English and Norman by Hilda T. Skae
In England there was an old King called Edward; a gentle pious man who
disliked the trouble of governing, and who left his brother-in-law to
rule the country while he himself spent his time in praying and in
reading good books and going to church.
Harold, Earl of Wessex, the king's brother-in-law, was one of the most
able men then living; a true Englishman, wise and honourable. The
people of England loved and trusted Harold; and as Edward had no
children to succeed to the throne, they hoped that after his death
Harold would become their king.
On the other side of the strip of sea which divides England from
France, there lived at this time a very proud and ambitious man,
William, Duke of Normandy.
William was descended from a great pirate who had come from the North,
many years before, and had compelled the King of France to give him
part of his dominions for himself and his followers to settle in. Ever
since then, this part of France has been called Normandy; and the
descendants of these Northmen are living there to this day.
The pirate was made a duke; but his great grandson William of Normandy
wanted to become a king.
William's father had been a friend of King Edward of England, and when
he was a young man William came from Normandy to spend some weeks at
the Court of England. In after years William declared that during this
visit Edward had promised that he, and not Harold, should be the next
King of England.
If Edward really made this promise he must have known that he was
undertaking what he had no power to fulfil, for the English people had
the right of choosing their own king, and they did not wish to have a
proud Norman rule over them.
But William had made up his mind to be a king; and he was a man who
never let anything stand in the way of what he wanted.
One day Earl Harold went sailing in the English Channel, when a storm
arose and drove his vessel out of her course.
Night came down, thick and foggy, and the captain did not know where
they were. All remained on deck, keeping an anxious look-out; and in
the darkness the vessel suddenly struck.
Before them they could see some masses of rock; and the men had just
time to scramble out before the little ship filled with water and sank.
The unlucky pleasure-seekers found themselves clinging to a little
rocky islet which would scarcely afford them foothold; and all night
they remained there drenched with rain and spray.
At daybreak they were able to make out the coast of France, not very
far away from them. By the side of the reef lay their little vessel,
half in, half out of the water, with a large hole in her side. There
was nothing that they could do but wait until some one should see them
from the shore, and come off with a boat to rescue them.
In a little while Harold and his men saw a stir upon the coast. Men
were coming and going; looking towards the rock and then running to
fetch other men. After a while a party came down to the beach,
launched a boat and rowed towards the wreck.
How thankful were the hungry, shivering castaways to get into the boat
and be rowed ashore by these sturdy Norman-French fishermen!
They entered one of the cottages; and as they were warming themselves
before a blazing fire the door was suddenly burst open, and a man in a
shining coat of mail stood in the doorway. Behind him were grouped a
dozen or so of stout men-at-arms.
'Aha,' said the mail-clad knight, looking around him with restless,
glittering black eyes; 'if I am not mistaken it is a great man whom the
wind and waves have done me the honour to waft to my shores.—I am Guy,
Count of Ponthieu; and you, if I am not mistaken,' he said to Harold,
'are Earl Harold, brother-in-law to the King of England.'
'I thought so,' muttered Harold as he gravely inclined his head in
answer to the count; 'our troubles are only beginning.'
'This is not a fitting spot in which to receive the kinsman of King
Edward of England,' said Guy in mock courtesy. 'I must trouble you,
Sir, to come to my poor dwelling, where I hope a short stay may be
rendered as pleasant as possible to yourself and your followers.'
Harold groaned in spirit as he realised that the count was going to
keep him in prison in the hope of getting a ransom for him from King
Edward. With these sturdy men-at-arms in the doorway it was no use for
the unarmed Englishmen to try to resist.
'My poor countrymen,' said Harold to himself; 'I wonder how much money
he will force them to hand over before he consents to give me up? It
grieves me to think of the good English gold which will go to the
enriching of this greedy hawk.—And how is the kingdom going to be
governed in my absence?—Alack the day!'
The count's dark mocking face was all aglow with triumph as he led his
prisoner where some horses were ready waiting for them.
After a short ride they were in the courtyard of the grim frowning
castle of Ponthieu, with the drawbridge raised behind them.
'You will allow some of my men to go to England and tell King Edward
that I am here?' said Harold to the count.
