1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] Anglo-Saxon England: English Unification; England Under the Danes (11th Century).

(Part 20)


Part 20: Anglo-Saxon Period: English Unification; England Under the Danes (11th Century).

Under Eadred the unity of England was formed. On his death the newly-built fabric seemed to break in pieces. The days of the grandsons of Aelfred, like the days of his brothers, were days when brothers succeeded one another after short reigns, and died for the most part childless. When Eadred died, there was no other son of Eadward the Unconquered to succeed him; nor does there seem to have been in the more distant branches of the royal family any one likely to command the unanimous voice of the nation. For a man who, though of kingly descent, was not the son of a king to come forward as a candidate for the crown would hardly have been endured, except in the case of one who held a commanding personal position, such as was held by no man in the realm save the mighty churchman. England had therefore more than once during this age to risk the woes which are denounced against the land whose king is a child. And the realm so newly united risked the danger not only of minority but of division. The young sons of Eadmund, passed by according to ordinary rule on the death of their father, succeeded, for want of better candidates, on the death of their uncle Eadred. The elder, Eadwig, received Wessex as his immediate kingdom ; the younger, Eadgar, reigned over Northunberland and Mercia as under-king. The division was followed by a period, short, confused, and obscure, but of the highest importance both on its constitutional and on its ecclesiastical side. The facts which stand out without doubt are that Eadwig was the enemy of Dunstan and that Eadgar was his friend ; that in 957 the kingdom of England was altogether divided by the Mercians and Northumbrians declaring their under-taking Eadgar full king in his own right ; that in 959 the kingdom was again united by the death of Eadwig and the succession of Eadgar to the whole realm. But the causes which immediately led to these events are told with every kind of contradiction ; the characters of the actors are painted in the most opposite colours. It is clear however that with the accession of Eadgar the party of the monks triumphed. It is clear also that under Eadgar’s rule the land enjoyed sixteen years of unparallel peace and of unparalleled prosperity. During his reign no word of foreign invasion was breathed, and the two or three disturbances within the island were of slight consequence. The well-known picture of the basilius of Britain rowed by eight vassal kings on the Dee, even of its details may be legendary, at least sets before us the popular conception of the dominion of Eadgar the Peaceful. On the other hand, when we turn to the personal character of the two brothers, it is dangerous to accept, without the closest examination, either the crimes which the monks lay to the charge of Eadwig or the crimes which the gleemen lay to the charge of Eadgar. At no time in our early history did England hold a higher position in the world in general. And when Old-Saxon Otto wore the crown of Rome, and West-Saxon Eadgar, in some sort his nephew, reigned over the island empire of Britain, the Saxon name had reached the highest point of its glory.

The reign of Eadgar, there can be no doubt, did much for the unity of England. By birth a king of the south, he owed his crown to the men of the north. He strictly preserved the distinct laws and customs to which the great divisions of the kingdom, now beginning to be distinguished as West-Saxon, Mercian, and Danish, were severally attached. Commerce and intercourse with foreign countries is encouraged. The ecclesiastical reform led to increased splendour in ecclesiastical buildings, and the land was covered with minsters built on a scale before unknown. The kingdom thus built up and strengthened had presently to undergo the shock of a disputed election for the crown. Again the immediate royal family contained none but minors the two sons of Eadgar, Eadward and Aethelred. As far as we can see, Aethelred was supported by the party of the monks and Eadward by their enemies. Dunstan therefore distinctly sacrificed his party to his country when he brought about the election of Eadward, the elder of the boys, whose minority would therefore be the shorter. His short reign (975-979) was ended by his murder, done, there can be little doubt, at the bidding of his step-mother Aelfthryth, the Elfrida of romance. Her young son Aethelred them entered on the saddest and most shameful reign in our annals. His time of thirty-seven years (979-1016) forms the most marked contrast to the short and vigorous reigns of the heroes who opened the century. For the first nine years of this unhappy time, Dunstan still lived ; he was taken away before the fulness of evil came. The main feature of this time is the renewal of the Danish invasions, which, after some years of mere plundering incursions, take their third form, that of a distinct political conquest, the establishement of a Danish king on the throne of all England. The constitutional lesson of this time is that, limited as the powers of an English king were by law, incapable as he was of doing any important act without the consent of his Witan, the difference between a good and a bad king was something which words cannot set forth. It was for the Witan to pass decress ; but it was for the king to put them in force ; and under Aethelred nothing good ever was put in force. The unready king—that is the king without rede or counsel—seems to have been incapable of any settled or vigorous plan of action. He showed energy now and then in needless and fruitless enterprises ; but under him the kingdom never showed an united front towards the common enemy. His only policy, the only policy of his cowardly or traitorous advisers, was the self-destroying policy of buying off the invaders with money. The invaders are met at London, at Maldon, at Exeter, with the highest valour and conduct on the part of the leaders and people of particular cities and districts ; but it is always isolated cities and districts which resist. Such local efforts were naturally fruitless ; the local force is either defeated by superior numbers, or, if victorious, it has, through want of concert with other parts of the kingdom, no means of following up its victory. Through a warfare like this, carried on year after, the nation at last lost heart as well as its king. Local jealousies, hushed under the vigorous rule of earlier kings, now rose again. It is emphatically said that one shire would not help other. Under such a reign the efforts of the best men in the land were thwarted, and the places of highest power fell to the worst men. The successive advisers of Aethelred appears as a succession of traitors, who sold him and his kingdom to the enemy. The last of them, Eadric, whom Aethelred made earl of the Mercians and married to one of his many daughters, plays the chief part in the revolution which in the end placed the Dane on the English throne.

The staple then of the history of this time is foreign warfare, and that mostly warfare which takes the shape of invasion of England. But this time is marked also by foreign intercourse of kind, intercourse which may at the time have seemed of no great importance, but which helped, together with the Danish invasions, to lead the way to events greater even than the Danish conquest itself, English political intercourse with other lands had hitherto been mainly with the Franks in Germany and Gaul, and with their successors in Germany, the Saxon emperors. In the course of the tenth century, the new powers of France and Normandy had sprung up in what had been the western or Gaulish part of the Frankish dominion. The king of the French at Paris was cut off from the sea by his vassal the duke of the Normans at Rouen. While Normandy was a practically independent state, there could be hardly any dealings, in war or in peace, between England and France. But it was through its connexion with Normandy that England became entangled in the affairs of Franc, and the connexion between England and Normandy begins under Aethelred. England and France might doubtless in the end have become rival powers in some other way; but the way in which they actually did become rival powers was through a chain of events of which we have now reached the beginning. Two quarrels between Aethelred and the Norman duke Richard were ended by a peace and a marriage (1002) between Aethelred and Richard’s daughter Emma. Here was the beginning of the causes which led to the Norman Conquest. Emma brought with her Norman followers, some of whom were trusted with commands in England. The kindred between the ruling families of the two lands which came of the marriage of Emma led to increased intercourse between Normandy and England, to Norman interference with English affairs, to the settlement of Normans in England, to the claims of Duke William and to the Norman Conquest. When Normandy and England were under a common sovereign, France became in some sort a neighbour and an enemy of England. The rivalry between Normandy and France led to a rivalry between England and France, and that rivalry went on after France had swallowed up Normandy. Thus not only the Norman Conquest, and the internal changes which followed it, but the French wars of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the long abiding enmity between Englishmen and Frenchmen, have their direct source in the events of the reign of Aethelred.

This last series of Danish invasions began, in the form of mere plundering incursions, in 980. In 991 a formidable invasion, Norwegian rather than Danish, and in which the famous Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvesson seems to have had a share, was marked by two opposite events, each alike characteristic of the time. Brihnoth, the ealdorman of the East-Saxons, died with his thegns around him in the fight of Maldon, and his fall is recorded in one of the noblest of Teutonic battle-songs. Aethelred’s earl, as he calls himself in the song, met the invaders with steel ; but Aethelred himself had no arms but gold. The year of Brihtnoth’s death wash the very one in which the invaders were for the first time bought off with money. In 994 came a great joint invasion under the two kings of the north, Olaf of Norway and Swegen of Denmark. They were beaten off by the Londoners. Aethelred again bought peace ; Olaf, converted to Christianity, kept the peace and vanishes from the story; but the war went on, if not with Swegen himself, at least with his Danes. After eight years of invasions, payments, brave local resistance, and inaction and treason at head quarters, came the general massacre of the Danes in England on the day of Saint Brice in 1002. This of course does not mean the slaughter of all the men of Danish descent in England, but simply the slaughter of those men of the invading host who had stayed in England, under cover of a treaty. Then came in 1003 a more terrible invasions by Swegen in person, when Exeter was betrayed to him by a Norman follower of the queen’s. A valiant resistance in East-Anglia checked the invasion at the time, and Swegen himself did not appear again for some years. In the next stage, in 1006, the Danes first ravaged the inland part of Wessex. In 1010 comes the invasion of Thurkill ; and battle of Ringmere near Ipswich marks the last armed resistance. In 1013 Swegen came again. All strength and all hope was now gone ; Aethelred was deposed, and took refuge in Normandy, and the Danish king was acknowledged as king—though native writers choose rather to call him tyrant—over all England.

