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

Accession of William Rufus - Conspiracy against him - Invasion of Normandy - The Crusades.
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William, whose surname of Rufus is said to have been derived from the colour of his hair, no sooner found himself in possession of his father's letter to the primate Lanfranc, than he fled from the monastery of St. Gervas, where William was dying, and hastened to England, in order to secure possession of the crown.

Sensible that an act so opposed to the laws of primogeniture and the feudal rights might meet with great opposition from the nobles, he trusted to his celerity for success, and reached the kingdom before the news of the king's death arrived. Pretending orders from the dead monarch, he secured the strong fortresses of Dover, Pevensey, and Hastings. On his arrival a council of prelates and barons was summoned to proceed to the election of a sovereign. Hitherto there had been no precedent in which the younger brother had been preferred to the elder. Robert, the rightful heir, and his partisans, were in Normandy; William and his adherents on the spot; added to which, the archbishop Lanfranc, who felt himself bound to obey the last injunction of his benefactor William, exerted the whole influence of the Church in his favour. Three weeks after the death of his father he was proclaimed king, and crowned with the usual formalities.

As we before stated, the Conqueror on his deathbed commanded the liberation of his half-brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux. That warlike prelate, who had recovered some portion of his possessions in Kent, had long been the enemy of Lanfranc. The prompt compliance of the latter with the will of the deceased king in crowning William, who at first yielded himself: entirely to his directions, caused Odo to extend his hatred to his nephew, and he set himself accordingly to form a party in favour of the eldest brother, Robert, who was already in possession of the duchy of Normandy, as well as the county of Maine. (a.d. 1088.)

The great point he urged upon the nobles whom he enlisted in the cause of the last-named prince was the fact of their holding possessions in both countries, and that it would be much more prudent to hold their lands of one sovereign only. These representations were not without effect; and whilst the newly-crowned king held the festival of Easter, the barons, who had matured their plans, departed to raise the standard of revolt in various parts of the kingdom - Odo, in Kent; William, Bishop of Durham, in Northumberland; Geoffery of Coutances, in Somerset; Roger Montgomery, in Shropshire; Hugh de Bigod, in Norfolk; and Hugh de Grentmensil, in Leicester.

The rising which thus took place might have been formidable if the movements of the insurgents had been seconded by energetic action on the part of Robert. That pleasure, loving prince, who had promised to bring over an army from Normandy, once more sacrificed the prospect of a throne to his habitual indolence; and Odo waited in vain for the assistance which was to come across the channel, When at length single ships with detachments of the invading forces ventured from the Norman coast, they were intercepted and destroyed by English cruisers. Rufus, on learning the preparations which were making against him, had wisely permitted the fitting out of vessels, which seem to have been the first that may be called privateers; and his island subjects began thus early to give proofs of that superiority in the art of naval warfare which they have ever since maintained. The Norman attempt at invasion was abandoned, and the English insurgents were left to sustain the shock of the king's forces as best they might. Threatened by his own countrymen,, the Red King turned for counsel and assistance to the more honest and less ambitious Anglo-Saxons. He adopted a policy of conciliation towards those nobles of Anglo-Saxon blood who still retained any influence: he made liberal promises, which afterwards were only partially fulfilled, and he obtained their adherence to his cause. The king proclaimed the old Saxon call to battle, u Let every man who is not a man of nothing (A "man of nothing," in Anglo-Saxon “unnithing,” or "nidering," a term of abuse and contempt.), whether he live in burgh or out of burgh, leave his house and come," and many Englishmen flocked to his standard.

The first attacks of Rufus were directed against his uncle Odo, of Bayeux. That fierce and turbulent bishop waited his coming at Pevensey, which he had fortified strongly and garrisoned. This stronghold was taken after a siege of a few weeks, and Odo fell into the hands of Rufus, who gave him liberty, on the condition of his taking a solemn oath to deliver up Rochester Castle into the king's possession, and to quit the country immediately afterwards.