Once more Guy smiled his mocking smile.
'I was going to ask the whole party to accept my hospitality for a few
weeks,' he said. 'His majesty of England will be the more pleased to
welcome his brother-in-law after he has lacked tidings of him for a
Harold fumed with anger and indignation. He saw that Guy meant to keep
the king and his own family in ignorance of his fate in order that they
might be more eager to ransom him once they heard that he was still
But one day Guy, Count of Ponthieu, was in a very bad humour. He
strode up and down the courtyard with an angry scowl upon his handsome,
haughty face; muttering to himself and reading a letter which had been
brought to the castle by a mounted messenger. His mailed boots made a
noisy clattering upon the pavement, and the men-at-arms felt that it
would be safe to keep at a respectful distance that morning.
'Ha!' shouted Guy; 'I am grossly insulted!—What traitor has dared to
carry to the duke news of my prisoner? Had I that man, he should hang
by the heels for his presumption!—Here is a letter from William of
Normandy to say that if I do not instantly release Earl Harold, he will
send an army against me and raze my castle to the ground. What right
has the duke to interfere, I should like to know? The Earl was wrecked
upon my land, not upon his; and if a man may not do as he likes with a
prisoner whom the wind and waves have brought to his very door, things
have come to a pretty pass!'
The count thought of the large sum of money which he had made so sure
of getting; and rage and defiance swelled in his heart. Then he
recollected the great power of William, and reflected that there was
nothing for it but to make the best of things.
'Hey, Giles!' he called to his seneschal, who with a somewhat faltering
step was venturing to cross the courtyard; 'ask Earl Harold to have the
goodness to speak with me.'
'Raze my castle to the ground!' stormed the count as he paced the
flagstones; 'ay, and he would do it too; the tanner's grandson!'
Duke William's mother had been the daughter of a tanner; and his
enemies were never tired of reproaching him with this circumstance when
they thought they could do so without fear of punishment.
Presently the Englishman stood before the angry count; and with a very
bad grace, Guy told him that he was a free man, and that he owed his
release to the Duke of Normandy.
Harold was very glad to find himself at liberty; and he felt that it
would not be courteous for him to return to his own country until he
had thanked the Duke for his generous help. Some of his men were sent
to England to tell King Edward of his safety; and with only a few
followers he set out for the court of Duke William.
Soon the earl and the duke met; Harold short and strong, with his good
honest English face and steadfast blue eyes; William almost a giant in
height, stern and proud, with steely eyes, and a face that had never
yet shown pity to any that opposed him.
The two men had been friends of old; and they liked and admired each
William gave Harold a warm welcome to his dominions. At the court of
the duke Harold found his youngest brother Wulfnoth, who had been sent
to Normandy as a hostage many years before. Each day was made a
festival; the duke held tournaments in honour of his guest, and went
hunting and hawking with him; and the Englishman showed such skill in
all manly exercises that William learned to respect him more and more.
One day something happened which made him feel more than ever what a
pity it was that this man must one day become his enemy.
Harold was walking on the sea-shore with his brother and the duke and a
train of nobles, when several of the knights became caught in a
quicksand and would have been lost had not Harold rushed forward, and
with his unaided strength dragged each one of them into safety upon
The duke said to himself that the short, sturdy Englishman was the
bravest knight he had ever seen, and the one best fitted to become a
king. Yet all the time that he was outwardly showing the greatest
friendship for his guest he was secretly making plans by which he might
compel Harold to help him to become King of England.
One day he asked Harold whether he knew that King Edward had promised
that he should succeed him on the throne.
'No,' replied Harold quietly; 'I did not know that.'
The duke put his band upon the Englishman's shoulder.
'It is an old promise,' he said, 'and for many years I have looked upon
myself as the future King of England.'
'Listen to me,' he added hastily, as he saw that Harold was about to
speak: 'I like you, and you are the man of all the English whom I most
wish to have on my side. If you will give me your word of honour that
you will help me to the crown, I promise that you shall be the greatest
man in the kingdom next to myself; and not only that, but you shall be
my son-in-law; I will give you my daughter Adela for your wife.—Now is
it a bargain, son-in-law Harold?'
