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THE SENESCHAL AS LORD OF COLCHESTER

Next to London, Colchester was the most important town in England. The royal residence at Winchester, as well as its history as being capital of a Saxon kingdom, gave it prominence; and Exeter, which was fully described by its soubriquet of Little London, claimed the attention of the cultivated, the military, and also the mercantile minds; but the city in “the eastern part of Britain”, as the Cottonian MS. localises it, from its very ancient foundation, its well fortified yet pleasant situation, its connection with the most distinguished persons and events of British experience, and its comparative nearness to Westminster, already at this period the place of highest state sanctions, took a position before the distinguished south-western cities. Under the Roman sway London itself was second to it; if not perhaps in population, certainly in state importance.

Camalodunum was to the emperors what Calcutta is to us. Nor did its fame begin with its fortification into a permanent inhabited castra, and arrangement into an imperial civitas by the conquerors of the earth. Virgil's line occurs,

‘Romanes, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam’

though it is probable that the early Briton, the “Kelt”, had more acquaintance with them in the kilt and the practised perfect use of the skean dhu or short sword than in their state drag. In Colchester's antiquities there are abundant proofs of the full arrival of all the refinements of that great civilisation, in the civil and legal aspects as well as the military; and if any soil in this island has a monopoly of distinction from the Latin humanities of the first centuries, it is the site of Camalodunum. Streams everywhere, a sufficient river and harbour, healthy air, made its pleasantness equal to its fame.

Here the British king, Coel, from whom it takes its present name, lived an actual historical personage, though some ribald rhymes give an unreal tone to his existence. His palace was the centre to such a Celtic town as Caesar describes that of Cassibelaunus his antagonist to have been; and with the very strong walls of Roman style built around, it still remained an object of veneration, and not improbably of somewhat imposing architecture. The three years' siege which Colchester endured, when King Coel rebelled against the lords of the world, is not, but perhaps ought to be, as famous as that of Troy for ten. The Helen of the English is quite as reputable a heroine as she of the Asiatic fortress, unless, as is thought, Ilium was really, for all the prying persevering Schliemanns and Gladstones, situated in nubibus. Comparison would then vanish.

Like the favourite novel, the historical three years' siege ends, A.D. 264, with a marriage, though comedy was the less general ending of the tragic panoply of war led by such imperatores as Constantius. It was probably a most desirable solution of the political difficulty for him personally, that by marrying Helen, the king's daughter, all would not only be well but as he pleased. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, was the son of this romantic match; and Anglican clericalism claims with pride for Britain, the Celtic mother of him who gave the coup de grace to what they call the pagan cults. King Coel is said to have been educated himself long and carefully at Rome; and Helen undoubtedly would, in addition to that of her own race, have also all the culture of the aliens.

The gloom of oblivion is considerably around, in Colchester's Celtic and Roman periods. When the Saxon chiefs and Norse pirates secure their dreadful days of mastery, the darkness can be felt. As a chief if not the richest city, siege after siege, plundering, sacking, piracies, depopulation, what of human misfortunes did it not suffer ? Some records and monuments of its long sufferings exist, but time and savage hands have left too little of the history of a place which would have been largely England's history if the fire of trial through which it had to pass were less severe. Not till the middle of the seventeenth century, in the time of Cromwell, 1648, did it see the last of the bitter experiences of war. So late as days of the royalist cavaliers its fair maids, not to mention the ruin of memories of the past always inevitable under the rough-shod foot of war, had cause to rue the attraction their city was for men of the sword, officers hardly less brutal than their dogs of violence and wrong.

