Stories from English History - Hilda Skae

English and Norman

In England there was an old King called Edward; a gentle pious man who disliked the trouble of governing, and who left his brother-in-law to rule the country while he himself spent his time in praying and in reading good books and going to church.

Harold, Earl of Wessex, the king's brother-in-law, was one of the most able men then living; a true Englishman, wise and honourable. The people of England loved and trusted Harold; and as Edward had no children to succeed to the throne, they hoped that after his death Harold would become their king.

On the other side of the strip of sea which divides England from France, there lived at this time a very proud and ambitious man, William, Duke of Normandy.

William was descended from a great pirate who had come from the North, many years before, and had compelled the King of France to give him part of his dominions for himself and his followers to settle in. Ever since then, this part of France has been called Normandy; and the descendants of these Northmen are living there to this day.

The pirate was made a duke; but his great grandson William of Normandy wanted to become a king.

William's father had been a friend of King Edward of England, and when he was a young man William came from Normandy to spend some weeks at the Court of England. In after years William declared that during this visit Edward had promised that he, and not Harold, should be the next King of England.

If Edward really made this promise he must have known that he was undertaking what he had no power to fulfil, for the English people had the right of choosing their own king, and they did not wish to have a proud Norman rule over them.

But William had made up his mind to be a king; and he was a man who never let anything stand in the way of what he wanted.

One day Earl Harold went sailing in the English Channel, when a storm arose and drove his vessel out of her course.

Night came down, thick and foggy, and the captain did not know where they were. All remained on deck, keeping an anxious lookout; and in the darkness the vessel suddenly struck.

Before them they could see some masses of rock; and the men had just time to scramble out before the little ship filled with water and sank.

The unlucky pleasure-seekers found themselves clinging to a little rocky islet which would scarcely afford them foothold; and all night they remained there drenched with rain and spray.

At daybreak they were able to make out the coast of France, not very far away from them. By the side of the reef lay their little vessel, half in, half out of the water, with a large hole in her side. There was nothing that they could do but wait until some one should see them from the shore, and come off with a boat to rescue them.

In a little while Harold and his men saw a stir upon the coast. Men were coming and going; looking towards the rock and then running to fetch other men. After a while a party came down to the beach, launched a boat and rowed towards the wreck.

How thankful were the hungry, shivering castaways to get into the boat and be rowed ashore by these sturdy Norman-French fishermen!

They entered one of the cottages; and as they were warming themselves before a blazing fire the door was suddenly burst open, and a man in a shining coat of mail stood in the doorway. Behind him were grouped a dozen or so of stout men-at-arms.

"Aha," said the mail-clad knight, looking around him with restless, glittering black eyes; "if I am not mistaken it is a great man whom the wind and waves have done me the honour to waft to my shores.—I am Guy, Count of Ponthieu; and you, if I am not mistaken," he said to Harold, "are Earl Harold, brother-in-law to the King of England."

"I thought so," muttered Harold as he gravely inclined his head in answer to the count; "our troubles are only beginning."

"This is not a fitting spot in which to receive the kinsman of King Edward of England," said Guy in mock courtesy. "I must trouble you, Sir, to come to my poor dwelling, where I hope a short stay may be rendered as pleasant as possible to yourself and your followers."

Harold groaned in spirit as he realised that the count was going to keep him in prison in the hope of getting a ransom for him from King Edward. With these sturdy men-at-arms in the doorway it was no use for the unarmed Englishmen to try to resist.

"My poor countrymen," said Harold to himself; "I wonder how much money he will force them to hand over before he consents to give me up? It grieves me to think of the good English gold which will go to the enriching of this greedy hawk. And how is the kingdom going to be governed in my absence?—Alack the day!"

The count's dark mocking face was all aglow with triumph as he led his prisoner where some horses were ready waiting for them.

After a short ride they were in the court-yard of the grim frowning castle of Aonthieu, with the drawbridge raised behind them.

"You will allow some of my men to go to England and tell King Edward that I am here?" said Harold to the count.

Once more Guy smiled his mocking smile.

"I was going to ask the whole party, to accept my hospitality for a few weeks," he said. "His majesty of England will be the more pleased to welcome his brother-in-law after he has lacked tidings of him for a spice."

Harold fumed with anger and indignation. He saw that Guy meant to keep the king and his own family in ignorance of his fate in order that they might be more eager to ransom him once they heard that he was still living.