'No,' said Harold quietly and firmly; 'it cannot be. I cannot marry
your daughter, because I already love a lady in England, Edith, a ward
of the king; and you will never with my consent become King of England,
because the English people have the right of choosing their own king;
and we will never willingly have a Norman to rule over us. If King
Edward made you any such promise he did very wrongly, for the crown of
England is not his to give away.'
Duke William was silent, and his eyes blazed with anger, as they always
did when his will was crossed.
'So be it,' he said, when he had regained sufficient mastery over
himself to be able to speak; 'I do not require help that is not freely
Harold knew that the duke was very angry; and he began to see what an
imprudent action he had committed when he had put himself in the power
of this ambitious man.
One of the Norman knights, whom he had rescued, came to Harold that
'Do not anger the duke,' he begged. 'You little know his determined
will. You are alone, it is useless to resist; and he will find a means
of putting you to silence if you oppose him.'
Harold's young brother, Wulfnoth, came to him next
'Do not refuse to give the duke the promise he asks of you,' implored
the boy with a pale face. 'I have seen their dungeons and the
oubliettes—those dreadful underground cells where a man can scarcely
stand upright, where he may spend years without ever seeing the light
of day.—O Harold, the duke has sworn to imprison both you and me if
you refuse to help him! Promise, Harold, promise; and when you are
safe in England no one can make you hold to a promise which has been
forced from you.'
Harold passed the night in great perplexity.
Should he refuse to make a promise which he knew that he could not keep?
Then he and his young brother would be cast into these dreadful
hiding-places; and they would never be heard of again. In years to
come Englishmen might walk over the very turf under which they lay, and
not know that beneath their feet the lost earls were still living,
buried deep from the blessed sunshine, and the song of the birds, and
the faces of their fellow-men.
Would it be right of him to bring such a fate upon his brother?
Then his native land; what would become of England while Harold lay in
He knew that without his help the weak, gentle king was unable to
Then when Duke William came to demand the crown, and the English
resisted him, as they were sure to do, there was no one save Harold to
lead them to battle.
He knew that he was the one man whom England needed at that time.
Already he had been absent too long.
Yet it was a terrible thing to make a promise which he did not intend
Morning found Harold with his mind not made up.
That day, William asked his guest to meet him in the great hall of the
An unexpected sight met the Englishman as he entered. The hall was
filled with knights and barons, all waiting in silence. Beneath the
great stained-glass window was the duke in his state robes, seated upon
a throne, with a bishop on either side of him. In front of the throne
stood a chest covered with cloth of gold, and upon the cover lay an
William was wearing his most grave and stony-hearted expression.
'Yesterday I told you that King Edward of England had left his crown to
me,' he said. 'I ask you now, in presence of the barons and knights of
my dukedom, to swear to support my just claim.'
Harold looked at the Duke with a dark and angry face. William was
taking a dishonourable advantage of him.
'Swear,' said the Norman knight, his friend, in his ear. 'If you do
not, you will never see England again.'
'Swear, Harold,' whispered Wulfnoth; 'the oubliettes!'
Harold was completely in the power of the Normans.
With downcast eyes he laid his hand upon the Bible and repeated the
words of the oath after the duke.
Harold taking the Oath
Then the bishops came forward and raised the cloth of gold, showing
that the chest was full of the bones of Norman saints.
Harold started back in horror; for an oath sworn upon the bones of
saints was held to be the most sacred and binding oath that a man could
Instead of friendship, his heart now became filled with a fierce hatred
towards the duke, whose ambition had led him to take an unfair
advantage of his guest.
If he kept his oath, he would be a traitor to his country; while, if he
broke it, he feared that a curse would rest upon himself.
When Harold had to make the choice, he remained true to his native land
and braved the consequences; but he was never again the happy, fearless
man that he had been before he had been compelled by the duke to swear
a false oath.
Two years later, King Edward felt his end approaching, and he sent for
The earl found the old, white-haired king lying upon a couch, his kind
blue eyes dim with age and sickness. His wife, Harold's sister, was
sitting on a low seat by her husband's side, and the two archbishops of
the realm were with the king.
Edward told Harold that he must soon die, and that he wished him,
Harold, Earl of Wessex, to become king after him. He said that long
ago he had repented of the promise made to William of Normandy, as he
knew that his subjects would never consent to have any but an
Englishman for their king.
In presence of the archbishops Harold promised to govern faithfully if
the people of England should choose him for their king, and to fight
against William of Normandy if need be.
Then King Edward told him that he had something to ask of him.
'If England is to be strong enough to resist the Normans,' he said,
'she must be a united country. The two earls in the north, Edwin and
Morcar, are enemies of your house. Make them your friends by marrying
their sister, Aldwyth.'
Harold was silent.
'Ah, my son,' said the old king, 'I know that you have long hoped to
marry my ward, the Lady Edith; but you must sacrifice yourself for
England. We have both weakened our dear country, you and I; I by
unduly favouring the Norman, and you by allowing a false oath to be
extorted from you. We can only make her strong again by your marriage.'
Harold struggled hard, but was unable to make up his mind to the
Then in came Edith, Harold's betrothed bride, fair and graceful as a
lily: Edith of the Swan's Neck, as people called her. Her face was
pale and sorrowful, but she had resolved to do her duty.
'Harold,' she implored him, 'for the sake of England; that our country
may be free! I will never, never marry any one else; but you are a
king! Marry Aldwyth!
With a sore heart Harold yielded to her entreaty, and promised the old
king that he would do as he asked.
Then Harold and Edith parted, Harold to marry the daughter of his enemy
and Edith to enter a convent, where she might pray for England and for
A few days later the old king passed away, muttering sorrowful things
about war and trouble which he feared would come upon England. He had
been a good, kind old man, and his people grieved for him very much;
but through his want of firmness he had prepared the way for some of
the worst troubles that England was ever to know.
Immediately after King Edward was dead, the wise men chose Harold for
their king, and on the following day the old king was buried and the
new one crowned in the church which is now a part of Westminster Abbey.
The news was not slow in reaching Normandy. Duke William was just
leaving his castle with a hunting-party when a messenger came to tell
him that Harold had been crowned King of England.
Immediately the duke dismounted from his horse, went into his own room,
closed the door, and remained there until nightfall. No one dared to
enter that room or speak to the duke. When he left it, it was with the
resolve to take a terrible vengeance upon the man who, he said, had
broken his oath.
He sent for armourers, and sword-smiths, and carpenters, and
ship-builders. Then he sent all over Normandy, and all over France,
for soldiers to help him to fight against Harold.
For six months the people of Normandy worked with a will. The soldiers
having been brought together, weapons had to be provided for them,
horses found, and ships built to carry them over to England. William
wrote to the Pope and told him the story of the broken oath, and the
Pope sent his blessing and a sacred banner, and cursed Harold for
having sworn falsely by the saints.
At last everything was ready; and in the ports and harbours of Normandy
William's ships were only waiting for a fair wind to carry his forces
to what they believed to be a holy war.
In the meanwhile Harold had been finding plenty of troubles at home.
His own brother, Tostig, whom he had made Earl of Northumbria, had so
offended his subjects by his cruelty and injustice that they had
rebelled against him and driven him from the country. Tostig sent to
ask Harold to restore him to his earldom, but Harold refused either to
aid him or to allow him to return to a country where his misrule had
caused him to be hated by every one.
Then Tostig went to one king after another asking for help; but they
all refused to aid him. At last he found his way to King Harold
Hardrada of Norway; and this warlike king gave him a fleet and an army
and came himself to strike a blow against England.
The Norwegians landed on the shores of Northumbria, and began to ravage
the country and burn the dwellings of the people.
Messengers were sent on swift horses to Harold. It was September, and
all the fighting-men were away in the fields, gathering in the harvest,
but at their country's need they left their work and flocked around
In a short time Harold had collected an army; and he led his men
northward by a road which had been made by the Romans hundreds of years
There was little time for rest on the long march from London to
Northumbria. As they trudged steadily onwards the men talked of the
enemy whom they were soon to meet; the world-renowned Harold King of
Norway, who had led his sea-kings to battle in many lands.
