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FROM ROLLO TO EDWARD II.
The “Cameos” here put together are intended as a book for young people just beyond the elementary histories of England, and able to enter in some degree into the real spirit of events, and to be struck with characters and scenes presented in some relief.
The endeavor has not been to chronicle facts, but to put together a series of pictures of persons and events, so as to arrest the attention and give some individuality and distinctness to the recollection, by gathering together details at the most memorable moments. Begun many years since, as the historical portion of a magazine, the earlier ones of these Cameos have been collected and revised to serve for school-room reading, and it is hoped that, if these are found useful, they may ere long be followed up by a second volume, comprising the wars in France, and those of the Roses.
_February 28th, 1868._
CAMEO I. ROLF GANGER (900-932)
CAMEO II. WILLIAM LONGSWORD AND RICHARD THE FEARLESS (932-996)
CAMEO III. YOUTH OF THE CONQUEROR (1026-1066)
CAMEO IV. EARL GODWIN (1012-1052)
CAMEO V. THE TWO HAROLDS (1060-1066)
CAMEO VI. THE NORMAN INVASION (1066)
CAMEO VII. THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS (1066) CONTENTS.
CAMEO VIII. THE CAMP OF REFUGE (1067-1072)
CAMEO IX. THE LAST SAXON BISHOP (1008-1095)
CAMEO X. THE CONQUEROR (1066-1087)
CAMEO XI. THE CONQUEROR’S CHILDREN (1050-1087)
CAMEO XII. THE CROWN AND THE MITRE (1087-1107)
CAMEO XIII. THE FIRST CRUSADE (1095-1100)
CAMEO XIV. THE ETHELING FAMILY (1010-1159)
CAMEO XV. THE COUNTS OF ANJOU (888-1142)
CAMEO XVI. VISITORS OF HENRY I. (1120-1134)
CAMEO XVII. THE BATTLE OF THE STANDARD (1135-1138)
CAMEO XVIII. THE SNOWS OF OXFORD (1138-1154)
CAMEO XIX. YOUTH OF BECKET (1154-1162)
CAMEO XX. THE CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON (1163-1172)
CAMEO XXI. DEATH OF BECKET (1166-1172)
CAMEO XXII. THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND (1172)
CAMEO XXIII. THE REBELLIOUS EAGLETS (1149-1183)
CAMEO XXIV. THE THIRD CRUSADE (1189-1193)
CAMEO XXV. ARTHUR OF BRITTANY (1187-1206)
CAMEO XXVI. THE INTERDICT (1207-1214)
CAMEO XXVII. MAGNA CHARTA (1214-1217)
CAMEO XXVIII. THE FIEF OP ROME (1217-1254)
CAMEO XXIX. THE LONGESPEES IN THE EGYPTIAN CRUSADES (1219-1254)
CAMEO XXX. SIMON DE MONTFORT (1232-1266)
CAMEO XXXI. THE LAST OF THE CRUSADERS (1267-1291)
CAMEO XXXII. THE CYMRY (B.C. 66-A.D. 1269)
CAMEO XXXIII. THE ENGLISH JUSTINIAN (1272-1292)
CAMEO XXXIV. THE HAMMER OF THE SCOTS (1292-1305)
CAMEO XXXV. THE EVIL TOLL (1294-1305)
CAMEO XXXVI. ROBERT THE BRUCE (1305-1308)
CAMEO XXXVII. THE VICTIM OP BLACKLOW HILL (1307-1313)
CAMEO XXXVIII. BANNOCKBURN (1307-1313)
CAMEO XXXIX. THE KNIGHTS OF THE TEMPLE (1292-1316)
CAMEO XL. THE BARONS’ WARS (1310-1327)
CAMEO XLI. GOOD KING ROBERT’S TESTAMENT (1314-1329)
THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Young people learn the history of England by reading small books which connect some memorable event that they can understand, and remember, with the name of each king–such as Tyrrell’s arrow-shot with William Rufus, or the wreck of the White Ship with Henry I. But when they begin to grow a little beyond these stories, it becomes difficult to find a history that will give details and enlarge their knowledge, without being too lengthy. They can hardly be expected to remember or take an interest in personages or events left, as it were, in the block. It was the sense of this want that prompted the writing of the series that here follows, in which the endeavor has been to take either individual characters, or events bearing on our history, and work them out as fully as materials permitted, so that each, taken by itself, might form an individual Cameo, or gem in full relief, and thus become impressed upon the mind.
The undertaking was first begun sixteen years ago, for a periodical for young people. At that time, the view was to make the Cameos hang, as it were, on the thread furnished by ordinary childish histories, so as to leave out what might be considered as too well-known. However, as the work made progress, this was found to be a mistake; the omissions prevented the finished parts from fitting together, and the characters were incomplete, without being shown in action. Thus, in preparing the Cameos for separate publication, it has been found better to supply what had previously been omitted, as well as to try to correct and alter the other Cameos by the light of increasing information.
None of them lay claim to being put together from original documents; they are only the attempt at collecting, from large and often not easily accessible histories, the more interesting or important scenes and facts, and at arranging them so that they may best impress the imagination and memory of the young, so as to prepare them for fuller and deeper reading.
Our commencement is with the Dukes of Normandy. The elder England has been so fully written of, and in such an engaging manner for youthful readers, in the late Sir Francis Palgrave’s “History of the Anglo-Saxons,” that it would have been superfluous to expand the very scanty Cameos of that portion of our history. The present volume, then, includes the history of the Norman race of sovereigns, from Rollo to Edward of Carnarvon, with whose fate we shall pause, hoping in a second volume to go through the French wars and the wars of the Roses. Nor have we excluded the mythical or semi-romantic tales of our early history. It is as needful to a person of education to be acquainted with them, as if they were certain facts, and we shall content ourselves with marking what come to us on doubtful authority.
_Kings of England_.
901. Edward the Elder.
_Kings of France_.
_Emperors of Germany_.
899. Ludwig IV.
If we try to look back at history nine hundred years, we shall see a world very unlike that in which we are now moving. Midway from the birth of our Lord to the present era, the great struggle between the new and old had not subsided, and the great European world of civilized nations had not yet settled into their homes and characters.
Christianity had been accepted by the Roman Emperor six hundred years previously, but the Empire was by that time too weak and corrupt to be renewed, even by the fresh spirit infused into it; and, from the 4th century onward, it had been breaking up under the force of the fierce currents of nations that rushed from the north-east of Europe. The Greek half of the Empire prolonged its existence in the Levant, but the Latin, or Western portion, became a wreck before the 5th century was far advanced. However, each conquering tribe that poured into the southern dominions had been already so far impressed with the wisdom and dignity of Rome, and the holiness of her religion, that they paused in their violence, and gradually allowed themselves to be taught by her doctrine, tamed by her manners, and governed by her laws. The Patriarch of Rome–_Papa_, or Father–was acknowledged by them, as by the subjects of Rome of old; they accepted the clergy, who had already formed dioceses and parishes, and though much of horrible savagery remained to be subdued in the general mass, yet there was a gradual work of amelioration in progress.
This was especially the case with the Franks, who had overspread the northern half of Gaul. Their first race of kings had become Christians simultaneously with their conquest; and though these soon dwindled away between crime and luxury, there had grown up under them a brave and ambitious family, whose earlier members were among the most distinguished persons in history.
Charles Martel turned back the Saracens at Tours, and saved Europe from Mahometanism, and his grandson, Charles the Great, rescued the Pope from the Lombards, and received from him in return the crown of a new Empire of the West–the Holy Roman Empire, which was supposed to be the great temporal power. As the Pope, or Patriarch, was deemed the head of all bishops, so the Emperor was to be deemed the head of all kings of the West, from the Danube and Baltic to the Atlantic Ocean–the whole country that had once been held by Rome, and then had been wrested from her by the various German or Teutonic races. The island of Great Britain was a sort of exception to the general rule. Like Gaul, it had once been wholly Keltic, but it had not been as entirely subdued by the Romans, and the overflow of Teutons came very early thither, and while they were yet so thoroughly Pagan that the old Keltic Church failed to convert them, and the mission of St. Augustine was necessary from Rome.
A little later, when Charles the Great formed his empire of Franks, Germans, Saxons, and Gauls, Egbert gathered, in like manner, the various petty kingdoms of the Angles and Saxons under the one dominant realm of Wessex, and thus became a sort of island Emperor.
It seems, however, to be a rule, that nations and families recently emerged from barbarism soon fade and decay under the influence of high civilization; and just as the first race of Frankish kings had withered away on the throne, so the line of Charles the Great, though not inactive, became less powerful and judicious, grew feeble in the very next generation, and were little able to hold together the multitude of nations that had formed the empire.
Soon the kingdom of France split away from the Empire; and while a fresh and more able Emperor became the head of the West, the descendants of the great Charles still struggled on, at their royal cities of Laon and Soissons, with the terrible difficulties brought upon them by restless subjects, and by the last and most vigorous swarm of all the Teutonic invaders.
The wild rugged hills and coasts of Scandinavia, with their keen climate, long nights, and many gulfs and bays, had contributed to nurse the Teuton race in a vigor and perfection scarcely found elsewhere–or not at least since the more southern races had yielded to the enervating influences of their settled life. Some of these had indeed been tamed, but more had been degraded. The English were degenerating into clownishness, the Franks into effeminacy; and though Christianity continually raised up most brilliant lights–now on the throne, now in the cathedral, now in the cloister–yet the mass of the people lay sluggish, dull, inert, selfish, and half savage.
They were in this state when the Norseman and the Dane fitted out their long ships, and burst upon their coasts. By a peculiar law, common once to all the Teuton nations, though by that time altered in the southern ones, the land of a family was not divided among its members, but all possessed an equal right in it; and thus, as it was seldom adequate to maintain them all, the more enterprising used their right in it only to fell trees enough to build a ship, and to demand corn enough to victual their crew, which was formed of other young men whose family inheritance could not furnish more than a sword or spear.
Kings and princes–of whom there were many–were exactly in the same position as their subjects, and they too were wont to seek their fortunes upon the high seas. Fleets coalesced under the command of some chieftain of birth or note, and the Vikings, or pirates, sailed fearlessly forth, to plunder the tempting regions to the south of them.
Fierce worshippers were they of the old gods, Odin, Frey, Thor; of the third above all others, and their lengthy nights had led to their working up those myths that had always been common to the whole race into a beauty, poetry, and force, probably not found elsewhere; and that nerved them both to fight vehemently for an entrance to Valhalla, the hall of heroes, and to revenge the defection of the Christians who had fallen from Odin. They plundered, they burnt, they slew; they specially devastated churches and monasteries, and no coast was safe from them from the Adriatic to the furthest north–even Rome saw their long ships, and, “From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us,” was the prayer in every Litany of the West.
