Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Burial of William the Conqueror

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Burial of William the Conqueror

By Felicia Hemans (1793–1835)

  • At Caen, in Normandy, 1087
  • “At the day appointed for the king’s interment, Prince Henry, his third son, the Norman prelates, and a multitude of clergy and people, assembled in the Church of St. Stephen, which the Conqueror had founded. The mass had been performed, the corpse was placed on the bier, and the Bishop of Evreux had pronounced the panegyric on the deceased, when a voice from the crowd exclaimed: ‘He whom you have praised was a robber. The very land on which you stand is mine. By violence he took it from my father; and in the name of God, I forbid you to bury him in it.’ The speaker was Asceline Fitz-Arthur, who had often, but fruitlessly, sought reparation from the justice of William. After some debate, the prelates called him to them, paid him sixty shillings for the grave, and promised that he should receive the full value of his land. The ceremony was then continued, and the body of the king deposited in a coffin of stone.”—Lingard, Vol. II. p. 98.

  • LOWLY upon his bier

    The royal conqueror lay;

    Baron and chief stood near,

    Silent in war array.

    Down the long minster’s aisle

    Crowds mutely gazing streamed;

    Altar and tomb the while

    Through mists of incense gleamed.

    And, by the torches’ blaze,

    The stately priest had said

    High words of power and praise

    To the glory of the dead.

    They lowered him, with the sound

    Of requiems, to repose;

    When from the throngs around

    A solemn voice arose:—

    “Forbear! forbear!” it cried;

    “In the holiest Name, forbear!

    He hath conquered regions wide,

    But he shall not slumber there!

    By the violated hearth

    Which made way for yon proud shrine;

    By the harvests which this earth

    Hath borne for me and mine;

    “By the house e’en here o’erthrown

    On my brethren’s native spot,—

    Hence! with his dark renown

    Cumber our birthplace not!

    Will my sire’s unransomed field,

    O’er which your censers wave,

    To the buried spoiler yield

    Soft slumber in the grave?

    “The tree before him fell

    Which we cherished many a year,

    But its deep root yet shall swell

    And heave against his bier.

    The land that I have tilled

    Hath yet its brooding breast

    With my home’s white ashes filled,

    And it shall not give him rest.

    “Here each proud columns’ bed

    Hath been wet by weeping eyes,—

    Hence! and bestow your dead

    Where no wrong against him cries!”

    Shame glowed on each dark face

    Of those proud and steel-girt men,

    And they bought with gold a place

    For their leader’s dust, e’en then.

    A little earth for him

    Whose banner flew so far!

    And a peasant’s tale could dim

    The name, a nation’s star!

    One deep voice thus arose

    From a heart which wrongs had riven,—

    O, who shall number those

    That were but heard in heaven?