A Child s History of England
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confined for life in one of the Royal Castles. In the beginning of
his imprisonment, he was allowed to ride out, guarded; but he one
day broke away from his guard and galloped of. He had the evil
fortune to ride into a swamp, where his horse stuck fast and he was
taken. When the King heard of it he ordered him to be blinded,
which was done by putting a red-hot metal basin on his eyes.
And so, in darkness and in prison, many years, he thought of all
his past life, of the time he had wasted, of the treasure he had
squandered, of the opportunities he had lost, of the youth he had
thrown away, of the talents he had neglected. Sometimes, on fine
autumn mornings, he would sit and think of the old hunting parties
in the free Forest, where he had been the foremost and the gayest.
Sometimes, in the still nights, he would wake, and mourn for the
many nights that had stolen past him at the gaming-table;
sometimes, would seem to hear, upon the melancholy wind, the old
songs of the minstrels; sometimes, would dream, in his blindness,
of the light and glitter of the Norman Court. Many and many a
time, he groped back, in his fancy, to Jerusalem, where he had
fought so well; or, at the head of his brave companions, bowed his
feathered helmet to the shouts of welcome greeting him in Italy,
and seemed again to walk among the sunny vineyards, or on the shore
of the blue sea, with his lovely wife. And then, thinking of her
grave, and of his fatherless boy, he would stretch out his solitary
arms and weep.
At length, one day, there lay in prison, dead, with cruel and
disfiguring scars upon his eyelids, bandaged from his jailer's
sight, but on which the eternal Heavens looked down, a worn old man
of eighty. He had once been Robert of Normandy. Pity him!
At the time when Robert of Normandy was taken prisoner by his
brother, Robert's little son was only five years old. This child
was taken, too, and carried before the King, sobbing and crying;
for, young as he was, he knew he had good reason to be afraid of
his Royal uncle. The King was not much accustomed to pity those
who were in his power, but his cold heart seemed for the moment to
soften towards the boy. He was observed to make a great effort, as
if to prevent himself from being cruel, and ordered the child to be
taken away; whereupon a certain Baron, who had married a daughter
of Duke Robert's (by name, Helie of Saint Saen), took charge of
him, tenderly. The King's gentleness did not last long. Before
two years were over, he sent messengers to this lord's Castle to
seize the child and bring him away. The Baron was not there at the
time, but his servants were faithful, and carried the boy off in
his sleep and hid him. When the Baron came home, and was told what
the King had done, he took the child abroad, and, leading him by
the hand, went from King to King and from Court to Court, relating
how the child had a claim to the throne of England, and how his
uncle the King, knowing that he had that claim, would have murdered
him, perhaps, but for his escape.
The youth and innocence of the pretty little WILLIAM FITZ-ROBERT
(for that was his name) made him many friends at that time. When
he became a young man, the King of France, uniting with the French
Counts of Anjou and Flanders, supported his cause against the King
of England, and took many of the King's towns and castles in
Normandy. But, King Henry, artful and cunning always, bribed some
of William's friends with money, some with promises, some with
power. He bought off the Count of Anjou, by promising to marry his
eldest son, also named WILLIAM, to the Count's daughter; and indeed
the whole trust of this King's life was in such bargains, and he
believed (as many another King has done since, and as one King did
in France a very little time ago) that every man's truth and honour
can be bought at some price. For all this, he was so afraid of
William Fitz-Robert and his friends, that, for a long time, he
believed his life to be in danger; and never lay down to sleep,
even in his palace surrounded by his guards, without having a sword
and buckler at his bedside.
To strengthen his power, the King with great ceremony betrothed his
eldest daughter MATILDA, then a child only eight years old, to be
the wife of Henry the Fifth, the Emperor of Germany. To raise her
marriage-portion, he taxed the English people in a most oppressive
manner; then treated them to a great procession, to restore their
good humour; and sent Matilda away, in fine state, with the German
ambassadors, to be educated in the country of her future husband.
And now his Queen, Maud the Good, unhappily died. It was a sad
thought for that gentle lady, that the only hope with which she had
married a man whom she had never loved - the hope of reconciling
the Norman and English races - had failed. At the very time of her
death, Normandy and all France was in arms against England; for, so
soon as his last danger was over, King Henry had been false to all
the French powers he had promised, bribed, and bought, and they had
naturally united against him. After some fighting, however, in
which few suffered but the unhappy common people (who always
suffered, whatsoever was the matter), he began to promise, bribe,
and buy again; and by those means, and by the help of the Pope, who
exerted himself to save more bloodshed, and by solemnly declaring,
over and over again, that he really was in earnest this time, and
would keep his word, the King made peace.
