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Chapter XXXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2


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From the events which followed the reader may judge of the unsettled nature of the time. The knights and prelates hastened to their respective homes to secure their property; the citizens of Rouen began to conceal their most valuable effects; the servants rifled the palace, and hurried away with the booty; and the royal corpse for three hours lay almost in a state of nudity on the ground, At length the archbishop ordered the body to be interred at Caen; and Herluin, a neighbouring knight, out of compassion, conveyed it at his own expense to that city.

At the day appointed for the interment, Prince Henry, the Norman prelates, and a multitude of clergy and people, assembled in the Church of St. Stephen, which the Conqueror had founded. The mass had been performed, the corpse was placed on the bier, and the Bishop of Evreux had pronounced the panegyric of the deceased, when a voice from the crowd exclaimed, "He whom you have praised was a robber. The very land on which you stand is mine. By violence he took it from my father; and in the name of God I forbid you to bury him in it." The speaker was Asceliue Fitz-Arthur, who had often, but fruitlessly, sought reparation from the justice of William. After some debate the prelates called him to them, paid him sixty shillings for the grave, and promised that he should receive the full value of his land. The ceremony was then continued, and the body of the king deposited in a coffin of stone.

William's character has been drawn with apparent impartiality in the Saxon Chronicle, by a contemporary and an Englishman. That the reader may learn the opinion of one who possessed the means of forming an accurate judgment, we have transcribed the passage, retaining, as far as it may be intelligible, the phraseology of the original: - "If any one wish to know what manner of man he was, or what worship he had, or of how many lands he were the lord, we will describe him as we have known him; for we looked on him, and some time lived in his herd. King William was a very wise man, and very rich, more worshipful and strong than any of his fore-gangers. He was mild to good men who loved God, and stark beyond all bounds to those who withstaid his will. On the very stede where God gave him to win England, he reared a noble monastery and set monks therein, and endowed it well. He was very worshipful. Thrice he bore his king-helmet every year when he was in England: at Easter he bore it at Winchester, at Pentecost at Westminster, and in mid-winter at Gloucester; and there were with him all the rich men all over England, archbishops and diocesan bishops, abbots and earls, thanes and knights. Moreover, he was a very stark man, and very savage; so that no man durst do anything against his will. He had earls in his bonds, who had done against his will; bishops he set off their bishoprics, abbots off their abbotries, and thanes in prisons; and at last he did not spare his own brother Odo. Him he set in prison. Yet, among other things, we must not forget the good frith which he made in this land, so that a man that was good for aught might travel over the kingdom with his bosom full of gold without molestation; and no man durst slay another man, though he had suffered never so mickle evil from the other. He ruled over England; and by his cunning he was so thoroughly acquainted with it, that there is not a hide of land of which he did not know both who had it, and what was its worth, and that he set down in his writings. Wales was under his wield, and therein he wrought castles: and he wielded the Isle of Man withal: and moreover, he subdued Scotland by his mickle strength. Normandy was his by kinn: and over the earldom called Mans he ruled: and if he might have lived yet two years, he would have won Ireland by the fame of his power, and without any armament. Yet, truly, in his time men had mickle suffering, and very many hardships. Castles he caused to be wrought, and poor men to be oppressed. He was so very stark. He took from his subjects many marks of gold, and many hundred pounds of silver; and that he took, some by right, and some by mickle might, for very little need. He had fallen into avarice, and greediness he loved withal. He let his lands to fine as dear as he could; then came some other and bade more than the first had given, and the king let it to him who bade more. Then came a third and bid yet more, and the king let it into the hands of the man who bade the most. Nor did he reck how sinfully his reeves got money of poor men, or how many unlawful things they did. For the more men talked of right law, the more they did against the law. He also set many deer friths; and he made laws therewith, that whosoever should slay hart or hind, him man should blind. As he forbade the slaying of harts, so also did he of boars. So much he loved the high deer, as if he had been their father. He also decreed about hares, that they should go free. His rich men moaned, and the poor men murmured 5 but he was so hard that he recked not the hatred of them all. For it was need they should follow the king's will withal, if they wished to live, or have lands or goods, or his favour. Alas, that any man should be so moody, and should so puff up himself and think himself above all other men! May Almighty God have mercy on his soul, and grant him forgiveness of his sins!"

To this account may be added a few particulars gleaned from other historians. The king was of ordinary stature, but inclined to corpulency. His countenance wore an air of ferocity, which, when he was agitated by passion, struck terror into every beholder. The story told of his strength at one period of his life almost exceeds belief. It is said that, sitting on horseback, he could draw the string of a bow which no other man could bend even on foot.

William's education had left on his mind religious impressions which were never effaced. When, indeed, his power or interest was concerned, he listened to no suggestions but those of ambition or avarice, but on other occasions he displayed a strong sense of religion, and a profound respect for its institutions.

Dr. Lingard concludes this reign with the following paragraph: -

"During William's reign the people of England were exposed to calamities of every description. It commenced with years of carnage and devastation, its progress was marked by a regular system of confiscation and oppression, -and this succession of evils was closed with famine and pestilence. In 1086, a summer more rainy and tempestuous than had been experienced in the memory of man, occasioned a total failure in the harvest; and the winter introduced a malignant disease, which attacked one-half of the inhabitants, and is said to have proved fatal to many thousands. Even of those -who escaped the infection, or Recovered from the disease, numbers perished afterwards from want or unwholesome nourishment. 'Alas!' exclaims an eye-witness, 'how miserable, how rueful a time was that! The wretched victims had nearly perished by the fever; then came the sharp hunger, and destroyed them outright. Who is so hard-hearted as not to weep over such calamities?'"

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Pictures for Chapter XXXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2

William the Conqueror and his Son Robert
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View of Lincoln
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