But one day Guy, Count of Ponthieu, was in a very bad humour. He strode up and down the courtyard with an angry scowl upon his handsome, haughty face; muttering to himself and reading a letter which had been brought to the castle by a mounted messenger. His mailed boots made a noisy clattering upon the pavement, and the men-at-arms felt that it would be safe to keep at a respectful distance that morning.

"Ha!" shouted Guy; "I am grossly insulted!—What traitor has dared to carry to the duke news of my prisoner? Had I that man, he should hang by the heels for his presumption!—Here is a letter from William of Normandy to say that if I do not instantly release Earl Harold, he will send an army against me and rase my castle to the ground. What right has the duke to interfere, I should like to know? The Earl was wrecked upon my land, not upon his; and if a man may not do as he likes with a prisoner whom the wind and waves have brought to his very door, things have come to a pretty pass!"

The count thought of the large sum of money which he had made so sure of getting; and rage and defiance swelled in his heart. Then he recollected the great power of William, and reflected that there was nothing for it but to make the best of things.

"Hey, Giles!" he called to his seneschal, who with a somewhat faltering step was venturing to cross the courtyard; "ask Earl Harold to have the goodness to speak with me."

"Raze my castle to the ground!" stormed the count as he paced the flagstones; "ay, and he would do it too; the tanner's grandson!

Duke William's mother had been the daughter of a tanner; and his enemies were never tired of reproaching him with this circumstance when they thought they could do so without fear of punishment.

Presently the Englishman stood before the angry count; and with a very bad grace, Guy told him that he was a free man, and that he owed his release to the Duke of Normandy.

Harold was very glad to find himself at liberty; and he felt that it would not be courteous for him to return to his own country until he had thanked the Duke for his generous help. Some of his men were sent to England to tell King Edward of his safety; and with only a few followers he set out for the court of Duke William.

Soon the earl and the duke met; Harold short and strong, with his good honest English face and steadfast blue eyes; William almost a giant in height, stern and proud, with steely eyes, and a face that had never yet shown pity to any that opposed him.

The two men had been friends of old; and they liked and admired each other.

William gave Harold a warm welcome to his dominions. At the court of the duke Harold found his youngest brother Wulfnoth, who had been sent to Normandy as a hostage many years before. Each day was made a festival; the duke held tournaments in honour of his guest, and went hunting and hawking with him; and the Englishman showed such skill in all manly exercises that William learned to respect him more and more.

One day something happened which made him feel more than ever what a pity it was that this man must one day become his enemy.

Harold was walking on the sea-shore with his brother and the duke and a train of nobles, when several of the knights became caught in a quicksand and would have been lost had not Harold rushed forward, and with his unaided strength dragged each one of them into safety upon firm ground.

Harold Godwine


The duke said to himself that the short, sturdy Englishman was the bravest knight he had ever seen, and the one best fitted to become a king. Yet all the time that he was outwardly showing the greatest friendship for his guest he was secretly making plans by which he might compel Harold to help him to become King of England.

One day he asked Harold whether he knew that King Edward had promised that he should succeed him on the throne.

"No," replied Harold quietly; "I did not know that."

The duke put his hand upon the Englishman's shoulder.

"It is an old promise," he said, "and for many years I have looked upon myself as the future King of England."

"Listen to me," he added hastily, as he saw that Harold was about to speak: "I like you, and you are the man of all the English whom I most wish to have on my side. If you will give me your word of honour that you will help me to the crown, I promise that you shall be the greatest man in the kingdom next to myself; and not only that, but you shall be my son-in-law; I will give you my daughter Adela for your wife.—Now is it a bargain, son-in-law Harold?"

"No," said Harold quietly and firmly; "it cannot be. I cannot marry your daughter, because I already love a lady in England, Edith, a ward of the king; and you will never with my consent become King of England, because the English people have the right of choosing their own king; and we will never willingly have a Norman to rule over us. If King Edward made you any such promise he did very wrongly, for the crown of England is not his to give away."

Duke William was silent, and his eyes blazed with anger, as they always did when his will was crossed.

"So be it," he said, when he had regained sufficient mastery over himself to be able to speak; "I do not require help that is not freely given."

Harold knew that the duke was very angry; and he began to see what an imprudent action he had committed when he had put himself in the power of this ambitious man.

One of the Norman knights, whom he had rescued, came to Harold that evening.

"Do not anger the duke," he begged. "You little know his determined will. You are alone, it is useless to resist; and he will find a means of putting you to silence if you oppose him."

Harold's young brother, Wulfnoth, came to him next.

