Edward Augustus Freeman.

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election or immediately before the battle. The last
challenge to a single combat between Harold and William
of course appears only on the eve of the battle. Now
none of these accounts come from contemporary partisans


of Harold ; every one is touched by hostile feeling
towards him. Thus the constitutional language that is
put into his mouth, almost startling from its modern
sound, has greater value. A King of the English can do
nothing without the consent of his Witan. They gave
him the kingdom ; without their consent, he cannot resign
it or dismember it or agree to hold it of any man ; with-
out their consent, he cannot even marry a foreign wife.
Or he answers that the daughter of William whom he
promised to marry is dead, and that the sister whom he
promised to give to a Norman is dead also. Harold
does not deny the fact of his oath whatever its nature ;
he justifies its breach because it was taken against
his will, and because it was in itself of no strength,
as binding him to do impossible things. He does
not deny Edward's earlier promise to William ; but, as a
testament is of no force while the testator liveth, he
argues that it is cancelled by Edward's later nomination
of himself. In truth there is hardly any difference
between the disputants as to matters of fact One side
admits at least a plighting of homage on the part of
Harold ; the other side admits Harold's nomination and
election. The real difference is as to the legal effect of
either. Herein comes William's policy. The question
was one of English law and of nothing else, a matter for
the Witan of England and for no other judges. William,
by ingeniously mixing all kinds of irrelevant issues, con-
trived to remove the dispute from the region of municipal
into that of international law, a law whose chief repre-
sentative was the Bishop of Rome. By winning the
Pope to his side, William could give his aggression the
air of a religious war ; but in so doing, he unwittingly


undermined the throne that he was seeking and the
thrones of all other princes.

The answers which Harold either made, or which
writers of his time thought that he ought to have made,
are of the greatest moment in our constitutional history.
The King is the doer of everything; but he can do
nothing of moment without the consent of his Witan.
They can say Yea or Nay to every proposal of the King.
An energetic and popular king would get no answer
but Yea to whatever he chose to ask A king who often
got the answer of Nay, Nay, was in great danger of losing
his kingdom. The statesmanship of William knew how
to turn this constitutional system, without making any
change in the letter, into a despotism like that of Con-
stantinople or Cordova, But the letter lived, to come
to light again on occasion. The Ee volution of 1399
was a falling back on the doctrines of 1066, and the
Revolution of 1688 was a falling back on the doc-
trines of 1399. The principle at all three periods is
that the power of the King is strictly limited by law,
but that, within the limits which the law sets to his
power, he acts according to his own discretion. King
and Witan stand out as distinct powers, each of which
needs the assent of the other to its acts, and which may
always refuse that assent. The political work of the
last two hundred years has been to hinder these direct
collisions between King and Parliament ~by the ingeni-
ous conventional device of a body of men who shall be
in name the ministers of the Crown, but in truth the
ministers of one House of Parliament. We do not
understand our own political history, still less can we
understand the position and the statesmanship of the


Conqueror, unless we fully take in what the English
constitution in the eleventh century really was, how
very modern-sounding are some of its doctrines, some of
its forms. Statesmen of our own day might do well to
study the meagre records of the Gemdt of 1047. There
is the earliest recorded instance of a debate on a ques-
tion of foreign policy. Earl Godwine proposes to give
help to Denmark, then at war with Norway. He is
outvoted on the motion of Earl Leofric, the man of
moderate politics, who appears as leader of the party of
non-intervention. It may be that in some things we
have not always advanced in the space of eight hundred

