FEUDALISM AND A STRONG KING

The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John (1066-1216)

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William, the second son of the Conqueror, followed with no filial compunction his father’s command that he should leave his death-bed and cross the channel at once to secure the kingdom of England. At the port of embarkation he learned that his father had died, but he did not turn back. Probably the news only hastened his journey, if this were possible. In England he went first to Winchester to get possession of his father’s great treasure, and then to Canterbury with his letter to Lanfranc. Nowhere is there any sign of opposition to his succession, or of any movement in favour of Robert, or on Robert’s part, at this moment. If the archbishop had any doubts, as a man of his good judgment might well have had, knowing the new king from his boyhood, they were soon quieted or he resolved to put them aside. He had, indeed, no alternative. There is nothing to indicate that the letter of his dying master allowed him any choice, nor was there any possible candidate who gave promise of a better reign, for Lanfranc must have known Robert as well as he knew William. Together they went up to London, and on September 26, 1087, hardly more than two weeks after he left his father’s bedside, William was crowned king by Lanfranc. The archbishop took of him the customary oath to rule justly and to defend the peace and liberty of the Church, exacting a special promise always to be guided by his advice; but there is no evidence of any unusual assembly in London of magnates or people, of any negotiations to gain the support of persons of influence, or of any consent asked or given. The proceedings throughout were what we should expect in a kingdom held by hereditary right, as the chancery of the Conqueror often termed it, and by such a right descending to the heir. This appearance may possibly have been given to these events by haste and by the necessity of forestalling any opposition. Men may have found themselves with a new king crowned and consecrated as soon as they learned of the death of the old one; but no objection was ever made. Within a few months a serious insurrection broke out among those who hoped to make Robert king, but no one alleged that William’s title was imperfect because he had not been elected. If the English crown was held by the people of the time to be elective in any sense, it was not in the sense which we at present understand by the word “constitutional.”

Immediately after the coronation, the new king went back to Winchester to fulfil a duty which he owed to his father. The great hoard which the Conqueror had collected in the ancient capital was distributed with a free hand to the churches of England. William II was as greedy of money as his father. His exactions pressed even more heavily on the kingdom, and the Church believed that it was peculiarly the victim of his financial tyranny, but he showed no disposition to begrudge these benefactions for the safety of his father’s soul. Money was sent to each monastery and church in the kingdom, and to many rich gifts of other things, and to each county a hundred pounds for distribution to the poor.

Until the following spring the disposition of the kingdom which Lanfranc had made was unquestioned and undisturbed. William II wore his crown at the meeting of the court in London at Christmas time, and nothing during the winter called for any special exertion of royal authority on his part. But beneath the surface a great conspiracy was forming, for the purpose of overthrowing the new king and of putting his brother Robert in his place. During Lent the movers of this conspiracy were especially active, and immediately after Easter the insurrection broke out. It was an insurrection in which almost all the Norman barons of England took part, and their real object was the interest neither of king nor of kingdom, but only their own personal and selfish advantage. A purely feudal insurrection, inspired solely by those local and separatist tendencies which the feudal system cherished, it reveals, even more clearly than the insurrection of the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk under William I, the solid reserve of strength in the support of the nation which was the only thing that sustained the Norman kingship in England during the feudal age.

The writers upon whom we depend for our knowledge of these events represent the rebellious barons as moved by two chief motives. Of these that which is put forward as the leading motive is their opposition to the division of the Norman land into two separate realms, by the succession of the elder brother in Normandy and of the younger in England. The fact that these barons held fiefs in both countries, and under two different lords, certainly put them in an awkward position, but in one by no means uncommon throughout the feudal world. A suzerain of the Norman type, however, in the event of a quarrel between the king and the duke, could make things exceedingly uncomfortable for the vassals who held of both, and these men seem to have believed that their divided allegiance would endanger their possessions in one land or the other. They were in a fair way, they thought, to lose under the sons the increase of wealth and honours for which they had fought under the father. A second motive was found in the contrasted characters of the two brothers. Our authorities represent this as less influential than the first, but the circumstances of the case would lead us to believe that it had equal weight with the barons. William they considered a man of violence, who was likely to respect no right; Robert was “more tractable.” That Robert was the elder son, that they had already sworn allegiance to him, while they owed nothing to William, which are suggested as among their motives, probably had no real influence in deciding their action. But the other two motives are so completely in accord with the facts of the situation that we must accept them as giving the reasons for the insurrection. The barons were opposed to the separation of the two countries, and they wished a manageable suzerain.

