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Rushed struggling from the wreck; and with a plunge
That ne'er shall leave these ears; and 'mong them all
No sound, but ever the unruffled tide
Lay 'neath the heaven a sheet of steel or glass.
Henry. Stay here and be my friend. You tell the tale
Manly, as to a man. Hubert, these lips
Have smiled their last; the salt sea holds my joy.
Arnulf (coming forward). Better the salt sea than the crimson grave That your remorseless hand has dug for me.
I bade you think, when came death's bitterness,
Both the Conqueror and his son Henry have the character of having been strict administrators of the laws, and rigorously exact and severe in the punishment of offences against the public peace. The Saxon Chronicler says that, in the time of
the former, a girl loaded with gold might have passed safely through all parts of the kingdom. In like manner the same authority tells us, that, under the government of Henry, "whoso bore his burden of gold and silver, durst no man say to him nought but good." The maintenance of so effective a system of police must, no doubt, have made a great difference between these reigns and those of Rufus and Stephen-in both of which robbery ranged the kingdom almost without restraint, and, in the latter especially, the whole land was almost given up as a prey to anarchy and the power of the strongest. But still even this supremacy of the law was in many respects an oppressive bondage to the subject. In this, as in everything else, the main object of the government was the protection and augmentation of the royal revenue; and it may be correctly enough affirmed, that private robbery and depredation were prohibited and punished chiefly on the principle that no inter
ference was to be tolerated with the rights of the great public robber, the government. Many of the laws, also, which were so sternly enforced, were in reality most unjust and grievous restrictions upon the people. Of this character, in particular, were the forest-laws, which punished a trespass upon the royal hunting-grounds, or the slaughter of a wild beast, with the same penalty that was inflicted upon the robber or the murderer. And in all cases the vengeance of the law was wreaked upon its victims in a spirit so precipitate, reckless and merciless, that any salutary effect of the example must have been to a great extent, neutralized by its tending to harden and brutalize the public mind; and the most cruel injustice must have been often perpetrated in the name and under the direct authority of the law.
Henry I. was popularly called the Lion of Justice, and he well deserved the name. His mode of judicial procedure was in the highest degree summary and sweeping. In the twenty-fifth year of his reign, for instance, in a fit of furious indignation occasioned by the continued and increasing debasement of the coin, he had all the moneyers in the kingdom, to the number of more than fifty, brought up before the Court of Exchequer, when, after a short examination by the treasurer, they were all, except four, taken one by one into an adjoining apartment, and punished by having their right hands struck off, and being otherwise mutilated. The year before he had hanged at one time, at Huncot, in Leicestershire, no fewer than forty-four persons, charged with highway-robbery. Robberies, however, of the most atrocious description were, during a great part of the reign, perpetrated, without check, by the immediate servants, and it may be said under the very orders, of the crown, The insolence of the purveyors and numerous followers of the court in the royal progresses is described by contemporary writers as having reached a height under this king far transcending even what it had attained to under either of his immediate predecessors. They used not only to enter the houses of the farmers and peasantry without leave asked, to take up their lodgings and remain as long as it suited them, and to eat and drink their fill of whatever they found, but, in the wantonness of their official license, frequently even to burn or otherwise destroy what they could not consume. At other times they would carry it away with them, and sell it. If the owners ventured to remonstrate, their houses would probably be set on fire about their ears, or mutilation, and sometimes even death, might punish their presumption. Nor was it their goods only that were plundered or wasted; the honour of their wives and daughters was equally a free prey to these swarms of protected spoilers. The approach of the King to any district, accordingly, spread as much dread as could have been occasioned by an announcement that a public enemy was at hand. The inhabitants were wont to conceal whatever they had, and flee to the woods.
It was not till the necessity of reforming these frightful abuses was at last forced upon Henry, by the solitude which he found around him wherever he appeared,in other words, till this system of unrestrained rapacity came at last to defeat its own purpose, that he had some of the delinquents brought before him, and punished by the amputation of a hand or a foot, or the extraction of one of their eyes. Yet the most unsparing pillage of the people in other forms continued throughout the whole of this reign. Taxes were imposed with no reference to any other consideration except the wants of the crown; and the raising of the money was managed by any measures, however violent or irregular that would serve that end. It is an affecting trait of the sufferings of one numerous class of the people which is recorded by the historian Eadmer, in his statement that the peasantry on the domains of the crown would sometimes offer to give up their ploughs to the king, in their inability to pay the heavy exactions with which they were burdened. These unhappy men, it is to be remembered, were without any means of escape
from the extortion which thus ground them to the earth; even if, in some cases, they were not attached to the soil by any legal bond, they might still be considered as rooted to it nearly as much as the trees that grew on it; for in that state of society there was, generally speaking, no resource for the great body of the community except to remain in the sphere in which they were born, and in which their fathers had moved.