"Do not refuse to give the duke the promise he asks of you," implored the boy with a pale face. "I have seen their dungeons and the oubliettes—those dreadful underground cells where a man can scarcely stand upright, where he may spend years without ever seeing the light of day.—O Harold, the duke has sworn to imprison both you and me if you refuse to help him! Promise, Harold, promise; and when you are safe in England no one can make you hold to a promise which has been forced from you."

Harold passed the night in great perplexity.

Should he refuse to make a promise which he knew that he could not keep?

Then he and his young brother would be cast into these dreadful hiding-places; and they would never be heard of again. In years to come Englishmen might walk over the very turf under which they lay, and not know that beneath their feet the lost earls were still living, buried deep from the blessed sunshine, and the song of the birds, and the faces of their fellow-men.

Would it be right of him to bring such a fate upon his brother?

Then his native land; what would become of England while Harold lay in his dungeon?

He knew that without his help the weak, gentle king was unable to govern.

Then when Duke William came to demand the crown, and the English resisted him, as they were sure to do, there was no one save Harold to lead them to battle.

He knew that he was the one man whom England needed at that time. Already he had been absent too long.

Yet it was a terrible thing to make a promise which he did not intend to keep.

Morning found Harold with his mind not made up.

That day, William asked his guest to meet him in the great hall of the castle.

An unexpected sight met the Englishman as he entered. The hall was filled with knights and barons, all waiting in silence. Beneath the great stained-glass window was the duke in his state robes, seated upon a throne, with a bishop on either side of him. In front of the throne stood a chest covered with cloth of gold, and upon the cover lay an open Bible.

William was wearing his most grave and stony-hearted expression.

"Yesterday I told you that King Edward of England had left his crown to me," he said. "I ask you now, in presence of the barons and knights of my dukedom, to swear to support my just claim."

Harold looked at the Duke with a dark and angry face. William was taking a dishonourable advantage of him.

"Swear," said the Norman knight, his friend, in his ear. "If you do not, you will never see England again."

"Swear, Harold," whispered Wulfnoth; "the oubliettes!"

Harold was completely in the power of the Normans.

With downcast eyes he laid his hand upon the Bible and repeated the words of the oath after the duke.

Then the bishops came forward and raised the cloth of gold, showing that the chest was full of the bones of Norman saints.

Harold started back in horror; for an oath sworn upon the bones of saints was held to be the most sacred and binding oath that a man could take.

Instead of friendship, his heart now became filled with a fierce hatred towards the duke, whose ambition had led him to take an unfair advantage of his guest.

If he kept his oath, he would be a traitor to his country; while, if he broke it, he feared that a curse would rest upon himself.

When Harold had to make the choice, he remained true to his native land and braved the consequences; but he was never again the happy, fearless man that he had been before he had been compelled by the duke to swear a false oath.

Two years later, King Edward felt his end approaching, and he sent for Harold.

The earl found the old, white-haired king lying upon a couch, his kind blue eyes dim with age and sickness. His wife, Harold's sister, was sitting on a low seat by her husband's side, and the two archbishops of the realm were with the king.

Edward told Harold that he must soon die, and that he wished him, Harold, Earl of Wessex, to become king after him. He said that long ago he had repented of the promise made to William of Normandy, as he knew that his subjects would never consent to have any but an Englishman for their king.

In presence of the archbishops Harold promised to govern faithfully if the people of England should choose him for their king, and to fight against William of Normandy if need be.

Then King Edward told him that he had something to ask of him.

"If England is to be strong enough to resist the Normans," he said, "she must be a united country. The two earls in the north, Edwin and Mortar, are enemies of your house. Make them your friends by marrying their sister, Aldwyth."

Harold was silent.

"Ah, my son," said the old king, "I know that you have long hoped to marry my ward, the Lady Edith; but you must sacrifice yourself for England. We have both weakened our dear country, you and I; I by unduly favouring the Norman, and you by allowing a false oath to be extorted from you. We can only make her strong again by your marriage."

Harold struggled hard, but was unable to make up his mind to the sacrifice.

Then in came Edith, Harold's betrothed bride, fair and graceful as a lily: Edith of the Swan's Neck, as people called her. Her face was pale and sorrowful, but she had resolved to do her duty.

"Harold," she implored him, "for the sake of England; that our country may be free! I will never, never marry any one else; but you are a king! Marry Aldwyth!

With a sore heart Harold yielded to her entreaty, and promised the old king that he would do as he asked.