'Ay,' said one, 'I've heard that he fought black heathen folk in an
outlandish place called Egypt. Be there such a place?'
'Egypt?' said another; 'that's the land parson preaches of in the
church; there were Pharaohs there, and plagues.'
'Ay,' said the first; 'when King Hardrada was in that land he met
something worse far than Pharaohs.'
'What was that?' asked the others.
'A fearsome beast that wore armour like a man. They call it a
crocodile; and the country there is swarming with its like. Ten rows
of teeth it had; and it came out of the river on its hind legs, and
clawed at the king with iron gloves. They fought till sundown, they
say, man and beast; and hard work had the king to slay the awesome
creature.—He's a great fighter, is King Harold Hardrada.'
The others marched in silence for a time, thinking about this fearful
adventure of the Norwegian king. It was night, and the harvest moon
was lighting up the long lines of men, with the king and his nobles on
their tired horses at the head; the sleeping cottages, and the yellow
shocks of corn standing ready cut in the fields on either side of the
'They do say,' began another man after a time, 'that the next enemy we
shall have to fight will be the Duke of Normandy.'
Weary as they were, all the hearers drew themselves up and squared
'Let him come,' they said. 'We will have no Norman for our king!'
'Ay,' another voice was saying, 'they do tell that the Pope has sent
him a sacred banner, and calls it a holy war because our good king has
broken an oath which he swore long ago, to help Duke William to be King
'We will have no foreigner to be our king,' repeated the men. 'Neither
Pope nor earl can give away the crown of England.'
They marched resolutely onward; and for a time nothing was heard save
the steady tramp of feet and the breathing of the tired horses.
Presently a halt was called, and the weary army lay down to snatch a
few hours' sleep beneath the moon.
They were on foot again by daybreak; and at length they came face to
face with their foes.
Near Stamford Bridge on the river Derwent, the Norwegian army was drawn
up in a great circle, with the sunbeams glinting upon helmets and
spear-points. High overhead floated the royal standard, a raven with
outstretched wings, called by the Norwegians the land-waster.
Riding at a short distance from the army was a knight in a bright blue
mantle and a shining helmet.
'Who is that man?' asked Harold of one of his captains.
'It is the King of Norway,' replied the captain.
Harold looked at the rider again.
'He is a tall and stately king,' he said; 'but his end is near.'
Then he looked again at the Norwegians, all drawn up in battle array;
and he thought of his brother, somewhere among their ranks; and he
wondered whether it was too late to try to make peace.
He rode out from his army until he was half-way between the two forces;
and then he shouted, 'Is Tostig the son of Godwin here?'
Tostig rode forward and said, 'Behold, Tostig is here!'
Then Harold cried, 'Harold of England offers Tostig peace and one-third
of the kingdom of England that he may rule over it; for he would not
that brother should fight against brother.'
'Last winter,' answered Tostig, 'my brother had nought for me but words
of scorn and high disdain; but now I am glad that he speaks both kindly
and fairly. But what will my brother King Harold of England give to
King Harold of Norway for his trouble in coming here?'
'Seven feet of English ground,' replied Harold; 'or perhaps a foot
over, seeing he is taller than most other men.'
'Go thy way!' shouted the Earl; 'Tostig will not desert his friends and
go over to his foes. He and his friends will die on this spot like
men, or will win England with their arms.'
Riding back to his army, Tostig was met by King Harold Hardrada.
'Who is that man who spake with thee?' asked the King of Norway.
Tostig replied, 'That is my brother Harold, the son of Godwin, and King
of the English.'
'He is but a little man,' said Hardrada; 'but he sits well in his
Then the battle began.
Both sides fought well, but the English pressed the Northmen hard, and
drove them backward until they came to the river Derwent. Then they
pressed them harder than ever; and the Northmen might have been forced
into the river and drowned but for the bravery of one of their number,
who kept the bridge with uplifted sword while the other soldiers passed
over. At last an Englishman got under the bridge, and thrust upward
with his spear through the planks; and wounded the brave Northman so
that he died.
After this the Northmen fell into confusion. Hardrada and Tostig were
both slain; and the remnant of their army fled in a panic to their
The English marched towards York, where the king gave a great feast in
honour of the victory.
