A Child s History of England
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 Next page
He did so, very soon. And such a fight King Harold led against
that force, that his brother, and the Norwegian King, and every
chief of note in all their host, except the Norwegian King's son,
Olave, to whom he gave honourable dismissal, were left dead upon
the field. The victorious army marched to York. As King Harold
sat there at the feast, in the midst of all his company, a stir was
heard at the doors; and messengers all covered with mire from
riding far and fast through broken ground came hurrying in, to
report that the Normans had landed in England.
The intelligence was true. They had been tossed about by contrary
winds, and some of their ships had been wrecked. A part of their
own shore, to which they had been driven back, was strewn with
Norman bodies. But they had once more made sail, led by the Duke's
own galley, a present from his wife, upon the prow whereof the
figure of a golden boy stood pointing towards England. By day, the
banner of the three Lions of Normandy, the diverse coloured sails,
the gilded vans, the many decorations of this gorgeous ship, had
glittered in the sun and sunny water; by night, a light had
sparkled like a star at her mast-head. And now, encamped near
Hastings, with their leader lying in the old Roman castle of
Pevensey, the English retiring in all directions, the land for
miles around scorched and smoking, fired and pillaged, was the
whole Norman power, hopeful and strong on English ground.
Harold broke up the feast and hurried to London. Within a week,
his army was ready. He sent out spies to ascertain the Norman
strength. William took them, caused them to be led through his
whole camp, and then dismissed. 'The Normans,' said these spies to
Harold, 'are not bearded on the upper lip as we English are, but
are shorn. They are priests.' 'My men,' replied Harold, with a
laugh, 'will find those priests good soldiers!'
'The Saxons,' reported Duke William's outposts of Norman soldiers,
who were instructed to retire as King Harold's army advanced, 'rush
on us through their pillaged country with the fury of madmen.'
'Let them come, and come soon!' said Duke William.
Some proposals for a reconciliation were made, but were soon
abandoned. In the middle of the month of October, in the year one
thousand and sixty-six, the Normans and the English came front to
front. All night the armies lay encamped before each other, in a
part of the country then called Senlac, now called (in remembrance
of them) Battle. With the first dawn of day, they arose. There,
in the faint light, were the English on a hill; a wood behind them;
in their midst, the Royal banner, representing a fighting warrior,
woven in gold thread, adorned with precious stones; beneath the
banner, as it rustled in the wind, stood King Harold on foot, with
two of his remaining brothers by his side; around them, still and
silent as the dead, clustered the whole English army - every
soldier covered by his shield, and bearing in his hand his dreaded
On an opposite hill, in three lines, archers, foot-soldiers,
horsemen, was the Norman force. Of a sudden, a great battle-cry,
'God help us!' burst from the Norman lines. The English answered
with their own battle-cry, 'God's Rood! Holy Rood!' The Normans
then came sweeping down the hill to attack the English.
There was one tall Norman Knight who rode before the Norman army on
a prancing horse, throwing up his heavy sword and catching it, and
singing of the bravery of his countrymen. An English Knight, who
rode out from the English force to meet him, fell by this Knight's
hand. Another English Knight rode out, and he fell too. But then
a third rode out, and killed the Norman. This was in the first
beginning of the fight. It soon raged everywhere.
The English, keeping side by side in a great mass, cared no more
for the showers of Norman arrows than if they had been showers of
Norman rain. When the Norman horsemen rode against them, with
their battle-axes they cut men and horses down. The Normans gave
way. The English pressed forward. A cry went forth among the
Norman troops that Duke William was killed. Duke William took off
his helmet, in order that his face might be distinctly seen, and
rode along the line before his men. This gave them courage. As
they turned again to face the English, some of their Norman horse
divided the pursuing body of the English from the rest, and thus
all that foremost portion of the English army fell, fighting
bravely. The main body still remaining firm, heedless of the
Norman arrows, and with their battle-axes cutting down the crowds
of horsemen when they rode up, like forests of young trees, Duke
William pretended to retreat. The eager English followed. The
Norman army closed again, and fell upon them with great slaughter.
'Still,' said Duke William, 'there are thousands of the English,
firms as rocks around their King. Shoot upward, Norman archers,
that your arrows may fall down upon their faces!'
The sun rose high, and sank, and the battle still raged. Through
all the wild October day, the clash and din resounded in the air.
In the red sunset, and in the white moonlight, heaps upon heaps of
dead men lay strewn, a dreadful spectacle, all over the ground.
King Harold, wounded with an arrow in the eye, was nearly blind.
His brothers were already killed. Twenty Norman Knights, whose
battered armour had flashed fiery and golden in the sunshine all
day long, and now looked silvery in the moonlight, dashed forward
to seize the Royal banner from the English Knights and soldiers,
still faithfully collected round their blinded King. The King
received a mortal wound, and dropped. The English broke and fled.
The Normans rallied, and the day was lost.
O what a sight beneath the moon and stars, when lights were shining
in the tent of the victorious Duke William, which was pitched near
the spot where Harold fell - and he and his knights were carousing,
within - and soldiers with torches, going slowly to and fro,
without, sought for the corpse of Harold among piles of dead - and
the Warrior, worked in golden thread and precious stones, lay low,
all torn and soiled with blood - and the three Norman Lions kept
watch over the field!
CHAPTER VIII - ENGLAND UNDER WILLIAM THE FIRST, THE NORMAN
UPON the ground where the brave Harold fell, William the Norman
afterwards founded an abbey, which, under the name of Battle Abbey,
was a rich and splendid place through many a troubled year, though
now it is a grey ruin overgrown with ivy. But the first work he
had to do, was to conquer the English thoroughly; and that, as you
know by this time, was hard work for any man.
He ravaged several counties; he burned and plundered many towns; he
laid waste scores upon scores of miles of pleasant country; he
destroyed innumerable lives. At length STIGAND, Archbishop of
Canterbury, with other representatives of the clergy and the
people, went to his camp, and submitted to him. EDGAR, the
insignificant son of Edmund Ironside, was proclaimed King by
others, but nothing came of it. He fled to Scotland afterwards,
where his sister, who was young and beautiful, married the Scottish
King. Edgar himself was not important enough for anybody to care
much about him.
On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey, under
the title of WILLIAM THE FIRST; but he is best known as WILLIAM THE
CONQUEROR. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who
performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would
have Duke William for their king? They answered Yes. Another of
the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They
too answered Yes, with a loud shout. The noise being heard by a
guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, was mistaken for resistance
on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the
neighbouring houses, and a tumult ensued; in the midst of which the
King, being left alone in the Abbey, with a few priests (and they
all being in a terrible fright together), was hurriedly crowned.
When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the
English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you
think, as I do, that if we except the Great Alfred, he might pretty
easily have done that.
Numbers of the English nobles had been killed in the last
disastrous battle. Their estates, and the estates of all the
nobles who had fought against him there, King William seized upon,
and gave to his own Norman knights and nobles. Many great English
families of the present time acquired their English lands in this
way, and are very proud of it.
But what is got by force must be maintained by force. These nobles
were obliged to build castles all over England, to defend their new
property; and, do what he would, the King could neither soothe nor
quell the nation as he wished. He gradually introduced the Norman
language and the Norman customs; yet, for a long time the great
body of the English remained sullen and revengeful. On his going
over to Normandy, to visit his subjects there, the oppressions of
his half-brother ODO, whom he left in charge of his English
kingdom, drove the people mad. The men of Kent even invited over,
to take possession of Dover, their old enemy Count Eustace of
Boulogne, who had led the fray when the Dover man was slain at his
own fireside. The men of Hereford, aided by the Welsh, and
commanded by a chief named EDRIC THE WILD, drove the Normans out of
their country. Some of those who had been dispossessed of their
lands, banded together in the North of England; some, in Scotland;
some, in the thick woods and marshes; and whensoever they could
fall upon the Normans, or upon the English who had submitted to the
Normans, they fought, despoiled, and murdered, like the desperate
outlaws that they were. Conspiracies were set on foot for a
general massacre of the Normans, like the old massacre of the
Danes. In short, the English were in a murderous mood all through
King William, fearing he might lose his conquest, came back, and
tried to pacify the London people by soft words. He then set forth
to repress the country people by stern deeds. Among the towns
which he besieged, and where he killed and maimed the inhabitants
without any distinction, sparing none, young or old, armed or
unarmed, were Oxford, Warwick, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby,
Lincoln, York. In all these places, and in many others, fire and
sword worked their utmost horrors, and made the land dreadful to
behold. The streams and rivers were discoloured with blood; the
sky was blackened with smoke; the fields were wastes of ashes; the
waysides were heaped up with dead. Such are the fatal results of
conquest and ambition! Although William was a harsh and angry man,
I do not suppose that he deliberately meant to work this shocking
ruin, when he invaded England. But what he had got by the strong
hand, he could only keep by the strong hand, and in so doing he
made England a great grave.
Two sons of Harold, by name EDMUND and GODWIN, came over from
Ireland, with some ships, against the Normans, but were defeated.