Rochester Castle was held by Eustace, Earl of Boulogne, one of the warmest partisans of Robert. When Odo arrived before the gates with the king's escort, and demanded in set form that the keys should be given up, the earl took him prisoner with his guards. This was a stratagem by which Odo hoped to escape the accusation of perjury, while he continued his rebellious course of action against the king. As the real commander of the garrison, this truculent bishop sustained for many weeks the attacks of his royal nephew, who, with his united forces of English and Normans, laid siege to the castle.

At length the besieged were subdued by disease and famine, and compelled to capitulate. They sent to William, informing him of their desire, and demanding that they should be allowed to retain their lands and titles under his sovereignty. Rufus at first refused to grant such a permission; but the Norman troops in his army, who could not forget that the garrison of the castle were their countrymen, and many of whom may have had relatives or friends within the walls, made appeals to the mercy of the king. "We," they said, "who have been with thee in great dangers, entreat thee to spare our countrymen, who are thine also, and who have fought with thy father." (Ordericus Vitalis)

After much entreaty, the king permitted the besieged to leave the town with their arms and horses. Not satisfied with this concession, Odo had the arrogance to demand that when the garrison quitted the castle the bugles of the king's troops should not sound in token of triumph, as was the custom in those days. Rufus replied angrily that he would not grant such a request for a thousand marks of gold.

The Norman adherents of Robert then passed out of the gates with ensigns lowered, and amidst the sounds of exultation from the king's troops. At the sight of Odo, a great clamour arose among the English soldiers. They remembered the thousand crimes of the soldier-bishop, and cried out that he was unfit to live. "Ropes! bring ropes!" they shouted; "hang the traitor bishop and his friends! Why is he allowed to go away in safety? The perjured murderer does not deserve his life!" Such sounds as these from every side thundered in the ears of the prelate, and thus, pursued by curses, he left the country for ever.

Meanwhile the conspirators in another part of the kingdom had met with ill success. The Earl of Shrewsbury, and with him other Norman nobles, had collected an army, which was occupied in laying waste the surrounding country. The earl with his troops set out from Shrewsbury, plundering and burning towns and villages, and putting many of the inhabitants to the sword.

The progress of this marauding force was stopped on its arrival before Worcester. The citizens, excited by a deep hatred of their Norman oppressors, closed the gates, and, conveying their wives and children into the castle, prepared for a desperate resistance. Headed by their bishop, who refused to go into the castle, but took the post of danger on the walls, they gave battle to the besiegers, and having watched their opportunity when part of the Norman forces were absent on one of their plundering expeditions, the citizens sallied forth upon the remainder, and cut great numbers of them to pieces.

These reverses proved fatal to the success of the conspiracy, and Rufus found little difficulty in dealing with the rest of the insurgent chiefs. Some he won to his side by promises; others, who still defied him, were quickly subdued, and were visited with various degrees of punishment, or made their escape into Normandy, with the loss of their estates.

As soon as the insurrection was quelled, and all danger from that source was at an end, Rufus revoked the concessions he had made to his English subjects, and before long the Anglo-Saxon population were reduced to their previous condition of servitude and misery.

The ancient monastery of St. Augustine, at Canterbury, was venerated by the people as one of the few remaining monuments of their old independence. The Normans exerted themselves to subdue the national spirit of the conquered race by repeated humiliations. Many of the time-honoured privileges of the monks of St. Augustine were remitted, and the abbot of Canterbury, though a Norman, was included in these restrictions. This man, however, hated the Saxons, and submitted willingly to the commands of the primate, which inflicted hardships on his monks. When they entreated him to prefer their complaint to the Pope, he answered by imprisoning them in their cells, and by other punishments.

In 1088 this abbot died, and Lanfranc, the primate, then proceeded to. Canterbury, for the purpose of installing in the vacant dignity a Norman monk, who was in high favour with Rufus. The Saxon monks of St. Augustine, one and all, refused to acknowledge or receive the new abbot, and Lanfranc ordered them to quit the convent. A few hours later, when the disconsolate friars were seated on the ground below Canterbury Castle, they received a message from the primate, permitting them to return, provided they did so at once, but with the notice that those who remain eel absent would be treated as vagabonds. Hunger induced several of them to accept the terms offered, and to swear obedience on the relics of St. Augustine. Those who refused to take the oath were imprisoned until they gave in their submission. A plot was nevertheless formed against the life of the abbot, and one of the conspirators, named Columban, who was taken in attempting to make his escape, confessed that he would have killed the Norman if the opportunity had offered. The primate ordered him to be bound before the gates of the monastery, and publicly flogged.