The insurrection was in appearance an exceedingly dangerous one. Almost every Norman baron in England revolted and carried his vassals with him. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the king’s uncle, was the prime mover in the affair. He had been released from his prison by the Conqueror on his death-bed, and had been restored by William II to his earldom of Kent; but his hope of becoming the chief counsellor of the king, as he had become of Robert in Normandy, was disappointed. With him was his brother, Robert of Cornwall, Count of Mortain. The other great baron-bishop of the Conquest, Geoffrey of Coutances, was also in insurrection, and with him his nephew, Robert of Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland. Another leading rebel was Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury, with his three sons, the chief of whom, Robert of Bellême, was sent over from Normandy by Duke Robert, with Eustace of Boulogne, to aid the insurrection in England until he should himself be able to cross the channel. The treason of one man, William of St. Calais, Bishop of Durham, was regarded by the English writers as particularly heinous, if indeed we are right in referring their words to him and not to Bishop Odo; it is at least evident from the sequel that the king regarded his conduct in that light. The reason is not altogether clear, unless it be that the position of greatest influence in England, which Bishop Odo had desired in vain, had been given him by the king. Other familiar names must be added to these: William of Eu, Roger of Lacy, Ralph of Mortimer, Roger Bigod, Hugh of Grantmesnil. On the king’s side there were few Norman names to equal these: Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester, William of Warenne, and of course the vassals of the great Archbishop Lanfranc. But the real strength of the king was not derived from the baronial elements. The castles in most of the great towns remained faithful, and so did nearly all the bishops and the Church as a whole. But the weight which turned the scale and gave the decision to the king, was the support of the great mass of the nation, of the English as opposed to the Norman.

For so great a show of strength, the insurrection was very short-lived, and it was put down with almost no fighting. The refusal of the barons to come to the Easter court, April 14, was their first overt act of rebellion, though it had been evident in March that the rebellion was coming, and before the close of the summer confiscation or amnesty had been measured out to the defeated rebels. We are told that the crown was offered to Robert and accepted by him, and great hopes were entertained of decisive aid which he was to send; but nothing came of it. Two sieges, of Pevensey castle and of Rochester castle, were the most important military events. There was considerable ravaging of the country by the rebels in the west, and some little fighting there. The Bishop of Coutances and his nephew seized Bristol and laid waste the country about, but were unsuccessful in their siege of Ilchester. Roger of Lacy and others collected a force at Hereford, and advanced to attack Worcester, but were beaten off by the Norman garrison and the men of Bishop Wulfstan. Minor incidents of the same kind occurred in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, and the north. But the decisive events were in the south-east, in the operations of the king against his uncle Odo. At London William called round him his supporters, appealing especially to the English, and promising to grant good laws, to levy no unjust taxes, and to allow men the freedom of their woods and of hunting. With an army which did not seem large, he advanced against Rochester, where the Bishop of Bayeux was, to strike the heart of the insurrection.

