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Chapter XXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

Conspiracy against the Normans - Its Consequences - Escape of Edgar Atheling with his Sisters to Scotland.
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Although Fortune appeared to lavish her smiles upon the Conqueror, bitter discontent was brooding in the hearts of the English, who saw themselves stripped one by one of their liberties and privileges, and whenever they met with the Normans in small parties the people set on them and slew them without mercy.

An insurrection at last broke out in the north of England, headed by the Earls Morcar and Edwin, who bitterly regretted their short-sighted policy in not supporting Edgar Atheling on the throne. Before appealing to arms, these powerful nobles had secured the assistance of their nephew Blethyn, Prince of North Wales; of Malcolm, King of Scotland; and of Sweyn, King of Denmark.

Besides the injuries inflicted upon their country, the two leaders of this rebellion had private insults to atone. The Conqueror, at the time of his election to the crown, had promised his daughter in marriage to Edwin, in order to secure his adherence; but when the king was called upon to fulfil his engagement he refused to do so, and this disappointment induced the two brothers to take up arms against him.

None knew better than William the importance of celerity in quelling a revolt, especially when supported by such powerful leaders. He advanced, therefore, with rapid inarches towards the north. On his way he gave orders to fortify Warwick Castle, which he committed to the government of Henry de Beaumont, one of his nobles; and that of Nottingham to William Peverell, another Norman leader.

Using the utmost expedition, the Conqueror reached York before the arrival of the promised succours, or the English were prepared for resistance; and the two earls had no Other resource than to appeal to the clemency of the victor.

Archil, a potent nobleman in those parts, imitated their example, and delivered his son as a hostage for his fidelity; nor were the people, thus deserted by their leaders, able to make any further resistance. But the treatment which William gave the chiefs was very different from that which tell to the share of their followers. He observed religiously the terms which he had granted to the former, and allowed them for the present to keep possession of their estates; but he extended the rigours of his confiscations over the latter, and gave away their lands to his foreign adventurers. These, planted through the whole country, and in possession of the military power, left Edwin and Morcar, whom he pretended to spare, destitute of all support, and ready to fall whenever he should think proper to command their ruin. A peace which he made with Malcolm, who did him homage for Cumberland, seemed at the same time to deprive them of all prospect of foreign assistance.

The English were now sensible that their final destruction was intended; and that, instead of a sovereign, whom they had hoped to gain by their submissions, they had tamely surrendered themselves without resistance to a tyrant and a conqueror. Though the early confiscation of the estates of Harold's followers might seem iniquitous, being inflicted on men who had never sworn fealty to the Duke of Normandy, who were ignorant of his pretensions, and who only fought in defence of the government which they themselves had established in their own country; yet were these rigours, however contrary to the ancient Saxon laws, excused on account of the urgent necessities of the prince. Those who were not involved in the present ruin hoped that they should thenceforth enjoy, without molestation, their possessions and their dignities; but the successive destruction of so many other families convinced them that the king intended to rely entirely on the support and affections of foreigners; and they foresaw new forfeitures, attainders, and acts of violence, as the necessary result of this destructive plan of administration. They observed that no Englishman possessed his confidence, or was entrusted with any command or authority; and that the strangers, whom a rigorous discipline could have but ill restrained, were encouraged in their insolence and tyranny.

Convinced of the hopelessness of resistance, many of the English fled to foreign countries to seek that security denied them in their own.

Edgar Atheling, dreading the unscrupulous policy of William, yielded to the advice of Cospatrick, a powerful Northumbrian noble, and fled with him, accompanied by his mother Agatha and his two sisters Margaret and Christina, to Scotland, where they were hospitably received by Malcolm, who soon afterwards espoused the former princess - the latter became a nun. If the English were thus oppressed, and driven from their homes, the position of the conquerors was anything but an agreeable one. On all sides they were surrounded by bitter enemies, who, if too feeble and disunited to oppose them in the field, never failed to slay them, singly or in small parties, whenever an opportunity offered. Many Norman nobles followed the example of Hugh de Grentmesnil and Humphrey de Tilleuil, threw up their commands, and returned to their own country, a proceeding which William resented by depriving them of the possessions he had bestowed upon them in England. The Norman army was speedily reinforced by the arrival of fresh adventurers from Normandy and other parts of the Continent, and it was not long before the king found occupation for their swords. Godwin, Edmund, and Magnus, three sons of Harold, had, immediately after the defeat at Hastings, sought a retreat in Ireland, where, having met with a kind reception from Dermot and other princes of that country, they projected an invasion of England; and they hoped that all the exiles from Denmark, Scotland, and Wales, assisted by forces from these several countries, would at once commence hostilities, and rouse the English against their haughty conquerors. They landed in Devonshire, but found Earl Beorn, at the head of some foreign troops, ready to oppose them, and, being defeated in several actions, they were obliged to retreat to their ships, and return with great loss to Ireland. The efforts of the Normans were now directed to the north, where affairs had fallen into the utmost confusion. Robert de Comine, who with 1,200 Norman lances had attacked Durham, and massacred a few defenceless men, was surprised in the town by the exasperated people, and put to death, with the whole of his followers. This success animated the inhabitants of York, who, rising in arms, besieged in the castle William Malet, their governor. Two years afterwards the Danish troops landed from 240 vessels; Osberne, brother to King Sweyn, was entrusted with the command of these forces, and he was accompanied by Harold and Canute, two sons of that monarch; Edgar Atheling appeared from Scotland, and brought along with him Cospatrick, Waltheof, Siward, Bearne, Merleswain, Adelin, and other leaders, who, partly from the hopes which they gave of Scottish succours, and partly from their authority in those parts, easily persuaded the warlike and discontented Northumbrians to join the insurrection. Malet, that he might better provide for the defence of the citadel of York, set fire to some houses which lay contiguous; but this expedient proved the immediate cause of his destruction. The flames, spreading into the neighbouring streets, reduced the whole city to ashes. The enraged inhabitants, aided by the Danes, took advantage of the confusion to attack the castle, which they carried by assault, and put the garrison, consisting of three thousand men, to the sword.

This success gave the signal for the inhabitants of many other parts of England to show their hatred of the Normans. Hereward, a noble of East Anglia, assembled a considerable force, and taking a position on the island of Ely, made successful incursions in the country round him.

The English, in the counties of Somerset and Dorset, rose in arms and assaulted Montacute, the Norman governor; while the warlike inhabitants of Cornwall laid siege to Devon and Exeter, which, from a grateful recollection of the clemency William had shown them, remained faithful to his interests

Edric the Forester laid siege to Shrewsbury, and made head against Brient and Fitz-Osborn, who commanded there. In short, the whole nation role, like a man suddenly awakened from a dream, and seemed resolved to atone for the abjectness of their previous submission, by a vigorous and well-organised resistance to their oppressors. William, however, appeared undismayed by the storm lowering on every side around him; and little as he can be said to have had justice upon his side, it is impossible not to admire the energy and courage with which he met danger.

Calling his army together, he matched rapidly towards the north, where the rebellion appeared the most formidable, knowing that a defeat there would strike terror to the rest of the insurgents.

Joining policy with force, he made a separate treaty with the Danes, offering them, as the price of their withdrawal into Denmark, permission to plunder and ravage the seacoasts.

Cospatrick also, despairing of success, paid to the Conqueror a large sum to be received once more into favour; he was afterwards invested with the earldom of Northumberland as the price of his submission. Even Edric, obliged by necessity, submitted to William and was pardoned.

The King of Scotland arrived too late with his succours, and found himself obliged to retire; and all the insurgents, in various parts of the country, either dispersed or laid down their arms, with the exception of the East Anglian noble Hereward, who still kept possession of the island of Ely.

Edgar Atheling, finding himself unsupported, withdrew with his followers and friends once more into Scotland; and the kingdom, without any great battle being fought, once more submitted to the iron yoke of the Normans.

In the crisis in which he found himself suddenly placed, William displayed his usual deceitful policy, and affected a gentleness foreign to his nature. But this seeming clemency towards the English leaders proceeded only from artifice; his heart was hardened against all compassion towards the people; and he scrupled at no measure, however violent or severe, which seemed requisite to support the plans he had adopted. Sensible of the restless disposition of the Northumbrians, he determined to incapacitate them ever after from giving disturbance; and he issued orders for laying entirely waste that fertile country, which for the extent of sixty miles lies between the Humber and the Tees. The houses ay ere reduced to ashes by the merciless Normans; the cattle seized and driven away; the instruments of husbandry destroyed; and the inhabitants, compelled either to seek for subsistence in the southern parts of Scotland, or, if they lingered in England, from a reluctance to abandon their ancient habitations, perished miserably in the woods from cold and hunger. The lives of 100,000 persons are computed to have been sacrificed to this stroke of barbarous policy, which, by seeking a remedy for a temporary evil, thus inflicted a lasting wound on the power and opulence of the nation.

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Pictures for Chapter XXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

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