The negotiations of William with his own subjects,
with foreign powers, and with the Pope, are hard to
arrange in order. Several negotiations were doubtless
going on at the same time. The embassy to Harold
would of course come first of all. Till his demand had
been made and refused, William could make no appeal
elsewhere. We know not whether the embassy was sent
before or after Harold's journey to Northumberland,
before or after his marriage with Ealdgyth. If Harold
was already married, the demand that he should marry
William's daughter could have been meant only in
mockery. Indeed, the whole embassy was so far meant
in mockery that it was sent without any expecta-
tion that its demands would be listened to. It was
sent to put Harold, from William's point of view, more
thoroughly in the wrong, and to strengthen William's
case against him. It would therefore be sent at the
first moment ; the only statement, from a very poor au-


thority certainly, makes the embassy come on the tenth
day after Edward's death. Next after the embassy
would come William's appeal to his own subjects, though
Lanf ranc might well be pleading at Eome while William
was pleading at Lillebonne. The Duke first consulted a
select company, who promised their own services, but
declined to pledge any one else. It was held that no
Norman was bound to follow the Duke in an attempt to
win for himself a crown beyond the sea. But voluntary
help was soon ready. A meeting of the whole baronage
of Normandy was held at Lillebonne. The assembly
declined any obligation which could be turned into a
precedent, and passed no general vote at all. But the
barons were won over one by one, and each promised
help in men and ships according to his means.

William had thus, with some difficulty, gained the
support of his own subjects; but when he had once
gained it, it was a zealous support. And as the flame
spread from one part of Europe to another, the zeal of
Normandy would wax keener and keener. The dealings
of William with foreign powers are told us in a con-
fused, piecemeal, and sometimes contradictory way.
We hear that embassies went to the young King
Henry of Germany, son of the great Emperor, the friend
of England, and also to Swegen of Denmark. The Nor-
man story runs that both princes promised William their
active support. Yet Swegen, the near kinsman of Harold,
was a friend of England, and the same writer who puts
this promise into his mouth makes him send troops to help
his English cousin. Young Henry or his advisers could
have no motive for helping William ; but subjects of the
Empire were at least not hindered from joining his banner.


To the French king William perhaps offered the bait of
holding the crown of England of him ; but Philip is
said to have discouraged' William's enterprise as much
as he could. Still he did not hinder French subjects from
taking a part in it. Of the princes who held of the French
crown, Eustace of Boulogne, who joined the muster in
person, and Guy of Ponthieu, William's own vassal, who
sent his son, seem to have been the only ones who did
more than allow the levying of volunteers in their
dominions. A strange tale is told that Conan of Brit-
anny took this moment for bringing up his own for-
gotten pretensions to the Norman duchy. If William
was going to win England, let him give up Normandy
to him. He presently, the tale goes, died of a strange
form of poisoning, in which it is implied that William
had a hand. This is the story of Walter and Biota over
again. It is perhaps enough to say that the Breton
writers know nothing of the tale.

But the great negotiation of all was with the Papal
court. We might have thought that the envoy would
be Lanfranc, so well skilled in Eoman ways; but
William perhaps needed him as a constant adviser by
his own person. Gilbert, Archdeacon of Lisieux, was
sent to Pope Alexander. No application could better
suit papal interests than the one that was now made ;
but there were some moral difficulties. Not a few of
the cardinals, Hildebrand tells us himself, argued,
not without strong language towards Hildebrand, that
the Church had nothing to do with such matters, and
that it was sinful to encourage a claim which could
not be enforced without bloodshed. But with many,
with Hildebrand among them, the notion of the Church


as a party or a power came before all thoughts of its
higher duties. One side was carefully heard ; the other
seems not to have been heard at all. We hear of no
summons to Harold, and the King of the English could
not have pleaded at the Pope's bar without acknow-
ledging that his case was at least doubtful. The judge-
ment of Alexander or of Hildebrand was given for
William. Harold was declared to be an usurper, per-
haps declared excommunicated. The right to the English
crown was declared to be in the Duke of the Normans,
and William was solemnly blessed in the enterprise in
which he was at once to win his own rights, to chastise
the wrong -doer, to reform the spiritual state of the
misguided islanders, to teach them fuller obedience to
the Eoman See and more regular payment of its tem-
poral dues. William gained his immediate point ; but
his successors on the English throne paid the penalty.
Hildebrand gained his point for ever, or for as long a
time as men might be willing to accept the Bishop of
Eome as a judge in any matters. The precedent by
which Hildebrand, under another name, took on him to
dispose of a higher crown that that of England was
now fully established.