This Danish conquest of England, taking the form of a forced election of the conqueror, is something widely different alike from mere plundering incursions and from mere local settlements. It shows that we have got into the age of great powers. The king of an established kingdom adds another crown to the one which he has already, and strives to give his conquest an outward show of legality. Swegen’s conquest is in this way almost a literal foreshadowing of the more famous conquest of William. But Swegen’s conquest was only for a moment ; he died the next year ; his Danish host chose his younger son Cnut as his successors ; the English Witan voted the restoration of Aethelred. In Denmark, it must carefully be marked, Swegen was succeeded by his elder son Harold. Cnut was chosen king over England only. A Danish dynasty was to reign in England ; it was not yet ruled that Denmark and England were to have a single king. The war was now renewed between Cnut and Eadmund, surnamed Ironside, one of the younger sons of Aethelred. Englishmen had again a hero at their head, and under his guidance, the whole state of affairs was changed. In the midst of this second war, in 1016, Aethelred died A double election took place ; Cnut and Eadmund were chosen to succeed by two distinct bodies of the English Vitan. Eadmund, it would seem, was chosen, at such a moment, over the head and with the consent of his elder brother Aelthelstan.1 A series of battles followed, in which Eadmund had decidedly the upper hand, till the last fight at Assandún, that is, Ashington in Essex, was lost by the treason of Eadric. The kingdom was divided ; Eadmund took the south with a formal supremacy ; Cnut took the north. The division was hardly made when Eadmund died mysteriously, by the practice of Eadric, as men deemed. And now another and final election gave Cnut the crown of the whole realm.

The personal character of Cnut, his gradual change from a barbarian conqueror into a king who stood beside Aelfred in the memory of his people, makes him one of the most interesting studies in our whole history. But we have here to deal mainly with the political results of his accession. England was now brought more closely than ever into relations with other parts of the world. But those relations took a shape which was altogether new and unexpected. Cnut was a conqueror, and his establishment in England was a conquest, so far as that a foreign king made his way to the English crown at the sword’s point. And when he had worn the crown, he did not scruple to secure it by the death or banishment of such Englishmen as he thought dangerous to him, either on account of their connexion with the former royal house or on any other ground. But, when he had once made himself safe on the throne, there was nothing more of the conqueror about him. England was neither oppressed nor degraded under his rule. His government, his laws, were framed after the pattern of those of the ancient kings. He sent home his Danish army, keeping only a body of chosen guards, the famous housecarls. These were the first standing army known in England, a body of picked men, Danes, Englishmen, or brave men from any quarter. Cnut gradually displaced the Danes whom he had at first placed in high offices, and gave them English successors. He raised an Englishman, the renowned Godwin, to a place second only to kingship, with the new title of Earl of the West-Saxons. In her foreign relations, England, under her Danish king, was in no sense a dependency of Denmark. England was in no sense a dependency of Denmark. England was the centre, Winchester was the imperial city, of a northern empire, which rivalled those of the East and the West. Cnut, it must be remembered, was chosen to the crown of England first of all, while still very young. To That crown he added the crown of Denmark, on the death or deposition of his brother Harold. He won Norway, which had revolted against his father, its king Olaf ; and he seems to have established his power over part of Sweden and other parts of the Baltic lands. But all these were acquisitions made by one who was already "King of all England ;"2 they were largely won by English valour, and the complaint in Denmark and elsewhere was that Cnut made his northern kingdoms subordinate to England, and preferred Englishmen rather than natives to high offices in them. At home, after the first years of his reign, his rule was one of perfect peace. In 1018 a Scottish victory at Carham secured all Lothian to the Scottish king. This was the carrying out of the work which had been begun by the Scottish annexation of Edinburgh. Whether there had been an earlier grant, or an earlier conquest, of Lothian is uncertain. Of its Scottish occupation from this time there is no doubt. But in 1031 Malcolm of Scotland, and two under-kings, the famous Macbeth and one described as Jehmarc, did full homage to the king of all England. The northern king thus held his dominions in three distinct forms. In Scotland proper he was simply under the terms of the old commendation. Cumberland, whatever extent of territory comes under that name, was strictly a territorial fief. Lothina was an earldom held within the kingdom of England.