The guests were seated round the board, drinking healths and singing,
and Harold was thinking sorrowfully of the brother who had fallen, a
traitor to his country, when of a sudden there was a loud knocking at
'What is that?' inquired the startled guests.
The door was thrown open, and a weary, white-faced man appeared, all
splashed and caked with mud.
'What ill news have you come to bring me?' asked Harold, while the
others all left the board and crowded round to hear.
'My lord the king,' said the messenger, 'I am from Pevensey—the
Normans have landed—Duke William—sixty thousand men—laying waste the
country—ships, horses, men-at-arms——'
'Ha!' said Harold; 'he has chosen a time when the men who guard the
coast are at their harvest; scattered over the country; and there is no
one save myself to gather them together. How long is it since you
'I hardly know,' replied the messenger; 'I took no count of time. I
have galloped all the way—ridden day and night, changing horses where
'Thanks, brave messenger,' said the king; 'by your speed you may have
saved your country. We must set off without delay,' he said, turning
to his guests; 'there is no more time for rest—who is ready to start
'I—and I—and I,' said the nobles, hurrying to fetch their followers;
and soon the hall was deserted.
In an hour's time the army was once more upon the march. The two
earls, Edwin and Morcar, whose sister Harold had married, remained in
the north, promising to collect their forces and to follow the king
with all speed.
As Harold approached the south of England, he was joined by hundreds of
men who had fled from the invaders, and were eager to avenge the
destruction of their homesteads.
'The English,' reported Duke William's outposts to their master, 'rush
onward through their pillaged country with the fury of madmen.'
'Let them come, and come soon!' was the duke's reply.
At Senlac, near the town of Hastings in Sussex, the English came in
sight of their foes. The Normans lay encamped upon the plain, while
Harold posted his army on a hill, with a little wood behind, and an old
mossy apple-tree a little to one side.
Night came on, clear and cold; and the two armies lay in sight of one
another's camp-fires, where they could hear the clinking of the
armourer's hammers, and the rough voices of the men on the other side.
When all was ready, the Normans lay down quietly to sleep, and awoke in
the morning refreshed and eager for the fray.
The English sat around their watch-fires, passing the horns of ale and
mead from hand to hand, and singing glees and war-songs. Over all
brooded the thought of the broken oath, and of the curse which had been
pronounced against England; but they knew that the curse was unjust,
and were resolved to fight to the last against the invader.
Harold rode round the camp to speak a last word of encouragement to his
men before they slept. He still hoped that the northern earls, Edwin
and Morcar, would come up before the battle; but Edwin and Morcar were
traitors. They had said to themselves, 'If Harold falls, we shall
divide England with Duke William, and be kings of our share of the
country instead of earls.' So they remained in the north; and the
sacrifice that Harold had made in marrying their sister proved to be in
Morning dawned, and the two armies drew themselves up in order of
battle. The English numbered only twenty thousand men, while William
had brought against them sixty thousand; but the English had the
advantage of a stronger position.
Harold drew up his bodyguard on the crest of the hill, where he had
planted his standard, the Golden Dragon of Wessex. Close by were the
men of London, who had the right of fighting by the side of their king.
These men were all clad in coats of mail, and carried battle-axes, and
javelins for throwing. On the sides of the hill were posted the other
soldiers and the country people, many of whom were armed only with
darts, knives, and pitchforks, for they had come in very hastily from
the fields. Round the hill the men had dug a trench, and fortified it
with a stockade; and behind the stockade Harold posted a line of
soldiers, standing close together, shield touching shield.
Then Harold and his two brothers rode through the army, saying, 'Keep
your ranks, men! Stand shoulder to shoulder, and we shall win the day.
But if you leave your line, or allow the Normans to break it, we are
lost. Stand firm!'
After having passed from rank to rank, and spoken to all the men,
Harold and his brothers rode back to the royal standard and dismounted,
for they were resolved to fight on foot and take what came like the
meanest of their soldiers.
Meanwhile Duke William had drawn up his men in three divisions, with a
long line of archers in front. In the centre were posted the Norman
knights with William at their head; and the sacred banner, the three
lions of Normandy, floating above them.
