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QUEENS OF ENGLAND
FROM THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE
WHEN the standard of Normandy floated in triumph over the prostrate banner of Hengist, and the might and power of the Saxon dynasty passed away for ever on the field of Hastings, little could our forefathers have believed that the foundation of all the glory and wide renown of our land was laid on that day. Nor, when years passed on, and witnessed spoliation succeeding spoliation, and injury heaped on injury; when the indignant Saxon beheld, in place of the open halls where his native thanes held joyous revelry, castles moated, bastioned, battlemented, and walled towns with their rigid municipal regulations rising on every side ; when he beheld his manners scorned, his language despised, and himself almost an outcast in his father-land, even less could he have imagined "that he was conquered to his gain, and undone to his advantage;" yet so it was; and the Norman invasion, with all
its subsequent injustice, and with all its manifold oppressions, was a great, an enduring benefit. In commencing, therefore, these Historical Memoirs, at a period when the advantages of this change of dynasty were just beginning to be recognized, it will be important to take a concise view of the circumstances under which Duke William claimed the crown of England, and of the benefits which his accession conferred on its people.
The common view of this revolution is that of a foreign adventurer invading our land, subjugating by the sword a free and generous people, overturning their laws, expunging their language, and erecting on the ruins of their free institutions a stern military despotism, which knew, or cherished, no science save that of arms. Now, in this view, it is forgotten that Duke William received the crown by actual bequest of the weak and superstitious Confessor; and, although the immediate heir was set aside, yet William, in point of hereditary right, had a secondary claim, while Harold had none whatever. The first Stuart held the crown by precisely the same right, the gift of his dying cousin; and the third William ascended the throne by the express recognition of the principle, that the nearest heir might be set aside, should the exigencies of the state require it. However the subsequently tyrannical conduct of William might give colour to the popular tradition, that he reigned by right of conquest, it is important to bear in mind that such right was never asserted by him. The warlike descendant of that Hollo, who boasted as his proudest achievement, that he had won "the good land of Normandy" by his own prowess, never boasted thus when unquestioned lord of a nobler land and possessor of a royal diadem, but was content to affirm that he received the crown by bequest; and even after a victory which ensured to him the kingdom, he hastened to London to be crowned after the very form of the Saxon monarchs, by whom coronation was considered as the popular recognition of their right. And still viewing himself as king, by the twofold claim of bequest and election, he next summoned the people, and demanded "by what laws they would be governed?" and when they replied "by King Edward's," the monarch acquiesced. Willing yet more to follow in the footsteps of his Saxon predecessors he made no alteration in their coinage, he preserved their legal institutions almost unaltered, and even attempted to acquire their language, "that he might himself do justice to every man's complaint." *
But, unfortunately, the first steps of William in England were traced in Saxon blood: and although he came but to contest with an usurper a crown solemnly bequeathed to him by one, who, in the judgment of the age, had the right to do so, still the remembrance of the field of Hastings
* " There is no evidence, and no probability, that he landed with the expectation of subduing England against the will of its inhabitants, or that he took the crown by right of conquest. In some of his charters he expressly states, that he took the crown by right of donation; and Spelman's remark, that "conquerour" means "pur chase our" is \ correct—(Turner.) It may also be added here, that in Domesday book, with the exception of one instance in which the word "conquisit,f is used, the Conqueror's arrival is always indicated by the phrase, u Post Rex venit " (vide Ruding). See also Note 1, in the Appendix.