England had been well-nigh undone by them, when the spirit of her greatest king awoke, and by Alfred they were overcome: some were permitted to settle down and were taught Christianity and civilization, and the fresh invaders were driven from the coast. Alfred’s gallant son and grandson held the same course, guarded their coasts, and made their faith and themselves respected throughout the North. But in France, the much-harassed house of Charles the Great, and the ill-compacted bond of different nations, were little able to oppose their fierce assaults, and ravage and devastation reigned from one end of the country to another.
However, the Vikings, on returning to their native homes, sometimes found their place filled up, and the family inheritance incapable of supporting so many. Thus they began to think of winning not merely gold and cattle, but lands and houses, on the coasts that they had pillaged. In Scotland, the Hebrides, and Ireland, they settled by leave of nothing but their swords; in England, by treaty with Alfred; and in France, half by conquest, half by treaty, always, however, accepting Christianity as a needful obligation when they accepted southern lands. Probably they thought that Thor was only the god of the North, and that the “White Christ,” as they called Him who was made known to them in these new countries, was to be adored in what they deemed alone His territories.
Of all the sea-robbers who sailed from their rocky dwelling-places by the fiords of Norway, none enjoyed higher renown than Rolf, called the ganger, or walker, as tradition relates, because his stature was so gigantic that, when clad in full armor, no horse could support his weight, and he therefore always fought on foot.
Rolf’s lot had, however, fallen in what he doubtless considered as evil days. No such burnings and plunderings as had hitherto wasted England, and enriched Norway, fell to his share; for Alfred had made the bravest Northman feel that his fleet and army were more than a match for theirs. Ireland was exhausted by the former depredations of the pirates, and, from a fertile and flourishing country, had become a scene of desolation; Scotland and its isles were too barren to afford prey to the spoiler; and worse than all, the King of Norway, Harald Harfagre, desirous of being included among the civilized sovereigns of Europe, strictly forbade his subjects to exercise their old trade of piracy on his own coasts, or on those of his allies. Rolf, perhaps, considered himself above this new law. His father, Earl Rognwald, as the chief friend of the King, had been chosen to cut and comb the hair which Harald had kept for ten years untrimmed, in fulfilment of a vow, that his locks should never be clipped until the whole of Norway was under his dominion. He had also been invested with the government of the great Earldom of Moere, where the sons of Harald, jealous of the favor with which he was regarded by their father, burnt him and sixty of his men, in his own house. The vengeance taken by his sons had been signal, and the King had replaced Thorer the Silent, one of their number, in his father’s earldom.
Rolf, presuming on the favor shown to his family, while returning from an expedition on the Baltic, made a descent on the coast of Viken, a part of Norway, and carried off the cattle wanted by his crew. The King, who happened at that time to be in that district, was highly displeased, and, assembling a council, declared Rolf Ganger an outlaw. His mother, Hilda, a dame of high lineage, in vain interceded for him, and closed her entreaty with a warning in the wild extemporary poetry of the North:
“Bethink thee, monarch, it is ill
With such a wolf, at wolf to play, Who, driven to the wild woods away,
May make the king’s best deer his prey.”
Harald listened not, and it was well; for through the marvellous dealings of Providence, the outlawry of this “wolf” of Norway led to the establishment of our royal line, and to that infusion of new spirit into England to which her greatness appears to be chiefly owing.
The banished Rolf found a great number of companions, who, like himself, were unwilling to submit to the strict rule of Harald Harfagre, and setting sail with them, he first plundered and devastated the coast of Flanders, and afterward turned toward France. In the spring of 896, the citizens of Rouen, scarcely yet recovered from the miseries inflicted upon them by the fierce Danish rover, Hasting, were dismayed by the sight of a fleet of long low vessels with spreading sails, heads carved like that of a serpent, and sterns finished like the tail of the reptile, such as they well knew to be the keels of the dreaded Northmen, the harbingers of destruction and desolation. Little hope of succor or protection was there from King Charles the Simple; and, indeed, had the sovereign been ever so warlike and energetic, it would little have availed Rouen, which might have been destroyed twice over before a messenger could reach Laon.
In this emergency, Franco, the Archbishop, proposed to go forth to meet the Northmen, and attempt to make terms for his flock. The offer was gladly accepted by the trembling citizens, and the good Archbishop went, bearing the keys of the town, to visit the camp which the Northmen had begun to erect upon the bank of the river. They offered him no violence, and he performed his errand safely. Rolf, the rude generosity of whose character was touched by his fearless conduct, readily agreed to spare the lives and property of the citizens, on condition that Rouen was surrendered to him without resistance.
Entering the town, he there established his head-quarters, and spent a whole year there and in the adjacent parts of the country, during which time the Northmen so faithfully observed their promise, that they were regarded by the Rouennais rather as friends than as conquerors; and Rolf, or Rollo, as the French called him, was far more popular among them than their real sovereign. Wherever he met with resistance, he showed, indeed, the relentless cruelty of the heathen pirate; but where he found submission, he was a kind master, and these qualities contributed to gain for him an easy and rapid conquest of Neustria, as the district of which Rouen was the capital was then called.
In the course of the following year, he advanced along the banks of the Seine as far as its junction with the Eure. On the opposite side of the river, there were visible a number of tents, where slept a numerous army which Charles had at length collected to oppose this formidable enemy. The Northmen also set up their camp, in expectation of a battle, and darkness had just closed in on them when a shout was heard on the opposite side of the river, and to their surprise a voice was heard speaking in their own language, “Brave warriors, why come ye hither, and what do ye seek?”
“We are Northmen, come hither to conquer France,” replied Rollo. “But who art thou who speakest our tongue so well?”
“Heard ye never of Hasting?” was the reply.
Hasting was one of the most celebrated of the Sea-Kings. He had fought with Alfred in England, had cruelly wasted France, and had even sailed into the Mediterranean and made himself dreaded in Italy; but with him it had been as with the old pirate in the poem:
“Time will rust the sharpest sword,
Time will consume the strongest cord; That which moulders hemp and steel,
Mortal arm and nerve must feel.
Of the Danish band, whom ‘Earl Hasting’ led, Many wax’d aged, and many were dead;
Himself found his armor full weighty to bear, Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair; He leaned on a staff when his step went abroad, And patient his palfrey, when steed he bestrode. As he grew feebler, his wildness ceased, He made himself peace with prelate and priest; He made himself peace, and stooping his head, Patiently listen’d the counsel they said.
“‘Thou hast murder’d, robb’d, and spoil’d, Time it is thy poor soul were assoil’d; Priests didst thou slay and churches burn, Time it is now to repentance to turn;
Fiends hast thou worshipp’d with fiendish rite, Leave now the darkness and wend into light; Oh, while life and space are given,
Turn thee yet, and think of heaven.’
“That stern old heathen, his head he raised, And on the good prelate he steadfastly gazed, ‘Give me broad lands on the “Eure and the Seine,” My faith I will leave, and I’ll cleave unto thine.’ Broad lands he gave him on ‘Seine and on Eure,’ To be held of the king by bridle and spear,
“For the ‘Frankish’ King was a sire in age, Weak in battle, in council sage;
Peace of that heathen leader he sought, Gifts he gave and quiet he bought;
And the Earl took upon him the peaceful renown, Of a vassal and liegeman for ‘Chartres’ good town: He abjured the gods of heathen race,
And he bent his head at the font of grace; But such was the grizzly old proselyte’s look, That the priest who baptized him grew pale and shook.”
Such had been the history of Hasting, now Count of Chartres, who without doubt expected that his name and example would have a great effect upon his countrymen; but the answer to his question, “Heard ye never of Hasting?” met with no such answer as he anticipated.
“Yes,” returned Rollo; “he began well, but ended badly.”
“Will ye not, then,” continued the old pirate, “submit to my lord the King? Will ye not hold of him lands and honors?”
“No!” replied the Northmen, disdainfully, “we will own no lord; we will take no gift; but we will have what we ourselves can conquer by force.” Here Hasting took his departure, and returning to the French camp, strongly advised the commander not to hazard a battle; but his counsel was overruled by a young standard-bearer, who, significantly observing, “Wolves make not war on wolves,” so offended the old sea-king, that he quitted the army that night, and never again appeared in France. The wisdom of his advice was the next morning made evident, by the total defeat of the French, and the advance of the Northmen, who in a short space after appeared beneath the walls of Paris.
Failing in their attempt to take the city, they returned to Rouen, where they fortified themselves, making it the capital of the territory they had conquered.
Fifteen years passed away, the summers of which were spent in ravaging the dominions of Charles the Simple, and the winters in the city of Rouen, and in the meantime a change had come over their leader. He had been insensibly softened and civilized by his intercourse with the good Archbishop Franco; and finding, perhaps, that it was not quite so easy as he had expected to conquer the whole kingdom of France, he declared himself willing to follow the example which he had once despised, and to become a vassal of the French crown for the duchy of Neustria.
Charles, greatly rejoiced to find himself thus able to put a stop to the dreadful devastations of the Northmen, readily agreed to the terms proposed by Rollo, appointing the village of St. Clair-sur-Epte, on the borders of Neustria, as the place of meeting for the purpose of receiving his homage and oath of fealty. It was a strange meeting which there took place between the degenerate and almost imbecile descendant of the great Charles, with his array of courtly followers and his splendor and luxury, and the gigantic warrior of the North, the founder of a line of kings, in all the vigor of the uncivilized native of a cold climate, and the unbending pride of a conqueror, surrounded by his tall warriors, over whom his chieftainship had hitherto depended only on their own consent, gained by his acknowledged superiority in wisdom in council and prowess in battle.
The greatest difficulty to be overcome in this conference, was the repugnance felt by the proud Northman to perform the customary act of homage before any living man, especially one whom he held so cheap as Charles the Simple. He consented, indeed, to swear allegiance, and declare himself the “King’s man,” with his hands clasped between those of Charles; but the remaining part of the ceremony, the kneeling to kiss the foot of his liege lord, he absolutely refused, and was with difficulty persuaded to permit one of his followers to perform it in his name. The proxy, as proud as his master, instead of kneeling, took the King’s foot in his hand, and lifted it to his mouth, while he stood upright, thus overturning both monarch and throne, amid the rude laughter of his companions, while the miserable Charles and his courtiers felt such a dread of these new vassals that they did not dare to resent the insult.
