« EelmineJätka »
horses (1), and every implement of battle, he quitted his native shores. During the day, his ardent spirit not only led the van of his fleet, but his ship so far outsailed the others, that when a mariner was ordered to look round from the top of the mast, he declared he saw nothing but the clouds and the occan. William, though impatient for his landing, yet with dignified composure ordered his men to cast anchor, and calmly took a cheerful refreshment. A second sailor ascended, and beheld four ships coming into the horizon. Another, at a farther interval, declared he saw a sailing forest. The duke's heart swelled with joy, and he anticipated all the triumphs of his daring adventure (2).
At Pevensey their voyage ceased on the 28th September. They landed peaceably, for no opposing force was near (3). They made no stay here, and proceeded immediately to Hastings to procure food (4). As William landed from his ship, it happened that he fell. In these days, when the mind was still retaining many of the groundless fantasies of preceding ages, the accident was interpreted into an omen of disaster; but the spreading panic was checked by the judicious soldier who raised William from the ground. Seeing his hands full of mud, he exclaimed, "Fortunate general! you have = already taken England. See, its earth is in your hands (5)." How excitable must be the mind of man, when a casual stumble can intimidate thousands, and a lucky expression re-assure them! How
Quer sept cent nesf quatre moins furent,
Que nesf, que batteaux, que esquiez
A porter armes et hernoiz.
Ai je en escript trouvé,
Que il y eut trois mile nesf,
La Chronique de Normandie intimates, that some escriptures temoingnent neuf cens et sept grandes nesf a granz tresf et voiles, sans li menu vaisselin. Ib. M. Lancelot remarks, that the menu vaisselin may supply somewhat of the great difference between the rumours. The expressions of Guil. Pictav. imply 1000 ships.
(1) The tapestry of Bayeux has several ships with horses.
(2) Guil. Pict. 199. To this repast of William, M. Lancelot refers that in the tapestry. I think his supposition is decidedly and obviously erroneous.
(3) Guil. Pict. 199. The tapestry shows this. After representing many ships in full sail, some with armed men, and some with horses, with the inscription : "Mare transivit et venit ad Pevenesæ," it shows the landing of horses unmolested.
(4) The tapestry details this curiously. Four armed horsemen are riding. The words over them are, " And here the soldiers hastened to Hastings to seize provisions." One man is leading a sheep; another is standing near with an axe, looking at an ox; another is carrying some bundle on his shoulders near a man with a pig. The cookery, the serving, and the enjoyment of the repast, are then suecessively represented with appropriate inscriptions. The little anonymous narration, written in the reign of Henry I., and published by Tailor from a MS. at Oxford, after landing them at Pevensey, adds, "Sed non diutius ibi moratus, cum omni exercitu suo venit ad alium portum non longe ab isto situm quem vocant Hastingas, ibique omnem suam militiam requiescere jussit,” p. 190.
(5) Matt. West. 435. and others.
difficult must it be to lead such excitability into a steady course of wisdom and virtue!
The duke forbad plunder, and built military works both at Pevensey and Hastings, to protect his shipping (1). It is mentioned that he went out with twenty-five companions to explore the country. They fell into such a rugged course, that they were obliged to return on foot; and the army remarked, with high approbation, that William had burthened himself with the armour of one of his party, who was unable to get to the camp without putting it off (2). William was now involved in an expedition which required the most zealous and self-devoting support of all his soldiers. Few things interest more strongly than the useful condescensions of the great, and it is an argument of William's discernment and true dignity of mind, that he seized such little occasions of exciting, in his army, an affectionate attachment.
A Norman friend conveyed to William the tidings of Harold's victory over Norway. The counsel of alarm was added to the news. "He is coming against you with all his power, and I think you will be but as despised dogs against it. You have prudently governed all your affairs in Normandy; be not now rash; keep to your fortifications; meet him not in battle. "
William's mind was above these little agitations of fear. He had thrown his die. His spirit was fixed to stand the full venture, and to endure all the consequences, whether fatal or propitious. He returned for answer, that he should not entrench himself, but should give the battle as early as he could join it. He declared that this would have been his resolution, if he had headed only 10,000 men, instead of the 60,000 who were assembled round his banners (3).
