It was not this new fervour of faith only which drove Norman pilgrims in flocks to the shrines of Italy and the Holy Land. The old northern spirit of adventure turned the pilgrims into Crusaders, and the flower of Norman knighthood, impatient of the stern rule of their Dukes, followed Roger de Toesny against the Moslem of Spain, or enlisted under the banner of the Greeks in their war with the Arabs who had conquered Sicily. The Normans became conquerors under Robert Guiscard, a knight who had left his home in the Cotentin with a single follower, but whose valour and wisdom soon placed him at the head of his fellow-soldiers in Italy. Attacking the Greeks, whom they had hitherto served, the Norman knights wrested Apulia from them in an overthrow at Cannae, Guiscard himself led them to the conquest of Calabria and the great trading cities of the coast, while thirty years of warfare gave Sicily to the followers of his brother Roger. The two conquests were united under a line of princes to whose munificence art owes the splendour of Palermo and Monreale, and literature the first outburst of Italian song.
Normandy, still seething with vigorous life, was stirred to greed and enterprize by this plunder of the South, and the rumour of Guiscard's exploits roused into more ardent life the daring ambition of its Duke.
[Authorities. - Primarily the "Gesta Willelmi" of his chaplain, William of Poitiers, a violent partizan of the Duke. William of Jumiéges is here a contemporary, and of great value. Orderic and Wace, with the other riming chronicle of Eenoit de Sainte-More, come in the second place. For the invasion and Senlac we have, in addition, the contemporary "CarmendeBello HasUngensi," by Guy, Bishop of Amiens, and the invaluable pictures of the Bayeux Tapestry. The English accounts are most meagre. The invasion and battle of Senlac are the subject of Mr. Freeman's third volume (" Hist, of Norman Conquest")].
William the Great, as men of his own day styled him, William the Conqueror, as by one event he stamped himself on our history, was now Duke of Normandy. The full grandeur of his indomitable will his large and patient statesmanship, the loftiness of aim which lifts him out of the petty incidents of his age, were as yet only partly disclosed. But there never was a moment from his boyhood when he was not among the greatest of men. His life was one long mastering of difficulty after difficulty. The shame of his birth remained in his name of " the Bastard." His father, Duke Robert, had seen Arlotta, the daughter of a tanner of the town, washing her linen in the little brook by Falaise, and loving her had made her the mother of his boy. Robert's departure on a pilgrimage from which he never returned left William a child-ruler among the most turbulent baronage in Christendom, and treason and anarchy surrounded him as he grew to manhood. Disorder broke at last into open revolt. Surprised in his hunting-seat at Valognes by the rising of the Bessin and Cotentin districts, in which the pirate temper and lawlessness lingered longest, William had only time to dash through the fords of Vire with the rebels on his track.
A fierce combat of horse on the slopes of Val-ès-dunes, to the south-eastward of Caen, left him master of the duchy, and the old Scandinavian Normandy yielded for ever to the new civilization which streamed in with French alliances and the French tongue. William was himself a type of the transition. In the young duke's character the old world mingled strangely with the new, the pirate jostled roughly with the statesman. William was the most terrible, as he was the last outcome of the northern race. The very spirit of the "sea-wolves " who had so long "lived on the pillage of the world" seemed embodied in his gigantic form, his enormous strength, his savage countenance, his desperate bravery, the fury of his wrath, the ruthlessness of his revenge. " No knight under heaven," his enemies confessed, "was William's peer." Boy as he was, horse and man went down before his lance at Val-es-dunes. All the fierce gaiety of his nature broke out in the chivalrous adventures of his youth, in his rout of fifteen Angevins with but five soldiers at his back, in his defiant ride over the ground which Geoffry Martel claimed from him, a ride with hawk on fist as though war and the chase were one. No man could bend his bow.
His mace crashed its way through a ring of English warriors to the foot of the Standard. He rose to his greatest heights in moments when other men despaired. His voice rang out like a trumpet to rally his soldiers as they fled before the English charge at Senlac. In his winter march on Chester he strode afoot at the head of his fainting troops, and helped with his own hands to clear a road through the snowdrifts. With the north-man's daring broke out the northman's pitilessness. When the townsmen of Alençon hung raw hides along their walls in scorn of the baseness of his birth, with cries of " Work for the Tanner! " William tore out his prisoners' eyes, cut off their hands and feet, and flung them into the town. At the close of his greatest victory he refused Harold's body a grave. Hundreds of Hampshire men were driven from their homes to make him a hunting-ground, and his harrying of Northum-bria left the north of England a desolate waste. There is a grim, ruthless ring about his very jests. In his old age Philip of France mocked at the Conqueror's unwieldy bulk and at the sickness which confined him to his bed at Rouen. "King William has as long a lying-in," laughed his enemy, " as a woman behind her curtains!" "When I get up," swore William, "I will go to mass in Philip's land, and bring a rich offering for my churching.
I will offer a thousand candles for my fee. Flaming brands shall they be, and steel shall glitter over the fire they make." At harvest-tide town and hamlet flaring into ashes along trie French border fulfilled the Conqueror's vow. There is the same savage temper in the loneliness of his life. He recked little of men's love or hate. His grim look, his pride, his silence, his wild outbursts of passion, spread terror through his court. "So stark and fierce was he," says the English Chronicler, "that none dared resist his will." His graciousness to Anselm only brought out into stronger relief the general harshness of his tone. His very wrath was solitary. "To no man spake he, and no man dared speak to him," when the news reached him of Harold's accession to the throne. It was only when he passed from the palace to the loneliness of the woods that the King's temper unbent. "He loved the wild deer as though he had been their father. Whosoever should slay hart or hind man should blind him." Death itself took its colour from the savage solitude of his life.