On his return to Rouen, Rollo was baptized, and, on leaving the cathedral, celebrated his conversion by large grants to the different churches and convents in his new duchy, making a fresh gift on each of the days during which he wore the white robes of the newly baptized. All of his warriors who chose to follow his example, and embrace the Christian faith, received from him grants of land, to be held of him on the same terms as those by which he held the dukedom from the King; and the country, thus peopled by the Northmen, gradually assumed the appellation of Normandy.
Applying themselves with all the ardor of their temper to their new way of life, the Northmen quickly adopted the manners, language, and habits which were recommended to them as connected with the holy faith which they had just embraced, but without losing their own bold and vigorous spirit. Soon the gallant and accomplished Norman knight could scarcely have been recognized as the savage sea-robber, once too ferocious and turbulent even for his own wild country in the far North, while, at the same time, he bore as little resemblance to the cruel and voluptuous French noble, at once violent and indolent. The new war-cry of _Dieu aide_ was as triumphant as that of _Thor Hulfe_ had been of old, and the Red Cross led to as many victories as the Raven standard.
It is said that the word “Exchequer” is derived from the court of justice established by Rollo, so called from the word “_Schicken_” signifying, in his native tongue, to send, because from it judges were sent to try causes throughout the dukedom. It is also said that the appeal from them to the Duke himself, made in these terms, “J’appelle a Rou,” is the origin of the cry “_Haro_” by which, for centuries after his descendants had passed away from Normandy, the injured always called for justice. This was for many centuries believed in Normandy, but in fact the word _Haro_ is only the same as our own “hurrah,” the beginning of a shout. There is no doubt, however, that the keen, unsophisticated vigor of Rollo, directed by his new religion, did great good in Normandy, and that his justice was sharp, his discipline impartial, so that of him is told the famous old story bestowed upon other just princes, that a gold bracelet was left for three years untouched upon a tree in a forest.
He had been married, as part of the treaty, to Gisele, daughter of King Charles the Simple, but he was an old grizzly warrior, and neither cared for the other. A wife whom he had long before taken from Vermandois had borne him a son, named William, to whom he left his dukedom in 932.
All this history of Rolf, or Rollo, is, however, very doubtful; and nothing can be considered as absolutely established but that Neustria, or Normandy, was by him and his Northmen settled under a grant from the Frank king, Charles the Simple, and the French duke, Robert, Count of Paris.
WILLIAM LONGSWORD AND RICHARD THE FEARLESS. (932-996.)
_Kings of England_.
940. Edmund I.
959. Ethelred II.
_Kings of France_.
936. Louis IV.
954. Lothaire III.
986. Louis V.
987 Hugh Capet.
_Emperors of Germany_.
936. Otho I.
973. Otho II.
983. Otho III.
The Norman character was strongly marked. Their whole nature was strong and keen, full of energy, and with none of the sluggish dulness that was always growing over the faculties of the Frank and Saxon; and even to this day the same energy prevails among their descendants, a certain portion of the English nobility, and the population of Normandy and of Yorkshire.
There was a deep sense of religion, always showing itself in action, though not always consistently, and therewith a grand sense of honor and generosity, coupled, however, with a curious shrewd astuteness. The high-minded Norman was the flower of chivalry and honor, the low-minded Norman the most successful of villains–and there has often been a curious compound of both elements in the character of some of the most distinguished Normans whom history has to show.
Old Rollo caused his only son to be highly educated, and William of the Long Sword grew up a prince to be proud of. His height was majestic, his features beautiful, his complexion as pure and delicate as a maiden’s, his strength gigantic, his prowess with all the weapons on foot and on horseback unrivalled, and his wit and capacity of the brightest and most powerful. Born since his father’s arrival in France, the tales of Thor and Odin, the old giants, and the future Valhalla, wore things of the dark old past to him, and he threw himself with his whole heart into the new faith. So intensely devout was he, so fond of prayer and of the rites of the Church, that Rollo called him fitter for a cloister than a dukedom; but the choice was not open to him, an only son, with the welfare of the Normans dependent on him; and while living in the world, his saintly aspirations did not preserve him from a self-indulgent life at home, or from unjust dealing abroad. But he had many fits of devotion. Once when hunting on the banks of the Seine, he came on the ruins of the Abbey of Jumieges; which had, many years before, been destroyed by Hasting. Two old monks, who still survived, came forth to meet him, told him their history, and invited him to partake of some of their best fare. It was coarse barley bread, and the young duke, turning from it in disgust, carelessly bestowed a rich alms upon them, and eagerly pursued his sport. He had not ridden far before he roused a huge wild boar, and, in the encounter with it, he broke his sword, was thrown from his horse, and so severely injured, that his servants, on coming up, found him stretched insensible upon the ground. Believing this accident to be the just punishment of Heaven for his contempt for the old brethren, William, as soon as he recovered his senses, desired to be carried to Jumieges, and there humbly confessed his sinful feelings, and entreated their pardon.
His first care, when his health was re-established, was for the restoration of Jumieges, which he built with great splendor, and often visited. His chief desire was to enter the abbey as a brother of the order, but his wish was opposed by the excellent Abbot Martin, who pointed out to him that he ought not to desert the station to which he had been called by Heaven, nor quit the government till his son was old enough to take the charge upon himself, and at the same time encouraged him by the example of many a saint, whose heavenward road had lain through the toils and cares of a secular life.
William yielded to the arguments of the good father, but his heart was still in the peaceful abbey, and he practised in secret the devotions and austerities of the cloister to the utmost of his power, longing earnestly for the time when he might lay aside the weary load of cares of war and of government, and retire to that holy brotherhood.
In Normandy, his strict, keen justice made him greatly honored and loved, but the French greatly hated and abhorred him, and his transactions with them were sometimes cunning, sometimes violent. He had much of the old Northman about him, and had not entered into the Church’s teachings of the sanctity of marriage. Like his father, he had had a half-acknowledged wife, Espriota, who was the mother of his only child, Richard, but he put her away in order to ally himself with one of the great French families, and he had his child brought up at Bayeux, among Norse-speaking nobles, as if he would rather see him a Norseman than a, French prince.
The bold and devout but inconsistent William was the dread of all his neighbors, and especially of Arnulf, Count of Flanders. William was in alliance with Herluin, Count of Montreuil, against Arnulf; when, in 942, he was invited to a conference on a small island in the Somme, and there, having contrived to separate him from his followers, at a given signal one of the Flemings struck him down with an oar, and a number of daggers were instantly plunged into his breast.
The Flemings made their escape in safety, leaving the bleeding corpse upon the island, where the Normans, who had seen the murder, without being able to prevent or revenge it, reverently took it up, and brought it back to Rouen. Beneath the robes of state they found it dressed in a hair-cloth shirt, and round the neck was a chain sustaining a golden key, which was rightly judged to belong to the chest where he kept his choicest treasure; but few would have guessed what was the treasure so valued by the knightly duke of the martial name, and doubtless there were many looks of wonder among the Norman barons, when the chest was opened, and disclosed, instead of gold and jewels, the gown and hood, the sandals and rosary, of a brother of the Benedictine order.
He was buried beside his father, in the cathedral of Rouen, amid the universal lamentations of his vassals; and his greatest friend and counsellor, Bernard the Dane, Count of Harcourt, fetched from Bayeux his only child, Richard, only eight years old, to be solemnly invested with the ducal sword and mantle, and to receive the homage of the Normans. [Footnote: This is the Norman legend. The French Chronicles point to Norman treachery.] The bitter hatred of the French to the Normans could not but break out in the minority.
To the surprise of the Normans, Louis IV., king of France, suddenly arrived at Rouen, to claim, as he said, the homage of his young vassal. On the following day, Richard did not, as usual, appear beyond the walls of the castle, and there were rumors that he was detained there by order of the king. Assembling in great numbers, the Rouennais came before the castle, shouting loudly for “Richard! Richard! our little Duke!” nor could they be pacified till Louis appeared at the window, lifting young Richard in his arms, and made them a speech upon the gratitude and admiration which he pretended to feel for Duke William, to whom he said he owed his restoration to the throne of his fathers, and whose son he promised to regard as his own child.
On leaving Rouen, Louis claimed the right of taking Richard with him, as the guardian of all crown vassals in their minority; and Bernard de Harcourt, finding it impossible to resist, only stipulated that the young Duke should never be separated from his Norman esquire, Osmond de Centeville, who on his side promised to keep a careful watch over him. Richard was accordingly conducted to Montleon, and made the companion of the two young princes, Lothaire and Carloman, and for some time no more was heard respecting him in Normandy. At last arrived a message from Osmond de Centeville, sent in secret with considerable difficulty, telling the Normans to pray that their young duke might be delivered out of the hands of his enemies, for that he was convinced that evil was intended, since he was closely watched; and one day when he had gone down to the river to bathe, the queen had threatened him with cruel punishments if he again left the place. Bernard immediately ordered a three days’ fast, during which prayers for the safety of the little duke were offered in every church in Normandy, and further tidings were anxiously awaited.
In the meantime the faithful squire was devising a plan of escape. He caused the young Richard to feign illness, and thus obtained a slight relaxation of the vigilance with which his movements, were watched, which enabled him to carry to the duke’s apartments a great bundle of hay. At nightfall he rolled Richard up in the midst of it, and laying it across his shoulders, he crossed the castle court to the stable, as if he was going to feed his horse, and as soon as it was dark he mounted, placing the boy before him, and galloped off to a castle on the borders of Normandy, where the rescued prince was greeted with the greatest joy.
The escape of his ward was followed by an open declaration of war on the part of Louis IV., upon which the Count de Harcourt sent to Denmark to ask succor from King Harald Blue-tooth, who, mindful of Duke William’s kindness, himself led a numerous force to Normandy. Bernard, pretending to consider this as a piratical invasion, sent to ask Louis to assist him in expelling the heathens. Louis entered Normandy, and came in sight of the Danish host on the banks of the river Dives, where Harald summoned him to leave the dukedom to its rightful owner. Louis desired a conference, and a tent was pitched between the armies, where the two kings met.
Bernard advised the King of France not to bring Herluin de Montreuil to this meeting, since the Normans considered him as the occasion of their duke’s death; but the French replied that no Dane should hinder their king from taking with him whomsoever he pleased. While the two kings were in the tent, Herluin, seeing a knight from the Cotentin, with whom he was acquainted, went up to him and inquired after his health.
