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ward, two children, sons of poor Ironside ; but, being afraid to
do so in England, he sent them over to the king of Sweden,
with a request that the king would be so good as to " dispose
of them." If the king of Sweden had been like many, many
other men of that day, he would have had their innocent throats
cut ; but he was a kind man, and brought them up tenderly.

Normandy ran much in Canute's mind. In Normandy were
the two children of the late king. — Edward and Alfred by name-,
and their uncle, the duke, might one day claim the crown for
them. But the duke showed so little inclination to do so now,
that he proposed to Canute to marry his sister, the widow of
the Unready ; who, being but a showy flower, and caring for
nothing so much as becoming a queen again, left her children,
and was wedded to him.

Successful and triumphant, assisted by the valor of the Eng-
lish in his foreign wars, and with little strife to trouble him at
home, Canute had a prosperous reign, and made many improve-
ments, He was a poet and a musician. He grew sorry as he
grew older, for the blood he had shed at first ; and went to
Rome in a pilgrim's dress, by way of washing it out. He gave
a great deal of money to foreigners on his journey ; but he took
it from the English before he started. On the whole, however,
he certainly became a far better man when he had no opposi-
tion to contend with ; and was as great a king as England had
known for some time.

The old writers of history relate how that Canute was one



day disgusted with his courtiers for their flattery ; and how he
caused his chair to be set on the cea-shore, and feigned to com-
mand the tide C3 it came up not to wet the edge of his robe, for
the land was his : how the tide came up, of course, without re-
garding him ; and how he then turned to his flatterers, and re-
buked them, saying, what was the might of any earthly king
to the might of the Creator, who could say unto the sea, " Thus
far shalt thou go, and no fartlier ! " We may learn from this, I
think, that a little sense will go a long way in a king : and that
courtiers arc not easily cured of flattery, nor kings of a liking
for it. If the courtiers of Canute had not known, long before,
that the king was fond of flattery, they would have known bet-
ter than to offer it in such large doses. And if they had not
known that he was vain of this speech, (anything but a wonder
ful speech, it seems to me, if a good child had made it !), they
would not have been at such great pains to repeat it, I fancy
[ see them all on the sea-shore together ; the king's chair sink-
mg in the sand ; the king in a mighty good-humor with his own
wisdom 3 and the courtiers pretending to be quite stunned by it !
It is not the sea alone that is bidden to go "thus far, and
no farther," The great command goes forth to all the kmgs
upon the earth; and went to Canute in the year 1035, and
stretched him dead upon his bed. Beside it stood his Norman
wife. Perhaps, as the king looked his last upon her, he, who
had so often thought distrustfully of Normandy long ago,
thought once more of the two exiled princes in their uncle's
court, and of the little favor they could feel for either Danes or
Saxons ; and of a rising cloud in Normandy that slowly moved
towards England.



Canute left three sons, byname Sweyn, Harold, and Hardi-
Canute ; but his queen, Emma, once the Flower of Normandy^
was the mother of only Hardicanute. Canute had wished his
dominions to be divided between the three, and had wished
Harold to have England ; but the Saxon people in the south of


England, headed by a nobleman with great possessions, called
the powerful Earl Godwin (who is said to have been originally
a poor cow-boy), opposed this, and desired to liave, instead,
either Hardicanute, or one of the two exiled princes who were
over in Normandy. It seemed so certain that there would be
more blood shed to settle this dispute, that many people left
their homes, and took refuge in the woods and swamps. Hap-
pily, however, it was agreed to refer the whole question to a
great meeting at Oxford, which decided that Harold should
have all the country north of the Thames, with London for his
capital city, and that Hardicanute should have all the south.
The quarrel was so arranged ; and as Hardicanute was in Den-
mark, troubling himself very little about anything but eating,
and getting drunk, his mother and Earl Godwin governed the
south for him.

