William I to Henry II of England

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William I
(Reigned 1066-87)

William, Duke of Normandy was the fitting hero of a brutal time. With an eye that could quell the fiercest baron and a fist that could fell an ox, he ruthlessly subdued his rebellious duchy, trumped-up a claim to the English throne, and in a few quick battles conquered a divided country. His devastation of the north and his savage forest laws made him unpopular; but he gave England an efficient government, made the great Domesday survey of the land and controlled the barons. After losing his devoted wife, Matilda of Flanders, William had few friends. He died at Rouen in 1087.

William II
(Reigned 1087-1100)

William Rufus had a red face and a hot temper. For a while, under the restraining influence of Archbishop Lanfranc, he continued his father's sound government, but after the Archbishop's death he gave way to extravagance and cruelty. Except when sick, he refused to heed Saint Anselm's sound advice, and filled England with unworthy favourites who oppressed the people. Rufus had physical courage, but few other admirable qualities. Hunting was his passion, and he was killed in the New Forest by a stray arrow. Walter Tyrrell, one of the hunting party, was blamed for the deed, probably unjustly.

Henry I
(Reigned 1100-35)

Henry Beauclerc was the best educated of the Conqueror's sons. Like all his race, he loved outdoor sports, but he could read his own letters, and when he founded a zoo at Woodstock, it was to study animals. Henry gave England good laws, "so that no man durst hurt another. He inflicted ferocious punishment, but was called the "Lion of Justice." He preferred craft to warfare, and managed to keep his realms intact. Henry's marriage to Matilda, who was descended from the English kings, was very popular. He doted on his son, and when Prince William was drowned in the White Ship, his father "never smiled again."

(Reigned 1135-54)

The so-called reign of Stephen was one of the most miserable in English history. While he was fighting his cousin, Matilda, for the crown, the Norman barons "forced the folk to build them castles, and filled them with de3vils and evil men." They extorted money "with pains unspeakable," and looted town and country. "Well mightest thou walk a whole day's faring nor ever find a man inhabiting a township, or tilled lands." Yet Stephen himself was the pattern of chivalry: brave, kindly, courteous. He was, however, too good-natured, easily fooled, and incapable of planning operations on a large scale.

Henry II
(Reigned 1154-89)

Henry of Anjou, an exceptionally able King, found England devastated by civil war, and left it prosperous and law-abiding. A brilliant soldier, he extended his French dominions until he ruled most of France. He found his match in Thomas Becket, who challenged the royal control of the Church. "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" cried the exasperated King. Four knights murdered the Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, and although Henry did public penance, his prestige waned. Old foes attacked him; his sons rebelled. When he found that even his favourite, John, was against him, Henry died broken-hearted.

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