The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England > Chapter IX

A Child's History of England

Chapter IX


WILLIAM THE RED, in breathless haste, secured the three great forts
of Dover, Pevensey, and Hastings, and made with hot speed for
Winchester, where the Royal treasure was kept. The treasurer
delivering him the keys, he found that it amounted to sixty
thousand pounds in silver, besides gold and jewels. Possessed of
this wealth, he soon persuaded the Archbishop of Canterbury to
crown him, and became William the Second, King of England.

Rufus was no sooner on the throne, than he ordered into prison
again the unhappy state captives whom his father had set free, and
directed a goldsmith to ornament his father's tomb profusely with
gold and silver. It would have been more dutiful in him to have
attended the sick Conqueror when he was dying; but England itself,
like this Red King, who once governed it, has sometimes made
expensive tombs for dead men whom it treated shabbily when they
were alive.

The King's brother, Robert of Normandy, seeming quite content to be
only Duke of that country; and the King's other brother, Fine-
Scholar, being quiet enough with his five thousand pounds in a
chest; the King flattered himself, we may suppose, with the hope of
an easy reign. But easy reigns were difficult to have in those
days. The turbulent Bishop ODO (who had blessed the Norman army at
the Battle of Hastings, and who, I dare say, took all the credit of
the victory to himself) soon began, in concert with some powerful
Norman nobles, to trouble the Red King.

The truth seems to be that this bishop and his friends, who had
lands in England and lands in Normandy, wished to hold both under
one Sovereign; and greatly preferred a thoughtless good-natured
person, such as Robert was, to Rufus; who, though far from being an
amiable man in any respect, was keen, and not to be imposed upon.
They declared in Robert's favour, and retired to their castles
(those castles were very troublesome to kings) in a sullen humour.
The Red King, seeing the Normans thus falling from him, revenged
himself upon them by appealing to the English; to whom he made a
variety of promises, which he never meant to perform - in
particular, promises to soften the cruelty of the Forest Laws; and
who, in return, so aided him with their valour, that ODO was
besieged in the Castle of Rochester, and forced to abandon it, and
to depart from England for ever: whereupon the other rebellious
Norman nobles were soon reduced and scattered.

Then, the Red King went over to Normandy, where the people suffered
greatly under the loose rule of Duke Robert. The King's object was
to seize upon the Duke's dominions. This, the Duke, of course,
prepared to resist; and miserable war between the two brothers
seemed inevitable, when the powerful nobles on both sides, who had
seen so much of war, interfered to prevent it. A treaty was made.
Each of the two brothers agreed to give up something of his claims,
and that the longer-liver of the two should inherit all the
dominions of the other. When they had come to this loving
understanding, they embraced and joined their forces against Fine-
Scholar; who had bought some territory of Robert with a part of his
five thousand pounds, and was considered a dangerous individual in

St. Michael's Mount, in Normandy (there is another St. Michael's
Mount, in Cornwall, wonderfully like it), was then, as it is now, a
strong place perched upon the top of a high rock, around which,
when the tide is in, the sea flows, leaving no road to the
mainland. In this place, Fine-Scholar shut himself up with his
soldiers, and here he was closely besieged by his two brothers. At
one time, when he was reduced to great distress for want of water,
the generous Robert not only permitted his men to get water, but
sent Fine-Scholar wine from his own table; and, on being
remonstrated with by the Red King, said 'What! shall we let our own
brother die of thirst? Where shall we get another, when he is
gone?' At another time, the Red King riding alone on the shore of
the bay, looking up at the Castle, was taken by two of Fine-
Scholar's men, one of whom was about to kill him, when he cried
out, 'Hold, knave! I am the King of England!' The story says that
the soldier raised him from the ground respectfully and humbly, and
that the King took him into his service. The story may or may not
be true; but at any rate it is true that Fine-Scholar could not
hold out against his united brothers, and that he abandoned Mount
St. Michael, and wandered about - as poor and forlorn as other
scholars have been sometimes known to be.