They had hardly begun to do so, and the trembling people
who had hidden themselves were scarcely at home again, when
Edward, the elder of the two exiled princes, came over from
Normandy with a few followers, to claim the English crown.
His mother Emma, however, who only cared for her last son
Hardicanute, instead of assisting him, as he expected, opposed
him so strongly with all her influence, that he was very soon
glad to get safely back. His brother Alfred was not so fortu-
nate. Believing in an affectionate letter, written some time
afterwards to him and his brother, in his mother's name (but
whether really with or without his mother's knowledge is now un-
certain), he allowed himself to be tempted over to England, with
a good force of soldiers ; and landing on the Kentish coast, and
being met and welcome by Earl Godwin, proceeded into Sur-
rey, as far as the town of Guildford. Here he and his men
halted in the evening to rest, having still the earl in the com-
pany ; who had ordered lodgings and good cheer for them.
But in the dead of the night, when they were off their guard,
being divided into small parties, sleeping soundly after a long
march and a plentiful supper, in different houses, they were set
upon by the king's troops, and taken prisoners. Next morning
they were drawn out in a line, to the number of six hundred
men, and were barbarously tortured and killed ; with the excep-
tion of every tenth man, who was sold into slavery. As to the
wretched Prince Alfred, he was stripped naked, tied to a horse,
and sent away into the Isle of Ely, where his eyes were torn
out of his head, and where in a few days he miserably died. I
am not sure that the earl had wilfully entrapped him, but I sus-
pect it strongly.


Harold was now king all over P^ngland ; though it is doubt-
ful whether the Archbishop of Canterbury (the greater part of
the priests were Saxons, and not friendly to the Danes) ever
consented to crown him. Crowned or uncrowned, with the
archbishop's leave or without it, he was king for four years ;
after which short reign he died, and was buried, having never
done much in life but go a-hunting. He was such a fast run-
ner at this, his favorite sport, that the people called him Harold

Hardicanute was then at Bruges, in Flanders, plotting with
his mother (who had gone over there after the cruel murder of
Prince Alfred) for the invasion of England. The Danes and
Saxons finding themselves without a king, and dreading new
disputes, made common cause, and joined in inviting him to
occupy the throne. He consented, and soon troubled them
enough ; for he brought over numbers of Danes, and taxed the
people so insupportably to enrich those greedy favorites, that
there were many insurrections, especially one at Worcester,
where the citizens rose, and killed his tax-collectors ; in revenge
for which he burned their city. He was a brutal king, whose
first public act was to order the dead body of poor Harold
Harefoot to be dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the river.
His end was worthy of such a beginning. He fell down drunk,
with a goblet of wine in his hand, at a wedding-feast at Lam-
beth, given in honor of the marriage of his standard-bearer, a
Dane named Tower the Proud. And he never spoke again.

Edward, afterwards called by the monks. The Confessor,
succeeded ; and his first act was to oblige his mother Emma,
who had favored him so little, to retire into the country, where
she died, some ten years afterwards. He was the exiled prince
whose brother Alfred had been so foully killed. He had been
invited over from Normandy by Hardicanute, in the course of
his short reign of two years, and had been han<^somely treated
at court, His cause was now favored by the powerful Eari
Godwin, and he was soon made king. This earl had been sus-
pected by the people, ever since Prince Alfred's cruel death :
he had even been tried in the last reign for the prince's murder,
^ut had been pronounced not guilty ; chiefly, as it was supposed,
^cause of a present he had made to the swinish king, of a
gilded ship with a figure-head of gold, and a crew of eightv
splendidly armed men. It was his interest to help the new king
with his power, if the new king would help him against the
popular distrust and hatred. So they made a bargain. Edward
the Confessor got the throne. The earl got more power and


more land, and his daughter Editha was made queen ; for it
was a part of their compact, that the king should take her for
his wife.

