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


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Mingled with the many faults of Robert's character, there was a chivalrous spirit which shrank from taking a man's life in cold blood. He condemned Conan to perpetual imprisonment; but Henry, whose temper was less merciful, visited the captive; and having on some pretence taken him to the top of a high tower, he seized him suddenly round the body, and threw him over the battlements. Henry then turned to the attendants who had seen him play the part of executioner, and said that it was not fitting that such a traitor should escape condign punishment.

Early in the year 1090, the Red King (William is called by this title in the Roman de Ron and Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle.) landed an English army in Normandy, and advanced into the country. Robert again applied to Philip of France, who exerted himself to arrange a treaty of peace between the two brothers. By the provisions of this treaty, which was signed at Caen, the lands of En, Albemarle, Fescamp, and others, were assigned to Rufus; and it was agreed that no further attempt should be made by Robert upon the English throne. Certain estates in England were to be given to Robert in place of those which he resigned in Normandy, and William engaged to pardon those barons who had defended his brother's cause, and to restore to them their titles and lands. The barons of the two factions agreed that if the king survived the duke, he was to have possession of Normandy; and if the duke outlived the king, he should receive the English crown. This treaty was signed by twelve barons on each side, who swore to maintain its provisions.

In the records of these dark and turbulent times we see human nature presented to us - except in a very few instances - with but two aspects: luxury and indolence on the one hand, and cruelty allied with power on the other. Every man's hand is against every man; brother rises in arms against brother on the most trifling provocation, or to increase possessions already too large for the control of the possessor. The king of a powerful nation places his army at the command of the highest bidder, and forsakes his ally for a bribe of money. Chivalry, slowly struggling into existence, has yet attained no influence over the minds and actions of men. Honour is an idea, admired from a distance; religion, a ceremony, or a shadow of the better times to come.

Such is the impression at first conveyed by the chronicles of these remote periods, but such is not altogether a just impression. It is the business of history to deal with the crimes of mankind rather than with their virtues. The acts prompted by ambition, the struggles for power or profit, the wiles of diplomacy or intrigue - these are the things that influence the fate of nations and afford matter for the historian. But the virtues are of silent action: good deeds make little noise, and peaceful days are the blank pages of history. Therefore, when we read these accounts of former times, and see on every side the boisterous waves of human passion boiling up and passing to and fro, we may believe that, through the storm and darkness, the silent stream of happiness flowed on, and that, in every age, a just Providence has bestowed a due share of blessings on mankind.

Peace had been concluded between the two elder sons of the Conqueror; but now some cause of quarrel arose between Robert and Rufus, on the one side, and Henry on the other. This young prince was possessed of great abilities, and an ambition unscrupulous in its aims and unrestrained by principle. It is possible that the prophecy of his future greatness, uttered by his dying father, was not forgotten by him to whom it referred. Whether Henry at this time gave any cause for just suspicion to his brothers, does not appear certain; but such suspicions were excited, and the forces of the duke and the king were joined in an attack upon his territories. Henry took refuge in a castle in St. Michael's Mount, a solitary rock on the coast of Normandy, and in this strong position he sustained a long siege from the combined armies of his kinsmen.

An incident of the siege is related by some of the old chroniclers to the following effect: - The supply of water in the castle fell short, and the garrison were reduced to great distress from thirst. Robert, having been informed of this circumstance, sent a supply of wine to his brother Henry, and also permitted some of the people of the castle to fetch water. This conduct incensed William, who expressed his indignation at such generosity; but Robert replied that he could not suffer his brother to die of thirst. "Where," said he, "shall we get another brother when he is gone? "

There is another story told of the same siege, from which it appears that on one occasion Rufus had a narrow escape from death. The king had ridden out alone to take a survey of the fortress, when he was suddenly attacked by two of Henry's soldiers, who struck him from his horse. One of the men was about to dispatch him, when Rufus called out "Hold, knave! I am the King of England!" The soldier threw down his dagger, and raised him from the ground with professions of respect. It is related that Rufus rewarded the man with presents, and took him into his service.

