History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER II: William the Red 1087-1100

1. [1]  began his reign well, loosing the prisoners (amongst whom were Earl and Wulfnoth, 's youngest son, who had been the Conqueror's hostage and captive many years) and dealing out the great hoard at for the good of the dead king's soul; to every minster in England six or ten gold marks, to every church sixty pence, and to every shire £100 for the poor. Still the Norman barons, ill-content with a strong king, plotted in favour of Robert, who would leave all power in their hands. But stood by , sent for the chief Englishmen, told them of the king's need, and promised them on his behalf

" the best laws that ever were in the land,"

the strict punishment of all evil-doers, and the woods and hunting-rights which the Conqueror had taken away. Accordingly the faithful English levies met, drove off Robert when he tried to land, and put down the rebellion, and many others being banished and their lands given to better men. But soon forgot his promises, and when ,

"the father and friend of the monks and all good men,"

was dead, he began to vex his people with heavy taxes and make them labour at his buildings, the Tower Wall, London Bridge, and the Great Hall at Westminster. His new Justiciar was , nicknamed the Torch, who had served on the Domesday Commission, a rough, burly, coarse man, but eager to please the king, and clever enough to cover all his ill-doing with the cloak of law. It is owing to him that the English system of landholding became harder, stricter, and more burdensome than before the Conquest.

2. [2] By 's counsel, also, the king refused to put fresh bishops and abbots in the place of those that died, keeping their lands meanwhile for his own profit, starving the Church and the poor. This went on till , when he fell ill, and, his heart misgiving him at the point of death, vowed to make amends to his people and the Church. , Abbot of Bec, who happened to be staying in England founding a minster for the Earl of Chester, was sent for to his bedside and given the archbishopric of ; he refused, being afraid, as he said, that the plough of the Church, which had been drawn by two strong oxen ( and ), would go hardly if a poor weak


sheep were yoked to a wild bull (himself and the king); but the bishops who stood by forced the staff into his hand, and carried him off to the Cathedral to be installed whether he willed or no, to the great joy of all that heard of it.

For was truly a great man. So good that he was held a saint in his very lifetime, so meek that even his enemies honoured him, so wise that he was the foremost thinker of his day and the forerunner of the greatest philosophers of ours. Born about near Aosta of a pious mother, he was even in his childhood always thinking and dreaming of holy things, and would have become a monk at fifteen but for his father's opposal. When he was full grown he turned, like , to Normandy and took the cowl at Bec, where he won all hearts, overcoming the illwill of one jealous brother in particular by his long-suffering till he made him his greatest friend. At last he was chosen abbot, but the good monks were sometimes in straits under his rule, for he would give everything to the poor, so that now and then they had to forego their own dinner as the larder was empty. However, they loved him so much that some of them wished to refuse him leave to take the archbishopric and call him back among them.

As he had foreseen, troubles came; he wished the king to acknowledge Urban as lawful Pope, but now that was healed he fell back into his old ways and evil life, and though after much trouble he gave way on this point, he stood out on all the rest, and when in sheer despair resolved to go to Rome, refused him leave till . Then the two met for the last time; forgave him, blessed him, and started to lay all his troubles before the Pope. Urban received him gladly, and paid him great honour, making him speak for him at a great council of bishops which was then being held, still he would not interfere with the king on his behalf. So with a heavy heart the archbishop left him and went to the north of France, whence he travelled south, staying abroad till the Red King's death.

3. [3] As his father had hoped, 's reign was glorious. He forced Robert to make peace and agree that whichever of them died childless the other should be his heir. He drove Earl Thorfinn out of Cumberland and made it part of his own realm, setting Englishmen in , which he fortified as a Border fortress against the Scots. He invaded Scotland and compelled Malcolm to become his man, and when this restless king broke the peace and made his fifth raid into England, he was at last assured


of peace by his death. For the Earl of and Morel his steward, an old friend of Malcolm's, decoyed him and his son into an ambush and killed them. When the good Queen Margaret heard "

how her dearest lord and son had been thus betrayed, she was grieved to the death in her heart, and went with her priest to church, got her rights [was shriven], prayed to God, and then gave up the ghost."

She was rightly counted a saint, for

"she had loved God with her whole heart,"

and had brought the king, her husband, and his people out of many of the evil ways they walked in before, so that

" he was well pleased with the new customs she held, and was wont to thank God that gave him such a wife."

She made Scotland an English kingdom instead of a mere Keltic principality, by encouraging English and Norman settlers, using English ways and speech, and getting the king to live at Edinburgh in the Lothians among the English, rather than in the Highlands in the old Keltic fashion.

In the Earl of and Morel robbed some Norwegian merchants, who complained to the king. He generously made good their losses himself, and summoned the earl to court. When he refused to come, and found out that he was plotting to dethrone him in favour of Stephen of Aumale his cousin, he called out his English levies, took the earl, and learning from Morel the whole plot, put him in prison, where he lay thirty years, which was looked on as a fit reward for his treason to Malcolm.

4. [4] Soon after this was able to get rid of the annoys stirred up by those who hated him and loved his brother. For the duke was minded to go on a Crusade for the good of his father's soul, and having spent all his money in riotous living, suffering his very servants to rob him even of his clothes, he offered to pledge Normandy if the king would give him money for his equipment and journey. gladly lent him £ 6666, and he started with most of his troublesome friends. As Robert was one of those men whose real worth only comes out when they are forced into action, he behaved so well in the Crusade, showing both valour and self-restraint, that when Jerusalem was taken on Good Friday , and a Christian kingdom set up there, the crown was offered to him. But all danger being over, his natural laziness prevailed, and he refused it and went home, reaching Normandy soon after 's death.

This first Crusade came about through the cruelty and


bigotry of the Turks, who having taken the Holy City, where the Arabs had formerly suffered pilgrims to come unhurt, now began insulting and murdering the Christians and defiled the Holy Place. The Pope, hearing the bitter complaints of the pilgrims, preached at a great gathering in France, and telling the story of their wrongs, exhorted his hearers to

"go and deliver the Sepulchre of the Lord."

His sermon was received with shouts of

"God wills it! We will go!"

and thousands of all ranks, sewing a little cross of coloured cloth on their left arm in token of their promise, vowed to go and fight the misbelievers and free the Holy Land.

5. [5] Robert's pledge made the greatest king in Europe. He held the best parts of France, and having the rents from many forfeited estates and vacant church lands, was even richer than his father. Only in Wales there was still war, for though South Wales had been won already by Norman adventurers bit by bit, the North Welsh made a stout resistance, while their border was being slowly driven in, castle after castle rising upon the newly-won lands.

The Earl of Chester, Hugh the Fat, and Hugh the Proud of Shrewsbury, were the bitterest foes the Welsh had, and would have taken the whole coast of North Wales and even Anglesey, but for Magnus Bareleg, King of Norway, who sailed into the Menai Straits as the two border earls were engaged in subduing the island. They drew up their men to prevent the Northmen landing, when the king ran his ships close to the shore and there was a sharp fight.

"Hugh the Proud was on horseback in the water in front of his men. He was covered all over in mail so that save his eyes there was not a bare spot on him. King Magnus and a Fin that stood by him on the quarterdeck of his ship both shot at the earl at the same time. One arrow hit the nosepiece of the helmet so hard that it bent on one side, but the other struck Hugh's eye and pierced through his head so that the point stood out at the nape of his neck, and men saw that that arrow was the king's."

As a northern poet sang-

" The king shot hard and fast: the shaft rang on the mail, Our lord his elm bow draws: the blood spirts on the helmet, The bowstrings' war-hail [arrows] smote upon the rings; before it The foe quailed. In sharp onslaught the Norse king slew the earl."

Magnus shouted mockingly as the earl fell forward into the sea,

"Let him dive if he will!"

and the leaderless Englishmen left the shore. So making truce with Hugh the Fat, the king won Anglesey, gave it to Owen, 's


stepson, to hold under him, and sailed away to meet his own death soon after in a raid on Ireland. Hugh the Proud's fate was put down to the vengeance of a Welsh saint in whose chapel he had kennelled his hounds some days before. One of 's sons was with Magnus on this cruise. It is likely that himself would have won all Wales and perhaps Ireland too, now that his hands were free from other business, but for his sudden death in the height of his power.

6. [6] On Thursday, August 2, , he was at a hunting-lodge in the New Forest with his brother , a French knight named Walter Tirel, whose skill in archery had made him a favourite, and a few other courtiers. Before they started for the day's sport two men came to him. One a fletcher [arrow-maker] with a gift of six finely-made arrows, which the king gladly took, thanking the giver, and handing two to Walter with the words,

" I know thou wilt make the best use of them."

The second bore a letter from Serlo, Abbot of Gloucester, telling him of a dreadful dream one of his monks, by name, had had concerning him. He thought he was in the abbey church, and that he saw a beautiful lady clothed in white glistening raiment come in and cast herself before the Rood, praying very earnestly to the Lord to have mercy upon her and overthrow her enemy. Whereon he seemed to see the image on the Rood bow its head towards her and answer,

" Be patient, and within a little space thou shalt surely be avenged."

Awaking in great terror he told his vision to Serlo, who seeing that the White Lady prefigured the Church, and fearful that the anger of the Lord was kindled against the king, made haste to write him the dream and the interpretation thereof, earnestly beseeching him to repent. But though himself had been specially warned not to go hunting that day, he laughed at the letter. "

Serlo is a good man and wishes me well, but he must be doting to send me the dreams of his snoring monks. Am I, an Englishman, to be stopped in what I am about by an old wife's whims?"

and went forth. When the driving began the king and Tirel alighted, and were posted near one another in a ride with no one else by. A great grizzled hart came bounding towards them; shot at it, and missing called out to Tirel,

"Shoot, Walter! shoot in the devil's name!"

The knight drew his bow, the arrow grazed the beast as it ran between them, and glancing, struck the king to the heart. Walter saw him fall and fled, and lay there till sunset, when they


took up his body and sent it on a charcoal-burner's cart, like a dead boar, to , where he was laid

" unhouseled, unanointed, unanneled,"

in the Old Minster, mourned only by his soldiers and boon companions.

One of his English subjects says of him,

" He was mighty and terrible over his land, and his men, and towards all his neighbours. All that was loathsome in the eyes of God and righteous men was of common use in his time; wherefore he was loathed by wellnigh all his people, and hateful to God as his end showed."

But it cannot be gainsaid that he was a faithful son, a kind master, and a brave knight, and though passionate and foul-tongued, able to boast with truth that he never did in anger what he would not have done in cold blood. He was utterly fearless, and too proud to be cruel. Once when he was embarking for Normandy, and the ship-master was afraid to weigh anchor in the gale that was blowing, he bid him,

' Set sail! I never heard of a king being drowned."

One of his prisoners telling him in a rage that he would defy his power if he were but free again, he loosed him and told him to go and do his worst. If he had but had his father's sense of duty, he would not have fallen short of his fame. In person he was stout, strong, and big-limbed, with light hair and a red face (whence his nick-name, Red Dragon), and keen, restless, grey-spotted eyes, under a broad high brow standing out in four bosses as it were. His voice was loud, and he stammered, especially when he was angry.


[1] William's hard rule.

[2] Anselm

[3] William's wars. Scotland, etc.

[] [1093-1099.]

[4] The first Crusade.

[5] Wars in Wales.

[] [1098-1100.]

[6] William's death and character.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
To Cite:
DCA Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page