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King Edward, son of Ethelred and grandson of Edgar, died on 5 January 1066, being the eve of the Epiphany. On 6 January he was hurriedly buried before the high altar of his new minster-church at Westminster, which had been consecrated just nine days earlier. On the very same day Harold, son of Godwin, Earl of the West Saxons, alleging that the old king on his death-bed had committed to his keeping not only his widow but his kingdom, had himself formally elected to the kingship by a small and probably partisan assembly of magnates. And thereupon he was straightway hallowed King of the English people by Eldred, the Archbishop of York, within the very precincts and almost at the very spot where some six hours before Edward’s body had been laid to rest.                                                                                                            

The unprecedented haste and indecent callousness of these proceedings speak for themselves. Whether Edward with his last breath had really attempted, as his biographer and the Peterborough chronicle report, to designate Harold as his successor can never be certainly known; but at any rate, if precedent and the customs of Wessex counted for anything, the crown of England was not his to bequeath; nor had Edward ever brought himself to make any such recommendation when fully possessed of his faculties. What alone is clear is that Harold had no intention of allowing any real debate on the succession to take place among the magnates as a whole. For it is impossible to believe that the great men of the Midlands and of the North, or even of East Anglia or Devon, were then gathered in London.

Evidently, as soon as ever it had become apparent that Edward's recovery was unlikely, Harold had made up his mind to set aside Edgar the Atheling, the sole surviving representative of the old royal stock, who was, it seems, about sixteen years old, on the plea of his youthfulness, and had determined to snatch the crown for himself on the double ground that, being over forty and a statesman of many years’ experience, he was far better fitted than the Atheling to be king, and that he was the only man in England who could be relied on to keep order and defend the realm from its foes. When therefore the moment came for action, all his plans were fully matured; and so it came about that in the course of a single morning, without any public murmurs of protest, the right kin of Egbert and Alfred, which could trace its ancestry back to Cerdic and which for the last two hundred years had played the leading part in England on the whole with credit and success, was displaced in favour of the semi-Danish house of Godwin, which had only emerged from obscurity some half a century before, and then only as the favoured instrument of the alien conqueror Knut.

That the coup d'état of 6 January was a gamble on Harold’                          s part cannot be doubted; for most men, he was aware, would regard him as a usurper, while it was plain that he could not really count on the support of either the house of Leofric or of the thegns north of the Humber, even if the young Earls Edwin and Morkere were for the moment acquiescent. Looking at the question, however, from the other side, it must be owned that England at the moment wanted a full-grown king and a man of experience, who would be feared and respected; and Harold was undoubtedly the foremost personage in the kingdom, and so wealthy that his mere accession almost doubled the revenues of the Crown and at the same time eliminated its most formidable competitor in all the southern shires.

Harold too cannot but have had before his mind the similar change of dynasty which had been brought about in France only eighty years before when the Carolingian line was finally set aside by Hugh Capet. If the Duke of the Franks had been justified in 987, the Earl of the West Saxons in 1066 may well have persuaded himself that he had an equally good case; for his material resources were greater than those of the Capetian, and the need of England for an active leader was patent to all. Lastly, in justification of his decision it can always be urged that it was plain to Harold, from his personal knowledge of Normandy and his misadventures there, that Duke William really was set on claiming the English crown on the ground of his kinship to Edward, by consent if possible, but by force if need be, and would leave no stone unturned in the attempt to achieve his purpose.

Year by year men had seen the Norman Duke grow more powerful, and both Harold and his partisans may quite honestly have argued that the sooner an experienced and capable man was placed in Edward's seat, the more likely it would be that William's plans would be brought to naught; whereas his chances of succeeding in his designs would be deplorably increased, if the kingly office were not quickly filled and Englishmen instead drifted into disputing how best to fill it.

If this interpretation of Harold’s behaviour may be adopted as the most plausible one and the best suited to account for his inordinate haste, it follows that we must also hold that Harold and his advisers not only considered a struggle with the Norman Duke to be inevitable, but also considered that the danger which threatened England from that quarter was of the greatest urgency. Harold of course knew that he might also have other foes to reckon with, such as his exiled brother Tostig and his cousin Svein Estrithson, King of Denmark (1047-1075), who as nephew of Knut had dormant claims on England which would revive when he learnt of Harold's accession. But Tostig was not really formidable, and might probably be placated, if compensated for his lost possessions; while Svein was of a cautious disposition, and unlikely to move at all quickly. Harold need not, therefore, have acted with any precipitancy merely to meet such contingencies, nor even to forestall internal opposition within England. It can only have been William that he deemed an immediate menace.

But why should he think William so formidable? Normandy as compared with England was only a small state. From Eu, its frontier town in the north-east, to Rouen and thence by Lisieux and Falaise to the river Couesnon in the south-west, where the duchy marched with Brittany, was a journey of less than 190 miles, about the same distance as would be covered by a horseman riding from Yarmouth through Ipswich and London to Salisbury, while the breadth of the duchy from north to south was nowhere more than 70 miles. A considerable portion of the province too was covered by forest; nor was the fertility of its fields and meadows, so far as we know, any greater than the fertility of the fields and meadows of Wessex. Even if Normandy possessed a more enterprising and more vigorous upper class than England, the whole Norman territory was only equal in area to five-sixths of Wessex, and all round its borders were other feudal lordships which had constantly harassed its rulers in the past, and which bore no goodwill to its present duke.

Bearing all these points in mind, it would seem at first sight as if William must be attempting an impossible task if he set out to conquer England, and as if Harold might safely have ignored his threats. But nevertheless, as the course of events was to show, Harold’s instinct of fear was right. Though William’s dominions were small in extent, William himself, ever since 1047, when he had taken the conduct of affairs into his own hands, had been giving the world proof after proof that he possessed not merely energy and ambition but a gift for leadership and a power of compelling others to do his will which almost amounted to genius.

During the last nineteen years he had succeeded in all his undertakings, whether as a leader in war or as a ruler and diplomatist, so that in all northern France there was no feudal prince who had a greater prestige, or one who had achieved a more unquestioned mastery of his own subjects. Normandy too was far better organized internally than were other parts of France, and was governed under a system which really did impose restraints, both on feudal turbulence and on ecclesiastical pretensions.

If then we wish fully to understand the risks run by Harold in challenging William, it will be well to make a short digression before describing the struggle between them and to study the steps by which the Norman duchy had acquired its peculiar characteristics and its ruler his remarkable prestige. To understand the Normandy of 1066 it is not necessary to go back to the foundation of the duchy in 911 by the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, or to attempt to dispel the fog that surrounds the careers of the first three dukes. These princes, Rollo (911-931), his son William Longsword (931-942), and his grandson Richard I surnamed the Fearless (942-996), were all undoubtedly men of mark; but nevertheless for this period there are really very few reliable details available.

Dudo, dean of Saint-Quentin, who wrote about 1020, indeed professes to tell their story, but his work is fundamentally untrustworthy and for the most part based on legend and hearsay. Some important points, however, can be established about the development of the duchy during the tenth century. The first is that by the end of the reign of Richard I the descendants of the original Norse settlers had become not only Christians but in all essentials Frenchmen. They had adopted the French language, French legal ideas, and French social customs, and had practically become merged with the Frankish or Gallic population among whom they lived. The second is that, as in other French districts so in Normandy, most of the important land­owners by this date held their estates on a feudal tenure, rendering the duke military service and doing him homage. Allodial ownership, however, was not altogether obsolete. The third is that the land-owning class had abandoned the old Scandinavian method of fighting on foot, and had adopted fighting on horseback. They no longer relied, like the English and the Danes, on the battle-axe and the shield-wall, but were renowned for their skill and efficiency as knights or heavy cavalry.


Duke Richard II. The dukes officers


With the accession of Richard II, in 996, we reach a somewhat less obscure period. As the title “the Good” indicates, Richard II was much influenced by the ideals of ecclesiastical reform which had spread from Cluny in the tenth century, and was a much more active patron of monks than his ancestors had been. Mainard, a monk of Ghent, had indeed obtained permission in the tenth century from Richard the Fearless to revive the ruined abbey of Saint-Wandrille on the Seine. Thence about 966 he had moved on into the Avranchin and re-established monks in the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

The third duke, however, had shown his zeal for religion rather by reorganizing the seven bishoprics of his duchy than by founding monasteries; and when he founded Fecamp about 990, he organized it merely as a house for canons. Richard the Good, on the other hand, like his contemporary King Robert of France (996-1031) with whom he was ever on the best of terms, undoubtedly believed that monks were superior to canons. He therefore about 1001, acting under the advice of the well-known Lombard, William of Volpiano, the Cluniac monk who had risen in 990 to be Abbot of Saint-Benigne at Dijon, reorganized Fecamp and substituted monks for the canons. His wife Judith also founded a monastery at Bernai. Richard's zeal on behalf of monasteries further induced him to issue a number of charters in their favour, granting them liberal endowments and privileges of many kinds. Several interesting examples of these charters have come down to us, especially those in favour of Fecamp, and it is chiefly from their contents that it is possible to piece together a few facts as to the nature of the ducal system of government in the first quarter of the eleventh century.

To begin with, if we analyze the witnesses to Richard’s charters, we find that the Norman Duke was served by certain household officers. The complete household of a feudal prince does not, it is true, come before us, but we find mention of a constable, a chamberlain, a chancellor, and a hostiarius. More prominent, however, among the witnesses than the household officers are the duke's local officials, styled vicecomites. As many as thirteen vicomtes—it seems rather confusing to English ears to call them viscounts—attested the charter for Bernai, issued in 1025. It is permissible, however, to assume that all the vicomtes were not present at the duke’s court when that charter was granted, and from later evidence it can be shown that there were more than twenty vicomtés in Normandy, each under its vicomte.

It is impossible to say when the vicomtés were originally established or how far they were based on older Frankish subdivisions, such as the pagi and centenae. In the tenth and eleventh centuries vicomtés were the common units for administrative purposes in all parts of France, and in some provinces not a few of these jurisdictions had developed into important feudal principalities.

In Normandy, on the contrary, it is clear from their number that the vicomtés were of no great size, nor should they be regarded as the equivalent of the shires in England. The majority of them were probably larger than Middlesex, but few can have been as large as Huntingdonshire. They compare best in fact with the rapes of Sussex in area. As to the position of the vicomtes politically, it is clear that they had not succeeded in making their offices hereditary except in one or two instances. They were still at Richard’s death public officers, appointed by the duke and removable at his will, who acted as his agents for all purposes of civil government. The duties laid upon them were not only fiscal, but judicial and military, the chief being to manage the duke's estates situated within the vicomté, to collect the duke's rents arising from them, whether in money or in kind, to lead the local levies in time of war, to maintain order in time of peace, and to administer justice in the name of the duke and collect the fines imposed on delinquents. Besides the vicomtés there also existed in Normandy under Richard II four or five districts distinguished as comtés (comitatus). These were the comtés of Mortain, of the Hiesinois, of Evreux, of Brionne, and of Eu. They were clearly appanages in the hands of the duke's kinsmen; for under Richard II the first was held by his second son, and the rest by his brothers or nephews. In area these comtés were not more extensive than the vicomtés, nor were their revenues greater. The difference between the two jurisdictions lay in the fact that in the comtés the duke retained no important estates in his own possession and left the local administration to the counts, whereas in the vicomtés he always owned several estates of importance, and as often as not one or more castles as well for their protection. A vicomté indeed might easily be changed into a comté, as was the vicomtéof Arques shortly after Richard's death simply as the result of a grant transferring the ducal interests there to William of Arques, who was the duke's illegitimate son; and then become a vicomté again upon the death or forfeiture of the grantee. In no instance, however, be it noted had a comté ever been set up in Normandy in favour of a baron who was unrelated to the ducal house.


