Open main menu

The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 108/The Norman Conquest

< The Atlantic Monthly‎ | Volume 18‎ | Number 108


This month of October completes the eighth century since the battle of Hastings, perhaps the most important action that the modern world has known, with the single exception of the conflict that checked the advance of the Saracens in Europe in the eighth century,—if the battle of Tours can properly be considered an event of modern history. The issue of the battle of Hastings determined the course of English history; and when we observe how influential has been the part of England ever since it was fought, and bear in mind that the English race, great as it is, can scarcely be said to have got beyond the morning-time of its existence, we find it difficult to exaggerate the importance of a conflict by which its career for eight hundred years has been deeply and permanently colored. There is not a great event in English or American annals which is not directly traceable to what was done in the year 1066 by that buccaneering band which William the Bastard led from Normandy to England, to enforce a claim that had neither a legal nor a moral foundation, and which never could have been established had Harold's conduct been equal to his valor, and had Fortune favored the just cause. The sympathies of every fair-minded reader of the story of the Conquest must be with the Saxons; and yet is it impossible to deny that the event at Hastings was well for the world. It is with Harold as it is with Hannibal: our feelings are at war with our judgment as we read their histories. It is not possible to peruse the noble account that Dr. Arnold has left us of the Carthaginian's splendid struggle against the Roman aristocracy without feeling pained by its result. The feelings of men are with the man, and adverse to the order before which his genius failed. So is it with respect to Harold. Hastings, like Zama, impresses us as having been a "dishonest victory," to borrow the words with which Milton so emphatically characterizes Chæronea. But "cool reflection" leads to other conclusions, and justifies the earthly course of Providence, against which we are so often disposed to complain. There can be no doubt, in the mind of any moral man, that the invasion of England by Duke William was a wicked proceeding,—that it was even worse than Walker's invasions of Spanish-American countries, and as bad as an unprovoked attack on Cuba by this country, such as would have been made had the pro-slavery party remained in power. But it is not the less true that much good came from William's action, and that nearly all that is excellent in English and American history is the fruit of that action. The part that England has had in the world's course for eight centuries, including her stupendous work of colonization, is second to nothing that has been done by any nation, not even to the doings of the Roman republic: and to that part Saxon England never could have been equal.

The race that ruled in England down to the day of Hastings—call it the Saxon race, if you like the name, and for convenience' sake—was a slow, a sluggish, and a stupid race; and it never could have made a first-class nation of the insular kingdom. There is little in the history of the Saxons that allows us to believe they were capable of accomplishing anything that was great. The Danish invasions, as they are called, were of real use to England, as they prevented that country from reverting to barbarism, which assuredly would have been its fate had the Anglo-Saxons remained its undisturbed possessors. "In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries," says Mr. Worsaae, "the Anglo-Saxons had greatly degenerated from their forefathers. Relatives sold one another into thraldom; lewdness and ungodliness were become habitual; and cowardice had increased to such a degree that, according to the old chroniclers, one Dane would often put ten Anglo-Saxons to flight. Before such a people could be conducted to true freedom and greatness it was necessary that an entirely new vigor should be infused into the decayed stock. This vigor was derived from the Scandinavian North, where neither Romans nor any other conquerors had domineered over the people, and where heathenism, with all its roughness and all its love of freedom and bravery, still held absolute sway."[1]

The work which the Danes began was completed by the Normans; and it may well be doubted if the Normans ever could have effected much in England had they not been preceded by the Danes. The Danes were Northmen, as are the Swedes and Norwegians. By Normans are meant the governing race in Neustria, the duchy of Normandy. The Northmen who settled in Neustria, and who became the foremost people of those times,—they and their descendants,—did in a portion of France what their kinsmen the Danes were doing in England. Circumstances gave to the Normans a consequence in history that is denied to the Danes; but the influence of the latter was very great on English life, and on the course of English events; and Norman influence on that life, and over those events, was materially aided by the earlier action of the Danish invaders of England. The difference between the Northmen in France and the Northmen in England was this: the former, to a very great extent, became Frenchmen, while the latter did not become Englishmen. The former, from Northmen, became Normans, and took much from the people among whom they settled. The latter remained Northmen, for the most part, taking little or nothing from the English, while they bestowed a good deal upon them. But the Northmen who became Normans underwent changes that rendered it impossible that the Northmen in England should coalesce with them after Duke William's victory in 1066. The English Northmen were strongly attached to individual freedom, as all Northmen were originally; but the Normans had learned to be feudalists in France, and this necessarily made foes of men who by blood ought to have been friends. Many of those who offered the stoutest resistance to the Conqueror were Danes; and it was not until many years after Hastings that the English Northmen submitted to the French Normans. The English Northmen, nevertheless, were of real use to the Normans, by what they had effected long before the expedition of William was thought of, and when the Normans had not become the chief champions of feudalism. The immediate effect of Danish action on William's fortunes, too, was very great. The Saxon Harold was compelled to fight a battle with the Scandinavian invaders of England but twenty days before Hastings; and these invaders sought to place a Danish or Norwegian dynasty on the English throne. Harold was victorious in his conflict with the Northmen; but the weakness and exhaustion consequent on the exertions necessary to repel them were among the leading causes of his failure before the Normans.

The people who gave their name to what is called the Norman Conquest of England[2] were the most extraordinary race of the Middle Ages. This can be said of them, too, without subscribing to the extravagant eulogies of their ardent admirers, who are too much in the habit of speaking of them in terms that would be misplaced were they applied to Athenians of the age of Pericles. The simple truth concerning them shows that they were superior in every respect to all their contemporaries, unless an exception be made on behalf of the Mussulmans of Spain. The Northmen who came first upon Southern Europe were mere barbarians, but there were among them men of great natural powers, as there were among those barbarians who overran the Roman empire; and they were able to take advantage of the wretched condition of Europe, as earlier barbarians had profited from the wretched condition of Rome. Of these men, Rollo was one of the most eminent; and beyond all others of the Northmen his action has had the largest influence on human affairs,—an influence, too, that promises to last; for it is working vigorously at this moment, though he has been more than nine centuries in his grave, and though to most persons he is as much a mythical character as Hercules, and more so than Romulus. We know that he was the founder of Normandy in the early part of the tenth century; and but for his action in obtaining a southern home for himself and his heathen followers, the conquest of England never could have been attempted in a regular manner; and the stream of English history must have run altogether differently, in a political sense, even had Northmen, as distinguished from Normans, succeeded in establishing themselves in that country. It was the French character of the Normans which rendered their subjugation of England so important an event, giving to it its peculiar significance, and causing it to bear so strongly on European, Asiatic, and American history. The Northmen became Christians and Normans. It is not uncommon to speak of them as if they retained their Norwegian characteristics in "the pleasant land of France," and were in the habit of looking back to the home of their youth, or of their fathers, with that sort of fondness and regret which were felt by those Englishmen who founded the American nation. This is all wrong. The Northmen had left the North for the same reason that other men leave their countries,—the only reason that ever causes them to do so,—because the North did not afford them means of support. Had they remained at home, they would have starved; and therefore they turned their backs on that home, and became plunderers. Some returned home, bearing with them much spoil; but others settled abroad, and thought no more of the North. They cut the connection entirely. Like an earlier "brood of winter," they found ample compensation for all they had left behind in "the brighter day and skies of azure hue" of Southern lands. They thought they had made a good exchange of "Northern pines for Southern roses."