As an outward sign of papal favour, William received
a consecrated banner and a ring containing a hair of
Saint Peter. Here was something for men to fight for.
The war was now a holy one. All who were ready to
promote their souls' health by slaughter and plunder
might flock to William's standard, to the standard of
Saint Peter. Men came from most French-speaking
lands, the Normans of Apulia and Sicily being of course
not slow to take up the quarrel of their kinsfolk. But,


next to his own Normandy, the lands which sent most
help were Flanders, the land of Matilda, and Britanny,
where the name of the Saxon might still be hateful.
We must never forget that the host of William, the men
who won England, the men who settled in England, were
not an exclusively Norman body. Not Norman, but
French, is the name most commonly opposed to English,
as the name of the conquering people. Each Norman
severally would have scorned that name for himself
personally ; but it was the only name that could mark
the whole of which he and his countrymen formed a
part. Yet, if the Normans were but a part, they were
the greatest and the noblest part ; their presence alone
redeemed the enterprise from being a simple enterprise
of brigandage. The Norman Conquest was after all a
Norman Conquest; men of other lands were merely
helpers. So far as it was not Norman, it was Italian ;
the subtle wit of Lombard Lanfranc and Tuscan
Hildebrand did as much to overthrow us as the lance
and bow of Normandy.




THE statesmanship of William had triumphed. The
people of England had chosen their king, and a large
part of the world had been won over by the arts of a
foreign prince to believe that it was a righteous and
holy work to set him on the throne to which the Eng-
lish people had chosen the foremost man among them-
selves. No diplomatic success was ever more thorough.
Unluckily we know nothing of the state of feeling in
England while William was plotting and pleading
beyond the sea. Nor do we know how much men in
England knew of what was going on in other lands, or
what they thought when they heard of it. We know
only that, after Harold had won over Northumberland,
he came back and held the Easter Gemot at West-
minster. Then in the words of the Chronicler, "it
was known to him that William Bastard, King Ed-
ward's kinsman, would come hither and win this land."
This is all that our own writers tell us about William
Bastard, between his peaceful visit to England in 1052
and his warlike visit in 1066. But we know that King
Harold did all that man could do to defeat his purposes,


and that he was therein loyally supported by the great mass
of the English nation, we may safely say by all, save his
two brothers-in-law and so many as they could influence.

William's doings we know more fully. The military
events of this wonderful year there is no need to tell
in detail. But we see that William's generalship was
equal to his statesmanship, and that it was met by equal
generalship on the side of Harold. Moreover, the luck
of William is as clear as either his statesmanship or his
generalship. When Harold was crowned on the day of
the Epiphany, he must have felt sure that he would
have to withstand an invasion of England before the
year was out. But it could not have come into the
mind of Harold, William, or Lanfranc, or any other
man, that he would have to withstand two invasions of
England at the same moment.

It was the invasion of Harold of Norway, at the
same time as the invasion of William, which decided
the fate of England. The issue of the struggle might
have gone against England, had she had to strive against
one enemy only ; as it was, it was the attack made by
two enemies at once which divided her strength, and
enabled the Normans to land without resistance. The
two invasions came as nearly as possible at the same
moment. Harold Hardrada can hardly have reached
the Yorkshire coast before September ; the battle of Ful-
forcl was fought on September 20th and that of Stam-
fordbridge on September 25th. William landed on
September 28th, and the battle of Senlac was fought on
October 1 4th. Moreover William's fleet was ready by
August 12th; his delay in crossing was owing to his
waiting for a favourable wind. When William landed,


the event of the struggle in the North could not have
been known in Sussex. He might have had to strive,
not with Harold of England, but with Harold of Nor-
way as his conqueror.