The ducal revenue. The secular clergy


Besides telling us something about the officials of Richard’s day, his monastic charters also throw a faint light on the machinery of government. For example, they show fairly clearly that there was already in existence an organised ducal treasury. They not only refer to the fiscus dominions, but make a distinction between the regular revenues of the fiscus and the occasional or extraordinary revenues of the camera. For example, in 1025 the monks of Fecamp were granted the tithe of the duke’s camera, and a hundred pounds from the same source was at another time given to the monks of Saint-Benigne at Dijon. Special dues levied from market towns and on the profits of the duke’s mint are also mentioned. For example, we hear of the tolls from the burgus of Caen, and also of the tolls of Falaise, Argentan, Exmes, Arques, and Dieppe. Rights of jurisdiction, on the other hand, and immunities are not so clearly referred to. In the charters granted to the monks of Saint-Ouen, Jumieges, Fecamp, and Bernai, there are clauses it is true which somewhat obscurely guarantee to each abbey the possession of its endowments “free from disturbance by any secular or judicial powers”, but what this implied is doubtful.

These slight hints of course do not enable us to form any clear picture of the administrative system under Richard II, but they go some way to form a basis from which discussion may start. The fact too that these charters of Richard II do not deal in vague generalities, but are characterized by preciseness and a good deal of detail, adds considerably to their value. On the other hand, being solely concerned with monastic privileges they leave us entirely in the dark as to the relations of the duke with the bishops and secular clergy of the province, and with the mass of the feudal vassals, both matters which are of capital importance for the understanding of Norman conditions.

To obtain any light on such questions, we must go outside the monastic charters; but, as there are no written laws whether secular or ecclesiastical to turn to as in England, we have only the very scrappy and obscure information to rely on which can be gleaned from the narratives of the few chroniclers who collected the traditions as to Richard’s reign some two or three generations later. As regards the bishops, one point, at any rate, emerges clearly, namely, their practical subordination to the duke. Unlike many bishops in other parts of France or in Germany, not one of the seven bishops of Normandy was uncontrolled master and lord of his episcopal city, still less of any county or jurisdiction attached to it. Each bishop had a vicomte by his side as a rival power reminding him of the duke’s authority.

In Rouen itself there was a vicomte of the city, and the archbishop apparently had no special burgus of his own exempt from the vicomte’s interference. Again, in the matter of appointing bishops the duke paid the scantiest attention to the wishes of the cathedral clergy; for the most part he regarded bishoprics as scarcely differing from lay fiefs, and when vacancies occurred bestowed them, wherever it was possible, on his kinsmen. Richard the Fearless, for example, shortly before his death appointed his younger son Robert to the archbishopric of Rouen. Robert was already Count of Evreux, and he held both offices for nearly fifty years. At his death in 1037 his comté descended to his son Richard, while the archbishopric was bestowed on Malger, a bastard son of Richard the Good. Once appointed, the bishops in theory had considerable powers over the chapters of their cathedral churches and over the parochial clergy, and, as regards some moral offences, over the laity as well; for we meet with references to the Episcopates Consuetudines and to the jurisdiction exercised by arch­deacons, and see the monks constantly endeavouring to withdraw their lands and tenants from the bishop's jurisdiction. In the duke’s view, however, the bishops enjoyed their authority rather by his leave and license than as an indefeasible right arising under the universal law of the Church; and if there was any doubt or dispute as to the extent of a bishop's powers, it was brought before the duke and settled by his authority.

The position of the laity, whether the military classes or the peasantry, cannot be very summarily dealt with. As to the former, three obscure problems confront the inquirer. They may be stated as follows: firstly, on what conditions of tenure did the substantial landowners hold their estates? secondly, how large were the ordinary baronies, that is to say, the baronies held by men who could claim no kinship with the duke? and thirdly, had any precise amount of military service been already fixed for each barony? As to tenure, we find that an estate in some cases would be referred to as an alodus, in some cases as a beneficium, in others as a feudum. The contrast, however, between these tenures is evidently vanishing, and the one is no more precarious in its nature than the other. The “alod” in particular no longer, as in earlier days, implied absolute ownership. It was held of a lord, and the allodial owner, if he wished to dispose of it, had to obtain the lord's consent. The lord, on the other hand, was free to dispose of his rights over the allodial owner to a third person. We find Richard II, for instance, giving the monks of Saint-Wandrille an “alod” which he describes as held of himself by tenants named Osbern and Ansfred. Again, though Richard II alludes in one of his charters for Fecamp first to certain hereditates quas patertio hire (fideles mei) possidebant, and afterwards to certain beneficia quae nostri iuris erant, thereby seeming to imply that there was some contrast between them, it is evident that in general the fiefs whether of the barons or their knights were held on hereditary tenure, and were neither estates for life nor estates at will. It seems clear too that there was no attempt as yet, on the part of the duke, to insist that fiefs were indivisible. In the absence of any special agreement, when a succession occurred, all the sons had rights in the inheritance and, in default of sons, daughters might inherit even the largest fiefs. 

It is not so clear what happened if the heirs were under age. In one case Richard II seems to dispose of the hand of a vassal’s daughter; but our sources are too scanty to inform us whether the so-called feudal incidents of later times, the right of the lord to reliefs, wardships, and marriage, had as yet been systematically introduced. Evidence as to the size of the baronies is also scarce; but by good fortune we have a fairly detailed description of the barony of a certain Gere, which seems typical of the medium-sized Norman fief. This is preserved in the remarkable account given of the origins of the monastery of Saint-Evroul by Ordericus Vitalis, a monk of that house, who wrote only a century after Richard II’s death, and who piously put on record all the traditions which he could collect about the ancestors of the men who had founded the monastery in 1050. Gere, who was of Breton descent, began his career as a vassal of the lords of Belleme, holding lands on the southern frontier of Normandy and in Maine, with a castle at Saint-Ceneri on the river Sarthe near Alençon. While still a young man, he came under the notice of Richard II, who granted him in addition the barony of a Norman named Heugo, situated in the southern part of the diocese of Lisieux in the district of Ouche. The demesne lands of this barony, as described by Ordericus, consisted of about half-a-dozen detached manors spread out over thirty miles of wooded and hilly country, the chief being Montreuil and Echauffour, the one lying north and the other south of the site of Saint-Evroul. Even in his own district Gere had many formidable neighbours, of whom the chief were the Count of Brionne and the lord of Montgomeri; but none the less he is put before us as a man of some importance, whose daughters all married well, whose sons after his death were able to stand up against the Count of Brionne, and who himself was rich enough to build and endow six parish churches for the use of his tenantry.

Compared with the estates of many a king’s thegn in England, Gere's barony was clearly insignificant; but this only emphasizes the fact that Normandy was quite a small principality, in which there was no room for really large fiefs, and in which the great majority of the duke's vassals were men of quite moderate estate, more or less on an equality with each other. To show that Gere's barony really may be regarded as a fair specimen of the medium Norman fief, we have to rely on much later evidence, namely, the returns to the inquest ordered in 1172 to ascertain what services were then due to the Duke of Normandy from his various barons. In these returns we are informed that the barony of Montreuil and Echauffour still belonged to the house of Saint-Ceneri, that the number of knights holding of it was twenty, and that its lord owed the duke the service of five knights. If, however, we analyze the whole of the returns collected in 1172, we find that the total number of knights enfeoffed on the Norman baronies, after allowing for some missing returns, was about 1800 knights; that the total service due to the duke from all the baronies put together was about 800 knights, and that, though there were some two dozen larger baronies which owed the duke the service of ten to twenty knights each, the great mass of the baronies were no larger than Gere's and owed the duke either a service of five knights, like the barony of Montreuil and Echauffour, or even a smaller service. In the period of 150 years between 1025 and 1172, we must, of course, allow for the break-up and reconstitution of some of the Norman baronies; but, as there is no good reason to suppose that the majority of them were materially altered in either extent or character during that time, this later evidence, besides testifying to the size of the baronies, gives us a much-needed means of estimating roughly what number of fully-armed mounted knights could take the field when summoned for service by Richard II.

And this is a matter of some importance, if we are to have any just idea of Norman conditions; for historians have often spoken, when describing Normandy, as if the Norman dukes could rely on several thousands of knights, whereas in all probability in the middle of the eleventh century the number of fully-equipped knights existing in the duchy can hardly have exceeded twelve hundred. It is a further question how many of this total were really bound to render the duke service on expeditions outside the limits of the duchy. As already stated, in 1172 the duke only claimed to be entitled to the service of some 800 knights, though by that date his barons had sub-enfeoffed more than double that number of knights on their lands. It seems hardly probable that any of the earlier dukes could claim the service of a larger body; for if so, then, as the duchy grew more populous and more organized, the liability to find knights for offensive purposes must have been reduced. But this we can hardly believe; and it is altogether more reasonable to assume that the obligation to provide 800 knights or thereabouts for the duke's service was an arrangement made in quite early days and applied in the middle of the eleventh century as well as in the middle of the twelfth. On the other hand, we can hardly assume that the precise number of knights, twenty, fifteen, ten, five, and so on, due in 1172 from individual baronies, had been fixed for each by the end of Richard's reign.

Such fixed quotas might indeed have been agreed upon at any date; but in the case of the lay baronies their continuance unaltered over a long period of years seems hardly feasible, so long as inheritances were regarded as divisible among sons. The maintenance of fixed quotas of service seems in fact bound up with the adoption of primogeniture as the rule of succession to land, and with the development of the doctrines that fiefs were indivisible and that younger sons, to share in the succession at all, must become under-tenants of the eldest son. Exactly when these customs were introduced, it is impossible to say. There are indications, however, that fixed quotas of service had been imposed on some of the ecclesiastical baronies by the middle of the eleventh century.

Lastly, a few words may be hazarded about the peasantry and other classes below the grade of knights. As in the rest of the feudal world, the general body of the peasantry in Normandy were tied to the soil and in return for their holdings were bound to labour on the demesnes of their lords and render them in addition many special dues and services. There were, however, it would seem, on Norman estates very few actual slaves who could be treated merely as chattels; and this has been held to differentiate Normandy from other French districts, as it certainly distinguishes it from southern England. In Norman legal documents the ordinary term for a peasant tied to the soil is either villanus, conditionarius, or colonus, but a considerable class, described as hospites, is also frequently referred to. It may be presumed from their name that this latter class, in theory at any rate, had originally not been tied to the soil in the same way as the villani, but the evidence about them is too scanty to say to what extent it was still possible for them to move from one lordship to another. The real difference in Richard’s day may have been that, unlike the villani, they were not bound to regular week-work, but only rendered the lord occasional services, like the sokemen or radmanni in England. Finally, above the hospites came the vavassores or smaller freeholders. These men seem to have been bound to military service, like the knights; but most of them served in war-time on foot, not being individually wealthy enough to provide themselves with a knight's full equipment. Groups of vavassors, however, might in some instances be jointly liable to provide a fully-armed knight to serve in the field for them. Lastly, there was a small class engaged in industry and commerce, for the Normans had inherited the trading spirit from their Norse ancestors. These men dwelt chiefly in the seven episcopal cities and in the duke’s burgus of Caen. Outside these eight towns there were as yet, so far as we can tell, no urban centres of any importance; such places as Lillebonne, Fecamp, Arques, Eu, Argentan, Falaise, Mortain, and other sites of castles, indeed had their markets, but these places still remained essentially rural in character and their inhabitants are not referred to as “burgenses”.


Normandy under Robert I


Duke Richard II died in 1026, leaving two legitimate sons by his Breton wife Judith. The elder son, Richard III, only survived his father a year, dying, it is hinted, by poison. The younger son, Robert I, who must have been born about 1010 and who had been made titular Count of the Hiesmois, the district with Falaise for its centre, then succeeded and ruled as duke from 1027 to 1035. At first he was influenced by evil counsellors, and indulged in planning foolish schemes, such as a raid on England in the interest of his cousin, the exiled Aetheling Edward; but this was frustrated by a storm. Tradition also has it that he might have married the widowed Estrith, Knut’s semi-Swedish, semi-Danish half-sister, who must have been some ten years his senior, but he neglected Knufs overtures. He began, however, as he grew older, to show his family's normal ability, and he quite came to the front in French politics in 1031, when he helped Henry I, the new King of France, to secure his throne in despite of the Queen-mother and the Count of Blois, who wished to set him aside. 