Of these last, the Normans proper were the most noted, and they have the first place of all their race in the world's annals. They changed in everything, from soul to skin. They became Christians, and they took new names. Their original language was soon displaced by the French, and became so utterly lost that hardly more is known of it than we know of the Etruscan tongue. "The Danish language," says Sir Francis Palgrave, "was never prevalent or strong in Normandy. The Northmen had long been talking themselves into Frenchmen; and in the second generation, the half-caste Northmen, the sons of French wives and French concubines, spoke the Romane-French as their mothers' tongue." The same great authority says: "In the cities, Bayeux only excepted, hardly any language but French was spoken. Forty years after Rollo's establishment, the Danish language struggled for existence. It was in Normandy that the Langue d'oil acquired its greatest polish and regularity. The earliest specimens of the French language, in the proper sense of the term, are now surrendered by the French philologists to the Normans. The phenomenon of the organs of speech yielding to social or moral influences, and losing the power of repeating certain sounds, was prominently observable amongst the Normans. No modern French gazette-writer could disfigure English names more whimsically than the Domesday Commissioners. To the last, the Normans never could learn to say 'Lincoln,'—they never could get nearer than 'Nincol,' or 'Nicole.'" The "chivalry" of Virginia and the Carolinas—our Southern Northmen—might cite this last fact in evidence of their tongues having a Norman twang. They never have been able to say "Lincoln," though they make a nearer approach to proper pronunciation of the word than was vouchsafed to the genuine Normans when they say "Abe Linkin." That the Normans cherished the thought of their Northern origin is a modern error. Sir F. Palgrave, with literal accuracy, assures us that they "dismissed all practical recollection in their families of their original Scandinavian ancestry. Not one of their nobles ever thought of deducing his lineage from the Hersers or Jarls or Vikings who occupy so conspicuous a place in Norwegian history, not even through the medium of any traditional fable. Roger de Montgomery designated himself as 'Northmannus Northmannorum'; but, for all practical purposes, Roger was a Frenchman of the Frenchmen, though he might not like to own it. This ancestorial reminiscence must have resulted from some peculiar fancy; no Montgomery possessed or transmitted any memorial of his Norman progenitors. The very name of Rollo's father, 'Senex quidam in partibus Daciæ,' was unknown to Rollo's grandchildren, and if not known, worse than unknown, neglected."[3]

Another unfounded notion respecting the Normans relates the purity of lineage. To read some historians, you might come to the conclusion that the Normans were an unmixed race, and that they prided themselves on the blueness of their blood, and were the most exclusive of peoples. Nothing of the kind. Like most peoples who have done much, the Normans were a mixed race. They took to themselves all who would come to them, who were worth the taking. The old Roman lay of the asylum on the Palatine Hill might almost serve as matter for a Norman sirvente, for the policy which it attributes to Romulus, and which was followed by his successors, was the policy adopted by Rollo, and which his successors maintained. Says Sir F. Palgrave, "When treating of the 'Normans,' we must always consider the appellation as descriptive rather than ethnographical, indicative of political relations rather than of race. Like William, the Conqueror's army, the hosts of Rollo were augmented by adventurers from all countries. Rollo exhibited a remarkable flexibility of character; he encouraged settlers from all parts of France and the Gauls and England, and his successors systematically obeyed the precedent." Most such adventurers in any age of the world must be of the most ancient of families, the families, to wit, of "robbers and reivers," the enlisted rascality of the earth, but none the worse workmen because their patron is St. Cain. There is a great deal of work to be done that can be done only by such fellows. It is sagely said that the world would be but ill peopled if none but the wise were to marry. It is certain that the world would get forward very slowly if none but the mild and the moral were active in its business. There is an immense amount of business to be accomplished that the mild cannot do, and which the moral will not do. How can it be expected of mild men that they should cut human throats, when they cannot be trusted even to stick the sheep which they have no hesitation in eating? How unreasonable it would be to expect moral men to become soldiers,—and the soldier's trade is the only permanent pursuit, save the pursuits of the grave-digger and the hangman,—when so exemplary a personage as the great Duke of Wellington gravely said, on his oath and on his honor, that the army is no place for moral and religious men? The felons who flocked to Rollo's standard wellnigh a thousand years ago were recruited from the "dangerous classes" of those remote days, and were probably as useful in the task of civilizing the world as, according to the assertion of one of the most eminent of English divines and historians, are rough and lawless men in that of Europeanizing Polynesia.[4]

Dr. Lappenberg, whose authority is great in all that relates to the history of the Normans, confirms what is said by Sir F. Palgrave of the ignorance of the North and the indifference to it which characterized the Normans. Speaking of the Norman literature, he observes: "In vain we seek herein imitations of the old Norse poesy, or allusions to the history or customs of Scandinavia. There may, perhaps, exist more resemblance between the heroic sagas of the North and the romances of chivalry of the South of Europe, both having for subjects wonderful adventures, and the praise of heroism and beauty; but from this resemblance it cannot be concluded that the Anglo-Norman poets have borrowed their fictions from the Norman skalds. We have not a single proof that they were acquainted with any saga or any skaldic composition. All remembrance of their national poetry was as completely obliterated among the posterity of the Northmen in France, as if, in traversing the ocean, they had drank of the water of Lethe. This total oblivion of their original home they have in common with the West Goths, who in Castilian poesy have not left the faintest trace of their original manners and opinions. The same remark has been applied to the Vareger, who founded a royal dynasty in Russia, and to whom that country, as a Russian author remarks, is not indebted for a single new idea. The causes are here the same with those that effected a complete oblivion of their mother tongue, namely, their inferior civilization, their intermixture with the natives, their marriages with the women of the country, who knew no other traditions than those of their native land. In Normandy, too, the Christian clergy must have suppressed every memorial of the ancient mythology."[5] Further, "Whatever partiality the Normans may have entertained for history, they nevertheless betrayed an almost perfect indifference for their original country. The historians of Normandy describe the heathen North as a den of robbers. After an interval of two centuries, they knew nothing of the events that had caused the founder of their ruling family to forsake the North; they did not even know where Denmark and Norway lay. Benoît de Ste More begins his chronicle with a geographic sketch, in which he takes Denmark for Dacia, and places it at the mouth of the Danube, between the extensive countries of the Alani and the Getæ, which are always covered with ice, and surrounded by a chain of mountains." The excellent chronicler's geographical notions seem to have been about as clear as those of Lolah, who tells Katinka that

"Spain's an island near
Morocco, betwixt Egypt and Tangier."

The earliest Norman chroniclers show that the Normans, or rather the Northmen, bore much ill-will toward the French; and this prejudice, it has correctly been said, "probably lasted as long as their Northern physiognomy, their fair hair, and other characteristics whereby they were distinguished from the French." But they soon became the flower of French races, and were regarded as Frenchmen in all the lands to which they were led by their valor, their enterprise, their ambition, and their avarice. They continued to avail themselves of the talents of other races long after Northmen had been converted into Normans, greatly to their own advantage, and considerably to the advantage of others. "Inclination, policy, interest," says Palgrave, "strengthened the impulse given by the diffusion of the Romane speech. Liberality was the Norman virtue. 'Norman talent,' or 'Norman taste,' or 'Norman, art,' are expressions intelligible and definite, conveying clear ideas, substantially true and yet substantially inaccurate. What, for example, do we intend when we speak of Norman architecture? Who taught the Norman architect? Ah, when you contemplate the structures raised by Lanfranc or Anselm, will not the reply conduct you beyond the Alps, and lead you to Pavia or Aosta,—the cities where these fathers of the Anglo-Norman Church were nurtured, their learning acquired, or their taste informed? Amongst the eminent men who gloriously adorn the Anglo-Norman annals, perhaps the smallest number derive their origin from Normandy. Discernment in the choice of talent, and munificence in rewarding ability, may be truly ascribed to Rollo's successors; open-handed, open-hearted, not indifferent to birth or lineage, but never allowing station or origin, nation or language, to obstruct the elevation of those whose talent, learning, knowledge, or aptitude gave them their patent of nobility."[6] The Normans won their fame, as the Romans their empire, through aid of various races, and by borrowing and assimilating whatever they found of good among all the peoples with whom they came in contact,—meaning by good what was useful for the promotion of their purposes.

