Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/Guilbert Fitz-Richard

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a.d. 1070.
A Song of a Saxon Gleeman.

“One alone amongst all the Conqueror’s train claimed neither lands, nor gold, nor women: he was named Guilbert Fitz-Richard. He said that he had accompanied his lord into England, because such was his duty, and that he was not to be tempted by stolen property, but would return into Normandy to live on his own patrimony.”

Augustin Thierry’sNorman Conquest.


The Saxon folk were scatter’d like chaff before the wind,
With the good greenwood before them and Norman knights behind;
Their Leofrics and Edrics, with blue eyes and golden hair,
Were flying for dear life to couch with the wild beast in his lair.


The Norman Jongleurs flouted them with gay songs to Norman lyres,
What time, as serfs, the Saxons tilled lands won by Saxon sires;
Their daughters dear were led away, as the Saxon annal saith,
By Norman squires, poor lemans fair, that wept and prayed for death.


The stalwart sons of Saxon earls the Norman sold for slaves,
To his Lacys and De Bracys, Montmesnils and De Graves,
Those beggar knights of Normandie, whose fee was sword in hand,
Spread, since the fight of Hastings, like wolves throughout the land.


The wailing wife who wept her lord at the rout of Hastings slain,
Sword at her throat, was wedded to some churl of William’s train,
Ennobled for a bowman’s deed done at that bitter fight,
This churl knelt down a bowman and rose up a belted knight.



Now glory unto Guilbert, De Chesney’s stout esquire,
Whose iron arm at Hastings was never known to tire,
Who loved his lord, and followed him for the love of chivalrie
To the good green fields of England from pleasant Normandie.


No spoiler he, no ravisher—upon his blade no blood,
Save that of Saxon foemen in honest fight that stood;
Our franklins honoured Guilbert, in our anger’s hot despite,
So gentle after conquest, so valiant in the fight.


No Saxon mother could to him her suckling’s slaughter trace,
By him no father tore his beard for a daughter’s foul disgrace;
Quoth Guilbert, “Spoil I seek not, nor land, nor lady fair,—
The fight is done, the Norman’s won, and home will I repair.


Oh! dearer far than English land, though fair its meads they be,
Are the hills, and heaths, and sunny slopes of distant Normandie,
And dearer is my sunburnt maid in a grey old Norman tower,
Than the daintiest dame of Sussex with her broad lands for a dower.


I followed thee, De Chesney; my duty I have done;
Knight, give me back my fealty, and let me now be gone
To the land where first I drew my breath—that grey tower by the sea,
Where a maiden’s weeping half the day in her weary watch for me.”


What!” said the haughty Norman, “and dost thou look so low?
And wouldst thou yield to baser hands what well thou’st won, I trow?
Nay! in this land God gave us and our trusty Norman swords,
Dwell—see thy children’s children these Saxon varlets’ lords.”


Nay!” quoth the gentle Guilbert, “by Him that died on cross,
If I could gain all Sussex soil, I’d count it but a loss,
If far away from hope and home for life I so must be,
Far from that Norman maiden who pledged her troth to me.”


God’s blessing on thee, Guilbert, a fair wind speed thee home!
Skim like a sea-mew, Norman bark, across the yeasty foam;
And when the news to England comes that Guilbert’s knell doth toll,
Each Saxon priest free mass shall sing for gentle Guilbert’s soul!

W. B. B. Stevens.