Then Harold and Edith parted, Harold to marry the daughter of his enemy and Edith to enter a convent, where she might pray for England and for Harold.

A few days later the old king passed away, muttering sorrowful things about war and trouble which he feared would come upon England. He had been a good, kind old man, and his people grieved for him very much; but through his want of firmness he had prepared the way for some of the worst troubles that England was ever to know.

Immediately after King Edward was dead, the wise men chose Harold for their king, and on the following day the old king was buried and the new one crowned in the church which is now a part of Westminster Abbey.

The news was not slow in reaching Normandy. Duke William was just leaving his castle with a hunting-party when a messenger came to tell him that Harold had been crowned King of England.

Immediately the duke dismounted from his horse, went into his own room, closed the door, and remained there until nightfall. No one dared to enter that room or speak to the duke. When he left it, it was with the resolve to take a terrible vengeance upon the man who, he said, had broken his oath.

He sent for armourers, and sword-smiths, and carpenters, and ship-builders. Then he sent all over Normandy, and all over France, for soldiers to help him to fight against Harold.

For six months the people of Normandy worked with a will. The soldiers having been brought together, weapons had to be provided for them, horses found, and ships built to carry them over to England. William wrote to the Pope and told him the story of the broken oath, and the Pope sent his blessing and a sacred banner, and cursed Harold for having sworn falsely by the saints.

At last everything was ready; and in the ports and harbours of Normandy William's ships were only waiting for a fair wind to carry his forces to what they believed to be a holy war.

In the meanwhile Harold had been finding plenty of troubles at home. His own brother, Tostig, whom he had made Earl of Northumbria, had so offended his subjects by his cruelty and injustice that they had rebelled against him and driven him from the country. Tostig sent to ask Harold to restore him to his earldom, but Harold refused either to aid him or to allow him to return to a country where his misrule had caused him to be hated by every one.

Then Tostig went to one king after another asking for help; but they all refused to aid him. At last he found his way to King Harold Hardrada of Norway; and this warlike king gave him a fleet and an army and came himself to strike a blow against England.

The Norwegians landed on the shores of Northumbria, and began to ravage the country and burn the dwellings of the people.

Messengers were sent on swift horses to Harold. It was September, and all the fighting-men were away in the fields, gathering in the harvest, but at their country's need they left their work and flocked around their king.

In a short time Harold had collected an army; and he led his men northward by a road which had been made by the Romans hundreds of years before.

There was little time for rest on the long march from London to Northumbria. As they trudged steadily onwards the men talked of the enemy whom they were soon to meet; the world-renowned Harold King of Norway, who had led his sea-kings to battle in many lands.

"Ay," said one, "I've heard that he fought black heathen folk in an outlandish place called Egypt. Be there such a place?"

"Egypt?" said another; "that's the land parson preaches of in the church; there were Pharaohs there, and plagues."

"Ay," said the first; "when King Hardrada was in that land he met something worse far than Pharaohs."

"What was that?" asked the others.

"A fearsome beast that wore armour like a man. They call it a crocodile; and the country there is swarming with its like. Ten rows of teeth it had; and it came out of the river on its hind legs, and clawed at the king with iron gloves. They fought till sundown, they say, man and beast; and hard work had the king to slay the awesome creature.—He's a great fighter, is King Harold Hardrada."

The others marched in silence for a time, thinking about this fearful adventure of the Norwegian king. It was night, and the harvest moon was lighting up the long lines of men, with the king" and his nobles on. their tired horses at the head; the sleeping cottages, and the yellow shocks of corn standing ready cut in the fields on either side of the way.

"They do say," began another man after a time, "that the next enemy we shall have to fight will be the Duke of Normandy."

Weary as they were, all the hearers drew themselves up and squared their shoulders.

"Let him come," they said. "We will have no Norman for our king!"

"Ay," another voice was saying, "they do tell that the Pope has sent him a sacred banner, and calls it a holy war because our good king has broken an oath which he swore long ago, to help Duke William to be King of England."

"We will have no foreigner to be our king," repeated the men. "Neither Pope nor earl can give away the crown of England."

They marched resolutely onward; and for a time nothing was heard save the steady tramp of feet and the breathing of the tired horses.

Presently a halt was called, and the weary army lay down to snatch a few hours' sleep beneath the moon.

They were on foot again by daybreak; and at length they came face to face with their foes.

Near Stamford Bridge on the river Derwent, the Norwegian army was drawn up in a great circle, with the sunbeams glinting upon helmets and spear-points. High overhead floated the royal standard, a raven with outstretched wings, called by the Norwegians the land-waster.

