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 The Normans
by Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter XVII.


"Yes, while on earth a thousand discords ring,
Man's senseless uproar mingling with his toil,
Still do thy quiet ministers move on."           -- MATTHEW ARNOLD

   William Rufus hurried away to claim the kingdom of England before his father died. Robert was at Abbeville, some say, with his singers and jesters, making merry over the prospect of getting the dukedom. Henry had put his five thousand pounds of silver into a strong box and gone his ways likewise. Normandy was in the confusion that always befell a country in those days while one master had put off his crown and the next had not put it on. There were masses being said in the Norman churches for the good of the Conqueror's soul, and presently, as the autumn days flew by and grew shorter and shorter, news was received that the English had received William Rufus and made him king with great rejoicing. There was always much to hope from the accession of a new monarch; he was sure to make many promises, and nobody knew that he would not keep every one of them.

   But neither in England nor Normandy did the outlook promise great security. Robert was made duke, and Robert had plenty of friends, whose love and favor were sure to last as long as his money held out. He had a better heart than his brothers, but he was not fit for a governor. "Robert, my eldest born, shall have Normandy and Maine," the Conqueror had told his barons on his death-bed. "He shall serve the king of France for the same. There are many brave men in Normandy; I know none equal to them. They are noble and valiant knights, conquering in all lands whither they go. If they have a good captain, a company of them is made to be dreaded, but if they have not a lord whom they fear, and who governs them severely, the service they render will soon be but poor. The Normans are worth little without strict justice; they must be bent and bowed to their ruler's will, and whoso holds them always under his foot and curbs them tightly, may get his business well done by them. Haughty are they and proud, boastful and arrogant; difficult to govern, and needing to be at all times kept under, so that Robert will have much to do and to provide in order to manage such a people."

The dying king may have smiled grimly at the thought that Robert's ambition knew not what it asked. The gay gentleman had given his father trouble enough, but the weight of Normandy should be his to carry. The red prince, William, had been a dutiful son, and he wished him joy of England[.] He was order-loving, and had a head for governing. "Poor lads!" the old father may have sighed more than once. It was all very well to be princes and knights and gay riders and courtiers, but the man who has a kingdom to govern must wend his ways alone, with much hindrance and little help.

   The two courts bore little likeness to the Conqueror's as time went on, and there was endless dissension among the knights. In England the Normans complained greatly of the division of the kingdom and the duchy. Odo, who had regained his earldom of Kent, was full of mischievous, treacherous plans, and had no trouble in persuading other men that they stood no chance of holding their lands or keeping their rights under Rufus; it would be much better to overthrow him and to do homage to Robert of Normandy in the old fashion. Robert was careless and easy, and William was strong and self-willed. Robert was ready to favor this party at once, and after a while William discovered what was going on, and found the rebels under Odo were fortifying their castles and winning troops of followers to their side -- in fact, England was all ready for civil war. The king besieged Odo forthwith in the city of Rochester, and there was a terrible end to the revolt. Robert had been too lazy or too inefficient to keep his promise of coming to the aid of his allies, and disease broke out in the garrison and raged until Odo sent messengers to ask forgiveness, and to promise all manner of loyalty and penitence. The king was in a state of fury, and meant to hang the leaders of the insurrection and put the rest to death by the most ingenious tortures that could be invented. At last, however, his own barons and officers made piteous pleas for the lives of their friends and relatives, and in the end they were driven out and deprived of their English estates, and Odo was altogether banished from the country. No longer an earl, he went back much humbled to his bishopric of Bayeux, which Robert had been foolish enough to restore to him. But the intrigues went on. The Norman barons in England were separated from their hereditary possessions in Normandy, and William Rufus owed the safety of his crown to the upholding of the English. Presently he went over to Normandy, where things were getting worse and worse under Robert's rule, and announced his intention of seizing the silly duke's dominions. Robert had already sold the Côtentin to Henry for a part of the five thousand pounds in the strong box, and after a good deal of dissension, and a prospect of a long and bloody war, which the nobles on both sides did every thing they could to prevent, the brothers made up their quarrel. They signed an agreement that the one who outlived the other should inherit all the lands and wealth, and then they made a league to go and fight Henry Beauclerc, who was living peaceably enough on his honestly-got Côtentin possessions. They chased him out of the country to the French Vexin, where he spent a forlorn year or two; but he could afford to wait for his inheritance, as the Conqueror had.told him long before.

