Page images

friends, and killed an English ensign-bearer. Another also became his victim. A third overpowered him, and then the armies joined (1). The cry of the Normans was, "God help us." The English exclaimed, "The holy cross; the cross of God (2)."

The English, chiefly infantry, were arranged by Harold into an impenetrable wedge. Their shields covered their bodies. Their arms wielded the battle axe. Harold, whose courage was equal to his dignity, quitted his horse to share the danger and the glory on foot. His brothers accompanied him; and his banner, in which the figure of a man in combat, woven sumptuously with gold and jewels, shone conspicuous to his troops, was implanted near him (3). William, whose eye was searching every part of the field, enquired of a warrior near him, where he thought Harold stood. "In that dense mass on the top of the hill, for there his standard seems displayed," was the answer. William expressed his surprise at his presence in the conflict, and his confidence that his breach of faith would on that day be punished (4).

The English had possessed themselves of the hilly ground, which was flanked by a wood. The cavalry dismounted, and added to the firm mass of Harold's array. The Norman foot, advancing, discharged their missile weapons with effect; but the English, with patient valour, kept their ground. They returned the attack with spears and lances; with their terrible battle-axes, their ancient weapons, and with stones, whose falling masses were directed to overwhelm. The battle glowed. Distant weapons were abandoned for a closer conflict. The clamour of the engaging soldiers was drowned in the clashing of their weapons, and the groans of the dying (5). Valour abounded on both sides, and the chieftains fought with all the desperate firmness of personal enmity and ardent ambition.

Befriended by the elevation of their ground, by the mass of their phalanx, and by their Saxon axes, which cut through all the armour of their adversaries, the undaunted English not merely sustained, but repelled every attack. Intimidated by such invincible fortitude, the foot and cavalry of Bretagne, and all the other allies of William in the left wing, gave way. The impression extended

Malmsbury and others

De Kallemaigne et de Roullant,

Et d'Olivier et de vassaux

Qui moururent en Rainschevaux."

Roman de Rou, p. 461.

mention, that the Normans sung the song of Roland. (1) Hen. Hunt. 368. Rad. Dict. 480.

Bromton, 960.

(2) The Roman de Rou, p. 461. which says:

(3) Malmsb. 101.

"Alierot est en Engleiz

Qui Sainte Croix est en Franceiz

Et Goderode est autrement

Comme en François Dex tout pussant."

(4) Taylor's Anon. Hist. 192.

(5) Guil. Pict. 202.

along all his line. It was increased by a rumour, that the duke had fallen. Dismay began to unnerve his army; a general flight seemed about to ensuc (1).

William, observing the critical moment which threatened destruction to his glory, rushed among the fugitives, striking or menacing them with his spear. His helmet was thrown from his head. The indignant countenance of their leader was visible: "Behold me-I live; and I will conquer yet, with God's assistance. What madness induces you to fly? What way can be found for your escape? They whom, if you choose, you may kill like cattle, are driving and destroying you.-You fly from victory-from deathless honour. You run upon ruin and everlasting disgrace. If you retreat, not one of you but will perish (2)."

At these words they rallied-he led them to another onset. His sword strewed his path with slaughter. Their valour and their hopes revived. Their charge upon their pursuers was destruction; they rushed impetuously on the rest.

But the main body of the English continued unmoved and impenetrable. All the fury of the Normans and their allies could force no opening. An unbroken wall of courageous soldiery was every where present.

Depressed by this resistance, William's mind was roused to attempt a stratagem. He had seen the success with which his rallied troops had turned upon those who pursued them. He resolved to hasard a feigned retreat, to seduce the English into the disorder of a confident pursuit, and to profit by their diffusion (3).

A body of a thousand horse, under the count of Boulogne, were entrusted with the execution of this manœuvre. With a horrible outcry they rushed upon the English; then suddenly checking themselves, as if intimidated, they affected a hasty flight (4). The English were cheated. They threw themselves eagerly on the retreating Normans, and at first they prospered; for the Normans retired upon a great ditch, or excavation, somewhat concealed by its vegetation. Driven upon this, great numbers perished, and some of the English were dragged into the ruin (5). But while this (2) Ibid.

(1) Guil. Pict. 202.

