CHAPTER III. WILLIAM'S LATER YEARS

Political events had not waited for the reformation of the Church, and long before these reforms were completed, England had become a thoroughly settled state under the new king. The beginning of the year 1070 is a turning-point in the reign of William. The necessity for fighting was not over, but from this date onwards there was no more fighting for the actual possession of the land. The irreconcilables had still to be dealt with; in one small locality they retained even yet some resisting power; the danger of foreign invasion had again to be met: but not for one moment after William's return from the devastation of the north and west was there even the remotest possibility of undoing the Conquest.

The Danes had withdrawn from the region of the Humber, but they had not left the country. In the Isle of Ely, then more nearly an actual island than in modern times, was a bit of unsubdued England, and there they landed for a time. In this position, surrounded by fens and interlacing rivers, accessible at only a few points, occurred the last resistance which gave the Normans any trouble. The rich mythology which found its starting-point in this resistance, and especially in its leader, Hereward, we no longer mistake for history; but we should not forget that it embodies the popular attitude towards those who stubbornly resisted the Norman, as it was handed on by tradition, and that it reveals almost pathetically the dearth of heroic material in an age which should have produced it in abundance. Hereward was a tenant in a small way of the abbey of Peterborough. What led him into such a determined revolt we do not know, unless he was among those who were induced to join the Danes after their arrival, in the belief that their invasion would be successful. Nor do we know what collected in the Isle of Ely a band of men whom the Peterborough chronicler was probably not wrong, from any point of view, in calling outlaws. A force of desperate men could hope to maintain themselves for some time in the Isle of Ely; they could not hope for anything more than this. The coming of the Danes added little real strength, though the country about believed for the moment, as it had done north of the Humber, that the tide had turned. The first act of the allies was the plunder and destruction of the abbey and town of Peterborough shortly after the meeting of the council of Windsor. The English abbot Brand had died the previous autumn, and William had appointed in his place a Norman, Turold, distinguished as a good fighter and a hard ruler. These qualities had led the king to select him for this special post, and the plundering of the abbey, so far as it was not mere marauding, looks like an answering act of spite. The Danes seem to have been disposed at first to hold Peterborough, but Turold must have brought them proposals of peace from William, which induced them to withdraw at last from England with the secure possession of their plunder.

Hereward and his men accomplished nothing more that year, but others gradually gathered in to them, including some men of note. Edwin and Morcar had once more changed sides, or had fled from William's court to escape some danger there. Edwin had been killed in trying to make his way through to Scotland, but Morcar had joined the refugees in Ely. Bishop Ethelwin of Durham was also there, and a northern thane, Siward Barn. In 1074 William advanced in person against the "camp of refuge." A fleet was sent to blockade one side while the army attacked from the other. It was found necessary to build a long causeway for the approach of the army and around this work the fiercest fighting occurred; but its building could not be stopped, and just as it was finished the defenders of the Isle surrendered. The leaders were imprisoned, Morcar in Normandy for the rest of William's reign. The common men were mutilated and released. Hereward escaped to sea, but probably afterwards submitted to William and received his favour. Edric the Wild, who had long remained unsubdued on the Welsh borders, had also yielded before the surrender of the Isle of Ely, and the last resistance that can be called in any sense organized was at an end.

The comparatively easy pacification of the land, the early submission to their fate of so strong a nation, was in no small degree aided by the completeness with which the country was already occupied by Norman colonies, if we may call them so. Probably before the surrender of Ely every important town was under the immediate supervision of some Norman baron, with a force of his own. In all the strategically important places fortified posts had been built and regular garrisons stationed. Even the country districts had to a large extent been occupied in a similar way. It is hardly probable that as late as 1072 any considerable area in England had escaped extensive confiscations. Everywhere the Norman had appeared to take possession of his fief, to establish new tenants, or to bring the old ones into new relations with himself, to arrange for the administration of his manors, and to leave behind him the agents who were responsible to himself for the good conduct of affairs. If he made but little change in the economic organization of his property, and disturbed the labouring class but slightly or not at all, he would give to a wide district a vivid impression of the strength of the new order and of the hopelessness of any resistance.