Riding at a short distance from the army was a knight in a bright blue mantle and a shining helmet.

"Who is that man?" asked Harold of one of his captains.

"It is the King of Norway," replied the captain.

Harold looked at the rider again.

"He is a tall and stately king," he said; "but his end is near."

Then he looked again at the Norwegians, all drawn up in battle array; and he thought of his brother, somewhere among their ranks; and he wondered whether it was too late to try to make peace.

He rode out from his army until he was half-way between the two forces; and then he shouted, "Is Tostig the son of Godwin here?"

Tostig rode forward and said, "Behold, Tostig is here!"

Then Harold cried, "Harold of England offers Tostig peace and one-third of the kingdom of England that he may rule over it; for he would not that brother should fight against brother."

"Last winter," answered Tostig, "my brother had nought for me but words of scorn and high disdain; but now I am glad that he speaks both kindly and fairly. But what will my brother King Harold of England give to King Harold of Norway for his trouble in coming here?"

"Seven feet of English ground," replied Harold; "or perhaps a foot over, seeing he is taller than most other men."

"Go thy way!" shouted the Earl; "Tostig will not desert his friends and go over to his foes. He and his friends will die on this spot like men, or will win England with their arms."

Riding back to his army, Tostig was met by King Harold Hardrada.

"Who is that man who spake with thee?" asked the King of Norway.

Tostig replied, "That is my brother Harold, the son of Godwin, and King of the English."

"He is but a little man," said Hardrada; "but he sits well in his stirrups."

Then the battle began.

Both sides fought well, but the English pressed the Northmen hard, and drove them backward until they came to the river Derwent. Then they pressed them harder than ever; and the Northmen might have been forced into the river and drowned but for the bravery of one of their number, who kept the bridge with uplifted sword while the other soldiers passed over. At last an Englishman got under the bridge, and thrust upward with his spear through the planks; and wounded the brave Northman so that he died.

After this the Northmen fell into confusion. Hardrada and Tostig were both slain; and the remnant of their army fled in a panic to their ships.

The English marched towards York, where the king gave a great feast in honour of the victory.

The guests were seated round the board, drinking healths and singing, and Harold was thinking sorrowfully of the brother who had fallen, a traitor to his country, when of a sudden there was a loud knocking at the door.

"What is that?" inquired the startled guests.

The door was thrown open, and a weary, white-faced man appeared, all splashed and caked with mud.

"What ill news have you come to bring me?" asked Harold, while the others all left the board and crowded round to hear.

"My lord the king," said the messenger, "I am from Pevensey—the Normans have landed—Duke William—sixty thousand men—laying waste the country—ships, horses, men-at-arms—"

"Ha!" said Harold; "he has chosen a time when the men who guard the coast are at their harvest; scattered over the country; and there is no one save myself to gather them together. How long is it since you left?"

"I hardly know," replied the messenger; "I took no count of time. I have galloped all the way—ridden day and night, changing horses where I could."

"Thanks, brave messenger," said the king; "by your speed you may have saved your country. We must set off without delay," he said, turning to his guests; "there is no more time for rest—who is ready to start for Sussex?"

"I—and I—and I," said the nobles, hurrying to fetch their followers; and soon the hall was deserted.

In an hour's time the army was once more upon the march. The two earls, Edwin and Morcar, whose sister Harold had married, remained in the north, promising to collect their forces and to follow the king with all speed.

As Harold approached the south of England, he was joined by hundreds of men who had fled from the invaders, and were eager to avenge the destruction of their homesteads.

"The English," reported Duke William's outposts to their master, "rush onward through their pillaged country with the fury of madmen."

"Let them come, and come soon!" was the duke's reply.

At Senlac, near the town of Hastings in Sussex, the English came in sight of their foes. The Normans lay encamped upon the plain, while Harold posted his army on a hill, with a little wood behind, and an old mossy apple-tree a little to one side.

Night came on, clear and cold; and the two armies lay in sight of one another's camp-fires, where they could hear the clinking of the armourer's hammers, and the rough voices of the men on the other side.

When all was ready, the Normans lay down quietly to sleep, and awoke in the morning refreshed end eager for the fray.

The English sat around their watch-fires, passing the horns of ale and mead from hand to hand, and singing glees and war-songs. Over all brooded the thought of the broken oath, and of the curse which had been pronounced against England; but they knew that the curse was unjust, and were resolved to fight to the last against the invader.