In return for this service, King Henry is said to have ceded to Robert the mesne feudal suzerainty over the barons of the French Vexin, the district between the Epte and the Oise, which ecclesiastically was part of the diocese of Rouen; but in the end this grant remained inoperative, being always ignored by the Counts of Mantes, who were determined to remain direct vassals of the French crown. Duke Robert, like his father, was as a rule well-disposed to the reforming party in the Church, and is represented as placing much reliance on the counsels of Richard, the famous Abbot of St Vannes near Verdun, while Odilo, the fourth Abbot of Cluny, is found witnessing one of his charters. Robert too, in spite of his short career, was a builder of monasteries, being the founder of the abbey of St Vigor at Cerisy and also of the first Norman nunnery, which he placed at Montevilliers near the mouth of the Seine. Cerisy and Mont-Saint-Michel, it should be noted, were as yet the only monasteries founded in the western half of Normandy; but whereas the famous Mount, lying on the very confines of Brittany, hardly extended its influence beyond the Avranchin, Cerisy, lying twelve miles west of Bayeux, was well placed for influencing both the Bessin and the Cotentin. Charters still in existence further show that Robert’s liberality was not confined to his own foundations. 

Though they unfortunately add little to our knowledge of Norman institutions, they attest Robert’s interest in Fecamp, Mont-Saint-Michel, Saint-Ouen, Jumieges, and Saint-Wandrille, as well as in the cathedrals of Rouen and Avranches. More important still, they reveal the fact that a desire to found monasteries was now beginning to arise among the greater Norman barons, and that the movement was encouraged by ducal approval. This is a most noticeable development and led to three non-ducal monasteries being founded, La Trinité-du-Mont at Rouen in 1030 by the vicomte of Arques, Preaux near Pontaudemer by Humphrey de Vetulis of Beaumont in 1034, and a third on the fief of Gilbert, Count of Brionne, by his knight Herluin. This last was shortly afterwards moved to Bee near Brionne, and in a very few years became one of the leading centres of piety and learning in northern France. An equally important event, but of a different kind, which also befell in Robert's reign, was the founding of the first Norman principality in South Italy. 

Ever since 1016, bands of Normans had been taking a part in the conflicts between the Lombards and the Greeks and Saracens. The Greek armies, we are told, disappeared before them “as meat before devouring lions”. Consequently they were much prized as allies by the Princes of Salerno and other Italian barons. About 1030, however, they set up a petty state of their own at Aversa just north of Naples, a small beginning, but one destined to have important consequences, like the founding of Bec. In these adventures Duke Robert took no part personally, but in 1034 he determined to follow the example of Fulk Nerra of Anjou and see the world by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land had at this date become quite common undertakings for Frenchmen; but in Robert's case it entailed a difficulty, for being still unmarried he had no direct heir who would automatically take his place if he did not return.

He had, however, when only Count of the Hiesmois, formed an irregular union with a low-born maiden named Arlette, the daughter of Fulbert a tanner of Falaise, and had by her a son named William. For this bastard son, who was now about seven years of age, and for Arlette, Robert had a great affection, and he was determined that the boy should be his successor, especially as his legitimate heir, his sister’s son, was a Burgundian and even younger than William, while his own half-brothers, Malger and William, were both illegitimate. He therefore summoned a council and proposed to his barons that they should undertake to accept his bastard son, should misfortune befall him on his travels. This, it appears, they consented to do, though doubtless the proposal was distasteful to some of them. Whereupon four guardians of the duchy were chosen to conduct the government for the little William, should his father fail to return. The guardians selected were Gilbert, Count of Brionne, Osbern the duke’s seneschal, Thorold of Neufmarche, probably the duke's constable, and Alan, Count of Rennes, the duke's cousin. Approval for these arrangements was also obtained from the King of France as overlord of Normandy. As Duke Robert was only about 25 years old and in perfect health, it perhaps did not seem probable that the question of the succession would become of immediate importance. Robert’s journey, however, turned out to be an ill-fated one. He reached Jerusalem safely, but fell ill at Nicaea in Asia Minor, on his way home, and died there on 2 July 1035.


The minority of William the Bastard.


As soon as Robert's death was reported in Normandy, feudal turbulence broke out in most parts of the duchy. The young William was, it is true, proclaimed duke without demur, for the barons never anticipated that in a few years the bastard would become their unchallenged master, still less that their children would one day acclaim Arlette’s child as the Conqueror of England. What they looked forward to was the possibility of exploiting a long minority in their own interests. William’s guardians, it would appear, tried to do their duty to their ward; but how critical the times were can be seen from the fact that at least three of them came to violent ends, Osbern the seneschal being actually assassinated in William's bed-chamber by a member of the house of Montgomery.

It is by no means clear who took charge of William’s education after the deaths of his guardians. Some writers think that he became a ward of the King of France; but it is equally probable that he was protected by the Archbishop of Rouen, who naturally desired to have control of the boy duke's ecclesiastical powers and who was at the same time his most prominent kinsman. At the date of William’s accession to the dukedom the archbishopric was still held by his great-uncle Robert, who was also Count of Evreux. But Robert died in 1037 and was succeeded in the archbishopric by William’s uncle Malger. Now it was under Malger’s auspices in 1042 that the “Truce of God” for limiting private war to three days in the week under pain of severe ecclesiastical penalties was first proclaimed in Normandy, a circumstance which at any rate shows that he busied himself with the suppression of feudal turbulence. And if he was active in that direction, the further inference that he took upon himself the protection and education of his nephew seems fairly justifiable.

The promotion of Malger’s younger brother William to be Count of Arques at this time also points the same way; and so does the appointment of Ralf de Wacv to lead the duke’s men against Thurstan Goz, the vicomte of the Hiesmois, who had treacherously seized Falaise; for Ralf was a younger son of Archbishop Robert and Malger’s first cousin. Ralf de Wacy himself had rather an evil reputation; but a certain amount of calm nevertheless seems to have followed on his appointment, and it is interesting to note that three more baronial monasteries arose about this time, the first being founded at Conches by Roger de Toeni, standard-bearer of Normandy, the second at Lire by William the son of the murdered seneschal Osbern, and the third at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives by Lescelina, Countess of Eu. It was also during this period that Robert, Abbot of Jumieges, was summoned to England by King Edward to become Bishop of London, and that Robert Guiscard left his village home at Hauteville near Coutances to seek his fortune in Apulia and become the founder of the principality which in due time grew into the kingdom of Sicily.

It is not, however, till 1047, when Duke William had reached the age of twenty, that we really get any precise news about him personally. By that time it is clear that the more turbulent barons, especially those whose fiefs lay in the Bessin and the Cotentin, were beginning to be afraid of him, with the result that an organized movement was set on foot for getting rid of him on the ground of his bastard birth, and substituting in his place his Burgundian cousin Guy, who already had a footing in the duchy as lord of Brionne and Vernon. The leaders of this movement were Ralf of Briquessart and Nigel of Saint-Sauveur, who were respectively vicomtes of the Bessin and the Cotentin. They began operations by trying to capture William by treachery at Valognes. William, however, was warned in the nick of time; and making his escape rode right across Normandy to Poissy near Paris to ask for help from the King of France. King Henry was not unwilling to repay the service which he had himself received in like circumstances from William's father sixteen years before, and so William was enabled before long to take the field against the rebels at the head of a mixed force of Normans and Frenchmen with King Henry at his side. The rival forces met at Val-des-Dunes, a few miles east of Caen, and the day ended in a complete victory for the Bastard, who soon followed it up by taking Brionne and driving Guy of Burgundy out of Normandy.

The victory of Val-des-Dunes marks William’s accession to power, and a year later he still further enhanced his fame by leading a large band of Norman knights into Anjou to assist King Henry in an attack on Geoffrey Martel. On this expedition he showed such daring in the field and such skill as a military leader that Geoffrey Martel himself declared that there could nowhere be found so good a knight as the Duke of Normandy.

Having made such a successful debut, William was not the man to let the grass grow under his feet, but quickly set to work to make it clear to all who were in any way inclined to thwart him that he “recked nought of them and that if they would live or would keep their lands or would be maintained in their rights they must will all that he willed”. If not, whether kinsman or vassal, bishop or monk, rich or poor, he would sweep them from his path, sparing no man. The first to feel the weight of his wrath were his kinsmen, William Count of Mortain, William Busac of Eu, and William Count of Arques. In turn they all challenged the duke’s authority, and for their temerity were deprived of their estates and driven into exile, the first to Apulia, the second to Boulogne, and the third to the court of the French King. Shortly afterwards William also fell foul of Archbishop Malger.

The quarrel arose primarily because William resented the attitude which the leaders of the Church had taken up in the matter of his marriage. As early as 1048, William made overtures to the Count of Flanders, Baldwin V, for the hand of his daughter Matilda. The Count approved of the match, but on some obscure grounds the clergy objected to it, and bringing the matter before Pope Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, obtained a decree forbidding William and Matilda to marry. As soon, however, as William heard in 1053 that Pope Leo had been beaten and taken prisoner at Civitate, he set the Church’s ban at defiance, and boldly married Matilda in the minster at Eu. Malger, who was smarting over the outlawry of his brother the Count of Arques, thereupon excommunicated William, with the result that two years later he was himself deposed by a council summoned by William, on the charge that he was too worldly a prelate, while his see was bestowed on Mauritius, a monk of Fecamp.

It was in the middle of this period of family strife in 1051 that William visited England and came back believing, as he afterwards declared, that he had received some sort of promise from his kinsman King Edward that he would be nominated by him as his successor. At the moment, of course, this promise could make no practical difference to William’s position. It was otherwise, however, with his marriage to Matilda; for the alliance with Flanders upset the balance of power in northern France and led Henry I to abandon the traditional friendship of the Capetian house towards the lords of Rouen and to take up the cause of William’s dispossessed kinsmen. This new policy led to two invasions of Normandy by French forces, but on both occasions Henry’s arms met with crushing defeats, in 1054 at Mortemer, not far from Aumale, and in 1058 at Varaville, near the mouth of the Dives.


The acquisition of the county of Maine 


These victories greatly increased William’s confidence in himself, and turned his thoughts towards enlarging his dominions at the expense of his southern neighbours. Already in 1049 he had made a beginning by seizing the hill-town of Domfront and the surrounding district of the Passais in the north-west corner of the county of Maine and annexing them to Normandy; but in 1051 Geoffrey Martel had made further expansion in this direction difficult by driving Herbert, the young Count of Maine, out of his patrimony, and annexing his territories to Anjou. After the victory of Mortemer William advanced beyond Domfront another twelve miles into Maine and built a castle at Ambrieres in defiance of Geoffrey. This was a serious menace to Geoffrey of Mainz, the leading baron of western Maine, who appealed to Geoffrey Martel for assistance; but their united efforts to demolish the fortress only led to the capture of Geoffrey of Mainz, who, a little later, was forced to do homage to William for his lands in order to regain his freedom. In eastern Maine, however, where lay the see and castle of Le Mans and the chief demesnes of the count, Geoffrey Martel’s position remained unaffected, and the most William could do was to prepare for the future by betrothing his infant son Robert to Count Herbert's infant sister Margaret, with the understanding that Herbert’s right to Maine, if he died childless, should pass to the heir of Normandy as Margaret's destined husband. In 1060 both Henry of France and Geoffrey of Anjou died, and the way became open for Count Herbert to recover his patrimony.

