The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins. — H. L. Mencken

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Story of Fair Rosamond

Stephen, the last of the four Norman kings, died just as one year after the treaty of Wallingford, leaving no children, so Henry had little trouble to get the crown. He is called Henry II., the Shortmantle, and is the first of the Angevine or Plantagenet kings.

The new monarch was only twenty-one years old, and as he was handsome, graceful, and learned, he soon made many friends. Both the Saxons and the Normans were glad to have him reign, and as he dismissed the foreign soldiers whom Stephen had enlisted, issued good coin, and restored law and order, he became very popular.

Besides being one of the cleverest, Henry II. was one of the most powerful kings of his time. He inherited several French provinces from his father, and his wife Eleanor brought him more land. Indeed, he was lord over more territory in France than the French king himself, so it is no wonder the latter was jealous of him.

Although his wife Eleanor was rich, she was so bad-tempered and cruel that Henry could not love her, and, if we are to believe one very romantic story, he neglected her in order to visit a beautiful young lady, called Fair Rosamond. This made Queen Eleanor so jealous that she resolved to kill her beautiful rival.

It was not easy to find Fair Rosamond, however, for the king had built a maze for her at Woodstock, and her bower was in the centre of this labyrinth. Although the way to it could be found only by using a silken thread as clue, Eleanor suddenly appeared before Fair Rosamond one day, and told her she must die, sternly bidding her choose between the dagger and the bowl of poison which she held. We are told that the cruel queen forced Fair Rosamond to drink the poison. But all this happened so long ago that no one knows whether it is true; still, ever since then, when people have to take one of two evils, they are said to have no choice except between the dagger and the bowl.

During the long civil war in the last reign, the barons, as we have seen, had built many castles and waged many private wars. They had learned to do just as they pleased, to respect no one's rights, and to rob, murder, and burn. No one had been safe in the realm, except such as dwelt in the monasteries or convents, and it is no wonder that these were full, for people took refuge in the only place where they could dwell in peace.

The First Trial by Jury.

Henry could not allow the barons to go on thus, and one of his first acts was to call them to order. He made war against all those who would not obey him, and had many of the fortresses pulled down, so that the robber barons could no longer take refuge behind their strong walls. To satisfy the people, he gave them the charter which Stephen had promised, and decided that criminals should be tried by a jury of twelve men. Trial by ordeal was not entirely abolished, but men were no longer forced to prove their innocence by conquering their accusers in battle.

The priests had hitherto been tried only by their own class, who inflicted very slight punishments upon them, but Henry now declared that if a priest or monk did wrong he should be tried and punished just the same as any other man. This change in the law was opposed for some time, and it was only after a long fight with the clergy, or church party, that the new laws were passed. They were carefully drawn up at last, and are known in history as the Constitutions of Clarendon.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee