Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How Harold the Saxon Visited Duke William
Philip I [1060-1108]

When Henry died in 1060 he was succeeded by his son Philip I. Philip was only a little boy of seven, and, of course, could not really rule, so the country was governed by a regent. But when Philip was about fourteen the regent died and after that the King himself ruled. He was not a good King; he was idle and pleasure-loving, and in his long reign of forty-eight years did nothing which makes him worthy of being remembered. The deeds of his great vassal, the Duke of Normandy, were of far more importance than the King's, both to France and to England.

While Robert was still on the throne the Duke of Normandy, Robert the Devil, made up his mind to go to the Holy Land in order to atone for his many sins. Before he set forth he called his vassals and barons together to tell them of his intentions. They begged him not to go, seeing his land would be open to great dangers and troubles if left without a lord.

"By my faith," replied Robert, "I will not leave you lordless. I have a young son who, please God, will grow great and strong. Take him, I pray you, for your lord. I make him my heir from this day forth of all Normandy,"

This young son was called William and he was only eight years old. But the barons promised to take him for their lord, and swore to be true to him. So Robert set out on his pilgrimage. He never came home again, but died in that far-off land.

The Barons had sworn to be faithful to their young lord, but hardly had Robert gone when they began to revolt. It was with difficulty that Duke Alain of Brittany, who had been left as regent, could prevent the dukedom from being torn from William.

Meanwhile William was growing up. He was very willful, and had a quick, violent temper. But he was so handsome and high spirited that every one admired him. When he played games with his companions he took the leading parts and made the others obey him. He was the judge in their mock trials, the general in their sham fights.

Soon he began to understand what the real fighting meant which was always going on around him. In his child's heart thus there awakened the strength and wisdom of a man, and he tried to gain the love and trust of his father's nobles so that they might give up their quarrels and be true to him as their Duke.

Among the nobles who surrounded William there was a handsome, fair-haired man with gentle, winning manners. This was his cousin, Prince Edward of England. Duke William's aunt, Princess Emma, had married King Ethelred of England, and when he was driven from his throne by the Danes, she and her sons took refuge at the Court of Normandy. For nearly thirty years Edward lived in Normandy. He loved the country and the people and the language and all his Norman relations. So although Edward was much older than his cousin William, and although they were very different from each other, they were good friends.

When Edward was at length called back to England to become King, William was just fifteen. And when the cousins said good-bye to each other they hoped to meet again, although in those days people seldom went journeys unless it was for war or a pilgrimage.

The year that his cousin went away, William insisted on being made a knight. So for the first time he was dressed in full armor, a sword was girt to his side, golden spurs were fastened to his heels. Then, without touching the stirrups, he vaulted into the saddle of his prancing war horse, and galloped up and down in front of an eager, admiring crowd of servants and vassals. For Duke William, with all his fierce tempers and willful ways, made his servants and his neighbors love him dearly.

This day upon which William first put on the arms of a knight was a day of rejoicing for his faithful barons, and a day of dread for his enemies. For it was said that in all France there was no knight who could so well guide a horse and wield a sword or spear.

Now with a firm hand William proved that he meant to be master in his own land, and he "beat down with the sword heads that were too high." The nobles who had at first opposed him knew that they had found a master, and now tried how they could prove to him their firm faith and respect.

Nine years after Edward became King of England William went to pay him a visit. When he reached England he might still have believed himself to be in Normandy, For he found Norman soldiers and sailors, Norman priests and courtiers, everywhere. For Edward, because of his love for them, had surrounded himself with Normans, and Norman French was the language of his court.

Edward greeted his cousin with affection. He entertained him with great splendor, and, when he went away, loaded him with presents of rich arms, splendid horses, hounds, and falcons, and whatever other good and fair gifts he could find that become a man of high degree. It is even said that Edward so far forgot his duty to his people as to promise his crown to his cousin. But of that we cannot be sure.

But whether Edward promised the crown to William or not, William desired to have it.

A few years after this Harold Godwin, the greatest and wisest prince in England, asked King Edward to give him leave to go to Normandy. He wanted to bring home his youngest brother and his nephew who were exiled in France and in the power of Duke William.

Edward was unwilling that Harold should go. "I will not forbid you," he said. "But if you go it will be without my wish. For your journey will surely bring misfortune upon yourself and upon our country. I know Duke William and his crafty spirit. He hates you and will grant you nothing unless he sees some great advantage therein."

