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 "Remember" 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

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.