Tunbridge castle, which was held for Odo, was first stormed, and on the news of this Odo thought it prudent to betake himself to Pevensey, where his brother, Robert of Mortain, was, and where reinforcements from Robert of Normandy would be likely to land. William at once turned from his march to Rochester and began the siege of Pevensey. The Norman reinforcements which Robert finally sent were driven back with great loss, and after some weeks Pevensey was compelled to surrender. Bishop Odo agreed to secure the surrender of Rochester, and then to retire from England, only to return if the king should send for him. But William unwisely sent him on to Rochester with a small advance detachment, to occupy the castle, while he himself followed more slowly with the main body. The castle refused to surrender. Odo’s expression of face made known his real wishes, and was more convincing than his words. A sudden sally of the garrison overpowered his guards, and the bishop was carried into the castle to try the fortune of a siege once more. For this siege the king again appealed to the country and called for the help of all under the old Saxon penalty of the disgraceful name of “nithing.” The defenders of the castle suffered greatly from the blockade, and were soon compelled to yield upon such terms as the king pleased, who was with difficulty persuaded to give up his first idea of sending them all to the gallows.

The monk Orderic Vitalis, who wrote an account of these events a generation after they occurred, was struck with one characteristic of this insurrection, which the careful observer of any time would hardly fail to notice. He says: “The rebels, although they were so many and abundantly furnished with arms and supplies, did not dare to join battle with the king in his kingdom.” It was an age, to be sure, when wars were decided less by fighting in the open field than by the siege and defence of castles; and yet the collapse of so formidable an insurrection as this, after no resistance at all in proportion to its apparent fighting strength, is surely a significant fact. To notice here but one inference from it, it means that no one questioned the title of William Rufus to the throne while he was in possession. Though he might be a younger son, not elected, but appointed by his father, and put into the kingship by the act of the primate alone, he was, to the rebellious barons as to his own supporters, the rightful king of England till he could be overthrown.

The insurrection being put down, a general amnesty seems to have been extended to the rebels. The Bishop of Bayeux was exiled from England; some confiscations were made, and some rewards distributed; but almost without exception the leaders escaped punishment. The most notable exception, besides Odo, was William of St. Calais, the Bishop of Durham. For some reason, which does not clearly appear, the king found it difficult to pardon him. He was summoned before the king’s court to answer for his conduct, and the account of the trial which followed in November of this year, preserved to us by a writer friendly to the bishop and present at the proceedings, is one of the most interesting and instructive documents which we have from this time. William of St. Calais, as the king’s vassal for the temporalities of his bishopric, was summoned before the king’s feudal court to answer for breach of his feudal obligations. William had shown, in one of the letters which he had sent to the king shortly before the trial, that he was fully aware of these obligations; and the impossibility of meeting the accusation was perfectly clear to his mind. With the greatest subtlety and skill, he sought to take advantage of his double position, as vassal and as bishop, and to transfer the whole process to different ground. With equal skill, and with an equally clear understanding of the principles involved, Lanfranc met every move which he made.[14]

From the beginning the accused insisted upon the privileges of his order. He would submit to a canonical trial only. He asked that the bishops should appear in their pontificals, which was a request that they judge him as bishops, and not as barons. Lanfranc answered him that they could judge him well enough clad as they were. William demanded that his bishopric should be restored to him before he was compelled to answer, referring to the seizing of his temporalities by the king. Lanfranc replied that he had not been deprived of his bishopric. He refused to plead, however, until the point had been formally decided, and on the decision of the court against him, he demanded the canonical grounds on which they had acted. Lanfranc replied that the decision was just, and that he ought to know that it was. He requested to be allowed to take counsel with the other bishops on his answer, and Lanfranc explained that the bishops were his judges and could not be his counsel, his answer resting on a principle of the law necessary in the courts of public assembly, one which gave rise to elaborate regulations in some feudal countries. Bishop William finally refused to accept the judgment of the court on several grounds, but especially because it was against the canons; and Lanfranc explained at greater length than before, that he had not been put on trial concerning his bishopric, but concerning his fief, as the Bishop of Bayeux had been tried under William I. But all argument was in vain. The bishop could not safely yield, and he insisted on his appeal to Rome. On his side the king insisted on the surrender of the bishop’s castle, the last part of his fief which he still held, and was sustained by the court in this demand. The bishop demurred, but at last yielded the point to avoid arrest, and after considerable delay, he was allowed to cross over to the continent. There he was welcomed by Robert and employed in Normandy, but he never went any farther nor pushed his appeal to Rome, which in all probability he had never seriously intended, though there is evidence that the pope was disposed to take up his cause. Throughout the case the king was acting wholly within his right, regarding the bishop as his vassal; and Lanfranc’s position in the trial was in strict accordance with the feudal law.