The Danes asked who he was, and the knight replied, “Count Herluin, who caused Duke William’s death;” whereupon the wild Danes rushed upon him, and killed him with their battle-axes.
A general conflict ensued; the French were put to flight, and by the time the kings came out of the tent, the battle was decided. Louis mounted his horse in order to rejoin his troops, but the animal ran with him into the midst of the enemy, where Harald caught his bridle, made him prisoner, and delivered him to four knights to keep. While, however, they were engaged in plundering, he made his escape, and had ridden four leagues when he met a soldier of Rouen, whom he bribed to hide him in an island in the Seine, until he could find a fit opportunity of quitting Normandy. Harald and Bernard, however, by making strict inquiries, discovered that the soldier knew where he was, and seizing the man’s wife and children, threatened to put them to death if he did not put the king into their hands. Louis was accordingly delivered to them, but they shortly after released him on receiving his two sons as hostages.
The younger of the two princes died shortly after his arrival in Normandy; and anxiety for Lothaire, the remaining son, induced his father to come to terms with the Normans; and, at St. Clair-sur-Epte, Louis swore to leave Richard in undisturbed possession of his lands, and to extend the limits of the duchy as far as the banks of the Epte, after which the young duke paid him homage, and restored his son to him.
Richard then returned to Rouen, which he had not visited since he had been carried to the French court, and was greeted with great joy by the citizens, who were much delighted by his appearance, the height of his figure, and the beauty of his countenance. The King of Denmark was also received by them with great enthusiasm, who, after spending some time at Rouen, returned home.
At the age of fourteen, Richard was betrothed to Emma, daughter of Hugh the White, Count of Paris, a nobleman whose increasing power had long been a subject of jealousy both to the court of Flanders and to the King of France. On hearing of the intended connection between these two mighty vassals, they united their forces to prevent it, and called in the aid of Otho, Emperor of Germany, and Conrad, King of Burgundy.
While Louis and Conrad attacked the Count, Otho and Arnulf entered Normandy, and laid siege to Rouen, but on the way thither were attacked by an ambuscade under the command of the young Richard himself, who now for the first time bore arms, and greatly signalized himself, putting the Germans to flight, and killing the Emperor’s nephew with his own hand.
Otho still advanced and invested Rouen. Wishing to know what resources the city contained, he sent to ask Richard’s permission to enter it, in order to pay his devotions at the shrine of St. Ouen. His request was granted, and in passing through the streets he perceived that the city was so well defended that he could not hope to take it. On his return to the camp, he told his council that he intended to make his peace with the Duke of Normandy, by delivering up to him the Count of Flanders, the author of the expedition. His council, however, persuaded him that this would be a disgraceful action; and Arnulf, receiving some hint of his proposal, in the middle of the night quitted the camp with all his men, and returned to Flanders. The noise of his departure awoke the Germans, who, imagining themselves to be attacked by the besieged, armed themselves in haste, and there was great confusion till morning, when, perceiving The departure of the Flemings, they set fire to their camp, and took the road to Germany. The Normans, sallying out of the town, harassed the rear, killed a number of them, and took many prisoners, and a great quantity of baggage.
In 954, Louis was killed by a fall from his horse, and was succeeded by his son Lothaire, who inherited all his dislike to the Normans, and especially hated the young duke, the companion of his boyhood, whose fame had so far exceeded his own, both in feats of arms and skill in government, and who, though only twenty-three, had been chosen by the wise and great Count of Paris as the guardian of his children, and the model on which his sons were to form themselves.
Twice did Lothaire, in conjunction with Count Thibaut de Chartres, a young nobleman who envied the fame of Richard, attempt to assassinate him at a conference; and the former, despairing of ridding himself of him by treachery, assembled an army of fifty thousand men, entered Normandy, and besieged Rouen. Here Richard, in a sudden night-attack on his camp, dispersed his forces, and took a great number of prisoners, all of whom he released without a ransom. Then, pursuing his advantage, he entered the county of Chartres, but he was obliged to return to his duchy, to defend it against a powerful league of all the neighboring princes, formed by the king.
Fearing to be crushed by so mighty a force, he sent to ask succor from his old friend, the king of Denmark, who, though too aged and infirm to come himself to Normandy, equipped a numerous fleet, and sent his best warriors to Richard.
The ravages which they committed compelled the king to send the Bishop of Chartres to sue for peace, but he would not venture into the camp without an escort from the duke, lest, as he said, “the Danish wolves should devour him on the way.”
On his arrival, he implored Richard to have compassion on the French, who suffered dreadful miseries from the Danes; and the duke, always desirous of peace, willingly engaged to treat with the king, and withdrew his forces into Normandy, to the great disappointment of the Danes, who had expected to dethrone Lothaire, and to place the gallant Richard on his throne. They were much surprised at the moderation of the demands which he, a conqueror, made to the humiliated Lothaire, only desiring to be left in quiet possession of his inheritance, and that a pardon should be granted for all injuries committed on either side during the war.
Lothaire gladly agreed to these terms, and the remainder of Richard’s life was spent in peace. Such of the latter’s subjects as had been trained to arms in the constant wars during his minority, found employment in combats with the Greeks and Saracens in Italy, where the twelve sons of a Norman knight, named Tancred de Hauteville, laid the foundation of the kingdoms of the Two Sicilies. Their place was supplied by the Danish allies, who, full of admiration for the Fearless Duke, were desirous of embracing his religion, and living under his government. Thibaut de Chartres came to Normandy to implore his pardon, and was received with such kindness that he was overcome with shame at his former conduct.
Richard was a stern but honorable man, and the courage and ability which he displayed throughout these wars made a great impression on his Danish allies, who were induced, in great numbers, to adopt the religion of the Fearless Duke, and to live under his government.
How the truly great man takes his revenge, was indeed shown by Richard the Fearless, the last time he took any part in the affairs of the nation. It was when Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, once his ward, had been raised to the throne of France by the authority of the Pope, and having received the homage of every crown vassal excepting Arnulf of Flanders, proceeded to ravage his county and seize his towns. Arnulf, completely reduced, saw no hope for himself except in throwing himself on the mercy of Duke Richard, the very man whose father he had murdered, and whom he had pursued with the most unrelenting hatred from his earliest childhood. Richard had but to allow royal justice to take its course, and he would have been fully avenged; but he who daily knelt before the altar of the Church of Fescamp, had learnt far other lessons. He went to Hugh Capet, and so pleaded with him, that he not only obtained the pardon of Arnulf, but the restoration of the whole of his county, and of both his cities. Thus, without doubt, would the saintly William Longsword have desired to be revenged by his only son.
Richard Sans Peur lived nine years after this, spending his time, for the most part, in the Abbey of Fescamp, in devotion and works of charity, and leaving the government to his eldest son, Richard the Good. He is thus described by a Norman chronicler who knew him well in his old age: “He was tall and well-proportioned, his countenance was noble, his beard was long, and his head covered with white hair. He was a pious benefactor to the monks, supplied the wants of the clergy, despised the proud, loved the humble, aided the poor, the widow and the orphan, and delighted in ransoming prisoners.”
He caused a stone coffin to be made for himself in his lifetime, and placed in the Church of Fescamp, where, every Friday, he filled it with wheat, which was afterwards distributed among the poor. In this Abbey he died in 996, desiring to be buried outside the church, close beneath the eaves, “where,” said he, “the droppings of water from the roof may fall on me, and wear away the stains of earthly corruption.”
His daughter Emma is often mentioned in English history as the wife of Ethelred the Unready, and afterward of Knut. She has often been much blamed for this second marriage with the enemy of her country, but it should be remembered how nearly the Northmen and Danes were connected, and that Knut was the grandson of her father’s ally, Harald Blue-tooth.
The great event of Richard’s time was the above-mentioned recognition of Hugh Capet as King of France. The Caroline race were Franks, chiefly German in blood, and had never fully amalgamated with the race called French, a mixture of Roman and Gallic, with only an upper stratum of the true Frank. When the Counts of Paris obtained the throne, and the line of Charlemagne retired into the little German county of Lotharingia, or Lorraine, then France became really France, and a nation with a national sovereign. Still it was a very small domain. Provence was part of the German Empire, so was Burgundy; Anjou, Normandy, and Brittany were almost independent, though owning a sort of allegiance to the king who reigned at Paris.
YOUTH OF THE CONQUEROR.
_Kings of England_.
1036. Harold I.
1041. Edward the
_Kings of France_.
1031. Henry IV.
1039. Philip I.
_Emperors of Germany_.
1021. Conrad II.
1039. Henry III.
1055. Henry IV.
Richard, called the Good, son of Richard Sans Peur, does not seem to have been in all respects equal to his father, nor did much that is worthy of note occur in his time.
He died in 1026, leaving two sons, Richard and Robert, both violent and turbulent young men, the younger of whom was called, from his fiery temper, Robert the Devil. After a fierce dispute respecting Robert’s appanage, the two brothers were suddenly reconciled, and, immediately afterward, Richard died, not without suspicion, on the part of the French, that he had been poisoned by his brother.
The Normans gave little heed to the calumny, and, in fact, the open, generous temper of Robert was by no means likely to belong to a secret murderer. The splendor of his court, and munificence of his gifts, acquired for him the name of Robert the Magnificent, and the following, among other instances, is recorded of his liberality:
When attending mass at the Abbey of Cerizy, his own foundation, he one day remarked a stranger knight, when asked for his alms at the offertory, reply sadly, that he had nothing to give. He beckoned to a squire, and sent him to present the poor stranger with a purse containing a hundred pounds, which the knight immediately offered on the altar. After the mass was over, the sacristan came to ask him if he knew bow large the sum was, or if he had given it by mistake, to which he replied, that he had offered it wittingly, since it was for no other end that the Duke had sent it to him. His answer was reported by the sacristan to the Duke, who instantly sent the high-minded stranger a second purse, containing the same sum for his own use.
Robert founded nine monasteries, and made large gifts to all the churches in his duchy, entreating the prayers of the clergy and of the poor, for the pardon of the sins of his youth; but his conscience was ill at ease, and in the sixth year of his dukedom he resolved to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a journey which was then even more perilous than in subsequent years, when the Crusades had, in some degree, secured the safety of the pilgrims, and he seems to have been fully persuaded that he should never return alive.
His chief care was for the welfare of his son, William, a boy of seven years old, whose situation was the more precarious, because there was a stain on his birth, his mother being the daughter of a tanner of Falaise, so that it was more than probable that his right to the succession would be disputed by the numerous descendants of Richard Sans Peur. Robert did his best to secure his safety by calling together the vassals to do homage to him, and placing him under the especial protection of Henry I. of France, at whose court at Paris he left him.
