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CHARACTER OF WILLIAM THE Conqueror. THE character of this prince has seldom been set in its true light; some eminent writers having been dazzled so much by the more shining parts of it, that they have hardly seen his faults; while others, out of a strong detestation of tyranny, have been unwilling to allow him the praise he de


He may with justice be ranked among the greatest generals any age has produced. There was united in him activity, vigilance, intrepidity, caution, great force of judgment, and never-failing presence of mind. He was strict in his discipline, and kept his soldiers in perfect obedience; yet preserved their affection. Having been from his very childhood continually in war, and at the head of armies, he joined to all the capacity that genius could give, all the knowledge and skill that experience could teach, and was a perfect master of the military art, as it was practised in the times wherein he lived. His constitution enabled him to endure any hardships, and very few were equal to him in personal strength, which was an excellence of more importance than it is now, from the inanner of fighting then in use. It is said of him, that none except himself could bend his bow. His courage was heroic, and he possessed it not only in the field, but, which is more uncommon, in the cabinet, attempting great things with means that to other men appeared totally unequal to such undertakings, and steadily prosecuting what he had boldly resolved; being never disturbed or disheartened by difficulties in the course

of his enterprises; but having that noble vigour of mind, which, instead of bending to opposition, rises against it, and seems to have a power of controlling and commanding Fortune herself.

Nor was he less superior to pleasure than to fear no luxury softened him, no riot disordered, no sloth relaxed. It helped not a little to maintain the high respect his subjects had for him, that the majesty of his character was never let down by any incontinence or indecent excess. His temperance and his chastity were constant guards, that secured his mind from all weakness, supported its dignity, and kept it always, as it were, on the throne. Through his whole life he had no partner of his bed but his queen; a most extraordinary virtue in one who had lived, even from his earliest youth, amidst all the licence of camps, the allurements of a court, and the seductions of sovereign power! Had he kept his oaths to his people as well as he did his marriage vow, he would have been the best of kings; but he indulged other passions of a worse nature, and infinitely more detrimental to the public than those he restrained. A lust of power, which no regard to justice could limit, the most unrelenting cruelty, and the most insatiable avarice, possessed his soul. It is true, indeed, that among many acts of extreme inhumanity, some shining instances of great clemency may be produced, that were either effects of his policy, which taught him this method of acquiring friends, or of his magnanimity, which made him slight a weak and subdued enemy, such as was Edgar Atheling, in whom he found neither spirit nor talents able to contend with him for the

crown. But where he had no advantage nor pride in forgiving, his nature discovered itself to be utterly void of all sense of compassion; and some barbarities which he committed, exceeded the bounds that even tyrants and conquerors prescribe to themselves.

Most of our ancient historians give him the character of a very religious prince; but his religion was after the fashion of those times, belief without examination, and devotion without piety. It was a religion that prompted him to endow monasteries, and at the same time allowed him to pillage kingdoms; that threw him on his knees before a relic or cross, but suffered him unrestrained to trample upon the liberties and rights of mankind.

As to his wisdom in government, of which some modern writers have spoken very highly, he was, indeed, so far wise that, through a long unquiet reign, he knew how to support oppression by terrour, and employ the properest means for the carrying on a very iniquitous and violent administration. But that which alone deserves the name of wisdom in the character of a king, the maintaining of authority by the exercise of those virtues which make the happiness of his people, was what, with all his abilities, he does not appear to have possessed. Nor did he excel in those soothing and popular arts, which sometimes change the complexion of a tyranny, and give it a fallacious appearance of freedom. His government was harsh and despotic, violating even the principles of that constitution which he himself had established. Yet so far he performed the duty of a sovereign,

that he took care to maintain a good police in his realm; curbing licentiousness with a strong hand, which, in the tumultuous state of his government, was a great and difficult work. How well he performed it, we may learn even from the testimony of a contemporary Saxon historian, who says, that during his reign a man might have travelled in perfect security all over the kingdom with his bosom full of gold, nor durst any kill another in revenge of the greatest offences, nor offer violence to the chastity of a woman. But it was a poor compensation, that the highways were safe, when the courts of justice were dens of thieves, and when almost every man in authority, or in office, used his power to oppress and pillage the people. The king himself did not only tolerate, but encourage, support, and even share these extortions. Though the greatness of the ancient landed estate of the crown, and the feudal profits to which he legally was entitled, rendered him one of the richest monarchs in Europe, he was not content with all that opulence, but by authorising the sheriffs, who collected his revenues in the several counties, to practise the most grievous vexations and abuses, for the raising of them higher, by a perpetual auction of the crown-lands, so that none of his tenants could be secure of possession, if any other would come and offer more; by various iniquities in the court of exchequer, which was entirely Norman ; by forfeitures wrongfully taken; and, lastly, by arbitrary and illegal taxations, he drew into his treasury much too great a proportion of the wealth of his kingdom.

It must however be owned, that if his avarice

was insatiably and unjustly rapacious, it was not meanly parsimonious, nor of that sordid kind which brings on a prince dishonour and contempt. He supported the dignity of his crown with a decent magnificence; and though he never was lavish, he sometimes was liberal, more especially to his soldiers and to the church. But looking on money as a necessary means of maintaining and increasing power, he desired to accumulate as much as he could, rather, perhaps, from an ambitious than a covetuous nature; at least his avarice was subservient to his ambition, and he laid up wealth in his coffers, as he did arms in his magazines, to be drawn out, when any proper occasion required it, for the defence and enlargement of his dominions.

f Upon the whole, he had many great qualities, but few virtues; and if those actions that most particularly distinguish the man or the king are impartially considered, we shall find that in his character there is much to admire, but still more to abhor. Lyttelton.


THE memory of this monarch is transmitted to us with little advantage by the churchmen whom he had offended; and though we may suspect in general that their account of his vices is somewhat exaggerated, his conduct affords little reason for contradicting the character which they have assigned him, or for attributing to him any very estimable qualities; he seems to have been a violent and tyrannical prince; a perfidious, encroaching,

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