Harold received the information of William's landing, while he was dining at York (4). The impressive incident would have summoned a wary mind to the most deliberate circumspection. A new enemy coming in such power demanded the wisest exertions of military intelligence. But the mind of Harold possessed not the judgment of his great adversary. His bravery had more vivacity than discretion, and its natural ardour was stimulated into presumption by his victory against the king of Norway. He looked upon William as his devoted prey; and instead of collecting all his means of defence, and multiplying these by the wisdom of their application, he flew to London, as if he had only to combat in order to conquer.
This triumphant vanity was the instrument as well as the signal of his ruin. In the deadly contest against Hardrada, he had lost many of his bravest warriors. By an ill-timed covetousness, he
(1) Wil. Gemmet. 286. Ord. Vit. 500. The tapestry represents this construction of the castle at Hastings.
(2) Guil. Pict. 199.
(4) Hunt. 368.
disgusted the surviving; for he monopolised the plunder. When he marched to London against William, a large part of his army deserted him. Those only who served on pay, and as mercenaries, kept to him (1).
He sent spies to inspect William's force. The judicious duke, who knew his strength, and the good appointment of his army, had nothing to conceal: he caused the spies to be well feasted, and to be led through his encampment. On their return to Harold, they magnified what they had beheld; but added, that, from their shaven faces, they should have taken the Normans for an army of divines. Harold laughed at the conceit, but had sense enough to remark, that the divines would prove very formidable soldiers (2).
It was the interest of Harold to delay a battle with the invaders, but it was his passion to hasten it. His brother Gurth reminded him, that he had not recruited his losses in the north. Such an observation was evidence of his judgment. His other remarks, that if Harold fought, it would be committing perjury, and therefore that he, Gurth, had better lead on the English in his stead, were deservedly despised by Harold (3). The perjury, if any, was in the resistance, and could not be diminished by the change of the commander. But with what energy could the troops be expected to fight in a quarrel of personal competition, if Harold was away? His absence, on such grounds, would have sanctified the claim of William, and might have tainted his own fame with the perilous imputation of cowardice.
Monastic messengers were reciprocally sent by the two rivals. The one from the duke is said to have offered Harold his option of three proposals. To quit the throne, to reign under William, or to decide the dispute by a single combat.
The two first propositions Harold was too courageous to regard. The last was more compatible with his humour. But Harold had been William's guest, and well knew his personal prowess. The Norman excelled most men of his day in strength, stature, agility, and skill. As he possessed such notorious superiority, there was little courage in his offer of the duel, and Harold could not be disgraced in refusing it. Harold therefore answered with unusual discretion, when he declared, that God should judge between them (4). Harold staid but six days at London to collect troops for the col
(1) Malmsb. 94. Matt. West. 434.
(2) Malmsb. 100. The English did not shave the upper lip. Ib. The Roman de Rou mentions the account of the spies. Lanc. p. 456 The forces of William greatly outnumbered those of Harold. The MS. of Waltham Abbey, written by the canon whom the last queen of Henry I. patronised, states the Norman army to have been four times as numerous as that of Harold. "Non potuit de pari conditione contendere, qui modico stipatus agmine, QUADRUPLO congressus excrcitu, sorti se dedit ancipiti." Cott. MSS. Jul. D. 6. p. 101.
(3) Malmsb. 100.
(4) Malmsb. 100. Guil. Pict. 200. Matt. Paris, 3.
lision with the invaders (1); his impatient presumption could not tarry for the force that was wanted to secure success. He left the city, and marched all night towards Hastings (2). His hope was to surprise the army of the duke (3), as he had surprised the Norwegians; and so confident were his expectations, that he sent round a fleet of 700 vessels to hinder William's escape (4).
This was another measure of his ill-judgment. A very large part of his force must have been lost to him in manning these vessels; and yet, though he had not had time to collect an army of great power, he deprived himself, needlessly, of a numerous support, by sending it on the seas. Prudence would have counselled him to have opened a passage on the ocean for his enemies' retreat. If he had coolly reasoned, he must have seen that William placed the issue of his adventure upon a land battle. To wage this successfully, he concentrated all his strength. Harold, instead of meeting him with his most consolidated force, favoured the wishes of his enemies by manning a fleet, whose exertions could not have the least influence on the impending conflict. But when vanity assumes the helm of our conduct, discretion disappears.
