Here is Vol. IV Part II of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History, a satirical series published in Punch magazine in 1842. Here, the fictional amateur historian Miss Tickletoby gives a unique, unintentionally hilarious and staunchly monarchist take on the years following the Norman Conquest of 1066, starring “Prince Shortlegs”…
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR – HAROLD – WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. Part 2
Harold being dead, His Majesty King William – of whom, as he now became our legitimate sovereign, it behoves every loyal heart to speak with respect – took possession of England, and, as is natural, gave all the good places at his disposal to his party. He turned out all the English noblemen from their castles, and put his Norman soldiers and knights into them. He and his people had it all their own way; and though the English frequently rebelled, yet the King managed to quell as such disturbances, and reigned over us for one-and-twenty years. He was a gallant soldier, truly – stern, wise, and prudent, as far as his own interests were concerned, and looked up to by all other Majesties as an illustrious monarch.
But great as he was in public, he was rather uncomfortable in his family, on account of a set of unruly sons whom he had – for their Royal Highnesses were always quarrelling together. It is related that one day, being at tea with her Majesty the Queen and the young Princes, at one of his castles in Normandy (for he used this country to rob it chiefly, and not to live in it), a quarrel ensued, which was certainly very disgraceful. Fancy, my darlings, three young Princes sitting at tea with their papa and mamma, and being so rude as to begin throwing water at one another! The two younger, H.R.H. Prince William and H.R.H. Prince Henry, actually flung the slop-basin, or some such thing, into the face of H.R.H. Prince Robert, the King’s eldest son.
His Royal Highness was in a furious rage, although his brothers declared that they were only in play; but he swore that they had insulted him, and that his papa and mamma favoured them and not him, and drawing his sword, vowed that he would have their lives. His Majesty with some difficulty got the young Princes out of the way; but nothing would appease Robert, who left the castle vowing vengeance.This passionate and self-willed young man was calling Courthose, which means in French short inexpressibles, and he was said to have worn shorts because his limbs were of that kind. Prince Shorts fled to a castle belonging to the King of France, who was quite jealous of Duke Robert, and was anxious to set his family be the ears; and the young Prince began forthwith robbing his father’s dominions, on which that monarch marched with an army to besiege him in his castle.
Here an incident befell which, while it shows that Prince Robert (for all the shortness of his legs) had a kind and brave heart, will at the same time point out to my beloved pupils the dangers – the awful dangers – of disobedience. Prince Robert and his knights sallied out one day against the besiegers, and engaged the horsemen of their party. Seeing a warrior on the other side doing a great deal of execution, Prince Robert galloped at him sword in hand, and engaged him. Their visors were down, and they banged away at each other, like – like good-uns [Hear, hear]. At last Prince Robert hit the other such a blow that he felled him from his horse, and the big man tumbling off cried, “Oh, murder!” or “Oh, I’m done for!” or something of the sort. Fancy the consternation of Prince Robert when he recognized the voice of his own father!
He flung himself off his saddle as quick as his little legs would let him, ran to his father, knelt down before him, besought him to forgive him, and begged him to take his horse and ride home. The King took the horse, but I’m sorry to say he only abused his son, and rode home as sulkily as possible. However, he soon came to be in a good humour, acknowledged that his son Prince Shortlegs was an honest fellow, and forgave him; and they fought some battles together, not against each other, but riding bravely side by side.
So, having prospered in all his undertakings, and being a great Prince and going to wage war against the French King, who had offended him, the famous King William I of England, having grown very fat in his old age, received a hurt while riding, which made him put a stop to his projects of massacring the Frenchmen, for he felt that his hour of death had come. As usual, after a life of violence, blood, and rapine, he began to repent on his death-bed, uttered some religious sentences which the chroniclers have recorded, and gave a great quantity of money which had been robbed from the people to the convents and priests.
The moment the breath was out of the great King’s body, all the courtiers ran off to their castles expecting a war. All the abbots went to their abbeys, where they shut themselves up. All the shopkeepers closed their stalls, looking out for riot and plunder; and the King’s body being left quite alone, the servants pillaged the house where he lay, leaving the corpse almost naked on the bed. And this was the way they served the greatest man in Christendom!
[Much sensation, in the midst of which the Lecturer retired].