|Return to The Normans|
by Sarah Orne Jewett
Dukes of the Normans
ACROSS THE CHANNEL.
Spake laws to them, and said that, by the soul
Only, the nations should be great and free."
It is time to take a closer look at England and at the shameful degradations of Æthelred's time. The inroads of the Danes read like the early history of Normandy, and we must take a step backward in the condition of civilization when we cross to the other side of the Channel. There had been great changes since Ælfred's wise and prosperous reign, or even since the time of Æthelred's predecessor, Eadgar, who was rowed in his royal-barge at Chester by eight of his vassal kings -- Kenneth of Scots, Malcolm of Cumberland, Maccus of the Isles, and five Welsh monarchs. The lord of Britain was gracious enough to do the steering for so noble a company of oarsmen, and it was considered the proudest day that ever had shone upon an English king.
We must remind ourselves of the successive waves of humanity which had overspread England in past ages, leaving traces of each like less evident geologic strata. From the stone and bronze age people, through the Celts with their Pictish and Scottish remnant, through the Roman invasion, and the Saxon, more powerful and enduring than any from our point of view, we may trace a kinship to our Normans across the water. But the English descendants of Celts, Danes, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes needed to feel a new influence and refreshing of their better instincts by way of Normandy.
Perhaps each one of the later rulers of Britain thought he had fallen upon as hard and stormy times and had as much responsibility as anybody who ever wielded a sceptre, but in the reign of the second Æthelred, there are much greater dramas being played, and we feel, directly we get a hint of it, as children do who have been loitering among petty side-shows on their way to a great play. Here come the Danes again, the kings of Denmark and the whole population of Norway one would think, to read the records, and this time they attack England with such force and determination that within less than forty years a Danish king is master of Britain.
If Æthelred had been a better man this might never have happened, but among all the Saxon kings he seems to have been the worst -- thoroughly bad, weak, cowardly, and cruel. He was sure to do things he had better have left alone, and to neglect his plain duty. Other kings had fallen on as hard, perplexing times as he, but they had been strong enough to keep some sort of control of themselves at any rate. Dunstan the archbishop warned the people, when Æthelred was crowned, that they had no idea of the trouble that was coming, and through the whole reign things went from bad to worse. Dreadful things happened which we can hardly blame the silly king for -- like a plague among cattle, and the burning of London in 982; and a few years afterward there was a terrible invasion of the Norwegians, and we have seen that aid and comfort were ready for them over in Bayeux and the pirate cities of Normandy.
Now we first hear of the Danegelt, great sums of money, always doubling and increasing, that were paid the Northmen as bribes to go away and leave England in peace. The paying of this Danegelt became a greater load than the nation could carry, for the pirates liked nothing better than to gather a great fleet of ships every few months and come to anchor off the coast, sending a messenger to make the highwayman's favorite request, your money or your life! One of the first sums boldly demanded of Æthelred's aldermen was ten thousand pounds. We can see how rapidly the wealth of England had increased, for in Ælfred's time the fine for killing a king was a hundred and twenty shillings, and this was considered a great sum of money; the penalty for taking a peasant's life was only five shillings, which makes us understand, without any doubt, the scarceness and value of money. Here are some extracts from the English chronicle, which had been kept since Bede's time and for many years after this, which will show how miserably every thing was going on:
1001. "The army [the Danes of course] went over the land and did as was their wont. Slew and burned . . . it was sad in every way for they never ceased from their evil."
1002. "In this year the king and his witan resolved, that tribute would be paid and peace made with them, on condition that they should cease from their evil. This they accepted and were paid, £24,000.
1006. "At midwinter the Winchester folk might see an insolent and fearless army as they went by their gate to the sea, and fetched them food and treasure over fifty miles from the sea. Then was there so great awe of the army that no one could think or devise how they should be driven from the country. Every shire in Wessex had they cruelly marked with burning and with harrying. The king began then with his witan earnestly to consider what might seem most advisable to them all, so that the country might be protected ere it were at last undone." This time the tribute was £36,000, and another time the ships put to sea with a Danegelt of £48,000.
England grew more and more miserable and shamefully unable to defend herself, the captains of her fleet were incapable or treacherous, and at last, when some of the ships had been wrecked and there had been some sad disasters at sea, the chronicle has a more despairing tone than ever. "It was as if all counsel had come to an end," the writer says, "and the king and aldermen and all the high witan went home, and let the toil of all the nation lightly perish."