Harold, however, was full of a generous wish to free his brother and nephew. He was full of confidence and for himself he feared nothing. So taking with him his hounds and falcons, as if he were but going a-hunting for pleasure, he set out gaily.

But it was already late in the year, and the sea was rough. A great storm arose, and, after being tossed bout by the angry winds and waves, Harold's ship was at length thrown a wreck upon the shores of France.

In those days little help or kindness was shown to those who were shipwrecked. They and their goods were looked upon as lawful prizes. So now Harold and his followers found themselves taken prisoners, with no hope of being released until some one should pay a ransom for them.

As soon as Duke William heard that this great enemy of the Normans was a captive, he paid the ransom, and Harold was sent to the court of the Norman Duke.

William received Harold with a great show of friendliness. He told him that he might at once return to England, but begged him to remain at least a few days as his guest.

Harold well knew that he was in the power of the Duke, and that this show of friendliness hid craft and guile. So he consented to stay. He could do little else. Then followed a gay time. William treated Harold as a brother and equal. He made him a knight of the great Norman order. Then from one castle to another they went, taking part in tournaments and knightly games. Everywhere Harold was received with the greatest skillful, and all the time he shared a tent with Duke William, and ate from the same table.

Then, as war was almost as much a game as a tournament, William asked Harold and his companions to "try their new spurs" by going with him to fight the Bretons. So Harold went to fight against the Bretons.

As Duke William returned from the war, he and Harold rode side by side, chatting and telling stories. One day William began to tell of the days when Edward had lived in Normandy.

'When Edward and I," he said, "lived like brothers under the same roof, he promised that if ever he became King of England he would make me his heir. I would that you, Harold, would aid me to make this promise sure. And be certain that if by your aid I gain the kingdom whatever you ask of me shall be granted."

At this Harold knew not what to say. He murmured some vague words which William took eagerly as a promise.

"Ah," he cried, "since you will aid me this must you do. You must strengthen the castle of Dover. You must sink in it a well of fresh water. And when I send, you must deliver it over to my soldiers. In return you shall marry my daughter, the fair Adela, and your sister shall marry one of my lords."

What could Harold do? He felt himself in the power of the wily Norman. So once more he murmured vague words of consent. He hoped in this way to buy his freedom and be allowed to return home. He hoped that God would forgive him the falsehood which was wrung from him.

But Duke William was not content with a vague promise. So he called together a great council of all the knights and nobles of Normandy. He also bade his priests and Bishops bring, from all the country round, bones and relics of saints. So many were brought that they filled a large chest. This was placed in the middle of the council chamber and covered with a cloth of gold.

When the day was come upon which the great meeting was called, William set himself upon his throne. He was dressed in splendid robes, a circle of gold and gems was upon his head, and a drawn sword in his hand. Around him stood a crowd of Norman lords and barons. Alone among them stood the Saxon Harold.

"Harold," said William, "I require you now, before these noble lords, to make sure by oath the promises that you have given to me. You must swear to me now, upon holy relics, that, after the death of King Edward, you will aid me to the kingdom of England, that you will marry my daughter Adela, and that you will send your sister to me so that she may be married to one of my nobles."

Again Harold was surprised and troubled. It was one thing to make a vague promise which he did not feel bound to keep. It was quite a different matter to swear solemnly on the relics of saints and martyrs. For in those days to break a promise so sworn was counted a deadly sin. On the cover of cloth of gold two small caskets were laid. With slow, unwilling steps Harold drew near to them. They were very small. After all, he thought, an oath sworn upon such small relics might not be very binding. To break such an oath might not be very wicked. Yet as he stood there he shuddered. His hands trembled as he laid them upon the little caskets, and in a low and troubled voice swore his oath.

As the last words died away all the nobles cried out, "God grant it."

Harold knelt to kiss the caskets. Then, as he rose from his knees, at a sign from Duke William, the cover was removed from the chest.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


Of a sudden Harold saw upon what holy relics he had sworn. As he gazed upon the pile he shuddered and turned pale. How was it possible, he asked himself, to break such an oath and yet save his soul.

William had now got all he wanted from his captive guest and he allowed him to go home. He rode with Harold to the seashore, kissed him upon either cheek, and bade him be faithful to his oath. Then, greatly rejoicing, he turned homeward again.