But although she was a gentle lady, in all things worthy to
be beloved, — good, beautiful, sensible, and kind, — the king
from the first neglected her. Her father and her six proud
brothers, resenting this cold treatment, harassed the king greatly
by exerting all their power to make him unpopular. Having
lived so long in Normandy, he preferred the Normans to the
English. He made a Norman archbishop, and Norman
bishops ; his great officers and favorites were all Normans ; he
introduced the Norman fashions and the Normdn language ; in
imitation of the state custom of Normandy, he attached a great
seal to his state documents, instead of merely marking them,
as the Saxon kings had done, with the sign of the cross, — just
as poor people who have never been taught to write now make
the same mark for their names. All this, the powerful Earll
Godwin and his six proud sons represented to the people as
disfavor shown towards the English ; and thus they daily in-
creased their own power, and daily diminished the power of the

They were greatly helped by an event that occurred when
he had reigned eight years. Eustace, Earl of Boulogne, who
had married the king's sister, came to England on a visit.
After staying at the court some time, he set forth, with his
numerous train of attendants, to return home. They were to
embark at Dover. Entering that peaceful town in armor, they
took possession of the best houses, and noisily demanded to be
lodged and entertained without payment. One of the bold
men of Dover, who would not endure to have these domineer-
ing strangers jingling their heavy swords and iron corselets up
and down his house, eating his meat and drinking his strong
liquor, stood in his doorway, and refused admission to the first
armed man who came there. The armed man drew and wounded
him. The man of Dover struck the armed man dead. Intelli-
gence of what he had done spreading through the streets to
where the Count Eustace and his men were standing by theii
horses, bridle in hand, they passionately mounted, galloped to
the house, surrounded it, forced their way in (the doors and
windows being closed when they came up) and killed the man
of Dover at his own fireside. They then clattered through the
streets, cutting down and riding over men, women, and chil-
dren. This did not last long, you may believe. 'J'Se men of
Dover set upon them with great fury, killed nineteen of the



foreigners, wounded many more, and, biockading the road to
the port, so that they should not embark, beat them out of
the town by the way they had come. Hereupon Count
Eustace rides as hard as man can ride to Gloucester, where
Edward is, surrounded by Norman monks and Norman lords.
"Justice! " cries the count, "upon the men of Dover, who
have set upon and slain my people! " The king sends imme-
diately for the powerful Earl Godwin, who happens to be
near; reminds him that Dover is under his government; and
orders him to repair to Dover, and do military execution on
the inhabitants. " It does not become you," says the proud
earl in reply, " to condemn without a hearing those whom
you have sworn to protect. I will not do it."

The king, therefore, summoned the earl, on pain of banish-
ment, and loss of his titles and property, to appear before the
court to answer this disobedience. The earl refused to appear.
He, his eldest son Harold, and his second son Sweyn hastily
raised as many fighting-men as their utmost power could col-
lect, and demanded to have Count Eustace and his followers
surrendered to the justice of the country. The king, in his
turn, refused to give them up, and raised a strong force.
After some treaty and delay, the troops of the great earl and
his sons began to fall off. The earl, with a part of his
family and abundance of treasure, sailed to Flanders ; Har-
old escaped to Ireland ; and the power of the great famil}^
was gone in England. But the people did not forget them.

Then Edward, the Confessor, with the true meanness of a
mean spirit, visited his dislike of the once powerful father
and sons upon the helpless daughter and sister, his unoffend-
ing wife, whom all who saw her (her husband and his monks
excepted) loved. He seized rapaciously upon her fortune
and her jewels; and, allowing her only one attendant, con-
fined her in a convent, of which a sister of his, no doubt an
unpleasant lady after his own heart, was abbess, or jailer.

Having got Earl Godwin and his six sons well out of his
way, the king favored the Normans more than ever. He in-
vited over William, Duke of Normandy, the son of that duke
who had received him and his murdered brother long ago, and
of a peasant girl, a tanner's daughter, with whom the duke had
fallen in love for her beauty, as he saw her washing clothes in a
brook. William, who was a great warrior, with a passion for
fine horses, dogs, and arms, accepted the invitation; and the
Normans in England, finding themselves more numerous than
ever when he arrived with his retinue, and held in still greater


ho»or at court than before, became more and more haughty to-
wards the people, and were more and more disUked by them.

The old Earl Godwin, though he was abroad, knew well
how the people felt ; for, with part of the treasure he had carried
away with him, he kept spies and agents in his pay all over
England. Accordingly, he thought the time was come for fit-
ting out a great expedition against the Norman-loving king.
With it he sailed to the Isle of Wight, where he was joined by
his son Harold, the most gallant and brave of all his family.
And so the father and son came sailing up the Thames to
Southwark ; great numbers of the people declaring for them,
and shouting for the English earl and the English Harold,
against the Norman favorites !