Æthelred the Unready won for himself, in his reign of thirty-eight years, the hearty contempt and distrust of all his people. There is a temptation to blame him for the misery of England, and to attribute it all to his faults and to the low aims and standards of his character, to his worthless ambitions. But, in a general way, the great men, or notorious men of history, who stand out before a dim and half-forgotten background, are only typical of their time and representative of it. One very good man, or bad man, cannot be absolutely a single specimen of his kind; there must be others who rank with him, and who have been his upholders and influencers. So while the story of any nation is in its early chapters, and seems to be merely an account of one ruler or statesman after another, we must not forget that each symbolized his day and generation, -- a brave leader of a brave race, or a dull or placid or serene representative of a secure, inactive age.
Although there was blundering enough and treachery in Æthelred's reign, there was a splendid exception in the victories and steadfastness of the city of London, which was unsuccessfully attacked again and again by the Danes. The heathen, as the English called their enemies, were lucky in their two leaders, the king of Norway, and the king of Denmark. Olaf, the first-named, was converted after a while, and going from the islands of Orkney to England, he was baptized there, and the English bishops were very kind to him, and Æthelred gave him some presents, and made him promise that he would not come plundering to England any more. We are quite surprised to hear that the promise was kept. Swegen the Dane promised too, but he appeared again after a while, and Æthelred thought he would improve upon the fashion of paying Danegelt by ordering a general massacre of all the Danes instead. Afterward somebody tried to excuse such a piece of barbarianism by saying that the Danes had plotted against the king, but even if they had, Æthelred showed a wretched spirit. It was a time of peace, but he sent secret messengers all through the country, and as the English were only too glad to carry out such orders, there was a terrible slaughter of men, women, and children.
Next year Swegen came back to avenge the wrong, all the more readily because his own sister and her husband and son were among the murdered, and the poor woman had made a prophecy, as she fell, dying, that misery and vengeance should fall upon the English for their sins. For a long time afterward the Danes were very fierce and kept England in fear and disorder. Once they laid siege to Canterbury, and when it had fallen into their hands they demanded Danegelt from the Archbishop, a very good old man. He had a heart full of pity for his poor people already so abominably taxed and oppressed in every way, and was brave enough to squarely refuse, so the Danes slew him with horrible torture; one might tell many such stories of the cruelty and boldness of the invaders. Æthelred was perfectly helpless or else cowardly and indifferent, and presently Swegen, who had gone back to the North returned with a great fleet and a swarm of followers, and not long afterward he conquered every sort of opposition, even that of the brave Londoners, and was proclaimed king of England. Here was a change indeed! the silly Saxon king and his wife and children fled across the sea to Normandy, and Swegen sat upon the throne. He began to reign in splendid state; he had the handsomest ships afloat, all decked out with figures of men and birds and beasts wrought in silver and amber and gold, and fine decorations of every sort. No doubt he had made fine plans and meant to do great deeds, but he died suddenly within a very short time, and the people believed he was frightened to death by a vision.
Æthelred was in Normandy at the court of Richard the Fearless. You remember that Richard's sister Emma went over to England to marry the unready king. Æthelred had one older son, Eadmund Ironside, beside the two boys who were Emma's children, and the hearts of the English turned to their old king, and at last they sent for him to come back, in spite of his faults. He made many fine promises, and seems to have done a great deal better most of the time during the last two years that he lived. Perhaps he had taken some good lessons from the Norman court. But Cnut, Swegen's son, came back to England, just before he died, as fearless as a hawk, and led his men from one victory to another, and Æthelred faded out of life to everybody's relief. When he was dead at last, the witan chose Cnut for king in his stead, but the Londoners, who were rich and strong, and who hated the Danes bitterly -- the Londoners would have none of the pirates to reign over them, and elected young Eadmund Ironside, a valiant soldier and loyal-hearted fellow who feared nothing and was ready to dare every thing. The two young kings were well matched and fought six great battles, in most of which Ironside gained the advantage, but at last the Danes beat him back -- and though everybody was ready for a seventh battle, the witan showed their wisdom for once and forbade any more fighting, and somehow managed to proclaim peace. The young kings treated each other most generously, and called each other brother, and were very cordial and good-natured. They agreed to divide the kingdom, so that Eadmund Ironside had all England south of the Thames -- East Anglia and Essex and London. Cnut took all the northern country and owned Eadmund for his over-lord, but within the year Cnut reigned alone. Eadmund died suddenly -- some say that he was murdered, and some that he had worn himself out with his tremendous activity and anxiety. It is a great temptation to follow out the story of such a man, and especially because he lived in such an important time, but we must hurry now to the point where Norman and English history can be told together, and only stop to explain such things as will make us able to understand and take sides in the alliance of the two vigorous, growing nations.