But Colchester got also its good times. When William Rufus was thoroughly established on his throne, its citizens put in their ardent petitions to him that he would be pleased to allow his great seneschal, Eudo Sinclair, to become their protecting feudal lord. They had already some experience of him of most pleasant kind. It was not because of his recent fame they came to do him and themselves honour. He held property among them, and at intervals they previously enjoyed his personal presence, busy as he was on both sides of the Channel. In a time of popular distress, when hands to help were rare, had he not kept many of them alive when they should have died of hunger ? He was rich, but was he not generous ? He brought untaxed corn from over the sea, by shiploads, to relieve them: what luck better in such times of trouble with the Angles, when property declined suddenly to half its value, under the effects of transition to undoubtedly better rule, than to have the care of such a lord, who not only possessed most power in the kingdom, but whose heart they experienced was as powerful for action as his head? The king was nothing loth to promote any interests of his first and able servant and subject.

His gratitude for services, made him grant their petition; and Eudo, considering the advantage of vicinity to where royalty and its affairs did most frequent, and bound further in various ways of property and kindness, took the position of lord of Colchester. It was not in him to make a sinecure of any office. At intervals (and one seems to have been of some lengthened period, either through family sorrows, personal exhaustion, or temporary delegation of the duties of dapifer to Hamo) he resided at Colchester, and paid considerable attention to its monied and other interests. He heard cases, relieved the oppressed, put down the oppressing; and, what had a specially endearing effect, he was not unwilling to re-instate, as far as he could, all in their original possessions who had lost them by the storms and injustices of a transition time. While without sympathy for the weak and turbulent Anglian cry for the laws and times of the “good King Edward”, he was far more attentive to the actual wrongs of Saxons than most of his fellow-ruling Normans; and he has by this alone gained with them a kind of canonisation for his name.

For Colechestrians to this day he is a state idol. To say, a municipal idol, would not savour enough of the proper antique. But one of his reforms deserves particular note. The people had to pay, by any method of collection they pleased, the taxes, not only of their own holdings, but also of all those who had been condemned as criminals, outlawed, or evicted at fault; and this, without being allowed to put or keep in cultivation the land which the trespassers occupied. Such frank-pledge grew intolerable, and all the more by reason of the difficulties of the time creating unusual quantity of crime. No one could suggest a remedy for a grievance which was fast binding each of them as with chains for their worldly ruin. Eudo came to the rescue with a plan as original as effective. By hook and crook he got all those wasting lands into his own sole possession, no doubt giving double their value for them; and, paying the whole of the taxes himself always, universal Colchester was freed from the irritating burden.

Such things dwell in the popular memory, and deservedly, though there may be no reason to think that he lost even pecuniarily in the end by the transaction. Thomas Cromwell in his History of Colchester makes “the powerful and wealthy Norman”, Eudo Dapifer, the builder of the Moot Hall, where such questions of law were settled in the most orderly way, and has some account of various other ruins of houses associated with his traditions; but to him that hath, is given, in the antiquarian as in other worlds, and Colchester has no hero equal or second to Eudo.

Thus he dealt as judge and protector of his and their own special, choosing and chosen, city; but a dozen years before, he had appeared in this very scene under quite a different character. To the Anglo-Saxon populace he must, in 1076, have seemed the worst possible, because the most powerful, incarnation of Norman tyranny, when he came to build, exactly on the site of King Coel's palace, the most powerful of the strongholds by which William the Conqueror put all Anglo-Saxondom into manacles and fetters. Colchester Castle, whose ruins are among the most venerable and imposing within our borders, was built by Eudo Dapifer in that year; and there is no better tribute to the genial power of his strong character, than the fact that he both gained, and kept, the respect, and even the love, of the Colchestrians, while employed at such a piece of work. Every stone laid was another knell of remembrance to them, that the wild liberty of semi-savagery, which Saxons clung to so rancorously, was inexorably passing away, and that only by law, and according to the refined manners of the civilised man, was it henceforth possible to live without punishment. Most human creatures, it is to be feared, have a natural dread of being washed; cold water which is, on the whole, the best for them and for the neighbours, in a thousand ways of health and good humour, is a sore trespass on such freemen as these. Other populaces everywhere too generally, are of the same mind.