The Scotch became unquiet in the Red King's time, and were twice
defeated - the second time, with the loss of their King, Malcolm,
and his son. The Welsh became unquiet too. Against them, Rufus
was less successful; for they fought among their native mountains,
and did great execution on the King's troops. Robert of Normandy
became unquiet too; and, complaining that his brother the King did
not faithfully perform his part of their agreement, took up arms,
and obtained assistance from the King of France, whom Rufus, in the
end, bought off with vast sums of money. England became unquiet
too. Lord Mowbray, the powerful Earl of Northumberland, headed a
great conspiracy to depose the King, and to place upon the throne,
STEPHEN, the Conqueror's near relative. The plot was discovered;
all the chief conspirators were seized; some were fined, some were
put in prison, some were put to death. The Earl of Northumberland
himself was shut up in a dungeon beneath Windsor Castle, where he
died, an old man, thirty long years afterwards. The Priests in
England were more unquiet than any other class or power; for the
Red King treated them with such small ceremony that he refused to
appoint new bishops or archbishops when the old ones died, but kept
all the wealth belonging to those offices in his own hands. In
return for this, the Priests wrote his life when he was dead, and
abused him well. I am inclined to think, myself, that there was
little to choose between the Priests and the Red King; that both
sides were greedy and designing; and that they were fairly matched.

The Red King was false of heart, selfish, covetous, and mean. He
had a worthy minister in his favourite, Ralph, nicknamed - for
almost every famous person had a nickname in those rough days -
Flambard, or the Firebrand. Once, the King being ill, became
penitent, and made ANSELM, a foreign priest and a good man,
Archbishop of Canterbury. But he no sooner got well again than he
repented of his repentance, and persisted in wrongfully keeping to
himself some of the wealth belonging to the archbishopric. This
led to violent disputes, which were aggravated by there being in
Rome at that time two rival Popes; each of whom declared he was the
only real original infallible Pope, who couldn't make a mistake.
At last, Anselm, knowing the Red King's character, and not feeling
himself safe in England, asked leave to return abroad. The Red
King gladly gave it; for he knew that as soon as Anselm was gone,
he could begin to store up all the Canterbury money again, for his
own use.

By such means, and by taxing and oppressing the English people in
every possible way, the Red King became very rich. When he wanted
money for any purpose, he raised it by some means or other, and
cared nothing for the injustice he did, or the misery he caused.
Having the opportunity of buying from Robert the whole duchy of
Normandy for five years, he taxed the English people more than
ever, and made the very convents sell their plate and valuables to
supply him with the means to make the purchase. But he was as
quick and eager in putting down revolt as he was in raising money;
for, a part of the Norman people objecting - very naturally, I
think - to being sold in this way, he headed an army against them
with all the speed and energy of his father. He was so impatient,
that he embarked for Normandy in a great gale of wind. And when
the sailors told him it was dangerous to go to sea in such angry
weather, he replied, 'Hoist sail and away! Did you ever hear of a
king who was drowned?'

You will wonder how it was that even the careless Robert came to
sell his dominions. It happened thus. It had long been the custom
for many English people to make journeys to Jerusalem, which were
called pilgrimages, in order that they might pray beside the tomb
of Our Saviour there. Jerusalem belonging to the Turks, and the
Turks hating Christianity, these Christian travellers were often
insulted and ill used. The Pilgrims bore it patiently for some
time, but at length a remarkable man, of great earnestness and
eloquence, called PETER THE HERMIT, began to preach in various
places against the Turks, and to declare that it was the duty of
good Christians to drive away those unbelievers from the tomb of
Our Saviour, and to take possession of it, and protect it. An
excitement such as the world had never known before was created.
Thousands and thousands of men of all ranks and conditions departed
for Jerusalem to make war against the Turks. The war is called in
history the first Crusade, and every Crusader wore a cross marked
on his right shoulder.

All the Crusaders were not zealous Christians. Among them were
vast numbers of the restless, idle, profligate, and adventurous
spirit of the time. Some became Crusaders for the love of change;
some, in the hope of plunder; some, because they had nothing to do
at home; some, because they did what the priests told them; some,
because they liked to see foreign countries; some, because they
were fond of knocking men about, and would as soon knock a Turk
about as a Christian. Robert of Normandy may have been influenced
by all these motives; and by a kind desire, besides, to save the
Christian Pilgrims from bad treatment in future. He wanted to
raise a number of armed men, and to go to the Crusade. He could
not do so without money. He had no money; and he sold his
dominions to his brother, the Red King, for five years. With the
large sum he thus obtained, he fitted out his Crusaders gallantly,
and went away to Jerusalem in martial state. The Red King, who
made money out of everything, stayed at home, busily squeezing more
money out of Normans and English.

