A people's literature is the great textbook for real knowledge of them. The writings of the day show the quality of the people as no historical reconstruction can. — Edith Hamilton

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Lords and Vassals

William the Conqueror repulsed the Danes, who tried once more to gain a footing in England, and subdued the few Saxon lords who still opposed him. Then he built a few castles to keep order in the principal cities of his new realm. The most noted of these castles is the great Tower of London, which you will often find mentioned in this book.

Although the conquest of England was made after only one great battle, it took twenty years before it was quite completed and the last attempts at rebellion were put down. Every time a Saxon lord disobeyed, or was killed in battle, his lands were given to some Norman nobleman, who, in return, swore to be faithful to William.

It was thus that with the Normans the feudal system came into England. Now, as you probably do not know what the feudal system was, I am going to try to make it clear to you. When a king gave lands to one of his followers, he did so on condition that the new owner should remain his vassal, or servant, and should supply him with a certain amount of money and men in time of war.

Tower of London.

The lord or baron for by some such title these noblemen were generally called had full power over his territory, and could even make war upon his neighbours. He usually gave part of his estates to his followers, who in their turn promised to obey him. This kind of ownership of land ownership depending on personal service was called a feud, and hence this whole system was called feudalism. By it each lord was the vassal of a king, and the master of other vassals of lower rank.

To make sure that order should be maintained in his new realm, William held each lord responsible for the good behaviour of his vassals. It was also decreed that a bell should be rung every evening, as a signal that all the fires and lights should be put out. This bell was called the curfew bell; and as the people had no more light, they were obliged to go to bed early.

Instead of trying criminals by the old Saxon methods, by ordeal or by jury, the Norman barons introduced the fashion of making the accuser and the accused fight together, declaring that the innocent would always prevail. Of course this was not true, for the wrongdoer was often the stronger of the two; but for many years these fights, called judgments of God, or judicial duels, were often resorted to in England.

To make sure that he should know exactly how his land was divided, who owned each field and house, and how much tax each landowner could afford to pay, William had commissioners visit all parts of the realm. These men wrote down what they learned, keeping the record in a very old and celebrated book, which is called the Domesday or Doomsday Book. It is written on vellum, a very fine kind of parchment, and is carefully kept as a great curiosity in the British Museum.

You must not imagine that the Conqueror gave away all the land. On the contrary, he was careful to keep a large share of it for himself, and, as he was very fond of hunting, he had no less than sixty-eight forests full of game. As this did not seem enough, he laid waste a huge tract of more than one hundred and forty square miles, where thirty-six churches and many pretty villages had once stood. This land was made into a huge hunting ground, called the New Forest, and no one was allowed to hunt in it without the permission of the king.

William made several visits to Normandy, and on his return from one of these excursions, finding that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not been faithful to him, he put a learned man named Lanfranc there in his stead. This man helped the king to govern, and to settle the affairs of the English Church.


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