This was the end of serious rebellion against King William Rufus. Seven years later, in 1095, a conspiracy was formed by some of the barons who had been pardoned for their earlier rebellion, which might have resulted in a widespread insurrection but for the prompt action of William. Robert of Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, who had inherited the 280 manors of his uncle, the Bishop of Coutances, and was now one of the most powerful barons of the kingdom, had been summoned to the king’s court, probably because the conspiracy was suspected, since it was for a fault which would ordinarily have been passed over without remark, and he refused to appear. The king’s hands were for the moment free, and he marched at once against the earl. By degrees the details of the conspiracy came out. From Nottingham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was accompanying the march, was sent back to Kent to hold himself in readiness at a moment’s notice to defend that part of England against an expected landing from Normandy. This time it had been planned to make Stephen of Aumale, a nephew of the Conqueror, king in William’s place; but no Norman invasion occurred. The war was begun and ended by the siege and surrender of Mowbray’s two castles of Tynemouth and Bamborough. In the siege of the latter, Mowbray himself was captured by a trick, and his newly married wife was forced to surrender the castle by the threat of putting out his eyes. The earl was thrown into prison, where, according to one account, he was held for thirty years. Treachery among the traitors revealed the names of the leaders of the plot, and punishments were inflicted more generally than in 1088, but with no pretence of impartiality. A man of so high rank and birth as William of Eu was barbarously mutilated; one man of minor rank was hanged; banishment and fines were the penalties in other cases. William of St. Calais, who had been restored to his see, fell again under the suspicion of the king, and was summoned to stand another trial, but he was already ill when he went up to the court, and died before he could answer the charges against him. There were reasons enough in the heavy oppressions of the reign why men should wish to rebel against William, but he was so fixed in power, so resolute in action, and so pitiless towards the victims of his policy, that the forming of a dangerous combination against him was practically impossible.

The contemporary historians of his reign tell us much of William’s personality, both in set descriptions and in occasional reference and anecdote. It is evident that he impressed in an unusual degree the men of his own time, but it is evident also that this impression was not so much made by his genius as a ruler or a soldier, by the possession of the gifts which a great king would desire, as by something in his spirit and attitude towards life which was new and strange, something out of the common in words and action, which startled or shocked men of the common level and seemed at times to verge upon the awful. In body he was shorter than his father, thick-set and heavy, and his red face gave him the name Rufus by which he was then and still is commonly known. Much of his father’s political and military ability and strength of will had descended to him, but not his father’s character and high purpose. Every king of those times thought chiefly of himself, and looked upon the state as his private property; but the second William more than most. The money which he wrung from churchman and layman he used in attempts to carry out his personal ambitions in Normandy, or scattered with a free hand among his favourites, particularly among the mercenary soldiers from the continent, with whom he especially loved to surround himself, and whose licensed plunderings added greatly to the burden and tyranny of his reign. But the ordinary doings of a tyrant were not the worst things about William Rufus. Effeminate fashions, vices horrible and unheard-of in England, flourished at his court and threatened to corrupt the nation. The fearful profanity of the king, his open and blasphemous defiance of God, made men tremble, and those who were nearest to him testified “that he every morning got up a worse man than he lay down, and every evening lay down a worse man than he got up.”

In the year after the suppression of the first attempt of the barons against the king, but before other events of political importance had occurred, on May 28, 1089, died Lanfranc, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, after nearly nineteen years of service in that office. Best of all the advisers of the first William, he was equally with him conqueror of England, in that conquest of laws and civilization which followed the mere conquest of arms. Not great, though famous as a theologian and writer, his powers were rather of a practical nature. He was skilful in the management of men; he had a keen appreciation of legal distinctions, and that comprehensive sight at the same time of ends and means which we call the organizing power. He was devoted to that great reformation in the religious and ecclesiastical world which occurred during his long life, but he was devoted to it in his own way, as his nature directed. He saw clearly, for one thing, that the success of that reformation in England depended on the maintenance of the strong government of the Norman kings; and from his loyalty to them he never swerved, serving them with wise counsel and with all the resources at his command. Less of a theologian and idealist than his successor Anselm, more of a lawyer and statesman, he could never have found himself, for another thing, in that attitude of opposition to the king which fills so much of his successor’s pontificate.