But in 1062 Herbert also died, whereupon William at once advanced down the valley of the Sarthe and occupied Le Mans in Margaret’s name, in opposition to the wishes of the inhabitants, who rose in favour of Herbert’s aunt Biota, the wife of Walter, Count of Mantes. A year later the little Margaret died before any marriage had taken place between her and Robert. The only excuse for holding Le Mans therefore vanished; but William none the less determined to retain his prize and shortly afterwards himself assumed the title of Count of Maine.

In normal times this step would have provoked strong opposition both from the King of France and the Count of Anjou; but Philip I, the new King of France, was at the time a minor, and in the guardianship of William's father-in-law, the Count of Flanders, while the Angevin inheritance was in dispute between Geoffrey Martel’s two nephews. William accordingly in 1064 had a free hand. His overlordship nevertheless was not really acceptable to either the clergy or the barons of Maine, who, if they must submit to a stranger, much preferred an Angevin master. In the long run, therefore, the acquisition of the overlordship over Maine, partly by force and partly by chicanery, brought William little real strength, though it undoubtedly increased his reputation for luck and cunning. Meantime on his eastern border William had also profited by the victory of Mortemer to compel the Count of Ponthieu to do him homage; and thus it came about that Harold was handed over to William and became his unwilling guest when he was wrecked in the count’s territory.


The Norman Church under William


By 1065, then, William was a far more commanding French feudatory than he had been in 1047. Within his duchy also he had taken steps which greatly consolidated his authority. For example, he had fixed the quotas of military service for his barons and rigidly enforced the rule that no castle should be built without his leave; he had made his half-brothers, Robert and Odo, the sons of Arlette by a marriage with Herluin of Conteville, respectively Count of Mortain and Bishop of Bayeux, and had bestowed on each of them very extensive fiefs. He had also, in 1059, obtained a dispensation for his marriage from Pope Nicholas II on the condition that he and his wife should each build and endow a monastery. This reconciliation with the Church had been negotiated in Rome by the Italian Prior of Bec, Lanfranc of Pavia, who, in spite of his original opposition to William’s marriage, had become his closest friend and adviser. And this was very important, for Lanfranc was not only the finest teacher of his day and renowned for his successful disputations with the heretic Berengar, but was also a most subtle lawyer and a statesman of genius. Born about 1008, he was some twenty years older than William; but, once they had made friends, the difference of age and training was no bar to the completest sympathy arising between them, and so a relationship arose which was of the utmost value to William, as it put at his service one of the keenest and most practical intellects in Europe. At the same time, it must not be thought that either William's reconciliation with the Papacy or his friendship for Lanfranc had made him in any way abandon the claims of his ancestors to be supreme over the Norman clergy.

On the contrary, in 1065 there was hardly any continental Church so much under the control of the secular power as that of Normandy. Not only did the duke nominate all the Norman bishops and invest them with their privileges, but he was regularly present at the meetings of Church councils and no ecclesiastical decrees were issued without his sanction. His influence over the clergy, however, seems to have been almost wholly a good one. For just as he himself in his private life was an earnest and religious man and an exemplary husband, so in his public capacity, as protector of the Church, he took the greatest pains to foster discipline and piety among the parish priests, and saw to it that the prelates whom he selected were men of learning and character who would do their best to promote reforms and rebuke evil-doers. He also took an active part in broadening the range of monastic influence.

In obedience to the Pope’s decree, he set himself about building two monasteries at Caen, one for men and the other for women, and he did his best further to improve discipline and learning in the older ducal abbeys. His example too was an incentive to several of his greater vassals, with the result that some six or seven baronial minsters were founded between 1050 and 1065. The chief of these were St Évroul and Cormeilles in the diocese of Lisieux, St Martin at Seez, and Troarn near Val-des-Dunes in the Bessin, the last two, it should be noted, both being founded by Roger of Montgomery. Normandy could therefore boast in 1065 of twenty-one monasteries for men, eight of which were in the patronage of the duke and thirteen in the patronage of the leading barons. There was, however, still no monastic foundation in the diocese of Coutances.


William prepares to invade England, 1066


The foregoing sketch of the development of Normandy and of William’s career down to 1066 has been given in order to show clearly the nature of the risks deliberately accepted by Harold when he seized the English crown. However confident he might be that he could deal with the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria—and he at once tried to conciliate them by marrying their sister Ealdgyth—Harold knew that his most dangerous rival was William and that it would be very difficult to come to terms with him. Nor did William long leave any one in doubt as to his intentions.

As soon as he heard of Harold’s coronation, he sent messengers to England, reminding him of his oath and demanding his allegiance. At the same time he proclaimed to all the world that Harold was a usurper, and sent envoys to Pope Alexander II denouncing Harold as a perjurer and asking for a blessing on his proposed invasion of England. To this appeal the Pope gave a favourable ear; for the English Church in the eyes of the Curia was much in need of reform, and might well be brought by such an expedition more under papal authority. Alexander, therefore, by the advice of Archdeacon Hildebrand, sent William a consecrated banner as a token of his approbation, and thus gave the duke’s piratical adventure almost the character of a holy war. Pending the result of their negotiations, William summoned a council of his barons to meet at Lillebonne, and asked them to support his enterprise.

It was only with difficulty that they were persuaded to help him. Feudal law gave the duke no right to call for their services out of France, and to most of them it seemed doubtful whether a sufficiently strong force could be got together for so great an undertaking, or, even if got together, whether it would be possible to build and man sufficient transports to carry it across the Channel. The first objection was met by asking for volunteers from outside Normandy and promising them a share in the plunder of England. And as for the second objection, William would not listen to it for a moment, but ordered transports to be built in all parts of the duchy and stores of arms and provisions to be made ready by harvest time.

In these deliberations the most active advocate of the duke's project was his seneschal William Fitz Osbern, who perhaps knew something of southern England at first hand, as his brother Osbern Fitz Osbern already held an ecclesiastical post in Sussex, being Dean of Bosham, together with an estate in Cornwall. The appeal for volunteers soon brought adventurous spirits from all quarters to William's standard. The largest number are said to have come from Brittany, led by Brian and Alan of Penthievre; but the number of Flemings was almost as great. There were also strong contingents from Artois and Picardy, while Eustace of Boulogne, who had a long-standing feud with the house of Godwin, offered his services in person.

On the other hand very little help came from Maine or Anjou, and only a handful of knights from more distant parts, such as Champagne, Poitou, or Apulia. One would fain know the total number of William’s host, but as usual the figures given by the chroniclers are merely rhetorical. Several considerations, however, strictly limit the possible numbers. In the first place, we can be sure that the Norman contingents outnumbered the auxiliaries from other parts. But, as we have already seen, it is very unlikely that Normandy at this time could put more than 1200 knights into the field. Again, the Bayeux poet Wace, who describes the expedition in great detail in Roman de Rou, a metrical chronicle written about 1172, states that his father had told him that the number of transports of all kinds was not quite seven hundred; and, as the Bayeux tapestry testifies, the largest of these were only open barges, with one square sail, not capable of holding more than a dozen horses, while the majority were still smaller and less capacious.

It seems then that the most plausible number we can assume for William’s army is somewhere round about 5000 men. Somewhere about 2000 of these were probably fully-equipped knights with trained horses, of whom about 1200 hailed from Normandy and about 800 from other districts, while the remaining 3000 men would be made up by contingents of footmen and archers and the crews who manned the ships. In that age, however, even 5000 men were an almost fabulously large force to collect and keep embodied for any length of time, nor were there any precedents for attempting to transport a large body of cavalry across the sea. No viking leaders had ever done that.

Their fleets had only carried warriors, and their first operation after landing had always been to seize horses from the invaded territory. William’s knights, on the contrary, must have their own trained horses; and so William had to provide for bringing over at least 2500 horses in addition to his men, and this too in small open boats which were unable to beat to windward; nor could he reckon on any docking accommodation, either for embarking or disembarking them. The mere crossing of the Channel, then, would be a remarkable and very novel feat; and if the weather turned stormy or the tide were missed, a very hazardous one. Nothing indeed brings out the duke's prestige so plainly as the fact that he was able to persuade his followers to take so tremendous a risk. By harvest time, as arranged, his preparations were fairly complete, and the contingents from western Normandy and Brittany lay ready with their transports at the mouth of the Dives. There they remained windbound for four weeks, and it was only in the middle of September that they were able to move eastwards to Saint-Valery in the estuary of the Somme and join the contingents from eastern Normandy and Picardy. At Saint-Valery the invaders were about 60 miles as the crow flies from the Sussex coast, instead of about 105 miles as they would have been had they started from the Dives; but still there was no sign of a fair wind for England, and whispers began to spread that William's luck had deserted him.


Harold defeats Harold Hardrada


Meantime, events were taking place in England which greatly improved William’s chances. All through the summer Harold had kept both men and ships in readiness on the south coast for William’s coming. But when September came the men insisted on going to their homes to see after the harvest. Scarcely, however, had they disbanded, when Harold received the unwelcome tidings that his exiled brother Tostig in alliance with Harold Hardrada, the great warrior-King of Norway, had entered the Humber with a large fleet and was threatening York. Harold at once got together his house-carls and such other men as he could lay hands on, and started to cover the 200 miles between London and York by forced marches to succour the Yorkshiremen.

Before he reached Tadcaster, news arrived that the Earls Edwin and Morkere had been defeated at Fulford outside York, that the city had submitted, and that the invaders had moved off eastwards to plunder Harold’s own manor of Catton by Stamford Bridge on the Derwent. Harold accordingly marched past York and fell on the invaders by surprise. A long and desperate tight ensued, in which both Harold Hardrada and Tostig were killed, while only a remnant of their men survived to regain their ships and betake themselves home. This splendid victory was gained on Monday, 25 September, and at any other time would have made Harold’s position secure.

Almost at the same time William at Saint-Valery, in total ignorance of what Harold was doing, was organizing processions of relics to intercede for more favourable weather. In most years equinoctial gales might have been expected, but suddenly fate smiled upon him. The weather became fine, the wind veered round to the right quarter, and on Thursday, 28 September, he was able to embark all his men and horses. By nightfall all was ready, but he still had to wait for the tide.

The actual start was not made till near midnight, William leading the way with a lantern at his mast-head in the Mora, a fast-sailing craft which had been specially fitted out for him by his wife. The probable intention was to land near Winchelsea in the great manor of Brede (Rameslie), which for over 40 years had been in the possession of the monks of Fecamp by the gift of Knut and Emma. The wind and tide, however, carried the flotilla farther to the west, and in the morning William found himself off the small haven of Pevensey, with no obstacle to bar his entrance. Pevensey itself at this time was a small borough of 52 burgesses; but they could only look on helplessly while William’s transports were one by one beached and unloaded. Once safe ashore, no time was lost in moving eastwards to the larger borough of Hastings, where orders were immediately given for the building of a castle.

On the news of William’s landing being brought to York, Harold at once rode south to London to collect fresh forces, leaving Edwin and Morkere to follow. Many of his best house-carls had fallen at Stamford Bridge, but a very powerful force of thegns could soon have been mustered from the shires south of the Welland and Avon if only Harold would have played a waiting game. He was, however, in no mood to remain on the defensive. He had just won a magnificent victory, and it seemed to him a cowardly plan merely to stand by and let the invaders overrun his native Sussex without hindrance. He therefore, after a few days’ halt, set out again, having with him only such levies as had hastily come in from the districts nearest London.

Passing through the Weald, he led his forces towards Crowhurst and Whatlington, two villages lying north­west of Hastings, which had formed part of his personal estates before he became Earl of Wessex, and on 13 October, the eve of St Calixtus, he encamped on an open ridge of down which lay midway between his two properties some six miles from the sea. Early next day William, eager to attack, marshalled his army near the high ground of Telham, two miles away, and then advanced in three divisions having the Breton contingents, say 1000 men, on the left, the Flemings and Frenchmen, say 1000 men, on the right, and the Normans, say 2400 men, in the centre.

A slight valley intervened between the two armies, and across it William could see Harold's forces posted in close formation several ranks deep along the crest of the ridge, having a front of perhaps 500 yards. The English in accordance with their national custom were all on foot, the house-carls and thegns being armed with two-handed axes and kite-shaped shields. Some of Harold's men, however, were just peasants, armed only with javelins and stone-tipped clubs. The whole body probably out­numbered the invaders, but Harold knew that he was at a great disadvantage in having very few archers, and no mounted troops to match William's 2000 horsemen. He consequently gave his men orders to stand strictly on the defensive, and on no account to leave their position, which was one of advantage, as the enemy would have to attack up a fairly steep slope, whether in front or on the flanks. William's men, undeterred by that, came on steadily, the front ranks in each division being made up of archers and cross-bowmen, followed by lines of heavily-armed footmen, while the knights brought up the rear.

For some hours all attempts to storm the hill were in vain, and at one moment William had great difficulty in preventing the Bretons from retreating in a panic. At last, however, by the stratagem of a feigned flight on the right, a number of the English were induced to rush down the hill in pursuit, whereupon the Norman knights wheeled their horses round, and easily cut them to pieces. This gave the opening which William was looking for. Renewing the attack, slowly but surely the Norman knights pressed back the depleted English shield-wall, until at last Harold was mortally wounded by an arrow in his eye. For a space some leading thegns still held out round the king's dragon standard; but one by one they too were hewn down, so that by nightfall the English army was reduced to a mere leaderless rabble which scattered and fled into the woods.

The disaster to Harold's cause was complete. The deaths of his brothers, Earls Gyrth and Leofwin, together with the slaughter of so many leading men, made it impossible for the supporters of the house of Godwin in eastern Wessex to make another stand. Duke William, on the other hand, was too cautious to press on quickly; and it was not till five days after his victory that he set out from Hastings to get possession of Canterbury, moving by Romney and Dover.

Meantime, in London, the leaders of the English Church, headed by Stigand, acting in cooperation with the chief landowners of the Midlands and the Eastern counties under the guidance of Aesgar the Staller, the leading magnate in Essex, declared for setting Edgar the Aetheling on the throne. In this decision Edwin and Morkere outwardly acquiesced; but secretly the two earls were intriguing to prevent the crowning of the young prince—he was hardly yet seventeen, it would seem—and they soon retired to their estates without summoning their men to fight for him.

Once more it was clearly shown that the English race had as yet developed no true national feeling. Perhaps what the earls hoped for was a partition of the kingdom between themselves and William, the duke contenting himself with Wessex. While still at Canterbury, the news was brought to William that Queen Edith and the men of Winchester were prepared to recognize him. This made it safer for him to advance on London; but before actually attacking the city, he thought it more politic to secure as strong a foothold as possible south of the Thames. He therefore marched past Southwark and Kingston and up the Thames valley, harrying a wide belt of country, until he came to the borough of Wallingford, at that time the chief place in Berkshire.

Crossing the Thames at this point, he doubled back eastwards to Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire, so as to threaten London from the north-west and cut it off from possible succour from the Midlands. As Edwin and Morkere still remained inactive, the magnates in London decided that armed resistance was hopeless. They accordingly went to meet William, and made their submission, the king-elect, Edgar the Aetheling, being one of the party. The Norman forces thereupon advanced unopposed to London; and on Christmas Day 1066 William, like Harold only a year before, was hallowed King of the English in Edward's new church at Westminster by Ealdred the Archbishop of York, Stigand of Canterbury’s services being refused, on the ground that he had received his pallium from an anti-Pope.


William crowned. Revolt of Hereward


When once William had been crowned with the traditional rites, his attitude towards those who had submitted to him necessarily changed from that of an invader bent on promoting terror and havoc to that of a lawful sovereign anxious to stand well in the eyes of his new subjects and eager to give them as good peace as he had already given to Normandy. Nevertheless, William was faced with a dilemma; for he could not safely allow his new dominions to remain without a Norman garrison, or risk offending the soldiery to whom he owed his triumph by disappointing them of their promised rewards. To feel secure he had to allot extensive estates to his chief followers, which they, in their turn, could deal out to their retainers, and also build castles up and down the land for their protection. As he surveyed his position, however, after the coronation, William might well think that he had gained sufficient territory to reward his men lavishly. The area acknowledging his authority was already much larger than Normandy, and it included a considerable proportion of the most fertile and best populated parts of the country. It comprised, moreover, the estates of nearly all those who had actually fought against him, including a large proportion of the estates of the house of Godwin; and all these he could legitimately regard as confiscated for treason and available for distribution. The areas, too, which had not as yet actively opposed him, such as West Wessex, North Mercia, and Northumbria, might well submit voluntarily if given more time. He therefore decided to adopt a waiting policy, and to direct his immediate efforts to organizing the south-eastern half of the country, giving out at the same time that the English laws and customs would be maintained, and that even those who had helped to set up Edgar the Aetheling might make their peace by paving suitable fines and providing hostages. In Essex and East Anglia there was really little doubt that leniency would be the best policy, as William knew that several of the leading landowners, such as the Bishop of London, the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds, Half the Staller, and Robert son of Wimarc, were definitely on his side, being men of French extraction who had been installed and promoted by King Edward. The policy of waiting, however, quickly bore fruit in the Midlands as well, and before long many of the leading Mercians, headed by Edwin and Morkere, betook themselves to William’s court at Barking and did him homage. The two earls, in fact, as they had not fought against William, were well received and confirmed in all their possessions on the condition that they remained in his company. Meanwhile castle-building and the assignment of confiscated lands to Normans were pressed on steadily, and by March William felt himself sufficiently secure to risk a visit to Normandy, for the double purpose of making a triumphal progress through the duchy and of impressing his continental neighbours. To grace his triumph he took with him Edgar the Aetheling, Archbishop Stigand, Earl Edwin, Earl Morkere, Earl Waltheof, and many other leading Englishmen, and also a great quantity of gold and silver and plate and jewels, seized from the conquered districts, for distribution as a thank-offering among the churches of Normandy. In England he left the direction of affairs in the hands of his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and of his seneschal William Fitz Osbern, the former having his head-quarters in Kent and Essex, and the latter apparently in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, together with the custody of more distant strong­holds in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. For eight months these two governed as joint-regents; and if they did not foster, at any rate they did little to repress, the rapacity and licence of the rank and file of the intending settlers. No serious risings of the English, however, occurred, the only disturbance of note being an unsuccessful attempt made by Eustace of Boulogne, helped by the men of Kent, to oust Odo of Bayeux from Dover, a stronghold which the count claimed ought to have been entrusted to him and not to the bishop.

In December 1067 William returned from Normandy, and soon realized that the remoter shires were not going to submit to his authority without compulsion. To begin with, Harold's mother, Gytha, was still holding out in western Wessex; and though the men of Somerset had apparently by this time deserted her cause, it required a march by William in person to Exeter, and an eighteen days1 siege of the borough, before the men of Devon and Cornwall would come to terms with him. Then, soon after Whitsuntide 1068, came the news that Edwin and Morkere, disgusted at the slights put upon them, had broken into revolt, that Edgar the Aetheling with his sisters had set out for the north, and that Gospatric, who had been recognized by William as Earl of Bemicia, was inclined to set Edgar up as king. William, thus challenged, at once marched his forces into Yorkshire. The rapidity of his movements and the prompt building of castles at Warwick, Nottingham, and York, quickly cowed Edwin and Morkere into renewing their allegiance; but Edgar and Gospatric took refuge at the court of Malcolm Canmore, the King of Scots (1054-1092), who received them honourably. William himself did not go beyond York, but turned south again, and spent the autumn in erecting castles at Lincoln, Huntingdon, and Cambridge. Being determined, however, to get a footing in the north, he offered the earldom of Bemicia to one of his Flemish followers, Robert of Commines, and sent him early in 1069 with a force of 500 horsemen to Durham. This move ended in disaster, for the Northumbrians at once rose and massacred Commines and his men; whereupon Edgar, helped by Earl Waltheof, reappeared in Yorkshire and laid siege to William's forces in York. Once more William hastened to York and gave orders for a second castle to be built there. But even so the Yorkshiremen were only temporarily quelled, and soon took heart again on hearing that Svein Estrithson of Denmark was at last fitting out an army to enforce his claim to the English crown as Knufs heir. The Danish expedition set out in August 1068, and after ineffective attacks on Kent and East Anglia, joined forces with Edgar the Aetheling in the Humber. The fall of York followed towards the end of September, Waltheof taking a prominent part in the attack. For a moment the situation looked serious; for a revolt was also in progress in Shropshire and Staffordshire led by a thegn named Eadric the Wild, while only a month or two earlier some of Harold's illegitimate sons, sailing from Dublin, had effected a landing near Barnstaple in Devon. There was, however, no real co-operation between William’s enemies, and the crisis soon passed away. Leaving the Bishop of Coutances and Brian of Penthievre to deal with the danger in the south, William himself marched upon Stafford, scattering the rebels before him, and then into Yorkshire, at the same time sending detachments into Lindsey under the Counts of Mortain and Eu. South of the Humber these leaders were successful in capturing several parties of Danes, but William himself was held up at the river Aire by floods for over three weeks. His mere proximity, however, demoralized the Danes; and when at last he renewed his advance, he found that the main body had evacuated York and retreated to their ships. The way was thus cleared for William to punish the Yorkshiremen. Thrice they had defied him, and he was determined that it should never occur again. He therefore gave orders that the country from the Humber to the Tyne should be systematically devastated. For several weeks the cruel work went on, the villages one after the other being burnt, while the inhabitants and cattle were either killed or driven away. As a result, the whole of the diocese of York, stretching from the North Sea to the Irish Channel, became so depopulated that even twenty years later the greater part of it still remained an uncultivated waste. Nothing in William's career has so blackened his reputation as this barbarous action; but it led quickly to Gospatric and Walthcof’s submission, and at any rate freed the Normans from all further danger. In 1070 Cheshire and Shropshire were both overcome without any serious fighting, and by March William was back at Salisbury and able to disband his forces. After that, only one more rising of the English is reported. This was led by Hereward, a petty Lincolnshire landowner, and was no more than a forlorn hope, provoked by the arrival of the Danish fleet in the fenlands surrounding Ely. The Danes indeed effected little beyond the sack of Peterborough, but Hereward held out in the Isle of Ely for over a year. The fall of his stronghold marks the completion of the Conquest. By the close of 1071, William was in full possession of every English shire; Earl Edwin was dead, Earl Morkere a prisoner, and Edgar the Aetheling was once more a fugitive in Scotland.


The evidence of Domesday Book


Having followed in outline the five years’ struggle by which William gradually obtained full mastery over his kingdom, it is time to turn to the measures which he took for its reorganization and government. At the outset, as we have seen, it was by no means his intention to make many sweeping changes. He claimed to be Edward's lawful heir, and from the first he gave out that it was his will that “all men should have and hold Edward’s law”. Such surviving writs and charters as date from the years 1067 and 1068 show that at first he acted partly through Englishmen, while to some extent he even seems to have employed the English local levies in his military operations.

The prolonged resistance, however, which he encountered in so many districts, inevitably led the Conqueror to change this policy, and gave him an excuse for treating all the greater English laymen as suspected, if not active, rebels and for confiscating their estates. He thus by degrees seized nearly all the best land, with the exception of the broad estates owned by the Church and the monasteries, and was able to reward his leading fighting-men not merely handsomely, but with fiefs often ten or even twenty times as valuable as the lands they possessed across the Channel. And even so he by no means exhausted the land at his disposal, but was able to retain for himself far more and far better distributed crown-lands than had been enjoyed by any English king before him. He was able further to set aside a sufficient amount of land to provide wages or maintenance for some hundreds of minor officials and domestic retainers, such as chaplains, clerks, physicians, chamberlains, cooks, barbers, bailiffs, foresters, falconers, huntsmen, and so forth, whom he employed about his person or on his wide-spread estates, or whose past services had entitled them to either pensions or charity.

