Henry's administration is admirably explained for the first time by Dr. Stubbs in his " Constitutional History."]
The Conquest was hardly over when the struggle between the baronage and the Crown began. The wisdom of William's policy in the destruction of the great earldoms which had overshadowed the throne was shown in an attempt at their restoration made by Roger, the son of his minister William Fitz-Osbern, and by the Breton, Ralf de Guader, whom the King had rewarded for his services at Senlac with the earldom of Norfolk. The rising was quickly suppressed, Roger thrown into prison, and Ralf driven over sea; but the intrigues of the baronage soon found another leader in William's half-brother, the Bishop of Bayeux. Under pretence of aspiring by arms to the papacy, Bishop Odo collected money and men, but the treasure was at once seized by the royal officers, and the Bishop arrested in the midst of the court. Even at the King's bidding no officer would venture to seize on a prelate of the Church; it was with his own hands that William was forced to effect his arrest. "I arrest not the Bishop, but the Earl of Kent," laughed the Conqueror, and Odo remained a prisoner till William's death. It was in fact this vigorous personality of William which proved the chief safeguard of his throne. "Stark he was," says the English chronicler, "to men that withstood him.
[Authorities. - Orderic and the English chroniclers, as before. Eadmer, a monk of Canterbury, in his "Historia Novorum " and his " Life of Anselm," is the chief source of information for the reign of William the Second. William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon 'are both contemporary authorities during that of Henry the First: the latter remains a brief but accurate annalist; the former is the leader of a new historic school, who treat English events as part of the history of the world, and emulate classic models by a more philosophical arrangement of their materials. See for them the opening section of the next chapter. On the early history of our towns the reader may gain something from Mr. Thompson's "English Municipal History " (London, 1857); more from the " Charter Rolls " (published by the Record Commissioners); for S. Edmundsbury see "Chronicle of Jocelyn de Brakelond " (Camden Society). The records of the Cistercian Abbeys of Yorkshire in "Dugdale's Monasticon," illustrate the religious revival.
Earls that did aught against his bidding he cast into bonds; bishops he stripped of their bishopricks, abbots of their abbacies. He spared not his own brother: first he was in the land, but the King cast him into bondage. If a man would live and hold his lands, need it were that he followed the King's will." But stern as his rule was, it gave peace to the land. Even amidst the sufferings which necessarily sprang from the circumstances of the Conquest itself, from the erection of castles, or the enclosure of forests, or the exactions which built up the great hoard at Winchester, Englishmen were unable to forget "the good peace he made in the land, so that a man might fare over his realm with a bosom full of gold." Strange touches of a humanity far in advance of his age contrasted with the general temper of his government. One of the strongest traits in his character was his aversion to shed blood by process of law; he formally abolished the punishment of death, and only a single execution stains the annals of his reign. An edict yet more honourable to him put an end to the slave-trade which had till then been carried on at the port of Bristol. The pitiless warrior, the stern and aweful king was a tender and faithful husband, an affectionate father.
The lonely silence of his bearing broke into gracious converse with pure and sacred souls like Anselm. If William was "stark" to rebel and baron, men noted that he was "mild to those that loved God".
In power as in renown the Conqueror towered high above his predecessors on the throne. The fear of the Danes, which had so long hung like a thunder-cloud over England, passed away before the host which William gathered to meet a great armament assembled by King Cnut. A mutiny dispersed the Danish fleet, and the murder of its King removed all peril from the North. Scotland, already humbled by William's invasion, was bridled by the erection of a strong fortress at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and after penetrating with his army to the heart of Wales, the King commenced its systematic reduction by settling barons along its frontier. It was not till his closing years that his unvarying success was disturbed by a rebellion of his son Robert and a quarrel with France; as he rode down the steep street of Mantes, which he had given to the flames, his horse stumbled among the embers, and William, flung heavily against his saddle, was borne home to Rouen to die. The sound of the minster bell woke him at dawn as he lay in the convent of St. Gervais, overlooking the city - it was the hour of prime - and stretching out his hands in prayer the Conqueror passed quietly away.
With him passed the terror which had held the baronage in awe, while the severance of his dominions roused their hopes of successful resistance to the stern rule beneath which they had bowed. William bequeathed Normandy to his eldest son Robert; William, his second son, hastened with his father's ring to England, where the influence of Lanfranc at once secured him the crown. The baronage seized the opportunity to rise in arms under pretext of supporting the claims of Robert, whose weakness of character gave full scope for the growth of feudal independence, and Bishop Odo placed himself at the head of the revolt. The new King was thrown almost wholly on the loyalty of his English subjects. But the national stamp which William had given to his kingship told at once. Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, the one surviving bishop of English blood, defeated the insurgents in the West; while the king, summoning the freemen of country and town to his host under pain of being branded as "nithing" or worthless, advanced with a large force against Rochester, where the barons were concentrated. A plague which broke out among the garrison forced them to capitulate, and as the prisoners passed through the royal army, cries of "gallows and cord " burst from the English ranks.