Page images
PDF
EPUB

1087.] Funeral of William the Conqueror.

69 inferior servants of the household, with their rapacious confederates, took the opportunity of plundering the house where their sovereign had just breathed his last of all the money, plate, wearing apparel, hangings, and precious furniture; they even stripped the person of the royal dead, and left his body naked upon the floor.'

Every one appeared struck with consternation and dismay, and neither the proper officers of state nor the sons of the deceased king issuing the necessary orders respecting the funeral, the remains of the Conqueror were left wholly neglected, till Herlewin, a poor country knight,—but in all probability the same Herlewin who married his mother Arlotta, -undertook to convey the royal corpse tu Caen, at his own cost, for interment in the abbey of St. Stephen, where it was met by prince Henry and a procession of monks.” Scarcely, however, had the burial rites commenced, when there was a terrible alarm of fire in that quarter of the town; and as there was great danger of the devouring element communicating to the cloisters of St. Stephen, the monks, who were far more concerned for the preservation of their stately abbey than for the lifeless remains of the munificent founder, scam pered out of the church, without the slightest regard to decency or the remonstrances of prince Henry ani the faithful Herlewin. The example of the ecclesiastics was followed by the secular attendants, so that the hearse of the mighty William was in a manner wholly deserted till the conflagration was suppressed. The monks then re-entered the holy fane and proceeded with the solemnity, if so it might be called ; but the interruptions and accidents with which it had been marked were not yet ended, for when the funeral sermon was finished, the stone coffin set in the grave which had been dug in the chancel between the choir and the altar, and the body ready to be lain therein, Anselm Fitz-Arthur, a Norman gentleman, stood forth and forbad the interment: “This

was the site of my father's house, which this dead duke took violently from him, and here, upon part of mine inheritance, founded this church. This ground I therefore challenge, and I charge ye all

, as ye shall answer it at the great and dreadful day of judgment, that ye lay not the bones of the despoiler on the hearth of my fathers."*

The effect of this bold appeal of a solitary individual, was an instant rause in the burial rite of the deceased sovereign. The claims of Anselm Fitz-Arthur were examined, and his rights recognised by prince Henry, who prevailed upon him to accept sixty shillings as the price of the grave, and to suffer the interment of his royal father to proceed, on the condition of his pledging himself to pay the full value of the rest of the land. The compensation was stipulated between Anselm FitzArthur and prince Henry, standing on either side the grave, on the

Ord. Vit. Brompton. Wm. of Malms. Speed.

spot," said he,

66

2 Ibid. % Ibid. 5 Ord. Vit. M. Paris.

* Eadmer. Wm. of Malms. Ord. Vit.

verge of which, the unburied remains of the Conqueror rested, while the agreement was ratified in the presence of the mourners and assistant priests and monks, whereby Henry promised to pay, and Fitz-Arthur to receive, one hundred pounds of silver, as the purchase of the ground on which William had, thirty-five years previously, wrongfully founded the abbey of St. Stephen's, to purchase a dispensation from the pope for his marriage with his cousin Matilda of Flanders. The bargain having been struck, and the payment of the sixty shillings earnest money (for the occupation of the seven feet of earth required as the last abode of the conqueror of England) being tendered by the prince and received by Fitz-Arthur,-strange interlude in a royal funeral,—the obsequies were suffered to proceed. The Saxon chroniclers have taken evident pleasure in enlarging on all the mischances and humiliations which befell the unconscious clay of their great national adversary in its passage to the tomb; and, surely, so singular a chapter of accidents was never yet recorded as occurred to the corpse of this mighty sovereign, who died in the plenitude of his power.

William of Normandy was remarkable for his personal strength, and for the majestic beauty of his countenance. It has been said of hin, that no one but himself could bend his bow, and that he could, then riding at full speed, discharge either arblast or long-bow with unnerring aim. His forehead was high and bald, his aspect stern and commanding; yet he could, when it pleased him to do so, assume such winning sweetness in his looks and mariner as could scarcely be resisted ; but when in anger, no man could meet the terror of his eye. Like Saul, he was, from the shoulders upwards, taller than the rest of his subjects ; before he became too corpulent, his figure was finely proportioned.