Robert then set out on his pilgrimage, with a few companions, all wearing the coarse garb of pilgrims, with staves in their hands, and their feet bare. As they were passing the gates of a small town in Franche Comte, Robert walking last, an insolent warder, tired of holding the gate open, struck him such a blow on the shoulders with a halbert that he reeled under it, but so changed was his once violent temper, that, seeing his friends about to revenge the insult, he called out, “Let him alone; pilgrims ought to suffer for the love of God. I love his blow better than my city of Rouen.”
The next time Robert was heard of, was in humble guise, with staff and wallet, when he received the blessing of the Pope at Rome; but afterward, when he entered Constantinople, he appeared in all his wonted magnificence. He rode to the palace of the Greek Emperor on a mule, shod with golden shoes, so slightly fastened on as to be shaken off amongst the crowds who surrounded him.
He travelled onward through Asia Minor, though attacked by a fever, which obliged him to be carried in a litter by Moorish slaves–as he himself expressed it to a Norman pilgrim whom he met returning, “to be carried by devils to Paradise.” Safely arriving at Jerusalem, he there paid the entrance-money for a multitude of poor pilgrims, whom he found shut out because they were unable to pay the large toll demanded by the Saracens; and after performing the accustomed devotions at the different consecrated spots in the Holy City, he set out on his return to Normandy. His health was already impaired by the fatigues of the journey, and he died at the city of Nicaea, in the year 1035. There, in the now profaned sanctuary, where was held the first general Council of the Church, rests, in his nameless and forgotten grave, the last of the high-spirited and devout Dukes of Normandy.
From the time of the departure of Duke Robert, dangers crowded round the ducal throne of his child; nor were they, as in the stormy minority of Richard Sans Peur, perils chiefly from enemies without, met by a band of vassals, strong in attachment to their lord. The foes who threatened the young William were of his own family, and his own subjects, and there was none of that generous temper, even amongst his chief supporters, which, in the case of his great-grandfather, had made the scenes of war and bloodshed in which he was brought up, a school not of valor alone, but of the higher virtues of chivalry.
The Norman barons, greatly altered from what they had been in the days when the justice of Rollo prevailed, lived shut up in their strong castles, making war on each other, like independent princes plundering the poor, and committing horrible cruelties, entirely unrestrained by the guardians of the Duke. These, indeed, seemed to be the especial mark for the attacks of the traitors, for his tutor and seneschal were both murdered; the latter, Osborn, Count de Breteuil, while sleeping in the same room with him. Osborn left a son, William, called from his name Fils, or Fitz Osborn, who grew up with the young Duke, and became his chief companion and friend.
It is wonderful that William himself should have escaped death, when so completely unprotected; but he was preserved through all these dangers for the task which was prepared for him; and at a very early age, his numerous troubles had formed his character in the mould fittest for him, who was to be the scourge of England, and yet the founder of its greatness.
He was not sixteen when he first showed of what temper he was. His great-uncle, the Count d’Arques, had set up a claim to the duchy, and was besieged in his castle at Arques by Walter Gifford, Count de Longueville, when the King of France succeeded in sending him such considerable reinforcements and supplies, that Longueville sent information that he should be obliged to raise the siege. The tidings reached the Duke, at his hunting-lodge of Valognes. He stood for a few moments in deep thought, and then called for his horse, only saying to his knights these few words, “_Qui m’aime, me suive!_” “Let him who loves me, follow me!” and rode off at full speed. He distanced all his followers, rode all night, only stopping to take a fresh horse, and in the evening of the next day arrived quite alone at the camp before Arques, swearing never to leave it till the castle was in his hands. The siege was continued with vigor, and, in a short time, it was surrendered, the Count taking refuge in France.
From this time William took the direction of affairs into his own hands, and, by his firmness and ability, succeeded in restraining the excesses of his lawless vassals, though their turbulence, and the severity of his own silent and haughty disposition, made their submission very unwilling. When he was about twenty, a dangerous conspiracy was formed against him by his cousin, Guy of Burgundy, and a number of his chief vassals, who intended to seize him at his hunting-lodge at Valognes, put him to death, and raise Guy to the dukedom.
The conspirators met at Bayeux, the day before their intended treachery, and, whilst dining there, called in to amuse them a half-witted man named Gillos, and the plot was, inadvertently, mentioned in his presence. The duke, when passing through the town, had shown the poor man some kindness, and no sooner did he understand the intended treachery, than he left the hall, and set off for Valognes, where he arrived just before midnight, and, finding all gone to rest, began to batter the door with a stick, shouting for the Duke. At first, William could not believe the story, but Gillos seemed so much in earnest, that he deemed it advisable to go and see what had given rise to the report, and, muffling himself in a cloak, ran down stairs, himself saddled his horse, and rode toward Bayeux. Before he had gone far, he heard the trampling of horses and clanking of weapons, and, concealing himself among the trees, saw that the poor fool’s information was perfectly correct, for the whole band of traitors passed by exactly as they had been described. Upon this, he changed his course, and turned toward the coast in the direction of Falaise, his birthplace, and the town most devoted to his interests. The dawn of morning found him with his horse so weary that it could hardly stand, at the entrance of a small village, still at a considerable distance from Falaise, and ignorant of the road. At that moment a gentleman came out of the principal house, and the instant he beheld the young horseman, travel-stained and covered with dust as he was, he exclaimed, “St. Mary, my Lord, what can have brought you here in such a condition?”
“Who are you, who know me so well?” asked William, in reply.
“By my faith,” was the answer, “I am called Hubert de Ryes. I hold this village of you under the Count de Bessin. Tell me, boldly, what you need; I will help you as I would help myself.”
Accordingly, Hubert de Byes took him into his house, gave him some refreshment, and provided him with a fresh horse, sending his three sons with him as guides, whilst he himself remained to misdirect the pursuers, William safely arrived at Falaise, and, in memory of his escape, is said to have caused his path to be traced out by a raised bank of earth, part of which is still in existence.
Rallying his faithful subjects around him at Falaise, and obtaining aid from the king, William met the rebels at Val des Demes. One of them came over to his side before the battle, and, having previously sworn that the Duke should be the first man whom he would strike, he began by giving his armor a slight blow with the point of his lance, considering it necessary thus to fulfil his rash oath to the letter. The rebels were totally defeated, and either submitted to William’s mercy, or went to join their countrymen, who were engaged in the conquest of Sicily.
This was the last attempt made by the Normans to resist their Duke, whose authority was now fully established; but it was not long before a war broke out with his powerful neighbor Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, which, however, would scarcely deserve mention, but for the curious terms in which a challenge was sent by the Duke to the Count, who had come to raise the siege of Domfront.
“Tell the Count of Anjou,” said he to William Fitz Osborn and Roger Montgomery, his messengers, “that if he attempts to carry victuals into Domfront, he will find me before the gates, mounted on a bay horse, and with a red shield. And that he may know me the better, I shall have at the point of my lance a streamer of taffety, to wipe his face withal.”
In the battle which followed, a few days after, William fulfilled his threat, by overthrowing the Count, who escaped with difficulty, with the loss of part of an ear, and was soon after obliged to conclude a peace.
William married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders, and of a sister of Duke Robert the Magnificent; and having omitted to ask the dispensation from the Pope, which was required on the marriage of such near relations, his uncle, the Archbishop of Rouen, laid them both under sentence of excommunication. William sought for an advocate to send to Rome to plead for their absolution, and his choice fell upon Lanfranc, a native of Lombardy, who had been bred as a lawyer, and was possessed of great learning and talent, but had chosen to embrace the monastic life, and had selected the Norman abbey of Bee as the place of his profession, because the monks there were very poor, and very strict in the observance of their rule. Lanfranc, at the Duke’s desire, travelled to Rome, and there succeeded in obtaining the confirmation of the marriage, and the absolution of the bride and bridegroom, on condition of their each founding an abbey, and jointly building a hospital for the blind.
In accordance with this command, Matilda built the beautiful Abbaye aux Dames at Caen, where her eldest daughter, Cecile, afterward took the veil, and William founded, at the same place, the Abbey of St. Stephen, of which Lanfranc was the first abbot. But fair as were the proportions of that exquisite building, noble as were its clustered columns, and rich as were the zigzag mouldings of its deep arches, its foundation was insecure, for it was on iniquity. It stood on ground violently taken from a number of poor people; and where could the blessing of Heaven have been?
Twenty-three years afterward a grave was dug in the noble choir of St. Stephen’s Church, and William’s corpse was carried through the porch, followed by a long train of nobles, knights, and clergy, but by not one of his numerous children. The requiem was chanted, and orations were made in praise of the Duke of Normandy, the King and Conqueror of England, the founder of abbeys, the builder of churches, when suddenly the cry of “Ha Ro!”–the Norman appeal for justice–was heard, and a man in mean garments stood forth, and spoke thus: “Clerks and Bishops, this ground is mine. Here was my father’s hearth. The man whom you praise wrested it from me to build this church. I sold it not. I made no grant of it. It is my right, and I claim it. In the name of Rollo, the founder of his family, and of our laws, I forbid you to lay the body of the spoiler therein, or to cover it with my earth.”
The Bishops were obliged to promise satisfaction to the man, and to pay him on the spot sixty pence as the price of the Conqueror’s grave. But, even then, his bones were not permitted to rest in peace. In the course of the civil wars of France, his tomb was twice broken open by the Huguenots, the first time rifled of the royal ornaments in which he had been arrayed, and the second, the spoilers, disappointed of their expected prize, cast out the mouldering bones, and dispersed them.
_Kings of England_.
1015. Ethelred the Unready (restored). 1016. Edmund Ironside.
1036. Harold I.
1041. Edward the Confessor.
The Danish conquest of England, although the power of the kings of that nation continued but a short time, made great changes in the condition of the country. The customs and laws that had hitherto been observed only in the lands granted by Alfred to the Danes, spread into almost all the kingdom, and the civilization which the great king had striven so hard to introduce was well-nigh swept away.
England might be considered to be in three divisions–the West Saxon, subject to the laws of Alfred; the Mercian, which had a law of its own; and the East Anglian and Northern portion, where the population was chiefly Danish, and which was therefore more under the immediate power of the Danish kings. Under them, London became the royal residence, instead of Winchester, and several words in our language still attest their influence upon our customs. Of these is the word Hustings, for a place of public assembly; and the title of Earl, for which the English language afforded no feminine, till it borrowed the word Countess from the French, reminds us that the Northern Jarls were only governors during the king’s pleasure, and that their dignity conferred no rank on their families.
