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20.—THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS. C. MAC FARLANE. William was hunting in the forest near Rouen, with a great company of knights, esquires, and noble dames and damsels, when a messenger just arrived from England accosted him, and announced the death of the Confessor and the coronation of Harold. The bow dropped out of the hand of the Norman duke, and he stood for a space like one petrified. He then fastened and undid his mantle, speaking no word, and looking so troubled and fierce that none durst speak to him. Then throwing himself into a skiff, he crossed the Seine, and went into his palace, still silent. Striding into the great hall, he threw himself into a chair, and, wrapping his head in his mantle, he bent his body towards the earth. The courtiers gazed upon him with amazement and alarm, and asked one another in whispers what this could mean. “Sirs," said William de Breteuil
, the seneschal, "ye will soon know the cause of our lord's anxiety.” At a few words spoken by the seneschal, the duke recovered from his reverie, removed the mantle from his face, and listened to one of his barons, who advised him to remind Harold of the oaths he had sworn, and demand from him the immediate surrender of the Confessor's crown,
Harold replied, that the crown of England was not his to give away.
When William the Norman prepared to invade England (which he did forthwith), he had reached the mature age of forty-two. He called to his aid not only his subjects of Normandy, but men from Maine and Anjou, from Poictou and Brittany, from the country of the French king and from Flanders, from Aquitaine and from Burgundy, from Piedmont beyond the Alps, and from the German countries beyond the river Rhine. The idle adventurers of one-half of Europe flocked to his standard. Some of these men demanded regular pay in money, others nothing but a passage across the Channel, and all the booty they might make; some of the chiefs demanded territory in England, while others simply bargained to have a rich English wife allotted to them. William sold beforehand a bishopric in England for a skip and twenty men-at-arms. The pope gave the Conqueror a holy licence to invade England, upon condition that the Norman duke should hold his conquest as a fief of the church ; and, together with a bull, a consecrated banner, and a ring of great price, containing one of the hairs of St. Peter, were sent from Rome into Normandy. So formidable an armament had not been collected in Western Europe for many centuries. The total number of vessels amounted to about three thousand, of which six hundred or seven hundred were of a superior order. When the expedition set sail, William led the van in a vessel which had been presented to him for the occasion by his wife Matilda : the vanes of the ship were gilded, the sails were of different bright colours, the three lions—the arms of Normandy-wero painted in divers places, and the sculptured figure-head was a child with a bent bow, the arrow seeming ready to fly against the hostile and perjured land of England. The consecrated banner sent from Rome floated at the main-top-mast. This ship sailed faster than all the rest, and in the course of the night it left the whole fleet far astern. Early in the morning the duke ordered a sailor to the mast-head to see if the other ships were coming up. “I can see nothing but the sea and sky," said the mariner; and thereupon they lay-to. To keep the crew and the soldiers on board in good heart, William ordered them a sumptuous breakfast, with warm wine strongly spiced. After this refection the mariner was again sent aloft, and this time he said he could make out four vessels in the distance; but mounting a third time, he shouted out with a merry voice, “Now I see a forest of masts and sails." Within a few hours the re-united Norman fleet came to anchor or the Sussex coast. At that particular point the coast was flat, and the country behind it marshy and unpicturesque ; but a little to the left stood the noble Roman walls
and other ancient remains of Pevensey, and a little to the right the bold cliffs and sloping downs of Hastings.
