Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Uouen. Entering the long hall, he paced backwards and forwards, sometimes sitting down, and immediately rising again, shifting his seat and posture, and unable to remain in one place. No one dared to approach him; all his men looked on and wondered. At length one officer, who was more familiar with him than the rest, ventured to go up to him. "My lord," said he, "there is a report that the king of England is dead, and that Harold has broken his oath to you, and seized the throne. Is this news true?" "It is true," replied William; "and it is this that causes my chagrin." "Do not distress yourself about what cannot be amended," said the other. "For Edward's death there is no remedy; but for the wrong done you by Harold there is. You have right on your side, and brave knights to defend it. Make an attempt, then, upon England; a work well begun is half ended."'

William had taken his resolution; but, crafty and cautious as he was audacious, he first sent a friendly message to Harold. 'William, Duke of the Normans,' so ran the message, 'sends to remind thee of thy oath, sworn to him with thy hand and with thy mouth upon the holy relics of the saints.' 'I remember the oath well,' was Harold's reply; 'but I was under coercion when I took it. Besides, I promised what it is not in my power to perform. The country has made me king, and I cannot give up the kingdom against the country's will; neither can I, against the country's will, marry a foreign wife. As for my sister, whom the duke proposed to give in marriage to one of his nobles, would he have me send a corpse? She is dead.' This answer was reported to William; who, however, did not even yet lose his temper, but sent another message, couched in mild but reproachful terms, entreating Harold at least to fulfil part of his promise, by marrying his daughter Adela. To put an end to all further solicitation on this point, Harold married the sister of two great Saxon chiefs, Edwin and Morkar. Roused by this final insult, the Norman duke swore that, within a year, he would be revenged on the perjured Harold and those who supported him.

The beginning of the year 1066 was spent in preparations on both sides. The Norman duke received an accession to his cause in the person of Harold's own brother, Tostig, who, it will be remembered, had, about nine years before, left England, owing to fancied illtreatment at the hands of the late king and of his brother, and gone over to Flanders. No sooner had Harold ascended the throne, than Tostig presented himself to Duke William in Normandy, and offered to assist him in deposing his brother. William listened to his proposals, and gave him some vessels with which to make an attempt on some part of the English coast. Tostig, instead of proceeding immediately to England, bent his course to Denmark, where he endeavoured to engage Sweno, the Danish king, in the enterprise. Failing in this, he next addressed hirhself to Harold of Norway, the last of the renowned sea-kings of Scandinavia, and already famous for his exploits all over the north of Europe. 'The world knows,' said Tostig to him, 'that there is no warrior living like thee. Thou hast but to wish it, and England will be thine.' Harold was persuaded, and agreed to collect an armament, and invade England in the summer or the autumn. Thus were the English threatened with two simultaneous invasions—the invasion of William and his Normans from the south, and of the Norwegians under Harold and Tostig from the north.

Leaving Tostig and the Scandinavian Harold for a while, let us return to William and his Normans. Far and wide did he publish the perjury of Harold, enlisting the superstition of the times on his side. All Europe was intent on the impending struggle between the man who had broken his oath, sworn on the holy relics, and the man who had deceived his guest into taking the oath; and, strange as it may appear, the sympathy was on the side of the latter. At Rome, especially, the Norman interest prevailed. William accused Harold of sacrilege before the pontifical court, demanded that England should be laid under interdict so long as Harold reigned over it, and presented his own claims to the throne. The cause of the Norman found a willing advocate in Archdeacon Hildebrand, who saw in William a tool for the accomplishment in England of his own gigantic scheme of spiritual supremacy. Ardently and perseveringly, he endeavoured to bring the cardinals and leading clergy over to his views, and to persuade them to sanction a Norman invasion of England. For some time his representations were ineffectual. 'I almost earned,' he says, 'infamy from some of the brethren for my conduct; for they muttered that I was labouring in the cause of 'murder and bloodshed.' Before his indomitable energy, however, all opposition gave way; and a judicial sentence was at length pronounced by the pope himself, in terms of which 'William, Duke of Normandy, had permission granted him to enter England, to restore it to the sway of the Romish see, and to re-establish in it the tax of Peter's pence.' At the same time a papal bull was sent to William, declaring the excommunication of Harold and all who should adhere to him; and as a further evidence of the sacredness of William's cause in the eyes of the church, a consecrated banner was sent as a gift from the pope, along with a diamond ring, in which was enchased one of the hairs of the apostle Peter.

