If William came back from England looking forward to a future crown, the thought might even then flash across his mind that he was not likely to win that crown without fighting for it. As yet his business was still to fight for the duchy of Normandy. But he had now to fight, not to win his duchy, but only to keep it. For five years he had to strive both against rebellious subjects and against invading enemies, among whom King Henry of Paris is again the foremost. Whatever motives had led the French king to help William at Val-es-dunes had now passed away. He had fallen back on his former state of abiding enmity towards Normandy and her duke. But this short period definitely fixed the position of Normandy and her duke in Gaul and in Europe. At its beginning William is still the Bastard of Falaise, who may or may not be able to keep himself in the ducal chair, his right to which is still disputed. At the end of it, if he is not yet the Conqueror and the Great, he has shown all the gifts that were needed to win him either name. He is the greatest vassal of the French crown, a vassal more powerful than the overlord whose invasions of his duchy he has had to drive back.
These invasions of Normandy by the King of the French and his allies fall into two periods. At first Henry appears in Normandy as the supporter of Normans in open revolt against their duke. But revolts are personal and local; there is no rebellion like that which was crushed at Val-es-dunes, spreading over a large part of the duchy. In the second period, the invaders have no such starting-point. There are still traitors; there are still rebels; but all that they can do is to join the invaders after they have entered the land. William is still only making his way to the universal good will of his duchy: but he is fast making it.
There is, first of all, an obscure tale of a revolt of an unfixed date, but which must have happened between 1048 and 1053. The rebel, William Busac of the house of Eu, is said to have defended the castle of Eu against the duke and to have gone into banishment in France. But the year that followed William's visit to England saw the far more memorable revolt of William Count of Arques. He had drawn the Duke's suspicions on him, and he had to receive a ducal garrison in his great fortress by Dieppe. But the garrison betrayed the castle to its own master. Open revolt and havoc followed, in which Count William was supported by the king and by several other princes. Among them was Ingelram Count of Ponthieu, husband of the duke's sister Adelaide. Another enemy was Guy Count of Gascony, afterwards Duke William the Eighth of Aquitaine. What quarrel a prince in the furthest corner of Gaul could have with the Duke of the Normans does not appear; but neither Count William nor his allies could withstand the loyal Normans and their prince. Count Ingelram was killed; the other princes withdrew to devise greater efforts against Normandy. Count William lost his castle and part of his estates, and left the duchy of his free will. The Duke's politic forbearance at last won him the general good will of his subjects. We hear of no more open revolts till that of William's own son many years after. But the assaults of foreign enemies, helped sometimes by Norman traitors, begin again the next year on a greater scale.
William the ruler and warrior had now a short breathing-space. He had doubtless come back from England more bent than ever on his marriage with Matilda of Flanders. Notwithstanding the decree of a Pope and a Council entitled to special respect, the marriage was celebrated, not very long after William's return to Normandy, in the year of the revolt of William of Arques. In the course of the year 1053 Count Baldwin brought his daughter to the Norman frontier at Eu, and there she became the bride of William. We know not what emboldened William to risk so daring a step at this particular time, or what led Baldwin to consent to it. If it was suggested by the imprisonment of Pope Leo by William's countrymen in Italy, in the hope that a consent to the marriage would be wrung out of the captive pontiff, that hope was disappointed. The marriage raised much opposition in Normandy. It was denounced by Archbishop Malger of Rouen, the brother of the dispossessed Count of Arques. His character certainly added no weight to his censures; but the same act in a saint would have been set down as a sign of holy boldness. Presently, whether for his faults or for his merits, Malger was deposed in a synod of the Norman Church, and William found him a worthier successor in the learned and holy Maurilius. But a greater man than Malger also opposed the marriage, and the controversy thus introduces us to one who fills a place second only to that of William himself in the Norman and English history of the time.
This was Lanfranc of Pavia, the lawyer, the scholar, the model monk, the ecclesiastical statesman, who, as prior of the newly founded abbey of Bec, was already one of the innermost counsellors of the Duke. As duke and king, as prior, abbot, and archbishop, William and Lanfranc ruled side by side, each helping the work of the other till the end of their joint lives. Once only, at this time, was their friendship broken for a moment. Lanfranc spoke against the marriage, and ventured to rebuke the Duke himself. William's wrath was kindled; he ordered Lanfranc into banishment and took a baser revenge by laying waste part of the lands of the abbey. But the quarrel was soon made up. Lanfranc presently left Normandy, not as a banished man, but as the envoy of its sovereign, commissioned to work for the confirmation of the marriage at the papal court. He worked, and his work was crowned with success, but not with speedy success. It was not till six years after the marriage, not till the year 1059, that Lanfranc obtained the wished for confirmation, not from Leo, but from his remote successor Nicolas the Second. The sin of those who had contracted the unlawful union was purged by various good works, among which the foundation of the two stately abbeys of Caen was conspicuous.
This story illustrates many points in the character of William and of his time. His will is not to be thwarted, whether in a matter of marriage or of any other. But he does not hurry matters; he waits for a favourable opportunity. Something, we know not what, must have made the year 1053 more favourable than the year 1049. We mark also William's relations to the Church. He is at no time disposed to submit quietly to the bidding of the spiritual power, when it interferes with his rights or even when it crosses his will. Yet he is really anxious for ecclesiastical reform; he promotes men like Maurilius and Lanfranc; perhaps he is not displeased when the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, in the case of Malger, frees him from a troublesome censor. But the worse side of him also comes out. William could forgive rebels, but he could not bear the personal rebuke even of his friend. Under this feeling he punishes a whole body of men for the offence of one. To lay waste the lands of Bec for the rebuke of Lanfranc was like an ordinary prince of the time; it was unlike William, if he had not been stirred up by a censure which touched his wife as well as himself. But above all, the bargain between William and Lanfranc is characteristic of the man and the age. Lanfranc goes to Rome to support a marriage which he had censured in Normandy. But there is no formal inconsistency, no forsaking of any principle. Lanfranc holds an uncanonical marriage to be a sin, and he denounces it. He does not withdraw his judgement as to its sinfulness. He simply uses his influence with a power that can forgive the sin to get it forgiven.
While William's marriage was debated at Rome, he had to fight hard in Normandy. His warfare and his negotiations ended about the same time, and the two things may have had their bearing on one another. William had now to undergo a new form of trial. The King of the French had never put forth his full strength when he was simply backing Norman rebels. William had now, in two successive invasions, to withstand the whole power of the King, and of as many of his vassals as the King could bring to his standard. In the first invasion, in 1054, the Norman writers speak rhetorically of warriors from Burgundy, Auvergne, and Gascony; but it is hard to see any troops from a greater distance than Bourges. The princes who followed Henry seem to have been only the nearer vassals of the Crown. Chief among them are Theobald Count of Chartres, of a house of old hostile to Normandy, and Guy the new Count of Ponthieu, to be often heard of again. If not Geoffrey of Anjou himself, his subjects from Tours were also there. Normandy was to be invaded on two sides, on both banks of the Seine. The King and his allies sought to wrest from William the western part of Normandy, the older and the more thoroughly French part. No attack seems to have been designed on the Bessin or the Cotentin. William was to be allowed to keep those parts of his duchy, against which he had to fight when the King was his ally at Val-es-dunes.
The two armies entered Normandy; that which was to act on the left of the Seine was led by the King, the other by his brother Odo. Against the King William made ready to act himself; eastern Normandy was left to its own loyal nobles. But all Normandy was now loyal; the men of the Saxon and Danish lands were as ready to fight for their duke against the King as they had been to fight against King and Duke together. But William avoided pitched battles; indeed pitched battles are rare in the continental warfare of the time. War consists largely in surprises, and still more in the attack and defence of fortified places. The plan of William's present campaign was wholly defensive; provisions and cattle were to be carried out of the French line of march; the Duke on his side, the other Norman leaders on the other side, were to watch the enemy and attack them at any favourable moment. The commanders east of the Seine, Count Robert of Eu, Hugh of Gournay, William Crispin, and Walter Giffard, found their opportunity when the French had entered the unfortified town of Mortemer and had given themselves up to revelry. Fire and sword did the work. The whole French army was slain, scattered, or taken prisoners. Ode escaped; Guy of Ponthieu was taken. The Duke's success was still easier. The tale runs that the news from Mortemer, suddenly announced to the King's army in the dead of the night, struck them with panic, and led to a hasty retreat out of the land.
