Imágenes de página

At first, he appears to have been a harsh ruler, but after awhile he became just and kind, and gradually gained the affection of the English. He is also celebrated for his piety, and distinguished himself by building churches, and endowing monasteries. He was the most powerful monarch of his time, being king of England, Denmark and Norway, and superior lord of Scotland and of Sweden. But he is said not to have been puffed up at his prosperity, and when his courtiers. were flattering him, by calling him lord of sea and land, he directed his chair to be set on the beach at Southampton, when the tide was coming in, and then in the presence of his flatterers ordered the sea to retire, and not wet the feet of its sovereign. Of course the sea continued to advance, and when the king had remained seated till the waves began to roll round him, he turned to his courtiers and showed them how weak his power was when compared with that of the Great Ruler of sea and land.

Canute died in 1035, and was succeeded by his son Harold, a prince very unlike his father. He reigned but four years and died 1040, leaving the kingdom to his brother Hardicanute, who in his turn died after a very short reign in 1042. He was the last of the Danish kings, and with him the power of Danes in England came to an end.

It is not easy to estimate the influence the Danes have had in moulding the character of Englishmen. They were so similar in language and habits to the Saxons, that in many points they appear like the same people. But they held possession of the district North of the Humber, and of the East of England for a long period, and gave to it a character distinct from that of the rest of the country. Some people imagine that we owe our liking for the sea to our Danish forefathers, but the Saxons too may lay claim to some credit on this score, for both were piratical nations till they settled in lands of their own.

It is generally agreed though, that the Danes did much to introduce prepositions into our language. . In the Anglo-Saxon language there were more inflexions, i. e., changes of the endings of words to show difference of meaning, -than we use now. In modern English we have only two forms for a singular noun, one for the nominative and objective, and another for the possessive case. But in Anglo-Saxon there were five cases, which were distinguished by changing the end of the word. They had also a

They had also a "dual” number, to denote “two,” as well as the singular and plural numbers that we use. The Danes did not use inflexions 80 freely as the Saxons did, but made use of prepositions instead. In this way they prepared the language for the greatest change it has undergone, by which it has gained in exactness, while it has lost in conciseness of expression.

[ocr errors]

1085 A.D. Establishment of Feudal System.
1087. Death of William the Conqueror.
1095. First Crusade.
1098. Last Danish invasion.
1106. Battle of Tenchbrai.-Defeat and capture of Duke Robert

of Normandy.

Usurpation of Stephen.
1154. Accession of Henry Plantagenet.

1172. Conquest of Ireland. Cupidity-desire for plunder.

Petty - trifling, inferior, unimportant Abandoned-left, relinquished.

(French petit, small). Perjured-having broken an oath (Lat. Depopulated-deprived of people (Lat. juro, I swear).

populus, the people). Alternately_in turn, one by one. Ecclesiastical-pertaining to the clergy. Mortally wounded-wounded to death Civil jurisdiction—the power of admin(Lat. mors (mortis), death).

istering the laws that belong to the Treachery-breaking faith, violation of ordinary magistrates (Lat. civilis, confidence.

pertaining to a citizen ; jus [juris), Adequate — fully equal (Lat. æquus, law). equal).

In the van-at the head of, leading. ENGLAND was not the only country that suffered from the ravages of the Danes or Northmen. The Northern parts of France were continually harassed by them. Being a productive country, it afforded special induce

ments to the pirates, who sailed up the rivers, and carried their ravages quite into the interior, and plundered Paris itself. The French king purchased their retreat with a large sum of money. This naturally excited their cupidity, and their incursions were renewed, till in the end, in the year 912, Charles, the Simple, king of France, was obliged to cede to them a part of Northern France, which took its name, “Normandy" from them.

The name of the Northman leader at this time was Rollo. He married the daughter of the French king, embraced the Christian religion, and settled down quietly in his new possessions, as the first duke of Normandy, and as a vassal of the king of France. "His followers received the religion of their leader, and abandoned their roving and piratical habits.” Normandy became quiet and prosperous. The Normans were soon distinguished for their culture, and looked upon their Danish fellow-countrymen, and their Saxon relations over in England, as only a slight degree better than barbarians.

There was some intercourse between England and Normandy before the Norman conquest. King Ethelred, the Unready, fled there for refuge, when the Danes under Sweyn were ravaging this country. He had married a Norman princess, and their son Edward, the Confessor, who became king on the death of Hardicanute, the last Danish sovereign, was exceedingly partial to the Normans, among whom he had been brought up. Edward invited numbers of them over to England, and gave them positions of power and influence, and towards the end of his life he made a will by which he appointed William, the Duke of Normandy, his successor on the English throne.

This arrangement, however, was distasteful to the English, and on the death of Edward, his brother-inlaw Harold, a powerful Saxon nobleman, was crowned king. Some say that Edward himself wished it to be



80 at last, but William, the Norman Duke, maintained that he was Edward's lawful heir, and prepared to invade England to support his claim. Unfortunately for Harold, he had bound himself by oath to aid William's designs, and William now denounced him as a perjured traitor.

Warriors were collected from many places, the pope of Rome sent to William a consecrated banner, who set sail for England with his army in the year 1066, and landed on the Southern coast near Hastings. Harold was in the North of England at the time, where he had been called to repel an invasion headed by his own brother Tostig, and by Harold Hardrada, king of Norway. He defeated the invaders, and both Tostig and Hardrada fell in the battle. Then Harold hurried southward, and soon approached William's forces, who were encamped at Senlac, near Hastings.

Here an obstinate battle took place, October 14th, 1066, in which fortune seemed to favour both parties alternately, till Harold fell mortally wounded by an arrow, which entered his eye and pierced to the brain. Then the English sullenly retired, and left the Normans masters of the field.

This battle is one of the most important in history. “It is one of the few battles, in which a contrary event would have materially changed the history of the world.” It is certainly the most important battle in English history, for it gave the Normans a standing in the country, and opened the way for the great changes which were soon introduced, and whose effects remain to this day.

But though the Normans were thus victorious, England was by no means conquered. William was employed for years in subduing the country, and showed much skill and often great cruelty in the measures he adopted. One Saxon nobleman, Hereward by name, especially distinguished himself by the gallant resistance he offered to the Normans. His stronghold was

[ocr errors]


the isle of Ely, and he baffled all the attempts of William to dislodge him for years, till at length William obtained an entrance through the treachery of some English monks. Even then Hereward managed to

escape, and soon got a band of resolute men about him, and renewed his attacks on the Normans with such vigour and success, that William made peace with him and restored him to his possessions, on condition that he should acknowledge him king. With the submission of Hereward, the conquest of England was completed. This took place in 1071.

It was not to be expected that warriors of almost all European nations would have aided William in his conquest of England, unless they had expected adequate rewards, and William, as soon as he found himself secure on the throne, took measures to


his followers for their services.

The whole country was divided into 60,215 parts, each called a “knight's-fee,” and these were distributed among William's chief men, on condition that they should aid him in his wars with a mounted horseman, properly armed, for each knight's fee they held. They were also to swear allegiance to William as their king, and to give him money aids in certain cases. This arrangement was called the Feudal Sys

By it the king was recognized as feudal superior of the whole country, and the land was held of the king on condition of military service. William obtained an overwhelming military force, well appointed, and well disciplined, and bound to him by ties of personal interest, for the possessions of his barons were secure only so long as the king himself remained supreme. This organization on the part of the Normans, rendered it impossible for the Saxons to make attempts to recover their liberty, with any hope of success.

William's chief nobles possessed many knight's-fees, and often let out some of them to others, on condition


In this way

« AnteriorContinuar »