The king was at first as blind and stubborn as kings usu-
ally have been whensoever they have been in the hands of
monks. But the people rallied so thickly round the old earl
and his son, and the old earl was so steady in demanding, with^
out bloodshed, the restoration of himself and his family to their
rights, that at last the court took the alarm. The Norman
Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Norman Bishop of London,
surrounded by their retainers, fought their way out of London,
and escaped from Essex to France in a fishing-boat. The
Norman favorites dispersed in all directions. The old earl and
his sons (except Sweyn)j who had committed crimes against
the law, were P^^.'-Lred to their possessions and dignities.
Editha, the virtuouij and lovely queen of the insensible king,
was tn.imphantiy releasea from her prison, the convent, and
once more sat in her chair of state, arrayed in the jewels of
which, when she had no champion to support her rights, her
cold-blooded husband had deprived her.

The old Earl Godwin did not long enjoy his restored for
tune. He fell down in a fit at the king's table, and died upon
the third day afterwards. Harold succeeded to h4s power, and
to a far higher place in the attachment of the people, than his
father had ever held. By his valor he subdued the king's ene-
mies in many bloody fights. He was vigorous against rebels
in Scotland, — this was the time when Macbeth slew Duncan,
upon which event our English Shakespeare, hundreds of years
afterwards wrote his great tragedy ; and he killed the restless
Welsh King Griffith, and brought his head to England.

What Harold was doing at sea, when he was driven on the
French coast by a tempest, is not at all certain ; nor does it at
all matter. That his ship was forced by a storm on that shore,
and that he was taken prisoner, there is no doubt. In those



barbarous days, all shipwrecked strangers were taken prisoners,
and obliged to pay ransom. So a certain Count Guy, who was
the lord of Ponthieu, where Harold's disaster happened, seized
him, instead of relieving him like a hospitable and Christian
lord, as he ought to have done, and expected to make a very
good thing of it.

But Harold sent off immediately to Duke William of Nor-
mandy, complaining of this treatment ; and the duke no sooner
heard of it than he ordered Harold to be escorted to the an-
cient town of Rouen, where he then was, and where he received
him as an honored guests. Now some writers tell us that Ed-
ward the Confessor, who was by this time old and had no chil-
dren, had made a will, appointing Duke William of Normandy
his successor, and had informed the duke of his having done
so. There is no doubt that he was anxious about his succea
sor ; because he had even invited over from abroad, Edward
the Outlaw, a son of Ironside, who had come to England with
his wife and three children ; but whom the king had strangely
refused to see when he did come, and who had died in London
suddenly (princes were terribly liable to sudden death in those
days), and had been buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. Th^ king
might possibly have made such a will ; or, having always been
fond of the Normans, he might have encouraged Norman Wil-
liam to aspire to the English crown, by something that he said
to him when he was staying at the English court. But cer-
tainly William did now aspire to it ; and knowing that Harold
would be a powerful rival, he called together a great assembly
of his nobles, offered Harold his daughter Adele in marriage,
informed him that he meant, on King Edward's death, to claim
the English crown as his own inheritance, and required Harold
then and there to swear to aid him. Harold, being in the
duke's power, took this oath upon the missal, or prayer-book.
It is a good example of the superstitions of the monks, that this
missal, instead of being placed upon a table, was placed upon
a tub ; which, when Harold had sworn, was uncovered, and
shown to be full of dead men's bones, — bones, as — the monks
pretended, of saints. This was supposed to make Harold's
oath a great deal more impressive and binding. As if the great
name of the Creator of heaven and earth could be made more
solemn by a knuckle-bone, or a double-tooth, or a finger-nail of
Dunstan !

