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

The Battle of Hastings [1066]

Soon to King Harold far in the North there came a panting messenger. "The Normans," he cried, "the Normans, they have come! They have landed at Hastings. They will wrest your land from you if you hasten not to meet them."

"Sorry am I," said Harold, "that I was not there to meet them. It is a sad mischance. Had I been there we might have prevented them landing and driven them backward into the sea. But it is the will of God. I could not be everywhere at once."

With all speed Harold marched southward, and in a few days' time the English and the Normans faced each other in battle array.

The night before the battle the Norman soldiers prayed and confessed their sins to the priests, and those who had no priest near confessed to each other. The English, on the other hand, drank and sang and made a great noise.

When day dawned, the Duke took his stand upon a little hill with all his nobles around him. To them he spoke.

"I love and thank you all," he said, "who have crossed the sea for me and come with me to this far land. It grieves me that I cannot now give to you such thanks as are your due. But when I can I will, and what I have shall be yours. If I conquer, you will conquer. If I win lands, you shall win lands. These English have done much ill to our people and to our ancestors, and if God so please, we will avenge them. When we have conquered them we will take their gold and silver and the wealth which they have in plenty, and their manors, which are rich. We shall conquer them with ease, for in all the wide world there is not so fair an army nor such proved men and vassals as are here gathered together."

Then all the nobles cried out, "You will not see one coward; none here will fear to die for love of you, if need be."

"I thank you well," the Duke answered. "Remember to strike hard. There will be no safety in flight. The English will never love or spare the Normans. Felons they were, felons they are. False they were, and false they ever will be. Shew no pity for them, for they will shew none to you."

Much more the Duke spoke, until at length a noble rode forward, all clad in steel from top to toe. "Sire," he cried, "we tarry too long. Let us arm ourselves for battle."

Then as the battle was about to begin Taillefer the minstrel rode toward the Duke mounted on a swift horse.

"A boon, sire," he cried. "I pray you let me strike the first blow in this battle."

And the Duke answered, "I grant it."

Then Taillefer put his horse to the gallop, and singing as he went the Song of Roland and his knights and how he died at Roncesvalles, he dashed against the English.

His sword flashed in the morning light. It flashed and fell, and an Englishman lay dead. Still singing, Taillefer rode on while the army behind him took up the song and the air was full of the music of men's voices. Again the sword flashed, again an Englishman lay dead. But the enemy closed round the valiant minstrel. He fell beneath a sword stroke, and the sound of his singing was stilled forever.

Loud rose the shouts of battle, and over the dead body of the minstrel the Normans rushed on the foe.

From nine in the morning till three in the afternoon the battle swayed this way and that. Both sides fought so well that no one could tell which would win.

The English were posted on a hill and surrounded by a strong wooden fence. Again and again the Normans charged against the solid mass in vain. Once the noise went abroad in the army that the Duke was killed, and, their hearts failing them, they would have fled.

But the Duke, taking off his helmet, rode up and down among the soldiers crying, "I am here! Look at me! See, I live, and by God's help will conquer!"

So the Normans took heart again and fought on.

Then William ordered his archers to shoot upward so that their arrows should fall upon the heads of the English within their fence. In this way many of the English were wounded, and the King was pierced in the eye. But in spite of the pain he still fought on, encouraging his men.

But at length the English guard was broken through. Then round the King, with his standard floating above him, a last stern fight was fought. The English fought like heroes, but man after man went down. And when at length night fell, the King and all the nobles of his house lay dead on the field, and his splendid standard which had fluttered in such brave defiance against the foe, now all torn and bloodstained, drooped mournfully above the tent of the Norman conqueror.

So ended one of England's saddest days.

But it was scarcely a day less sad for France. For, by the swords of Frenchmen, the crown of England had been won for William of Normandy, a vassal of the King of France. By their swords Frenchmen had made a vassal greater than their King, and France paid dearly for it. It brought upon France a hundred years of war and some of her darkest hours; it brought eight hundred years of jealous hate between two peoples who might have been kindly neighbors.

And now we must leave William the Conqueror. For the story of what he did after the battle of Hastings, and of how he was crowned King of England, belongs more to English than to French history.