« AnteriorContinuar »
with a gorgeous magnificence to which modern times afford no parallel. Scarlet-robed heralds went forth forty days before, and at every market-cross proclaimed with sound of trumpet the royal summons to a feast, not for one, or two, or three days, but for twelve, and in some instances even for forty. All were invited to come;—while the landholder was compelled, on pain of forfeiture, to renew his oath of fealty, the travelling merchant, the burgess of the king's own town, even the houseless wanderer, might be secure of provision and a welcome; for while the mighty feast was spread within the palace hall for hundreds of noble birth, the humble but abundant meal was provided in the court-yard for ten thousand guests.* A splendid spectacle did the royal hall display, when the monarch each year "thrice bare his crown," and received from archbishop, bishop, earl, baron, and knight, assembled from all parts of the land, the accustomed kiss of homage; when, not in rude mail, but in silken vest, and broidered mantle, and cloak of marten skins,f earl met earl, not in hostile battle field, but in free and social intercourse; and knight, ''in weeds of peace," could challenge knight, not to "three courses with well ground lances," but to the more friendly strifes of chess or the wine-cup; when dames and high-born damsels, with jewel-braided hair, gave beauty to the scene; and when the scholar might invoke the royal patronage for his newly founded school, the merchant present his petition for " chartered rights,"
* Vide the various Rolls of the two following centuries,and the notices of contemporary historians.
f The appropriated dress of the earl at this period.
the minstrel sing his lay of faerie, and the pilgrim detail, to no inattentive ear, the story of his long and eventful pilgrimage. Surely, when to all these benefits conferred on the land, that most important one, freedom from the incursion of enemies, is added —when it is recollected, that, from the period of the Conqueror's accession, no hostile fleet ever anchored on the shores of England—popular opinion may at length cease to view the Norman invasion as a national calamity.
The twelve years of the Red King's reign passed away, nor witnessed any mitigation of the severer of his father's laws, nor any boon conceded by the monarch to the prayer of the still oppressed Saxon. But if the reign of the Red King passed without any alleviation of Saxon wrong, or any encouragement of Norman enterprise, a mighty influence was abroad, which bowed every purpose, and wielded every will, to its own overmastering bidding. The resistless cry—"Remember the Holy Sepulchre"— had rung throughout Christendom; and nations, the most refined and the most barbarous, the nearest and the most remote, had alike answered spontaneously to that call, which they deemed the cause of heaven; and the whole chivalry of Christian Europe braced on their mail and dighted their war-steeds for that " land of Prophets, of Apostles, of the Son of God"—heaven-loved but forsaken Palestine. All the energies of the energetic Norman were aroused by that potent call; and knight, and noble, and prince gladly flung aside the hunting-spear, to rush lance in hand to rescue "that INTRODUCTION.
sweet land over the sea," as the Croise fondly termed it; while the despised Saxon, to whom the land of the East was associated with the most cherished legends of his childhood, pressed forward side by side with the Norman to do battle for the cause of the Holy Sepulchre; and Saxon and Norman, alike bowed beneath the spell of one overmastering feeling, almost forgot that they had once been foemen.*
Ere the public mind had recovered from that extasy of joy which pervaded all Christendom, when the news at length arrived that the banner of the Cross waved over the Holy City, the Red King was discovered transfixed by an arrow in the New Forest. His younger brother, regardless of the claims of the chivalrous Robert, who was fighting so bravely in Palestine, hurried with heartless haste to secure the sceptre, and within three days was solemnly crowned at Westminster. Most important to the interests of the nation wTas Henrys unjust succession. Under the rule of the gallant but reckless Robert, the power of the great barons would most probably have increased; while possessing the crown by an indisputable title, little might the monarch have heeded the complaints or demands of his people. Not so Beauclerc: he knew that his seizure of the crown could be justified neither by the laws of England or of Normandy, and he also knew that many of the more powerful nobles wrere warmlv attached to his brother; while, independently of these con- * For a vivid picture of the enthusiasm of the period, vide the extract from Malmsbury.—Note 3, Appendix.
siderations, there was much in his character and views that rendered him distasteful to a fierce and belligerent nobility. The Bras de Fers, the Mauleverers, the Cr£vecoeurs, could see but little glory in the pacific title of Beauclerc; and he who proudly accepted the proffered epithet of " Lion of Justice," soon taught them that he saw as little enviable distinction in their more warlike titles. Thus was Henry forced to conciliate the people, to counterbalance the hostility of his nobles; and many a precious boon, which equity and benevolence might have demanded in vain, was willingly conceded to the fears of a disputed title.
The first act of Beauclerc's reign was the promulgation of a charter which promised to his Norman subjects alleviation of some of the more galling feudal prerogatives of the crown, and which engaged to restore the laws of Edward the Confessor to the Saxon. Next followed the great charter of London, which confirmed the privileges granted by his father, which gave to the citizens freedom from toll and custom throughout the whole kingdom, the proud right of choosing their own magistracy, and the baronial privilege of hunting. The debased state of the coinage next claimed his attention \ severe laws were enacted against coiners, laws which, as they are mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle with peculiar admiration, we may suppose were very beneficial to his Saxon subjects. He also commenced a vigorous warfare against those of his nobles who refused to submit to his authority, and eventually forced even the powerful and fero
cious Robert de Belesme to yield to the victorious arms of the Scholar-King. All these measures gave to Beauclerc a degree of popularity unpossessed heretofore by Norman; the nation reposed secure from fears of foreign invasion \ some of the more pressing grievances had been promptly removed; well grounded hopes were held out for the removal of others; and although three generations were yet to pass away ere the distinctions of Saxon and Norman were to merge in the more illustrious name of Englishman, yet that important process had already commenced, which, reviving the Saxon from his lethargy of many years, and stimulating the energetic principles of the Norman character to their highest point of development, eventually produced that series of events which placed England foremost in the rank of nations. Such was the state of the land when Beauclerc, heedless of alliances with any of the powerful continental families, as the crowning act of conciliation with his Saxon subjects, proffered his hand to the exiled and unportioned daughter of Malcolm, the obscure denizen of the Abbey of Romsey, but the representative of a long and illustrious line of Saxon princes. The joy of the nation knew no bounds; and with feelings of exultation to which the land had long been a stranger did the people hail that Martinmas-day which beheld the crown of England placed by the hands of Anselm on the meek brow of the daughter of "the right royal race"—the " Good Queen Maude."