Francis Palgrave.

The history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) online

. (page 20 of 41)
Online LibraryFrancis PalgraveThe history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) → online text (page 20 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

this enterprise ; but it might at any time be
resumed. And how much better would the
wise and valiant William be able to resist the
Danish invasions, than the infant Edgar ?
Harold was brave and experienced in war, but



ioeo-1066 his elevation to the throne might be productive
of the greatest evil. The grandsons of Leofric,
who ruled half England, would scarcely submit
to the dominion of an equal ; the obstacle arising
from Harold's ancestry was, indeed, insuperable.
No individual, who was not of an antient royal
house, had ever been able to maintain himself
upon an Anglo-Saxon throne.

William himself asserted that Edward had


acted with the advice and consent of the great
Earls, Si ward, Leofric, and Godwin himself;
consequently the bequest was made before the
arrival of Edward the Outlaw. The son and
nephew of Godwin, who were then in Normandy,
had also been sent to him, as he maintained, in
the characters of pledges or hostages, that the
will should be carried into effect ; or, as is most
probable, that no opposition should be raised by
the powerful earl. The three earls thus vouched
were not living when William made this asser-
tion ; but if we do not distrust his veracity and
honour, we may suppose that Edward, in the
first instance, appointed William as his heir.
As the king grew older, his affection for his own
kindred awakened, and he recalled the Atheling,
revoking his devise to the stranger; to which,
however, he seems to have returned again, when
his kinsman died.

The messenger by whom the intelligence of
the bequest, thus made by Edward, reached
William, was no other than Harold. There is


much contradiction as to the immediate cause ioeo-io66
of Harold's journey ; nor are we less in doubt Harold , g
concerning the minor incidents. [He is said toleep.277.
have been tempest-thrown on Ponthieu, seized
in pursuance of local custom by the Count
Guido, and liberated from him at William's
order. The dramatic circumstances of Harold's
oath on concealed relics, are totally unknown
to the earlier and only trustworthy annalists.]
Whether accident or design conducted him to
the court of the Duke of Normandy, is uncer-
tain ; and the preceding account of the two wills
in favour of William, is an hypothesis collected
only from the general bearing of the narrations.
William, well aware of Harold's influence, used
every endeavour to ensure his future aid ; and,
in return, William agreed to bestow upon Harold
the hand of his daughter, the fair Adela. The
English earl promised that he would give up to
the Norman duke the castle of Dover, a fortress
belonging to him as part of the inheritance of
Godwin, and considered as the key of England.
He confirmed the engagement by oath, and
became the "man," or vassal, of William, whom
he acknowledged as his future sovereign.

22. In the meanwhile Harold was rising
in repute. He invaded Wales, and desolated the


country. Griffith opposed him valiantly, but he
was slain by the treachery of his own country-
men. His gory head was sent to the Confessor
as a trophy of victory; his dominions were

in Wales.


ioeo-1066 bestowed upon his brothers Blethyn and Rhi-
wallon, who were accessary to the murder.
And these princes became the vassals, not only
of King Edward, but of Earl Harold, to whom
they performed fealty and homage. As Earl of
Wessex, Harold could have no claim to this
obedience, and if enforced by him, the act can
only be construed as an attempt to establish a
sovereign power.

Edward was now rapidly declining in health ;
he had rebuilt the ancient Abbey of Westminster,
founded, as you will recollect, by Sebert, but
which had been ruined during the Danish wars.
And, holding his court, according to the antient
custom, at Christmas, he caused the new fabric
to be consecrated, in the presence of the nobles
assembled during that solemn festival.
Jan. s, 1066 Edward felt that the hand of death was upon
confe 8 so f r the ^' m - ^ little while before he expired, Harold
and his kinsmen forced their way into the
chamber of the Monarch, and exhorted him to
name a successor, by whom the realm might be
ruled in peace and security. "Ye know full
well, my lords," said Edward, "that I have
bequeathed my kingdom to the Duke of Nor-
mandy, and are there not those here whose oaths
have been given to secure his succession?"
Harold stepped nearer, and interrupting the
King, he asked of Edward, upon whom the
crown should be bestowed. " Harold ! take it,
if such be thy wish; but the gift will be thy


ruin. Against the duke and bis baronage, no
power of thine can avail thee." Harold replied
that he did not fear the Norman, or any other
enemy. The dying king, wearied with impor-
tunity, turned himself upon his couch, and
faintly intimated that the English nation might
name as king, Harold, or whom they liked ; and
shortly afterwards he breathed his last.

Harold afterwards founded his title upon

claim to

Edward's last will ; many of our historians 8ucceed<
favour his claim, and the different statements
are difficult to be reconciled ; yet taken alto-
gether, the circumstances are exactly such as
we meet with in private life. The childless
owner of a large estate, at first leaves his pro-
perty to his Cousin on the mother's side, from
whose connexions he has received much kind-
ness. He advances in age, and alters his
intentions in favour of a Nephew on his father's
side an amiable young man, living abroad.
and from whom he had been estranged in conse-
quence of a family quarrel of long standing.
The young Heir conies to the Testator's house
is received with great affection and is sud-
denly cut off by illness. The Testator then
returns to his will in favour of his Cousin, who
resides abroad. His acute and active brother-
in-law has taken the management of his affairs,
is well informed of this will ; and, when the
Testator is on his death-bed, he contrives to
tease and persuade the dying man to alter the


1060-1068 will again in his favour. This is exactly the
state of the case ; and though considerable
doubts have been raised relating to the contra-
dictory bequests of the Confessor, there can be
no difficulty in admitting that the conflicting
pretensions of William and Harold were grounded
upon the acts emanating from a wavering and
feeble mind. If such disputes take place between
private individuals, they are decided by a court
of justice ; but if they concern a kingdom, they
can only be settled by the sword.





I 1. UPON the death of Edward the Con- 1066
fessor, there were three claimants to the crown competitor.
his good Cousin, William of Normandy and
his good Brother-in-law, Harold each of whom
respectively founded their pretensions upon the
real or supposed devise of the late king and
Edgar Atheling, the son of Edward the Outlaw,
who ought to have stood on firmer ground. If
kindred had any weight, he was the real heir
the lineal descendant of Ironside and the only
male now left of the house of Cerdic ; and he
also is said to have been nominated by Edward,
as the successor to the throne.

Each of these competitors had his partisans : Harold -
but, whilst William was absent, and Edward
young and poor, perhaps timid and hesitating,
Harold was on the spot j a man of mature age,
in full vigour of body and mind ; possessing
great influence and great wealth. And on the
very day that Edward was laid in his grave,
Harold prevailed upon, or compelled the pre-
lates and nobles assembled at Westminster, to
accept him as king. Some of our historians


1066 ^ gay,, that he obtained the diadem by force.
This is not to be understood as implying actual
violence ; but simply, that the greater part of
those who recognised him, acted against their
wishes and will. And if our authorities are
correct, Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, but
who had been suspended by the Pope, was the
only prelate who acknowledged his authority.

i not Some portions of the Anglo-Saxon domi-


accepted. n j ons never seem to have submitted to Harold.
In others, a sullen obedience was extorted from
the people, merely because they had not power
enough to raise any other king to the throne.
Certainly the realm was not Harold's by any
legal title. The son of Grodwin could have no
inherent right whatever to the inheritance of
Edward ; nor had the Anglo-Saxon crown ever
been worn by an elective monarch. The con-
stitutional rights of the nation extended, at
farthest, to the selection of a king from the
royal family ; and if any kind of sanction was
given by the Witan to the intrusion of Harold,
the act was as invalid as that by which they
had renounced the children of Ethelred, and
acknowledged the Danish line.

HU govern. g 2. Harold is stated to have shewn both
prudence and courage in the government of the
kingdom ; and he has been praised for his just
and due administration of justice. At the same
time he is, by other writers, reprobated as a
tyrant ; and he is particularly blamed for his


oppressive enforcement of the forest-laws. To- ioe

wards his own partisans, Harold may have been
ostentatiously just, while the ordinary exercise
of the roj^al prerogative would appear tyrannical
to those who deemed him to be an usurper.
Harold, as the last An^lo-Saxon ruler, has

state of

often been viewed with peculiar partiality ; but Kneland -
it is perhaps difficult to justify these feelings.
He had no clear title to the crown in any way
whatever. Harold was certainly not the heir ;
Edward's bequest in his favour was very dubi-
ous ; and he failed to obtain that degree of uni-
versal consent to his accession, which, upon the
ordinary principles of political expediency, can
alone legalize a change of dynasty. The Anglo-
Saxon power had been fast verging to decay.
As against their common sovereign, the earls
were rising into petty kings. North of the
Humber, scarcely a shadow of regular govern-
ment existed ; and even if the Norman had
never trod the soil of England, it would have
been scarcely possible for the son of Godwin
to have maintained himself in possession of the
supreme authority. Any of the great nobles
who divided the territory of the realm might
have preferred as good a claim, and they pro-
bably would have been easily incited to risk
such an attempt. Hitherto, the crown had been
preserved from domestic invasion by the belief
that royalty belonged exclusively to the children
of Woden. Fluctuating as the rules of succes-




sion had been, the political faith in the "right
royal kindred " excluded all competition, except
as amongst the members of a particular caste
or family ; but the charm was now broken the
mist which had hitherto enveloped the sovereign
magistracy was dispelled and the way to the
throne was opened to any competitor.

leams the 3. William was hunting in the Park of
Rouen, surrounded by a noble train of knights,
esquires, and damsels, when a "Serjeant," just
arrived from England, hastened into his presence,
and related the events which had happened :
Edward's death, and Harold's assumption of the
crown. The bow dropped out of the hand of the
Norman, and he was unnerved by anxiety and
surprise. William fastened and loosened his
mantle, spake not, and looked so fierce and fell,
that no one ventured to address him. Entering
a skiff, he crossed the Seine, still silent ; stalked
into the great hall of his palace, threw himself
into a seat, wrapped his head in his mantle,
and bent his body downwards, apparently over-
whelmed. " Sirs " said William de Breteuil
the Seneschal, to the enquiring crowd " ye will
soon know the cause of our lord's anxiety;"
and then, approaching his master, he roused
the Duke by telling him that everybody in the
streets of Rouen would soon hear of the death
of Edward, and of his claims to the succession.

claim, the William instantly recovered from his reverie :

crown. *

and upon the advice of a Norman baron, Fitz-



Osbern the Bold, it was determined that he
should forthwith require Harold, the sworn
liegeman of William, to surrender the inherit-
ance, and to perform the engagements which he
had contracted with the Norman Sovereign.

Harold answered, that the kingdom was not Harold


his to bestow : implying, no doubt, that he could
not make the transfer without the consent of
the Witenagemot. He also alleged distinctly,
that he could not marry Adela without the ad-
vice of the nobility of his realm. If this as-
sertion be taken in its strict sense, we must
suppose that, as the queen had some, though
a very undefined share in the royal authority,
she could not be raised to that rank without
the assent of the legislature. But perhaps we
must receive the expressions according to a
more qualified construction ; and suppose that
Harold merely meant to say, that it was not
expedient for an English king to choose a wife
in such a manner as might render him unpo-
pular. But these excuses need not be weighed
very accurately. Other parts of Harold's reply
were scurrilous and insulting ; and the whole is
only to be considered as an intimation that the
son of Godwin defied the power of William, the
Bastard of Normandy.

4. Harold did not feel his own weakness,
and he scarcely knew the resources of his adver-
sary. Normandy, at this period, was in the height
of its prosperity. Under the prudent government



1066 ^ of the late Dukes, Richard and Robert, there
had arisen a race of wise, active, and loyal
nobility. The heads of the great houses of
Beaumont, Montgomery, Fitz-Osbern, Mortimer,
and Griffard, were stout of heart and strong of
hand : they could give the best counsel, and
Barons execute the counsel which they crave ; and in

meet at

Luiebonne. ^ Q great parliament assembled at Lillebonne,
the barons determined to assist their Sovereign
in his contest with the English usurper, the per-
jured Harold.

Fitz-osbem'3 In this memorable meeting, there was at

zeal for the

first much diversity of opinion. The Duke could
not command his vassals to cross the sea ; their
tenures did not compel them to such a service.
William could only request their aid, to fight
his battles in England : many refused to engage
in this dangerous expedition, and great debates
arose. Fitz-Osbern exhorted his peers to obey
the wishes of their liege lord. After some dis-
cussion they allowed the intrepid Baron to be
their spokesman ; and in their name did he
engage that each feudatory should render dou-
ble the service to which he was bound by
his tenure ; and, moreover, he, Fitz-Osbern,
promised to fit out, at his own expense, sixty
vessels, all filled with chosen warriors.