As day dawned, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, a half-brother of Duke William, celebrated mass in the field on a portable altar, and gave his benediction to the troops, being armed the while in a coat of mail, which he wore under his episcopal rochet; and when the mass and the blessing were over, he mounted a very large and white war-horse, took a lance in his hand, and marshalled his brigade of cavalry. William rode a fine Spanish horse, which a rich Norman had brought him on his return from a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Iago in Galicia : he wore suspended round his neck some of those relics upon which Harold had sworn ; the pride of the Norman nobility were formed in column behind him; and the standard blessed by the pope was carried at his side by one Tonstain, surnamed “the White,” who accepted the honourable but dangerous office after two Norman barons had declined it. Before the onslaught, the duke, from the back of his Spanish steed, harangued the collected host, telling them that a great booty was before them, and that if they could conquer this land, they should have it all in lots among them. Then C'aillefer, a gigantic Norman, who was minstrel, juggler, and champion, spurred his avrse to the front of the van, and sung with a loud voice the popular ballads which immortalized the valour of Charlemagne and Roland, and all that flower of chivalry that fought in the great fight of Roncesvalles; and as Taillefer sang he performed feats with his sword, throwing it into the air with great force with one hand, and catching it as it fell with the other. The Normans repeated the burden of his song, or cried“ Dieu aide ! Dieu aide !” This accomplished champion craved permission to strike the first blow: he ran one Saxon through the body, and threw a second to the ground; but in attacking a third, he was himself mortally wounded; and having sung his last war-song, he crossed himself and was at peace for ever. The Saxon host remained in their position on the ridge of a hill, fortified by trenches and palisades : they were marshalled after the fashion of the Danes, shield against shield, presenting an impenetrable front to the enemy's lauces ; and in response to the “Dieu aide!” or “God is our help!” of the Normans, they shouted, “ Christ's rood! The holy rood!” According to ancient privilege, the brave men of Kent stood in the first line, and the burgesses of London formed the body-guard of the sovereign, and were drawn up close round the royal standard. At the foot of this standard stood bold Harold, with his two stout brothers, Gurth and Leofwin, and a few of the noblest and bravest thanes of all England.
Many were the checks and reverses, and fearful the losses sustained by the invaders. At one term the pride of the Norman cavalry were driven pell-mell into a deep trench which had been artfully covered over and concealed by the Saxons, and in which men and horses perished in great numbers : and at this disastrous moment the cry was spread that the duke himself was slain, and a panic and headlong flight was begun. William, whose horse had been killed, but who was himself unhurt, mounted a fresh steed, got before the fugitives, and endeavoured to stop them, first by threatening them and striking them with his lance, and then by uncovering his face and head, and crying, "Here I am! Look at me! I am still alive, and will conquer by God's help!” At last, near upon six o'clock of the evening, when the battle had lasted nine hours, and when the sun was setting in the sea beyond the headland of Beachy Head, victory alighted upon the proud crest of the Norman. Haroid was shot through the brain by a random arrow, and the foe made a dash and hemmed in the spot, exerting themselves in the most desperate manner to seize the royal Saxon banner. Robert Fitz Ernest had almost grasped it when a Saxon battle-axe laid him low for ever. Twenty Norman knights of name then undertook the task, and this attempt succeeded after ten of their
number had perished. The Saxon standard was then lowered, and the consecrated banner sent by the pope from Rome was raised in its stead, in sign of victory. Gurth and Leofwin, the brothers of Harold, died before the standard was taken, and all the hill-side where it stood was covered thick with the Saxon dead and dying. William himself had lost not one but three horses that were killed under him, and at one moment he was well nigh laid prostrate by a blow struck upon his steel cap by a Saxon knight.
Scenes of the most striking kind followed closely upon the battle of Hastings. Before leaving Normandy, William had caused a muster-roll to be drawn up, specifying the names and quality of all his followers. The morning after the battle all those who survived it were drawn up in line, and this muster-roll was called over. To a fourth of the names no answer was returned ; and among the missing, who were all dead, were many of the noblest lords and bravest knights of Normandy. Those who had been more fortunate gathered round the Duke, and, with eager looks and their swords and lance-heads yet wet with the blood of the conquered, demanded possession of the houses and lands of the Saxons. A new roll was prepared, on which were inscribed the names of all the noblemen and gentlemen who had survived ; and this roll was deposited in Battle Abbey, which, in the accomplishment of a solemn vow, the Conqueror afterwards erected on the hill which Harold had occupied and so gallantly defended. The high altar of this abbey church stood on the very spot where the standard of the last of our Saxon kings had floated.
The aged mother of Harold, who lost three brave sons in the battle of Hastings, offered its weight in gold for the dead body of the king. Two monks, who were allowed by William to search for the body, were unable to distinguish it among the heaps of the slain, who had all been stripped naked by the Norman soldiery ; but the monks sent for a beautiful young Saxon lady to whom Harold had been fondly attached, and the fair Editha—"the swan-necked” as she is called by some of the chroniclers—came to that scene of slaughter and horror, and went groping and peering with weeping and half-blinded eyes among the dead, nor ceased her search until she found the disfigured body of King Harold. The body was conveyed to Waltham Abbey, on the banks of the river Lea, a house and a country which he had much loved while alive. He was there honourably interred, the Waltham monks putting over his tomb the simple inscription " Here lies the unfortunate Harold !"
C. KNIGHT. The most extraordinary memorial of that eventful period of transition, which saw the descendants of the old Saxon conquerors of Britain swept from their power and their possessions, and their places usurped by a swarm of adventurers from the shores of Normandy, is a work not of stone or brass, not of writing and illumination more durable than stone or brass, but a roll of needlework, which records the principal events which preceded and accompanied the Conquest, with a minuteness and fidelity which leave no reasonable doubt of its being a contemporary production. This is the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry. When Napoleon contemplated the invasion of England in 1803, he caused this invaluable record to be removed from Bayeux, and to be exhibited in the National Museum at Paris; and then the French players, always ready to seize upon a popular subject, produced a little drama in which they exhibited Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror, sitting in her lonely tower in Normandy, whilst her husband was fighting in England, and thus recording, with the aid of her needlewomen, the mighty acts of her hero, portrayed to the life in this immortal worsted-work. But there is a more affecting theory of the
accomplishment of this labour than that told in the French vaudeville. The women of England were celebrated all over Europe for their work in embroidery; and when the husband of Matilda ascended the throne of England, it is reasonably concluded that the skilful daughters of the land were retained around the person of the queen. They were thus employed to celebrate their own calamities. But there was nothing in this tapestry which told a tale of degradation. There is no delineation of cowardly flight or abject submission. The colours of the threads might have been dimmed with the tears of the workers, but they would not have had the deep pain of believing that their homes were not gallantly defended. In this great invasion and conquest, as an old historian has poetically said, “ was tried by the great assise of God's judgment in battle the right of power between the English and Norman nations--a battle the most memorable of all others; and, howsoever miserably lost, yet most nobly fought on the part of England." There was nothing in this tapestry to encourage another invasion eight centuries later. In one of the compartments of the tapestry were represented men gazing at a meteor or comet, which was held to presage the defeat of the Saxon Harold. A meteor had appeared in the south of France, at the time of the exhibition of the tapestry in 1803; and the mountebank Napoleon proclaimed that the circumstances were identical. The tapestry, having served its purpose of popular delusion, was returned to its original obscurity. It had previously been known to Lancelot and Montfaucon, French antiquaries; and Dr. Ducarel, in 1767, printed a description of it, in which he stated that it was annually hung up round the nave of the church of Bayeux on St. John's day. During the last thirty years this ancient work has been fully described, and its date and origin discussed. Above all, the Society of Antiquaries rendered a most valuable service to the world, by causing a complete set of coloured fac-simile drawings to be made by an accomplished artist, Mr. Charles Stothard, which have since been published in the Vetusta Monumenta.'