Under the Danish kings, the other divisions of England fell under the rule of three great Earls. The Danish Northumbria was ruled by the great Northman Siward Bjorn; Mercia was governed by the house of Leofric, an old noble family connected with the ancient line of Mercian kings.
There were many of this family named Leofric, and it is probably of the one living at this time that the curious old tradition of Coventry belongs, which related how his wife, the Lady Godiva, rode through the town with no covering but her abundant hair, to obtain from him the remission of the townspeople from his oppressive exactions–a story of which the memory is kept up at Coventry by a holiday, and the procession of the Lady Godiva.
Wessex had become the portion of Godwin, son of Ulfnoth, and great-nephew to the traitor, Edric Streona, the murderer of Edmund Ironside. There is a story, probably a mere fiction, that this family was of mean origin, that Ulfnoth was a herdsman of the south of Warwickshire, and that Godwin first rose to distinction in the following manner: Ulf, a Danish Jarl, who had married a sister of Knut, was separated from the army after one of the battles with Edmund Ironside, and after wandering all night, met in the morning with a youth driving a herd of cattle. He asked his name, and the reply was, “I am Godwin, the son of Ulfnoth; and you, I think, are a Dane.”
Ulf confessed that he was, and begged the young man to show him the way to the Severn, where he expected to find the fleet.
“The Dane would be a fool who trusted to a Saxon,” answered Godwin; and when Ulf continued his entreaties, he explained that the way was not long, but that the serfs were all in arms against the Danes, and would kill both him and any one whom they found guiding him. Ulf offered the young herdsman a golden ring for his reward. He looked at it a moment, then said, “I will take nothing from you, but I will be your guide,” and led him home to his father’s cottage, where he was hidden through the whole day. At night, when he prepared to set forth, Ulfnoth told him that Godwin would not be able to return, since the peasants would kill him for having protected a Dane, and therefore begged that the Jarl would keep him among his own people, and present him to the King.
Ulf promised, and this, it is said, was the foundation of Godwin’s greatness; but there is great reason to doubt the tale, and it is far more probable that the family was anciently noble. Godwin married Gyda, the sister of Ulf, and thus was brought into near connection with Knut; but Ulf, his patron and brother-in-law, soon after was killed in one of those outbursts of violence and cruelty to which Knut seemed to return whenever he went back to his own savage North.
Knut had been defeated by the Swedes at Helge, and was at Roskild, when he was playing at chess in the evening with Ulf, and, making an oversight, lost a knight. He took the piece back again, changed his move, and desired his opponent to go on playing; but the Jarl, choosing to play chess on equal terms or not at all, threw down the board, and went away.
“Run away, Ulf the Fearful!” said Knut.
Ulf turned back, and answered, “Thou wouldst have run further at Helge river! Thou didst not call me Ulf the Fearful when I came to thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog.”
Knut brooded on the offence all night, and in the morning sent his page to kill the Jarl. The page found him at his prayers in church, and therefore refrained; but Knut sent another of his followers, who slew him as he knelt.
Godwin had, before this, gained too much favor to be likely to fall with his brother-in-law. He was with the king on an expedition against the Wends, and on the night before an intended battle, made a sudden attack without Knut’s knowledge, and completely routed them. His talents were so much appreciated, that he received the great Earldom of Wessex, the portion of England least under the power of the Danes, and where the old line of Alfred was most loved and regretted, since it was their hereditary kingdom.
For this reason Godwin was desirous to maintain the Danes in England after Knut’s death, and to keep the scattered royal line at a distance. Harthaknut, whom the will of his father had called to the succession, was absent in Denmark, and Godwin caused his brother, Harold Harefoot, to be crowned in haste, though the Archbishop would not sanction the usurpation, placed the crown and sceptre on the altar, and forbade the bishops to give him their blessing.
Alfred and Edward, the two sons of Ethelred the Unready, had in the meantime been brought up under the protection of their uncle, Richard the Good, of Normandy, dwelling for the most part in those beautiful Abbeys of Fescamp and Jumieges, which had been endowed by the piety of the Dukes, and where they grew up in godliness and virtue, with gentle manners and civilized tastes, far unlike to those which prevailed in their native land. Robert the Magnificent was a great friend to them, and his death on his pilgrimage made their abode in Normandy far less peaceful and secure.
Soon after the coronation of Harold Harefoot, they received a letter purporting to come from their mother, Emma, widow of Knut, inviting them to assert their claim to their father’s throne. Edward, with a band of Normans, met his mother at Winchester, but he could not keep his followers from plundering the country; and finding little hope of success, gave up the attempt, and returned to Normandy. Alfred landed at Sandwich, in Kent, and was so well received by the Archbishop and people, that Godwin, becoming alarmed, had recourse to treachery, pretended to own him as king, and conducted him to Guilford. Thither King Harold sent his Danes, who seized the prince’s followers, after Godwin’s men had dispersed them through the town and stupefied them with drink. Every tenth man was killed, the rest were sold for slaves, and Alfred himself was carried to Ely, where his eyes were torn out, and he died of the injury. His mother, Emma, fled to Bruges, and this makes it probable that either she never sent the letter at all, or was only the innocent instrument of Godwin’s desire to rid himself of the royal family; but her son Edward believed her to have been knowingly concerned in this horrible transaction, and never regarded her as guiltless of his brother’s death. It is possible that Godwin may also have been free from treachery, and have meant well by the prince.
Her other son, Harthaknut, left Denmark to join her at Bruges, intending in the spring to drive Harold from the throne; but death was beforehand with him. Harold died in 1040, and Harthaknut had only to come to England to take possession of the crown. Both these young men were, at heart, savage Danes; and the first deed of Harthaknut, on his arrival, was to satisfy his vengeance for the usurpation of his throne and the murder of Alfred, by causing Harold’s corpse to be taken from its grave, the head cut off, and the body thrown into a marsh. He threatened to punish Godwin, but the Earl averted his wrath by the present of one of the long serpent-like keels prized by the Danes, the prow gilded, and the crew of eighty men, each fully equipped, and with a gold bracelet on the left arm.
Harthaknut was pacified by this gift, and contented himself with sending for his surviving half-brother Edward from Normandy, and treating him as became the Atheling. The wild, half-heathen court of Harthaknut was a strange and bewildering change for the gentle Edward, whose habits and tastes were only suited to the convent where he had spent his early days, and who found in the rough affection of his Danish brother his only protection from the fierce spirits around. His grief and dismay were great when, after he had spent a few months in England, he heard that Harthaknut, at the wedding-feast of the daughter of the Dane, Osgood Clapa, from whom Clapham is named, had died suddenly, immediately after an excessive draught of wine.
Edward found himself left without protection in the hands of the fierce men who had murdered his brother. He was forty years old, and of an inactive, timid disposition, which unfitted him for taking any bold measures in this emergency; his affections were in the convents of Normandy, and with the young son of his friend, Duke Robert, and he earnestly entreated Godwin to allow him to return in safety thither.
The Earl, however, saw that neither Saxons nor Danes would submit to the authority of one who was not of royal blood, and that the best hope of preserving the power he had acquired in the latter reigns, was by setting up a weak king, and governing in his name. He therefore replied by tendering his submission to Edward, and promising to support him on the throne, on condition that he would marry Edith, his daughter, so fair, so gentle, and pious a lady, that it was a saying, “Even as the rose springs from the thorn, so springs Edith from Godwin.” She was very learned, and Ingulf, who afterward was the secretary of the Conqueror, and Abbot of Croyland, loved to remember how, when he was a boy come from his convent-school to visit his father at the court, the Lady Edith would send for him, examine him in his studies, and end by causing her maiden to count out three or four coins into his hand, and sending him to the royal larder for refreshment.
Edward was thus placed upon the throne, and every act performed of his own free will showed his gentleness and desire for his people’s good. At the request of Edith, he abolished the Danegeld, or money raised first to bribe the Danes, and then as their tribute; indeed, it was said that he had seen a vision of an evil spirit dancing on the gold thus collected. He made new laws in hopes of preventing crime, and set so strict an example of attention to every rule of the Church, and giving alms so largely, that he gained the love of his people, and fixed his memory in their hearts so strongly, that he was revered as a Saint, and the title of Confessor was given to him, though it properly only applies to one who has suffered everything short of martyrdom, for the sake of the Christian faith.
The times were too rude and violent for a king of so soft a mould: crimes were committed which he had no power to restrain, and, weak-handed and bewildered, he seems to have acted in great matters much as he did in the following adventure: He was lying on his bed, when a person came into the apartment, and, thinking him asleep, stole some money out of a chest. The King let this pass; but when the thief returned for a second handful, he quietly said, “Sirrah, you had better take care, for if Hugolin, my chamberlain, catches you, he will give you a sound beating.” Hugolin soon came in, and was much concerned at the loss. “Never mind,” said the King; “the poor man wants it more than we do.”
The sons of Godwin were growing up rude, high-spirited young men, who presumed on their connection with the King to hold him cheap, and laugh at him to his face. Sweyn, the eldest, was the worst, and at last caused himself to be banished from the realm by the crime of carrying off the Abbess from the Convent of Leominster. He then spent the life of a pirate, in the course of which he visited the coast, and, while pretending to attempt to be reconciled to his family, treacherously murdered his cousin Biorn. After six years he repented, went barefoot on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and died while returning. The other brothers were stained with no such enormities, but they were dreaded and disliked by the King, who naturally turned to the friends of his youth, the Normans.
Norman dresses and customs were introduced, the King’s own handwriting was in the foreign character, and he expressed his assent to the laws by appending to them an impression of his seal, after the fashion of the kings of France. He likewise invited many of his old friends from Normandy, gave some of them lands in England, where they built fortified castles, and bestowed the bishopries and abbeys upon Norman ecclesiastics. Great discontent arose upon this, and Godwin and his sons took advantage of them to gain popularity, by strenuously opposing everything Norman, and maintaining, as they said, the old English customs.
Eustace als Gernons (the Whiskered), Count de Mantes, who had married the King’s sister, came to visit Edward. At Dover a squabble took place between his followers and the townspeople, in which several persons on both sides were killed. Edward ordered Godwin to chastise the townspeople, but, instead of this, the Earl collected an army, and marched upon the King himself. They would have made him prisoner but for Leofric of Mercia, and Siward, Earl of Northumbria, who both came to his rescue, and drove Godwin and his family into exile.
