Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

the English nation. Stigand, the Saxon Bishop of East Anglia, was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and the other places vacated by the Normans were in like manner given to Anglo-Saxons.

Thus was England for a time cleared of the Normans. The expelled Normans, however, especially the expelled Norman clergy, were dangerous enemies. Robert, the ex-archbishop of Canterbury, immediately bent his steps towards Rome, then the centre of the intrigues of all the nations of Christendom. Here he laid his complaint before the pope and the cardinals, demanding a sentence against the Anglo-Saxon Stigand, who had been intruded into his archbishopric. The papal court was at that time very willing to receive a complaint against the English, who, since the death of Hardicanute, had neglected to pay the tax of Peter's pence, imposed by Canute in token of his reverence for the Romish Church. Rome, therefore, at this time received no money from England except what was offered in private donations. The Norman priest's complaint was accordingly listened to with attention; and the College of Cardinals having decided that Stigand was guilty of a crime in retaining the pallium which Robert had left in his flight, letters were granted to Robert by Pope Stephen X. declaring him to be the true and lawful Archbishop of Canterbury. Stephen's successor, the antipope Benedict X., during his short papacy, seemed disposed to favour the Anglo-Saxons; but Norman influence again prevailed under the papacy of Nicholas II., which commenced in 1059. The man who appears to have been most efficient in stirring up the wrath of the papal court against the English was Lanfranc, a monk of Lombard origin, celebrated for his learning and abilities, who was then at Rome on a mission from Normandy connected with the marriage of the Norman duke with his cousin Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders. Lanfranc seems to have suggested to the pope and the heads of the Romish clergy the idea of regaining their ancient footing in England by means of the Normans, whose duke might one day, he said, sit upon the Anglo-Saxon throne. There was one man then connected with the papacy on whose mind this idea of Lanfranc's was likely to fall like seed upon prepared ground: this was Hildebrand, the monk of Cluny, afterwards Pope Gregory VII., and even now the true ruling mind in the Romish Church. The great idea of Hildebrand's soul was the aggrandisement of the spiritual power in all the nations of Europe; and in the proposal of an alliance between the pope and the Norman duke against England, he saw the means of once more subjugating that refractory island under the ecclesiastical power of Rome. Accordingly, he used all his influence to weaken the English interest at the papal court, and to dispose the pope and his cardinals to sanction the claim which it was understood the Norman duke made, of being the rightful successor to the English king Edward.

In the meantime events in England were hastening towards the catastrophe. In 1053, shortly after the expulsion of the Normans, the great Earl Godwin died. The manner of his death was somewhat remarkable, if we may believe the tradition handed down by several of the old historians, but contradicted by others. We havealready mentioned that Godwin was accused by his enemies, the Normans, of being implicated in the death of Alfred, the brother of Edward, who made an expedition into England for the purpose of claiming the throne while it was disputed by the two sons of Canute. The story accordingly is, that one day, when Godwin was dining with the king, one of the attendants, while in the act of filling a cup with wine, slipped with one leg, but saved himself from falling by the other. 'Ah,' said Godwin to the king, laughing, 'there the one brother came to the help of the other.'

'Doubtless,' replied Edward, glancing significantly at the Saxon earl, 'one brother needs the help of another; and would to God that my brother were still alive!'

'King,' said Godwin, perceiving the meaning of Edward's allusion, 'why is it that the slightest mention of your brother makes you look with an evil eye upon me? If I had any concern in his death, may the God of heaven cause me to choke on this piece of bread!' He put the bread into his mouth, instantly grew black in the face, and fell from his seat a corpse. So at least say the Norman chroniclers; the Saxons give a less romantic account of the death of their beloved chief, and one more likely to be true.

After Godwin's death, his sons, especially Harold the eldest, and Tostig the third, inherited his power. Harold was appointed governor of the country south of the Thames, while to Tostig was assigned the government of Northumbria. Tostig, however, being of a proud and tyrannical disposition, soon came to a rupture with his Northumbrian subjects, who were for the most part of Danish descent; and as their differences could not be satisfactorily adjusted, he quitted the country, and went over to Flanders, enraged both against the king and his brother Harold, who, he conceived, had not taken his part with sufficient earnestness. Harold, meanwhile, grew in popularity. Equally trusted by the king, and beloved by the nation, he perpetuated the glory of the great earl his father, and was universally acknowledged as the first man in the kingdom. In the spirit of his father, he resolutely resisted the readmission of the Normans into England, as fraught with danger to the independence of the country.

It will be remembered that, on the occasion of the reconciliation of the Earl Godwin and the king, they delivered hostages to each other, as guarantees of their renewed friendship. The hostages given by Godwin to Edward were his youngest son, Ulfnoth, and a son of his second son Sweyn. These had been sent, in 1053, to the court of William of Normandy, where they still remained in a sort of captivity. Harold, becoming anxious for the return of his -brother and his nephew to their native land, begged leave from' Edward, in the autumn of 1065, to pay a visit to Normandy, that he might bring them back. Edward was perfectly willing to release the hostages, but he was alarmed at the thought of Harold putting himself in the power of the Norman duke. 'I know Duke William,' he said, 'and his crafty spirit. He will grant thee nothing, unless he can secure some advantage thereby to himself. Stay thou at home, and let another person go instead.'

Harold, however, boldly embarked for Normandy. Unfortunately the vessels were wrecked on that part of the coast which belonged to the Count of Ponthieu, and Harold and his companions were made prisoners by the count. In this dilemma the Norman Dukeinterfered in a handsome manner, and ransomed his intended visitor, thus laying him beforehand under an obligation of gratitude. Harold and his suite thus released, were received by William with the most studied attention and kindness; the hostages wereliberated at once at Harold's request; and at William's earnest solicitation, the Saxons prolonged their visit, not only engaging in friendly jousts and pleasure-parties with the Normans, but even rendering them assistance in a military excursion against the inhabitants of Brittany, between whom and the Normans there had been a feud ever since the time that Charles the Simple made over Brittany as a fief to Duke Rollo. Harold and William became bosom-companions ; they shared the same tent, they ate at the same table,, and when they rode out, in the words of an old chronicler, 'tales together they told, ilk on a good palfrey.' 'One day,' says Thierry, 'William turned the conversation on his early intimacy with King Edward. "When Edward and I," said the duke, "lived like twin-brothers in the same tent, he made me a promise that, if ever he became king of England, he would nominate me his successor to the crown. Harold," he continued, "I should like well that you would give me your assistance to make this promise good; and be sure that, if by your help I obtain the kingdom, I will grant you all you choose to ask." Harold was completely taken by surprise at this sudden disclosure; but he could not avoid using some vague expressions of assent. William then proceeded— "Since my friend consents to assist me, I shall take the liberty of telling him what I would like him to do. The castle of Dover must be fortified, a well of water must be sunk in it, and it must be given up to my soldiers; moreover, to strengthen the ties between us, you must give me your sister, that I may marry her to one of my chiefs, and you yourself must marry my daughter Adela. I expect also that when you go away, you will leave behind you one of the hostages you came to reclaim; I shall bring him to England with me when I come to claim the crown." At these words, Harold perceived all the danger into which he had brought not only himself, but also his young relations. To relieve himself from his

'embarrassment, he gave a verbal consent to all that the duke required, intending afterwards to escape from his promise.'