In the meantime, while waiting the blessing of the church, William had not been neglecting more substantial preparations. 'The duke,' says William of Malmesbury, 'spent the whole year in providing the necessaries of war; his own soldiers were armed and kept in discipline at great expense; foreign troops were invited into his service; his different squadrons and battalions were carefully formed and made up of the tallest and strongest men, whilst he took care that the chief captains and officers, besides having a perfect knowledge of the military art, should be men of mature experience: to have seen them either at the head of their soldiers or alone, you would have thought them kings, not captains.' It was not without some difficulty, however, that William persuaded his own subjects of Normandy to assist him in his project. 'Doubtless,' said the Norman citizens in the council which William summoned on purpose to ask their assistance in arms and money, 'Duke William is our liege lord. We are not bound, however, to pay him money to assist him in wars beyond the sea. His wars have already burdened us too much; and if he fails in this expedition, our country will be ruined.' The crafty duke knew how to overcome this opposition. 'He sent,' says Thierry, 'for those men separatelywho had opposed his wishes in the council, beginning with the most rich and influential, and begged that they would assist him purely as a personal favour. No one had courage, thus singly interrogated,, face to face with the duke, to utter a refusal. Whatever amount of money, arms, or provisions they promised, was immediately registered ; and in this manner the example of those who subscribed first determined the amount promised by those who came last. One subscribed for a ship, another for so many armed men, and some engaged their personal service. The clergy gave money; the merchants gave arms and stuffs; and the country people gave corn. Carpenters were soon employed in all the ports of Normandy building and refitting vessels; armourers and smiths in making lances, swords, and mail; and porters in carrying burdens backwards and forwards between the ships and the manufactories.'

The arrival from Rome of the papal bull, the consecrated banner, and the diamond ring, in which the hair of St Peter was enchased, increased the enthusiasm. From east and west, from north and south, from Anjou, Brittany, Flanders, France, and Burgundy, nay, even from the banks of the Rhine, adventurers flocked in to join the expedition, led partly by the hopes of salvation in joining an enterprise which the church had blessed, and partly by the hopes of plunder. To all these adventurers William made ample promises. To one he promised the governorship of a town when England should be conquered, to another so much land, to another a rich English wife. To one covetous adventurer, who assisted him with a ship and twenty men-at-arms, he gave an English bishopric in prospect.

At the middle of August 1066 all was ready; hundreds of vessels and transport-boats were collected at the mouth of the river Dives; and the army was encamped on the beach, waiting for a fair wind to embark. For a whole month the winds blew contrary. This' delay was trying to William, both on account of the expense which it caused, and of its discouraging effect on the minds of the soldiers. Never were his prudence and energy more conspicuous. 'The expenses of the knights,' says his contemporary biographer, William of Poitiers, 'foreign as well as Norman, were cheerfully paid; but

he would permit no one, however high his rank, to seize anything at his own hands. The flocks and herds fed in the fields as securely as if they had been shut up in some secret place. The crops ripened for the sickle of the labourer without being cut down by foraging parties, or trodden under foot by the haughty carelessness of the knights; and the weak and unarmed husbandman travelled wherever he chose, singing on his horse, and gazing without fear on the troops of warlike men who crossed his path.' At length a breeze from the south sprang up, and the fleet set sail. The ships had got no farther than the roadstead of St Valery, near Dieppe, when the wind again became adverse; and a storm arising, the fleet was tossed about, and several transports were wrecked. The troops were obliged to disembark, gloomy and dispirited. 'Heaven,' they said, looking at the bodies of their wrecked companions washed ashore by the tide, 'is against us; we have not fought a battle, and yet many of us have been slain. It is mad for any man to seek to possess himself of a kingdom which does not belong to him.' 'It was then,' says William of Poitiers, 'that the duke subdued adversity by prudence. Concealing as far as possible the death of those who had perished in the waves, he gave orders for the secret burial of their corpses, and in the meantime he comforted his men by an increase of rations.' Still he could not hide his anxiety. Many times in the day he repaired to the church of St Valery, the patron saint of that part of the coast. Here he would continue for a long time in prayer; and whenever he came out of the church, he would turn round and look up to the weathercock, to see if the wind had shifted. Still the winds were northerly. In despair, William 'caused the body of St Valery, the beloved of God, to be carried out of the church, followed in procession by all whose duty it was to assist in this act of Christian humility. At length the favourable wind so long wished for arose; every voice and every hand was raised in gratitude to Heaven, and all began to embark with the utmost haste. The duke, in his ardour and impatience, was not slow to reprimand those who shewed the slightest inclination to loiter.'

