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


Reign of William I. continued - Erection of Fortresses.
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In order to secure the subjection of his new subjects, the Conqueror did not neglect the important means which the erection of castles or fortresses presented. Amongst others, he either built, or caused his great vassals to build, those of Pevensey, Hastings, and the White Tower of London; and repaired that of Dover in 1066.

The castles or stone-built fortresses of England, previous to the Conquest, were few and inconsiderable. Those erected by the Romans had fallen into ruin; and although Alfred the Great had strengthened the defences of the country by upwards of fifty towers of defence, they had not been kept up by his successors: and to this neglect the speedy reduction of the country to the Norman yoke may, in a great measure, be attributed. There were no long and wearisome sieges to undertake; no position capable of delaying an army before it for any length of time: all was left to the chance of an open battle.

At the period of the Saxon supremacy, the castles and places of strength were chiefly of wood, in proof of which the vassals who erected them were required to provide no other tools than a hatchet. William who perfectly comprehended the policy of the Romans, determined to alter this, and speedily commenced the erection of his strongholds and in process of time the great feudal barons followed his example.

In order to afford an idea of these structures, we shall, as briefly as possible, give a general idea of a Norman fortress or castle.

It consisted of an enclosure, varying, according to the importance of its position, from five to ten acres of land, and, where circumstances rendered it possible, was surrounded by a moat or artificial canal, on the edge of which was a strong wall enclosing another, and between them was the first ballium, or outer court. Within the second wall, which surrounded the keep, or great tower, were store-houses for the garrison, and other offices, as well as lodgings for the troops. In the centre of the interior space stood the citadel, keep, or master tower, in which resided the governor, or feudal possessor; in his absence, the castellan inhabited it, exercising the same authority as his chief. This last edifice was generally erected on an artificial or natural mound, and contained the state apartments, together with the domestic offices; and in the centre, below the foundations, the dungeons for prisoners İf war and other captives, such as felons, who had fallen under the jurisdiction of the lord or governor: in many instances there were secret means of access to these prisons by means of narrow passages contrived m the walls. In advance of the moat stood the barbacan, or outward defence, with a watch-tower, communicating with the interior by means of a drawbridge, which drew up inwardly, so as to be under the direction of the sentinel or guard. The entrance to the "ballium, or outward court, was still further secured by a strong gate, defended by a portcullis, to be raised or lowered as occasion required, by means of strong iron chains and pulleys. The walls were further protected by battlements, perforated by loopholes, through which arrows could be discharged, and towers planted at various distances. The outward walls were seldom less than seven feet in thickness, and those of the keep frequently as many as fifteen.

Before the discovery of gunpowder and the invention of artillery, these strongholds might be considered impregnable; and when taken it was generally by famine, or through the treachery of some portion of the garrison. Figuratively speaking, they were so many Norman bridles to check the impatience of the half-broken Saxon steed.

The English had now the mortification to find that as William's authority increased it was employed in their oppression; that the scheme of subjection had been craftily planned, and was being relentlessly carried out, attended by every circumstance of indignity and insult calculated to wound the pride of a susceptible people.

The Conqueror even attempted to extirpate the Saxon tongue; and with that view he commanded that in all the schools throughout the country the youth should be instructed in French, which also became the language of the courts of law. Moved at last by the representations of some of the prelates, and the entreaties of his subjects, he consented to restore some of the laws of Edward the Confessor, which, although of no great importance, were regarded with affection by the people, as memorials of their ancient liberty.

The position of the two Earls Morcar and Edwin soon became intolerable; for, notwithstanding that they had stood aloof during the last insurrection of their countrymen, and maintained their allegiance, William treated them with indignity; and the hungry adventurers who surrounded his court, while they envied the possessions of the Saxon nobles, thought themselves entitled to treat them with contempt as slaves and barbarians.

Sensible that with the loss of their dignity they had no longer any hope of safety, they determined, though too late, to assert the independence of their country. With this intention Edwin retired to his estates in the north, whilst his brother Morcar took refuge with the gallant Here ward, who still maintained himself in the Isle of Ely. The king, with his usual vigour, determined to subdue their stronghold; and for this purpose he caused a large number of flat-bottomed boats to be constructed, on which he placed his men, and surrounded it. He next caused a road to be made through the morass, two miles in length, and after a desperate attack obliged the Saxons to surrender. (a.d. 1071.)

Hereward, however, contrived to escape, by cutting his way, sword in hand, through the enemy, and carried on the war by sea against the Normans with such success, that William was glad to compromise with him, by giving him back his estate and honours.

The memory of Hereward, "England's darling," as he was called by his countrymen, long remained cherished in their hearts, and the exploits of the last hero of Anglo-Saxon independence were for many years a favourite theme of tradition and poetry.

Morcar and Egelwin, Bishop of Durham, who had joined the insurgents, were taken and thrown into prison, where the last-named personage soon afterwards died of grief, whilst Edwin was slain in an attempt to escape into Scotland.

The King of Scotland, in hopes of profiting by these convulsions, had fallen on the northern counties, but on the approach of William he retired; and when Malcolm re-entered his country he was glad to make peace, and to pay the usual homage to the English crown. To complete the Norman king's prosperity, Edgar Atheling himself, despairing of the success of his cause, and weary of a fugitive life, submitted to his enemy; and receiving a decent pension for his subsistence, was permitted to live in England unmolested. But these acts of generosity towards the leaders were contrasted, as usual, by William's rigour against the inferior malcontents. He ordered the hands to be lopped off, and the eyes to be put out, of many of the prisoners whom he had taken in the Isle of Ely, and he dispersed them in that miserable condition throughout the country as monuments of his severity.

Herbert, the last count or chief of the province of Maine, bordering on Normandy, had bequeathed his lands to William, who had taken possession of them several years before the invasion of England. In 1073, the people of Maine, instigated by Fulk, Count of Anjou, rose in rebellion against William, and expelled the magistrates he had placed over them. The settled aspect of affairs in England afforded him leisure to punish this insult to his authority; but being unwilling to remove his Norman forces from the island, he carried over a considerable army, composed almost entirely of English; and joining them to some troops levied in Normandy, he entered the revolted province.

The national valour, which had been so long opposed to him, was now exerted in his favour. Signal success attended the expedition. The men of Maine were beaten by the English, many towns and villages were destroyed, and ^he inhabitants tendered their submission to the Conqueror. But during these transactions (1074) the government of England was greatly disturbed, and that too by those very foreigners who owed everything to the king's bounty, and whose rapacious disposition he had tried in vain to satisfy. The Norman barons who had engaged with their duke in the conquest of England were men of independent spirit and strong will; and however implicit the obedience which they yielded to their leader in the field, it is possible that in more peaceful times they found it difficult to brook the imperious character and overbearing temper of the king,

The habit of absolute government into which William had fallen since his mastery over the English, had frequently led him to exercise an authority over the Normans themselves which they were ill disposed to bear. The discontent became general. Roger, Earl of Hereford, the son and heir of Fitz-Osborn, so long the intimate friend and counsellor of the king, had negotiated the marriage of his sister with Ralph de Gael, Earl of Norfolk. For some reason, now unknown, the alliance was displeasing to the king, who sent from Normandy to forbid it. The two earls, despite the prohibition, proceeded to solemnise the union; and, foreseeing the resentment of William, prepared for a revolt.

It was during the festivities of the nuptials that they broached their design to their numerous friends and allies assembled on the occasion, by complaining of the tyranny of the king; his oppressive conduct to the unfortunate English, whom they affected to pity; his insolence to men of noble birth; and the indignity of submitting any longer to be governed by a prince of illegitimate birth. All present, inflamed with resentment, shared in the indignation of the speakers, and a solemn compact was entered into to shake off the royal yoke. Even Earl Waltheof, who was present, expressed his approval of the conspiracy, and promised to assist it.

This noble was the last of the English who possessed any great power or influence in the kingdom. After his capitulation at York, he was received into favour by the Conqueror; had even married Judith, his niece; and had been promoted to the earldoms of Huntingdon and Northampton, Cospatrick, Earl of Northumberland, having, on some new disgust from William, retired into Scotland - where he received the earldom of Dunbar from the bounty of Malcolm - Waltheof was appointed his successor in that important command, and seemed still to possess the confidence and friendship of his sovereign; but as he was a man of generous principles, and loved his country, it is probable that the tyranny exercised over the English lay heavy on his mind, and destroyed all the satisfaction which he could reap from his own grandeur and advancement. When a prospect, therefore, was opened of retrieving their liberty, hastily embraced it, while the fumes of the liquor and the ardour of the company prevented him from reflecting on the consequences of that rash attempt; but after his cool judgment returned, he foresaw that the conspiracy of those discontented barons was not likely to prove successful against the established power of William; or, if it did, that the slavery of the English, instead of being alleviated by that event, would become more grievous under a multitude of foreign leaders, factious and ambitious, whose union or discord would be equally oppressive. Tormented with these reflections, he disclosed the plans of the conspirators to his wife Judith, of whose fidelity he entertained no suspicion; but who, having secretly fixed her affections on a Norman nobleman, took this opportunity of ruining her confiding husband. She conveyed intelligence of the conspiracy to the king, and aggravated every circumstance which she believed would tend to incense him against Waltheof, and render him absolutely implacable. Meanwhile the earl, still dubious with regard to the part which he should act, discovered the secret in confession to Lanfranc, on whose probity and judgment he had a great reliance. He was persuaded by that prelate that he owed no fidelity to those rebellious barons, who had by surprise gained his consent to a crime; that his first duty was to his sovereign and benefactor, his next to himself and his family; and that, if he seized not the opportunity of making atonement for his guilt by revealing it, the temerity of the conspirators was so great, that they might give some other person the means of acquiring the merit of the discovery.

Waltheof, convinced by these arguments, went at once to Normandy, where William was then residing, and confessed everything to the king, who, dissembling his resentment, thanked him for his loyalty and love; but in his heart he gave the earl no thanks for a confidence which carne so late. The conspirators, hearing of Waltheof is departure from England, concluded at once that they were betrayed, and instantly assembled in arms, before their plans were ripe for execution, and before the arrival of the Danes, with whom they had secretly entered into an alliance. The Earl of Hereford was defeated by Walter de Lacy, who, supported by the Bishop of Worcester and the Abbot of Evesham, prevented his passing the Severn, and penetrating into the heart of the kingdom. The Earl of Norfolk was defeated by Odo, the warlike Bishop of Bayeux, who sullied his victory by commanding the right foot of his prisoners to be cut off as a punishment for their treason. Their leader escaped to Norwich, and from thence to Denmark.

William, on his arrival in England, found that he had nothing left to do but punish the instigators and leaders of the revolt, which he did with great rigour. Many were hanged; some had their eyes put out; others their hands cut off, or were otherwise horribly mutilated, The only indulgence he showed was to the Earl of Hereford, who was condemned to lose his estate, and to be kept a prisoner during pleasure. The king appeared willing to remit the last part of the sentence, probably from the recollection of his father's services, and the dread of increasing the discontent of the Norman barons; but the haughty and unbending spirit of the earl provoked William to extend the sentence to a perpetual confinement.

Waltheof, being an Englishman, was not treated with so much humanity; though his guilt, always much inferior to that of the other conspirators, was atoned for by an early repentance. William, instigated by his niece Judith, as well as by his rapacious courtiers, who longed for the forfeiture of so rich an estate, ordered the thane to be tried, condemned, and executed. The English, who considered Waltheof as the last hope of their nation, grievously lamented his fate, and fancied that miracles were wrought by his relics, as a testimony of his innocence and sanctity. The infamous Judith, falling soon afterwards under the king's displeasure, was abandoned by all the world, and passed the rest of her life in contempt, remorse, and misery.

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

Norman Castle
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Clifford's Tower
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