The Conqueror and his companions were rulers, and acted according to their nature; but few of them tempered severity with kindness so well as Eudo. In a dozen years after thus putting the iron hand in the silk glove over them, their warmest cry was, ‘Come you, and none else, to rule over us; for in you we, though blind and stiff-necked enough, have found more happiness than is, as we can now see, the prevailing lot not only of Saxons but of men’.

There may be some shading or illuminating by imagination in these picturings of the past; but to those who wish corroboration, Morant's History of the Antiquities of Essex and especially his History of Colchester are ample and the best authority. Indeed, he had access to some ancient Latin documents, of which his quotations are now in all probability the only remnants. In the present connection, while giving the biography, marriage, and relationships of Eudo, this stands four-square. Qui construxit castrum Colecestriae. There are dozens of references to him as the builder of the great pile, which had at the beginning and subsequently so large a place in English story.

As a Norman building, it is still its own evidence, and even if we had not a vestige left, there are prints enough of it in the British Museum to enable it to tell its tale, with a fullness only limited by the spectator's knowledge of events and of military architecture. It is built on arches, and there is said to be no example of the use of the arch in this country before 1066, when it came from Normandy. The square tall ranges of walls, averaging twelve feet of thickness, the substantial pilasters at widish intervals, the small and somewhat irregular windows, placed for inside convenience rather than external show, the loopholes, the magnificent general massiveness which speaks such volumes for the powerful and grave characters and conceptions of the rulers, appear exceptionally marked in these drawings; and the earlier ones as taking the castle in less decay are particularly instructive. No wonder one of the writing natives speaks of it as the glory of his birthplace, set on its moderate height in the centre of the town's rather dissonant modern structures. Some of the prints, indeed, suggest the pathos of ruin with almost a comic pungency. What kind of human brain must it have been which found satisfaction, at some not very ancient period, in building a contemporary toy of a house, with quite the usual shape of roof and walls, on the high ridge of this giant structure of a stronger day ? It was its proprietor, Gray, who put what he called a dome somewhere about the middle of it, of the proportion of a small pot on a large church without a steeple. But time has swept away these insults, and nothing less appropriate than whistling grasses and twigs, to that manner born, decorate the later elevations of this venerable pile, which teaches the grandest lesson man can and, in some degree, must learn, namely, the necessity of ruling and being ruled.

Whether Eudo held the governorship of it in the military character, either personally or by substitute, those twelve years upwards between the erection of it and his creation as lord of Colchester, is difficult to substantiate. He was so much with the Conqueror in Normandy that in any case his presence here could have only been at intervals. The story of his sympathy with the people is proof of his responsibility to some extent as well as of his natural generosity.

His marriage took place the year after the accession of Rufus, 1088; so that it cannot be said that his celebrated wife from the Clare family needed an English home during those years. One supposed first wife would have felt the home in France more suitable for many reasons than this fortress among the incensed Angles. Light may fall back on this as advance is made. The probability is that not long after Colchester Castle was built, he became a regretted stranger for most part during the latter years of the Conqueror's reign. That though often absent he did not forget, nor did they, is one of the precious and authenticated passages of history which show that humane natures can rise, at their best, above Norman and Saxon and other phenomenal faction.

But when, by his doing, England was separated from Normandy, he needed a home, and with his lady of ladies he took possession of and resided in this princely home of Colchester, where they were blessed with a family, and with all other things which make life desirable. Again he had assumed the full weight of his office as dapifer of England; but henceforth Colchester was the centre whence all his action came and where his heart always was, whithersoever his duties and interests might summon him.