The old Northmen in Neustria did not give way without a struggle, not for existence only, but for victory, of which at one time their prospect was by no means bad. The Danish party was strong in the time of Rollo, and it might have established itself over Normandy in the early years of his son, William I., who deemed his Norman sovereignty lost, and who at one time showed the white feather in a very unNorman-like manner, and in quite the reverse fashion to that adopted by Henri IV. at Ivry. At length he recovered his courage, and, delivering battle, he won a complete victory, which was ruinous to the vanquished. They were exterminated, and Riulph, their leader, was captured, and blinded by William's orders. It is supposed he died under the operation. William's cruelty is attributed to his earlier cowardice, and it is an old saw that no one is so cruel as a victorious coward; but cruelty was not so uncommon a thing in the year 933 that there should be any necessity for attributing the Norman's savageness to the reaction from fear. He probably had called his cowardice caution. His success settled the character of Normandy, which became, or rather continued to be, a French country; and its people were Normans, the result of a liberal mixture of many races, from whom were to issue the rulers of many lands. The combat of the Pré de la Bataille took place just four generations before Hastings, and had its issue been different the current of history might have run in a very different direction from that in which it has set for eight centuries; but the consequences of such a change "must be left to that superhuman knowledge which the schoolmen call media scientia, and which consists in knowing all that would have happened had events been otherwise than they have been." The question at issue was whether the Normans should live as Frenchmen or disappear; and William's triumph secured the ascendency of the Romane party, who alone could establish Normandy. When his son, Richard sans Peur, became chief of the Normans, A. D. 943, Normandy was a power in Europe, and virtually a free state,—for its rulers were "independent as the kings of France, whose superiority they acknowledged, but whose behests they never held themselves bound to obey."

The Normans soon made themselves felt in Europe. They became the foremost of Christian communities, and were distinguished in arts and arms and letters. They were the politest people of their time, and in their manners and modes of life they presented strong contrasts to the general coarseness of the period in which they flourished. Their valor seemed to increase with their culture; and if they were admired by the few because of their intellectual superiority, they were dreaded by the many because of their dauntless bravery and the energy and success which characterized their military exploits. Though often fighting at great odds, they were rarely defeated. They furnished the most distinguished adventurers of an adventurous age. There is nothing more romantic than the history of the Norman family of Hauteville, which sent forth a number of men whose exertions in Southern Europe had great effect in the eleventh century. Foremost of his countrymen in courage and capacity was the adventurer Robert de Hauteville, better known as Robert Guiscard, substantially the founder of that Neapolitan kingdom which we have seen absorbed into the new kingdom of Italy. His daughter married a son of one of the Byzantine Emperors, who was dethroned; and Robert was thus enabled to enter on a series of Eastern conquests, which would have ended in the taking of Constantinople had not imperative circumstances compelled him to return to Italy. A few years later he resumed his Oriental schemes, but died before he could complete them, and when everything promised him success. Had a Norman dynasty been established at Constantinople, at the close of the eleventh century, by so able a man as Robert Guiscard, it is probable the Lower Empire would have renewed its life, and that the Normans would have become as influential in the East as their contemporary conquest of England had made them in the West. The feudal system, of which they were the great masters, might as easily have been introduced into Greece as it was into England, and with the effect of producing an order of men who would have proved themselves more than a match for any force that the Mussulman could have brought against the new nation. There would have been a regular flow of Normans and other hardy adventurers to Byzantium, and the Turks never would have been allowed to cross the Hellespont to establish themselves in Europe, and would have been fortunate had they been able to keep the Normans from crossing the Hellespont to establish themselves in Asia. Thousands of those fanatics who were so soon to cover the Syrian sands with their bones, as Crusaders, would have been attracted to Greece, and would have done Christendom better service there than ever they were allowed to render it under the Godfreys and Baldwins and Raymonds, the Louises and Richards and Fredericks, who piously fought for the redemption of the Redeemer's sepulchre. Indeed the Holy Sepulchre could best have been freed from infidel pollution by operations from Greece, had Greece renewed her life under a dynasty worthy of the Greeks of old; and Asia, the Land of Light, might have been relieved from the thick darkness under which it has so long labored, had Norman genius and Norman valor been authoritatively employed to direct the Christian populations of the East, reinforced by the surplus adventurers of the West, against the Mussulmans. The West might have liquidated its debt to the East, by restoring Christianity to it.

All this was on the cards, had Robert Guiscard lived a few years longer,—and he was one of many sons of a poor and petty Norman baron, and superior to thousands of his countrymen only in the circumstance that he was more favored by Fortune. We are not to judge of what might have been effected by a Norman dynasty in Greece by the miserable failure of that Latin empire of which Greece was the scene in the thirteenth century, and which grew out of the capture of Constantinople by the French and the Venetians. That empire had not the elements of success in it; and it was established too late, and on foundations too feeble, to meet the demands of the time. Its founders lacked that legislative capacity with which the Normans were so liberally endowed. Though we cannot subscribe in full to Mr. Acton Warburton's enthusiastic estimate of the Norman race, we believe him to be substantially correct in what he says of their legislative genius. He dwells with unction on the strong tendency to institutions that ever characterized them. This tendency, he observes, strongly indicates "the profound sentiment of perpetuity, inherent in the Norman mind, to which everything was valueless that shared not in some degree its own enduring character. Abhorrent alike of despotism and license, they imparted this love of institutions wherever they came. In their days the world was passing through a fierce ordeal. A stern necessity lay on the whole system of things, a necessity which may be expressed in this brief formula,—the sword. In their several missions, if I may so speak, the Normans were forced to use the appointed instrument of the hour; but the readiness with which the sword was sheathed, the facility with which the soldier changed into the citizen, shows how deeply they felt that a state of hostilities, bloodshed, and disorder could not be the normal condition of man. And so we see them pass at once from the battle-field to the council-chamber. The fierce warrior of yesterday is the thoughtful legislator of to-day. The first interval of repose was ever employed in devising means for giving stability to their acquisitions, and a constitutional form to the society in which they were to be vested. Among the Teutons, such a task was never referred to the wisdom of any one leader, however successful,—any oligarchy of chiefs, however eminent. From time immemorial, the provisions from which their laws were derived, and on which their societies were based, were the emanations of free public opinion. Their armies were triumphant, because the soldier yielded up his will implicitly to his general; their societies were vigorous and stable, because, when the soldier became a citizen, he resumed that will again. No sooner had conquest and peace transmuted the army into a society, than the dominant sentiment appeared,—the sentiment of rational independence,—resulting, as the community formed, in liberal institutions."[7] Had this legislative spirit been applied to Greece at the close of the eleventh century, the effect would have been to create there a powerful nation; and the Crescent never would have triumphed over the Cross in that land from which the West has drawn so much that is of the highest value in all its processes of intellectual culture.