The loftiness of stature which contemporary chroniclers have ascribed to William the Conqueror was fully confirmed by the post-mortem examination of his body, which was made by the bishop of Bayeux in the year 1542, when, prompted by a strong desire to behold the - kremains of this great sovereign, he obtained leave to open his tomb?

On removing the stone cover, the body, which was corpulent, and exceeding in stature the tallest man then known, appeared as entire as when it was first buried. Within the tomb lay a plate of copper gilt, on which was engraved an inscription in Latin verse.?

The bishop, who was greatly surprised at finding the body in such 1 Rob. of Gloucester. Wm. of Malms. author of the Latin verse, of which the foi2 Ducarel's Norman Antiquities.

es present a close translation, nut 3 Thomas, archbishop of York, was the unpoetical in its antique simplicity :-

“He who the sturdy Normans ruled, and over England reigned,

And stoutly won and strongly kept what he had so obtained;
And did the swords of those of Maine by force bring under awe.
And made them under his command live subject to his law;
This great king William lieth here entonibed in little grave,-
So great a lord so small a house suflicth him to have.

lowing

562.]
Desecration of Matilda's tomb.

71 perfect preservation, caused a painting to be executed of the royal remains, in the state in which they then appeared, by the best artist in Caen, and caused it to be hung up on the abbey wall, opposite to the monument. The tomb was then carefully closed, but in 1562, when the Calvinists under Chastillon took Caen, a party of the rapacious suldiers forced it open, in hope of meeting with a treasure; but finding nothing more than the bones of the Conqueror wrapped in red taffeta, they threw them about the church in great derision. Viscount Falaise, having obtained from the rioters one of the thigh-bones, it was by him deposited in the royal grave. Monsieur le Bras, who saw this bone, testified that it was longer by the breadth of his four fingers than that of the tallest man he had ever seen. The fanatic spoilers also entered the church of the Holy Trinity, threatening the same violence to the emains of Matilda. The entreaties and tears of the abbess and her muns had no effect on men, who considered the destruction of church ornaments and monumental sculpture a service to God quite sufficient o atone for the sacrilegious violence of defacing a temple consecrated to His worship, and rifling the sepulchres of the dead. They threw down Ehe monument, and broke the effigies of the queen which lay thereon. In opening the grave in which the royal corpse was deposited, one of the party observing that there was a gold ring set with a fine sapphire con one of the queen's fingers, took it off, and, with more gallantry than might have been expected from such a person, presented it to the abbess, madame Anna de Montmorenci, who afterwards gave it to her father, the constable of France, when he attended Charles IX. to Caen, in the year 1563.

In 1642, the monks of St. Stephen collected the bones of their royal patron, William of Normandy, and built a plain altar-shaped tomb over them, on the spot where the original monument stood in the chancel. The nuns of the Holy Trinity, with equal zeal, caused the broken fragments of Matilda's statue and monument to be restored, and placed over her grave, near the middle of the choir, on a tomb of black and white marble, three feet high and six long, in the shape of a coffin, surrounded with iron spikes, and hung with

ancient tapestry.” The restored monument of Matilda remained undisturbed till nearly the close of the last century, when the French republicans paid one of their destructive visits to the church of the Holy Trinity at Caen, and, among other outrages against taste and feeling, swept away this memorial of its royal foundress ;S but while a single arch of that majestic and time-honoured fane, the church of the Holy Trinity, survive the first of our Anglo-Norman queens, Matilda of Flanders will require no

other monument.

1 Ducarel.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

CHAPTER I. WHEN we consider the perils to which the representatives of our anci line of sovereigns, Edgar Atheling and his sisters, were exposed duri the usurpation of Harold and the Norman reigns of terror, it alnı appears as if an overruling Providence had guarded these descendants the great Alfred, for the purpose of continuing the lineage of that patr king on the throne of these realms, through the marriage of Henry with the daughter of Margaret Atheling, Matilda of Scotland. TH princess, the subject of our present biography, is distinguished amo the many illustrious females that have worn the crown-matrimonial England by the title of “the good queen;" a title which, eloquent in i simplicity, briefly implies that she possessed not only the great an shining qualities calculated to add lustre to a throne, but that she em ployed them in promoting the happiness of all classes of her subject affording at the same time a bright example of the lovely and endearin attributes which should adorn the female character.

Some historians call this princess Matilda Atheling, and almost inve her with the dignity of a queen-regnant, as the heiress of the Angle Saxon Monarchs. In the same spirit, her grandson and representative Henry II., is designated “the restorer of the English royal line." Thi as Blackstone justly observes, is “a great error, for the rights Margaret Atheling to the English succession were vested in her sons and not in her daughter."! James I., on his accession to the throne o England, failed not to set forth that important leaf in his pedigree, an laid due stress on the circumstance of his descent from the ancient line of English sovereigns by the elder blood. Alexander, the archdeacon o Salisbury (who wrote the Tracts of the Exchequer, quoted by Gervas of Tilbury in his celebrated Dialogues of the Exchequer), has gravely set forth, in his red-book, a pedigree of Matilda of Scotland, tracing her

1 Blackstone, vol. i.

1

the

1068.] Royal English descent of Matilda of Scotland. 73 descent in an unbroken line up to Adam. There is a strange medley of Christian kings and pagan sinners, such as Woden and Balder, with the Jewish patriarchs of holy writ, in this royal genealogy."

Matilda is the only princess of Scotland who ever shared the throne of a king of England. It is, however, from her maternal ancestry that she derives her great interest as connected with the annals of this country. Her mother, Margaret, sister of Edgar Atheling, was the grand-daughter of Edmund Ironside, and the daughter of Edward Atheling, surnamed the Outlaw, by a German princess, erroneously stated by English historians to have been Agatha, daughter of the emperor Henry II. of Germany. Edgar Atheling, feeling some reason to mistrust the apparent friendship of William the Conqueror, privately withdrew from his court, and in the year 1068 took shipping with Margaret, their younger sister Christina, and their mother, intending to seek a refuge in Hungary with their royal kindred; but, by stress of weather, the vessel in which they, with many other English exiles, were embarked, was driven into the Frith of Forth. Malcolm Canmore,

young unmarried king of Scotland, w had just regained his dominions from the usurper Macbeth, happened to be present when the royal fugitives landed, and was so struck with the beauty of the lady Margaret Atheling, that in a few days he asked her in marriage of her brother

. Edgar joyfully gave the hand of the dowerless princess to the young and handsome sovereign, who had received the exiled English in the most generous and honourable manner, and whose disinterested affection was sufficient testimony of the nobleness of his disposition.

After her marriage, the Saxon princess became the happy instrument of diffusing the blessings of Christianity throughout her husband's dominions, commencing the work of conversion in the proper place,her own household and court. The influence which her personal charms bad, in the first instance, won over the heart of her royal husband, her virtues and mental powers increased and retained to the last hour of Malcolm's existence. He reposed the most unbounded confidence, not only in the principles, but the judgment of his English consort, who became the domestic legislator of the realm.

Many deeply interesting, as well as amusing particulars, connected with the parents of Matilda of Scotland, the subject of our present memoir

, have been preserved by the learned Turgot," the historian of this royal family, who, in his capacity of confessor to queen Margaret, and preceptor to her children, enjoyed opportunities of becoming acquainted

[ocr errors]

a hostage to William the Conqueror, and shut up by him in Lincoln-castle.

thence he escaped to Norway. Returning found in Drummond's Noble Families, from that country, he was shipwrecked on

the English coast, and having lost everything. Turgot was a Saxon of good family, he possessed in the world, he became a born in Lincolnshire. He was delivered as priest, and distinguished himself so much bga

1 Lib. Rud. fol. notata 4.

* The most authentic account of the matemal pedigree of Margaret Atheling will be

From

article, Bruce.

« PreviousContinue »