This campaign is truly Norman; it is wholly unlike the simple warfare of England. A traitorous Englishman did nothing or helped the enemy; a patriotic Englishman gave battle to the enemy the first time he had a chance. But no English commander of the eleventh century was likely to lay so subtle a plan as this, and, if he had laid such a plan, he would hardly have found an English army able to carry it out. Harold, who refused to lay waste a rood of English ground, would hardly have looked quietly on while many roods of English ground were wasted by the enemy. With all the valour of the Normans, what before all things distinguished them from other nations was their craft. William could indeed fight a pitched battle when a pitched battle served his purpose; but he could control himself, he could control his followers, even to the point of enduring to look quietly on the havoc of their own land till the right moment. He who could do this was indeed practising for his calling as Conqueror. And if the details of the story, details specially characteristic, are to be believed, William showed something also of that grim pleasantry which was another marked feature in the Norman character. The startling message which struck the French army with panic was deliberately sent with that end. The messenger sent climbs a tree or a rock, and, with a voice as from another world, bids the French awake; they are sleeping too long; let them go and bury their friends who are lying dead at Mortemer. These touches bring home to us the character of the man and the people with whom our forefathers had presently to deal. William was the greatest of his race, but he was essentially of his race; he was Norman to the backbone.
Of the French army one division had been surprised and cut to pieces, the other had left Normandy without striking a blow. The war was not yet quite over; the French still kept Tillieres; William accordingly fortified the stronghold of Breteuil as a cheek upon it. And he entrusted the command to a man who will soon be memorable, his personal friend William, son of his old guardian Osbern. King Henry was now glad to conclude a peace on somewhat remarkable terms. William had the king's leave to take what he could from Count Geoffrey of Anjou. He now annexed Cenomannian--that is just now Angevin--territory at more points than one, but chiefly on the line of his earlier advances to Domfront and Ambrieres. Ambrieres had perhaps been lost; for William now sent Geoffrey a challenge to come on the fortieth day. He came on the fortieth day, and found Ambrieres strongly fortified and occupied by a Norman garrison. With Geoffrey came the Breton prince Ode, and William or Peter Duke of Aquitaine. They besieged the castle; but Norman accounts add that they all fled on William's approach to relieve it.
Three years of peace now followed, but in 1058 King Henry, this time in partnership with Geoffrey of Anjou, ventured another invasion of Normandy. He might say that he had never been fairly beaten in his former campaign, but that he had been simply cheated out of the land by Norman wiles. This time he had a second experience of Norman wiles and of Norman strength too. King and Count entered the land and ravaged far and wide. William, as before, allowed the enemy to waste the land. He watched and followed them till he found a favourable moment for attack. The people in general zealously helped the Duke's schemes, but some traitors of rank were still leagued with the Count of Anjou. While William bided his time, the invaders burned Caen. This place, so famous in Norman history, was not one of the ancient cities of the land. It was now merely growing into importance, and it was as yet undefended by walls or castle. But when the ravagers turned eastward, William found the opportunity that he had waited for. As the French were crossing the ford of Varaville on the Dive, near the mouth of that river, he came suddenly on them, and slaughtered a large part of the army under the eyes of the king who had already crossed. The remnant marched out of Normandy.
Henry now made peace, and restored Tillieres. Not long after, in 1060, the King died, leaving his young son Philip, who had been already crowned, as his successor, under the guardianship of William's father-in-law Baldwin. Geoffrey of Anjou and William of Aquitaine also died, and the Angevin power was weakened by the division of Geoffrey's dominions between his nephews. William's position was greatly strengthened, now that France, under the new regent, had become friendly, while Anjou was no longer able to do mischief. William had now nothing to fear from his neighbours, and the way was soon opened for his great continental conquest. But what effect had these events on William's views on England? About the time of the second French invasion of Normandy Earl Harold became beyond doubt the first man in England, and for the first time a chance of the royal succession was opened to him. In 1057, the year before Varaville, the AEtheling Edward, the King's selected successor, died soon after his coming to England; in the same year died the King's nephew Earl Ralph and Leofric Earl of the Mercians, the only Englishmen whose influence could at all compare with that of Harold. Harold's succession now became possible; it became even likely, if Edward should die while Edgar the son of the AEtheling was still under age. William had no shadow of excuse for interfering, but he doubtless was watching the internal affairs of England. Harold was certainly watching the affairs of Gaul. About this time, most likely in the year 1058, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way back he looked diligently into the state of things among the various vassals of the French crown. His exact purpose is veiled in ambiguous language; but we can hardly doubt that his object was to contract alliances with the continental enemies of Normandy. Such views looked to the distant future, as William had as yet been guilty of no unfriendly act towards England. But it was well to come to an understanding with King Henry, Count Geoffrey, and Duke William of Aquitaine, in case a time should come when their interests and those of England would be the same. But the deaths of all those princes must have put an end to all hopes of common action between England and any Gaulish power. The Emperor Henry also, the firm ally of England, was dead. It was now clear that, if England should ever have to withstand a Norman attack, she would have to withstand it wholly by her own strength, or with such help as she might find among the kindred powers of the North.
William's great continental conquest is drawing nigh; but between the campaign of Varaville and the campaign of Le Mans came the tardy papal confirmation of William's marriage. The Duke and Duchess, now at last man and wife in the eye of the Church, began to carry out the works of penance which were allotted to them. The abbeys of Caen, William's Saint Stephen's, Matilda's Holy Trinity, now began to arise. Yet, at this moment of reparation, one or two facts seem to place William's government of his duchy in a less favourable light than usual. The last French invasion was followed by confiscations and banishments among the chief men of Normandy. Roger of Montgomery and his wife Mabel, who certainly was capable of any deed of blood or treachery, are charged with acting as false accusers. We see also that, as late as the day of Varaville, there were Norman traitors. Robert of Escalfoy had taken the Angevin side, and had defended his castle against the Duke. He died in a strange way, after snatching an apple from the hand of his own wife. His nephew Arnold remained in rebellion three years, and was simply required to go to the wars in Apulia. It is hard to believe that the Duke had poisoned the apple, if poisoned it was; but finding treason still at work among his nobles, he may have too hastily listened to charges against men who had done him good service, and who were to do him good service again.
Five years after the combat at Varaville, William really began to deserve, though not as yet to receive, the name of Conqueror. For he now did a work second only to the conquest of England. He won the city of Le Mans and the whole land of Maine. Between the tale of Maine and the tale of England there is much of direct likeness. Both lands were won against the will of their inhabitants; but both conquests were made with an elaborate show of legal right. William's earlier conquests in Maine had been won, not from any count of Maine, but from Geoffrey of Anjou, who had occupied the country to the prejudice of two successive counts, Hugh and Herbert. He had further imprisoned the Bishop of Le Mans, Gervase of the house of Belleme, though the King of the French had at his request granted to the Count of Anjou for life royal rights over the bishopric of Le Mans. The bishops of Le Mans, who thus, unlike the bishops of Normandy, held their temporalities of the distant king and not of the local count, held a very independent position. The citizens of Le Mans too had large privileges and a high spirit to defend them; the city was in a marked way the head of the district. Thus it commonly carried with it the action of the whole country. In Maine there were three rival powers, the prince, the Church, and the people. The position of the counts was further weakened by the claims to their homage made by the princes on either side of them in Normandy and Anjou; the position of the Bishop, vassal, till Gervase's late act, of the King only, was really a higher one. Geoffrey had been received at Le Mans with the good will of the citizens, and both Bishop and Count sought shelter with William. Gervase was removed from the strife by promotion to the highest place in the French kingdom, the archbishopric of Rheims. The young Count Herbert, driven from his county, commended himself to William. He became his man; he agreed to hold his dominions of him, and to marry one of his daughters. If he died childless, his father-in-law was to take the fief into his own hands. But to unite the old and new dynasties, Herbert's youngest sister Margaret was to marry William's eldest son Robert. If female descent went for anything, it is not clear why Herbert passed by the rights of his two elder sisters, Gersendis, wife of Azo Marquess of Liguria, and Paula, wife of John of La Fleche on the borders of Maine and Anjou. And sons both of Gersendis and of Paula did actually reign at Le Mans, while no child either of Herbert or of Margaret ever came into being.