Fitz-Osbern might make any promise on his
own part, to which he was stimulated by his
loyalty. But the other barons had not em-
powered him to assent on their behalf to bind


them to similar exertions ; and whilst he was
speaking, such an outcry of disapprobation
arose that it seemed as if the very roof of the
Hall would be rent asunder. William, who


could not restore order, withdrew into another the barons -
apartment : and calling the barons to him one
by one, he argued and reasoned with each of
these sturdy vassals separately, and apart from
the others. He exhausted all the arts of per-
suasion ; their present courtesy he engaged
should not be turned into a precedent ; the
troops now granted as a favour should never be
demanded as a right by himself or his suc-
cessors ; and the fertile fields of England should
be the recompense of their fidelity. Upon this
prospect of remuneration, the barons assented;
and, that they might not retract, the ready clerk
wrote down in his roll the. number of knights
and vassals which each prelate and baron would
furnish to this expedition.

William did not confine himself to his own cans adven.

turers to join.

subjects. All the adventurers and adventurous
spirits of the neighbouring States were invited
to join his standard. Armorica, now called
Brittany, had become a fief of Normandy ;
and though the Duke could not compel the
baronage of that country to serve in his army,
still they willingly yielded to his influence.
Alan Fergant, and Bryan, the two sons of Eudo,
Count of Brittany, came with a numerous train
of Breton knights, all ready for the conflict


perhaps eager to avenge the wrongs of Arthur
upon the Saxons, who had usurped the land of
their ancestors. Others poured in from Poitou
and Maine ; from Flanders and Anjou ; and to
all, such promises were made as should best
incite them to the enterprise lands, liveries,
money, according to their rank and degree ;
and the port of St. Pierre-sur-Dive was ap-
pointed as the place where all the forces should
William's 5. William had discovered four most valid


his invasion, reasons for the prosecution of his offensive war-
fare against a neighbouring people : the be-
quest made by his Cousin ; the perjury of
Harold ; the expulsion of the Normans, at the
instigation, as he alleged, of Godwin ; and,
lastly, the massacre of the Danes by Ethelred
on St. Brice's day. The alleged perjury of
Harold enabled William to obtain the sanction
of the Papal See. Alexander, the Roman

Rome orted at Pontiff? allowed, nay, even urged him to punish
the crime, provided England, when conquered,
should be held as the fief of St. Peter. In this
proceeding, His Holiness took upon himself to
act judicially, and in solemn consistory ; not,
however, without opposition, but the measure
was carried : and Hildebrand, Archdeacon of
the Church of Rome, afterwards the celebrated
Pope Gregory VII., greatly assisted by the sup-
port which he gave to the decree.

As a visible token of protection, the Pope


transmitted to William the consecrated banner,
the Gonfanon of St. Peter, and a precious ring,
in which a relic of the Chief of the Apostles was
enclosed. Nothing could be more futile than
the pretext that the war was undertaken for the
purpose of redressing the wrongs sustained by
Archbishop Robert and his companions, or of
avenging the slaughter committed by Ethelred ;
and the sanction given by the Pope was in
itself an attack upon the temporal authority.
Yet the colour of right, which William en-
deavoured to obtain, shows a degree of defer-
ence to public opinion ; he was anxious to
prove that his attempt was not prompted by
mere ambition or avarice ; and that at all
events, supposing Edward's bequest might be
disputed, he was justified in his attempt by good
conscience and honour.

g 6. There was little regular communication

prepares his

between England and the Continent ; but it was defence>
impossible that the extensive preparations of
William should remain unknown to Harold ;
and he immediately began to provide for defence.
He mustered his forces at Sandwich, and then
he took his station at the Isle of Wight, during
the whole of the summer and part of the autumn.
Such a navy as he could assemble guarded the
coast, while his land forces were encamped on
the shore. During this period he transmitted a
spy, to procure further particulars of the forces
which the Normans had raised. The agent was



discovered, and carried to William, by whom
he was received without either harshness or
affectation of concealment, and dismissed with-
out harm. The spy was informed by the Duke,
that Harold need not take any trouble or incur
any expense for the purpose of ascertaining the
Norman strength ; for he would see it, aye, and
feel it too, within the year.