According to some accounts, the besieging forces retired without having obtained possession of the fortress; but the more probable story, and that which rests on the best authority, is that Prince Henry was at length obliged to capitulate, and that he was deprived of all his estates. For two years he wandered about the Continent with a scanty escort and in great poverty. At length he obtained the government of the city of Damfront, and in. that position he displayed great ability, and obtained considerable power in the surrounding country.

Robert returned with Rufus to England, with the view of taking possession -of the estates to which he had become entitled by the treaty of Caen. The king, however, had no intention of observing the terms of the treaty, and answered his brother's demands with excuses and delays.

Meanwhile (1091) Malcolm Caenmore had invaded England, and had penetrated "even to Chester." William sent an army to oppose him, and, according to some authorities, also fitted out a naval force, which was overtaken by a storm on the Scottish coast and destroyed (William of Malmesbury,). The two armies met somewhere on the borders of Scotland, but the impending conflict was prevented by the efforts of Robert of Normandy and Edgar Atheling. A treaty of peace was concluded, by which Malcolm rendered homage to Rufus, as he had done to William the Conqueror, and was permitted to retain certain lands in Northumberland, of which he had become possessed. Edgar Atheling was allowed to return to England, where he became a hanger-on of the court, and a passive witness of the cruelties of the usurper who sat upon the throne of Alfred.

Soon after (1093) Rufus gave directions for the building of a fortress at Carlisle, and having sent a number of English to inhabit the town, he bestowed on them many valuable privileges. This act, if not an infringement of the recent treaty with Malcolm, was at least a violation of the rights of that monarch. The county of Cumberland had been for centuries attached to the Scottish crown, and Malcolm demanded its restitution. A conference took place between the two kings, and Rufus having refused redress for the injury, Malcolm returned in haste to Scotland, and carried an army into Northumberland, burning and laying waste the country. Before Rufus could advance to meet him, the Scotch monarch had fallen into an ambush and was killed, together with his eldest son.

It is related that when the news of the death of her husband and son was brought to Margaret, the Queen of Scotland, she bowed her head beneath the stroke, and died within four days afterwards.

"Thus," says Holinshed, "by the just providence of God came King Malcolm to his end, in that province which he had wasted and spoiled five different times."

William, after his return from Carlisle, fell sick at Gloucester; and being oppressed with the recollection of his many crimes, and probably deriving little comfort from the ghostly ministrations of Ralph Flambard, he gave signs of repentance, and promised on his recovery to amend his life. The repentance, however, passed away with the danger, and he is represented as having become from this time more cruel and debauched than before.

The king still withholding from his brother Robert the possessions which were his right, the duke returned to Normandy, and sent heralds to William, according to the usage of chivalry, denouncing him as a false and perjured knight, who held possession of lands which he had resigned by treaty.

William went to Normandy to answer the charge, and agreed to submit to the decision of a court composed of the high Norman nobility. The award, however, being in favour of Robert, the Red King refused to abide by the decision, and leading an army into Normandy, he defeated the adherents of the duke in several engagements.

Events followed each other closely resembling those which took place on William's previous expedition against his brother (1094). Robert, as before, made an appeal to Philip. The disputes between the sons of the Conqueror would seem to have been a source of considerable profit to the King of France, and his ready response to the call of Robert was probably less from a regard for his neighbour's welfare than from a view to his own interest. Rufus determined to buy him off as he had done before, and to obtain money for this purpose he devised a scheme in which he had the assistance of Ralph Flambard. He ordered a levy of 20,000 men in England, and when the troops arrived at Hastings to embark, it was announced to them that the king was willing to excuse them from the dangers of the campaign, and that each man would be permitted to return to his home on payment of ten shillings towards the expenses of the war (Matthew Paris). The money raised by this means was paid to Philip, who marched his forces back to France. The small and ill-appointed army of Robert would probably now have been overcome, had not affairs in England compelled Rufus to relinquish the contest.

The Welsh had taken advantage of the king's absence to invade the neighbouring counties, and "after their accustomed manner" (Holinshed.) carried away the cattle, and plundered and murdered the inhabitants, many of whom they also made prisoners. They laid siege to the castle of Montgomery, and carried it by assault, slaying the whole of the garrison. William marched hastily into Wales, but found it impossible to reach the marauders, who kept to the cover of the woods and marshes, and among the mountains, watching their opportunity to slay any of the English and Norman troops whom they could reach unawares. Rufus pursued them over the hills; but his march was attended with heavy loss to his army, and he was at length compelled to retreat, "not without some note of dishonour."

A second expedition, undertaken in the following summer (1095), met with no better success. It is related that an army was also despatched under the command of the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Chester, who re-took the isle of Anglesey, of which the Welsh had obtained possession (Matthew Paris). The inhabitants were maltreated or put to the sword; but, having received some re-enforcements, a battle ensued, in which the Earl of Shrewsbury was slain. The victory, however, was on the side of the Earl of Chester, who remained for some time in Wales, desolating the country.

While the Welsh were still unsubdued, Rufus received information of a powerful confederacy which had been formed against him in the north of England. The king had reason to suspect some of his nobles of disaffection, and especially Robert Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, a powerful noble, whose long absence from the court had excited suspicion. A royal proclamation was issued, calling upon every baron in the kingdom to appear at court at t-he approaching festival of Whitsuntide, on pain of outlawry. The Earl of Northumberland neglected to obey the summons, and the king immediately marched an army to Newcastle, where he surprised some of the earl's accomplices. He next besieged and took the castle of Tynemouth, and thence proceeded to Bamborough, an impregnable fortress, to which the earl had retreated with his family.

After various unsuccessful attempts to take this castle by storm, Rufus, who seems to have inherited much of the military talent of his father, adopted another plan of attack. He built a wooden fort, opposite Bamborough,

calling it Malvoisin, or "a bad neighbour;" and, having placed a garrison, he withdrew the rest of his army. His lieutenants were directed to lie in wait for every opportunity of inflicting damage upon the adherents of Earl Mowbray, or of gaining possession of his person.

One night the earl quitted his castle with an escort of only thirty horsemen. The object with which he did so is variously stated; but the most probable account is that he was betrayed by some followers of Rufus, who made the offer to give up the town of Newcastle into his possession. The earl was surprised by a body of Norman troops, and while many of his retinue were cut to pieces, he escaped from his assailants, and took sanctuary at St. Oswin's monastery, Tynemouth. By the laws of chivalry, the blackest criminal was safe under the shadow of the cross; but the soldiers of William were neither deterred by those laws, nor by any respect for the sacredness of the place. They pursued the earl to his sanctuary, and after a desperate resistance made him a prisoner.

Having carried Earl Mowbray to Bamborough, and placed him before the gates of his castle, they demanded a parley with the Countess Matilda. On her appearance, they exhibited her husband as a prisoner, and told her that they would put out his eyes before her face unless she at once gave up the castle into their hands. Matilda is described as having been remarkable for her beauty; she was young, and had been married to the earl only a few months before. She did not long hesitate, but ordered the gates to be thrown open. Among the followers of Mowbray was one through whom Rufus gained a knowledge of the extent of the conspiracy, and of the persons implicated in it.

The subsequent fate of Mowbray was that of a living death. His young wife had indeed saved him from blindness, but he was not the less deprived of the light of day. Condemned to perpetual imprisonment, he was confined in a dungeon at Windsor Castle, where we read that he dragged on existence for thirty years afterwards.

Among the other conspirators were the Earl of Shrewsbury, William of Alderic, the king's godfather, and William, Count of Eu, who was related to Rufus by blood. The first bought exemption from punishment with a large sum of money - as was a common practice in those days, as well as in later times; William of Alderic was condemned to death; the Count of Eu appealed to the ordeal of battle, or rather, as his guilt hardly admitted of dispute, proposed to fight for his pardon, against a champion selected by the king. The count was worsted in the encounter, and, by the sentence of the law, was condemned to be barbarously mutilated, after a custom which had been derived from the natives of the East (William of Malmesbury.).

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

William II
William II >>>>
The Death of Conan
The Death of Conan >>>>
William Rufus
William Rufus >>>>
Statue of William Rufus
Statue of William Rufus >>>>
Bamborough Castle
Bamborough Castle >>>>
Pope Urban II
Pope Urban II >>>>

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