was pleased with a request preferred for such a motive ; and, though having chosen a vessel for himself, he did not think proper to alter his own arrangements, he left Prince William, with the rest of his family, and their friends and attendants, to take their passage in the White Ship; and embarking towards evening on the 25th of November, in fair weather, he sailed for England. There were with the Prince his natural brother Richard, and their sister the Lady Marie, Countess of Perch, Richard, Earl of Chester with his wife, who was the king's niece, and her brother the Prince's governor, and the flower of the young nobility both of Normandy and England, 140 in number, eighteen being women of the first rank : these and their retinue amounting, with the crew, to about 300 persons. The prince, being detained a little after his father, imprudently ordered three casks of wine to be distributed among the men ; and the captain, as well as the sailors, drunk, in the joy of his heart, too freely; and promised to overtake every ship that had sailed before them. Accordingly he hoisted all sail
, and plied all oars. The evening had closed before they started, but it was bright moonlight; the men exerted themselves under all the excitement of hilarity and pride of emulation, dreaming of no danger; the captain and the helnısman, under the same excitement, were unmindful of any;
and when the ship was going through the water with all the stress of oars and sails, she struck upon a rock, called the Catee-raz, with such violence that several planks were started, and she instantly began to fill. A boat was immediately lowered, and the Prince was escaping in it, — which he might easily have done, for the shore was at no great distance, when his sister, whom there had been no time to take off, or who in the horror of the moment had been forgotten, shrieked out to him to save her. It was better to die than turn a deaf ear to that call : he ordered the boat to put back and take her in ; but such numbers leapt into it at the same time that the boat was swamped and all perished. The ship also presently went down with all on board : only two persons, the one a young noble, son of Gilbert de Aquila, the other a butcher of Rouen, saved themselves : by climbing the mast, and clinging to the top, they kept their heads above water. Fitzstephens rose after the vessel had sunk, and might have taken the same chance of preservation; but calling to mind, after the first instinctive effort, that he had been the unhappy occasion of this great calamity, and dreading the reproaches, and perhaps the punishment that awaited him, he preferred present death as the least evil. The youth became exhausted during the night; and commending his poor companion to God's mercy with his last words, he lost his hold, and sunk. The butcher held on till morning, when he was seen from the shore and saved ; and from him, being the only survivor, the circumstances of the tragedy were learnt.
53.—THE WRECK OF THE WHITE SHIP.
Rev. J. WHITE,
Barfleur-near the Harbour. Erter Prince William : Countess de la Perche-Lords, Ladies and Minstrels. Servitors uith golden flagons. A confused noise of revelry is heard before they enter.
Prince (crowned with vine-leaves.) Here stand! There comes a
faintness o'er the sky,
Countess. Moonlight is sweetest ever on the sea.
Prince. Then be thou happy, sister, for its horns
Voices. A song ! a song !
Prince. Sing, Eustace, with a voice
And gathers to a heap,
And high o'er the Godwins leap.-
Than waves o'er rock and shoal ;
Tis the bright wine in our bowl.