Young Folks' History of England HTML version

6. The Norman Conquest, A.D. 1035—1066
Cnut left three sons; but one was content to be only King of Denmark, and
the other two died very soon. So a great English nobleman, called Earl
Godwin, set up as king, Edward, one of those sons of Ethelred the Unready
who had been sent away to Normandy. He was a very kind, good, pious man,
who loved to do good. He began the building of our grand church at
Westminster Abbey, and he was so holy that he was called the Confessor,
which is a word for good men not great enough to be called saints. He was
too good-natured, as you will say when you hear that one day, when he was
in bed, he saw a thief come cautiously into his room, open the chest where
his treasure was, and take out the money-bags. Instead of calling anyone, or
seizing the man, the king only said, sleepily, "Take care, you rogue, or my
chancellor will catch you and give you a good whipping."
You can fancy that nobody much minded such a king as this, and so there
were many disturbances in his time. Some of them rose out of the king—who
had been brought up in Normandy—liking the Normans better than the
English. They really were much cleverer and more sensible, for they had
learnt a great deal in France, while the English had forgotten much of what
Alfred and his sons had taught them, and all through the long, sad reign of
Ethelred had been getting more dull, and clumsy and rude. Moreover, they
had learnt of the Danes to be sad drunkards; but both they and the Danes
thought the Norman French fine gentlemen, and could not bear the sight of
Think, then, how angry they all were when it began to be said that King
Edward wanted to leave his kingdom of England to his mother's Norman
nephew, Duke William, because all his own near relations were still little boys,
not likely to be grown up by the time the old king died. Many of the English
wished for Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, a brave, spirited man; but Edward
sent him to Normandy, and there Duke William made him swear an oath not
to do anything to hinder the kingdom from being given to Duke William.
Old King Edward died soon after, and Harold said at once that his promise
had been forced and cheated from him, so that he need not keep it, and he
was crowned King of England. This filled William with anger. He called all his
fighting Normans together, fitted out ships, and sailed across the English
Channel to Dover. The figure-head of his own ship was a likeness of his
second little boy, named William. He landed at Pevensey, in Sussex, and set
up his camp while Harold was away in the North, fighting with a runaway
brother of his own, who had brought the Norwegians to attack Yorkshire.
Harold had just won a great battle over these enemies when he heard that
William and his Normans had landed, and he had to hurry the whole length of
England to meet them.