   William Rufus went back to England, and in the course of time there was a war with the Scotch, who were defeated again and again and finally made quiet. Then the Welsh rebelled in their turn and were much harder to subdue. Robert got the king of France to join forces with him soon afterward, and that war was only avoided by the payment to France by Rufus of an enormous sum of money.

   All this time William Rufus was doing some good things for his kingdom and a great many more bad ones that there is not time to describe. After Lanfranc's death the king grew worse and worse; he was apparently without any religious principle, and there was always a quarrel between him and the priests about the church money, which both of them wanted. When bishops and abbots died the king would not appoint their successors, and took all the tithes for himself. His chief favorite was a low-born, crafty, wicked man named Ralph Flambard, and the two were well matched. William Rufus had little of the gift for business that made his father such a practical statesman and organizer, and, in fact, his boisterous, lawless, indecent manner of living shocked even the less orderly of his subjects. He had the lower and less respectable of the Norman qualities, and something of the rudeness of the worst of his more remote ancestry crops out in his conduct. Once when he was very ill and was afraid that he was going to die with all his sins on his head, he sent for Anselm, the holy prior, his father's friend and counsellor, and appointed him to the archbishopric of Canterbury, which had been vacant ever since Lanfranc's death four years before. Rufus' guilty conscience was quieted, and the people of England were deeply thankful for such a prelate, but before long the king and Anselm naturally did not find each other harmonious, and after a brave fight for what he believed to be the right, Anselm appealed to Rome and left England with orders never to return.

   Robert was the same careless man that he had been in his youth; through war and peace, danger and security, he lived as if there were no to-morrow to provide for and no future to be dreaded. I have sketched the course of affairs as briefly as possible in both England and Normandy, as if the only men within their borders were these two incompetent brothers who so ill became the Conqueror's "kingly helm," as Master Wace loves to call the crown. But the church builders were still at work like ants busy with their grains of sand, towers were rising, knights were fighting and parading, ladies were ordering their households, the country men and women were tilling the green fields of both countries and gathering in their harvests year by year. There had been trouble now and then, as we have just seen, between the kingdom and the duchy, between both of them and their border foes, but almost ten years went by, and the children who had played with their toys and sighed over their horn books the summer that William the Conqueror died were now men and women grown. It would not seem like the old Normandy if the news of some new great enterprise did not run like wildfire through the towns and country lanes. The blood of the Northmen was kindled with the blood of all Christendom at the story of the Turks' capture of the Holy Sepulchre and the blessed city of Jerusalem.** The knights of Sicily were already on their journey by sea and shore; the mother church at Rome called to her children in every land to defend her holiest shrines against the insolence of the heathen.

   Duke Robert was most zealous. To go on pilgrimage had been many a knight's ambition, but this was the greatest pilgrimage of all. Robert, as usual, had no money, but to his joy he succeeded in making a bargain with his more thrifty English brother, and pledged Normandy to William Rufus for five years for the sum of something less than seven thousand pounds. Away he went with his lords and gentlemen; they wore white crosses on their right shoulders, and sang hymns as they marched along. Not only lords and gentlemen made up this huge procession of thousands and thousands, but men of every station -- from the poor cottages and stately halls alike. If any better persuasion had been needed than the simple announcement that the Turks had taken Jerusalem, it had come by way of Peter the Hermit's preaching. This had created a religious frenzy that the world had never known; from town to town the great preacher had gone with an inexhaustible living stream of persuasive eloquence always at his lips. Women wept and prayed and gave their jewels and rich garments, and men set their teeth and clenched their hands, armed themselves and followed him.

   England did not listen at first, and William Rufus chuckled over his good bargain, and taxed his unwilling subjects more heavily than ever to get the money to pay his crusader brother. England would listen by and by, but in this first crusade she took little part, while the Normans and Frenchmen and all their neighbors spent three years of fearful suffering and hardship in the strange countries of the East; at last they won the Holy Sepulchre. The Turks were still fighting to win it back again; they were dangerous enemies, and the Christian host was dwindling fast. The cry was sent again through Europe for more soldiers of the Holy Cross.

   Here we come face to face again with the old viking spirit: under all the fast-increasing luxury that threatened to sap and dull the life of Normandy, the love of adventure and fierce energy of character were only sleeping. The most sentimental and pleasure-loving of Robert's knights could lightly throw off his ribbons and gay trappings, and buckle on his armor when the summons came. Quickly they marched and fiercely they fought in the holy wars, and so it came about that the Norman banners were planted at the gates of Jerusalem and Antioch, and new kingdoms were planted in the East. This is not the place to follow the Crusaders' fortunes, or the part that the Norman Sicilians played in the great enterprise of the Middle Ages. At least it must make but an incident in my scheme of the Story of the Normans.

   There is a familiar modern sound in the bewailings of our old chroniclers over their taxes. Resentment and pathos were blended then as they are now in such complaints, but though William Rufus was not the least of such extortionate offenders, he gave much of the money back in fine buildings; the famous Great Hall of Westminster was built in his day, and the stout wall that surrounded his father's Tower of London, besides a noble bridge across the Thames.

   When people expected unfailing generosity and gold thrown to the crowd oftener than in these days, it is difficult to see how the king could satisfy popular expectation without preliminary taxation. Yet the wails of the chroniclers go up like the chirp of the grasshopper. There was one mistaken scheme of benevolence in the endowment of charities, which have borne bitter fruit of pauperism ever since, for which taxation might well have been spared.**

   William Rufus died in the year 1100, in the New Forest. The peasants believed that it was enchanted and accursed, and that evil spirits flew about among the trees on dark and stormy nights. There was a superstition that it was a fated place to those who belonged to the Conqueror's line. Another prince had been killed there, named Richard, too -- the son of Duke Robert of Normandy.

   The last year of the Red King's reign had been peaceful. The Witan gathered to meet him at Westminster and Winchester and Gloucester, and he reigned unchallenged from Scotland to Maine, and there was truce with the French king at Paris. One August morning he went out to the chase after a jolly night at one of the royal hunting-lodges. The party scattered in different directions, and the king and Sir Walter Tyrrel, a famous sportsman, were seen riding away together, and their dogs after them. That night a poor forester, a lime-burner, was going through the forest with his clumsy cart, and stumbled over the king's body, which lay among the ferns with an arrow deep in the breast. He lifted it into the cart and carried it to Winchester, where it was buried next day with little sorrow. There were few bells tolled and few prayers said, for the priests owed little to any friendliness of.William Rufus.

   There were many stories told about his death. Tyrrel said that the arrow was shot by an unknown hand, and that he had run away for fear that people should accuse him of the murder, which they certainly did! Others said that Tyrrel shot at a stag and the arrow glanced aside from an oak, but nobody knows now, and in those days too many people were glad that the king was dead, to ask many questions or to try to punish any one.

   Robert might have claimed the kingdom now because of the old agreement, but he was still in the East fighting for Jerusalem. Henry Beauclerc had been one of the huntsmen that fatal morning, so he hurried to Winchester and claimed the crown. He made more good promises than any of his predecessors, and the people liked him because he was English-born, and so they made another Norman king. Henry Beauclerc reigned over England thirty-five years, and won himself another name of the Lion of Justice. He did not treat his brother Robert justly, however he may have deserved his title in other ways; but he had a zoölogical garden and brought wild beasts from different quarters of the earth, and he fostered a famous love of learning, and put Ralph Flambard in the Tower as soon as he possibly could, and more than all, chose an excellent woman for his wife, Maud, the good daughter of the Scottish King Malcolm.** He was an untruthful man, but a great man for all that, and made a better king than some that England had already endured. In many ways his reign was a gain to England. There was a distinct advance in national life, and while the English groaned under his tyranny they could not help seeing that he sought for quietness and order and was their best champion against the worse tyranny of the nobles. Mr. Freeman believes that the Saxon element was the permanent one in English history, and that the Norman conquest simply modified it somewhat and was a temporary influence brought to bear for its improvement. It is useless to argue the question with such odds of learning and thought as his against one, but the second invasion of Northmen by the roundabout way of Normandy, seems as marked a change as the succession of the Celts to the Britons, or the Saxons to the Danes. The Normans had so distinctly made a great gain in ideas and civilization, that they were as much foreigners as any Europeans could have been to the Anglo-Saxons of that eleventh century, and their coming had a permanent effect, besides a most compelling power. It seems to me that England would have disintegrated without them, not solidified, and a warring handful of petty states have been the result.

   Yet undoubtedly through many centuries of history writing the English of the Conqueror's day have been made to take too low a place in the scale of civilization. As a nation, they surely responded readily to the Norman stimulus, but the Normans had never found so good a chance to work out their own ideas of life and achievement as on English soil in the first hundred years after the Conquest. In many respects the Saxon race possesses greater and more reliable qualities than any other race; stability, perseverance, self-government, industry are all theirs. Yet the Normans excelled them in their genius for great enterprises and their love of fitness and elegance in social life and in the arts. Indeed we cannot do better than to repeat here what has been quoted once already. "Without them England would have been mechanical, not artistic; brave, not chivalrous; the home of learning, not of thought."

   It has also been the fashion to ignore the influence of five hundred years' contact between Roman civilization and the Saxon inhabitants of Great Britain. Surely great influences have been brought to bear upon the Anglo-Saxon race. That the making of England was more significant to the world and more valuable than any manifestation of Norman ability, is in one way true, but let us never forget that much that has been best in English national life has come from the Norman elements of it rather than the Saxon. England the colonizer, England the country of intellectual and social progress, England the fosterer of ideas and chivalrous humanity, is Norman England, and the Saxon influence has oftener held her back in dogged satisfaction and stubbornness than urged her forward to higher levels. The power of holding back is necessary to the stability of a kingdom, but not so necessary as the 

   "Glory of going on and still to be -------- "** 

The conjunction of Norman and Saxon elements has made England the great nation that she is.

   It is too easy as we draw near the end of this story of the Normans to wander into talk about the lessons of Norman history and to fall into endless generalizations. Let us look a little longer at Henry Beauclerc's time while Robert, under the shadow of his name of duke, spends enough dreary blinded years in prison to give him space to remember again and again the misspent years of his youth and his freedom; while Henry plots and plans carefully for the continuance of his family upon the throne of England and Normandy, only to be disappointed at every turn. His son is coming from France with a gay company and is lost in the White Ship with all his lords and ladies, and the people who hear the news do not dare to tell the king, and at last send a weeping little lad into the royal presence to falter out the story of the shipwreck. What a touch of humanity is there! The king never smiled afterward, but he plotted on and went his kingly ways, "the last of those great Norman kings who, with all their vices, their cruelty, and their lust, displayed great talents of organization and adaptation, guided England with a wise, if a strong, hand through the days of her youth, and by their instinctive, though selfish, love of order paved the way for the ultimate rise of a more stable, yet a freer government."

   The last Norman Duke of Normandy was really that young Prince William, who was drowned in the White Ship off the port of Barfleur, whom Henry had invested with the duchy and to whom the nobility had just done homage. After his death, the son of Robert made claim to the succession, and the greater proportion of the Normans upheld his claim, and the king of France openly favored him, but he died of a wound received in battle, and again Henry, rid of this competitor, built an elaborate scheme upon the succession of his daughter Matilda, whom he married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of the Count of Anjou. But for all this, after the king's death, the law of succession was too unsettled to give his daughter an unquestioned claim. Hereditary title was not independent yet of election by the nobles, and Matilda's claims were by many people set aside. There were wars and disorders too intricate and dreary to repeat. Stephen, Count of Boulogne, son of that Count Stephen of Blois who married the Conqueror's daughter Adela, usurped the throne of England, and there was a miserable time of anarchy in both England and Normandy. And as the government passed away in this apparently profitless interregnum to the houses of Blois and of Anjou, so Normandy seems like Normandy no longer. Her vitality is turned into different channels, and it is in the history of England and of France and of the Low Countries that we must trace the further effect of Norman influence.

Notes for Chapter 17

thy quiet ministers move on:  This is from Matthew Arnold's sonnet, Quiet Work," in Arnold's Poems (1884), p. 1.
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Robert, my eldest born, shall have Normandy and Maine:  Taylor's translation of Master Wace presents a slightly varied version of this speech, pp. 273-4.  (Jewett's Sources).
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Peter the Hermit's preaching:  See Wikipedia on the People's Crusade and Peter the Hermit, and on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
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one mistaken scheme of benevolence:  Jewett seems to assume readers will be familiar with this part of the history of William Rufus's reign, but I have not been able to determine what she means by the "mistaken scheme of benevolence" under William Rufus.  These events are covered to some extent in Freeman, vol. 5, pp. 82-98.  (Jewett's Sources).
See Wikipedia for a brief account of Ranulf Flambard.
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Mr. Freeman believes:  Though Jewett is appropriately modest about doing so, she disagrees with Freeman's central thesis in his six-volume history of the Norman Conquest, explained in volume 1, page 1, and returned to frequently throughout.  The reasons for her disagreement could be a topic for further investigation. 
    Probably without anyone intending it, Jewett's disagreement with Freeman was put on display during the first three months of 1891 in The Chautauquan.  Two of her three segments of "England after the Norman Conquest" ran within pages of installments of Freeman's contribution to the 1890-91 Chautauqua course on British History and Literature.  In his "Intellectual Development of the English," he argued against two of Jewett's ideas.  He affirmed that William the Conqueror's reforms of England were gradual and unplanned (The Chautauquan 10: 428-9).  In his final installment, he said that "William changed nothing for the sake of change.  And the change that did take place in no way affected the essence of our national being" (697).  Though Jewett lacked the deep knowledge to seriously challenge Freeman, she did not allow his great contemporary authority to shake her conviction.  In her opposition, she anticipated what has become an extended controversy in English history, whether the Norman conquest transformed English culture or only helped to bring out its potentials.  This conflict is surveyed in Warren Hollister, editor, The Impact of the Norman Conquest (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969).  See especially the selection by Frank Barlow, "The Effects of the Norman Conquest," 28-45.  See also Marjorie Chibnail's introduction to her Anglo-Norman England 1066-1166 (London: Basil Blackwell, 1986).
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home of learning, not of thought: Arthur Henry Johnson, The Normans in Europe, p. 166. (Jewett's Sources).
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Glory of going on and still to be:  from "Wages" (1868) by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

     Glory of warrior, glory of orator, glory of song,
         Paid with a voice flying by to be lost on an endless sea–
      Glory of Virtue, to fight, to struggle, to right the wrong–
         Nay, but she aim’d not at glory, no lover of glory she;
      Give her the glory of going on, and still to be.   

      The wages of sin is death: if the wages of Virtue be dust,
         Would she have heart to endure for the life of the worm and the fly?
      She desires no isles of the blest, no quiet seats of the just,
         To rest in a golden grove, or to bask in a summer sky;
      Give her the wages of going on, and not to die.

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  yet a freer government:  Arthur Henry Johnson, The Normans in Europe, p. 230.  (Jewett's Sources).
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  Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College, with assistance from Allison Anderson and Gabe Heller.

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