The same historian paints in strong colours the miseries occasioned by the oppressiveness of the general taxes. The collectors, he says, seemed to have no sense either of humanity or justice. It was equally unfortunate for a man to be possessed of money as to be without it. In the latter case, he was cast into prisen, or obliged to flee from the country; or his goods were taken and sold; the very door of his house being sometimes carried away as a punishment for not satisfying the demand made upon him. But, if he had money, it was no better; his wealth was only a provocation to the rapacity of the government, which never ceased to harass him by threats of prosecutions on unfounded charges, or by some of the other means of extortion at its command, until it drove him to comply with its most unjust requisitions. The language of the Saxon chronicler is to the same purport, and equally strong. "God knows,” says that other contemporary writer, "how unjustly this miserable people is dealt with. First they are deprived of their property, and then they are put to death. If a man possesses anything it is taken from him; if he has nothing, he is left to perish by famine."
A legend respecting Henry I., which is related by some of the old historians, forcibly depicts the deep sense that was popularly entertained of the tyranny of his government, and the fierce hatred which it engendered in the hearts of his subjects. In the year 1130, as he was passing over to Normandy, he is said to have been visited one night with an extraordinary dream or vision. First, there gathered around him a multitude of countrymen, bearing scythes, spades, and pitch-forks, and with anger and threatening in their countenances: they passed away, and the place they had occupied was filled by a crowd of armed soldiers with drawn swords; the scene changed again, and crosiered bishops seemed to be leaning over his bed, ready to fall upon him, as if they meant to kill him with their holy staves. Thus the tillers of the ground, the military, and the church,—the three most important interests of the kingdom,-appeared to have each sent its representatives to reproach, and curse, and menace him. The dream is said to have produced a great impression upon Henry. He awoke in extreme perturbation, leaped out of his bed, seized his sword, and called violently for his attendants. When he became more calm he solemnly resolved upon repentance and amendment of life, and it is affirmed that, from this time, he began to be an altered man.
55. THE CHILDREN OF HENRY.
According to the ancient historians, King Henry was never seen to smile after the shipwreck of his children. His wife Matilda was dead, and lay at Winchester, the epitaph on her tomb containing a few English words; of which the monuments of the rich and great in England would not, for a long time, furnish another example. Hic jacet Matildis regina ** ** ab Anglis vocata Mold the good queen. Henry took a second wife, not of the Anglo-Saxon race, which had again fallen into contempt, now that it was no longer needed by the son of the Conqueror. This new marriage of the king was unfruitful, and all his affections were now concentrated on a natural son named Robert, the only one now left him. About the time that this son arrived
at an age to marry, it happened that a certain Robert Fitz-Aymes or Fitz-Aymon, a Norman by birth, and the owner of great estates in the county of Gloucester, died, leaving an only daughter, named Aimable, and familiarly Mable or Mabile, heiress to his possessions. King Henry negociated with the relatives of this young lady, a marriage between her and his illegitimate son, Robert; they consented, but Aimable refused. She continued obdurate for some time, without explaining the motives of her repugnance, until at last, being much urged, she declared that she would never be the wife of a man who had not two names.
Two names, or a two-fold name, composed of a christian and surname, either purely genealogical, or signifying the possession of an estate, or the holding of some office, was one of the signs by which the Norman race in England distinguished themselves from the English. In the ages succeeding the conquest, any one with only a christian name, was liable to pass for a Saxon; and the vigilant pride of the heiress of Robert Fitz-Aymon took alarm beforehand at the idea that her future husband might be confounded with the ignoble class of natives, She candidly confessed this scruple in a conversation that she had with the king, and which is given in the following manner in a chronicle in verse :-"Sire," said the young Norman lady, "I know that you have cast your eyes upon me, much less for myself than for my inheritance; but having such a fine inheritance, would it not be a great shame for me to take a husband who has not two names? In his lifetime, my father was called Sir Robert Fitz-Aymon: I do not wish to have to do with a man whose name does not show whence he springs." "Well said, maiden,” replied King Henry; "Sir Robert Fitz-Aymon was the name of thy father, Sir Robert Fitz-Roy shall be the name of thy husband." "That, I grant, is a fine name to be an honour to him all his life, but what shall his sons, and his sons' sons call themselves." The king saw the drift of this question, and thus replied to it: "Maiden," he said, "thy husband shall have an irreproachable name, for himself and for his heirs; he shall be called Robert of Gloucester; for it is my will that he shall be earl of Gloucester, he and all his descendants."