Within a week or two after Harold's return to England, the
dreary old Confessor was found to be dying. After wandering
in his mind like a very weak old man, he died. As he had put


himself entirely in the hands of the monks when he was alive,
they praised him lustily when he was dead. They had gone
so far already as to persuade him that he could work miracles ;
and had brought people afflicted with a bad disorder of the
skin to him, to be touched and cured. This was called " touch-
ing for the king's evil," which afterwards became a royal cus-
tom. You know, however, who really touched the sick, and
healed them ; and you know His sacred name is not among the
dusty line of human kings.




Harold was crowned king of England on the very day of
the maudlin Confessor's funeral. He had good need to be
quick about it. When the news reached Norman William,
hunting in his park at Rouen, he dropped his bow, returned to
his palace, called his nobles to council, and presently sent am-
bassadors to Harold, calling on him to keep his oath, and re-
sign the crown. Harold would do no such thing. The barons
of France leagued together round Duke William for the inva-
sion of England. Duke William promised freely to distribute
English wealth and English lands among them. The Pope
sent to Normandy a consecrated banner, and a ring containing
a hair which he warranted to have grown on the head of St.
Peter. He blessed the enterprise, and cursed Harold ; and
requested that the Normans would pay " Peter's Pence " — or a
tax to himself of a penny a year on every house — a little more
regularly in future, if they could make it convenient.

King Harold had a rebel brother in Flanders, who was a
vassal of Harold Hardrada, King of Norway. This brother,
and this Norwegian king, joining their forces against England,
with Duke William's help, won a fight in which the English
were commanded by two nobles, and then besieged York.
Harold, who was waiting for the Normans on the coast at
Hastings with his army, marched to Stamford Bridge upon the
River Derwent to give them instant battle.

He found them drawn up in a hollow circle, marked ou4.-


their shining spears. Riding round this circle at a distance, to
survey it, he saw a brave figure on horseback, in a bkie mantle
and a bright helmet, whose horse suddenly stumbled and threw

" Who is that man who has fallen ? " Harold asked of one
of his captains.

" The king of Norway," he replied.

" He is a tall and stately king," said Harold ; " but his end
is near."

He added, in a little while, " Go yonder to my brother, and
tell him, if he withdraws his troops, he shall be Earl of North
umberland, and rich and powerful in England."

The captain rode away, and gave the message.

" What will he give to my friend the king of Norway ? '
asked the brother.

" Seven feet of earth for a grave," replied the captain.

" No more ? " returned the brother, with a smile.

" The king of Norway being a tall man, perhaps a little
more," replied the captain.

" Ride back ! " said the brother, " and tell King Harold to
make ready for the fight."

He did so very soon. And such a fight King Harold led
against that force, that his brother, and the Norwegian king,
and every chief of note in all their host, except the Norwegian
king's son, Olave, to whom he gave honorable dismissal, were
left dead upon the field. The victorious army marched to
York. As King Harold sat there at the feast, in the midst of
all his company, a stir was heard at the doors ; and messengers
all covered with mire, from riding far and fast through broken
ground, came hurrying in to report that the Normans had
landed in England.

The intelligence was true. They had been tossed about by
contrary winds, and some of their ships had been wrecked. A
part of their own shore, to which they had been driven back,
was strewn with Norman bodies. But they had once more
made sail, led by the duke's own galley, a present from his
wife, upon the prow whereof the figure of a golden boy stood
pointing towards England. By day, the banner of the three
Lions of Normandy, the divers-colored sails, the gilded vanes,
the many decorations of this gorgeous ship, had glittered in the
sun and sunny water ; by night, a light had sparkled like a star
at her mast-head. And now, encamped near Hastings, with
their leader lying in the old Roman castle of Pevensey, the Eng-
lish retiring in all directions, the land for miles around scorched



and smoking, fired and pillaged, was the whole Norman power,
hopeful and strong on English ground.

Harold broke up the feast and hurried to London. Within
a week his army was ready. He sent out spies to ascertain the
Norman strength. William took them, caused them to be led
through his whole camp, and then dismissed.

" The Normans," said these spies to Harold, " are not
bearded on the upper lip, as we English are, but are shorn.
They are priests."

" My men," replied Harold, with a laugh, " will find those
priests good soldiers ! "

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 4 of 38)