At a later period of his reign a conspiracy was organized to place Stephen of Albemarle, a near cousin of the royal house, upon the throne; but the capture of Robert Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland, who had placed himself at its head, and the imprisonment and exile of his fellow-conspirators, again crushed the hopes of the baronage.
While the spirit of national patriotism rose to life again in this struggle of the crown against the baronage, the boldness of a single ecclesiastic revived a national opposition to the mere administrative despotism which now pressed heavily on the land. If William the Red inherited much of his father's energy as well as his policy towards the conquered English, he inherited none of his moral grandeur. His profligacy and extravagance soon exhausted the royal hoard, and the death of Lanfranc left him free to fill it at the expense of the Church. During the vacancy of a see or abbey its revenues went to the royal treasury, and so steadily did William refuse to appoint successors to the prelates whom death removed, that at the close of his reign one archbishoprick, four bishopricks, and eleven abbeys were found to be without pastors. The see of Canterbury itself remained vacant till a dangerous illness frightened the king into the promotion of Anselm, who happened at the time to be in England on the business of his house.
The Abbot of Bec was dragged to the royal couch and the cross forced into his hands, but William had no sooner recovered from his sickness than he found himself face to face with an opponent whose meek and loving temper rose into firmness and grandeur when it fronted the tyranny of the King. The Conquest, as we have seen, had robbed the Church of all moral power as the representative of the higher national interests against a brutal despotism by placing it in a position of mere dependence on the crown; and though the struggle between William and the archbishop turned for the most part on points which have no direct bearing on our history, the boldness of Anselm's attitude not only broke the tradition of ecclesiastical servitude, but infused through the nation at large a new spirit of independence. The real character of the contest appears in the Primate's answer, when his remonstrances against the lawless exactions from the Church wore met by a demand for a present on his own promotion, and his first offer of five hundred pounds was contemptuously refused. "Treat me as a free man," Anselm replied, "and I devote myself and all that I have to your service, but if you treat me as a slave you shall have neither me nor mine." A burst of the Red King's fury drove the Archbishop from court, and he finally decided to quit the country, but his example had not been lost, and the close of William's reign found a new spirit of freedom in England with which the greatest of the Conqueror's sons was glad to make terms.
As a soldier the Red King was little inferior to his father. Normandy had been pledged to him by his brother Robert in exchange for a sum which enabled the Duke to march in the first Crusade for the delivery of the Holy Land, and a rebellion at Le Mans was subdued by the fierce energy with which William flung himself at the news of it into the first boat he found, and crossed the Channel in face of a storm. "Kings never drown," he ropli cont:mptuously to the remonstrances of his followers. Homage was again wrested from Malcolm by a march to the Firth of Forth, and the subsequent death of that king threw Scotland into a disorder which enabled an army under Eadgar aetheling to establish Eadgar, the son of Margaret, as an English feudatory on the throne. In Wales William was less triumphant, and the terrible losses inflicted on the heavy Norman cavalry in the fastnesses of Snowdon forced him to fall back on the slower but wiser policy of the Conqueror. Triumph and defeat alike ended in a strange and tragical close; the Red King was found dead by peasants in a glade of the New Forest, with the arrow either of a hunter or an assassin in his breast.
Robert was still on his return from the Holy Land, where his bravery had redeemed much of his earlier ill-fame, and the English crown was at once seized by his younger brother Henry, in spite of the opposition of the baronage, who clung to the Duke of Normandy and the union of their estates on both sides the Channel under a single ruler. Their attitude threw Henry, as it had thrown Rufus, on the support of the English, and the two great measures which followed his coronation, his grant of a charter, and his marriage with Matilda, mark the new relation which was thus brought about between the people and their King. Henry's Charter is important, not merely as a direct precedent for the Great Charter of John, but as the first limitation which had been imposed on the despotism established by the Conquest. The "evil customs "by which the Red King had enslaved and plundered the Church were explicitly renounced in it, the unlimited demands made by both the Conqueror and his son on the baronage exchanged for customary fees, while the rights of the people itself, though recognized more vaguely, were not forgotten.
The barons were held to do justice to their under-tenants and to renounce tyrannical exactions from them, the King promising to restore order and the " law of Eadward," the old constitution of the realm, with the changes which his father had introduced. His marriage gave a significance to these promises which the meanest English peasant could understand. Edith, or Matilda, was the daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland and of Margaret, the sister of Eadgar aetheling. She had been brought up in the nunnery of Romsey by its abbess, her aunt Christina, and the veil which she had taken there formed an obstacle to her union with the King which was only removed by the wisdom of Anselm. The Archbishop's recall had been one of Henry's first acts after his accession, and Matilda appeared before his court to tell her tale in words of passionate earnestness. She had been veiled in her childhood, she asserted, only to save her from the insults of the rude soldiery who infested the land, had flung the veil from her again and again, and had yielded at last to the unwomanly taunts, the actual blows of her aunt. "As often as I stood in her presence," the girl pleaded, " I wore the veil, trembling as I wore it with indignation and grief.