CHAPTER III. WILLIAM'S LATER YEARS
William probably returned to England after the settlement of these affairs, but of his doings there nothing is recorded, and for some time troubles in his continental dominions occupied more of his attention than the interests of the island. He was in Normandy, indeed, during the whole of that "most severe tempest," as a writer of the next generation called it, which broke upon a part of England in the year 1075; and the first feudal insurrection in English history was put down, as more serious ones were destined to be before the fall of feudalism, by the king's officers and the men of the land in the king's absence. To determine the causes of this insurrection, we need to read between the lines of the story as it is told us by the writers of that and the next age. Elaborate reasons for their hostility to William's government were put into the mouths of the conspirators by one of these writers, but these would mean nothing more than a general statement that the king was a very severe and stern ruler, if it were not for the more specific accusation that he had rewarded those who had fought for him very inadequately, and through avarice had afterward reduced the value even of these gifts. A passage in a letter of Lanfranc's to one of the leaders of the rebellion, Roger, Earl of Hereford, written evidently after Roger's dissatisfaction had become known but before any open rebellion, gives us perhaps a key to the last part of this complaint. He tells him that the king, revoking, we infer, former orders, has directed his sheriffs not to hold any more pleas in the earl's land until he can return and hear the case between him and the sheriffs. In a time when the profits of a law court were important to the lord who had the right to hold it, the entry of the king's officers into a "liberty" to hear cases there as the representative of the king, and to his profit, would naturally seem to the baron whose income was affected a diminution of the value of his fief, due to the king's avarice. Nothing could show us better the attitude natural to a strong king towards feudal immunities than the facts which these words of Lanfranc's imply, and though we know of no serious trouble arising from this reason for a century or more, it is clear that the royal view of the matter never changed, and finally like infringements on the baronial courts became one of the causes of the first great advance towards constitutional liberty, the Magna Carta.
This letter of Lanfranc's to Roger of Hereford is a most interesting illustration of his character and of his diplomatic skill, and it shows us clearly how great must have been his usefulness to William. Though it is perfectly evident to us that he suspects the loyalty of Roger to be seriously tempted, there is not a word of suspicion expressed in the letter, but the considerations most likely to keep him loyal are strongly urged. With the exception of the sentence about the sheriffs, and formal phrases at the beginning and end, the letter runs thus: "Our lord, the king of the English, salutes you and us all as faithful subjects of his in whom he has great confidence, and commands us that as much as we are able we should have care of his castles, lest, which God avert, they should be betrayed to his enemies; wherefore I ask you, as I ought to ask, most dear son, whom, as God is witness, I love with my whole heart and desire to serve, and whose father I loved as my soul, that you take such care of this matter and of all fidelity to our lord the king that you may have the praise of God, and of him, and of all good men. Hold always in your memory how your glorious father lived, and how faithfully he served his lord, and with how great energy he acquired many things and held them with great honour.... I should like to talk freely with you; if this is your will, let me know where we can meet and talk together of your affairs and of our lord the king's. I am ready to go to meet you wherever you direct."
The letter had no effect. Roger seems to have been a man of violent temper, and there was a woman in this case also, though we do not know that she herself influenced the course of events. The insurrection is said to have been determined upon, and the details of action planned, at the marriage of Roger's sister to Ralph Guader, Earl of Norfolk, a marriage which William had forbidden.
There was that bride-ale
That was many men's bale,
said the Saxon chronicler, and it was so indeed. The two chief conspirators persuaded Earl Waltheof to join them, at least for the moment, and their plan was to drive the king out of England and to divide the kingdom between them into three great principalities, "for we wish," the Norman historian Orderic makes them say, "to restore in all respects the kingdom of England as it was formerly in the time of King Edward," a most significant indication of the general opinion about the effect of the Conquest, even if the words are not theirs.