There is a reverse to this picture of the Normans. They had some very bad qualities, for they had no higher claims to perfection than is found in the case of any other people. Mr. James Augustus St. John, speaking of the Norman princess Emma, who married the English Ethelred, says, after admitting her great personal beauty, that "her mental qualities were very far from corresponding with the charms of her person. Like all other Normans, she was greedy of gold, ambitious, selfish, voluptuous, and in an eminent degree prone to treachery."[8] This may stand for a portrait of the whole Norman race. Nor does it detract from their aristocratical spirit that they were ever fond of money, or from their chivalrous spirit that they were faithless when they supposed treachery would best promote their interests. Aristocracies are always money-seekers, and often money-grubbers; and they plunder all whom they have the power to spoil. Alieni uppetens is ever their motto, but sui profusus does always go with it. The American slavocracy were the aristocracy of this country, and they were far more "greedy of gold" than ever "Yankees" have been. Treachery is common to the chivalrous classes, and the history of chivalry is full of instances of its display by men who claimed a monopoly of honor. Our Southern "chivalry" were unfaithful to every compact they made, and it was their infidelity that brought about their fall. The dangers that now threaten the country exist only because the party vanquished in the late civil war are bent upon breaking the terms on which they were admitted to mercy. They are fond of calling themselves Normans, though we have not heard much of their Norman origin since their Hastings went against them; but in respect to treachery and cruelty, and disregard of the rights of the poor and the helpless, they are the match of all the barons of Normandy.

The Normans were often cruel, and some of their modes of punishing their defeated enemies—blinding them, and cutting off their feet and hands, and inflicting on them the most degrading of mutilations—might lead one to suppose they were of Eastern origin, were not such practices traceable to the Northmen. These practices imply a grossness of mind that is much at war with the common notion of the gentleness and cultivation of the Norman nobles. They were noted for their craft, their spirit of intrigue, and their readiness to get possession of the property of others by any and all means. The most unscrupulous modern devotee of Mammon would be ashamed of deeds that never disturbed the placid egotism of men who considered themselves the flower of humanity and the salt of the earth,—and whose estimate of themselves has seldom been called in question. The fairer side of their conduct with regard to money is visible in their sensible encouragement of "business" in all the forms which it then knew. "Annual Mercantile Fairs," says Sir F. Palgrave, "were accustomed in Normandy. Established by usage and utility, ere recognized by the law, their origin bespake a healthy energy. Foreign manufacturers were welcomed as settlers in the Burghs,—the richer the better. No grudge was entertained against the Fleming; and the material prosperity of the country and the briskness of commerce carried on in all the great towns, proves that the pack-horses could tramp along the old Roman roads with facility. Indeed, amongst the Normans the commercial spirit was indigenous. The Danes and the folk of Danish blood were diligent traders. The greed of gain unites readily with desperate bravery. When occasion served, Drake would deal like a Dutchman. Any mode of making money enters into facile combination with the bold rapacity of the Flibustier." There was much material prosperity in Normandy at the close of the tenth century, or less than a hundred years after Rollo had established himself and his followers on French soil. The burgher class throve amazingly, and were the envy of all who knew their condition; and their military skill and valor were as famous as their success in the industrial arts, and their wealth, which was its consequence. Free they were, or they would have been neither rich nor valiant. The peasantry, too, were a superior people, who enjoyed much freedom, and who exhibited their bravery whenever there was call for its exhibition,—facts which show that they must have been well governed, and which tend to elevate our conception of the merits of their rulers.

There was no such thing as a caste of nobles in Normandy for very many years after that country passed into the hands of the Northmen. About two generations after the death of Rollo, Richard le Bon, one of the most popular of his descendants, set up the standard of exclusion, and created that Norman nobility of which the world has heard so much for eight hundred years. The clergy were too powerful in those days to be much affected by his action, and the burghers were too rich to be put down by a newly created nobility; but the peasantry were greatly injured by the change, as it created an order who were interested in oppressing them. They conspired, and their course bears some resemblance to that of the Fenians of our day. The "Commune" was a word as alarming to Richard le Bon and his nobility as "Fenian" was at first to the most bigoted of Orangemen. The Duke employed Raoul, Count of Ivri, to crush the Communists. Raoul was the son of a rich peasant, but he had no sympathy with his father's order. As in modern life the most determined aristocrat is often the man whose origin is the lowest, so was it nine centuries ago, in Normandy. Raoul was a sort of Claverhouse and Jeffreys in one person, and he "enjoyed the sport of dogging the Villainage. He fell upon the Communists;—caught them in the very fact,—holding a Lodge,—swearing in new members. Terrible was the catastrophe. No trial vouchsafed. No judge called in. Happy the wretch whose weight stretched the halter. The country was visited by fire and flame; the rebels were scourged, their eyes plucked out, their limbs chopped off, they were burnt alive; whilst the rich were impoverished and ruined by confiscations and fines." Such were the good old times, which never can return. Heaven be praised! Such was the origin of the Norman nobility, destined to become the patricians of the world. The cruelty with which the peasants were treated by the new nobles is a type of the system that ever was pursued by men of "the gentle Norman blood" toward a restless people. "The folk of Normandie" had no mercy on men who disputed, or even called in question, their right to unrestricted dominion.

The Cotentin was the most important part of Normandy,—was to Normandy what Normandy was to the rest of Europe. It has been well described as "not merely the physical bulwark of Normandy, but the very kernel of Norman nationality." It now forms a part of the 'Département de la Manche, and it holds Cherbourg in its bosom,—the Cæsaris Burgus of the Romans, which the French imperial historian of the first Cæsar is completing as a defiance to England, thus finishing what was long since begun under the old monarchy. Ages ago—even before the Romans had entered Gaul—what we call Cherbourg is believed to have attracted Gaulish attention because of its marine advantages. It is all but certain that the Romans fortified it. The Normans were children of the sea, and they did not neglect it. The Normans of the Cotentin were the purest men of their race. They kept up that connection with the ocean from which some other Normans revolted; and they were led from the land to the sea by the same inducement that had sent their ancestors out of Scania,—the inability to find food there. "The population," we are assured, "was teeming, the sterile land could not feed them, but the roaring surges surrounded them. All loved the sea, and upon, the waves, and beyond the waves, they were ever seeking their fortunes. From Hauteville, nigh Coutances, came the conquerors of Apulia and Sicily. And when we call over Battle-Abbey Roll, or search the Domesday record, or trace the lineage of our [the British] aristocracy, we shall find that the lords of these same Cotentin castles, with scarcely an exception, served in the Conqueror's army, or settled in the realm they won." The plain English of which is, that they were the cleverest, the most active, and the most successful robbers of their day and nation.

England was too near Normandy not to be an object of the first interest to the Normans. At the close of the tenth century King Ethelred II. adopted a course that was destined to have the most memorable consequences. Richard le Bon bore himself toward the English much the same as the English of to-day bore themselves toward us in the Secession war. The Danes were then the worst enemies of England, and the Norman government so far anticipated the Palmerstonian policy of neutrality, which consists in favoring the enemies of those whom you hate, as to throw open its ports to the ravagers of Normandy's neighbor. "Without sharing the danger," observes Sir F. Palgrave, "Normandy prospered upon the prey which the Danskerman made in England. The Normans were a thriving and money-getting people. The great fair of Guipry attests their national tendency. The liberal policy of the Dukes is also forcibly illustrated by the remarkable treaty of peace concluded between Richard le Bon and Olave, the Norskman, securing to the rovers the right of free trade in Normandy. No certificate of origin was required when the big bales of English stuffs were offered to the chapman at the bridge-head of Rouen; and the perils of England were much enhanced by the entente cordiale—this expression has become technical, and therefore untranslatable—subsisting between Romane Normandy and the Northmen of the North."

There is something amusing in this extract; for it describes, as it were, and in advance, the state of things that existed during our late war. The Secessionists were our Danes, who, if they did not ravage our lands, cut up our commerce at a fearful rate, and not only found shelter and aid wherever the English flag flies in authority, but were furnished with ships by England and with men to work and to fight them, so that our last sea-fight was won over our old foe on that summer day when the Kearsarge sent the Alabama to look after the old Raven craft of the Northmen that may be lying under the old Norman waters, and did it, too, off the Cotentin shore, just where the conflict between Saxons and Normans began.

King Ethelred, like President Lincoln in the case of the English, was so unreasonable as to complain of the conduct of the Normans; and, again like our lamented chief, he could not find any excuse for piratical action in the fact that "the Normans were a thriving and money-getting people," and supposed they had the right to get money by encouraging robbery. But, unlike the American President, the Saxon king determined to have prompt and ample vengeance—if he could get it. He indulged in as much loud language as was uttered in Vienna last June, when Sadowa was yet an unknown, name. He was bent upon vengeance, stern and terrible. Now, vengeance is a commodity that is dear when it is procurable gratis, but sometimes it is not obtainable at any price. And so Ethelred found it, to his cost. Having formed his resolution to invade Normandy, and lay it waste with fire and sword, and bring back Richard le Bon with him in chains to England, it remained only to execute his design. The English fleet sailed for the Cotentin, and landed a force which should have done great things. But if the Normans of the Cotentin were stout thieves, not the less were they stout soldiers. No greater error than that men must have clean consciences to be good warriors. The Normans rose to a man—and even to a woman—against the invaders. Knights and seamen and peasants and the peasants' wives, all armed; and the English were beaten so badly that they could not have been beaten worse, had their cause been utterly devilish. But few of them escaped,—probably those who had the sense to run first; and they got off in six ships, all the rest of the fleet falling into the hands of the Normans. The Norman Duke and the British Basileus proceeded to make peace, and the peace-making business led to a marriage, one of many royal marriages which have produced extraordinary consequences, and led to much fighting, as if there were a natural connection between wedlock and war. In private life, marriage not unfrequently leads to contention; in public life, contention often leads to marriage. Ethelred sought to "engraft the branch of Cerdic upon the stem of Rollo," in the hope of increasing the power of England. He asked for the hand of Emma, sister of Richard le Bon, and obtained it. This union was every way unfortunate, and prepared the road for the Conquest. The Normans who accompanied Emma to England, and those who followed her, are described as "subtle, intriguing, false, and capable of any act of treason which promised to further their own fortunes." They behaved as members of "superior races" generally behave in countries inhabited by "inferior races." They obtained power and place, and used their influence to the detriment of England. The king and queen did not live happily. One of their children was Edward the Confessor, who is popularly considered the very personification of the Saxon race, but who was half a Norman by birth, and wholly Norman by education; for the successes of the Danes compelled his family to become exiles, and his youth and earlier manhood were passed in Normandy.[9] When he became king, the Normans had matters pretty much their own way in England. He remembered that Robert, Duke of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror, had once made an attempt to restore the Saxon line in England, and that he failed only because his fleet was destroyed by a storm. Duke William's influence had aided in his elevation to the English throne. His gratitude was expressed at the expense of his people. Once crowned, Edward invited his Norman friends to England. That country soon swarmed with foreigners, with whom the king was more at home than he was with his own subjects. Their language, the Romane, was his language. It was the language of the higher classes, the language of fashion, "the court tune." Such strong places as then stood in England were garrisoned by foreigners, and other Normans were settled in the towns. The country was half conquered years before the year of Hastings.

Duke William visited England in 1051. He was most hospitably received, and it is supposed that what he saw caused him to form the plan that led to the Conquest. Edward admired his visitor; and on the death of Edward the Outlaw,—whom he had recalled from Hungary, with the intention of proclaiming him as heir to the crown,—he determined that William should be his successor. He bequeathed the English crown to the ruler of Normandy. Harold agreed to support this arrangement. On his death-bed, Edward said to Harold and his kinsmen, "Ye know full well, my lords, that I have bequeathed my kingdom to the Duke of Normandy, and are there not those here whose oaths have been given to secure his succession?" The person to whom the crown should have gone was Edgar Atheling, son of Edward the Outlaw, and a lineal descendant of Ironside. Neither William nor Harold had any claim to the succession, whereas Edgar's claim was as good as that of the Prince of Wales to the throne of Great Britain is to-day. That Edward did not nominate Edgar must be attributed, in part at least, to the conviction that his nomination would be treated with contempt by the partisans of both William and Harold. He feared, it is probable, that the nomination of Edgar would give England up to the horrors of war, and that, after that prince should be disposed of by a union of Saxons and Normans against his claim, there would be another contest between the two factions of the victors. He was incapable of the grim humor of the Macedonian Alexander, who on his death-bed bequeathed his kingdom "to the strongest"; but his bequest was virtually of the same nature as that which so long before was made in Babylon. His death led to great funeral games, which are not yet over.

"Harold," says Palgrave, "afterward founded his title upon Edward's last will; many of our historians prove his claim, and the different statements are difficult to be reconciled; yet, taken altogether, the circumstances are exactly such as we meet with in private life. The childless owner of a large estate at first leaves his property to his cousin on the mother's side, from whose connections he has received much kindness. He advances in age, and alters his intentions in favor of a nephew on his father's side,—an amiable young man, living abroad,—and from whom he had been estranged in consequence of a family quarrel of long standing. The young heir comes to the testator's house, is received with great affection, and is suddenly cut off by illness. The testator then returns to his will in favor of his cousin, who resides abroad. His acute and active brother-in-law has taken the management of his affairs; is well informed of this will; and, when the testator is on his death-bed, he contrives to tease and persuade the dying man to alter the will again in his favor. This is exactly the state of the case; and though considerable doubts have been raised relating to the contradictory bequests of the Confessor, there can be no difficulty in admitting that the conflicting pretensions of William and Harold were grounded upon the acts emanating from a wavering and feeble mind. If such disputes take place between private individuals, they are decided by a court of justice; but if they concern a kingdom, they can only be settled by the sword."[10] And to the sword Harold and William remitted the settlement of the question.

