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

page 13

 

Large as her revenues were, Matilda died poor. The lands in Gloucestershire, which she had obtained by the death of the illfated Brithric, were settled on her son Henry, and her private funds had cither been lavished on her favourite son, Robert, or expended in charities to the poor, gifts to the church, or patronage to literature, and the arts. According to her will, a curious document, still preserved in the Royal Library at Paris, she bequeathed to the abbey of the Holy Trinity all her personal possessions, which, for a Queen of England, were indeed few enough, consisting of only a handsomely worked tunic, a mantle embossed with gold, a candelabra, two golden girdles, two houses in England, a crown, sceptre, horse trappings, and several valuable cups and other vessels.
The Conqueror was sorely grieved at the loss of his queen. Deprived of her kindly counsel, and irritated by his first­born again breaking out against him into open revolt, his temper became soured, and his health began to break. Even his favourite amusement of hunting he now could but ill enjoy, and he indulged in the pleasures of the table to such excess, that he became bloated and corpulent, and at length was attacked with the dropsy. Whilst lying bedridden of this disease, his old enemy, the French King, jocosely demanded, "When the King of England would rise from his lying in r" which so exasperated the debilitated monarch, that he swore to visit Paris at his churching with ten thousand lances by way of wax-lights.
As soon as be had sufficiently recovered to take the field, he, in pursuance of his vow, collected a mighty army, and hastened to the French border, where he mercilessly ravaged Le Vexin, and reduced the city of Mantes to ashes. Whilst committing this terrible vengeance on the innocent citizens of Mantes, his horse stumbled over some burning timber, and occcasioned him a severe bruise in the abdomen, from the pommel of his saddle, which was followed by a fatal fever.
Being unable to remount his horse, after the accident, William was conveyed on a litter to Rouen, where, perceiving he approached his end, he felt remorse at having been guilty of so many crimes, and endeavoured to quiet the compunction of his accusing conscience by acts of charity and piety. To this end, he gave alms to the poor, ordering the release of the numerous Saxon captives which he held as hostages, and the rebuilding of the churches he had so ruthlessly destroyed at Mantes. He also expressed bitter regrets at the desolation and war he had caused in England, and declared he would leave the disposal of his regal dignity in that fair land to God, as he durst not name a successor to the crown he had won and maintained by rapine and murder. But in this declaration he appears to have been insincere, as shortly afterwards he addressed a letter to Lanfranc, informing the prelate of his approaching end, and requesting him to secure the crown of England to his dutiful son, William Rufus. When he had sealed this letter with his royal signet, he gave it to his favourite, Rufus, and bidding him a hasty farewell, told the prince to make all speed to England, where a crown awaited him.
Having settled his temporal affairs, the King, although suffering intensely from burning fever and exhaustion, caused himself to be removed to Hermentrude, a delightful village near Rouen, where, a few days after his removal, he expired, surrounded only by his domestics, not one of his children being present on the solemn occasion.
On the ninth of September, 1087, he heard the great bell of St. Gervis, near Rouen, begin tolling, and asked what it meant.
" It is ringing prime to our blessed Virgin," replied one of the attendants.
“Then to our blessed Lady, Mary, the mother of God, I commend myself, said the dying king, in a faint, faltering voice." May she, by her holy intercessions, reconcile me to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.    God be merciful to—." Tile Conqueror could say no more, death had stopped his heart, and with a rattling gurgle in his throat, he breathed his last, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, and after a reign of fifty years in Normandy, and twenty-one in England.
Scarcely had William ceased to exist, when his unworthy domestics pillaged the house in which he died of every article of value, after which, they stole the covering from the royal dead, and left the body stripped and naked on the bare floor. These shameful proceedings could not have occurred but for the absence of the Conqueror's family and officers of state. Robert, his first-born, was in Germany, Rufus was journeying to England to obtain his crown, and Henry, on whom the charge of his obsequies devoted, had, on his death, immediately departed for Rouen, on self-interest business, whilst all the members of the court had gone to offer their homage either to Robert or to Rufus.
As time rolled on, no one attempted to perform the last sad office to the deserted and neglected remains of the monarch whose chivalric renown had astonished the world, and who, by energy, prudence, and bravery, had exalted himself from the station of a petty prince to that of the richest king of Europe. At length, however, a poor knight, disgusted at the dishonour shown to the body of his late royal master, removed it to Rouen at his own expense, where it was met by a train of monks, and carried for interment to the abbey of St. Stephen's. But here disaster followed disaster. Scarcely had the procession entered the church, when a terrible fire burst forth in the neighbourhood, which so alarmed the monks, that, regardless of all decorum, they deserted the coffin, and rushed out to preserve their monastery. When the conflagration was put out, the monks returned, and performed the funeral rites with becoming decency ; after which, the coffin was about to be lowered into the grave, when a Norman gentleman, named Fitz-Arthur, stepped forward, and, to the astonishment of all present, loudly exclaimed—"This interment I forbid. The ground is mine by inheritance; the duke, whose body rests in yon cold coffin, took it by violence from my father to found this abbey upon—yea, this verу grave was the site of my father's house; and I charge ye all, as ye would avert the wrath of God and his holy saints, on the great judgment-day, not to lay the bones of the heartless plunderer on the hearth of my oppressed parent."
This impressive appeal struck the superstitious assembly with horror. A pause in the ceremony ensued. The claims of Fitz-Arthur were examined, and acknowledged by Prince Henry, who paid him sixty shillings for the

 

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