Cnut's life, too, is endlessly interesting. He began by behaving like a pirate, and the latter part of his reign was a great reform and a very comfortable time for England, so scarred and spoiled by war. In the beginning there was a great question about the kingship. In those days it was a matter of great importance that the king should be able to rule and able to fight, and the best and most powerful member of the royal family was the proper one to choose. The English for a long time had elected their kings, and Cnut, though he held half the country, was very careful not to seize the rest by force. We watch with great interest his wielding of rude politics before the witan; he called them into council and laid his claim before them.
Eadmund Ironside had left two little sons, but nobody thought of their being his successors. Indeed Cnut showed a great fear of the royal family, and took care that his rivals should be disposed of; he knew that the witan and everybody else were tired of the everlasting war and bloodshed. He was fierce and downright in his demands, and in the end the heirs of Ironside were all passed over -- the Athelings or princes were all set aside, and Cnut the Dane was king of England.
Ironside's brother, Eadwy, of whom the best things are said, was outlawed, and died within a few months under very suspicious circumstances. The two little boys, Ironside's sons, were sent out of the country to Cnut's half-brother, the king of Sweden, with orders that they should be put out of the way. The king felt such pity for the innocent children, that he sent them away to Hungary instead of having them murdered. The Hungarian king, Stephen, was a saint and a hero, and he was very kind to the poor exiles, and brought them up carefully. One died young, but we shall hear again about the other.
Cnut did a very surprising thing next. He sent for Queen Emma to come back again from the Norman court to marry him. She must have been a good deal older than he, but she was still a beautiful woman, and marked with the famous Norman dignity and grace. Cnut promised that if they should ever have a son born, he should be the next king of England. Emma's two elder sons, Ælfred and Eadward, were left in Normandy, and there they grew up quite apart from their mother, and thinking much more of their Norman descent and belonging than of their English heritage.
Cnut now appears in the light of a model sovereign for those days. He had renounced all his pagan ideas, and been christened and received into the Church. We might expect that he would have pushed his own countrymen forward and all the Danish interests, but it was quite the other way. At the beginning of his reign he had executed several powerful English nobles whose influence and antagonism he had reason to fear; but now he favored the English in a marked way, and even ordered his ships and all the pirates and fighting men back to the North. It seems very strange, now, that a king of England ever reigned over Sweden and Denmark, and Norway beside, but it seems as if Cnut were prouder of being king of England than of all his other powers and dignities. He was not only very gracious and friendly with his English subjects at home, but he sent them abroad to be bishops, and displeased the Danish parishes by such arrangements.
We all know the story of the rising tide, and Cnut's reproof to his courtiers on the sea-shore. As we read about him we are reminded a little of Rolf the Ganger, and his growth from pirate fashions to a more gentle and decent humanity. The two men were not so very unlike after all, but I must confess that I think with a good deal of sympathy of Cnut's decision to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. It was expecting a good deal of the young sea-rover that he should stay quietly at home to rule his kingdom. The spirit of adventure stirred in his veins, and we may be sure that he enjoyed his long and perilous overland journey to Italy. He made the road safer for his countrymen who might also have a pious desire to worship at the famous foreign shrines. He complained to the emperor and the priests at Rome about the robber-chiefs who pounced down upon travellers from their castles in the Alps, and they promised to keep better order. The merchants and pilgrims were often laden with rich offerings for the churches, besides goods which they wished to sell, and the robbers kept watch for them. Their ruined fortresses are still perched along the Alpine passes, and one cannot help hoping that Cnut had some exciting disputes with his enemies, and a taste of useful fighting and proper discipline among the bold marauders.
He wrote a famous letter about his pilgrimage, directed to the archbishops, and bishops, the great men, and all the people. He tells whom he saw in Rome -- the Pope, and the German Emperor, and other great lords of the earth; and says, with pride, that every one has treated him handsomely, and what fine presents he has had given him to carry home. He had come to Rome for the good of his people, and for the salvation of his own soul, he tells them seriously; and one thing he did for England was to complain of the heavy taxes the church had put upon it, and the Pope promised that such injustice should not happen any more. There is something very touching in the way that he says he had made a great many good resolves about his future life, and that he is not ashamed to own that he has done wrong over and over again, but he means, by God's help, to amend entirely. He vows to Heaven that he will govern his life rightly, and rule his kingdom honestly and piously, and that neither rich nor poor shall be oppressed or hardshipped. There never was a better letter, altogether, and Cnut kept his promises so well that the old Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which aches with stories of war and trouble, grows quite dull now in the later years of his reign. There was nothing to tell any more, the monks thought who kept the record; but we know, for that very reason, that the English farms flourished, and the wheat fields waved in the summer wind, the towns grew rich, and the merchants prosperous; and when the English-Northman king died, it was a sad day for England. Cnut was only forty years old, but that was a long time for a king to live. His son, Harold Harefoot, reigned in his stead, and many of the old troubles of the country sprang up at once, as if they had only been asleep for a little while, and were by no means out-grown or ended.
Harold Harefoot was not in the least pious, and behaved himself with most unreasonable folly, and fortunately died at the close of four years of insult and unworthiness. Then Harthacnut, the younger brother, was made king, and he promptly demanded a Danegelt, the most hateful of taxes, and did a great many things which only reopened the breach between Dane and Englishman, though it had seemed to be smoothed over somewhat in his father's time. Harold had done one brutal thing that towered above all the rest. The two princes who had been living in Normandy thought there might be some chance of their gaining a right to the throne, and the younger one, Ælfred, had come over to England with his knights and gentlemen. Harold seized them and was most cruel; he first blinded his half-brother and then had him put to death. This made a great noise in Normandy, and there is one good thing to be said about Harthacnut, that he was bitterly angry with his brother, and also with Earl Godwine, a famous nobleman, who was the most powerful man in England next the king. He was Cnut's favorite and chief adviser, but Harthacnut suspected that he had a hand in Ælfred's murder. Nobody has ever been quite clear about the matter. Godwine and all his lords swore that he was innocent, and gave the king a magnificent ship with all sorts of splendors belonging to it, besides nearly a hundred men in full armor, and gold bracelets to make them as grand as could be. So the king accepted Godwine's oath in view of such a polite attention, but he asked Eadward to leave the Norman court and come over to live with him. Eadward came, and in two years he was king of England, Harthacnut having died a wretched drunken death.
So again there was a descendant of Ælfred the Great and the house of Cerdic on the throne. Eadward was the last of the line, and in his day began the most exciting and important chapter of English history -- the Norman Conquest.
We have come quickly along the line of Danish kings, and now it is time to stop and take a more careful look at the state of manners and customs in England, and make ourselves sure what the English people of that time were like, how they lived in their houses, and what changes had come to the country in general. There were certain hindrances to civilization, and lacks of a fitting progress and true growth. Let us see what these things were, and how the greater refinement of the Normans, their superior gifts and graces, must come into play a little later. There was some deep meaning in the fusion of the two peoples, and more than one reason why they could form a greater nation together than either Normans or Englishmen could alone.
First, the dwellers on English soil had shown a tendency, not yet entirely outgrown, to fall back into a too great indulgence in luxurious living. When the storm and strain of conquest, of colonization, had spent itself, the Englishmen of Eadward's and Cnut's time betook themselves to feasting and lawlessness, of the sort that must undermine the vigor of any people. The fat of the land tempted them in many ways, and they sank under such habits as quickly as they had risen under the necessities that war makes for sacrifices and temperance. They were suffering, too, from their insularity; they were taken up with their own affairs, and had kept apart from the progress of the rest of Europe. There was a new wave and impulse of scholarship, which had not yet reached them. It was ebb-tide in England in more ways than one; and time for those Normans to appear who, to use the words of one of their historians, "borrow every thing and make it their own, and their presence is chiefly felt in increased activity and more rapid development of institutions, literature, and art. Thus . . . they perfect, they organize every thing, and everywhere appear to be the master spirits of their age."
