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great capacity and resolute character awed them. It may be seen from the following sketch he was a dangerous opponent. "We see him bold and ambitious, stern without anger, and merciful without kindness, choosing sternness or mercy as best served his purpose; thinking only of what would retard or promote his success, and careless whether he used sword or poison to remove an enemy, provided that the enemy was removed. At the same time he was influenced by the improving spirit of the time, and had an honest and generous purpose in favour of right and order, which must not be overlooked."
To this graphic portrait I will add, as a further illustration of the Conqueror's character, a story told in the words of an old chronicle of the time, and lately repeated in a book of M. Guizot. It was related that "Baldwin, Count of Flanders, had a daughter named Matilda, who was beautiful, learned, pious, a model of virtue and modesty. William demanded her in marriage, but Matilda answered, 'I would rather be a veiled nun than given in marriage to a bastard.' Duke William heard what answer the damsel had made, and not long after he took certain of his followers and went privily to Lille, where the Count of Flanders abode with his wife and the damsel. He entered the hall and passed on as if he had business, and so reached the chamber of the Countess; and there he found the damsel, Count Baldwin's daughter. Her he seized by the hair and dragged round the room, and spurned her with his foot, and did beat her. Then he went forth from the chamber, leapt upon his horse, which one held for him at the hall, set spurs to it, and went on his
way. At this deed was Count Baldwin wroth; and matters remained thus for a time, and after that Duke William sent once again to speak with Count Baldwin concerning the marriage. So the Count told the damsel his daughter, and she replied that it pleased her well. And then with much joy they twain were wedded. After all these matters were ended, Count Baldwin did laugh, and he asked his daughter why she had at last lightly consented to a marriage which at first she had so cruelly refused; and she made answer that she did not then know the Duke as she did afterwards, For,' said she, if he had not great heart and high courage, he would never have been so bold as dare to beat me in my father's chamber.'"
Evidently, William was not a man to be tampered with, and his Barons carefully avoided a collision. There was another obstacle, however, to quarrelling with the Crown in England. The French Lords found their new vassals, the Saxons, a very different race from their impetuous countrymen. They were a sober, patient people, who had already acquired a taste for liberty from the early Charters of their. Kings, and from the "good old laws ' of Edward the Confessor, 1041 to 1066.† They were, besides, sullen and hostile to their new masters. The Barons found themselves helpless between an adverse population and an Arbitrary Monarchy, and at once saw that the Feudal System as established in France was
* Under the Saxon Government, "the people," says Rowland, "had no direct political power; but they were not rigidly excluded from it. A large proportion of them were freemen, and there were various methods by which even the serfs could obtain their freedom."
These laws were favorable to the people, and originated with King Canute, 1017, and were confirmed by Edward the Confessor.
not possible in England. In France, the people were born the vassals of one feudal Lord or another, and they had had no idea of any other existence. This was Feudalism, not only in France, but in Italy and Germany; for no Middle Class of freemen had grown up in these countries before Feudality arose, as in England.
The Norman Lords, under these circumstances, perceived that they had little chance of dictating to the Monarchy in England, and exercising the license which they enjoyed at home, unless they could find vassals to carry out their plans. They saw the only way to enlist support was to divide the spoils of victory. With these views, they agreed to share with their Saxon adherents the power that was wrested from the Monarchy. The conquered people, on their part, accepted readily an alliance with their Norman Lords, but they were more intent on gaining liberty for themselves than in building up the supremacy of the Aristocracy, as the sequel will
In 1087, the Conqueror died,* and his second son, William Rufus, succeeded. We hear little of the Barons during his reign.
In 1100, Henry I., third son of the Conqueror, ascended the throne. He was at once involved in a war with his brother Robert, and afterwards with the King of France. To secure the support of the Barons, who were rapidly becoming formidable, he was obliged to grant them concessions at the expense of his own power.
* One of the last acts of his reign was to order a Survey of all the landed property in England, which was made and recorded in "Domesday Book," and is still preserved in a perfect state. No less than 25,000 serfs, or one-eleventh of the population of England in 1087, are registered in "Domesday Book."
This was the first advantage, the first triumph of the Aristocracy over the Monarchy.*
Stephen, Henry II., and Richard I. succeeded; but in their reigns there was no trouble with the Barons, who were quietly preparing for a decisive struggle. Henry II. had a violent contest with the Church, in which he was completely subdued.† The rule of these three Kings covered 64 years.
When John ascended the throne in 1199, over a hundred years had elapsed since the Conquest; and by this time the Saxons and the Normans, or the Freemen and the Barons, were in complete accord, and ready for action. Their motives were identical. Each aimed at reducing the arbitrary power of the Monarchy, and both were resolved to appropriate a share of the political booty they meant to extort from the King.
* A grand event distinguished this reign. Trial by jury, never known before, was organized. For the first time also, nobles and commoners, clergy and laity, were taxed alike; and thus was established the principle of equal taxation.
Henry II. attempted to reduce the power of the clergy in England, and issued decrees called the "Constitutions of Clarendon ". -so named after his palace at Clarendon--which limited the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical tribunals. This led to a revolt of the clergy against the king, in the course of which Thomas à Beckett, the Archbishop, was assassinated in the Cathedral of Canterbury. Henry was excommunicated by the Pope, and to conciliate the Church he revoked the "Constitutions of Clarendon," and did penance at the tomb of Thomas à Beckett. Abandoned and persecuted by all, he died in 1189.
By this time, say various authorities, a new language beganSaxon blended with Norman. Also, all distinctive peculiarities of Saxon and Norman attire had disappeared. The process of the amalgamation of the two races was nearly complete.
FEUDALITY VANQUISHES THE MONARCHY.
JOHN began by usurping the throne, and plotting the murder of his nephew Arthur, the legal heir. He next engaged in a quarrel with the Pope, which led to his excommunication. To escape from this, he agreed to hold his Crown as the vassal of the Holy See, and to pay an annual subsidy. In a war with the French King, he lost Normandy, and all his fiefs in France. These and other acts made him odious.
The Barons saw that the opportunity for striking a blow at the Monarchy had arrived, and the Yeomen readily joined them. Their co-operation led to the birth of popular freedom in the shape of the Magna Charta. This is the first time in the world's history that the Supreme Power ever acknowledged "the rights and liberties of the people." This, too, is the first time that the Aristocracy and People ever united for such a purpose, and it could not have been accomplished without this co-operation.
It was in the Easter of 1215 that the Barons, followed by their vassals, appeared before Oxford, where John was then residing, resolved to wrest from him certain concessions or "liberties." Alarmed at their approach, the King sent to know what were the liberties they wanted. In reply, the confederates sent a list of their demands,