Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

return in time to oppose the landing of his more formidable enemy the Normans. Accordingly, setting out with all haste, he reached York at the very moment when the inhabitants, despairing of relief, had agreed to surrender to the Norwegians. Depending on this agreement, the Norwegians had broken up their lines, and retired to their camp at some distance from York. What followed will be best told in the spirited narrative of Thierry. • The unexpected arrival of the Saxon king, who had marched by such a route as to avoid the enemy's outposts, at' once changed all these dispositions. The citizens resumed their arms, and the gates were shut and strictly guarded, so that no intelligence of what was passing could reach the Norwegian camp. On the following morning the sun broke out with that intense heat which sometimes distinguishes an autumnal day, and that division of the Norwegian army which left the camp on the Humber to accompany their king to York, believing that they had no enemy to deal with, put off their mail-shirts on account of the great heat, and marched with no other defensive arms than their helmets and bucklers. On coming within a short distance of the town, they perceived all at once a great cloud of dust, through ••which, as it approached, they could discern the quick glancing of steel against the rays of the sun. "Who are these men," said the king to Tostig, "who are meeting us?" "They can be no other," replied Tostig, " than Englishmen coming to implore our friendship." The mass, however, advanced, extending itself every moment, till it became a powerful army drawn up in order of battle. "The enemy! —the enemy!" cried the Norwegians; and three horsemen were instantly despatched to carry the news to the rest of the army in the camp and the fleet, and to hasten their arrival.' The Norwegian king then unfurled his standard called Landodan, or the Ravager of the World, and, according to the minute description of Snorro, 'drew up his men in a long line of no great depth, whose horns or extremities were bent back almost to touch each other; so that the array was in the form of a huge circle of equal depth, in which shield touched shield both in the first and second rank, whilst the king and his soldiers were within the circle, where also was fixed the standard. Earl Tostig occupied another position, surrounded by his own men, and having his own standard. The king had ordered this arrangement of the troops, because he knew it was the common custom for horsemen to attack in squadrons, and suddenly retreat; for which reason he commanded not only that his army should be drawn up in this manner, but also that a reinforcement of archers should be added where they were most needed. Those in the first line received orders to fix their lances in- the earth, in such a position that the points of them should be opposed to the breasts of the horsemen, while the second rank had orders to level the points of their lances against the breasts of the horses.' 'All of them, however,' says Thierry,' wanted the most important part of their armour. Harold, the son of Sigurd, as he rode along the ranks on his black horse, sang extempore verses, a fragment of which has been handed down by the historians of the north. "Let us fight," said he; "let us march without cuirasses against the keen edge of the blue steel: our helmets glitter in the sun; helmets are armour enough for the brave." Riding round the circle of his men, his horse stumbled, and threw him. "A fall," he said, rising, "is a good omen." Not so it appeared to his namesake the English Harold, who, observing him fall, asked of one near him who that tall man was who had just been thrown from the black horse. "That is Harold, king of Norway," said the other. "He is a noble-looking man," said the Saxon, " but fortune is about to desert him."

'Before the two armies met, twenty Saxon horsemen, clad both men and horse in steel, rode up to the Norwegian lines, and one of them cried out with a loud voice: "Where is Tostig, the son of Godwin?" "He is here," answered Tostig himself. "If thou art Tostig," replied the horseman, "thy brother tells thee, by my mouth, that he salutes thee, and offers thee peace, friendship, and restoration to all thy former honours." "These," said Tostig, "are fair terms, and very different from the affronts and injuries I have experienced at his hands. But if I accept the offers, what remains for the noble King Harold, the son of Sigurd, my faithful friend and ally?" "He shall have," cried the other, "seven feet of English ground, or perhaps a trifle more, for he is taller than most men." "Go back, then," said Tostig, "and bid my brother prepare for battle; it shall never be said, by any but a liar, that the son of Godwin betrayed the son of Sigurd."

'The battle began, and at the first onset the Norwegian king received an arrow in the throat, which killed him on the spot. Tostig immediately took the command of the troops, and his brother Harold a second time sent to offer him and his Norwegian allies life and pardon; but all exclaimed they would rather die than be under obligation to the Saxons. At this moment the men from the Norwegian fleet came up in full armour, but fatigued by their march under the burning sun. Although strong in numbers, they could not sustain the shock of the English, who had already broken the first line, and seized the royal standard. Tostig was slain, and along with him most of the Norwegian chiefs. For the third time Harold, offered peace to the vanquished: it was now accepted. Olaf, son of the slain monarch, along with the bishop and chief of the Orkneys, returned home with twenty-three ships, after having sworn friendship with England.'

Thus was the invasion of the Norwegians repelled. A more formidable enemy, however, was about to land on the English shore. The day of the battle between the two Harolds at York was the 25th of September 1066. Two days after, as we are already aware, the Norman fleet had set sail from the port of St Valery; and a few hours brought it in sight of England. Unfortunately, a fleet of English vessels, which Harold had stationed along the coast, had just gone into harbour for a supply of provisions; and on the 28th of September William was able, without any opposition, to effect a landing at Pevensey, near Hastings, in the county of Sussex. The landing is described very minutely in an old French romance, written on the subject of the Conquest. First landed the archers, 'each having his bow in his hand, with his quiver and arrows at his side, all of them clothed in short, close garments, and having their hair cropped and their beards shaven; all reached the shore in safety, and found no armed men to dispute their passage.' Next came the knights in full armour, with their shields at their necks and conical helmets of polished iron. Mounted on their war-horses, they leaped upon the sand, and all raised their lances, taking possession of the plain. After them came the carpenters, the smiths, and the other workmen attached to the army, who brought along with them, and unloaded from the boats, piece by piece, three wooden forts or castles, which had been made in Normandy. The duke himself came last. Leaping in full armour from the boat, his foot slipped and sank in the wet sand, and he fell his whole length on the beach, with his face downwards. A murmur arose among his men, and some of them cried out: 'A bad omen.'

'No ; by the splendour of God !' cried William, leaping to his feet; 'I have seized on the land with my two hands, and you shall see it will all be ours!'

On this one of the soldiers ran up to a little hamlet near, and fetching back two handfuls of earth, he knelt before the duke, and said: 'My lord, I here give you seisin of this land.'

'I accept it,' said William; 'and may God keep it mine!'

A temporary camp was then erected, and fortified in case of attack, and the Normans sat down to dinner. Next morning part of the army advanced upon Hastings, where another camp was made and fortified; and the rest of the day was spent in exploring the country round about. Wherever the Normans advanced, the inhabitants, concealing their furniture and other valuables, fled to the churches and churchyards, where they imagined they would be most safe.

Harold was lying at York, wounded, when he received intelligence that the Normans had landed. 'Better,' he cried, when he heard the news,' have given my brother Tostig all he asked, than have been away from the coast when William reached it. Had I been there, they should have been driven into the sea. But God's will be done!'

Marching southward like a madman, he collected soldiers as he went, and left orders that those who could not be instantly assembled should follow him. In four days he would have been at the head of a hundred thousand men; but hoping to come upon the Normans by surprise, and defeat them, as he had defeated the Norwegians at York, so rapid were his movements that, when he was within seven miles of the enemy's camp at Hastings, his army did not amount to more than a fourth part of William's. Finding now that the Normans were on their guard, he was obliged to halt and intrench himself. He sent spies who could speak French into the enemy's camp, to observe their movements. Astonished at the cropped hair and shaven chins of the archers, these men returned and told Harold that there were more priests in the Norman army than fighting-men. 'No,' said Harold; 'they are not priests, and we shall soon see how they can fight.'

Harold was advised by some of the Saxon chiefs to retire towards London, so as to be joined by the reinforcements which were then assembling, laying the country waste as he marched. This, however, he refused to do. His two brothers, Gurth and Leofwin, then proposed that he should himself proceed northward, and place himself at the head of the army, which was fast recruiting in the northern counties, leaving them to fight the Normans at Hastings. This advice was dictated partly by military prudence, partly by the superstitious fear that Harold's presence in the battle, guilty as he was of a broken oath, might prove inauspicious. Harold, however, withstood all these solicitations.