In projecting to surprise William, he proved how little he understood of the duke's character. Alert in obtaining notice of Harold's approach, William immediately commanded his men to remain all night under arms (5). Deterred by this preparation, Harold ventured no night attack.
On the spot afterwards called Battle, the English rested on an adjacent hill. The Normans quitted Hastings (6), and occupied an eminence (7) opposite. The night before the battle was spent by the English in festivity, by the Normans in devotion (8)."
While William was putting on his armour, it happened that he inverted his coat of mail. This petty mistake was a fatal omen ; but William, like all great souls, disdaining such puerilities, said, with a calm countenance, "If I believed in omens, I should not fight to-day, but I never credited such tales, and never loved the superstitious. In every concern which I ought to undertake, I commit myself, for the result, to my Creator's ordination (9)." At the command of their leader, the Normans, who were in the
(1) Will. Gemmet. 287. (3) Ord. Vit. 500. Guil. Pict. 201. (4) Guil. Pict. 201. Ord. Vit. 500. L'ancienne Chronique de Normandie, and the Roman de Rou (Lanc. 444-446.) mention that William burnt and destroyed his own shipping, to make his army more desperate.
(5) Gemm. 287.
(6) The tapestry represents them as departing from Hastings to the place of battle.
(7) Taylor's Anon. 192.
(8) Malmsb. 101.
(9) "Si ego in sortem crederem, hodie amplius in bellum non introirem, sed ego nunquam sortibus credidi neque sortilegos amavi. In omni negotio quodcunque agere debui, Creatori meo semper me commendavi." Taylor's Anon. p. 192. Guil. Pict. 201. mentions it.
camp, armed. William, with solemn devotion, heard mass, and received the sacrament. He hung round his neck the relics on which Harold had sworn, and proceeded to arrange his troops (1); his standard was entrusted to Toustain the Fair (2).
He divided his army into three bodies. In front he placed his light infantry armed with arrows and balistæ. Behind these were the heavy-armed foot. His last division was composed of his cavalry, among whom he stationed himself (3).
He strengthened their determined valour by an impressive harangue (4). He reminded them of the achievements of Hastings, whose actions these pages have commemorated. He bade them to recollect Rollo, the founder of their nation, and the uniform successes of their ancestors against the Franks. He noticed their most recent exploits (5). He assured them that they were to fight not merely for victory, but for life. If they exerted themselves like men, glory and wealth were their rewards; if they were defeated, a cruel death, a hopeless captivity, and everlasting infamy, were the inevitable consequence. Escape there was none. On one side, an unknown and hostile country; on the other, the blockaded sea precluded flight (6). He added, "Let any of the English come forward, of those whom our ancestors have an hundred times defeated, and demonstrate that the people of Rollo have ever been unfortunate in war, and I will abandon my enterprise. Is it not, then, a disgrace, that a nation accustomed to be conquered, a nation so broken by war, a nation not even having arrows, should pitch themselves in regular battle against you? Is it not a disgrace that perjured Harold should dare to face me in your presence? I am astonished that you should have beheld those who destroyed your fathers, and my kinsman Alfred, by the basest treachery, and that they should yet be in existence. Raise, soldiers, your standards. Let neither diffidence nor moderation check your anger. Let the lightning of your glory shine resplendent from the east to the west. Let the thunders of your impetuous onset be heard afar, ye generous avengers of the murdered (7) !”
While he was yet speaking, his men hastened to engage. Their ardour could not tarry for his conclusion. One Taillefer, singing the song of Roland and Charlemagne (8), even outstripped his
(1) Guil. Pict. 201. Ord. Vit. 500.
(2) Le Roman de Rou mentions, that William first offered this honour to Raoul de Conches, and Gautier Guiffart, who declined it. See it quoted, Lanc. 450–453. (3) Guil. Pict. 201. Ord. Vit. 501.
(4) The tapestry represents William speaking to his soldiers. The inscription imports "Here William exhorts his soldiers to prepare themselves manlily and wisely to battle against the English army."
(6) Guil. Pict. 201.
(5) Hen. Hunt. 368. (7) Hen. Hunt. 368. (8)
"Taillefer qui mout bien chantout,