The position of Cnut, both as a man and as a king, derives a special interest from his being a convert to Christianity. His father Swegen was an apostate. He had been baptized in his childhood or youth; but he cast aside his new faith, and carried war into England as a heathen conqueror. His son Cnut was baptized in the course of his English wars, and he appears in English history as a Christian king, a devout king, a special favourite of the Church and her ministers. His laws are strong on all ecclesiastical points, and they contain—what was needful in his day, but which had not been needful, in Wessex at least, for some ages—a crowd of provisions for the suppression of heathen worship. In Denmark he appears as completing the conversion of that kingdom which had already begun. His newly born religious zeal led him, like Aethelwulf, to make the pilgrimage to Rome. His reception there by the pope, the emperor, and the Burgundian king, helped to raise the position of England and her sovereign in foreign eyes ; but it had not other political result.
One change, the fruit of which was chiefly seen a little later, was made by Cnut in the administration of the kingdom. As far as we can see, the rule had hitherto been for each shire to have its own ealdorman. One ealdorman sometimes held several shires, and the arrangement, at any rate under Aethelred, was confused and fluctuating ; under Cnut it was organized in a new shape. Four great chiefs were set over the four great divisions of the kingdom, Wessex East-Anglia, Mercia, and Northumberland. The Danish title Jarl or Earl, hitherto used only in Northumberland, was now substituted for ealdorman. We find also smaller earls of one or more shires ; but it is plain that these were subordinate to these were subordinate to these great governors. Wessex, above all, received now for the first time in the person of Godwine, a governor distinct from her king.

The relations between England Normandy now get closer and important. Aethelred had found shelter in the Norman court with his brother-in-law Duke Richard. The young Aethelings, Aelfred and Eadward, the sons of Aelthelred and Emma, were brought up at the court of their uncle. But, strange to say, their mother Emma entered into a second marriage with Cunt himself, who must have been many years younger than she was. With Richard of Normandy Cnut kept unbroken peace; but Richard’s more adventurous son Robert asserted son Robert asserted the rights of his cousins and threatened—perhaps attempted—an invasion of England on their behalf. Robert presently died on his famous pilgrimage. In the same year (1035), Cnut himself died, still in the prime of life after a reign of only eighteen years from his final election.

Such a dominion as the northern empire of Cnut was in its own nature ephemeral. Such a power can hardly endure beyond the life its founder. The dominions of Charles the Great, geographically continuous and bound together both by Roman and by Frankish traditions, could not be kept under one ruler. Much less could the scattered empire of great islands and peninsulas which Cnut had brought under his power. Not only did his empire break in pieces, but his kingdom of England was again, for the last time, divided. Of his empire he himself had decreed the partition. He had in some sort begun it in his lifetime. His sons had been sent to reign as under-kings in Denmark and Norway. As his successor in England he named Harthacnut, his son by Emma, who at his death was under-king in Denmark. But the succession to the English crown was disputed. Godwine and the West-Saxons asserted the claims of Harthacnut, according to his father’s will. Mercia and Northumberland declared for Cnut’s doubtful or illegitimate son Harold. A civil war might have been looked for ; but a decree of the Witan divided the kingdom between the two candidates. Harthacnut, now king of the West-Saxons, tarried in Denmark, and left his English kingdom to the care of Emma and Godwine. Now, and not under Cnut, the West-Saxon realm seemed to be dealt with as a province of Denmark. The offended subject of Harthacnut voted the deposition of their non-resident king, and the crown of the whole realm passed to Harold. Since that day England has been an united kingdom. Its crown has often been disputed and struggled for in arms ;but every claimant has been a claimant of the whole kingdom. The division of England between two kings has never been serioulsy proposed since the deposition of Harthacnut. The very thought of such a thing had altogether passed out of men’s minds before the end of the country with which we are now dealing.

