CHAPTER IV. FEUDALISM AND A STRONG KING
William, the second son of the Conqueror, followed with no filial compunction his father's command that he should leave his death-bed and cross the channel at once to secure the kingdom of England. At the port of embarkation he learned that his father had died, but he did not turn back. Probably the news only hastened his journey, if this were possible. In England he went first to Winchester to get possession of his father's great treasure, and then to Canterbury with his letter to Lanfranc. Nowhere is there any sign of opposition to his succession, or of any movement in favour of Robert, or on Robert's part, at this moment. If the archbishop had any doubts, as a man of his good judgment might well have had, knowing the new king from his boyhood, they were soon quieted or he resolved to put them aside. He had, indeed, no alternative. There is nothing to indicate that the letter of his dying master allowed him any choice, nor was there any possible candidate who gave promise of a better reign, for Lanfranc must have known Robert as well as he knew William. Together they went up to London, and on September 26, 1087, hardly more than two weeks after he left his father's bedside, William was crowned king by Lanfranc. The archbishop took of him the customary oath to rule justly and to defend the peace and liberty of the Church, exacting a special promise always to be guided by his advice; but there is no evidence of any unusual assembly in London of magnates or people, of any negotiations to gain the support of persons of influence, or of any consent asked or given. The proceedings throughout were what we should expect in a kingdom held by hereditary right, as the chancery of the Conqueror often termed it, and by such a right descending to the heir. This appearance may possibly have been given to these events by haste and by the necessity of forestalling any opposition. Men may have found themselves with a new king crowned and consecrated as soon as they learned of the death of the old one; but no objection was ever made. Within a few months a serious insurrection broke out among those who hoped to make Robert king, but no one alleged that William's title was imperfect because he had not been elected. If the English crown was held by the people of the time to be elective in any sense, it was not in the sense which we at present understand by the word "constitutional."
Immediately after the coronation, the new king went back to Winchester to fulfil a duty which he owed to his father. The great hoard which the Conqueror had collected in the ancient capital was distributed with a free hand to the churches of England. William II was as greedy of money as his father. His exactions pressed even more heavily on the kingdom, and the Church believed that it was peculiarly the victim of his financial tyranny, but he showed no disposition to begrudge these benefactions for the safety of his father's soul. Money was sent to each monastery and church in the kingdom, and to many rich gifts of other things, and to each county a hundred pounds for distribution to the poor.
Until the following spring the disposition of the kingdom which Lanfranc had made was unquestioned and undisturbed. William II wore his crown at the meeting of the court in London at Christmas time, and nothing during the winter called for any special exertion of royal authority on his part. But beneath the surface a great conspiracy was forming, for the purpose of overthrowing the new king and of putting his brother Robert in his place. During Lent the movers of this conspiracy were especially active, and immediately after Easter the insurrection broke out. It was an insurrection in which almost all the Norman barons of England took part, and their real object was the interest neither of king nor of kingdom, but only their own personal and selfish advantage. A purely feudal insurrection, inspired solely by those local and separatist tendencies which the feudal system cherished, it reveals, even more clearly than the insurrection of the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk under William I, the solid reserve of strength in the support of the nation which was the only thing that sustained the Norman kingship in England during the feudal age.