Of King Henry's two legitimate children, there still remained to him Matilda, the wife of Henry V., Emperor of Germany. She became a widow in the year 1126, and returned to live with her father; notwithstanding her widowhood the Normans continued to call her by courtesy the empress. At Christmas Henry held his court, with great pomp, in the halls of Windsor Castle, and all the Norman lords of the two countries, assembled by his invitation, swore fealty to Matilda, both for the duchy of Normandy and for the kingdom of England, promising to pay the same allegiance to her after her father's death, as they had paid to him in his lifetime. The first to take this oath was Stephen, the son of the Count de Blois and of Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, one of the most intimate friends of the king, and almost holding the place of his favourite. The same year, Foulques, Count of Anjou, infected with the new passion of the age, constituted himself what was called a soldier of Christ, put the mark of the cross on his shield, his coat of arms, his helmet, and the saddle and bridle of his horse, and departed for Jerusalem. In the uncertainty of his return he committed the government of the province of Anjou to his son Geoffrey, surnamed Plantagenet, on account of a habit he had of wearing a sprig of broom in his helm by way of plume.
King Henry conceived a great friendship for his young neighbour, Count Geoffrey of Anjou, on account of his fine person, his elegant manners, and his reputation for courage. He even chose to become his sponsor in knighthood, and to perform at Rouen, at his own expense, the ceremony of receiving Geoffrey into this high military rank. After the bath, into which, according to custom, the new knight was plunged, Henry gave him, as his son in arms, a Spanish horse, a complete suit
of double mail, proof against lance and javelin; golden spurs, a shield embellished with lions in gold, a helmet garnished with precious stones; a lance of ash-wood, with a point of Poitiers steel, and a sword made by Waland, the most renowned workman of the time. The friendship of the king of England was not confined to these marks of regard, and he determined that his daughter, the Empress Matilda should take the Count of Anjou for her second husband. The marriage was consummated, but without the previous consent of the nobles of Normandy and England, an omission which had the most disastrous effect on the fortune of the young couple. Their nuptials were celebrated in Whitsun week of the year 1127, and the festivities lasted for three weeks. On the first day, heralds, in full costume, paraded the streets of Rouen, at every crossway shouting this strange proclamation: "Thus saith King Henry: Let no man here present, native or foreigner, rich or poor, noble or villain, be so bold as to keep away from the royal rejoicings; for whosoever shall not take part in the games and diversions, will be guilty of an offence against his lord the king."
From the union of Henry's daughter Matilda, with Geoffrey Plantagenet, was born, in the year 1133, a son, who was named Henry, after his grandfather, and whom the Normans surnamed Fitz-Empress, that is to say son of the Empress, to distinguish him from his grandfather, whom they called Fitz-William the Conqueror. On the birth of his grandson, the Norman king once more convoked his barons of England and Normandy, and required them to recognise for his successors the children of his daughter, after him, and after her; they consented apparently, and swore as he desired. The old king died, two years after, in Normandy, of an indigestion, caused by eating lampreys.
56. THE ACCESSION OF STEPHEN.
In the progress and settlement of the feudal law, the male succession to fiefs had taken place some time before the female was admitted; and estates being considered as military benefices, not as property, were transmitted to such only as could serve in the armies, and perform in person the conditions upon which they were originally granted. But when the continuance of rights, during some generations, in the same family, had in a great measure obliterated the primitive idea, the females were gradually admitted to the possession of feudal property; and the same revolution of principles which procured them the inheritance of private estates, naturally introduced their succession to government and authority. The failure, therefore, of male heirs to the kingdom of England and dutchy of Normandy, seemed to leave the succession open, without a rival, to the Empress Matilda; and as Henry had made all his vassals in both states swear fealty to her, he presumed that they would not easily be induced to depart at once from her hereditary right, and from their own reiterated oaths and engagements. But the irregular manner in which he himself had acquired the crown, might have instructed him, that neither his Norman nor English subjects were as yet capable of adhering to a strict rule of government; and as every precedent of this kind seems to give authority to new usurpations, he had reason to dread, even from his own family, some invasion of his daughter's title, which he had taken such pains to establish.
Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, had been married to Stephen Count of Blois, and had brought him several sons, amongst whom, Stephen and Henry, the two youngest, had been invited over to England by the late king, and had received great honours, riches, and preferment, from the zealous friendship which that prince bore to every one that had been so fortunate as to acquire his favour