William, on the other hand, although stronger than his enemy, did not hesitate to have recourse to treaty before risking a battle. He sent a priest, Hugh de Maigrot, to the Anglo-Saxon camp to propose to Harold one of three things—to surrender the kingdom; refer the question of disputed sovereignty to the pope; or decide it by single combat with the duke.

'I will not surrender the kingdom,'was Harold's reply; 'and I will not refer the question to the pope; and I will not accept of the duke's offer of single combat.'

A second time Maigrot entered the Anglo-Saxon camp with an offer from Duke William. 'The duke,' he said, 'offers to Harold, if he will keep his compact, all the country north of the Humber; and to his brother Gurth all the land which belonged to the Earl Godwin.* This offer was likewise refused. 'Then hear, Harold,' cried Maigrot in a loud and solemn voice, 'my master's last message to thee. He bids me tell thee that thou art a perjured man and a liar; that thou and all who adhere to thee are excommunicated by the pope; and that the pope's bull is in his hands.'

This last message, especially the mention of the pope's excommunication, produced considerable excitement in the Anglo-Saxon army. At length one of the chiefs roused their courage by bidding them reflect that the struggle they were at present engaged in was not a mere struggle which of two persons should be king; it was a struggle whether Anglo-Saxons or Normans should be masters of England. 'Duke William,' he said, 'has already promised our lands, our goods, our wives, our daughters, to his Norman soldiers; and if we once admit him, he must keep his promise. Nothing therefore remains for us but to fight to the last.' The truth of this statement was too evident to all; and a universal oath was sworn to make no peace with the invaders.

The time had now arrived for a mortal struggle between Harold of England and William of Normandy for the sovereignty of the country. William had landed on the shore of Sussex, near Hastings, and here he took his stand, in front of the defences hastily set up by the Anglo-Saxons. 'On the night of the 13th of October (1066),' says Thierry, 'William announced to his army that the battle would, take place next day. The priests and monks, who, in the hopes of booty, had followed the army in great numbers, met together to offer up prayers and sing litanies, while the soldiers were preparing their arms and attending to their horses. What little time remained to the soldiers after these duties, was employed in confessing their sins and receiving the sacrament. In the other army the night was spent in a very different manner: the Anglo-Saxons gathered in revel round their camp-fires, singing their old national songs, and quaffing horns of beer and wine.

'At daybreak, the Bishop of Bayeux, William's half-brother, wearing a steel hauberk under his priestly habit, celebrated mass in the Norman camp, and blessed the soldiers ; then mounting a superb white horse, and taking a baton in his hand, he drew up his squadron of cavalry. The army was divided into three columns. In the first were the soldiers from the counties of Boulogne and Ponthieu, along with the greater part of those who had engaged their services for pay; the second consisted of the allies from Brittany, Maine, and Poitou; William in person commanded the third, composed of the Norman chivalry. In front, and on the flanks of each column, were drawn up several lines of light infantry, wearing quilted cassocks, and carrying either long-bows or cross-bows of steel. The duke rode on a Spanish charger, which had been presented to him by a rich Norman, who had returned from a pilgrimage to Saint Jago de Compostella, in Galicia. Round his neck he wore suspended the most holy of the relics on which Harold had sworn, and at his side a young Norman, called Toustain-le-Blanc, carried the standard which the pope had consecrated. At the moment when the troops were about to advance, William raised his voice, and thus addressed them: "See that you fight well, and put all to death; if we win, we shall all make our fortunes. What I gain, you shall gain too; what I conquer, you shall conquer; if this land becomes mine, it shall also be yours. You know, however, that I have come here not only to claim my right, but to avenge our nation on these English for their felonies, perjuries, and treasons. They murdered the Danes, men and women, on St Brice's night; they decimated the companions of my kinsman Alfred, and put him to death. Come on, then; and let us, with the help of God, punish them for these misdeeds."

'The army moved forward, and soon came in sight of the Saxon

« ForrigeFortsett »