Early Norman Kings

William, surnamed The Conqueror, reigned from 1066 to 1087, being chiefly engaged all that time in completing the subjugation of the Saxons. He is allowed to have been a man of much sagacity, and a firm ruler; but his temper was violent, and his disposition brutal. At the time of his death, which took place in Normandy, his eldest son Robert happening to be at a greater distance from London than William, who was the second son, the latter individual seized upon the crown, of which he could not afterwards be dispossessed, till he was shot accidentally by an arrow in the New Forest, in the year 1100. Towards the close of this king's reign, the whole of Christian Europe was agitated by the first Crusade - an expedition for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Saracens. Robert of Normandy had a high command in this enterprise, and gained much fame as a warrior; but while he was in Italy, on his return, his youngest brother Henry usurped the throne left vacant by William, so that he was again disappointed of his birthright. HENRY I - surnamed Beauclerc, from his being a fine scholar - was a prince of some ability; but he disgraced himself by putting out the eyes of his eldest brother, and keeping him nearly thirty years in confinement. Such barbarous conduct shows that in this age might was the only right, and that men hesitated at no actions which might promise to advance their own interests.

Contemporary with William the Conqueror in England, was MALCOLM III in Scotland, surnamed Canmore, from his having a large head. This prince, after overthrowing the celebrated usurper Macbeth, married Margaret, a fugitive Saxon princess, through whom his posterity became the heirs of that race of English sovereigns. He was a good prince, and by settling Saxon refugees upon his lowland territory, did much to improve the character of the Scottish nation, who are described as having been before this time a nation in which there was no admixture of civilization. At Malcolm's death, in 1093, the crown was contested for a while by a usurper called Donald Bane, and the elder sons of the late monarch, but finally fell to the peaceable possession of his youngest son DAVID I, who was a prince of much superior character, apparently, to the Norman sovereigns who lived in the same age. The church of Rome having now gained an ascendancy in Scotland, David founded a considerable number of monasteries and churches for the reception of the ministers of that religion. All the most celebrated abbacies in Scotland took their rise in his time.

Henry Beauclerc of England, in order to strengthen his claim by a Saxon alliance, married Maud, the daughter of Malcolm Canmore and of Princess Margaret. By her he had an only daughter of the same name, whom he married first to the Emperor of Germany, and then to Geoffrey Plantagenet, eldest son of the Earl of Anjou, in France. This lady and her children by Plantagenet were properly the heirs of the English crown; but on the death of Henry, in 1135, it was seized by a usurper named STEPHEN, a distant member of the Conqueror's family, who reigned for nineteen years, during which the country was rendered almost desolate by civil contests, in which David of Scotland occasionally joined.

On the death of Stephen, in 1154, the crown fell peacefully to HENRY II, who was the eldest son of Maud, and the first of the Plantagenet race of sovereigns. Henry was an acute and politic prince, though not in any respect more amiable than his predecessors. His reign was principally marked by a series of measures for reducing the power of the Romish clergy, in the course of which some of his courtiers, in 1171 thought they could not do him a better service than to murder Thomas-a-Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been the chief obstacle to his views, and was one of the ablest and most ambitious men ever produced in England., For his concern in this foul transaction, Henry had to perform a humiliating penance, receiving eighty lashes on his bare back from the monks of Canterbury. We are the less inclined to wonder at this circumstance, when we consider that about this time the Pope had power to cause two kings to perform the menial service of leading his horse.

Henry was the most powerful king that had yet reigned in Britain. Besides the great hereditary domains which he possessed in France, and for which he did homage to the king of that country, he exacted a temporary homage from William of Scotland, the grand-son of David, a monarch of great valor, who took the surname of the Lion, and who reigned from 1166 to 1214. Henry also added Ireland to his domminions. This island had previously been divided into five kingdoms Munster, Leinster, Meath, Ulster, and Connaught. The people, being quite uncivilized, were perpetually quarreling among themselves; and this, with their heathen religion, furnished a flimsy pretext for invading them from England. Dermot Macmorrough, king of Leinster, having been dethroned by his subjects, introduced an English warrior, Richard, Earl of Strigul, generally called Strongbow, for the purpose of regaining his possessions. A body composed of 50 knights, 90 esquires, and 460 archers, in all 600 men, was enabled by its superior discipline to overthrow the whole warlike force that could be brought against them; and the conquest was easily completed by Henry in person, who went thither in 1172. The military leaders were left to rule over the country; but they managed their trust so ill, that the Irish never became peaceable and improving subjects of the Norman king, as the English had gradually done.