The divided reign of Harold and Harthacnut was marked by an event which is told in as many and as contradictory shapes as any event in our early history. But it is certain that Aelfred, the elder of the two Aethelings who were living in banishment in Normandy, came over to England to make an attempt on the crown. The case in an exact parallel to the coming of the two Stewart pretenders seven hundred years later. As Aelfred landed on the south coast, his immediate design must have been on the kingdom of Hartacnut ; but he came, in some way or other, into the power of Harold. His Norman companions were put to cruel deaths ; the Aetheling himself was blinded, and died soon after. Such dealings are quite contrary to either the English or the Norman practice of the age. It shows that the son of Cnut, unlike his father, retained the full spirit of a Scandinavian pirate. That Earl Godwine had a share in the crime was rumoured in his own day; but, as the tale is commonly told, it is absolutely impossible. If his guilt was asserted by some, it was carefully denied by others ; he was tried on the charge, and was solemnly acquitted ;and, in the state of our evidence on the subject, he is entitled to the benefit of that acquittal. The reign of Horold was short. On his death in 1040, Harthacnut was chosen to the whole kingdom. A son of Emma, therefore a half brother of the surviving Aetheling Eadward, he sent for that prince to his court. But Harthacnut proved as worthless and brutal as Harold, and his reign, like Harold’s was short. On his death in 1042, the English nation were thoroughly tired of Danish rule. The memory of Cnut not outweigh the infamy of his two sons. There was still a Danish partly, whose candidate was Swegen, the nephew of Cnut through his sister Estrith, a prince who afterwards ruled Denmark with consummate prudence. But the English people had made up their minds to go back to the old kingly stock of the West-Saxons. In two distinct elections the nation chose the Aetheling Eadward, an unwilling candidate, recommended by his birth. But at such a moment English and kingly birth outweighed every other consideration. It should be also remarked that Eadward like so many other kings, was chosen over the head of a nephew, who, according to modern ideas, was the direct heir. This was another Eadward, the son of his elder brother Eadmund Ironside. But he was far away in Hungary and none thought of him.

The election of Eadward was in some sort the beginning of the Norman Conquest. The Englsih nation had chosen Eadward, who seemed an Englishman, rather than Swegen, who seemed a foreigner. But Eadward was in truth far more of a foreigner than Swegen. Born in England, but taken to Normandy in his childhood, he was in speech and feeling far more Norman then English. His monastic virtues won him the reputation of a saint and the title of Confessor, but no man could have been less fitted to wear the crown of England in such an age. His reign falls into two parts. Elected mainly by the influence of Godwine. Eadward married his benefactor’s daughter, and raised his sons to earldoms. But the greatness of the West-Saxon earls was looked on with more or less jealousy by central and northern England, or at least by the earls who ruled over them. According to the division of Cnut. Northumberland was ruled by the Danish Siward, Mercia by Leofric, seemingly a descendant of the ancient kings of Mercia. Leofric himself was, as a party leader, eminently moderate and conciliatory ; but the rivalry between his house and the house of Godwine formed a marked feature in the reign.

Meanwhile the king herself filled every place that he could with Norman favourites, who plotted against Englishmen of every district and partly. Above all, the king was under the influence of the Norman Robert, a monk of Jumiéges, whom he raised successively to the bishopric of London and the archbishopric of Canterbury. The influence of strangers was now at its height ; so was their insolence. Against the king’s foreign favourites no justice could he had. Godwine and his sons took up arms in the cause of the nation (1051). He was induced to abide by the decision of a national assembly, by which he and his sons were banished. The power of the strangers now seemed secure. William, duke of the Normans, a kinsman of Eadward through his mother, visited Eadward ; and it was most likely now that Eadward made to him that promise of the succession to the crown on which William afterwards founded his claim to succeed him. It seemed as if the Norman conquest of England had been already brought about without slash or blow. The king was Norman in feeling ; he was surrounded by Norman courtiers ; Normans and other men of French speech held high offices and great estates. The peaceful successful of the Norman duke to the English crown seemed far from unlikely. But all this was only on the surface. It is needless to show that a king of the English had no right to bequeath his crown. The utmost that he could do was to recommend a candidate to the Witan, and their choice was, under all ordinary circumstances, confined to the royal house. William himself might doubtless see through all this ; but his kindred to Eadward, the bequest of Eadward in his favour, worthless as either was in point of English law, were advantages which he well knew how to turn to his own purposes.

