THE NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND.* MR. FREEMAN has now arrived
at the real subject of his history. He has not, indeed, reached the great central event of his narrative, for the present volume contains only the reign of the Confessor ; but his hero, Harold, already comes into view as the chief actor. In Edward himself it is difficult to feel much interest, except on account of his share in bringing about the Conquest. His foreign education, his Norman favourites, above all, the ecclesiastical sympathies which he brought from abroad, were among the chief causes which led to William's invasion, and it is necessary to study
• The History of the Norman Conquest of England: its Causes and its liesulU. By Edward A. Freeman, 31.A. London: Macmillan. 1868.
them, but there is very little in his character and actions to win our admiration or love. But the great minister who, for thirteen years, ruled the English nation in Edward's name, and who, at his death, was elected to succeed to him, is a man of a very different stamp, and he has at last found an historian to do him full justice. Mr. Freeman rises from his usually sober style into eloquence as he describes the military genius of his hero.
"Tall in stature, beautiful in countenance, of a bodily strength whose bodily strength still lives in the rude piotorial art of his time, ho was foremost alike in the active courage and in the passive endurance cl; tho warrior. In hunger and watchfulness, in the wearing labours of a campaign, no less than in the passing excitement of the day of battle, he stood forth as the leader and model of the English people. Alike ready and vigorous in action, he knew when to strike and how to strike ; ho know how to measure himself against enemies of every kind, and to adapt his tactics to every position in which the accidents of warfare might place him. Ho knew how to chase the light-armed Briton from fastness to fastness, how to charge, axe in hand, upon the bristling lines of his Norwegian namesake, and how to boar up, hour after hour, against tho repeated onslaughts of the Norman horsemen, and the more terrible thunder- shower of the Norman arrows. It is plain that in him, no less than in his more successful, and, therefore, more famous, rival, we have to admire not only the mere animal courage of the soldier, but that true skill of the leader of armies which would have placed both Harold and William high among the captains of any age."
Mr. Freeman insists equally on his merits as a statesman :-
"Groat as Harold was in war, his character as a civil ruler is still more remarkable, still more worthy of admiration. Ono or two actions of his earlier life show indeed that tho spirit of those days of violence had laid its hand even on him. But from the time when he appears iu his full maturity as the acknowledged chief of the English nation, the most prominent feature in his character is his singular gentleness and mercy. Never either in warfare or in civil strife do we find Harold bearing hard upon an enemy."
We may grant this, and yet doubt whether Harold was equal to the task laid upon him. England wanted something more than a policy of conciliation. A ruler was needed with firmness of pur- pose and energy to weld the realm into a whole, and to inform its imperfect organization with fresh life. It would be unfair to assert rashly that Harold had not these gifts ; he was hampered by Edward's authority and by the need of securing his own suc- cession, but his easy treatment of Mercian and Northumbrian rebels does not prove that he possessed them. Even without theta the fine qualities which Mr. Freeman justly praises may well win our regard. Unfortunately, the evidence of his excellence afforded by this volume is necessarily incomplete. The nobler and grander side of him, his energy and patriotism, were not fully manifested till the last sad but glorious year of his life. His Welsh campaign proved him an able and active leader, and his political conduct will bear a favourable construction, but up to the death of Edward he had done nothing to win the fame of a hero. Mr. Freeman feels the disadvantage under which he labours, and makes the moat of every act of Harold. To one point especially, the foundation of Waltham, he justly attaches far more importance than has usually been assigned to it. The distinctions between the regular and secular clergy have always been a favourite subject with him, and he was not likely to fall into the common mistake of speaking of the " monks " of Waltham. But beyond this he points out the significance of such a foundation with regard to the policy of Harold.
"The truth is, as wo have seen several indications, that Harold, so far from being an ordinary founder of a monastery, was a deliberate and enlightened patron of tho secular clergy. He is described in the founda- tion charter of his college as their special and active friend. The old struggle which had been going on from the days of Dunstan was going on still, and it went on long after. Harold, like the older Eadward in his foundation at Winchester, like /Ethelstan in his foundation at Milton, preferred the seculars, the more practically useful class, the class loss removed from ordinary human and national feelings. In his eyes even a married priest was not a monster of vice. To make such a choice in the monastic reign of Eadward, when the king on his throne was well nigh himself a monk, was worthy of Harold's lofty and inde- pendent spirit, it was another proof of his steady and clear-sighted patriotism. In truth, of the two great foundations of this reign, Earl Harold's College at Waltham stands in distinct opposition, almost in distinct rivalry, to King Eadward's Abbey at Westminster."
We do not think Mr. Freeman at all overrates the importance of the contrast, but we doubt if the advantage is 80 strongly on the side of Harold. It may at times be right for a ruler to run coun- ter to the prevailing religious sentiment of his time, but such a course is quite as likely to result from a want of religious insight as from a wise patriotism. Ascetic devotion, like other enthusi- asms, had its weak points, plain enough to any sagacious man of the world, and these led to its corruption and discredit. Still it was to asceticism that almost all fervent religion tended in the eleventh century. The reforms of Henry. III. had made Rome for a time not merely the ecclesiastical metropolis, but also the real centre of religious life in Christendom, and the whole influence of Rome was exerted in favour of the monks. Hildebrand, who was for nearly forty years the leading spirit in the Church, had been a monk of Cluny. His most trusted friend was Damiani, the model of monkish austerity. These men were only the most dis- tinguished upholders of ideas which had taken root throughout Europe, which led alike the rude soldier and the accomplished lawyer, Herlwin and Lanfranc, to seek satisfaction for their spiritual needs in the strictest seclusion. We should not think of blaming a practical statesman and active soldier like Harold for not being in sympathy with the religious movement of his time, but we must recognize it as a source of weakness fo him ; the more, that in this respect he contrasted with his great rival.
The same temper of mind which makes Mr. Freeman indifferent to such considerations as these, leads him also to be somewhat unfair to Edward. He .seems to attribute the appointment of the Norman and other foreign bishops chiefly to the personal
favouritism of the King. It is, at least, as probable that they were made in the interest of the religious party to which he belonged. The standard of devotion in the English Church does not seem to have been high. The native English bishops were -distinguished more by secular qualifications than by learning or religious fervour. Wulfstan was an exception, but, if we may believe William of Malmesbury, Ealdred secured his appointment in the hope of taking advantage of his simplicity. Even Harold, when lie wanted an instructor and organizer for his new college, had recourse to a Lotharingian, Several of the foreign bishops were from the same country. The advancement of the Normans might perhaps be ascribed to less worthy motives, but one of these won the regard of his political opponents ; while Robert, who had been abbot of the great monastery of Jumieges, had probably some claims to respect which do not appear in the English writers. The King was not perhaps a good judge of -character, but he was genuinely anxious to aid the most active and zealous party in the Church. To this as much as to his per- sonal holiness he owes his reputation for sanctity. A religious party is always ready to honour any person of high secular posi- tion who has given them help and encouragement. Edward gained credit by his patronage of monkish ecclesiastics, as did Simon de Montfort by his connection with the friars, or Wilber- force by his friendship with the Evangelicals.
Still if we are right in thinking Mr. Freeman unfair to Edward, the unfairness is not wilful, it arises simply from a natural distaste for the objects which Edward had most at heart. But he is un- just with less excuse to some of the minor characters, as, for example, • ./Elfgar. The only distinct charge he has to bring against him is that when outlawed he endeavoured to force his way back by foreign aid. Harold had done the same thing before him, and /Elfgar had the excuse that he was exiled almost or entirely with- -out guilt. But Mr. Freeman, who makes due allowance for Harold, has nothing but condemnation for iElfgar. He draws a -distinction between Harold's accepting the aid of Danish pirates and LElfgar's allying himself with the Welsh on the ground that the latter were the enemies of England. The Welsh were -enemies just as much as and no more than the pirates ; both were willing to join in any attack that gave a chance of plunder. But on the strength of this shadowy distinction .,Elfgar is never men- tioned without some opprobrious epithet, such as " turbulent " or "traitor." Yet twice, in his notes, Mr. Freeman refers to William of Malmesbury's testimony that ./Elfgar governed Harold's earldom nobly during his exile and restored it freely to him on his return. We can only find one explanation for this curious spite ; Mr. Freeman is visiting the sins of the children upon the father ; he is wreaking his dislike to Edwin and Morker on the head of .Elfgar.
We have dwelt upon this at some length, because it is a valuable sign how far we can place confidence in Mr. Freeman's guidance. He is perfectly candid, and calls attention to the evidence which is -most against him. He endeavours to be fair, and succeeds generally as far as the chief characters are concerned, but in deal- ing with lesser personages he is off his guard, and his strong bias -comes out. It is very different when we come to his description -of Harold's great enemy. The portrait of William is fair and even favourable, nor does it give the impression that the lights have been put in from a sense of duty. Mr. Freeman has evidently a genuine admiration for William's vigour and ability, and is ready to make due allowance for the evil influences under which he was brought up.
"Whatever the will of William decreed, he found a means to bring it about. Whatever his hand found to do he did it with all his might. As a warrior, as a general, it is needless to sound his praises. His war- like exploits set him among the foremost captains of history, but his warlike exploits are but the smallest part of his fame. Others beside him could have led the charge at Val-ea-Dunes; others beside him could have chosen the happy moment for the ambush at Varaville; others beside him could have endured the weariness of the long blockade beneath the donjon of Brionne. Others, it may even be, beside him could have cut their way through palisade, and shield-wall, and battle- axe to the Royal Standard of England. But none in his own age, and few in any age, have shown themselves like him masters of every branch of the consummate craft of the statesman. Calm and clear-sighted, he saw his object before him ; he knew when to tarry and when to hasten ; he knew when to strike and how to strike, and how to use alike the noblest and the vilest of men as his instruments. Utterly unscrupulous, though far from unprincipled, taking no pleasure in wrong or oppression for its own sake, always keeping back his hands from needless bloodshed, he never yet shrank from force or fraud, from wrong, or bloodshed, or oppression, when they seemed to him the straightest paths to accomplish his purpose. His crimes admit of no denial; but with one single exception, they never were wanton crimes. And when we come to see the school in which he was brought up, when we see the men whom he had to deal with from his childhood, our wonder really ought to be that his crimes were not infinitely blacker. His personal virtues were throughout life many and great. We hear much of his piety, and we see reason to believe that his piety was something more than the mere conventional piety of lavish gifts to monasteries."
With this brilliant portrait we would willingly conclude ; but there is one defect which we cannot leave unnoticed, and which will, we trust, be supplied in the next volume. Mr. Freeman scarcely touches on the social state of England before the Con- quest. That the national unity was imperfect, the national spirit but half developed, we might perhaps judge for ourselves from some parts of his history ; but we find nowhere a clear statement of the causes which made the Norman invasion a possible enterprise.
Still, if there are some things which Mr. Freeman disregards, he has the merit of treating with a sure hand what he does treat. Few histories convey to us so clearly the impression of careful and complete investigation. This thoroughness has its dangers ; the historian is apt to be lost in the antiquary, and the course of the narrative is stopped at times by excessive dissertation, or by genea- logical and other details of secondary importance. But this over- fulness, while it may frighten some lazy or careless readers, is a fault easily pardoned by the student.