As his life had been of constant service to England, his death was an immediate misfortune. We cannot doubt the opinion expressed by more than one of the writers of the next reign, that a great change for the worse took place in the actions of the king after the death of Lanfranc. The aged archbishop, who had been in authority since his childhood, who might seem to prolong in some degree the reign or the influence of his father, acted as a restraining force, and the true character of William expressed itself freely only when this was removed. In another way also the death of Lanfranc was a misfortune to England. It dates the rise to influence with the king of Ranulf Hambard, whose name is closely associated with the tyranny of Rufus; or if this may already have begun, it marks his very speedy attainment of what seems to have been the complete control of the administrative and judicial system of the kingdom. Of the early history of Ranulf Flambard we know but little with certainty. He was of low birth, probably the son of a priest, and he rose to his position of authority by the exercise of his own gifts, which were not small. A pleasing person, ingratiating manners, much quickness and ingenuity of mind, prodigality of flattery, and great economy of scruples,–these were traits which would attract the attention and win the favour of a man like William II. In Ranulf Flambard we have an instance of the constantly recurring historical fact, that the holders of absolute power are always able to find in the lower grades of society the ministers of their designs who serve them with a completeness of devotion and fidelity which the master rarely shows in his own interest, and often with a genius which he does not himself possess.

Our knowledge of the constitutional details of the reign either of William I or William II is very incomplete, and it is therefore difficult for us to understand the exact nature of the innovations made by Ranulf Flambard. The chroniclers leave us no doubt of the general opinion of contemporaries, that important changes had been made, especially in the treatment of the lands of the Church, and that these changes were all in the direction of oppressive exactions for the benefit of the king. The charter issued by Henry I at the beginning of his reign, promising the reform of various abuses of his brother’s reign, confirms this opinion. But neither the charter nor the chroniclers enable us to say with confidence exactly in what the innovations consisted. The feudal system as a system of military tenures and of judicial organization had certainly been introduced by William the Conqueror, and applied to the great ecclesiastical estates of the kingdom very early in his reign. That all the logical deductions for the benefit of the crown which were possible from this system, especially those of a financial nature, had been made so early, is not so certain. In the end, and indeed before very long, the feudal system as it existed in England became more logical in details, more nearly an ideal feudalism, with reference to the rights of the crown, than anywhere else in Christendom. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that Ranulf Flambard, keen of mind, working under an absolute king, whose reign was followed by the longer reign of another absolute king, not easily forced to keep the promises of his coronation charter, may have had some share in the logical carrying out of feudal principles, or in their more complete application to the Church, which would be likely to escape feudal burdens under a king of the character of the first William. Indeed, such a complete application of the feudal rights of the crown to the Church, the development of the so-called regalian rights, was at this date incomplete in Europe as a whole, and according to the evidence which we now have, the Norman in England was a pioneer in that direction.