The two men who were thus arrayed in deadly opposition to each other were not unworthy of being competitors for a crown. Harold belonged to the greatest Saxon family of his time, of which he had been the head ever since the death of his father, the great Earl Godwin, which took place in 1053. Earl Godwin was one of the foremost men of the ante-Norman period of England, though his character, as Mr. St. John observes, "lies buried beneath a load of calumny"; and he quotes Dr. Hook as saying that "Godwin was the connecting link between the Saxon and the Dane, and, as the leader of the united English people, became one of the greatest men this country has ever produced, although, as is the English custom, one of the most maligned." "Calm, moderate, and dignified, reining in with wisdom the impetuosity of his nature," says Mr. St. John, "he presented to those around him the beau ideal of an Englishman, with all his predilections and prejudices, the warmest attachment to his native land, and a somewhat overweening contempt of foreigners. He was without question the greatest statesman of his age; and, indeed, statesmanship in England may almost be said to have commenced with him. Whether we look at home or abroad, we discover no man in Christendom worthy to be ranked with him, in genius or wisdom, in peace or war. His figure towers far above all his contemporaries; he constitutes the acme of the purely Saxon mind. No taint of foreign blood was in him. . . . . Godwin's lot was cast upon evil days. The marriage of Ethelred with Emma originated a fatal connection between this country and Normandy, the first fruits of which, forcing themselves but too obviously on his notice, he prevented, while he lived, from growing to maturity. The efforts, public and secret, which he found it necessary to make in the performance of this patriotic task, laid him open to the charge of craft and subtlety. Let it be granted that he deserved the imputation; but it must be added, that, if foreign invasion and conquest be an evil, from that evil England was preserved as long as his crafty and subtle head remained above ground; and had he lived thirteen years longer, the accumulated and concentrated scoundrelism of Europe would have been dashed away in foam and blood from the English shore. Properly understood, Godwin's whole life was one protracted agony for the salvation of his country. He had to contend with every species of deleterious influence,—ferocious, drunken, dissolute, and imbecile kings, the reckless intrigues of monasticism at the instigation of Rome, and the unprincipled and infamous ambition of the Norman Bastard, who crept into England during this great man's exile, and fled in all haste at his return. What he had to contend with, what plots he frustrated, what malice he counteracted, what superstition and stupidity he rendered harmless, will never be known in detail. We perceive the indefinite and indistinct forms of these things floating through the mists of history, but cannot grasp and fix them for the instruction of posterity."[11] This portraiture may be somewhat too highly colored, but it is better painting than we get from Norman writers, who were no more capable of writing justly of Godwin and Harold, than Roman authors of Hannibal and Spartacus. Godwin was an abler man than his son and successor, and probably the latter would never have been able to aspire to royalty, and for a few months to wear a crown, had not the fortunes of his house been raised so high by his father. Nevertheless, Harold was worthy of his inheritance, and possessed rare qualities, such as made him not undeserving a throne, and of better fortune than he found at Hastings. He was patriotic, magnanimous, brave, humane, honorable, and energetic. His chief fault seems to have been a deficiency in judgment, which led him rashly to engage in undertakings that might better have been deferred. Such, at least, is the impression that we derive from his fighting the battle of Hastings, when he had everything to gain from delay, and when every day that an action was postponed was as useful to the Saxon cause as it was injurious to that of the Normans.

Harold's rival was the illegitimate son of Robert the Devil, as he is commonly called, because he has been, though improperly, "identified with a certain imaginary or legendary hero," but who was a much better man than his diabolic sobriquet implies. William's mother was Arletta, or Herleva, daughter of a tanner of Falaise. The Conqueror never escaped the reproach of his birth, into which bastardy and plebeianism entered in equal proportions. He was always "William the Bastard," and he is so to this day. "William the Conqueror," says Palgrave, "the founder of the most noble empire in the civilized world, could never rid himself of the contumelious appellation which bore indelible record of his father's sin. In all history, William is the only individual to whom such an epithet has adhered throughout his life and fortunes. Was the word of affront ever applied to Alphonso, the stern father of the noble house of Braganza, by any one except a Castilian? Not so William;—a bastard was William at the hour of his birth; a bastard in prosperity; a bastard in adversity; a bastard in sorrow; a bastard in triumph; a bastard in the maternal bosom; a bastard when borne to his horror-inspiring grave. 'William the Conqueror' relatively, but 'William the Bastard' positively; and a bastard he will continue so long as the memory of man shall endure." Sir Francis seems to have forgotten the Bastard of Orleans. Nevertheless, and in spite of his illegitimacy, William became ruler of Normandy when he was but a child, his father abdicating the throne, and forcing the Norman baronage to accept the boy as his successor; and that boy thirty years later founded a royal line, that yet endures in full strength, Queen Victoria being the legitimate descendant of William of Normandy.[12] The training that William received developed his faculties, and made him one of the chief men of his age; and in 1066 he prepared to assert his right to the English crown.

The Norman barons were at first disinclined to support their lord's claim upon England. Their tenures did not bind them to cross the sea. But at last they were won over to the support of his cause, on the promise of receiving the lands of the English. He called upon foreigners to join his army, promising them the plunder of England. "All the adventurers and adventurous spirits of the neighboring states were invited to join his standard," and his invitation was accepted. "William published his ban," says Thierry, "in the neighboring countries; he offered gold, and the pillage of England to every able man who would serve him with lance, sword, or crossbow. A multitude accepted the invitation, coming by every road, far and near, from north and south. They came from Maine and Anjou, from Poitiers and Brittany, from France and Flanders, from Aquitaine and Burgundy, from the Alps and the banks of the Rhine. All the professional adventurers, all the military vagabonds of Western Europe, hastened to Normandy by long marches; some were knights and chiefs of war, the others simple foot-soldiers and sergeants-of-arms, as they were then called; some demanded money-pay, others only their passage, and all the booty they might win. Some asked for land in England, a domain, a castle, a town; others simply required some rich Saxon in marriage. Every thought, every desire of human avarice presented itself. William rejected no one, says the Norman chronicle, and satisfied every one as well as he could. He gave, beforehand, a bishopric in England to a monk of Fescamp, in return for a vessel and twenty armed men."[13] The Pope was William's chief supporter. Harold and all his adherents were excommunicated, and William received a banner and ring from Rome, the double emblem of military and ecclesiastical investiture. Of the sixty thousand men that formed the Norman army, Normans formed the smallest portion, and most of their number were not of noble birth.

William sailed on the 28th of September, and landed his army on the 29th, without experiencing any resistance. Harold was in the North, contending with and defeating the Northmen, one of whose leaders was his brother Tostig. As soon as he received intelligence of William's landing he marched south, bent upon giving immediate battle, though his mother and his brother Gurth and other relatives, and many of his friends, strongly counselled delay. This counsel was good, for his force was to William's as one to four; and even a week's delay might have so far strengthened the Saxons as to have enabled them to fight on an approach to equal terms with the invaders. But Harold rejected all advice, and pressed forward to action so imprudently as to countenance, in a superstitious age, the notion that he was urged on by an irresistible power, which had decreed his destruction. Certainly he did not display much sagacity before battle, though both skill and bravery in it were not wanting on his part The battle of Hastings was fought on the 14th of October, 1066. The Normans were the assailants; but for six hours—from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon—they were repulsed; and had the Saxons been content to hold their ground, victory would have been theirs. But they left the position they had so valiantly maintained, to pursue the Normans, when the latter feigned to fly. Even then they fought with heroic resolution, and might have regained the day, had not Harold fallen. Soon after, the English position was stormed, and the king's brother, Gurth, was slain. The combat lasted till the coming on of darkness. Fifteen thousand of the victors are said to have fallen,—a number as great as the entire English army.

The event of the battle of Hastings placed all England, ultimately, at the disposition of the Normans, though many years elapsed before the country was entirely conquered. Had the English possessed a good government, or leaders who enjoyed general confidence, their defeat at Hastings would not have reduced them to bondage, or have converted their country into a new world. But they, who were even slavishly dependent on their government for leading, had no government; and they were just as destitute of chiefs who were competent to assume the lead at so dark a crisis. Taking advantage of circumstances so favorable to his purpose, William soon made himself king, but had most of his work to do long after he was crowned. The battle of Hastings, therefore, was decisive of the future of England and of the British race. Saxon England disappeared; Norman England rose. The change was perfect, and quite warrants Lord Macaulay's emphatic assertion, that "the battle of Hastings, and the events which followed it, not only placed a Duke of Normandy on the English throne, but gave up the whole population of England to the tyranny of the Norman race,"—and that "the subjugation of a nation by a nation has seldom, even in Asia, been more complete." The nation that finally was formed by a union of the Saxons and the Normans, and which was seven or eight generations in forming, was a very different nation from that which had been ruled by the Confessor. It was a nation that was capable of every form of action, and had little in common with the Saxons of the eleventh century. It matters nothing whether the Conqueror introduced the feudal system into England, or whether he found it there, or whether that system is almost entirely an imaginary creation, as most probably is the fact. We know that the event called the Norman Conquest wrought great changes in England, and through England in the world; and that Napoleon III. reigns over the French, and Victor Emanuel II. over the Italians, that the House of Hohenzollern has triumphed over the House of Hapsburg, that President Johnson rules at Washington, and that Queen Victoria sits in the seat of Akbar or Aurungzebe, are facts which must all be attributed to the decision made by the sword at Hastings, no matter what may have been the particular process of events after that battle. It is possible that the misery consequent on the victory of the Normans has been exaggerated, though a great deal of suffering must have followed from it. But there can be no exaggeration of the general consequence of the success of the Normans. That determined the future course of the world, and will continue to determine it long after the Valley of the Amazon shall be far more thickly inhabited, and better known, than to-day is the Valley of the Danube.

There is one popular error with regard to the Norman Conquest which it may not be amiss to correct. It is taken for granted by most persons who have written on it, that the triumph of William was the triumph of an aristocracy over a people, and we often hear the Saxons spoken of as democrats who were subdued by aristocrats. This is an entirely erroneous view of the whole subject. So far as there was a contest at Hastings between aristocrats and democrats, the Normans were champions of democracy, and the Saxons of the opposite principle. The Saxon aristocracy was very powerful, and its power was steadily increasing for generations before the Conquest; and had there not been a foreign invasion, it is altogether probable that the English system soon would have become strictly oligarchical. One of the chief causes of Harold's failure was his inability to command the prompt support of some of the greatest nobles, as Earls Edwin and Morcar, who paid bitterly for their backwardness in after days. Something of this may be attributed to the weakness of his title to the crown, but the mere fact that such men could so powerfully influence events at a time when the very existence of the country was at stake, is enough to show how strong were the insular aristocrats; and it was this selfish aristocracy that was destroyed by the Normans, most of whom were upstarts, the very scum of Europe having entered William's army. We doubt if ever there was a greater triumph effected by the poor and the lowly-born over the rich and the well-born, than that which was gained at Hastings, though it required some years to make it complete. "According to the common report," says Sir F. Palgrave, "sixty thousand knights received their fees, or rather their livings, to use the old expression, from the Conqueror. This report is exaggerated as to number; but the race of the Anglo-Danish and English nobility and gentry, the Earls and the greater Thanes, disappears; and with some exceptions, remarkable as exemplifying the general rule, all the superiorities of the English soil became vested in the Conqueror's Baronage. Men of a new race and order, men of strange manners and strange speech, ruled in England. There were, however, some great mitigations, and the very sufferings of the conquered were so inflicted as to become the ultimate means of national prosperity; but they were to be gone through, and to be attended with much present desolation and misery. The process was the more painful because it was now accompanied by so much degradation and contumely. The Anglo-Saxons seem to have had a very strong aristocratic feeling,—a great respect for family and dignity of blood. The Normans, or rather the host of adventurers whom we must of necessity comprehend under the name of Normans, had comparatively little; and not very many of the real old and powerful aristocracy, whether of Normandy or Brittany, settled in England. The great majority had been rude, and poor, and despicable in their own country,—-the rascallions of Northern Gaul: these, suddenly enriched, lost all compass and bearing of mind; and no one circumstance vexed the spirit of the English more, than to see the fair and noble English maidens and widows compelled to accept these despicable adventurers as their husbands. Of this we have an example in Lucia, the daughter of Algar, for Talboys seems to have been a person of the lowest degree." Ivo Talboys, or Taillebois, was one of the Conqueror's followers, and his chief gave him lands in the fen country, near the monastery of Croyland; and this chance of a locality may have had something to do with the reputation he has, for it brought him under the lash of the famous Ingulphus, Chronicler of Croyland, (if he was that Chronicler,) who charges him with all manner of crimes,—and with reason good, for he bore himself with great harshness toward the brethren of the great Croyland monastery,—an unpardonable offence. Low as he was by birth, Taillebois received the hand of Lucia, sister of the Saxon Earls Edwin and Morcar, and became very wealthy. From this union came "the great line whence sprang the barons of Kendal and Lancaster." The last descendant of this Norman baron of William's creation and of the Saxon Lucia died in 1861, a pauper in the workhouse of Shrewsbury,—Emily Taillebois, a girl of eighteen.

There were thousands of such fellows as Taillebois in William's army, and, though all were not so lucky as he, many of them drew good prizes in the lottery of war, and founded, at the expense of the noblest Saxons, families from which men are proud to be descended. Sir Walter has used this fact in "Ivanhoe," when he makes the usually silent Athelstane reply with so much eloquence to De Bracy's insolent remark that the princes of the House of Anjou conferred not their wards on men of such lineage as his. "My lineage, proud Norman," replied Athelstane, "is drawn from a source more pure and ancient than that of a beggarly Frenchman, whose living is won by selling the blood of the thieves whom he assembles under his paltry standard. Kings were my ancestors, strong in war and wise in council, who every day feasted in their hall more hundreds than thou canst number individual followers; whose names have been sung by minstrels, and their laws recorded by Wittenagemotes; whose bones were interred amid the prayers of saints, and over whose tombs minsters have been builded." There can be no doubt that Saxons as far-descended as Scott represents Athelstane to have been were treated worse than he, and that Saxon ladies of the highest birth and greatest wealth experienced the fate of the conquered in much severer measure than it became known to Rowena. Scott has been accused of exaggerating the effects of the Conquest, but his glowing picture is by no means overcharged, if we look at the effect of that change on the higher classes of the vanquished people. The Saxons were very wealthy, and the invaders obtained an amount of spoil that astonished them, the accounts of which remind the reader of what was told of the extraordinary acquisitions made by the ruffians who formed the force of Pizarro in Peru. Years after the day of Hastings, we are told, William "bore back with him, to his eager and hungry country, the plunder of England, which was so varied in kind, so prodigious in amount, that the awe-stricken chroniclers maintain that all the Gauls, if ransacked from end to end, would have failed to supply treasures worthy to be compared with it. The silver, the gold, the vases, vestments, and crucifixes crested with jewels, the silken garments for men and women, the rings, necklaces, bracelets, wrought delicately in gold and resplendent in gems, inspired the Continental barbarians with rapture, and in their imaginations made England appear the Dorado of those times." One of the writers of that day states that "incredible treasures in gold and silver were sent from the plunder of England to the Pope, together with costly ornaments, which would have been held in the highest estimation even at Byzantium, then universally regarded as the most opulent city in the world." All this implies that the Saxon aristocracy were very rich, and it is far from unlikely that it was the desire to preserve their property that led them to offer so little resistance to William,—a fatally mistaken course, for the invading adventurers had entered England in search of other men's property, and were not to be kept quiet by the quietness of the owners thereof. The aristocracy alone could afford such plunder as that described, and that so much of it was obtained shows how extensive must have been the spoliation, and how thoroughly Saxon nobles were stripped of their possessions by the low-born ragamuffins who were induced by William's recruiting sergeants to enlist under his black banner.