(4) Taylor's Anon. Hist. 193. 1 Dugd. 311.

(3) Ibid.

(5) Hunt. 368. Rad. Dict. 480. Bromton, 960. This ditch was afterwards called Malfossed. 1 Dugd. 311. The Roman de Rou stated this:

"En la champagne out un fossé

Normans l'avient eux adossé
Embelinant l'orent passé
Ne l'avoient mie esgardé.
Engleis on tant Normans hastez
Et tant empoins et tant bontez
Ez fossez les ont fait ruser,
Chevaux et hommes gambeter
Mout voissiez hommes tomber,
Les uns sur les autres verser
Et tresbuchier et adenter
Ne s'en pooient relever;

'incident was occupying their attention, the duke's main body rushed between the pursuers, and the rest of the army. The English endeavoured to regain their position; the cavalry turned upon them, and, thus enclosed, they fell victims to the skilful movement of their opponents (1). Twice was the Norman artifice repeated, and twice had the English to mourn their credulous pursuit (2). In the heat of the struggle, twenty Normans pledged themselves to each other to attack, in conjunction, the great standard of Harold. Eyeing the expected prize, they rushed impetuously towards it. In attempting to penetrate through the hostile battalions, many of the party fell; but their object not having been foreseen, the survivors secured it (3).

The battle continued with many changes of fortune. The rival commanders distinguished themselves for their personal exertions. Harold emulated the merit, and equalled the achievements of the bravest soldier, at the same time that he discharged the vigilant duty of the general (4). William was constantly the example to his troops. He had three horses killed under him (5); but, undaunted by peril, he was every where the foremost. Such was the general enthusiasm, that they who were exhausted by loss of blood and strength, still fought on, leaning on their supporting shields. The more disabled, by their voices and gestures, strove to animate their friends (6).

The sun was departing from the western horizon, and the victory was still undecided. While Harold lived and fought, his valorous countrymen were invincible (7). But an order of the duke's, by oc

[blocks in formation]

The tapestry seems to represent this. After the fall of Harold's brothers, it has the inscription: "Here the English and Franks fell together in battle." The figures are warriors fighting, and horses in positions which imply violent falls. (1) Hunt. 368. Bromt. 960. At one period of the conflict, probably in this, Odo, the half-brother of William, and bishop of Bayeux, rendered him great services by rallying his men. The tapestry, immediately after the preceding incident, shows him on horseback in armour, with a kind of club, amid other cavalry. The words over are, "Here Odo, bishop, holding a stick, encourages the youths." The Roman de Rou also mentions his great and useful activity :

(2) Guil. Pict. 202.

(4) Malsmb. 101.

"Sur un cheval tout blanc seoit,

Tout la gent le congnoissoit,
Un baston tenoit en son poing.
Là où veoit le grand besoing
Faisoit les chevaliers torner,
Et la bataille arrester.
Souvent les faisoit assaillir,
Et souvent les faisoit ferir.
Des que le point du jour entra,
Que la bataille commencha
Dessi que nonne trespassa,
Eu chi do chà, fu si de la.”

Lanc. 466.

(3) Hunt. 368. Bromt. 960.

(5) Malmsb. 101. Guil. Pict. 203. Matt. West. 438. (6) Guil. Pict. 203.

(7) Malmsb. 101. Matt. West. 437.

casioning his fate, gained the splendid laurel. To harass the hinder ranks of that firm mass which he could not by his front attack destroy, he directed his archers not to shoot horizontally at the English, but to discharge their arrows vigorously upwards into the sky. These fell with fatal effect on the more distant troops (1). The random shots descended like impetuous hail, and one of them pierced the gallant Harold in the eye (2). A furious charge of the Norman horse increased the disorder, which the king's wound must have occasioned; his pain disabled him, and he was mortally wounded. As the evening closed, one of the combatants had the brutality to strike into his thigh after he was dead, for which William, with nobler feelings, disgraced him on the field (3). Panic scattered the English on their leader's death (4). The Normans vigorously pursued, though the broken ground and frequent ditches checked their ardour. Encouraged by observing this, a part of the fugitives rallied, and, indignant at the prospect of surrendering their country to foreigners, they sought to renew the combat. William ordered the count Eustace and his soldiers to the attack. The count exposed the peril and advised a retreat. He was at this instant vehemently struck in his neck, and his face was covered with his blood. The duke, undismayed, led on his men to the conflict. Some of the noblest Normans fell, but he completed his hardearned victory (5).