If Herbert ever actually got possession of his country, his possession of it was short. He died in 1063 before either of the contemplated marriages had been carried out. William therefore stood towards Maine as he expected to stand with regard to England. The sovereign of each country had made a formal settlement of his dominions in his favour. It was to be seen whether those who were most immediately concerned would accept that settlement. Was the rule either of Maine or of England to be handed over in this way, like a mere property, without the people who were to be ruled speaking their minds on the matter? What the people of England said to this question in 1066 we shall hear presently; what the people of Maine said in 1063 we hear now. We know not why they had submitted to the Angevin count; they had now no mind to merge their country in the dominions of the Norman duke. The Bishop was neutral; but the nobles and the citizens of Le Mans were of one mind in refusing William's demand to be received as count by virtue of the agreement with Herbert. They chose rulers for themselves. Passing by Gersendis and Paula and their sons, they sent for Herbert's aunt Biota and her husband Walter Count of Mantes. Strangely enough, Walter, son of Godgifu daughter of AEthelred, was a possible, though not a likely, candidate for the rule of England as well as of Maine. The people of Maine are not likely to have thought of this bit of genealogy. But it was doubtless present to the minds alike of William and of Harold.
William thus, for the first but not for the last time, claimed the rule of a people who had no mind to have him as their ruler. Yet, morally worthless as were his claims over Maine, in the merely technical way of looking at things, he had more to say than most princes have who annex the lands of their neighbours. He had a perfectly good right by the terms of the agreement with Herbert. And it might be argued by any who admitted the Norman claim to the homage of Maine, that on the failure of male heirs the country reverted to the overlord. Yet female succession was now coming in. Anjou had passed to the sons of Geoffrey's sister; it had not fallen back to the French king. There was thus a twofold answer to William's claim, that Herbert could not grant away even the rights of his sisters, still less the rights of his people. Still it was characteristic of William that he had a case that might be plausibly argued. The people of Maine had fallen back on the old Teutonic right. They had chosen a prince connected with the old stock, but who was not the next heir according to any rule of succession. Walter was hardly worthy of such an exceptional honour; he showed no more energy in Maine than his brother Ralph had shown in England. The city was defended by Geoffrey, lord of Mayenne, a valiant man who fills a large place in the local history. But no valour or skill could withstand William's plan of warfare. He invaded Maine in much the same sort in which he had defended Normandy. He gave out that he wished to win Maine without shedding man's blood. He fought no battles; he did not attack the city, which he left to be the last spot that should be devoured. He harried the open country, he occupied the smaller posts, till the citizens were driven, against Geoffrey's will, to surrender. William entered Le Mans; he was received, we are told, with joy. When men make the best of a bad bargain, they sometimes persuade themselves that they are really pleased. William, as ever, shed no blood; he harmed none of the men who had become his subjects; but Le Mans was to be bridled; its citizens needed a castle and a Norman garrison to keep them in their new allegiance. Walter and Biota surrendered their claims on Maine and became William's guests at Falaise. Meanwhile Geoffrey of Mayenne refused to submit, and withstood the new Count of Maine in his stronghold. William laid siege to Mayenne, and took it by the favoured Norman argument of fire. All Maine was now in the hands of the Conqueror.
William had now made a greater conquest than any Norman duke had made before him. He had won a county and a noble city, and he had won them, in the ideas of his own age, with honour. Are we to believe that he sullied his conquest by putting his late competitors, his present guests, to death by poison? They died conveniently for him, and they died in his own house. Such a death was strange; but strange things do happen. William gradually came to shrink from no crime for which he could find a technical defence; but no advocate could have said anything on behalf of the poisoning of Walter and Biota. Another member of the house of Maine, Margaret the betrothed of his son Robert, died about the same time; and her at least William had every motive to keep alive. One who was more dangerous than Walter, if he suffered anything, only suffered banishment. Of Geoffrey of Mayenne we hear no more till William had again to fight for the possession of Maine.
William had thus, in the year 1063, reached the height of his power and fame as a continental prince. In a conquest on Gaulish soil he had rehearsed the greater conquest which he was before long to make beyond sea. Three years, eventful in England, outwardly uneventful in Normandy, still part us from William's second visit to our shores. But in the course of these three years one event must have happened, which, without a blow being struck or a treaty being signed, did more for his hopes than any battle or any treaty. At some unrecorded time, but at a time which must come within these years, Harold Earl of the West-Saxons became the guest and the man of William Duke of the Normans.