King-maker as he was, with the aid and countenance of Lanfranc from the monastery of Bee till he died in 1089, Eudo had at the beginning of Rufus's reign the healthiest influence over the king. Odo, the bishop of Bayeaux and earl of Kent, who soon proved faithless to the nephew, as he had done to the nephew's father, had been thoroughly crushed, with his followers discontented to rebellion, by the siege and taking of Rochester Castle; and Eudo's retirement, from whatever cause, to the comparative quiet of the duties of his recent lordship of Colchester must have occurred shortly after. The early signs of a coming storm between clerical and secular, especially monarchical, rule, were already beginning to appear in various parts of Europe; and the sensual but energetic and brave Rufus was not a likely king to escape the quarrel. Anselm had come from Bee to fill the place of the dead Lanfranc; but there was a new light in William's court, probably not an agreeable one naturally, but distasteful to the clergy as if a brand from the hottest place.

We hear nothing of Hamo Dapifer, who does not seem to have been of the mould his probable relation was. A Ralph Flambard was the bete noir on which the Jupiter and satellites of the holy catholic church would fain, if they dared, have rained their thunderbolts to his speedy extermination. The Norman king felt that his side was Ralph's; and without venturing to oppose the church then, a herculean impossibility even to kings, he secretly approved of Flambard's plan of delaying actual inductions, from archbishop downwards, and turning the proceeds of the benefices meanwhile into the royal coffers. It should be remembered that this was less mercenary than politic; the question of money being always the vulnerable part of clerisy, if otherwise armed cap-a-pie.

Anselm, a mild man by nature, but bitter as only clerical office can make one, had his wrong, that he was defrauded of the fruits of his archbishopric of Canterbury for several years, while waiting the abandonment of the king's proposed final appointment by giving of the crozier, as in similar way with the sword he made his political officers. Symbolism meant a great deal then, and the pope could not and would not vail his prerogative for a moment in favour of royalty. The terror, and perhaps superstitious dread, of having defied the clergy, which his extraordinary illness caused him, gave the game back into the church's hands, and promises and appointments were made freely, as vows for possible recovery. He did save life; and it is probable that Eudo, before this, had come back to be helpful in such storms at his old place.

Palgrave, on what authority is not clear, makes both Eudo and Hamo staunch supporters of kingly prerogative in this bodeful first trial of strength; but, with the deepest of all loyalty, it is more likely, from his subsequent history, that Eudo calmed a quarrel for which even William's energy was not yet fit. The same writer pictures the two dapifers as amicably, at once and together, moving about the duties of high steward, especially in festal scenes, without questioning as to whether two such were possible, when there was only the king of the one kingdom. He thus escapes the puzzle which seems to have much troubled the learned and very patient author of The History of the Exchequer.

Eudo the sewar of Normandy and Hamo of England, is Madox's last guess; but Palgrave, with a brilliancy as charming as original, attacks the subject freely, and as sprightlily leaves it for imaginative consideration. Madox, on the means of investigation then open, is worthy of more trust, though dull compared with the knight who, as a Jew, was deputy-keeper of the English records. The Jews are apt to see us too much as Israel; but this Cohen is bright and good of his kind, had he only been in the right place. As it is, he deserves the Englishman's best wishes, seeing the field is so wild and untilled yet. He is juster to the highest humanity of the time than “Anglish” Freeman.

But who with the right birth, training, and ability is to sift from the earth the gold that certainly exists in the codexes and books of such collections as the Bodleian and British Museum libraries, not to hint at the Paris, Rouen, or Vatican bibliothecas, with regard to these valuable facts of English, and indeed European and world history ? What will occur now of research comes from our national collections both in the state paper offices, Fetter Lane, and the Museum at Bloomsbury, London; but even these would take a lifetime of fine leisure and practised ability to do them fullest justice.

Whatever the means, whether by Eudo's grave influence or not, the fierce struggle between church and king was passed on for the solution of future but not very distant years. The dapifer saw no more of it, but spent the remainder of his life in as successful union with the religious cult of his time as he had done with the interests of the two able Williams of England, I and II. Henry I was for periods by no means his friend so absolutely, but Eudo died in peace with him. The civitas, with its pertinents, of Colchester, given him by Rufus, had as good reason in sacred as in justiciary and political matters to be proud of its lord.

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