William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror
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第6章 THE EARLY YEARS OF WILLIAM--A.D.1028-1051(4)

William was a Norman born and bred; his rival was in every sense a Frenchman.This was William's cousin Guy of Burgundy, whose connexion with the ducal house was only by the spindle-side.But his descent was of uncontested legitimacy, which gave him an excuse for claiming the duchy in opposition to the bastard grandson of the tanner.By William he had been enriched with great possessions, among which was the island fortress of Brionne in the Risle.The real object of the revolt was the partition of the duchy.William was to be dispossessed; Guy was to be duke in the lands east of Dive; the great lords of Western Normandy were to be left independent.To this end the lords of the Bessin and the Cotentin revolted, their leader being Neal, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur in the Cotentin.We are told that the mass of the people everywhere wished well to their duke; in the common sovereign lay their only chance of protection against their immediate lords.But the lords had armed force of the land at their bidding.They first tried to slay or seize the Duke himself, who chanced to be in the midst of them at Valognes.He escaped; we hear a stirring tale of his headlong ride from Valognes to Falaise.Safe among his own people, he planned his course of action.He first sought help of the man who could give him most help, but who had most wronged him.He went into France;he saw King Henry at Poissy, and the King engaged to bring a French force to William's help under his own command.

This time Henry kept his promise.The dismemberment of Normandy might have been profitable to France by weakening the power which had become so special an object of French jealousy; but with a king the common interest of princes against rebellious barons came first.

Henry came with a French army, and fought well for his ally on the field of Val-es-dunes.Now came the Conqueror's first battle, a tourney of horsemen on an open table-land just within the land of the rebels between Caen and Mezidon.The young duke fought well and manfully; but the Norman writers allow that it was French help that gained him the victory.Yet one of the many anecdotes of the battle points to a source of strength which was always ready to tell for any lord against rebellious vassals.One of the leaders of the revolt, Ralph of Tesson, struck with remorse and stirred by the prayers of his knights, joined the Duke just before the battle.He had sworn to smite William wherever he found him, and he fulfilled his oath by giving the Duke a harmless blow with his glove.How far an oath to do an unlawful act is binding is a question which came up again at another stage of William's life.

The victory at Val-es-dunes was decisive, and the French King, whose help had done so much to win it, left William to follow it up.He met with but little resistance except at the stronghold of Brionne.

Guy himself vanishes from Norman history.William had now conquered his own duchy, and conquered it by foreign help.For the rest of his Norman reign he had often to strive with enemies at home, but he had never to put down such a rebellion again as that of the lords of western Normandy.That western Normandy, the truest Normandy, had to yield to the more thoroughly Romanized lands to the east.The difference between them never again takes a political shape.

William was now lord of all Normandy, and able to put down all later disturbers of the peace.His real reign now begins; from the age of nineteen or twenty, his acts are his own.According to his abiding practice, he showed himself a merciful conqueror.Through his whole reign he shows a distinct unwillingness to take human life except in fair fighting on the battle-field.No blood was shed after the victory of Val-es-dunes; one rebel died in bonds; the others underwent no harder punishment than payment of fines, giving of hostages, and destruction of their castles.These castles were not as yet the vast and elaborate structures which arose in after days.

A single strong square tower, or even a defence of wood on a steep mound surrounded by a ditch, was enough to make its owner dangerous.

The possession of these strongholds made every baron able at once to defy his prince and to make himself a scourge to his neighbours.

Every season of anarchy is marked by the building of castles; every return of order brings with it their overthrow as a necessary condition of peace.

Thus, in his lonely and troubled childhood, William had been schooled for the rule of men.He had now, in the rule of a smaller dominion, in warfare and conquest on a smaller scale, to be schooled for the conquest and the rule of a greater dominion.William had the gifts of a born ruler, and he was in no way disposed to abuse them.We know his rule in Normandy only through the language of panegyric; but the facts speak for themselves.He made Normandy peaceful and flourishing, more peaceful and flourishing perhaps than any other state of the European mainland.He is set before us as in everything a wise and beneficent ruler, the protector of the poor and helpless, the patron of commerce and of all that might profit his dominions.For defensive wars, for wars waged as the faithful man of his overlord, we cannot blame him.But his main duty lay at home.He still had revolts to put down, and he put them down.But to put them down was the first of good works.He had to keep the peace of the land, to put some cheek on the unruly wills of those turbulent barons on whom only an arm like his could put any cheek.

He had, in the language of his day, to do justice, to visit wrong with sure and speedy punishment, whoever was the wrong-doer.If a ruler did this first of duties well, much was easily forgiven him in other ways.But William had as yet little to be forgiven.

Edward Augustus Freeman

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