Edward now felt himself truly King of England, and was able to enjoy a short visit from the Duke of Normandy, who came to see him, and probably then first conceived the hope of obtaining the crown of the ill-governed and divided country that seemed ready to fall a prey to the first vigorous enemy.
Earl Godwin was not long in assembling his friends, and making a descent on the coast. All Kent and London rose in his favor, and Edward was obliged to permit his return, and be reconciled to him.
Very shortly after his return, he was struck with a fit of apoplexy, while feasting with the King at Easter. He was borne from the table by his two eldest surviving sons, Harold and Tostig, and died five days after, in the year 1052. The Norman chroniclers give the following account of his death: One of the cup-bearers, while serving the King, happened to make a false step, but saved himself from falling by the foot, at which Godwin observed, “See how one brother helps another!”
“Yes,” said the king, “so would my brother have helped me, had he lived.”
“I know you suspect me of his death,” replied Godwin, “but may God, who is true and just, cause this morsel of bread to choke me, if I am guilty of his murder.”
Scarcely had he spoken the words before he fell back, struck by the hand of Heaven, and never uttered another word. Much doubt has been cast upon this story, since it comes to us through Normans, who were great enemies of his house. There is, however, nothing incredible in it; and other instances have been known of persons who thus defied and brought upon themselves the judgment of Heaven, in the full course of their crimes.
There is a propensity in these days to exalt the character of Godwin, as if he had been an honest supporter of the old English habits against foreign innovations. It is an entirely mistaken view, since Godwin climbed into power by the favor of the enemies and destroyers of his country, murdered the prince of the ancient line, and throughout the reign of the lawful successor disturbed his peace, and attempts at civilization, by factious opposition. Norman customs would have done far less harm to England than the Danish invaders among whom Godwin had contentedly spent the best years of his life. He seems throughout to have listened only to his own ambition, and to have scrupled at nothing that could promote his interest. Eloquence, and attention to the humors of the nation, won for him wealth and power that rendered him formidable to the King, and he built up a great name and fortune for himself, but brief and fleeting was the inheritance that he bequeathed to his sons. In fourteen years from his death only one of his brave band of sons survived, and he was a miserable captive, who spent his whole existence in the dungeons of his chief enemy. It seemed as if nothing that Godwin had acquired could be enduring, for the very lands he left behind him no longer exist, his chief estate on the coast of Kent was swallowed by the sea, and now forms the dangerous shoal called the Goodwin Sands.
“Wise men also die and perish together, as well as the ignorant and foolish, and leave their riches for other.
“And yet they think their houses shall continue forever; and that their dwelling-places shall endure from one generation to another, and call the lands _after their own names_.”
Far more enduring have been the memorials left by the meek Edward the Confessor, though he had no son to carry on his name. He had vowed, during his exile, to go on pilgrimage to Rome, but the Witenagemot refused to consent to his leaving England, and he sent the Archbishop of York to ask the advice of the Pope, Leo IX., who recommended him to perform some work of piety at home.
This was the foundation of the Church of St. Peter’s, in the open country, at the west end of London, and therefore called Westminster. It was built with all the skill of Norman architects, and occupied several years. Edward’s last illness prevented him from being present at its consecration, and he was represented there by his wife, but he soon found his rest there. It was dedicated on the Holy Innocents’ day, 1065, and he was buried there on the 5th of January following. His memory seemed to give an additional sacredness to the spot in the eyes of the loving English, and the pavement round his tomb was worn away by their knees.
THE TWO HAROLDS.
_Kings of England_.
1041. Edward the
_Kings of France_.
1059. Philippe I.
_Emperors of Germany_.
1055. Heinrich IV.
The death of Godwin did not at first seem likely to diminish the power of his family. Harold, his eldest surviving son, was highly endowed with mental powers and personal beauty and prowess, and was much preferred by Edward the Confessor to the old Earl himself. He obtained all his father’s lands, and, shortly after, distinguished himself in a war with the Welsh, showing, however, that vainglory was his characteristic; for he set up mounds of stones along the course of his march, bearing the inscription, “Here Harold conquered.”
The earls who had hitherto balanced the power of the Godwin family, were, about this time, removed by death. Leofric, of Mercia, and his son Algar, died within a few years of each other; and Algar’s sons, Edwin and Morkar, were as yet young and timid. Old Earl Siward Biorn fought his last battle when he assisted Malcolm Canmore in overthrowing the murderous usurper, Macbeth, in Scotland. In the battle, Siward’s eldest-son, of the same name as himself, was killed. The father only asked if his death-wound was in front, and when he heard it was, “I heartily rejoice,” said he; “no other death is worthy of my son.”
He himself was obliged, much against his will, to die in peace. “I am ashamed,” he said, “after so many battles, to die like a cow; case me in my armor, gird on my sword, put on my helmet, give me my shield and battle-axe, lift me to my feet, that I may die like a man!”
The fierce old Earl’s younger son, Waltheof, was a mere child, and the earldom of Northumbria was therefore given to Tostig, the son of Godwin, but he so misgoverned it that he was, by command of the King, sent into exile by his brother Harold, whom he thenceforth regarded with the utmost hatred.
Harold stood so high in favor, both with King and people, that his views began to take a still loftier flight, especially after the death of Edward the Stranger, the only grown-up person excepting the King who inherited the blood of Alfred. The stranger had indeed left an infant son, but his rights were entirely overlooked. The King wished to leave his crown to his cousin William, Duke of Normandy; and Harold, trusting to the general hatred of the Norman race, hoped to secure it for himself, much in the same way as Hugh Capet had lately dethroned the line of Charles le Magne in France.
Edward the Confessor, desirous of a affording William some means of curbing Harold’s ambition, sent to him as hostages Ulfnoth and Hako, a son and grandson of Godwin. Harold, however, contrived to extort permission to go to Rouen, and request their liberation, and set out from Bosham, in Sussex. A storm wrecked him in Ponthieu; he was taken captive by the count of that district, who gave him up to William in exchange for a considerable manor, and thus, though he entered Rouen in state, he found himself, instead of the ambassador of the King of England, in effect the prisoner of the Duke of Normandy.
He was treated with great courtesy, accompanied William on an expedition against the Duke of Brittany, and gave great help to the Normans by his personal strength, when some of them were in danger, in crossing a river, and, apparently, was in high honor; but William was determined not to miss the advantage chance had thrown in his way; and when Harold, alter spending some months at Rouen, proposed to return, he, in the first place, insisted on drawing up a treaty of alliance and friendship with his good friend the Earl of Wessex, to be sworn to on both sides. Very distasteful must this promise of friendship have been to Harold, since the first article required him to assist the Duke with all his power in obtaining the crown of England upon Edward’s death; but he found it impossible to resist, and declared himself perfectly willing to engage himself as required.
An oath taken on the relics of the Saints was, at that time, considered as more binding than one taken on the Holy Scriptures; and William commanded that the most honored of these remains should be collected from various churches and placed in a chest, covered with cloth of gold on which a copy of the Gospels was laid. Harold, laying his hand on the book, swore to observe the treaty faithfully; and when he had so done, William removed the cloth and showed him the relics, at the sight of which he turned pale and trembled–a sure sign, as was thought by the Normans who stood round, that his conscience would not allow him to break an oath which was believed to have thus acquired double force and sanctity. Yet Harold soon proved that no oaths can bind a man who will not be bound by his simple word.
A few months after his return from Normandy, he was standing by the bedside of the dying Edward the Confessor, importuning his last moments with entreaties to him to declare his successor.
“Ye know, full well,” said the poor old King, “that I have bequeathed my kingdom to the Duke of Normandy; nay, some be here who have sworn oaths to him.”
Harold pressed him for some other answer, and he replied, “Take it, Harold, if such be thy will, but the gift will be thy ruin. Against the Duke and his barons no might of thine will avail thee.”
“Fear not for me,” replied Harold, joyfully; “I fear neither Norman, nor aught else.”
“May it fall to the most worthy!” was the faint answer of Edward. His thoughts began to wander, and he uttered many passages of Scripture speaking of desolation and destruction, which were afterward regarded by his subjects as the last prophecies of their saintly king. He died two days afterward, and, on the feast of Epiphany, 1066, Harold assumed the crown. The coronation was solemnized by Alfred, Archbishop of York; but whether the absence of the Primate Stigand was occasioned by his dislike to the usurpation, or by the sentence of excommunication under which he had been laid by the Pope, is not known. Be that as it may, there was little joy to welcome the accession of Harold; the people were full of melancholy forebodings, excited by the predictions of King Edward, as well as by the appearance of a comet, then supposed to denote the approach of misfortune; the great earls, Edwin and Morkar, were his enemies, the nobles envied him, and stood aloof, significantly relating a story of his boyhood, when he is said to have met with a severe fall in a foolish attempt to fly from the top of a tower with wings of his own contrivance. There is a Spanish proverb which, in truth, suited Harold well: “The ant found wings for her destruction.” The bitterest of all his enemies was his own brother, Tostig, who, having been banished partly by his means, on account of his misgovernment of Northumbria, was living in Flanders, whence, the instant he heard of Harold’s coronation, he hastened with the tidings to Normandy; and not thinking William’s preparations speedy enough to satisfy the impatience of his hatred, he went to Norway, where he found a willing ally in Harald Hardrada, the last sea-king.
A curious story is told of the childhood of this Harald Hardrada, who was the half-brother of the kingly St. Olaf, being the son of the haughty Aasta and the peaceful Sigurd Syr. When Harald was about three years old, St. Olaf was on a visit to his mother, and calling to his little brothers, took the two eldest, Guttorm and Halfdan, one on each knee, and looked at them, with a fierce countenance, at which both the little boys were frightened, and ran away to hide themselves. He then took Harald on his knee, and put on the same fierce look at him, but the child looked boldly up in his face in return. As a further trial of his courage, the king pulled his hair, upon which the little fellow undauntedly pulled the king’s whiskers, and Olaf said, “Thou wilt be revengeful, some day, my friend.”
The next day, Olaf found his little brothers at play; the two eldest building little barns and enclosing cornfields, and Harald lying by the side of a pool of water, in which he was floating small chips of wood.
“What are these?” asked the king.
“My ships of war,” said little Harald.
“Ha! my friend,” said the King, “the time may come when thou wilt command ships.”
He then called the other two, and asked Guttorm what he would like best to have.
“Corn land,” said he.
“And how great wouldst thou like thy corn land to be?”
“I would have the whole ness (peninsula) that goes out into the lake sown with corn every summer.”
“And what wouldst thou like best?” he asked of Halfdan.
