Young Folks' History of England HTML version
7. William The Conqueror, A.D. 1066—1087
The king who had conquered England was a brave, strong man, who had
been used to fighting and struggling ever since he was a young child.
He really feared God, and was in many ways a good man; but it had not been
right of him to come and take another people's country by force; and the
having done one wrong thing often makes people grow worse and worse.
Many of the English were unwilling to have William as their king, and his
Norman friends were angry that he would not let them have more of the
English lands, nor break the English laws. So they were often rising up
against him; and each time he had to put them down he grew more harsh
and stern. He did not want to be cruel; but he did many cruel things, because
it was the only way to keep England.
When the people of Northumberland rose against him, and tried to get back
the old set of kings, he had the whole country wasted with fire and sword, till
hardly a town or village was left standing. He did this to punish the
Northumbrians, and frighten the rest. But he did another thing that was
worse, because it was only for his own amusement. In Hampshire, near his
castle of Winchester, there was a great space of heathy ground, and holly
copse and beeches and oaks above it, with deer and boars running wild in the
glades—a beautiful place for hunting, only that there were so many villages in
it that the creatures were disturbed and killed. William liked hunting more
than anything else—his people said he loved the high deer as if he was their
father,—and to keep the place clear for them, he turned out all the
inhabitants, and pulled down their houses, and made laws against any one
killing his game. The place he thus cleared is still called the New Forest,
though it is a thousand years old.
An old Norman law that the English grumbled about very much was, that as
soon as a bell was rung, at eight o'clock every evening, everyone was to put
out candle and fire, and go to bed. The bell was called the curfew, and many
old churches ring it still.
William caused a great list to be made of all the lands in the country, and who
held them. We have this list still, and it is called Domesday Book. It shows
that a great deal had been taken from the English and given to the Normans.
The king built castles, with immensely thick, strong walls, and loop-hole
windows, whence to shoot arrows; and here he placed his Normans to keep
the English down. But the Normans were even more unruly than the English,
and only his strong hand kept them in order. They rode about in armor—
helmets on their heads, a shirt of mail, made of iron linked together, over
their bodies, gloves and boots of iron, swords by their sides, and lances in
their hands—and thus they could bear down all before them. They called
themselves knights, and were always made to take an oath to befriend the