In the following year (1089) Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, died, at the age of nearly 100 years. If we compare the acts of his life with those of his contemporaries, and judge of his character with a due regard to the times in which he lived, we shall find his memory entitled to our respect. It is said of him that he was "a wise, politic, and learned prelate, who, whilst he lived, mollified the furious and cruel nature of King William Rufus, instructing to forbear such wild and outrageous behaviour as his youth was inclined unto." (Holinshed) The archbishop built various hospitals and almshouses, and recovered twenty-five manors which had been wrested from the see of Canterbury. One of these was a large estate which had been seized by Odo, and which that rapacious bishop was compelled to restore.

Removed from the influence of Lanfranc, the king gave the rein to his debaucheries, and showed himself "very cruel and inconstant in all his doings, so that he became a heavy burden unto his people." He appointed no successor to the primacy, but kept the see of Canterbury vacant four years, seizing the revenues, and applying them to his own vicious purposes.

Rufus elevated to the offices of royal chaplain and chief minister of state a Norman priest, named Renouf, or Ralph, who had received the surname of Le Flambard, or the Firebrand. This man, who once had been a footman in the service of the dukes of Normandy, was of bad character, ambitious, ready-witted, and a willing pander to the vices of the king. To raise money for his royal master's pleasures, he increased the burdens of the people; inflicted heavy fines in punishment of trifling offences; and caused a second survey of the kingdom to be made, raising the estimated value of estates, and increasing the royal revenues, at the expense of great suffering throughout the country.

Contentions were continually occurring between the Saxons and their oppressors. Everywhere the Normans showed themselves cruel and avaricious, trampling down the conquered race, and treating them as inferior beings. Ralph Flambard, who was Bishop of Lincoln, ruled his diocese with such tyranny that, as we read in an old chronicle, the inhabitants wished rather to die than live under his authority. The Norman bishops introduced a disorder of manners, which appears to have been unknown among the Saxon clergy. They marched to the altar between lines of halberdiers, and passed their days in drinking and playing at dice. "In those days," says Holinshed, "it (the clergy) was far out of order, not only in covetous practices, but in worldly pomp and vanity; for they had bush and braided perukes, long side garments, very gorgeous; gilt girdles, gilt spurs, with many other unseemly disorders in attire."

While such was the position of affairs in England, Robert, Duke of Normandy, was passing Ms days among dancers and jesters, flatterers and parasites. The province under his rule had fallen into a state of anarchy: the nobles defied the authority of their indolent sovereign, and, assuming the style of independent princes, made war upon each other. Some of the Anglo-Norman barons, alarmed for the security of their property, conspired together to place Rufus in possession of Normandy, as being better fitted than his brother to govern that turbulent duchy.

The Norman fortresses of Albemarle, St. Vallery, and others, were obtained possession of by various means, and were held in the name of King William; and Conan, a powerful burgess of Rouen, had entered into the conspiracy, and engaged to betray the capital into the hands of a lieutenant of Rufus.

Robert at length was roused to the dangers which surrounded him, but finding himself without money to raise troops, he applied to Philip I. of France for assistance. Philip responded to the call, and advanced with an army to the borders of Normandy; but Rufus sent him a sum of money as a bribe, and the French king returned at once to his own country.

Deserted by his ally, Robert appealed to his brother Henry, whom he had placed some time before in possession of a portion of the Norman duchy, in return for a sum of £3,000 which Henry had advanced. Since that time frequent quarrels had occurred between them, and it is related that, on one occasion, Henry was arrested by the duke's orders, and kept for a short time in prison. However, on receiving Robert's request for succour, Henry came to Rouen, and rendered his brother important assistance. Reginald de Warrenne, the lieutenant of Rufus, was driven back and compelled to retreat, and the burgess Conan was taken prisoner.

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

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