7. The computation of the navy assembled
by William has varied exceedingly. Master Wace,
to whose Poetical Chronicle we are so largely
indebted, relates, that he often heard his father
say, that the number of vessels amounted to six
hundred and ninety-six ; but that he found it
stated in writing, that upwards of three thou-
sand had been assembled. This latter compu-
tation, probably, included all the smaller barks ;
but, be that as it may, the fleet was the largest
which had ever been seen. William's own
vessel, which had been given to him by his wife
Matilda, was distinguished above the rest ; at
night by the cresset which flamed on the top-
mast ; and in the day, by its resplendent orna-
ments and decorations. The crimson sails
swelled to the wind, the gilded vanes glittered
in the sun, and at the head of the ship was the
effigy of a child, armed with a bow and arrow,
and ready to discharge his shaft against hostile

sans. jhe gathering of the fleet at the mouth of the
Dive had been delayed by contrary gales, and


other mischances. The ships sailed to the . 1066
Somme, but the winds were still unfavourable.
The relics of St. Valery were brought forth from
their shrine. On the eve of St. Michael, the Sep. as.
patron of Normandy, a prosperous gale arose,
and the whole armament was wafted in safety
across the waves. "Want of provisions, and other
circumstances, had compelled Harold to draw
off his forces from the coast, which was entirely
unprotected ; and when the Norman armada
approached the shore of England, between
Hastings and Pevensey, not the slightest opposi- s ep .29.
tion could be offered to the invaders. As the
vessels approached, and as the masts rose higher
and higher on the horizon, the peasantry who
dwelt on the coast, and who had congregated
on the cliffs, gazed with the utmost alarm at
the hostile vessels, which, as they well knew,
were drawing near for the conquest of Eng-
land ; portended by the fearful comet blazing
in the sky. The alarm spread and one of
the few Thanes who were left in the shire
of the South Saxons for the greater part
were on duty in the north galloped up to a
rising ground to survey the operations of the

The Thane saw the boats pushing through w
the surf, glistening with shields and spears ; in
others, stood the war-horses, neighing and paw-
ing at the prospect of release from their irksome
captivity. Now followed the archers, closely

x 2


loco shorn, arrayed in a light and unincunibering
garb ; each held his long bow, strung for the
fight, in his hand, and by his side hung the
quiver, filled w.ith those cloth-yard shafts, which,
in process of time, became the favourite and
national weapon of the yeomanry of England.

ratemtiQn, The archers leap out of the boats, disperse
themselves on the shore, and station themselves
in the out-posts, so as to protect, if necessary,
the heavy armed troops who are about to disem-
bark. The knights are now seen, carefully and
heavily treading along the planks, each covered
with his hawbergeon of mail, his helmet laced,
the shield well strengthened with radiating bars
of iron, depending from his neck, his sword
borne by his attendant esquire. The gleaming
steel-clad multitude cover the shingly beach in
apparent disorder, but they rapidly separate,
and, in a few moments, each warrior is mounted
upon his steed. Banners, pennons, and pennon-
eels are raised ; the troops form into squadrons,
and advance upon the land, which they already
claim as their possession.

Boat after boat poured out the soldiery of the
various nations and races assembled under the
banner of William ; and lastly, came the pioneers,
with their sharp axes, well trained and taught,
and prepared to labour for the defence of the
army which they had accompanied.

And en. The quick eye of the Leader selected the spot


for the stockades and entrenchments. The tim-


bers and pavoises, and other materials, were . 1066
floated from the store-ships, and dragged to the
position which had been pointed out. The work
began with the utmost skill and energy, and the
Thane plainly saw that, before night-fall, the
Norman Chief would be entirely secured from
surprise. He waited no more, but he instantly
determined to bear the ill news to Harold. He
turned his horse's head towards the north, and
riding night and day, he neither tarried nor
rested, until he reached the city of York, where,
rushing into the hall, he found Harold, banquet-
ing in festal triumph, with hands embrued in the

Online LibraryFrancis PalgraveThe history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) → online text (page 20 of 41)