Suddenly there burst from the Norman lines their battle-cry of 'God aid
us!' and the vast army began to move across the plain. At the head
rode a minstrel-knight, singing an old battle-song, and whirling up his
sword in the air and catching it again as it fell.
Now the battle began in real earnest.
A flight of arrows was let loose upon the English host, then the
Normans charged up to the palisade.
As well might they have flung themselves against a stone wall.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, the English swung their huge
battle-axes, which clove their way through armour and shirts of mail.
Again and again the Normans charged against the barricade, the duke
himself at their head, his eyes shining like balls of living fire and
his voice like a trumpet; but they were driven back like waves breaking
around the base of a cliff.
On all sides the battle raged. Lances clashed, sword rang upon sword,
arrows whizzed through the air, and battle-axes crashed through steel
armour; while the cries of the wounded mingled with the blasts of the
war-horn and English cries of 'Out, out!' answered the Norman shouts of
'God aid us!'
Stoutest of the English was Harold, whose heavy battle-axe would cut
down horse and rider at a blow. Among the Normans there arose a cry
that the duke was slain.
'Here am I,' shouted William, tearing off his helmet, 'and by God's aid
will yet win the day!'
Maddened with war fury, he spurred up the hill, broke single-handed
through the barrier, and rode straight to Harold. The brother of the
king stepped before him, and was hewn down by a blow from William
before the duke himself was unhorsed and fell to the ground. Mounting
again quickly, William cut his way through his foes and was back again
in the Norman lines before any one could harm him.
A body of Normans having given way, the Kentish men in their eagerness
overleaped the barricade and gave chase to their flying foes.
Instantly William saw his advantage. The Normans turned, galloped up
the hill, and poured by thousands into the gap thus left undefended.
This proved the turning point of the day.
'Slowly and surely,' says an old writer, 'the Norman horse pressed
along the crest of the hill, strewing the height with corpses as the
hay is strewn in swaths before the mower.'
Still the ring round the standard remained unbroken, and in the centre
Harold and his bodyguard held their ground, dealing blows around them
with their great battle-axes. Beyond the ring the dead lay piled up in
heaps, English and Norman together.
'Shoot upward,' cried the duke to his archers, 'that your arrows may
fall like bolts from heaven.'
A shower of arrows fell upon the heads and shoulders of the English,
killing and wounding many a brave fighter.
The battle had lasted since early morning; and just as the sun went
down an arrow pierced Harold's right eye.
The king dropped his battle-axe, and fell forward with a short, sharp
cry of pain.
The Death of Harold.
Twenty Norman knights rushed forward, seized the standard, and dealt
Harold a mortal blow as he lay beside the dead bodies of his two
The English, having lost their leader, left the field fighting to the
last, and then scattered over the country to carry far and wide the
ill-tidings that King Harold was slain and the Norman master of England.
All was quiet when the moon rose over the hill where the Golden Dragon
had been hauled down and the sacred banner of the Normans raised in its
stead. The ground having been hastily cleared, William's tent was
pitched upon the spot where Harold and his brothers had made their last
stand, and the duke slept there all night.
The next day was a Sunday, and as the bells tinkled mournfully in the
churches, Englishwomen came flocking to the field of battle, with pale
faces and eyes red with weeping, to beg leave to look for their
husbands and brothers and sons among the slain. Among them was the
mother of Harold, offering William its weight in gold for the body of
The conqueror gave her leave to search, and for a long time the noble
English lady wandered over the battle-field, seeking vainly among the
Then came Aldwyth, Harold's wife; but she too, was unable to find the
body of her husband.
Last of all came Edith of the Swan's Neck, whom Harold had loved; and
she sought long for the body.
At last she came to a corpse that was lying upon a heap of dead,
disfigured with so many wounds that only she could have known it.
'That is Harold,' she said.
William gave orders that the last of the English kings should be buried
upon the cliffs that guard the shores of England, and a heap of stones
raised upon it.
'Let him lie there,' he said; 'he kept the shore manfully while he
lived; let him stay and guard it ever, now he is dead.'