A peaceful conquest of this kind, had such a thing been possible, would A peaceful conquest of this kind, had such a thing been possible, would have been an unmixed evil. When the actual Norman Conquest cam, its final results were on the whole for good. But that was because the violent overthrow whole for good. But that was because the violent overthrow of our national freedom did in effect breathe a new into the nation. It called forth the spirit of Englishmen, and step by step we won back more than we had lost. But had the Normanizing schemes of the Confessor been carried out, the ancient freedom would have been undermined rather overthrown ; there would have less to call forth the full strength of antagonistic feelings, and England might, without knowing it, have sunk to the level of continental states. It is therefore not only in the patriotic view of the moment, but in the longest-sighted view of general history, that we set down the return of Godwine and his sons in the year after their banishment as one of the great events of our history. They came in arms ; but the nation received them with all gladness, and the army which the king had brought together refused to fight against the deliverers. The restoration of Godwine and his sons, and the banishment of the archbishop and of a crowd of other Normans, was decreed in a national assembly which was one of the most memorable in English history. The old Teutonic constitution received. At such a moment the Witenagemó ceased to be a mere gathering of the chief men of the realm. The nation itself came together. Such a name may fairly be given to an assembly made up of the citizens of London and of the two armies which had refused to fight against one another. This is the most conspicuous among several instances which show that, narrow as the constitution of the national assembly had become in ordinary practice, the rights of the common freedom were only dormant, and could still be made good whenever circumstances were favourable for making them good. It should be noticed also that this armed assembly of the nation took upon itself to depose an archbishop, and seemingly to nominate his successor. So to do was, there can be no doubt, fully within the powers of an English national assembly. But the breach of all ecclesiastical rule, as ecclesiastical rule was understood on the continent, was turned by Norman cunning into another count against England and her delivers.

Godwine died the year after his return, and his place in the kingdom was taken by his son Harold. His policy was one of conciliation. The king was allowed to keep his personal favourites about him; but the Norman influence in public affairs was stopped. On the other hand, Harold cultivated the friendship of Germany, and many Lotharingian churchmen were promoted in England. The Welsh were now again formidable, having been united under a vigorous prince named Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. After some vicotories over other English commanders, the Britons were at last brought to more complete dependence by His own people. Earlier than this, the Northumbrian earl Siward had overcome Macbeth, and had restored the Scottish crown to Malcolm, the heir of the former kings.

English thus, under the administration Harold, held a high place at home and abroad. Still there were several sources of weakness, all of which the Norman knew how to make use of. When the Norman archbishop Robert was deposed and banished, his English successor Stigand was looked on at Rome as an usurper of the see. In the early years of Eadward, Roman influence had greatly grown in England, and the canonical scruple about Stigand’s appointment was shared by many at home. And when at last Harold procured the acknowledgment of Stigand from Pope Benedict X., matters were only made worse ; for Benedict himself was presently declared to be an usurper. It was of more importance still that Harold himself was alleged to have entered into some personal engagement with Duke William. The tale, which comes to us only from the Norman writers, is told with so much contradiction that it is impossible to get at the exact truth. The Normans gave out that Harold was sent by Eadward to announce his bequest of the crown to William, that he did homage to Willliam, engaged to marry his dauther, and promised to promote his succession at Eadward’s death and to give him immediate possession of the castle of Dover. This tale is altogether impossible ; but it is very likely that Harold was shipwrecked on the shore of Ponthieu and imprisoned by its count Guy ; that he was released by the interference of Duke William; that, in return for this favour, he helped him in his war with the Bretons ; that he promised—though an older man than Duke William—to marry hid daughter ; and that he did an act of formal homage to his intended father-in-law and temporary military commander. Here is most likely the germ of the story, a story about which the contemporary English writers are significantly silent, while the Normans improve it into forms as suited their own purpose. It is plain that the canonical question about Stigand, and the story of Harold’s oath, gave every opportunity, when the time came, to represent the English as a sacrilegions schismatic people, and their ruler as a man faithless to his oath.

