whom ye pray, while he was yet Duke of Normandy, took forcibly from my father, and, denying him all right, built this church there. I therefore challenge and publicly claim back this land, and forbid, in God's behalf, that the body of the spoiler be covered with my turf or buried in my inheritance.” The bystanders testified to the truth of this statement, and the bishops and barons were compelled to buy off the claimant with sixty shillings for the place of sepulture, and a promise that the whole of his inheritance should be redeemed. Prince Henry has the credit of discharging this debt with a hundred pounds. By a strange chance, Gunilda, Harold's sister, who had lived a life of ascetic devotion in the convent of St. Ouen, died some days before the Conqueror, and was buried within a few feet of him. 5 William was the founder of a line of princes who have never, perhaps, been surpassed in the world's history for vigor of character and statesman-like ability. It seemed as if William's mother, the tanner's daughter of Falaise, had tempered the fervid energy of Robert the Devil's nature with the practical, broad sense of the Norman lower classes. Her son's physique was an index of his character: the forehead vaulted and high ; the eye hawk-like; the body broad-chested and sinewy; the arm so strong that he could bend on horseback the bow which common men could not bend on foot. His training was in rebellions and wars, and he grew up self-reliant and implacable. Of the basest crime ascribed to him, the assassination of Conan, he is probably innocent, as Conan did not die till some months after the reasons for wishing him dead had ceased to operate. The severity shown to the conquered Northumbrians, which was a bloody political crime, admits of no excuse and no palliation. But the King's treatment of the great lords will be judged leni

government which he introduced was less popular, especially in the hands of foreigners, than the disorder to which the people had been accustomed. His taxation and high rentals, even his admirable census, were thought unkingly, and ascribed to avarice; yet every man allowed that William kept royal state, and generously rewarded those who served him. The people, could they have under-7 stood his policy, might have admired the man who spent a little money to keep foes from our shores, while he yet never compromised England's honor in the field. difficult under a strong rule, and foreign invasion a dancastles that grew up by town and strand made civil

In an age of gross profiligacy, Norman clergy illiterate; and, before he died, that provWilliam's private life was severely pure. He found the ince was the center of European thought. He was larly, founded abbeys, and promoted good men when he vout man for his times, and one who attended mass regucould do it without loss to his own interests.

ently by all who remember what the barons of those times were: how Morcar and Waltheof had been false to their own country before they were false to William; how Roger de Breteuil and Eudes of Bayeux were only anxious to let loose the worst horrors of feudal anarchy on the country. William was pitiless and unscrupulous, 6 but not wantonly cruel. He evicted a tenantry to form a forest, and let his lands to the highest bidder; but he forbade the sale of slaves out of the land ; declared the fugitive free if he remained unchallenged a year within a town; abolished punishment by death; and tried honestly to do justice to every man. Never had the King's peace been so good, never were murder, robbery, and violence so unsparingly punished, as under the Conqueror.

His fame has suffered unfairly, because the strong ger only to the enemy.



a de

But, with

Hildebrand for Pope and Lanfranc for Primate, William inaugurated the greatest change in our history, and commenced the substitution of criminal courts for a church inquisition. He put aside omens with a jest, and excused

the sentence of a powerful bishop with a pregnant pleas8 antry. There were few to mourn for the iron soldier, whose tears at Edwin's death are the only womanly touch in his history. But those who remembered the driveling superstition of Edward's court, the crafty and unscrupulous nature of Harold, and the long records of AngloSaxon feebleness, might admit that the change to Norman rule, though carried out with much suffering, had been good; and those who lived to witness the orgies of the second William's court, the feudal disorders of Normandy under Robert, or the worse horrors of Stephen's reign in England, might well look back with regret to "the famous baron,” who “ was mild to the good men who loved God, and beyond all measure severe to the men who gainsaid his will.” It was doubtless the presage of future evil, as well as grief for his old master, that almost broke the heart of Lanfranc when he heard of William's death.



Alfred the Great is one of the finest historical characters on record. A distinguished scholar used to remark that, “ with the exception of Washington, no character in history shines with brighter luster than Alfred the Great." His defense of his country against the desperate assaults of the Danes and his consolidation of political power are not so worthy of admiration as his devoted efforts to

promote sound learning and piety. Alfred is remarkable as probably the first Englishman to advocate the study of his mothertongue.

ALFRED's fame as a man has obscured his position in 1 history as a king; his grateful people in the after-time ascribing to him whatever they found of good or great in the institutions of their land. Probably nothing has been thus attributed without some real fact underlying the mythical narrative; but it is not always easy to disentangle one from the other. His code may be said to consist of three parts: The first is an abstract of Hebrew law, indicating the divine foundations of society, and blending the secular view of offenses as damage with the Christian view of them as sin. The conception of the state as an ideal commonwealth, which regarded the right living of man as its first object, is, therefore, due to Alfred ; and he indicates a standard so high that he could not dream of enforcing it—the gradual extinction of slavery, the duty of hospitality, and the Christian law of love. In the second part are contained the general prin-2 ciples of English law, put down a little confusedly, as the witan sanctioned or the scribe copied them out. The King is now for the first time treated as the inviolable head of the state, to plot against whom is death. Loyalty to the great lords is established upon the same footing. The frank-pledge system, by which every man was bound to give some guarantee for his good conduct, is spoken of for the first time as of universal obligation. The right of feud is limited, and the powers of the courts of justice are extended. An over-love of legality, the curse of these and of later times, is apparent in these regulations, and was partly, perhaps, due to the remembrance of late disorders. Last, Alfred subjoins a copy of the ancient laws of Wessex, no doubt to explain the customs of the


It can

south of England. Unfortunately, we do not possess a similar transcript of the Mercian code, which was probably appended to the copy for that province.

The statement of popular histories, that Alfred divided England into shires and hundreds, has been generally rejected by modern scholars. The origin of those divisions was certainly independent of the central authority, and coeval with, if not anterior to the Saxon settlement.

That Alfred introduced trial by jury is even more certainly false. The appointment of a distinct and popular magistracy, to determine questions of fact as distinguished from questions of law, belongs to the AngloNorman times, when Roman law was studied as a science, and was probably derived from a Latin original. not be traced further back than to the thirteenth century. 4 Of Alfred's political capacity there can be no doubt.

Wielding only the resources of a third of the kingdom, he contended against the most powerful foe then known to the nations of Europe, exacted honorable peace, and literally enlarged his dominions by Mercia, which had been free rather than dependent under his brothers, and under him became dependent rather than free. By forcing his cities to repair their walls, he foiled the furious 5 ravages of Hastings. But, above all, to Alfred belongs the credit of having first seen that an island must be defended by sea. Had he merely established a national navy where none existed, it would be sufficient proof of his statesman-like sagacity. But he seems further to have discerned the modern theory, by which war is only a question of momentum and impact. The ships of the Danes were constructed primarily as transports to carry the greatest number of men, and as platforms from which they might fight. Alfred built a fleet on a new model of his own, by which the ships were narrower, and of

« ElőzőTovább »