The process by which the conquered land was parceled out into fiefs for William’s fighting-men can unfortunately only be surmised; for no documents have survived, if any ever existed, recording his grants or the terms on which they were made. The outcome of the process on the other hand is very completely set before us, as the resulting fiefs, or “baronies” to use the technical French term which now came into use, are all described in minute detail in the “book of Winchester”, the unique land-register, soon nicknamed “Domesdei”, which the Conqueror ordered to be drawn up in 1086. This wonderful survey, which we know as Domesday Book, covers the whole kingdom with the exception of the four northern counties and a few towns, London and Winchester being unfortunately among the omissions.

Internal evidence shows that the survey was made by sending several bands of commissioners on circuit through the shires, who convened the shire-moots and got the information they required from local juries, containing both Normans and Englishmen, drawn from each hundred. The resulting returns, which are set out in Domesday Book county by county and fief by fief, are clearly answers to a definite schedule of questions which were put to the juries, and which were designed to elicit how many distinct properties, or “manors” as the Normans termed them, there were in each hundred, by whom they had formerly been held in King Edward's day, and to whom they had been allotted, how far they were sufficiently stocked with peasantry and plough-oxen, and what was estimated to be their annual value to their possessors, both before the Conquest and at the date when the survey was made.

Particulars were also called for, which enable us to ascertain the categories into which the peasantry were divided, the distribution of wood, meadow, and pasture, and the amount of taxation to which each manor was liable in the event of the king levying a Danegeld. Unfortunately the clerks who compiled the record in its final shape at Winchester, and re-arranged the returns by fiefs instead of as originally by hundreds and villages, were not directed to summarize the information collected about each fief; and so the survey contains no totals either of area or value for the different fiefs by which they can be conveniently compared and contrasted one with another.

With patience, however, such totals can be approximately worked out, and sufficiently accurate statistics compiled to show relatively how much of England William reserved for himself and his personal dependants, how much he left in the hands of the prelates and monastic houses, and how much he assigned to the various lay baronies which he created to reward the soldiery by whose help he had effected the Conquest. In making such calculations, however, it is not so much the acreage or extent of any given fief which it is important to find out as its total annual value. Any widespread estate, of course, gave importance to its possessor from a political point of view; but in the eleventh century, just as today, acreage was only of subsidiary importance, and the effective power of most of the landed magnates at bottom depended, not on the area but on the fertility and populousness of their manors and on the revenue which could be obtained from them either in money or in kind. It is in fact as often as not misleading to count up the number of the manors on different fiefs, as some commentators on Domesday Book have done, and contrast, for example, the seven hundred and ninety-three manors allotted to the Count of Mortain with the four hundred and thirty-nine manors allotted to the Bishop of Bayeux, or both with, say, the hundred and sixty-two manors allotted to William Peverel. For “manors” or holdings were of every conceivable extent and variety, just as estates are today, and might vary from petty farms worth only a few shillings a year, in the currency of those times, to lordly complexes of land stretching over dozens of villages and worth not infrequently as much as £100 a year or more. Even neighboring manors of similar acreage might vary enormously in value in proportion as they were well or badly stocked with husbandmen and cattle; while in some parts of England whole districts remained throughout William's reign so badly devastated that to own them was far more of a liability than an advantage, in view of the large expenditure required for reinstatement.

To take a leading example, Hugh, the Vicomte of Avranches, was allotted almost the whole of Cheshire with the title of Earl, a wide territory which in later centuries gave considerable importance to his successors; but in Hugh's day (1071-1101) the revenue which could be derived from all the manors in Cheshire put together was estimated to be little more than £200 a year. In Middlesex on the other hand the single manor of Isleworth was estimated to be worth £72 a year in 1086 and the manors of Fulham and Harrow £40 and £56 a year respectively; nor were manors such as these by any means the most valuable which then existed in fertile and populous parts of England. It seems clear then that the Vicomte of Avranches did not derive his undoubted importance and power in England so much from his Cheshire estates, in spite of their extent, as from other far better stocked manors which William allotted to him in Lincolnshire (£272), Suffolk (£115), Oxford­shire (£70), and elsewhere, which were together worth over £700 a year, and without which he and his retainers could hardly have supported the expense of defending the marches of Cheshire against the tribesmen of North Wales.

Let us take then the estimated annual value put upon the various manors and estates by the Domesday juries in 1086 as the most illuminating basis of calculation open to us. If this is done, it will be found, after a reasonable allowance has been made for ambiguous entries and entries where the value has been inadvertently omitted by the scribes who wrote out the final revision, that the total revenue in the money of the period of the rural properties dealt with in the survey, but exclusive of the revenue arising from the towns, may be thought of in round figures as about £73,000 a year.

To this total the ten shires of Wessex south of the Thames contributed about £32,000, the three East Anglian shires about £12,950, the eight West Mercian shires about £11,000, the seven shires of the Southern Danelaw lying between the Thames and the Welland about £9400, the northern Danelaw between the Welland and the Humber about £6450, and finally the devastated lands of Yorkshire and Lancashire about £1200.

If it were possible to ascertain the corresponding values at the date when the estates first came into the hands of their new owners, the figures would in each case be much smaller; but though there are some returns in Domesday which give the values “when the lands were received”, these are far too fragmentary to furnish the data necessary for calculating such general totals. To make up totals from averages is all that could be done for the earlier date, which would be unsatisfactory; and, after all, the values for 1086 are perhaps more to our purpose, as they indicate better the potentialities of income to which the new landowners could look forward in 1070, however much for the moment the country­side had been impoverished by the fighting in the previous four years.

Reckoning then that the income from land which the Conqueror had at his disposal, exclusive of the rents and other profits of the boroughs, was potentially about £73,000 a year, Domesday Book, when further analyzed, shows that the distribution of this sum resulting from the king's grants for the five main purposes for which he had to provide was roughly as follows: (a) £17,650 a year for the support of the Crown and royal house, including in that category himself, his queen, his two half-brothers, and King Edward's widow; (b) £1800 a year for the remuneration of his minor officials and personal servants, later known as the King’s Serjeants; £19,200 a year for the support of the Church and monastic bodies; £4000 a year for the maintenance of some dozen pre-Conquest land­owners and their men, such as Ralf the Staller, Robert son of Wimarc, Alured of Marlborough, Colswegen of Lincoln, and Thurkil of Arden, who for one reason or another had retained his favour; and (e) £30,350 a year for the provision of some 170 baronies, some great and some small, for the leading captains, Norman, French, Breton, and Flemish, and their retainers, who had risked their lives and fortunes in the great adventure of conquering England.

The figures just given, though of course they only claim to be approximately accurate, are of great interest, revealing as they do that William retained nearly a quarter of the income of the kingdom from land for the use of the royal house, and that he assigned little more than two-fifths of the total for rewarding the chiefs of the great families who had fought for him, and their military and other followers. Even if the two fiefs, worth together about £5050 a year, which William assigned to his half-brothers, the Bishop of Bayeux and the Count of Mortain, be reckoned to the share of the baronage rather than to the share of the Crown, the income allotted for baronial fiefs must still be thought of as considerably less than half the total income of the estates in the kingdom. With these two fiefs deducted, the share of the Crown may be thought of as about £12,600 a year; but as some £1600 a year of this was assigned to Queen Edith and her retainers for her life, William and Matilda’s potential income from their manors before 1076 was roughly £11,000 a year.

Even this smaller figure is about twice the amount of the Crown’s revenue in King Edward’s day as estimated by the Domesday juries. The estates, too, retained by the Conqueror for the Crown were more evenly distributed over the kingdom than Edward’s estates had been, so that the power of the Crown in many districts was much increased.

In the last years of his reign Edward had possessed no manors in Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Rutland, Cheshire, or Cornwall, and comparatively few in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Yorkshire. As arranged by William, the Crown had a substantial share everywhere except in Sussex and in the three counties along the Welsh border, in which districts he parted with all the old Crown manors and erected marcher fiefs of a special kind, apparently for military reasons. The ultimate increase in the revenue of the Crown from land was not, however, solely due to a retention of a larger number of manors for the royal use, but arose partly from raising the rents at which the manors were let to farm to the sheriffs and other reeves, who took charge of them as speculative ventures and recouped themselves in their turn by raising the dues and increasing the services exacted from the cultivating peasantry. To what extent these augmented rents were justifiable or oppressive we cannot tell; but Domesday often records a thirty, and sometimes a fifty, per cent, rise above the estimated values of King Edward's day, and in not a few instances the remark is added that the cultivators could not bear these increased burdens.


The ecclesiastical fiefs


Turning from the Crown to the Church, let us next analyze the revenue of about £19,200 a year set aside for the support of the various classes of the clergy. This substantial sum is made up of four items as follows: (a) =£8000 a year assigned for the maintenance of the secular clergy, that is to say of the fifteen bishoprics and of the houses of secular canons, some thirty in number, but exclusive of the endowments of the parochial clergy; (b) =£9200 a year appropriated to some forty monasteries for men; (c)=£1200 a year appropriated to some ten nunneries; and (d) =£800 a year appropriated, by the gift of either Edward or William, to Norman and other foreign monasteries.

In one sense of course very little of this revenue can be said to have been assigned to the Church by William, for the greater proportion of the manors which produced it had long been devoted to religious purposes. The Conqueror, however, as a matter of policy acted on the principle that not even the oldest grants to the Church were valid until he had re-confirmed them. As a result, the Church suffered not a few losses; but she was at the same time recouped by many new grants of great value, and on the whole gained considerably. In particular, the poorly-endowed sees of the Danelaw acquired a great increase of temporalities. In some cases, however, such new acquisitions seem to have been purchased. The see of Canterbury, as might be expected, enjoyed the wealthiest fief, with a revenue of about £1750 a year, the see of Winchester coming second with a revenue of over £1000 a year.

In general, however, the greater monasteries controlled more valuable fiefs than the lesser bishops. The seven richest houses, that is to say, Glastonbury (£840), Ely (£790), St Edmund's Bury (£655), the old Minster at Winchester (£640), Christchurch at Canterbury (£635), St Augustine’s (£635), and Westminster (£600), were assigned between them a revenue of nearly =£4800 a year, whereas the ten poorer bishoprics had less than =£3000 a year between them. The see of Selsey for example had even in 1086 only a revenue of £138 a year, and the see of Chester even less. It is true the secular clergy had other sources of revenue besides their manorial incomes; but none the less it remains one of the most outstanding features of the society of the day that the monks and nuns, who can hardly have numbered all told a thousand individuals, should have had control of so large a share of the rental of England.

Having provided for himself, his half-brothers, his personal servants, and the Church, William still had an income of over £34,000 a year from land at his disposal. Some £4000 of this, as already noted, was either restored to or bestowed on favoured Englishmen and their retainers; but these doles were on too small a scale to affect the general character of the Conquest settlement, and so they need not detain us. It is, however, interesting to observe that Archbishop Stigand occupies an important place in this category; for he appears in Domesday as holding a personal barony worth some £800 a year in addition to his immense Church preferments, and so as a landowner he ranks with the wealthiest of the barons.

Let us pass on then and consider the general body of the military fiefs, the “baronies” or “honours” as the Normans termed them, which were created to reward the invading armies, and which form one of the corner-stones of the English social system for some three centuries. It is here that the Domesday evidence is particularly welcome, the evidence of the historical writers being for the most part vague, and limited to too few fiefs to give a true picture. Domesday on the other hand enables us to analyze and compare all the fiefs, and shows that there were at least one hundred and seventy baronies, without counting as such the petty fiefs held directly of the Crown with incomes of less than £10 a year, which were also numerous but only of subsidiary importance.