It was on the evening of the 27th of September that the fleet set sail. It consisted of four hundred large vessels, and more than a thousand transports, and contained in all about sixty thousand men. The duke's ship led the van, with sails of different colours, with the three Norman lions painted on them, and the pope's consecrated banner flying at the mast-head. As night came on, the ship's lanterns were hoisted as a signal to the rest of the fleet in what direction they were to steer. William's ship, however, being the best sailer, soon left the others far behind. All the night he paced the deck in anxiety. In the morning he sent a sailor to the topmast, to see if there were any signs of the approach of the other ships. 'I see nothing but sea and sky,' cried the man from aloft. Anchor was immediately cast; and, to conceal his uneasiness, William ordered a repast, with plenty of spiced wines, to be served to his men on the deck. A second time the sailor climbed to the topmast.

* I see four sails,' he said. A third time he mounted; and now the answer was : 'I see a forest of masts and sails.' Anchor was then .weighed, and the hostile fleet advanced to the shores of England.

Meanwhile Harold the Scandinavian had set sail from Norway with a fleet of two hundred vessels. Gloomy omens attended the .departure of the fleet from the Norway shore. It was observed that, when Harold stepped on board his vessel, the weight of his gigantic body made it sink deeper in the water than it had ever sunk before. The Norse soldiers, too, had fearful dreams, betokening the unfortunate issue of the enterprise they were about to engage in. 'Whilst the royal fleet was at anchor,' says the old Norse historian Snorro,

* one of the soldiers in the king's ship saw in a dream a gigantic female standing on a rock, holding a naked sword in her hand, and .counting the ships. A crowd of ravens and vultures alighted upon the masts and yards of all the vessels. "Go," said the figure to them; "you shall have plenty to eat, for I go with the ships!" Another soldier dreamed that "he saw a fleet, which he knew to be that of his master Harold. It steered for England, and disembarked its freight of warriors on a shore where there was already drawn up a hostile army, clothed in shining steel, and with flags waving. Suddenly a shape was seen advancing in front of the English army —a tall and terrible woman, riding on a wolf, holding in his jaws a human body, dripping with blood; and when he had devoured it, the woman gave him another."' The impression of these omens .was effaced as soon as the fleet set sail under the command of Harold and his son Olaf. Sailing southward, along the Scottish coast, where they were joined by Tostig the Saxon, who had for some time been cruising in these seas, the Norwegians landed at length at Scarborough, in Yorkshire, two or three weeks before William's fleet had sailed from Normandy. After attacking and plundering the town of Scarborough, they sailed up the Humber and the Ouse, with the intention of laying siege to York, the capital of Northumbria, the district of which Tostig had been governor. Edwin, Morkar, and Waltheof, the present chiefs of the district, tried to arrest their progress; but unable to do so, they threw themselves into York, resolved to defend it to the last. Elated with his success, Tostig assumed his old title of chief of Northumberland, and issued proclamations requiring the inhabitants to submit to his government.

Intelligence of these proceedings of the Norwegians in Yorkshire was carried to the English king, Harold, who was then on the southern coast, watching the expected appearance of the Norman fleet . As the northerly winds still continued to detain it in the French port, Harold at length resolved to march north and fight the Norwegians, hoping that he would be able to drive them away, and

« ForrigeFortsett »