The body of Harold was found near his two brothers, and was carried to the Norman camp. His mother offered its weight of gold, for the privilege of burying it; but she was denied the melancholy

(1) Hunt. 368.

(2) Hunt. 368. Malmsb. 101. The Roman de Rou states the incident thus:

(3) Matt. West. 438.

[blocks in formation]

Malmsb. 101. The tapestry seems to represent this; for under the words, "Here Harold king was slain," an armed man is figured fallen dead, his battle-axe flying from him. Another upon horseback leans forward, and with a sword is wounding his thigh.

(4) The tapestry ends with the flight of the English. "On ne voit plus dans ce qui reste de la tapisserie que des traits qui tracent des figures; peut-être n'y a-t-il jamais eu que ces traits; l'ouvrage dessiné et tracé fut interrompu par la mort de la princesse Mathilde; peut-être aussi le temps et les différents accidents qu'a essuyés cette extrémité de la tapisserie, ont rongé le tissu." Lanc. 468.

(5) Guil. Pict. 203.

satisfaction (1). The two brothers of Harold fell also in the battle (2), William escaped unhurt (3). But the slaughter of his Normans had been great (4).

His victory was splendid; but if Harold had not fallen, it would have contributed very little to gain the crown of England. It was the death of Harold which gave William the sceptre. The force of England was unconquered. A small portion of it only had been exerted (5); and if Harold had survived, or any other heir at all competent to the crisis, William would have earned no more from his victory than the privilege of fighting another battle with diminished strength. When he landed on England, he came with all his power. The fleet of the Anglo-Saxons was afterwards ready to cut off further succour, if such could have been raised for him in Normandy; and it is probable that if, by the fall of Harold, England had not been suddenly left without a chief, the battle of Hastings would have been to William but a scene of brilliant glory, speedily followed by a melancholy catastrophe.

In great revolutions much is effected by active talents; but perhaps more by that arrangement of events over which man has no control. It was William's intention to have sailed a month sooner than he appeared. If his wishes had been fulfilled, he would have invaded Harold before the king of Norway, and would perhaps have shared his fate. For if the English king, with the disadvantages of a loss and desertion of his veteran troops, of new levies, of an inferior force, and an overweening presumption (6), was yet able to balance the conflict with William's most concentrated, select, and skilfully exerted strength, until night was closing; if the victory was only decided by his casual death, how different would have been the issue, if Harold had met him with the troops which

(1) So says Guil. Pict. 204. "In castra ducis delatus, qui tumulandum eum Guillelmo agnomine Maletto concessit, non matri pro corpore dilectæ prolis auri par pondus offerenti. - Estimavit indignum fore ad matris libitum sepeliri cujus ob nimiam cupiditatem insepulti remanerent innumerabiles." So, in his following apostrophe, he says, "In cruore jacuisti et in littoreo tumulo jaces." In opposition to this contemporary evidence, the English writers, as Malinsb. 102. and others, say, Corpus Haroldi matri repetenti sine pretio misit licet illa multum per legatos obtulisset." It is added, that the body was buried at Waltham. Orderic's statement, p. 502., is like Guil. Pict.

[ocr errors]

(2) The tapestry places the death of Gurth and Leofwine, the two brothers, some time before Harold's.

(3) Matt. West. 439.

(4) Hoveden, 449. Sim. Dun. 197. (5) That Harold had rushed with vain confidence to the battle, with an inferior force, is a general assertion among our old chroniclers.

(6) One chief reason of Harold's hastening to fight before he was fully prepared, is declared to have been, that he might find the Normans before they fled out of the country. Previous to the battle, he is said to have affirmed (Taylor's MS. p. 191.) that he had never done any thing more willingly in his life than his coming to meet William : mistaking thus his personal ardour for his military strength; mistaking also his great adversary, who, to courage and skill, at least equal to his own, was more desperate from necessity, and had superior forces.

« EelmineJätka »