The English people had become so impatient of the misrule of Cnut's sons, that the remembrance of Cnut's glories was set aside for the time being, and no more Danish kings were desired. "All folk chose Eadward to king," says the chronicle, and evidently the hearts of the people were turned, full of hope and affection, to the exiled son of Æthelred and Emma, who had been since his childhood at the Norman court. His murdered brother Ælfred had been canonized by the romantic sympathy of his English friends; he was remembered now as a saintly young martyr to English patriotism, and the disreputable reign of Cnut's sons had made the virtues of the ancient race of English kings very bright by comparison. The new king must be of English blood and a link with past prosperity. The son of Eadmund Ironside was an exile also in the distant court of Hungary, but Eadward, a gentle, pious man, was near at hand, and there were a thousand voices ready to shout for him even while Harthacnut lay unburied in the royal robes and trappings.
There was an opposition on the part of the Danes, who were naturally disinclined to any such change, and when the formal election and consecration of the new king took place, some months after this popular vote, all Earl Godwine's power and influence were brought to bear before certain important votes could be won. Indeed, at first Eadward himself was apparently hard to persuade to accept his high office. He seems to have been much more inclined to a religious life than to statesmanship, but between much pushing from behind in Normandy and the eager entreaties of his English friends, he was forced to make his way again across the Channel. There are interesting accounts, which may or may not be true, of his conversations with Godwine; but the stronger man prevailed. The very promise he made to uphold the new king's rights might make Eadward feel assured and hopeful of some stability and quietness in his reign. England was far behind Normandy in social or scholarly progress; to reign over Englishmen did not appear the most rewarding or alluring career to the fastidious, delicate, cloister-man. The rough-heartiness and red-cheeked faces of his subjects must have contrasted poorly with his Norman belongings, so much more refined and thoughtful, not to say adroit and dissembling. England was still divided into four parts, as Cnut had left it. His scheme of the four great earldoms had proved a bad one enough, for it had only made the nation weaker, and kept up continual rivalries and jealousies between the lords of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex. The northern territory was chiefly Danish in its traditions, and though there was a nominal subjection to the king, Northumbria was almost wholly independent of any over-rule. In Mercia, Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric were spending their lives and their great wealth, chiefly in furthering all sorts of religious houses and good works of the churches.
The greatest earl of all was Godwine of Wessex, the true leader of the English and a most brave and loyal man. Cnut had trusted him, and while there were enough jealous eyes to look at his kingly prosperity, and malicious tongues ready to whisper about his knowledge of young Ælfred's murder, or his favor and unrighteous advancement of his own family to places of power, Godwine still held the confidence of a great faction among the English people. His son Harold was earl of East Anglia, and they were lawful governors, between them, of the whole southern part of the kingdom. It was mainly through Godwine's influence that Eadward was crowned king, and we may look to the same cause for his marriage with the earl's daughter Edith, but the line of English princes, of whom Godwine hoped to be ancestor, never appeared, for the king was childless, and soon made an enemy of his father-in-law. Some people say that Godwine did not treat his royal son with much respect having once put him on the throne. Eadward too never was able to forget the suspicion about Ælfred's murder, so the breach between him and the great earl was widened year by year. Eadward was not the sturdy English monarch for whom his people had hoped; he was Norman at heart, as a man might well be who had learned to speak in the foreign tongue, and had made the friendships of his boyhood and manhood in the duke's court and cloisters. Priestcraft was dearer to him than statecraft, and his name of The Confessor showed what almost saintly renown he had won from those who were his friends and upholders.
It did not suit very well that one Norman Gentleman after another came to London to fill some high official position. Eadward appeared to wish to surround himself wholly with Normans, and the whole aspect of the English court was changed little by little. The king proved his own weakness in every way -- he was as like Æthelred the Unready as a good man could be like a bad one.
