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 Duke William Sailed to England
Philip I [1060-1108]

A year or so after Harold's unhappy visit to Normandy King Edward died. But Harold did not keep his oath, and he himself was crowned King of England.

One of the many Normans who lived in England then took ship to France, and made all speed to the Court of Normandy to tell William the news.

When the messenger arrived at Rouen he found William out hunting. The Duke stood with his bow in his hand, surrounded by knights and pages.

"My lord Duke," said the messenger, "I have news to give you." And when William had drawn a little aside from his followers he told his news.

"Edward of England is dead," he said.

"Ah!" exclaimed the Duke.

"And Harold Godwinson is crowned King in his stead."

Then the Duke's face flushed red with anger. He choked with rage. A while he stood clasping and unclasping the rich cloak that fell from his shoulders. He spoke to no man, and no man durst speak to him.

In silent wrath he turned back to his palace. There in the hall he threw himself down on a bench, covering his face with his mantle.

Long time he remained thus, for none dared to speak to him. But his courtiers whispered together.

"What ails the Duke?" they said. "Why makes he such evil cheer?"

At length one who was his familiar friend entered the hall. Straight to the Duke he went.

"Sire," he said, "do not hide the news from us. For soon the people in the streets will know how Harold has taken the kingdom. Bestir yourself and be avenged. Send to him and demand the kingdom, and if he will not yield it cross the sea and take it from him."

So William called the messenger to him. "Go," he said, "tell Harold Godwinson that I, William, Duke of Normandy, send to remind him of the oath which he has sworn by his mouth and with his hand upon good and holy relics. Tell him that I send to claim the crown and throne of England."

So in all haste the messenger departed, and came to Harold as he sat upon his throne among his nobles. Harold listened to the messenger, then he proudly answered: "Go tell William of Normandy that the crown of England is not mine to take and give at pleasure."

But William meant to be King of England. And when he heard Harold's reply he at once made up his mind to cross the sea and fight for the crown. So he gathered all his lords together and asked them to go with him. But many were afraid.

"Sire," said some, "we fear the sea. We are not bound to serve beyond it."

"These English are a great and strong people," said others. "They will kill us and what the better shall we be? It is well for you, for if you conquer them, you will rule all the fair, broad lands. But what will it profit us?"

So Duke William took each of the great lords aside and spoke to them one by one. If they would aid him, he promised them land in England, besides money and rich spoil. So one by one the barons yielded and promised to go with him.

Duke William also sent to the Pope to tell him that Harold had broken his oath sworn upon holy relics. At this news the Pope was angry. He was angry too with the English, because they had ceased to pay a tax called Peter's Pence, which he claimed from them. So he excommunicated Harold and all who held to him. He also sent to William his blessing, a silken banner, and a fair and precious ring in which, beneath a diamond, there was enclosed one of St. Peter's hairs.

Meanwhile, at the mouth of the Dive, William was gathering a huge army of men and ships. For he sent into all parts of France telling how Harold had broken his oath and lied to him, and offering to every tall and stout man who would serve him with spear and bow, money, and great plunder, and fair, broad lands. So from far and near, from north and south, the people flocked to him. Some were great knights and nobles, some were plain serving men. Some asked for money, some for plunder, and some for castles and broad, fair lands. And to all Duke William gave ready promises.

In every port in Normandy the sound of hammer and saw was heard as ships and boats were built, masts were reared, and sails were stretched. In every town throughout the country the clang of hammer on anvil was heard as smiths and armorers made swords and lances and coats of mail. And all the roads were thronged and busy with merchants and messengers who carried food and wine and arms to the ships. Never before had such an army and fleet been seen in Normandy.

At length all was ready. But the weather was bad, and for a month and more the ships lay waiting for a fair wind. Then the soldiers as they lay idle began to grumble amongst themselves.

"Mad and foolish is he who seeks to possess himself of another's kingdom," they said "God is angry with such, and shows His anger by denying us a fair wind."

When he saw the discontent of his soldiers, the Duke, too, grew anxious. But at length a fair wind blew. One September morning the sun rose in splendor. Soon all the camp was astir. Joyfully the men flocked to the ships. All day there were trumpet calls and noise of shouting. Then, as the afternoon sun sloped to the west, the great fleet sailed out into the open sea, and a shout of joy went up from sixty thousand throats.

The Duke's ship, the Mora, led the way. It was a splendid sight. The sails were colored, and upon them were painted the three lions of Normandy. Upon the prow there was carved a golden boy, with a bent bow in his hand, leaning forward as if eager to reach the English shore. From the mast-head fluttered the banner sent by the Pope, and there too gleamed a huge lantern as a guide to all the fleet.

The Mora sailed much faster than the other ships, and when morning dawned it was alone upon the empty sea.

Duke William then ordered the master of his ship to cast anchor and sent a sailor to the mast-head to look if there were any ships in the distance.

The sailor went and returned. "I see only the sea and the sky," he said.

Nothing daunted, William ordered a good breakfast to be served to all on board, with plenty of strong spiced wine. When breakfast was over the sailor was again sent to the mast-head. Shading his keen eyes with his hand from the bright morning light he gazed for a minute or two in silence. There was an anxious, breathless pause. Then with a shout he cried, "I see four ships!"

A third time the sailor was sent to the mast-head. This time he had no need to look long. "I see such a number of ships," he cried, "so close together that their masts seem like a moving forest."

Then anxious hope was turned into joy, and followed by the whole of his great fleet, Duke William sailed on and landed at Pevensey without hindrance. For there was no one to guard the shores, for King Harold was far away in York fighting another enemy.

As Duke William leaped eagerly ashore he stumbled and fell. At once a murmur arose from all around. "Ah," they cried, "what an evil sign is this?"

But Duke William sprang up quickly, and showing his hands full of turf, "By heaven!" he cried, "I have seized England with my two hands."

Then one of his men sprang forward, and tearing a handful of thatch from a cottage, ran with it to the Duke. "Sire," he cried, "of this land I give you an earnest. Without doubt the country is yours."

"In God's name I accept it," said the Duke.