In the Hôtel of the Prefecture at Bayeux is now preserved this famous tapestry. In 1814, so little was known of it in the town where it had remained for so many centuries, that Mr. Hudson Gurney was coming away without discovering it, not being aware that it went by the name of the “Toile de St. Jean." It was coiled round a windlass; and drawing it out at leisure over a table, he found that it consisted of "a very long piece of brownish linen cloth, worked with woollen thread of different colours, which are as bright and distinct, and the letters of the superscriptions as legible, as if of yesterday.” The roll is twenty inches broad, and two hundred and fourteen feet in length. Mr. Gurney has some sensible remarks upon the internal evidence of the work being contemporaneous with the Conquest. In the buildings portrayed there is not the the trace of a pointed arch ; there is not an indication of armorial bearings, properly so called, which would certainly have been given to the fighting knights had the needlework belonged to a later age ; and the Norman banner is invariably Argent, a cross Or in a border Azure, and not the latter invention of the Norman leopards. Mr. Gurney adds, “ It may be remarked, that the whole is worked with a strong outline ; that the clearness and relief are given to it by the variety of the colours." I'he likenesses of individuals are preserved throughout. The Saxons invariably wear moustaches ; and William, from his erect figure and manner, could be recognised were there no superscriptions. Mr. Charles Stothard, who made the drawings of the tapestry which have been engraved by the Society of Antiquities, communicates some interesting particulars in a letter written in 1819. He adds to Mr. Gurney's account of its character as a work of art, that "there is no attempt at light and shade, or perspective, the want of which is substituted by the use of different coloured worsteds. We observe this in the off-legs of the horses, which are distinguished alone from the near-legs by
being of different colours. The horses, the hair, and mustachios, as well as the eyes and features of the characters, are depicted with all the various colours of green, blue, red, &c., according to the taste or caprice of the artist. This may be easily accounted for, when we consider how few colours composed their materials.”
The first of the seventy-two compartments into which the roll of needlework is divided, is inscribed “ Edwardus Rex.” The crowned king, seated on a chair of state, with a sceptre, is given audience to two persons in attendance ; and this is is held to represent Harold departing for Normandy. The second shows Harold, and his attendants with hounds, on a journey. He bears the hawk on his hand, the distinguishing mark of nobility. The inscription purports that the figures represent Harold, Duke of the English, and his soldiers, journeying to Bosham. The third is inscribed “Ecclesia," and exhibits a Saxon church, with two bending figures about to enter. The fourth compartment represents Harold embarking; and the fifth shows him on his voyage. The sixth is his coming to anchor previous to disembarking on the coast of Normandy. The seventh and eight compartments exhibit the seizure of Harold by the Count of Ponthieu. The ninth shows Harold remonstrating with Guy, the Count, upon his unjust seizure.
The compartments from ten to twenty-five, inclusive, exhibit various circumstances connected with the sojourn of Harold at the court of William. Mr. Stothard has justly observed, “That whoever designed this historical record was intimately acquainted with whatever was passing on the Norman side, is evidently proved by that minute attention to familiar and local circumstances evinced in introducing, solely in the Norman party, characters certainly not essential to the great events connected with the story of the work.” The twenty-sixth compartment represents Harold swearing fidelity to William, with each hand on a shrine of relics. All the historians appear to be agreed that Harold did take an oath to William to support his claims to the crown of England, whatever might have been the circumstances under which that oath was extorted from him. The twenty-seventh compartment exhibits Harold's return to England ; and the twenty-eighth shows him on hi: journey after landing. The twenty-nioth compartment has an inscription purport ing that Harold comes to Edward the King. The thirtieth shows the funeral procession of the deceased Edward to Westminster Abbey, a hand out of heaven pointing to that building as a monument of his piety. The inscription says, “ Here the body of Edward the King is borne to the church of St. Peter the Apostle.” The thirty-first and thirty-second compartments exhibit the sickness and death of the Confessor. The thirty-third shows the crown offered to Harold. The thirtyfourth presents us Harold on the throne, with Stigant the Archbishop. Then comes the compartment representing the comet already mentioned ; and that is followed by one showing William giving orders for the building of ships for the invasion of England. We have then compartments, in which men are cutting down trees, building ships, dragging along vessels, and bearing arms and armour. The forty-third has an inscription, “ Here they draw a car with wine and arms.” After a compart ment with William on horseback, we have the fleet on its voyage. The inscription to this recounts that he passes the sea with a great fleet, and comes to Pevensey, Three other compartments show the disembarkation of horses, the hasty march of cavalry, and the seizure and slaughter of animals for the hungry invaders. The forty-ninth compartment bears the inscription “This is Wadard.” Who this personage on horseback, thus honoured, could be, was a great puzzle, till the name was found in Domesday-Book as a holder of land in six English counties, under Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the Conqueror's half-brother. This is one of the circumstances exhibiting the minute knowledge of the designers of this needlework. The fiftieth and fifty-first compartments present us the cooking and feasting of the Norman