The loudest complaints of these oppressions have come down to us in regard to Canterbury and the other ecclesiastical baronies which fell vacant after the death of Lanfranc. This is what we should expect: the writers are monks. It seems from the evidence, also, that in most cases no exact division had as yet been made between those lands belonging to a monastic bishop or an abbot, which should be considered particularly to form the barony, and those which should be assigned to the support of the monastic body. Such a division was made in time, but where it had not been made before the occurrence of a vacancy, it was more than likely that the monks were placed on very short commons, and the right of the king to the revenues interpreted in the most ample sense. The charter of Henry I shows that in the case of lay fiefs the rights of the king, logically involved in the feudal system, had been stretched to their utmost limit, and even beyond. It would be very strange if this were not still more true in the case of ecclesiastical fiefs. The monks, we may be sure, had abundant grounds for their complaints. But we should notice that what they have in justice to complain of is the oppressive abuse of real rights. The system of Ranulf Flambard, so far as we can determine what it was, does not differ in its main features from that which was in operation without objection in the time of Henry II. The vacant ecclesiastical, like the vacant lay, fief fell back into the king’s domain. It is difficult to determine just what its legal status was then considered to be, but it was perhaps regarded as a fief reverting on failure of heirs. Certainly it was sometimes treated as only an escheated or forfeited lay fief would be treated. Its revenues might be collected by the ordinary machinery, as they had been under the bishop, and turned into the king’s treasury; or it might be farmed out as a whole to the highest bidder. There could be no valid objection to this. If the legal position which Lanfranc had so vigorously defended was correct, that a bishop might be tried as a baron by a lay court and a lay process, with no infringement of his ecclesiastical rights, then there could be no defence against this further extension of feudal principles. Relief, wardship, and escheat were perfectly legitimate feudal rights, and there was no reason which the state would consider valid why they should not be enforced in all fiefs alike. The case of the Bishop of Durham, in 1088, had already established a precedent for the forfeiture of an ecclesiastical barony for the treason of its holder, and in that case the king had granted fiefs within that barony to his own vassals. Still more clearly would such a fief return to the king’s hands, if it were vacant. But if the right was clear, it might still be true that the enforcement of it was new and accompanied with great practical abuses. Of this much probably we must hold Ranulf Flambard guilty.

The extension and abuse of feudal law, however, do not fill up the measure of his guilt. Another important source of royal revenue, the judicial system, was put under his control, and was forced to contribute the utmost possible to the king’s income. That the justiciarship was at this time as well defined an office, or as regularly recognized a part of the state machinery, as it came to be later, is hardly likely. But that some officer should be clothed with the royal authority for a special purpose, or in the absence of the king for general purposes, was not an uncommon practice. In some such way as this Ranulf Flambard had been given charge of the king’s interests in the judicial system, and had much to do by his activities in that position with the development of the office of justiciar. Exactly what he did in this field is as uncertain as in that of feudal law, though the one specific instance which we have on record shows him acting in a capacity much like that of the later itinerant justice. However this may be, the recorded complaints of his oppressions as judge, though possibly less numerous and detailed than of his mistreatment of the Church, are equally bitter. He was the despoiler of the rich, the destroyer of the poor. Exactions already heavy and unjust he doubled. Money alone decided cases in the courts. Justice and the laws disappeared. The rope was loosened from the very neck of the robber if he had anything of value to promise the king; while the popular courts of shires and hundreds were forced to become engines of extortion, probably by the employment of the sheriffs, who were allowed to summon them, not according to the old practice, but when and where it suited their convenience. The machinery of the state and the interpretation of its laws were, in days like these, completely at the mercy of a tyrannous king and an unscrupulous minister. No system of checks on absolute power had as yet been devised; there were no means of expressing public discontent, nor any form of appeal but insurrection, and that was hopeless against a king so strong as Rufus. The land could only suffer and wait, and at last rejoice that the reign was no longer. In the meantime, from the beginning of Robert’s rule in the duchy across the channel, the condition of things there had been a standing invitation to his brother to interfere. Robert is a fair example of the worst type of men of the Norman-Angevin blood. Not bad in intention, and not without abilities, he was weak with that weakness most fatal of all in times when the will of the ruler gave its only force to law, the inability to say no, the lack of firm resisting power. The whole eleventh century had been nourishing the growth, in the favouring soil of feudalism, of the manners and morals of chivalry. The generation to which William and Robert belonged was more strongly influenced in its standards of conduct by the ideals of chivalry than by any other ethical code, and both these princes are examples of the superior power of these ideals. In the age of chivalry no princely virtue was held of higher worth than that of “largesse,” the royal generosity which scattered gifts on all classes with unstinted hand; but Robert’s prodigality of gifts was greater than the judgment of his own time approved, and, combined with the inability to make himself respected or obeyed, which often goes with such generosity, it was the source of most of his difficulties. His ideal seemed to be that every man should have what he wanted, and soon it was apparent that he had retained very little for himself.

