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Francis Lancelott Esq.    Matilda of Flanders, Queen of William the First, usually styled William the Conqueror

page 7

 

"Now," exclaimed the patriotic prelate, addressing William in a loud clear voice, "Will you swear to maintain the rights and interest of the church; to respect the ancient laws and customs of the nation; to render justice equally to all, and to govern the English and the Normans by the same laws ?"
The Duke, surprised at the prelate's boldness, in making such an unexpected demand, hesitated, but, seeing no alternative, he, after a short pause, loudly answered,—
" I swear !"
The oath was then administered, and the royal Duke crowned amidst acclamations so continuous and vehement, that the Norman troops with which William had surrounded the abbey, to guard against treachery, became alarmed for the safety of their royal master, and commenced an onslaught upon the populace, who vigorously returned the charge, when a fearful riot ensued, and in the melée the houses near the abbey caught fire, and the flames spread with such rapidity, that only with great difficulty was the sacred edifice, with all the noble company therein, saved from destruction in the conflagration.
Matilda appears to have ruled Normandy with great ability and success during the absence of her royal lord. Weakened as the government was by the wealthy and the powerful having gone to support her husband's cause in Engand, the duchy, during Matilda's regency, was neither disturbed by rebellion, nor war from without. Peace reigned; the arts and learning flourished ; and civilization and refinement advanced.
When Matilda received the glad tidings of the victory at Hastings, she was at prayers in the chapel of the Benedictine priory of Notre Dame, which, in com­memoration of the event, she caused to be afterwards called "The Church of our Lady of Good News."
On returning from the chapel, Matilda wrote a congratulatory letter to the Conqueror, and, with a spirit of deadly revenge that will ever tarnish her otherwise fair fame, requested, we believe, in the same dispatch, the imprisonment, or, as some writers assert, the death of Brithric, the unfortunate lord of Gloucester. History is not decided as to whether Matilda actually commanded Brithric's death, but certain it is, that shortly after William had received her congratulatory dispatch, the illfated lord was seized, deprived of his lands, and imprisoned in Winchester Castle, where he shortly after­wards died, or, as there is too much reason to believe, was murdered, as his body was privately buried.
Thus, it appears, that she who was always an affectionate wife, a fond mother, a sincere friend, and, for the times in which she lived—revenge in those days being considered meritorious—a deeply religious, a virtuous, and a liberalminded lady, persecuted, even unto the grave, the man whose only crime was that of having, years back, rejected her proffered maiden affections. Nor was her vengeance stayed by the death of her scorner. She even deprived the city of Gloucester of its charter, and brought ruin to the homes of its inhabitants, for no other reason, apparently, except that they had wept at the fate of their lord.
William bestowed all Brithric's lands and possessions upon his royal consort, which, when she died, reverted to the crown, and were conferred by the Conqueror upon his second son, William Rufus.
Shortly after his coronation, William, distrusting the loyalty of the Londoners, retired to Banking, in Essex, where, surrounded by his trusty followers, he held his court, and received the homage of most of the influential Saxon nobles. He next conciliated the clergy, placed strong Norman garrisons in most of the commanding fortresses, and, by the exercise of energy and sound discretion, speedily established order and tranquillity throughout the land.
Being desirous to again embrace his beloved Matilda, and to exhibit to his faithful Normans the treasures his newlyacquired kingdom afforded, "William resolved to spend the Easter festival in his native land. As regents of England during his absence, he appointed his half-brothers, Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, and William Fitz-Osborn. He embarked for Normandy in the Mora, and, both to swell his pageantry, and as hostages for the fidelity of their countrymen during his absence, he carried with him the flower of the English nobility. These lords were by no means pleased at the honour thus done them; but the dread of being suspected of disloyalty, forced them into ready compliance.
The voyage was speedy and prosperous, and William disembarked in March, 1067, at the little port of Fescamp, where Matilda and her children, who awaited his arrival, received him with great joy.
Highly pleased were the Normans with the novel but manly beauty of the English nobles, and their wondering eyes were filled with astonishment on beholding the rich Saxon embroidery, the curiously wrought gold and silver plate, and the strangely-carved English weapons of war. But whilst the Conqueror, accompanied by his queen, was joyfully progressing through his native dominions, and delighting his subjects by a gorgeous display of the fruits of his triumph, the English, driven to desperation by the tyranny and cruelties of their foreign rulers, were agitating a secret plot for the general massacre of the invaders.
Informed by his spies of the intended rising, William, with a promptitude suited to the occasion, relinquished the idea he had formed of spending Christmas in Normandy, hastily reappointed Matilda and his son Robert regents in his absence, and embarked for England. He landed at Winchester, on the seventh of September, and hastened to London, where the conspirators, who had made sure of his absence till the following spring, were completely overawed, and reduced to subjection, by the bitter severity of his decisive measures.
Scarcely was the country reduced to tranquillity, when William sent to Normandy for his queen. Matilda, no less desirous than her royal husband to share his exalted dignity, joyfully obeyed the summons, and. accompanied by Gui, Bishop of Amiens, and numerous distinguished nobles, reached England in the spring of 1068. The king received her with great joy, and conducted her to Winchester, where the court was then held, and where extensive preparations were being made for her coronation, which took place in that city, on Whit-Sunday —festival days and Sundays being, in the middle ages, always chosen by the English for the celebration of coronations and marriages.

 

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