At what time of the year Harold Hardrada first
planned his invasion of England is quite uncertain. We
can say nothing of his doings till he is actually afloat.
And with the three mighty forms of William and the
two Harolds on the scene, there is something at once
grotesque and perplexing in the way in which an English
traitor flits about among them. The banished Tostig,
deprived of his earldom in the autumn of 1065, had then
taken refuge in Flanders. He now plays a busy part,
the details of which are lost in contradictory accounts.
But it is certain that in May 1066 he made an ineffectual
attack on England. And this attack was most likely
made with the connivance of William. It suited William
to use Tostig as an instrument, and to encourage so rest-
less a spirit in annoying the common enemy. It is also
certain that Tostig was with the Norwegian fleet in Sep-
tember, and that he died at Stamfordbridge. We know
also that he was in Scotland between May and Septem-
ber. It is therefore hard to believe that Tostig had so
great a hand in stirring up Harold Hardrada to his ex-
pedition as the Norwegian story makes out. Most
likely Tostig simply joined the expedition which Harold
Hardrada independently planned. One thing is certain,
that, when Harold of England was attacked by two
enemies at once, it was not by two enemies acting in
concert. The interests of William and of Harold of
Norway were as much opposed to one another as either
of them was to the interests of Harold of England.


One great difficulty beset Harold and William alike.
Either in Normandy or in England it was easy to get
together an army ready to fight a battle ; it was not
easy to keep a large body of men under arms for any
long time without fighting. It was still harder to keep
them at once without fighting and without plundering.
What William had done in this way in two invasions of
Normandy, he was now called on to do on a greater
scale. His great and motley army was kept during a
great part of August and September, first at the Dive,
then at Saint Valery, waiting for the wind that was to
take it to England. And it was kept without doing
any serious damage to the lands where they were en-
camped. In a holy war, this time was of course largely
spent in appeals to the religious feelings of the army.
Then came the wonderful luck of William, which en-
abled him to cross at the particular moment when he
did cross. A little earlier or later, he would have found
his landing stoutly disputed ; as it was, he landed with-
out resistance. Harold of England, not being able, in
his own words, to be everywhere at once, had done what
he could. He and his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine
undertook the defence of southern England against the
Norman ; the earls of the North, his brothers-in-law
Edwin and Morkere, were to defend their own land
against the Norwegians. His own preparations were
looked on with wonder. To guard the long line of
coast against the invader, he got together such a force
both by sea and land as no king had ever got together
before, and he kept it together for a longer time than
William did, through four months of inaction, save per-
haps some small encounters by sea. At last, early in Sep-


tember, provisions failed ; men were no doubt clamouring
to go back for the harvest, and the great host had to be
disbanded. Could William have sailed as soon as his
fleet was ready, he would have found southern England
thoroughly prepared to meet him. Meanwhile the
northern earls had clearly not kept so good watch as
the king. Harold Hardrada harried the Yorkshire coast ;
he sailed up the Ouse, and landed without resistance.
At last the earls met him in arms and were defeated by
the Northmen at Fulford near York. Four days later
York capitulated, and agreed to receive Harold Hardrada
as king. Meanwhile the news reached Harold of Eng-
land; he got together his housecarls and such other
troops as could be mustered at the moment, and by a
march of almost incredible speed he was able to save
the city and all northern England. The fight of Stain-
fordbridge, the defeat and death of the most famous
warrior of the North, was the last and greatest success of
Harold of England. But his northward march had left
southern England utterly unprotected. Had the south
wind delayed a little longer, he might, before the second
enemy came, have been again on the South-Saxon coast.
As it was, three days after Stamfordbridge, while Harold
of England was still at York, William of Normandy
landed without opposition at Pevensey.