The castles of Normandy were always open to the duke, and William the Conqueror had maintained garrisons of his own in the most important of them, to insure the obedience of their holders. The first move that was made by the barons of Normandy, on the news of William’s death, was to expel these garrisons and to substitute others of their own. The example was set by Robert of Bellême, the holder of a powerful composite lordship on the south-west border and partly outside the duchy. On his way to William’s court, he heard of the duke’s death, and he instantly turned about, not merely to expel the ducal garrisons from the castles of his own fiefs, but to seize the castles of his neighbours which he had reason to desire, and some of these he destroyed and some he held for himself. This action is typical of the influence of Robert’s character on government in Normandy. Contempt for the authority of the duke meant not merely that things which belonged to him would be seized upon and his rights denied, but also that the property and rights of the weak, and even of those who were only a little weaker than their neighbours, were at the mercy of the stronger.

Duke Robert’s squandering of his resources soon brought him to a want of ready money intolerable to a prince of his nature, and his mind turned at once with desire to the large sum in cash which his father had left to Henry. But Henry was not at all of the stamp of Robert. He was perfectly clear headed, and he had no foolish notions about the virtue of generosity. He preferred to buy rather than to give away. A bargain was struck between them, hardly six months after their father’s death, and the transaction is characteristic of the two brothers. For three thousand pounds of silver, Henry purchased what people of the time regarded as a third of Robert’s inheritance, the lordship of the Cotentin, with its important castles, towns, and vassals. The chroniclers call him now Count of the Cotentin, and he there practised the art of government for a time, and, in sharp contrast to Robert, maintained order with a strong hand. During the same summer of 1088, Henry crossed over to England to get possession of the lands of his mother Matilda, which she had bequeathed to him on her death. This inheritance he does not seem to have obtained, at least not permanently; but there was no quarrel between him and William at that time. In the autumn he returned to Normandy, taking with him Robert of Bellême. Robert had been forgiven his rebellion by the king, and so clear was the evidence that Henry and Robert of Bellême had entered into some kind of an arrangement with King William to assist his designs on Normandy, or so clear was it made to seem to Duke Robert, that on their landing he caused them both to be arrested and thrown into prison. On the news of this the Earl of Shrewsbury, the father of Robert of Bellême, crossed over from England to the aid of his son, and a short civil war followed, in the early part of the next year, in which the military operations were favourable to the duke, but his inconstancy and weakness of character were shown in his releasing Robert of Bellême at the close of the war as if he had himself been beaten. Henry also was soon released, and took up again his government of the Cotentin.

William may have felt that Robert’s willingness to accept the crown of England from the rebel barons gave him the right to take what he could get in Normandy, though probably he was not particularly troubled by the question of any moral justification of his conduct. Opportunity would be for him the main consideration, and the growing anarchy in the duchy furnished this. Private war was carried on without restraint in more than one place, and though the reign of a weak suzerain was to the advantage of the rapacious feudal baron, many of the class preferred a stronger rule. The arguments also in favour of a union of the kingdom and the duchy, which had led to the rebellion against William, would now, since that attempt had failed, be equally strong against Robert. For William no motive need be sought but that of ambition, nor have we much right to say that in such an age the ambition was improper. The temptation which the Norman duchy presented to a Norman king of England was natural and irresistible, and we need only note that with William II begins that determination of the English kings to rule also in continental dominions which influences so profoundly their own history, and hardly less profoundly the history of their island kingdom, for centuries to come. To William the Conqueror no such question could ever present itself, but the moment that the kingdom and the duchy were separated in different hands it must have arisen in the mind of the king.