“Cows,” said the boy.
“How many wouldst thou like to have?”
“So many, that when they went to the lake to drink, they should stand as tight round the lake as they could stand.”
“That would be a great house-keeping!” said the king; “and now, Harald, what wouldst thou have?” “Followers.”
“And how many of them?”
“Oh, so many as would eat up all Halfdan’s cows at a single meal!”
Olaf laughed, and said, “Here, mother, thou art bringing up a king.”
In fact, Guttorm and Halfdan followed the quiet life of their father, but Harald was of far different temper. When Olaf returned from his exile in Russia, young Harald, who was scarcely fifteen, joined him with all the followers he could muster, and insisted on taking part in the battle of Stiklestad.
Olaf told him he was too young; but Harald boldly answered, “I am not so weak but I can handle the sword; and as to that, I have a notion of tying the sword to my hand;” and then the brave boy sung out some verses, composed on the spur of the moment, according to a talent often found among the Northmen, and highly valued:
“Our army’s wing, where I shall stand, I will hold good with heart and hand;
My mother’s eye shall joy to see,
A batter’d, blood-stain’d shield from me. The brave young skald should gaily go
Into the fray, change blow for blow; Cheer on his men, gain inch by inch,
And from the spear-point never flinch.”
Olaf saw plainly that his high-spirited mother had infused her own temper into her youngest son as entirely as into himself, and yielded his consent that Harald should take part in the battle. It was a mournful beginning for a young warrior. Harald beheld the fall of his noble brother, and was himself severely wounded. He was led from the field by a faithful bonder, who hid him in his house; but the spirit of the young minstrel warrior was undaunted, and, during his recovery, he sung thus:
“My wounds were bleeding as I rode,
And down the hill the bonders strode, Killing the wounded with the sword,
The followers of their rightful lord. From wood to wood I crept along,
Unnoticed by the bonder throng;
‘Who knows,’ I thought, ‘a day may come, My name may yet be great at home.'”
As soon as his wounds were healed, Harald took refuge in Russia, and thence travelled to Constantinople, where he became one of the renowned guards of the Greek Emperor, composed of hired Northmen and Saxons, and called Vaeringer, or Varangians, from the word _Wehr_, a defence. He went from Constantinople to the Holy Land, bathed in the Jordan, paid his devotions at Jerusalem, and killed the robbers on the way. Strange stories were told of his adventures at Constantinople, of the Empress Zoe having fallen in love with him, and of his refusal to return her affection; upon which she raised an accusation against him, that he had misapplied the pay of the Vaeringers, and threw him into prison, whence, as the story related, he was freed by a lady, who was commissioned to rescue him by St. Olaf, his brother, who appeared to her in a dream. She brought him a rope ladder, and he escaped to his ship, broke through the chains that guarded the harbor, and sailed northward through the Black Sea, composing on his voyage sixteen songs in honor of Elisif, the Russian king’s daughter, whom he married on his arrival at Novogorod. He obtained with her great riches, which he added to the treasures he had brought from Constantinople.
St. Olaf’s son, Magnus, was reigning in Norway, and Harald Hardrada designed to obtain from him a portion of the kingdom, to winch, by the old Norwegian law, every descendant of Harald Harfagre had an equal claim. Harald united with his cousin Swend, who had been dispossessed of an earldom by Magnus, and they advanced together; but Harald was inclined, if possible, rather to decide the matter by a treaty, than by force of arms; while Swend, on the other hand, wished for war and revenge.
One evening, as the two allies were sitting together, Swend asked Harald what he valued most of all his property.
“My banner, Land-Waster,” answered Harald.
“It has always been said that this banner carries victory with it, and so I have ever found it.”
“I will believe in that when thou hast borne it in three battles with thy nephew Magnus, and won them all.”
“I know my kindred with king Magnus,” answered Harald, “without thy recalling it; and though we are now in arms against him, our meeting may be of another sort.”
They came to high words, Swend reproaching his ally with breaking his agreement. Harald distrusted his intentions, and, at night, did not, as usual, sleep in a tent on the deck of his ship, but left a billet of wood in his place. At midnight a man rowed silently up to the side of the ship, crept up to the tent, and struck so violent a blow with his axe, that it remained sticking in the wood, while the murderer retired to his boat, and rowed away in the dark.
Harald, convinced of this treachery, deserted Swend, and went to join Magnus, who met him in a friendly manner, and invited him, with sixty of his men, to a banquet.
After the feast, Magnus went round the table, distributing gifts of robes and weapons to the sixty men; but when he came to Harald, he held up two sticks, and asked which of them he would choose. Harald took the nearest, and Magnus declared that therewith he gave up to him half his power and land in Norway, making him of equal right with himself, and only reserving the first seat when they should be together at any time.
Harald sent for all the treasure he had brought home, declaring that they would likewise divide their riches; and the gold was weighed out, and placed in two equal heaps, each on an ox-hide. But Magnus had no riches to contribute, for he said that the turmoils in the country had so impoverished him, that all the gold he possessed was the ring on his finger, which his father, St. Olaf, had given him at their last parting. Even this, Harald said, smiling, perhaps belonged rightfully to him, since it was, at first, the property of his father, Sigurd Syr. However, the two kings parted amicably, and reigned together without disagreements of any consequence, for the remembrance of St. Olaf seemed always to be a link between his son and brother. Magnus, the more gentle of the two, died just as his uncle had led him to enter on a war of ambition with Swend, King of Denmark.
Norwegian traditions relate that he dreamt that his father, St. Olaf, appeared to him, saying, “Wilt thou choose, my son, to follow me, or to become a long-lived and powerful king, at the cost of a crime that can never be expiated?”
“Do thou choose for me, father,” he answered.
“Then follow me,” replied the spirit.
Magnus awoke, told the dream, sickened, and died, leaving the whole of Norway to Harald Hardrada, and declaring that it would be just not to molest Swend in his possession of Denmark.
Harald reigned prosperously, until, in an evil hour, he received Tostig, the son of Godwin, and listened to his invitation to come and invade England, and revenge him on his brother Harold. He fitted out a great armament, sailed up the Humber, plundered and burnt Scarborough, defeated the young earls of Mercia and Northumberland, and summoned York to surrender.
The citizens, dreading an assault, promised to yield the next day; and, accordingly, early in the morning, Hardrada, Tostig and a small band of followers, set out from their camp at Stamford Bridge, on the banks of the Ouse, to receive the keys. The day was bright and warm, though late in September, and the Northmen had left behind them their shirts of mail, and only bore sword, shield, and helmet; even Harald himself had left behind his hawberk Emma, and only wore a blue robe embroidered with gold, and a rich helmet.
As they were approaching the city, they suddenly beheld a cloud of dust, and beneath it the glitter of armor, glancing, as the Norwegians said, like sparkling ice. As they came nearer, they could distinguish the red dragon standard of Wessex, proving that there was the king whom they had supposed to be far away on the south coast, watching to prevent the landing of William of Normandy.
Though taken by surprise, outnumbered, and half-armed, Hardrada did not lose courage. He sent messengers to summon the rest of his men, and planting in the midst his banner, Land-Waster, ranged his troops round it in a circle, with the ends of their spears resting on the ground, and the points turned outward.
Twenty horsemen, in full armor, advanced from the Saxon army, and one of them, riding close up to the circle, called out, “Where is Earl Tostig, the son of Godwin?”
“He is here!” replied Tostig.
“Thy brother salutes thee, offers thee peace, his friendship, and the Earldom of Northumbria; nay, rather than not be friends with thee, he would give thee the third of his kingdom.”
“If he had held this language a year ago,” replied Tostig, who knew the speaker but too well, “he would have saved the lives of many men. But what will he offer my noble ally, King Harold Sigurdson?”
“Seven feet of English earth,” answered the horseman, proudly scanning the gigantic figure of the Sea-King, “or maybe a little more.”
“Then,” said Tostig, “King Harold, my brother, may prepare for battle. Never shall it be said that the son of Godwin forsook the son of Sigurd.” It must have been a strange look that passed between those two brothers, thus on the verge of a deadly strife, each surrounded with dangers that could scarcely be averted, and but of late actuated with bitter hate, but, at the decisive moment, that hatred giving way, and their hearts yearning to each other, with the memories of long-past days, yet both too proud to show how they were mutually touched, too far pledged to their separate parties to follow the impulse that would have drawn them once together in love. It was too late; the battle must be fought–the brothers’ deeds had decided their lot.
The Saxon horseman rode off, and the Norwegian King asked, who was the man who had been speaking so well.
“It was King Harold Godwinson,” said Tostig.
“Why did I not learn this sooner?” said Hardrada. “He should never have had to boast of the slaughter of our men.”
“It may have been imprudent,” said Tostig, “but he was willing to grant me peace and a great dominion. If one of us must die, I had rather he should slay me, than I slay him.”
So spoke Tostig, who had, of late, been rushing from country to country to stir up foes against his brother. Surely he would have given worlds to check the ruin he had wrought, though his sense of honor would not allow him to forsake his ally.
“He is but a little man, but he sits firmly in his stirrups,” returned Harald Hardrada; and then, to cheer his men in their desperate case, he chanted aloud one of his impromptu war-songs:
The helmets glance;
But blue swords play
In our array.
No hawberks glance–
But hearts are here
That know no fear.”
“These verses sound but ill,” said the Sea-King, interrupting himself; “we will make some better;” and, careful of his verses as a Skald in his last battle, as well as in his first, he sung:
“In battle morn we seek no lee,
With skulking head and bending knee, Behind the hollow shield;
With eye and hand we guard the head, Courage and promptness stand instead,
Of hawberk, on this field.”
It was his death-song. Early in the battle his throat was pierced by an arrow; and learning his death, Harold Godwinson sent once more to offer Tostig pardon, and leave to the Northmen to return home; but they refused quarter, and Tostig would not forsake them. The other Northmen from the ships joined them, and the fight raged with more fury than ever in the “death-ring,” as the Skalds termed it, round the banner Land-Waster. Tostig fell there, and only a few fled to their ships, protected by a brave Norseman, who stood alone to guard Stamford bridge, then only consisting of a few planks, till an Englishman crept under, thrust up his spear, and slew him from below.
However, Harold’s condition was too critical to allow of his wasting his strength on a defeated foe; he allowed Hardrada’s son to return unmolested to Norway with his fleet and the remains of his army, and he gave great offence to his men by not sharing the plunder of the camp with them.
So died the last of the Sea-Kings, by the last Anglo-Saxon victory.
THE NORMAN INVASION.