After three years of great hardship and suffering - from shipwreck
at sea; from travel in strange lands; from hunger, thirst, and
fever, upon the burning sands of the desert; and from the fury of
the Turks - the valiant Crusaders got possession of Our Saviour's
tomb. The Turks were still resisting and fighting bravely, but
this success increased the general desire in Europe to join the
Crusade. Another great French Duke was proposing to sell his
dominions for a term to the rich Red King, when the Red King's
reign came to a sudden and violent end.

You have not forgotten the New Forest which the Conqueror made, and
which the miserable people whose homes he had laid waste, so hated.
The cruelty of the Forest Laws, and the torture and death they
brought upon the peasantry, increased this hatred. The poor
persecuted country people believed that the New Forest was
enchanted. They said that in thunder-storms, and on dark nights,
demons appeared, moving beneath the branches of the gloomy trees.
They said that a terrible spectre had foretold to Norman hunters
that the Red King should be punished there. And now, in the
pleasant season of May, when the Red King had reigned almost
thirteen years; and a second Prince of the Conqueror's blood -
another Richard, the son of Duke Robert - was killed by an arrow in
this dreaded Forest; the people said that the second time was not
the last, and that there was another death to come.

It was a lonely forest, accursed in the people's hearts for the
wicked deeds that had been done to make it; and no man save the
King and his Courtiers and Huntsmen, liked to stray there. But, in
reality, it was like any other forest. In the spring, the green
leaves broke out of the buds; in the summer, flourished heartily,
and made deep shades; in the winter, shrivelled and blew down, and
lay in brown heaps on the moss. Some trees were stately, and grew
high and strong; some had fallen of themselves; some were felled by
the forester's axe; some were hollow, and the rabbits burrowed at
their roots; some few were struck by lightning, and stood white and
bare. There were hill-sides covered with rich fern, on which the
morning dew so beautifully sparkled; there were brooks, where the
deer went down to drink, or over which the whole herd bounded,
flying from the arrows of the huntsmen; there were sunny glades,
and solemn places where but little light came through the rustling
leaves. The songs of the birds in the New Forest were pleasanter
to hear than the shouts of fighting men outside; and even when the
Red King and his Court came hunting through its solitudes, cursing
loud and riding hard, with a jingling of stirrups and bridles and
knives and daggers, they did much less harm there than among the
English or Normans, and the stags died (as they lived) far easier
than the people.

Upon a day in August, the Red King, now reconciled to his brother,
Fine-Scholar, came with a great train to hunt in the New Forest.
Fine-Scholar was of the party. They were a merry party, and had
lain all night at Malwood-Keep, a hunting-lodge in the forest,
where they had made good cheer, both at supper and breakfast, and
had drunk a deal of wine. The party dispersed in various
directions, as the custom of hunters then was. The King took with
him only SIR WALTER TYRREL, who was a famous sportsman, and to whom
he had given, before they mounted horse that morning, two fine

The last time the King was ever seen alive, he was riding with Sir
Walter Tyrrel, and their dogs were hunting together.

It was almost night, when a poor charcoal-burner, passing through
the forest with his cart, came upon the solitary body of a dead
man, shot with an arrow in the breast, and still bleeding. He got
it into his cart. It was the body of the King. Shaken and
tumbled, with its red beard all whitened with lime and clotted with
blood, it was driven in the cart by the charcoal-burner next day to
Winchester Cathedral, where it was received and buried.

Sir Walter Tyrrel, who escaped to Normandy, and claimed the
protection of the King of France, swore in France that the Red King
was suddenly shot dead by an arrow from an unseen hand, while they
were hunting together; that he was fearful of being suspected as
the King's murderer; and that he instantly set spurs to his horse,
and fled to the sea-shore. Others declared that the King and Sir
Walter Tyrrel were hunting in company, a little before sunset,
standing in bushes opposite one another, when a stag came between
them. That the King drew his bow and took aim, but the string
broke. That the King then cried, 'Shoot, Walter, in the Devil's
name!' That Sir Walter shot. That the arrow glanced against a
tree, was turned aside from the stag, and struck the King from his
horse, dead.

By whose hand the Red King really fell, and whether that hand
despatched the arrow to his breast by accident or by design, is
only known to GOD. Some think his brother may have caused him to
be killed; but the Red King had made so many enemies, both among
priests and people, that suspicion may reasonably rest upon a less
unnatural murderer. Men know no more than that he was found dead
in the New Forest, which the suffering people had regarded as a
doomed ground for his race.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.