One of the first consequences of this peace was, that the King went
over to Normandy with his son Prince William and a great retinue,
to have the Prince acknowledged as his successor by the Norman
Nobles, and to contract the promised marriage (this was one of the
many promises the King had broken) between him and the daughter of
the Count of Anjou. Both these things were triumphantly done, with
great show and rejoicing; and on the twenty-fifth of November, in
the year one thousand one hundred and twenty, the whole retinue
prepared to embark at the Port of Barfleur, for the voyage home.
On that day, and at that place, there came to the King, Fitz-
Stephen, a sea-captain, and said:
'My liege, my father served your father all his life, upon the sea.
He steered the ship with the golden boy upon the prow, in which
your father sailed to conquer England. I beseech you to grant me
the same office. I have a fair vessel in the harbour here, called
The White Ship, manned by fifty sailors of renown. I pray you,
Sire, to let your servant have the honour of steering you in The
White Ship to England!'
'I am sorry, friend,' replied the King, 'that my vessel is already
chosen, and that I cannot (therefore) sail with the son of the man
who served my father. But the Prince and all his company shall go
along with you, in the fair White Ship, manned by the fifty sailors
An hour or two afterwards, the King set sail in the vessel he had
chosen, accompanied by other vessels, and, sailing all night with a
fair and gentle wind, arrived upon the coast of England in the
morning. While it was yet night, the people in some of those ships
heard a faint wild cry come over the sea, and wondered what it was.
Now, the Prince was a dissolute, debauched young man of eighteen,
who bore no love to the English, and had declared that when he came
to the throne he would yoke them to the plough like oxen. He went
aboard The White Ship, with one hundred and forty youthful Nobles
like himself, among whom were eighteen noble ladies of the highest
rank. All this gay company, with their servants and the fifty
sailors, made three hundred souls aboard the fair White Ship.
'Give three casks of wine, Fitz-Stephen,' said the Prince, 'to the
fifty sailors of renown! My father the King has sailed out of the
harbour. What time is there to make merry here, and yet reach
England with the rest?'
'Prince!' said Fitz-Stephen, 'before morning, my fifty and The
White Ship shall overtake the swiftest vessel in attendance on your
father the King, if we sail at midnight!'
Then the Prince commanded to make merry; and the sailors drank out
the three casks of wine; and the Prince and all the noble company
danced in the moonlight on the deck of The White Ship.
When, at last, she shot out of the harbour of Barfleur, there was
not a sober seaman on board. But the sails were all set, and the
oars all going merrily. Fitz-Stephen had the helm. The gay young
nobles and the beautiful ladies, wrapped in mantles of various
bright colours to protect them from the cold, talked, laughed, and
sang. The Prince encouraged the fifty sailors to row harder yet,
for the honour of The White Ship.
Crash! A terrific cry broke from three hundred hearts. It was the
cry the people in the distant vessels of the King heard faintly on
the water. The White Ship had struck upon a rock - was filling -
Fitz-Stephen hurried the Prince into a boat, with some few Nobles.
'Push off,' he whispered; 'and row to land. It is not far, and the
sea is smooth. The rest of us must die.'
But, as they rowed away, fast, from the sinking ship, the Prince
heard the voice of his sister MARIE, the Countess of Perche,
calling for help. He never in his life had been so good as he was
then. He cried in an agony, 'Row back at any risk! I cannot bear
to leave her!'
They rowed back. As the Prince held out his arms to catch his
sister, such numbers leaped in, that the boat was overset. And in
the same instant The White Ship went down.
Only two men floated. They both clung to the main yard of the
ship, which had broken from the mast, and now supported them. One
asked the other who he was? He said, 'I am a nobleman, GODFREY by
name, the son of GILBERT DE L'AIGLE. And you?' said he. 'I am
BEROLD, a poor butcher of Rouen,' was the answer. Then, they said
together, 'Lord be merciful to us both!' and tried to encourage one
another, as they drifted in the cold benumbing sea on that
unfortunate November night.
By-and-by, another man came swimming towards them, whom they knew,
when he pushed aside his long wet hair, to be Fitz-Stephen. 'Where
is the Prince?' said he. 'Gone! Gone!' the two cried together.
'Neither he, nor his brother, nor his sister, nor the King's niece,
nor her brother, nor any one of all the brave three hundred, noble
or commoner, except we three, has risen above the water!' Fitz-
Stephen, with a ghastly face, cried, 'Woe! woe, to me!' and sunk to
The other two clung to the yard for some hours. At length the
young noble said faintly, 'I am exhausted, and chilled with the
cold, and can hold no longer. Farewell, good friend! God preserve
you!' So, he dropped and sunk; and of all the brilliant crowd, the
poor Butcher of Rouen alone was saved. In the morning, some
fishermen saw him floating in his sheep-skin coat, and got him into
their boat - the sole relater of the dismal tale.