We learn from History that we never learn anything from history. — G. W. F. Hegel

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




The Battle of Hastings

When Edward the Confessor died, in 1066, leaving no children, there were several claimants to the English throne. One of them was Harold, the son of God win, who was chosen by the Witenagemot to be the next king. It seems, moreover, that Edward the Confessor had picked out the same Harold to succeed him.

The Duke of Normandy, also a relative of Edward, claimed that the throne should belong to him. He said that Edward had once promised to name him his successor, and added that when Harold was shipwrecked in Normandy he solemnly swore to help the duke get possession of the English crown.

According to some histories, William, Duke of Normandy, had forced the shipwrecked Harold to make that promise. The Saxon prince, thinking an oath under such circumstances could not be binding, laid his hand upon a small relic which William placed on the table. But as soon as the words were spoken, the duke removed the cloth which covered the table, and showed Harold a pile of the holiest relics that could be found.

Of course, in these days a promise is a promise, but in the time of Harold it was considered more binding if made upon several relics than if upon one. If Harold really promised to give William the throne, he should have done so, but you will find in some histories that Harold made no such promise, and hence did not break his word when he accepted the crown.

However that may be, Harold was no sooner named king than he found himself compelled to fight against the Danes, who invaded his kingdom on one side, and the Normans, who were coming on the other.

Harold, who is known as the "Last of the Saxons," because he was the last Saxon king, promptly collected his army, and, marching rapidly northward, met and defeated the Danes at Stamford Bridge. But scarcely had he won this victory, when a herald came in great haste to announce that the Normans were crossing the Channel in many ships. Without giving his men a moment to rest, Harold marched them from Stamford Bridge to the shore at Hastings, where he arrived three days later, only to find that the Normans had already landed.

We are told that as William was leaving his boat he stumbled and fell. People were very superstitious in those days, so some of his followers began to mutter something about evil omens and bad luck. But William, who was very quick-witted, laughed aloud, and, seizing some sand in his hands, he cried that he now held England fast. This gave his men new courage, and when they met Harold's army at Senlac, a few miles away, they fought with great energy.

For a long while the battle raged furiously, and it seemed doubtful how it would end. Then, suddenly, a cry arose that William had been killed, and his men paused in dismay. But before they could turn and flee, he put, spurs to his horse, and, snatching his helmet from his head so that all might see his face, rode through the ranks, crying, "I am still alive, and, with the help of God, I shall yet conquer."

The Norman soldiers, encouraged by these words, again attacked the weary Saxons, who fought bravely, in spite of the terrible rain of Norman arrows, until they saw their king fall dead. When the battle was over, and William remained victor, Harold's lady-love came to look for his body. She found it under a heap of slain, on the very spot where he had fought gallantly to the last. A Norman arrow was sticking through his eye into his brain, and his hand still grasped his sword.

Some historians say that Harold's body was buried in an abbey near London. Others declare that William ordered that he should be buried on the shore, saying, "He guarded the coast while he was alive; let him continue to guard it after death." Upon his grave, wherever it was, his lady is said to have put this epitaph: "Here lies Harold the Unfortunate."



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
"Remember"
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee