Page images
PDF
EPUB

res

rians with which he filled his palace, except in the reign of the infamous Henry III. of France. Each had his minions, and the effeminate dapifers of William Rufus bear but too strict a resemblance, both in the nature and extent of their crimes, to the painted followers of the French tyrant. In order, it would seem, to allow more scope for the horrors of the royal orgies, lights were forbidden in the palace of the Norman after nightfall, and darkness covered vices on which we cannot dwell.

Every sort of licentiousness was practised under the second monarch after the conquest; and when Henry I. took possession of the throne, his coming was hailed as affording a prospect both of a deliverance from oppression, and a reformation of morals, though his own life exhibits a picture of continual indulgence in criminal amours, which not even his keen sense of policy could restrain. His unhappy son William, the im. mediate cause of whose death was an act of generous affection of which he left but too few on record, was at the early age of eighteen already overwhelmed by vices horrible and degrading, so that though the father mourned in bitterness of heart for the loss of his child, the nation could hardly regret a prince, whose overbearing disposition and early depravity, promised a maturity as terrible as that of his uncle of the same name.

Though the subject be so dark and painful, it has seemed necessary to say thus much on the vices of our Norman kings, because the character of the monarchs that succeeded, and of the house of Plantagenet in general, cannot be duly estimated unless contrasted with that of the sovereigns who preceded them. Thus Henry II. himself and several of his successors, taken individually, appear far from deserving the praise of moral life; but when we compare the period which succeeded the accession of the second Henry, with that which went before, we shall find a vast improvement in morals, notwithstanding several striking instances of licentiousness.

No regular rule of succession to the throne of England was observed till the reign of Henry II. ; and indeed, even in private families, the law of inheritance seems to have been ill defined or ill observed. William the Conqueror, however, if we may believe that the words put into his mouth on his death-bed by various historians, were really spoken by him, seems to have pointed out the rule of primogeniture as the one he recognised, even while he conveyed the throne of England to William Rufus, as far as he could convey that which he himself, in truth, held only by his sword. “Normandy,” he said, “ he had received from his fathers, and therefore that, as his paternal inheritance, he left to his eldest son.” Might continued to make right, however ; and Henry I., after having seized the crown of England, stripped his brother Robert of his undoubted dominions, and by a base violation of confidence and honour, confined him in a prison, of which death alone unclosed the doors. The plunderer of his brother, being suddenly deprived of his son William by the wreck of the vessel which was bearing the Prince to England, * had only one legitimate child left, a daughter, who had first been named Alice, but had afterwards assumed the name of Matilda, and married the emperor Henry IV. The desire of seating one of his own posterity on the throne, and the difficulty of securing the crown to his daughter, induced the king of England, to marry his second wife, named Adelais, whose

sert

* The Prince was following his father to England in a vessel called the White Ship, accompanied by his natural brother Richard, and their sister Adela, with an hundred and forty knights and sixteen ladies of noble birth. They spent several hours in drunkenness and debauchery before they weighed anchor; and some of the party, seeing the state of the crew, retired to land, and thus saved themselves. The ship was then unmoored, but in the confusion drifted on a ledge of rock not far from Barfleur, and immediately began to sink. The Prince got speedily into a boat, and was rowing for the land when the cries of his sister Adela caught his ear, and he returned to save her. The moment he approached the ship, multitudes poured into the boat, which immediately sunk as well as the ship. Only one person was saved from the wreck, who clung during the whole night to the top of a mast which appeared above water.

+ It was not at all uncommon in those days, thus to change what is called the christian name. A similar alteration had been made by the mother of Matilda, whose name was originally Edith. "

youth seemed to afford a prospect of numerous issue. Their bed however was unfruitful, and in the end he determined to settle the crown on his daughter the empress Matilda..

Although her husband was now dead, Matilda was very unwilling to leave her adopted country, and the English barons were not well disposed to allow the sceptre to be placed in a female hand; but Henry overcame the repugnance of both, and, in a general assembly of the clergy and nobles, Matilda was declared next in succession to the crown of England. It is to be remarked, that at this meeting were present, besides David king of Scotland, maternal uncle of the Princess, her cousin Stephen Count of Boulogne, the son of Adela, daughter of the conqueror, and also Robert Earl of Gloucester, Matilda's half brother, a natural son of her father Henry. Between these two noblemen immediately arose a dispute regarding precedence in the assembly, and it has been supposed, that Robert of Gloucester, foreseeing that Matilda's title would ultimately be contested, looked with ambition towards the crown itself, as a prize which perhaps might fall to his lot, in an age when bastardy was not regarded as an insuperable bar, in all cases, of feudal succession. To be declared next to Matilda might have secured a distinct claim upon the crown itself; for if his illegitimacy did not affect his relation to Stephen of Boulogne, it could not be supposed to affect his position in regard to the succession. If he acted upon such considerations, the danger was obviated by the decision of the barons, who maintained that the claim of legi. timacy was superior to that of proximity, and assigned the first place to Stephen, whose ultimate views undoubtedly extended to the crown.

In the various struggles and contentions which had convulsed Normandy, under the sons of the Conqueror, Fulk, named Plantagenet, * Countof Anjou, had taken a frequent part. Henry I. had studiously courted that Prince, who had obtained much renown as a soldier, and who being called to the distant throne of Jerusalem about this time, resigned his European dominions to his son Geoffrey, a rash, hot-headed, violent youth. To the young Count, Henry had already proposed the hand of his daughter, and he now urged on the match, promising him it would seem the immediate investiture of Normandy. In this scheme the King had to contend once more with the reluctance of his daughter, and the disapprobation of his vassals, who were strongly averse to the union of their future Queen with the young Count of Anjou. Henry, however, persevered, and Matilda was married to Geoffrey, not

* From the genêt, or broom-tree, which his family bore as their device. I find the term Plante de genét given as the origin of the appellation assumed by the house of Anjou ; but the name of this shrub is much more simply put as Plante à genêt, which was not at all an uncommon form in the French of that day, and is still retained in such expressions as arbre à fruit, batteau à voiles, &c.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »