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Conqueror, by the Anglo Normans, as by their AngloSaxon subjects.
Sir Walter Scott, and many other antiquarians have supported the opinion, that England was benefited by the Norman conquest, in as far as the Normans, being the most refined of the two people, promoted civilization and the arts. We, on the contrary, are of opinion, that, in these points, the Saxons were in advance of the Nor
The Saxon princes were all great encouragers of learning and the arts. To them England is indebted for the founding the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and Alfred expressly stated, that he endowed Oxford, to restore the taste for learning which had been driven out of the kingdom by the war with the Danes. During the reigns of these Saxon princes, several Italians, distinguished for their learning and piety, were appointed by the Pope to the different sees in England, where they collected libraries, and founded schools. Charlemagne could neither write nor read, whilst many of the Saxon princes were accomplished scholars. Alcuinus, the preceptor of Charlemagne in rhetoric and philosophy, was an Englishman. It was by his influence, that the Emperor gave encouragement to learning and the arts, and by his advice, that he founded the University of Paris. But having founded a University, the great difficulty, in those days, was, to obtain books to form a library. And, to accomplish this, Alcuinus was commissioned by the emperor to proceed to England, to employ persons to transcribe books contained in the numerous libraries in that kingdom.
The Danes were bands of piratical marauders. They marked their progress by burnings, destruction and pillage. They destroyed the churches, schools, and public edifices, raised by the Saxons. They were, as a race, far inferior to the Saxons in mental power, taste and civilization: and it was these Danes who, under Rollo, had established themselves in Normandy.
War! horrid war! that greatest enemy of social happiness, of civilization, of refinement, of the peaceful arts and learning, of charity, and of the religion of Christ,war! which had desolated England for so many years, must have caused it to retrograde in the arts of peaceful life. Peace encouraged their revival. They were encouraged by the enlightened and refined Provençal Queens, and the learned men who followed them to the English court.
The first queen, in Miss Strickland's series, is Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, of whom
“ Matilda was born about the year 1031, and was very carefully edu. cated. She was possessed of fine natural talents, and was no less celebrated for her learning than for her great beauty.”
“ Among her other acquirements, Matilda was particularly famed for her skill in ornamental needle-work, which, in that age, was considered one of the most important and desirable accomplishments which princesses and ladies of high rank could possess. We are told, by a worthy chronicler, that the proficiency of the four sisters of king Athel. stane, in spinning, weaving, and embroidery, procured these royal spinsters the addresses of the greatest princes of Europe.
“The fame of this excellent stitchery is, however, all the memorial that remains of the industry of Matilda's Saxon cousins; but her own great work, the Bayeux tapestry, is still in existence, and is, beyond all competition, the most wonderful achievement in the gentle craft of needle-work that ever was executed by fair and royal hands.
“The Earl of Flanders, Matilda's father, was a rich, powerful, and politic prince, equally skilled in the arts of war and of peace. It was to him that the town of Lille, which he rebuilt and greatly beautified, owed its subsequent greatness, and the home manufactures of his natite country, through his judicious encouragement, became a source of wealth and prosperity to Flanders.” Vol. i., p. 27.
The manner in which William of Normandy overcame the obstacles which opposed his marriage with his beautiful cousin, is so characteristic, that we cannot forbear the passage which describes it:
“A less determined character would have given up the pursuit as hopeless; but William, having once fixed his mind upon this marriage, was not to be deterred by difficulties or discouragements. It was in vain that his foes and jealous kinsmen intrigued against him in the Flemish court, that the parents of the lady objected to his illegitimate birth and doubtful title to the Duchy of Normandy; that the Church of Rome interdicted a marriage between the forbidden degrees of consanguinity; and, worse than all, that the lady herself treated him with coldness and hauteur. After seven years' delay, William appears to have become desperate ; and if we may trust the evidence of the chronicle of Inger, he, in the year 1047, waylaid Matilda in the streets of Bruges, as she was returning from mass, seized her, rolled her in the dirt, spoiled her rich array, and, not content with these outrages, struck her repeatedly, and rode off at full speed. This Teutonic method of courtship, according to our author, brought the affair to a crisis, for Matilda, either convinced of the strength of William's passion by the violence of his behaviour, or afraid of encountering a second beating, consented to become his wife.” Vol. i., p. 28.
But, even after their marriage, the young couple were not permitted to enjoy their happiness in peace. The Church excommunicated the newly wedded pair, and declared their marriage unlawful. A dispensation from the Pope was, however, at length obtained, on condition of their founding the sister abbeys of St. Stephen and the Holy Trinity
William, it appears, possessed considerable taste for architecture. He built a royal palace for his own residence, the great hall, or council chamber of which, was one of the most magnificent apartments then in Europe.
“ Matilda,” says our author, “inheriting from her father Baldwin, of Lille, a taste for architecture, took great delight in these stately buildings; and her foundations are amongst the most splendid relics of Norman grandeur. She was a munificent patroness of the arts, and afforded great encouragement to men of learning, and cooperated with her husband most actively in all his paternal plans for the advancement of trade, the extension of commerce, and the general happiness of the people committed to their charge. In this they were most successful. Normandy, so long torn with contending factions, and impoverished with foreign warfare, began to taste the blessings of repose; and, under the wise government of her energetic sovereign, soon experienced the good effects of his enlightened policy.
“At his own expense, William built the first pier that was ever constructed at Cherbourg. He superintended the building and organization of fleets, traced out commodious harbours for his ships, and in a comparatively short time rendered Normandy a very considerable maritime power, and, finally, the mistress of the channel.” Vol. i., p. 36.
We shall pass over the interesting anecdotes the fair author has collected relating to the conquest of England, and confine our remarks to those portions which peculiarly relate to the queen. William, who placed the greatest reliance on the prudence and talents of his wife, left her regent of Normandy during his expedition to Eng. land.
“Her government was very popular, as well as prosperous in Normandy, where, surrounded by the most learned men of the age, she advanced, in no slight degree, the progress of civilization and refinement. The encouragement afforded by her to arts and letters, has won for this princess golden reports in the chronicle lore of that age.”
* This princess," says Ordericus Vitalis, " who derived her descent from the kings of France and emperors of Germany, was even more distinguished for the purity of her mind and manners than for her illustrious lineage. As a queen, she was munificent, and liberal of her gifts. She united beauty with gentle breeding and all the graces of christian holiness. While the victorious arms of her illustrious spouse subdued all things before him, she was indefatigable in alleviating distress in every shape and redoubled her alms. In a word, she exceeded all commendations, and won the love of all hearts." Vol. i., p. 60.
Such is the character given of Matilda, by a contemporary historian, and though we allow something to the feelings of the courtier, speaking of one to whom he was probably indebted for kindess and favours, the life of this queen proves, she was not wholly unworthy of this high praise, with the exception of one dark stain, which we would wish to wipe from her character, we mean that relating to the treatment of the Saxon noble, Brihtric Meaw, upon which we must say a few words.
According to Miss Strickland's account, collected, we admit, from numerous and carefully collated chronicles, Matilda had, when very young, fixed her affections on a young Saxon nobleman, named Brihtric Meaw; who had visited her father's court in the quality of ambassador from Edward the Confessor, king of England. Brihtric, however, it appears, was insensible to the charms and tenderness of the beautiful girl, his heart probably having been already won by some fair Saxon damsel; and our author supposes that the passion Matilda cherished for the fair-haired English envoy, was the most formidable of all the obstacles with which her cousin William of Normandy had to contend, during the tedious period of his courtship.
The chronicle of Tewkesbury, which states that Brihtric Meaw, the lord of the honor of Gloucester, when he resided at her father's court as ambassador from Edward the Confessor, had refused to marry Matilda, adds, that in the first year of the reign of William the Conqueror, Matilda obtained from her lord the grant of all Brihtric's lands and honors; and that she then caused the unfortunate Saxon to be seized, at his manor of Hanelye, and conveyed to Winchester, where he died in prison, and was privately buried.
“ Thus, then, does it appear that Matilda, after having filled, for fourteen years, a most exalted station, and enjoying the greatest happiness as a wife and mother, had secretly brooded over the bitter memory of the slight that had been offered to her in early youth, for the purpose of inflicting the deadliest vengeance in return on the man who had rejected the love she had once condescended to offer.
“ This circumstance is briefly related, not in a general, but a topographical history, without comment, and it is in no slight degree confirmed by the records of the Dooms-day-book, where it appears that Avening, Tewkesbury, Fairford, Thombury, Whitenhurst and various other possessions in Gloucesterhire, belonging to Brihtric, the son of Algar, were granted to Matilda, by the Conqueror, and after her death, reverting to the crown, were by William, again bestowed on her second son, William Rufus.
Matilda, moreover, deprived Gloucester of its charter, and civic liberties, merely because it was the city of the unfortunate Brihtric, perhaps, for showing some sign of resentment for his fate. Vol. i., p. 61.
Now, though we are very unwilling to differ from our talented authoress on any point, we must say, that we are not altogether convinced that Matilda's name is to be sullied with this dark stain. In the first place, it is scarcely possible that any woman should foster, during fourteen years of happy wedded love, so deep a resentment against a youthful lover. Matilda's general character was remarkably kind and charitable. In the next place, this event is said to have occurred in the first year of William's reign, whilst his queen was still engaged in the government of Normandy; the communications between different states was difficult and rare, and it seems scarcely probable, that Matilda, engaged in the care of her children, in the duties of government, and anxious, no doubt, for the welfare of her absent lord, to whom she was so tenderly attached, and who was yet scarcely in possession of his newly acquired kingdom, should send communications over to England, to execute so shocking an act of vengeance. When, too,