  1. An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland, by J. J. Worsaae, Sec. I. p. 6.
  2. "What we call purchase, perquisitio," says Blackstone, "the feudists called conquest, conquisitio; both denoting any means of acquiring an estate out of the common course of inheritance. And this is still the proper phrase in the law of Scotland, as it was among the Norman jurists, who styled the first purchaser (that is, him who bought the estate into the family which at present owns it) the conqueror, or conquereur, which seems to be all that was meant by the appellation which was given to William the Norman." Had Harold been victorious at Hastings, he would, according to the feudists, have been the Conqueror; that is, the man who brought England into his family.
  3. The History of Normandy and of England, Vol. I. pp. 703, 704. One of the greatest historical works of a country and an age singularly rich in historical literature, but incomplete, like the works of Macaulay, Niebuhr, and Arnold, and the last work of Prescott. The third and fourth volumes, posthumously published in 1864,—Sir Francis died in 1861,—are well edited by the author's son, Mr. Francis Turner Palgrave, who honorably upholds the honored name he inherits.
  4. Merivale, History of the Romans under the Empire; Vol. IV. p. 297, note: "The civilization of barbarians, at least their material cultivation, has been generally more advanced by instructors whose moral superiority was less strongly marked, than where the teachers and the taught have few common sympathies and points of contact. Thus, in our own times, rough whalers and brutal pirates have done more to Europeanize the natives of Polynesia than the missionaries."
  5. A History of England under the Norman Kings, etc., pp. 84, 85, and 87. Dr. Lappenberg is emphatic on the subject of the formation of the Norman race through the junction of various races. "Rolf [Rollo] and his companions were like those meteors which traverse the air with incredible swiftness," he says, "and in vanishing leave behind them long streams of fire which the eye gazes on with amazement. The Northmen who settled in Neustria gradually became lost among the French, a mixture of Gauls and Romans, Franks and Burgundians, West Goths and Saracens, friends and foes, barbarians and civilized nations. Ten sorts of language, and with them, perhaps, as many forms of government, were lost amid this mass of peoples. French and foreigners have visited Normandy in search of some traces of the old Scandinavian colonies, or at least of some testimonial of their long sojourn there, and one or other memorial characteristic of this daring people. All have admired the prosperity of the province, to which the fertility of the soil and its manufactures and commerce have contributed; but vainly have they sought for the original Northmen in the present inhabitants. With the exception of some faint resemblances, they have met with nothing Norsk."—pp. 65, 66.
  6. The History of Normandy and of England, Vol. I. pp. 704, 705. Lanfranc, who was made Archbishop of Canterbury by the Conqueror, was a native of Pavia, and Anselm, his successor, a native of Aosta.
  7. Rollo and his Race: or, Footsteps of the Normans, Vol. II. pp. 107-109.
  8. What Sir F. Palgrave says of the famous son of Robert Guiscard is applicable generally to the Normans: "Bohemond was affectionate and true to father, wife, and children, pleasant, affable, and courteous: yet wrapped up in selfishness, possessed by insatiate ambition and almost diabolical cruelty, proud and faithless, but in spite of all these vices so seductive as to command the admiration even of those who knew him to be a heartless demon."—History Vol. IV. p. 471.
  9. "The heart of Emma clung more and more to her native land. Her feelings were inherited by the children who were afterward born to her,—they imbibed them at their mother's breast. Their hearts were thoroughly alienated from England, and the Normans and Normandy became as their kindred and their home."—Palgrave, Vol. III. p. 112. Edward's wife was Editha, daughter of Earl Godwin, and sister of Harold.
  10. The History of Normandy and of England, Vol. III. pp. 293, 294.
  11. History of the Four Conquests of England, Vol. II. pp. 176-178.
  12. The legitimate descent of Queen Victoria from the Conqueror is sometimes disputed, because it is not correctly traced, in consequence of the line of descent being carried back through Henry VII., instead of being carried through his wife, née Elizabeth Plantagenet. It may not be uninteresting to state the royal pedigree, which is at times rather intricate, and full of sinuosities,—in part due to the occurrences of political revolutions, old English statesmen never having paid much regard to political legitimacy, which is a modern notion. Queen Victoria is the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, who was son of George III., who was son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who was son of George II., who was son of George I., who was son of the Electress Sophia (by Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover), who was daughter of Elizabeth Stuart (by Frederick V., Elector Palatine and "Winter King" of Bohemia), who was daughter of James I. (Sixth of Scotland), who was son of Mary, Queen of Scots (by Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley), who was daughter of James V., who was son of Margaret Tudor (by James IV.), who was daughter of Elizabeth Plantagenet (by Henry VII.), who was daughter of Edward IV., who was son of Richard, Duke of York, who was son of Anne Mortimer (by Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cambridge, son of Edmund, Duke of York, fifth son of Edward III.), who was daughter of Roger, Earl of Marche, who was son of Philippe (by Edmund, Earl of Marche), who was daughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III., who was son of Edward II., who was son of Edward I., who was son of Henry III., who was son of John, who was son of Henry II., who was son of Matilda (by Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou), who was daughter of Henry I. (by Matilda of Scotland, sister of Edgar Atheling, and therefore of the Saxon blood royal), who was son of William the Conqueror. Thus Queen Victoria is descended legitimately from the Conqueror, not only through Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III.'s third son, but also through that monarch's fifth son, Edmund, Duke of York, whose second son, the Earl of Cambridge, married the great-granddaughter of the Duke of Clarence. Had the great struggle of the English throne in the fifteenth century been correctly named, it would stand in history as the contest between the lines of Clarence (not York) and Lancaster. In virtue of her descent from Henry VII., Queen Victoria shares "the aspiring blood of Lancaster," which was so mounting that it brought the worst of woes on England. Henry VII. was the son of Margaret Beaufort (by Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond), who was the daughter of John, Duke of Somerset, who was the son of John, Earl of Somerset, who was the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III.; but the mother of the Earl of Somerset was, at the time of his birth, not the wife, but the mistress of the Duke of Lancaster, though he married her late in life, and in various ways obtained the legitimation of the children she had borne him,—facts that could not remove the great fact of their illegitimacy, if marriage is to count for anything and which no good historian has treated with respect. Lord Macaulay calls the Tudors "a line of bastards," and ranks them with the "succession of impostors" set up by the adherents of the White Rose. Froude's great work has created a new interest in the question of the English succession, for he bases his peculiar view of the character of Henry VIII., and his justification of all his acts of heartless tyranny, on the necessities that grew out of that perplexing question, which troubled England for two centuries, thus forming a practical satire on that theory which represents that the peculiar excellence of hereditary monarchy is found in its power to prevent disputes for the possession of government, and to promote the preservation of society's peace,—a theory which has often been thrown into the teeth of republicans, and particularly since the occurrence of our unhappy civil troubles. Yet one would think that Gettysburg and Shiloh were not worse days than Towton and Barnet. Those persons who are interested in the English succession question, and who would see how wide a one it was, and how far and how long and variously it affected the politics of Continental Europe as well as those of England, should read the chapter on the subject in Miss Cooper's "Life and Letters of Arabella Stuart," a learned and lively work, and not the least meritorious of those admirable historical productions which we owe to the genius, the industry, and the honesty of Englishwomen,—Agnes Strickland, Caroline A. Halsted, Lucy Aiken, Mrs. Everett Green, Elizabeth Cooper, and others, —whose writings do honor to the sex, and fairly entitle their authors to be ranked with those accomplished ladies of the sixteenth century whose solid attainments have so long been matter of despairing admiration.
  13. Histoire de la Conquête de l'Angleterre par les Normans, Tom. I. pp. 237, 238.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.