While these sources of danger were growing up abroad, a third source was growing up in England itself. The rivalry between the West-Saxon and the Mercian, between the house of Godwine and the house of Leofric, went on. The character of Leofric himself in without stain ; but his son Aelfgar did not scruple to ally himself with the Welsh against England. Outlawed and restored, he held his against England. Outlawed and restored, he held his father’s earldom of Mercia till his death, when it Welsh against England. Outlawed and restored, he held his fathers’ earldom of Mercia till his death, when it passed to his son Eadwin. But, in the latter days of Eadward, all the rest of England was under the government of the sons of Godwine. Of these Tostig had succeeded Siward in Northumberland. He was a personal favourite of the king, and his appointment way well have been King Eadward’s own act. In the last year of Eadward’s reign the Northumbrians deposed Tostig, and chose as their earl Morkere, the brother of Eadwine. Rather than plunge the country into a civil war, Harold confirmed the choice of the Northumbrians. Tostig went into foreign lands to complain of his brother, and to plot against his country. Harold thus drews on himself the enmity of his brother, without winning the gratitude of the sons of Aelfgar.
Such were the threefold dangers which threatened England when Eadward died, Januray 5, 1066, while the Witan were assembled at Westminster for the Christmas feast. Eadward was childless, and the question of the succession must have been in men’s minds during the whole of his reign. That he promised the crown to William at the time of the duke’s visit, as we have seen, very likely. But such thoughts passed away under the administration of Harold. Eadward sent for his nephew from Hungary, clearly designing him as him successor. The younger Eadward came to England and died. He left two younger Eadward came to England and died. He left two daughter, and a son Eadgar, young and of little promise, who was at Eadward’s death the only male left in the royal family. In such a strait, it was needful to look for a king beyond the royal family. Eadward on his death had recommended Harold to the choice of the electors, a recommendation which was willingly accepted. Harold was chosen and crowned, taking care to avoid any question as to the validity of the crowning rite, by having it performed, not by Stigand, but by Ealdred archbishop of York. The Northumbrians for a moment refused to acknowledge the election of the new king ; but he won them over by his presence and the eloquence of his friend Wulfstan bishop of Worcester. It was most likely at the same time that he tried to win the nothern earls to his side by a marriage with tried to win the northern earls to his side by a marriage with their sister Ealdgyth. This was a direct breach of his promise to William ; and as, Ealdgyth was the widow of Gruffydd of Wales, this last fact was made a further charge against him by the Normans.

Of the lawfulness of Harold’s succession, according to the English law of the time, there can be no doubt. He was nominated by the late king, regularly chosen, regularly consecrated. The Witan had always exercised a free choice within the royal house, and the same principle would justify a choice beyond the royal candidates. Minorities had been endured after the death of Eadred and after the death of Eadgar. But then the only man in the land who held at al the same position as Harold now did was the churchman Dunstan. In fact the claims of Eadgar do not seem to have been put forward at the time. They begin to be heard of at a later time, when the notion of strict hereditary right was growing. When Harold is blamed at the time, it is not for disregarding the hereditary right of Eadgar, but for breaking his own personal engagement to William. Whatever was the nature of that engagement, its breach was at most a ground of complaints against Harold personally ; it could give William no claim as against the people of England. According to English law, William had no shadow of claim. The crown was not hereditary but elective ; and he was not elected to it. Nor had he even any hereditary claim ; for he was not of the kingly stock of Cerdic. The alleged bequest of Eadward was cancelled by the later bequest in favour of Harold. The whole questing was a personal question between William and Harold. A single act of homage done by Harold to William when in Williams’ military service could not bind Harold to refused the crown which the nation offered him. The engagement to marry William’s daughter was undoubtedly broken. To this charge we have Harold’s own answer : A King of the English could not marry a foreign wife without the consent of his Witan.
William then had no claim to the crown on any showing, either of natural right of or of English law. But, by artfully working on the matter, he was able to make out a plausible case in lands where English law was unknown. His kindred to Eadward, the alleged bequest of Eadward, the alleged perjury of Harold, the alleged wrong don to Archbishop Robert and the other Normans, were able to be worked into a picture which gradually won supporters to William, first in his own duchy, and then beyond its bounds. His own subjects, who at first listened but coldly, were before long stirred to zeal in his cause. Foreign princes encouraged him ; to the Roman see above all it was the best of opportunities for winning increased power in England. Pope Alexander II., under the influence of his archdeacon Hildebrand, afterwards the renowned Pope. Gregory VII., approved of William’s claims. He was thus able to cloke his schemes under the guise of a crusade, and to attack England alike with temporatland spiritual weapons.


FOOTNOTES (p. 288)
(1) This is merely a probability, not an ascertained fact ; but several circumstances point to such a supposition, there is nothing to contradict it, and it would explain several difficulties . See History of the Norman Conquest, i. 691, ed. 3
(2) Up to this time the title is always "King of the English," never "King of England." Cnut uses the special style of "King of all England," "Rex totius Angliae." This is not strictly a territorial style ; still less is it the style of a conqueror. The object is to distinguish his kingship over all England from his earlier divided kingship when the land was parted between him and Eadmund.

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