Thus wonderfully had an easy path into England been
opened for William. The Norwegian invasion had come
at the best moment for his purposes, and the result had
been what he must have wished. With one Harold he
must fight, and to fight with Harold of England was
clearly best for his ends. His work would not have
been done, if another had stepped in to chastise the


perjurer. Now that he was in England, it became a
trial of generalship between him and Harold. Wil-
liam's policy was to provoke Harold to fight at once.
It was perhaps Harold's policy so at least thought
Gyrth to follow yet more thoroughly William's own
example in the French invasions. Let him watch and
follow the enemy, let him avoid all action, and even lay
waste the land between London and the south coast,
and the strength of the invaders would gradually be
worn out. But it might have been hard to enforce such
a policy on men whose hearts were stirred by the in-
vasion, and one part of whom, the King's own thegns and
housecarls, were eager to follow up their victory over
the Northern with a yet mightier victory over the
Norman. And Harold spoke as an English king should
speak, when he answered that he would never lay waste
a single rood of English ground, that he would never
harm the lands or the goods of the men who had chosen
him to be their king. In the trial of skill between the
two commanders, each to some extent carried his point.
William's havoc of a large part of Sussex compelled
Harold to march at once to give battle. But Harold
was able to give battle at a place of his own choosing,
thoroughly suited for the kind of warfare which he had
to wage.

Harold was blamed, as defeated generals are blamed,
for being too eager to fight and not waiting for more
troops. But to any one who studies the ground it is
plain that Harold needed, not more troops, but to some
extent better troops, and that he would not have got
those better troops by waiting. From York Harold had
marched to London, as the meeting-place for southern


and eastern England, as well as for the few who actually
followed him from the North and those who joined him
on the march. Edwin and Morkere were bidden to
follow with the full force of their earldoms. This they
took care not to do. Harold and his West-Saxons had
saved them, but they would not strike a blow back
again. Both now and earlier in the year they doubtless
aimed at a division of the kingdom, such as had been
twice made within fifty years. Either Harold or William
might reign in Wessex and East-Anglia ; Edwin should
reign in Northumberland and Mercia. William, the
enemy of Harold but no enemy of theirs, might be satis-
fied with the part of England which was under the
immediate rule of Harold and his brothers, and might
allow the house of Leofric to keep at least an under-
kingship in the North. That the brother earls held back
from the King's muster is undoubted, and this explana-
tion fits in with their whole conduct both before and
after. Harold had thus at his command the picked men
of part of England only, and he had to supply the place
of those who were lacking with such forces as he could
get. The lack of discipline on the part of these inferior
troops lost Harold the battle. But matters would
hardly have been mended by waiting for men who had
made up their minds not to come.

The messages exchanged between King and Duke
immediately before the battle, as well as at an earlier
time, have been spoken of already. The challenge to
single combat at least comes now. When Harold re-
fused every demand, William called on Harold to spare the
blood of his followers, and decide his claims by battle in
his own person. Such a challenge was in the spirit of


Norman jurisprudence, which in doubtful cases looked
for the judgement of God, not, as the English did, by
the ordeal, but by the personal combat of the two parties.
Yet this challenge too was surely given in the hope that
Harold would refuse it, and would thereby put himself,
in Norman eyes, yet more thoroughly in the wrong.
For the challenge was one which Harold could not but
refuse. William looked on himself as one who claimed
his own from one who wrongfully kept him out of it. He
was plaintiff in a suit in which Harold was defendant ;
that plaintiff and defendant were both accompanied by
armies was an accident for which the defendant, who
had refused all peaceful means of settlement, was to
blame. But Harold and his people could not look on
the matter as a mere question between two men. The
crown was Harold's by the gift of the nation, and he
could not sever his own cause from the cause of the
nation. The crown was his ; but it was not his to stake
on the issue of a single combat. If Harold were killed,
the nation might give the crown to whom they thought
good; Harold's death could not make William's claim
one jot better. The cause was not personal, but
national. The Norman duke had, by a wanton invasion,
wronged, not the King only, but every man in England,
and every man might claim to help in driving him out.
Again, in an ordinary wager of battle, the judgement

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanWilliam the Conqueror → online text (page 6 of 14)