But if William did not himself care for any moral justification of his plans, he must make sure of the support of his English vassals in such an undertaking; and the policy of war against Robert was resolved upon in a meeting of the court, probably the Easter meeting of 1090. But open war did not begin at once. William contented himself for some months with sending over troops to occupy castles in the north-eastern portion of Normandy, which were opened to him by barons who were favourable to his cause or whose support was purchased. The alarm of Robert was soon excited by these defections, and he appealed to his suzerain, King Philip I of France, for aid. If the policy of ruling in Normandy was natural for the English king, that of keeping kingdom and duchy in different hands was an equally natural policy for the French king. It is hardly so early as this, however, that we can date the beginning of this which comes in the end to be a ruling motive of the Capetian house. Philip responded to his vassal’s call with a considerable army, but the money of the king of England quickly brought him to a different mind, and he retired from the field, where he had accomplished nothing.

In the following winter, early in February of 1091, William crossed over into Normandy to look after his interests in person. The money which he was wringing from England by the ingenuity of Ranulf Flambard he scattered in Normandy with a free hand, to win himself adherents, and with success. Robert could not command forces enough to meet him in the field, and was compelled to enter into a treaty with him, in which, in return for some promises from William, he not merely accepted his occupation of the eastern side of the duchy, which was already accomplished, but agreed to a similar occupation by William of the north-western corner.

Cherbourg and Mont-Saint-Michel, two of the newly ceded places, belonged to the dominions which “Count” Henry had purchased of his brother, and must be taken from him by force. William and Robert marched together against him, besieged him in his castle of Mont-Saint-Michel, and stripped him of his lordship. Robert received the lion’s share of the conquest, but William obtained what he wished. Henry was once more reduced to the condition of a landless prince, but when William returned to England in August of this year both his brothers returned with him, and remained there for some time.

William had been recalled to England by the news that King Malcolm of Scotland had invaded England during his absence and harried Northumberland almost to Durham. Malcolm had already refused to fulfil his feudal obligations to the new king of England, and William marched against him immediately on his return, taking his two brothers with him. At Durham Bishop William of St. Calais, who had found means to reconcile himself with the king, was restored to his rights after an exile of three years. The expedition to Scotland led to no fighting. William advanced with his army to the Firth of Forth. Malcolm met him there with an army of his own, but negotiations were begun and conducted for William by his brother Robert, and for Malcolm by the atheling Edgar, whose expulsion from Normandy had been one of the conditions of the peace between William and Robert. Malcolm at last agreed to acknowledge himself the man of William II, with the same obligations by which he had been bound to his father, and the king returned to England, as he had gone, by way of Durham. Very likely something in this expedition suggested to William that the north-western frontier of England needed rectification and defence. At any rate, early in the spring of the next year, 1092, he marched against Carlisle, expelled Dolphin, son of the Gospatric of William the Conqueror’s time, who was holding it under Malcolm of Scotland, built and garrisoned a castle there, and after his return to the south sent a colony of English families to occupy the adjacent country. This enlargement of the area of England was practically a conquest from the king of Scotland, and it may have been, in violation of the pledge which William had just given, to restore to Malcolm all his former possessions. Something, at least, led to immediate complaints from Malcolm, which were without avail, and a journey that he made by invitation the next year, to confer with William at Gloucester, resulted only in what he regarded as further humiliating treatment. On his return to Scotland he immediately took arms, and again invaded Northumberland. This, however, was destined to be the last of his incursions, for he was killed, together with his eldest son, Edward, near Alnwick, on the eastern coast. The news of the death of her husband and son at once proved fatal to Queen Margaret. A reaction followed against English influence in the state, which she had supported, and a conflict of parties and a disputed succession gave to William an opportunity to interfere in favour of candidates of his own, though with little real success. At least the north of England was relieved of the danger of invasion. This year was also marked by important advances in the conquest of South Wales by the Norman barons of the country.

[14] Dugdale, Monasticon, ed. 1846, 1.244 ff–and Symeon of Durham, Deinjusta Vexations (Rolls series), i. 170 ff.