As with the “manors”, the first thing to note about the “baronies” is that they were of many different types and varied not only in size and value, but in compactness and to some extent in the conditions of tenure under which they held. What a contrast one barony might be to another can best be seen from the fact that the list of baronies comprises fiefs of all grades, starting from quite modest estates producing incomes of only £15 a year or less and gradually advancing in stateliness up to two princely fiefs with revenues of about £1750 a year each. Another characteristic is that there were no well-marked groups in the list corresponding to definite grades of rank; nor is there any indication that the Conqueror distributed his rewards in accordance with any pre-arranged scheme. A clear idea of the nature of his distribution, however, can only be gained by attempting some classification; and so it will be well to divide the baronies arbitrarily into the five following groups: Class A, containing baronies valued at over £750 a year each; Class 13, containing baronies having revenues between £650 and £400 a year; Class C, containing baronies having revenues between £400 and £200 a year; Class D, containing baronies with revenues between £200 and £100 a year; and Class E, containing baronies valued at less than £100 a year.

Working on these lines, Domesday enables us to say that in Class A there were eight baronies, having an aggregate of about £9000 a year; in Class B ten baronies, with revenues aggregating about £5000 a year; in Class C twenty-four, with revenues aggregating about £7000 a year; in Class D thirty-six; and in Class E between ninety and one hundred. The two wealthiest baronies were those assigned to William Fitz Osborn and Roger of Montgomery; and next in order came the fiefs allotted respectively to William of Warenne, Hugh of Avranches, Eustace of Boulogne, Richard of Clare, Geoffrey Bishop of Coutances, and Geoffrey de Mandeville. In Class B the richest fief was that assigned to Robert Malet, and several other famous names figure in it, such as Ferrers, Bigod, Giffard, Braiose, Crispin, and Taillebois; but it is not till Class C is reached that we come to the equally famous names of Peverel, Lacy, Montfort, Toeni, Mortimer, and Vere, and only at the very bottom of Class C that we find Beaumont and Beauchamp. It remains to be said that if we insert the English survivors into these classes, Ralf the Staller and Stigand take rank in Class A, Earl Waltheof in Class B, and Robert son of Wimarc in Class C. Similarly as regards the bishoprics. The sees of Canterbury and Winchester, both be it noted held by Stigand, are the only sees which rank in wealth with the first class of baronies. The sees of London (£615), Dorchester (£600), Salisbury (£600), Worcester (£480), and Thetford (£420) rank with the second class; the sees of Exeter (£360), Wells (,£325), York (£370), Hereford (£280), Rochester (£220), and Durham (£205) with the third, Chichester (£138) with the fourth, and Chester (£85) with the fifth. York and Durham, however, are not fully accounted for in Domesday, and so possibly these sees should be reckoned as baronies of the second class.

The spoils of victory being thus parcelled out, we must next inquire under what conditions of tenure the baronies were held. On this point the Domesday survey is unfortunately silent, no questions as to tenure being put to the hundred juries, and so we have to fall back on inferences drawn from the conditions of tenure found in force in England a generation or two later, supplemented by the few vague hints which can be gleaned here and there from monastic chronicles. There can, however, be hardly any doubt that William from the outset insisted that the baronies should be held on the same conditions of tenure as the baronies in Normandy, nor can the barons themselves have desired to hold by any tenure other than the one they were accustomed to and understood. This means that the English methods of land-tenure were not adopted, and that the barons obtained their fiefs on the four conditions of (a) doing homage to the king and swearing fealty, (b) providing definite quotas of fully-equipped knights, if summoned, to serve in the king’s army for 40 days in the year at their own cost, (c) attending the king’s court when summoned to give advice and assist the king in deciding causes, and (d) aiding the king with money on the happening of certain events.


The quotas of military service


If these obligations were not sufficiently performed, it was recognized that the baronies were liable to be forfeited. As to the rules of succession, it was recognized that no baron had any power to dispose of his barony or any part of it by will. If a baron died leaving no heirs, the barony escheated, that is, fell back to the Crown. If there were male heirs it descended to them, subject to the payment of a relief to the Crown; but already there was a tendency for the king to claim that fiefs were indivisible and to insist on enforcing a rule of primogeniture. If there were only female heirs, the fief was partitioned amongst them provided the king did not interfere. If the heirs were minors, the king had the right of guardianship, and in the case of female heirs the right of bestowing them in marriage. A further question, about which there has been a good deal of discussion, is how were the quotas of knights to be provided fixed for each barony. There has been a tendency to suppose that the number of knights demanded must have borne some fixed relation either to the size or to the value of the barony. All the evidence, however, tends to prove that in this matter there was much caprice and no uniformity, and it seems probable that the king was able to fix the amount of military service arbitrarily when the baronies were created, and perhaps solely in accordance with his personal estimation of the merits of the various barons. As a result the quotas which he imposed, the servitium debitum as it was called, were for most baronies a round number of knights—5, 10, 15, 20, 40, 60, and so on, the feudal armies being organized on a basis of constabularies of ten knights. Quotas of forty or more knights were imposed on most of the baronies having revenues of over £200 a year; quotas of between twenty and forty knights on most of the baronies havIt appears, however, that several of the poorer baronies had to find comparatively large quotas, and on the whole the burden of knights’ service was lightest for the richer baronies. It is certainly curious that William was satisfied with such small quotas, for the system is only designed to produce a force of some 4200 knights. He made up his mounted force, however, to 5000 knights by imposing tenure by knights’ service on all the bishoprics and on a number of the richer abbeys, and he evidently regarded these selected ecclesiastical fiefs in many respects as baronies. One more matter requires elucidation. It is commonly supposed that there was a castle at the head of each barony, but at any rate in William's day this was not the case. It is true that William himself ordered many castles to be built, but these were on his own estates; it is also true that many castles were erected by William Fitz Osborn, Roger of Montgomery, and Hugh of Avranches, the three barons with special powers put in charge of the Welsh marches; but elsewhere William insisted that no castles should be built without his licence. A small number of barons only were accorded this special mark of favor, and those who obtained it were not always the barons with the largest fiefs. Most of the barons, it would seem, far from having castles of their own, were saddled on the contrary with the obligation of finding garrisons for the royal castles, a service that came to be known as “castle-guard”.


The under-tenants and the peasantry


Having set out the baronies and defined their military liabilities and conditions of tenure, William to all appearances left each baron full discretion to deal with his barony as he liked. The various manors composing it were handed over as going concerns with the peasantry living upon them, and each baron selected for himself which manors he would keep as demesnes for himself and which he would sub-enfeof. The king did not even insist that enough knights should be enfeoffed to perform the servitium debitum of the barony. If the barons preferred it, they had full liberty to farm out their lands to non-military tenants, who held not by knights' service but by the tenure known as “socage”, that is to say, by the payment of rents in kind or in money, together with some light agricultural services. It thus came about that, though the baronies in their entirety were held by knights' service, only a portion of the lands which they comprised were actually held by military tenants. It must not be supposed, either, that when subtenancies were created the barons only gave them to their kinsmen or retainers from overseas. The returns in Domesday shew clearly that on all baronies many men were granted subtenancies who were of English descent, and some of these undoubtedly held their lands by knights’ service subject to the same conditions as their Norman neighbors. As to the peasant classes, it was not to the interest of either the barons or their subvassals to expropriate them to any extent. The invaders were few and could not provide a peasantry from their own ranks. Their interest lay in having as numerous a population as possible on their estates, in order that they might obtain increased dues and increased labour services from them, and in time bring more land into cultivation. At the same time the new landlords could see no use in preserving the numerous distinctions which had differentiated the “geneat” from the “gebur” or the “socmanni” from the “liberi hominess”. They found it much more convenient to regard the peasantry as all equally bound to the soil and all liable to similar dues. In particular they were hostile to the system of commendation under which some of the cultivating classes had been free to select and change their lords. As a result commendation was entirely swept away, and the men in every manor, whatsoever their social status, became bound to their lords by an hereditary tie. This meant a considerable social revolution, especially in the eastern half of England. To a great extent the freer classes were merged into the less free, absorbed into manors, and compelled to do unfree services. Every lord of a manor was allowed under the new system to maintain a court for his tenantry and could compel them to bring their civil disputes before it, provided tenants of other lords were not involved. The net outcome no doubt was increased exploitation of the peasantry, but at the same time the advent of the new landowners also meant greater activity in farming. When once the turmoil of the Conquest and reallotment of the land was over, the new lords set to work with a will at reinstatement, and they not only, in a few years, restocked the greater proportion of the wasted manors, but are soon found encouraging the assentation of woodlands, the drainage of the fens, the building of mills and churches, and the planting of new urban centres. There were of course black sheep among them, stupid and avaricious men, of whom little good is reported; but such men were hardly typical and, at any rate as long as William lived, they had to keep in the background and curb their passions.


William’s anti-feudal measures


The allotment of the land was perhaps the most complicated and critical task that William had to undertake. At any rate it was the most revolutionary of his measures; for it established in England the cardinal feudal doctrines that all land is held of the king, that all occupiers of land except the king must be tenants either of the king himself or of some lord who holds of the king, that the tie between the lord and his tenants is hereditary, and that the extent of each man's holding and the nature of his tenure determine in the main his civil and political rights. William in fact, whether consciously or not, brought about a reconstruction of society on a new legal basis, and so in a sense turned England into a feudal state. But though this is so, William also took very good care that he himself should not become a feudal king after the pattern of the king in France or the Emperor in Germany.

In Normandy he had established his ascendency over the baronage and had shown how feudalism could be combined with personal government. In England he worked out exactly the same result on a larger scale. Rich and magnificent as were some of the new baronies, he never allowed any of their holders to become petty kings in their own fiefs, to make private war on their neighbours, or to acquire a jurisdiction over their tenants which would entirely exclude his own. To this end he maintained intact the courts of the shire and hundreds, and to some extent the Anglo-Saxon system of police. To this end he created only six or seven earldoms, with strictly curtailed spheres and privileges, and in the rest of England retained all the fiscal rights that had attached to the office in his own hands. To this end he insisted on the rule that all tenants by knights' service owed that service to the king alone and not to the barons from whom they held their knights’ fees.

To this end he maintained side by side with the new feudal cavalry-force the right to call out the old national infantry levy. Taxation was not feudalised. The obligation on all freeholders to pay “gelds” was maintained as well as the obligation to serve in the “fyrd”; and for both purposes William quickly realized that he must put on record the details of the ancient hidage scheme from which alone each man's liability could be ascertained. Lastly, he never allowed his advisory council to take a definitely feudal shape. 

As supreme feudal lord he constantly held courts for his immediate tenants; but, the kingdom being large and the tenants widely dispersed, he soon established the practice of summoning only a portion of the tenants to any particular court. As a result the court of barons, the “Curia Regis”, as it was called, easily became a very elastic body, very like the old “Witenagemot” in composition, in which the king could take the advice of whom he would, but still need never hamper himself by summoning too many of those who were likely to oppose his wishes. So completely indeed was this principle established, that mere gatherings of the king’s household officers, the steward, the butler, the chamberlain, or the constable, reinforced by one or two prelates and perhaps one or two barons of moderate estate, came to be regarded before William died as a sufficient meeting of the “Curia Regis” for all but the most important sorts of business, and the way became cleared for future kings to utilize their feudal court as the chief organ of government, out of which in due time the various departments of state for special purposes were each in turn developed.

There were, however, no developments of this nature in William’s day. Confident in his own powers and determined to be master in everything, his numerous “writs” show that he settled nearly every detail himself, and made little use of any subordinates other than the staff of royal chaplains who prepared the writs under the supervision of his chancellor, and the local sheriffs to whom the writs were addressed, who presided in the shire-courts, had charge of the collection of the revenue, and farmed the royal manors. So confident indeed was he that he frequently employed barons of the third grade as sheriffs; but it is clear that he dismissed them at will, and we never find them in league against him or attempting independent action. Looked at broadly, the outcome of the Conqueror’s policy was the establishment of a monarchy of such an absolute type that it could ignore all provincial differences of law and custom; and so William’s measures tended to bring about a real unity in the kingdom such as had never been known under the Saxon kings.