Godwine grew more and more angry, and his determination to show that England could do without the crowds of interlopers who were having every thing their own way worked him disaster for a time. There was a party of the king's friends journeying homeward to Normandy, who stopped overnight in the city of Dover and demanded its hospitality in insolent fashion. The Dover men would not be treated like slaves, and a fight followed in which the Frenchmen were either killed or driven out of the town. Eadward of course sided with his friends, and was very indignant; he sent orders to Earl Godwine, who was governor of the region, to punish the offenders, but Godwine refused squarely unless the men should have been fairly tried and given a chance to speak for themselves. This ended in a serious quarrel, and the king gained a victory without any battle either, for there was a sudden shifting of public feeling in Eadward's favor -- Godwine's own men forsook him and were loyal to the crown, and the great earl was banished for conscience sake, he and all his family, for the king even sent away his own wife, though he kept all her lands and treasures, which was not so saint-like and unworldly as one might have expected. One of Godwine's sons had proved himself a very base and treacherous man, and the earl had shielded him; this was one reason why his defence of English liberty was so overlooked by his countrymen, but the Normans had a great triumph over this defeat, and praised the pious king and told long stories of his austere life, his prayers, and holy life. After he was canonized these stories were lengthened still more, but while he was yet without a halo some of his contemporaries charge him with laziness and incapacity. He certainly was lacking in kingly qualities, but he gained the respect and love of many of his subjects, and was no doubt as good as so weak a man could be. After his death Englishmen praised him the more because they liked William the Conqueror the less, and as for the Normans they liked anybody better than Harold, who had been a much more formidable opponent in his claim to the English crown. Mr. Freeman says: " ----- The duties of secular government . . . were . . . always something which went against the grain. His natural place was not on the throne of England, but at the head of a Norman abbey. . . . For his virtues were those of a monk; all the real man came out in his zeal for collecting relics, in his visions, in his religious exercises, in his gifts to churches and monasteries, in his desire to mark his reign as its chief result, by the foundation of his great abbey of Saint Peter at Westminster. In a prince of the manly piety of Ælfred things of this sort form only a part, a pleasing and harmonious part, of the general character. In Eadward they formed the whole man."
The chronicler who writes most flatteringly of him acknowledges that he sometimes had shocking fits of bad temper, but that he was never betrayed into unbecoming language. On some occasions he was hardly held back by Godwine or Harold from civil war and massacre; though he was conscientious within the limit of his intelligence, and had the art of giving a gracious refusal and the habit of affability and good manners. William of Malmesbury, the chronicler, tells us that he kept his royal dignity, but that he took no pleasure in wearing his robes of state, even though they were worked for him by his affectionate queen. Like his father, he was ever under the dominion of favorites, and this was quickly enough discovered and played upon by Norman ecclesiastics and Norman and Breton gentlemen in search of adventure and aggrandizement. It makes a great difference whether we read the story of this time in English or in French records. Often the stories are directly opposite to each other, and only the most careful steps along the path keep one from wandering off one way or the other into unjust partisanship. Especially is this true of Godwine, the confessor's great contemporary. He seems, at any rate, to have been a man much ahead of his time in knowledge of affairs and foresight of the probable effects from the causes of his own day. His brother earls were jealous of him; the Church complained of his lack of generosity; even his acknowledged eloquence was listened to incredulously; and his good government of his own provinces, praised though it was, did not gain him steady power. His good government made him, perhaps more than anything else, the foremost Englishman of his time, and presently we shall see how deep a feeling there was for him in England, and how much confidence and affection were shown in his welcome back from exile, though he had been allowed to go away with such sullen disapproval. Godwine's wife, Gytha, was a Danish woman, which was probably a closer link with that faction in the northern earldom than can be clearly understood at this late day. Lord Lytton's novel, called "Harold," makes this famous household seem to live before our eyes, and the brief recital of its fortunes and conditions here cannot be more than a hint of the real romance and picturesqueness of the story.
The absence of Godwine in Flanders -- a whole year's absence -- had taught his countrymen what it was to be without him. They were sadly annoyed and troubled by the king's continued appointment of Normans to every place of high honor that fell vacant. Bishoprics and waste lands alike were pounced upon by the hangers-on at court, and castles were lifting their ugly walls within sight of each other almost, here and there in the quiet English fields. Even in London itself the great White Tower was already setting its strong foundations; a citadel for the town, a fort to keep the borderers and Danes at bay were necessary enough to a country, but England was being turned into another Normandy and Brittany, with these new houses that were built for war, as if every man's neighbor were his enemy. The square high towers were no fit places for men to live in who tilled the soil and tended their flocks and herds. There were too many dark dungeons provided among the foundation stones beside, and the English farmers whispered together about their new townsfolk and petty lords, and feared the evil days that were to come.