Nothing more was said on the fatal subject for some time; and 'Harold was flattering himself that no serious consequences would arise from his unfortunate agreement with William, when the duke summoned a great council of his barons to meet at Avranches, or, ^according to another account, at Bayeux. 'The day preceding that fixed for the assembly, William had caused all the bones and relics of saints that were preserved in the convents and religious houses •of the country round about to be secretly collected, and put into a large chest or hamper, which was placed in the middle of the hall where the council was to sit, and carefully covered with a cloth of gold. When the duke had taken his seat in the chair of state, holding in his hand a drawn sword, ornamented with a chaplet of flowers of gold, and having around him his Norman barons, with the Saxon chief among them, he commanded a missal to be brought and placed upon the chest which contained the relics. Then addressing Harold, he said in a loud voice: "Harold, I here require thee, in presence of this noble assembly, to confirm by oath the promises thou hast already made to me in private; namely, that thou wilt assist me to obtain the crown of England after Edward's death, that thou wilt marry my daughter Adela, and that thou wilt send thy sister into Normandy, that I may give her in marriage to one of my barons." The English chief, again taken by surprise, did not dare to deny his promise; and approaching the missal with a troubled air, laid his hand upon its leaves, and swore to be true to his engagements with the duke, if he lived, and if God granted him assistance. "God be thy assistance!" said the whole assembly at once; and while Harold still stood, at a signal from the duke, the missal and the cloth of gold were removed, and the dry bones and skeletons which filled the chest to the brim were exposed to view, and the son of Godwin became aware that he had been betrayed into taking an oath of tremendous sanctity. When his eyes lighted on the heap of relics, say the Norman historians, he shuddered, and started back with a changed countenance.' After thus obtaining his object, William did not seek longer to detain his guest, who departed for England, taking his nephew with him, but leaving his brother behind, as a hostage in William's keeping for the faithful fulfilment of his promise. William accompanied him to the seashore, and took an affectionate leave of him.

'Ah,' said King Edward when Harold returned, and told him all that had occurred, ' I forewarned you of what William would do; I know him too well. Heaven grant that I may not live to see the misfortunes which are about to fall on this country!' It would seem, from Edward's demeanour, that he was conscious of having made some such promise as that alluded to by William during his exile in Normandy.

DEATH OF EDWARD—INVASION OF ENGLAND—BATTLE OF HASTINGS.

Edward did not long survive the return of Harold from Normandy. Naturally of a weak and melancholy temperament, his last days were spent in gloomy forebodings and superstitious observances. His subjects likewise shared his anxiety, and began to remember old prophecies, in which terrible misfortunes were predicted to the Saxon nation. The feeling of sanctity attached to the oath which Harold had sworn—an oath which, according to the ideas of the time, was not the less binding that it had been imposed by deceit— had much to do with this national melancholy. Unless that oath were broken, the Norman duke would almost certainly be king of England. But if that oath were broken, would not Heaven punish the impiety? Such was the universal feeling of the English people, when the death of the king, on the 5th of January 1066, obliged them to come to a practical decision. On his deathbed the king was haunted with frightful visions; and, to the horror of his attendants, he would, in his paroxysms, repeat such passages of Scripture as the following: 'The Lord hath bent his bow; he hath prepared his sword; he waveth and brandisheth it like a warrior; he will shew his wrath by fire and sword.' In vain did Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, assure them that these were but the raving fancies of a dying man; they received them as the divine announcements of coming disaster.

Before his death, Edward did one courageous act—he nominated Harold as his successor. Accordingly, on the day after Edward's funeral, Harold was elected king of England, and anointed by Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury. There was only one person alive who could have disputed the throne with Harold—Edgar, the grandson of Edmund Ironside, and grand-nephew of Edward; but Edgar, though English by descent, was a foreigner by birth, and possessed no qualifications which could entitle him to be the rival of Harold. Harold therefore ascended the throne without opposition, and signalised the commencement of his reign by various vigorous and decisive measures, calculated to secure the independence of his country against Norman intrigue. The beginning of his reign, however, was marked by the portentous appearance of a comet, which was visible for a month, and was gazed at by crowds as the harbinger of war and misfortune.

Meanwhile the news of Edward's death had reached the Norman duke. 'At the moment when he received the intelligence,' says Thierry, 'he was in his park, near Rouen, with a new bow and arrows in his hand, trying them. On receiving the news, he became thoughtful, gave the bow and arrows mechanically into the hands of one of his men, and passing the Seine, repaired to his palace at

« ForrigeFortsett »