Reform of the Church 


One set of deliberate reforms has still to be mentioned. Before the Conquest the English Church organization was very defective. Synods for promulgating ecclesiastical laws had ceased to be held, nor were there any special ecclesiastical tribunals or any definite system of arch­deaconries. The special jurisdiction of the bishops was exercised in the shire and hundred moots, with the result that the enforcement of moral discipline was at the mercy of dooms men who were ignorant of Canon Law and very possibly themselves offenders. Even the powers of the primate over his suffragans were far from clear; and the two archbishops, instead of working together, were in dispute as to their spheres of jurisdiction. In addition to these defects, there was little zeal shown anywhere for either discipline or learning. The monasteries had not adopted the Cluniac reforms. Simony, pluralities, and worldliness were everywhere rampant. The authority of the Papacy was only formally admitted, while the primate himself had been uncanonically elected. To continental observers such a state of affairs was intolerable; nor could William as a zealous Church­man, whose expedition had been blessed by the Pope, afford to ignore it. As soon therefore as he felt himself secure, he took the matter up, assisted by three papal legates who arrived in England early in 1070.

The first matters taken in hand were the deposition of Stigand and three other bishops, the appointment of Lanfranc, the great Italian scholar and theologian of Bec and Caen and William’s trusted friend, to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and the appointment of Thomas, a canon of Bayeux, to the see of York, which had fallen vacant by the death of Archbishop Ealdred. Under these new shepherds the English Church was soon put in better order. One after another, as vacancies occurred, the bishoprics and abbeys were put in charge of carefully selected foreigners. The holding of synods was revived. Monastic discipline was tightened up. Study and learning were encouraged. The canons of cathedrals were made to observe celibacy. Sees, such as Dorchester and Selsey, which had been situated in villages, were removed to populous towns, while everywhere there arose a movement, headed by Lanfranc at Canterbury, for building more magnificent churches. Most far-reaching of all were two reforms introduced in 1072. These were the definite subordination of York to Canterbury, and the creation, as in Normandy, of a distinct set of ecclesiastical courts, the so-called “Courts Christian”, in which in future the bishops were to be free to deal with ecclesiastical causes and to receive the fines arising from all matters contra christianitatem, unhampered by lay interference.

The latter change was perhaps not altogether wise; for it set up rival jurisdictions side by side which sooner or later were bound to come into collision, and also gave an opening for the Papacy, as the source of the Canon Law, to claim the legal sovereignty of the Church in England. These dangers, however, were remote, and William could afford to ignore them, being quite accustomed to such courts in Normandy and confident that he would not fall out with Lanfranc. Nor did he fear the Papacy, not even in the person of Hildebrand, who just at this moment was elected to succeed Alexander II. On the contrary, when in 1080 Gregory VII demanded that he should do fealty as the Pope’s vassal, William refused point-blank; nor did he ever admit that anyone but himself had any right to control the English Church. Throughout his reign he not only appointed bishops and abbots at will but also invested them with their spiritualities, and in his determination to be master went so far as to insist that no Pope should be recognized without his leave, that no papal letters should have any force in his dominions until he had approved them, and that none of his officers or barons should be subjected to excommunication without his consent. So uncompromising an attitude naturally led to strained relations between himself and Gregory; but in view of the Conqueror’s proved zeal for clerical efficiency, the great Pope never thought it politic to begin an open quarrel.


Invasion of Scotland. Revolt of Maine 


The events of the last fifteen years of William’s career, when once he had brought unity and order into his new dominions, are not of the same interest as the story of the Conquest or even of his early days. Both in England and Normandy men feared to provoke him, and his most serious preoccupations were not at home but with the outside world, especially with the county of Maine, where his claim to exercise overlordship on behalf of his son Robert entailed the constant hostility not only of the local baronage but also of Fulk le Rechin, the Count of Anjou. Much of his time was accordingly spent in Normandy, English affairs being entrusted as a rule to Lanfranc. His foreign difficulties began in 1069, when Azo, an Italian marquess who had married a daughter of Count Hugh III, was acclaimed Count of Maine in opposition to the youthful Robert. Azo was really put forward by Geoffrey of Mainz, William’s old antagonist; and he soon went back to Italy, leaving his wife Gersindis and a son to carry on the struggle under Geoffrey’s protection. For three years William had no time to deal with the revolt, yet Gersindis made little headway, having compromised herself by becoming Geoffrey's mistress, while Geoffrey's own arrogance drove the townsmen of Le Mans, in 1072, to set up a government of their own and to summon Fulk le Rechin to their aid. This popular rising in Le Mans in opposition to the exactions of the neighbouring baronage has an interest as one of the earliest attempts in North France to form a commune based on an oath of mutual assistance, but it was really a very ephemeral affair leading to nothing but the occupation of Le Mans by Fulk. In 1072 William himself was occupied partly in Northumberland, where he set up Waltheof as Earl, in place of the half-Scotch Gospatric who had bought the earldom in 1069, and partly in leading his forces into Scotland against Malcolm Canmore, who had recently married as his second wife Edgar the Aetheling’s sister Margaret, and who was harbouring Edgar and other English refugees. Malcolm, realizing that his men were no match for Norman knights, retired before them, but came to terms when William reached Abernethy near Perth, and agreed to expel Edgar. At the same time Malcolm did some kind of homage, sufficient at any rate to enable men in after days to boast that William had reasserted the old claim of the English crown to suzerainty over Scotland. This success left William at last free to attend to Maine, and in 1073 he set out for Le Mans, taking it is said some English levies with him. On this occasion the Norman force advanced from Alençon down the Sarthe valley, and though it met with some resistance at Fresnay and Beaumont from the local vicomte, Hubert of Sainte-Suzanne, easily reached Le Mans, only to find that Fulk le Rechin had retired. Once more William had triumphed; but the successes of 1072 and 1073 were not really conclusive. Neither Malcolm nor the men of Maine nor the Count of Anjou were cowed, and all three continued to seize every opportunity of annoying him. In 1076, for example, Fulk attacked the lord of La Flèche on the Loir, an Angevin upholder of the Norman cause in Maine, and also dispatched assistance to the Breton lords who were defying William at Dol. In 1079 Malcolm overran Northumberland as far as the Tyne, an act which led to the foundation of Newcastle as a defence against further Scotch raids. In 1081 Fulk, assisted by Hoel, Duke of Brittany, burnt the castle of La Flèche before the Normans could gather their forces, and even when William did come in person to the rescue of his adherents, he found it politic to avoid a battle and agreed to an arrangement known as the Peace of Blanchelande, under which Robert, now perhaps 26 years of age, was recognized by Fulk le Rechin as Count of Maine, but only on the condition of accepting Fulk as his overlord and doing him homage. Even this peace was not well kept; for in 1083 Hubert of Sainte-Suzanne and others of Maine once more took up arms against the Norman domination over their fiefs, and for three years defied all attempts made by William to subdue them. The fact is, in spite of much rhetorical talk about William's conquest of Maine, the greater part of the county was never thoroughly in his grasp, and as years went by the influence of Anjou kept increasing.

During all this time we hear of no challenge to William’s autocratic rule either in England or in Normandy, except in 1075, when a handful of barons plotted a rising, but with such little general support that William did not even return to England to deal with it. The chief conspirators were two rash young men who had recently succeeded to their fathers’ baronies, Roger, Earl of Hereford, the son of the trusted William Fitz Osborn who had been killed in Flanders in 1070, and Ralf of Guader in Brittany, the son of Ralf the Staller, who had been recognized by William as Earl of East Anglia. These two earls were aggrieved, partly because William had forbidden Ralf to marry Roger's sister and partly because the sheriffs claimed jurisdiction over their estates. They accordingly took up arms and for a moment enticed Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, to dally with their schemes. Waltheof, however, soon repented and disclosed their intentions to Lanfranc, who had no difficulty in rallying the mass of the barons to the king's side and easily dispersed the forces of the rebels both in Worcestershire and in Norfolk. Ralf was wise enough to flee the country, but Roger was captured and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. It was harder to deal with Waltheof, who had not called out his men and who was married to Judith, the Conquero’s niece; but after five months’ hesitation William ordered him to be executed, possibly to please the loyal barons, who were indignant that so much favour had been wasted on an Englishman.


Robert Curthose. Arrest of Bishop Odo 


The only serious domestic trouble of William’s later years came from his eldest son Robert, who, though not wanting in courage, early showed himself a spendthrift and quite destitute of statesmanlike qualities. To some extent the friction between them was William’s fault; for, like many other men with strong wills, the Conqueror could not bring himself to depute any part of his authority to his son, not even in Maine where Robert was ostensibly count.

Not unnaturally Robert as he grew up resented being kept in tutelage more and more, until at last he quarreled openly with his father and betook himself, after some aimless wanderings, to Paris. Philip, the King of France, always ready to harass William, took pains to welcome the fugitive, and in 1079 established him at Gerberoi near Beauvais, where he could attack Normandy. A personal encounter followed between the father and son, in which Robert actually wounded William. This scandalous episode, however, led to a reconciliation, and Robert returned for a time to his father’s court.

But the two could never work together; and after Queen Matilda's death, which occurred in 1083, Robert again went abroad and never returned in his father’s life-time. Of minor troubles in these years, two perhaps should be mentioned. The first is the murder in 1080 of Walcher, the Bishop of Durham, who had been put in charge of Northumberland after the execution of Waltheof. This murder was the work of an English mob, and shows that William's peace was never properly established north of the Tees.

The second is the outbreak of a quarrel between William and his brother Odo, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the bishop in 1082. This dramatic step fairly astounded Norman society; for Odo was Earl of Kent and the holder of the wealthiest fief in England, and only two years before had been in full favour and entrusted with the punishment of the Northumbrians. Some have supposed that William feared Odo’s ambition; but Odo’s hostility to Lanfranc and mere greed on the king's part may really have been the moving causes. Anyhow he kept the bishop a prisoner at Rouen for the rest of his reign and sequestrated his large English revenues.

That William in old age became avaricious is attested not only by the Peterborough chronicler, who had lived at his court, but also by his public measures, such as the levy of a triple Danegeld in 1083 without, it would seem, any real need, and the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086. This failing comes out too in his refusal to give Robert a position and income suitable to his expectations. As the chronicler says grimly, “the king loved much and overmuch scheming to get gold and silver and recked not how sinfully it was gotten”.

But of course that is only one side of the picture, and it was just because he paid such close attention to his finances, and thought it no shame to set down “every ox and cow and pig” in his great survey, that he was able to found a unique type of feudal monarchy in England, in which the king’s wealth was adequate to his needs so that he could “live on his own” and pay his way, and not be merely primus inter pares in his dealings with his vassals. From this point of view the making of Domesday was William’s greatest exploit, not merely because of the novelty of the undertaking, but because the inquiry proceeded on the theory that all men without exception must answer the king’s questions, and because it practically forced every baron and every subtenant to admit that the king’s grant was the source of their privileges, and the king's writ and seal the only effective guarantee of their possessions. Further, the survey ignored the baronial courts, instead of utilizing them to obtain information.

But William was still not satisfied that his claims to be a real king and not merely a feudal overlord had been sufficiently acknowledged. He accordingly, in August 1086, summoned all the landowners, “that were worth aught”, to come to Salisbury, “whosesoever vassals they were”, and made them swear oaths of fealty to him “that they would be faithful to him against all other men”, that is, even against their own immediate lords. This was William’s last public act in England. He crossed the Channel immediately afterwards, and in 1087 invaded the French Vexin; but as he sat watching the burning of Mantes he was thrown from his horse and severely injured. His men carried him to Rouen, where he died on 9 September. On his death-bed he recognized that Normandy must pass to Robert, in spite of his undutiful conduct, being his patrimony; but as to England, he expressed his wish that it should pass to his son William, nicknamed Rufus, and sealed a letter to Lanfranc recommending him as his successor.




ENGLAND, 1087-1154.