The ruined Roman houses and strange tall stones of the Druid temples were alike thrown down and used to build these new castles. Men who had strayed as far as the Norman coasts had stories enough to tell; what landmarks of oppression these same castles were in their own country, and how the young Duke William had levelled many of them to the ground in quarrelsome Normandy. There was no English word for this awesome new word -- castles! The free and open halls of the English thanes were a strange contrast to the new order of dwelling-places. Robert of Jumièges had been made Archbishop of Canterbury, and a host of his countrymen surrounded the king more and more closely and threatened to deprive the English of their just rights. It was this monk Robert who had "beat into the king's head" that his brother Ælfred had come to his death through Earl Godwine.
It is very easy to tell the story of the Normans from the English side. Let us cross the Channel again to Rouen and see what effect the condition of English affairs was having upon the young duke. It would not be strange if his imagination were busy with some idea of enlarging his horizon by a look at his neighbors. Eadward had no heir, they had talked together oftentimes, perhaps, about the possibility of making one noble great kingdom by the joining of England and Normandy. Every day more stories reached his ears of the wealth and fruitfulness of the Confessor's kingdom.
Notes for Chapter 9
Wordsworth: These lines are from the sonnet, "Near Dover, September 1802," by William Wordsworth (1770-1850). See Collected Works, p. 100.
[ Back ]
Bede’s time: Wikipedia says that Bede (c. 672-735) was "an English monk at the monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth and its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow..., in Northeast England, both of which were located in the Kingdom of Northumbria. He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title "The Father of English History."
The Chronicle kept since Bede's time is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A translation of his work available on-line is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Benjamin Thorpe, editor and translator (1861). While this translation was available to Jewett, it appears this is not the one she used, because her quotations vary slightly from the passages in this text.
The passages she quotes appear as follows in the Thorpe translation, Volume 2.
1001 quotation: p. 110[ Back ]
1002 quotation: p. 111
1006 quotation: p. 113
The fourth quotation is from the year 1009, p. 115.
witan: The Witan or Witenagemot (variously spelled) was an Anglo-Saxon advisory assembly that included eminent people from a king's realm, including bishops, ealdormen, thanes, etc. For further details see Johnson, The Normans in Europe, 148-9. (Jewett's Sources).
[ Back ]
We all know the story of the rising tide: Wikipedia recounts this story from popular legend: Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet "continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.' He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again "to the honour of God the almighty King."
It is possible that Jewett encountered this story in Dickens, A Child's History of England, Chapter 5 (See Jewett's Sources).
[ Back ]
famous letter: Cnut's letter from Rome may be read in English Historical Documents, 500-1042, by Dorothy Whitelock, (Psychology Press, 1979), p. 485. It also appears in Thierry, pp. 111 ff. (Jewett's Sources). [ Back house of Cerdic: According to Wikipedia, Cerdic was "probably the first King of Anglo-Saxon Wessex from 519 to 534." Eventually, it became necessary for kings of Wessex to claim descent from Cerdic. [ Back ] gifts and graces: See Romans 12:6-8.
[ Back ]
master spirits of their age: This quotation is from Johnson, The Normans in Europe, pp. 18-19. The full passage in Johnson in this case differs in an interesting way: "Nor is this all; they borrow everything and make it their own, and their presence is chiefly felt in increased activity and more rapid development of institutions, literature, and art. Thus, while they invent nothing, they perfect, they organize everything, and everywhere appear the master-spirits of their age." [ Back ]
"All folk chose Eadward to king": This appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the entry for 1041, p. 133 in the Thorpe translation. It appears in Freeman as well, vol. 2, p. 7. (Jewett's Sources).
[ Back ]
See Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, v. 2, p. 15. Jewett's quotation differs slightly from this passage in Freeman. (See Jewett's Sources). [ Back ] William of Malmesbury: William of Malmesbury (c. 1095/96 – c. 1143) was the foremost English historian of the 12th century, according to Wikipedia.
[ Back ]
Lord Lytton’s novel ... “Harold”: Edward Robert Bulwer, first earl of Lytton (1831-1891), wrote Harold, the Last of the Saxons (1848). (Jewett's Sources).
[ Back ]
thanes: A thane was a knight who is obligated to serve as a soldier under an Anglo-Saxon ruler. See Johnson, The Normans in Europe, p. 145. (Jewett's Sources).
[ Back ]
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College, with assistance from Allison Anderson and Gabe Heller.
|Return to The Normans