Harold rode round the camp to speak a last word of encouragement to his men before they slept. He still hoped that the northern earls, Edwin and Morcar, would come up before the battle; but Edwin and Morcar were traitors. They had said to themselves, "If Harold falls, we shall divide England with Duke William, and be kings of our share of the country instead of earls." So they remained in the north; and the sacrifice that Harold had made in marrying their sister proved to be in vain.

Morning dawned, and the two armies drew themselves up in order of battle. The English numbered only twenty thousand men, while William had brought against them sixty thousand; but the English had the advantage of a stronger position.

Harold drew up his bodyguard on the crest of the hill, where he had planted his standard, the Golden Dragon of Wessex. Close by were the men of London, who had the right of fighting by the side of their king. These men were all clad in coats of mail, and carried battle-axes, and javelins for throwing. On the sides of the hill were posted the other soldiers and the country people, many of whom were armed only with darts, knives, and pitchforks, for they had come in very hastily from the fields. Round the hill the men had dug a trench, and fortified it with a stockade; and behind the stockade Harold posted a line of soldiers, standing close together, shield touching shield.

Then Harold and his two brothers rode through the army, saying, "Keep your ranks, men! Stand shoulder to shoulder, and we shall win the day. But if you leave your line, or allow the Normans to break it, we are lost. Stand firm!"

After having passed from rank to rank, and spoken to all the men, Harold and his brothers rode back to the royal standard and dismounted, for they were resolved to fight on foot and take what came like the meanest of their soldiers.

Meanwhile Duke William had drawn up his men in three divisions, with a long line of archers in front. In the centre were posted the Norman knights with William at their head; and the sacred banner, the three lions of Normandy, floating above them.

Suddenly there burst from the Norman lines their battle-cry of "God aid us!" and the vast army began to move across the plain. At the head rode a minstrel-knight, singing an old battle-song, and whirling up his sword in the air and catching it again as it fell.

Now the battle began in real earnest.

A flight of arrows was let loose upon the English host, then the Normans charged up to the palisade.

As well might they have flung themselves against a stone wall. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the English swung their huge battle-axes, which clove their way through armour and shirts of mail. Again and again the Normans charged against the barricade, the duke himself at their head, his eyes shining like balls of living fire and his voice like a trumpet; but they were driven back like waves breaking around the base of a cliff.

On all sides the battle raged. Lances clashed, sword rang upon sword, arrows whizzed through the air, and battle-axes crashed through steel armour; while the cries of the wounded mingled with the blasts of the war-horn and English cries of "Out, out!" answered the Norman shouts of "God aid us!"

Stoutest of the English was Harold, whose heavy battle-axe would cut down horse and rider at a blow. Among the Normans there arose a cry that the duke was slain.

"Here am I," shouted William, tearing off his helmet, "and by God's aid will yet win the day!"

Maddened with war fury, he spurred up the hill, broke single-handed through the barrier, and rode straight to Harold. The brother of the king stepped before him, and was hewn down by a blow from William before the duke himself was unhorsed and fell to the ground. Mounting again quickly, William cut his way through his foes and was back again in the Norman lines before any one could harm him.

A body of Normans having given way, the Kentish men in their eagerness overleaped the barricade and gave chase to their flying foes. Instantly William saw his advantage. The Normans turned, galloped up the hill, and poured by thousands into the gap thus left undefended.

This proved the turning point of the day.

"Slowly and surely," says an old writer, "the Norman horse pressed along the crest of the hill, strewing the height with corpses as the hay is strewn in swaths before the mower."

Still the ring round the standard remained unbroken, and in the centre Harold and his bodyguard held their ground, dealing blows around them with their great battle-axes. Beyond the ring the dead lay piled up in heaps, English and Norman together.

"Shoot upward," cried the duke to his archers, "that your arrows may fall like bolts from heaven."

A shower of arrows fell upon the heads and shoulders of the English, killing and wounding many a brave fighter.

The battle had lasted since early morning; and just as the sun went down an arrow pierced Harold's right eye.

The king dropped his battle-axe, and fell forward with a short, sharp cry of pain.

Harold Godwine


Twenty Norman knights rushed forward, seized the standard, and dealt Harold a mortal blow as he lay beside the dead bodies of his two brothers.

The English, having lost their leader, left the field fighting to the last, and then scattered over the country to carry far and wide the ill-tidings that King Harold was slain and the Norman master of England.

All was quiet when the moon rose over the hill where the Golden Dragon had been hauled down and the sacred banner of the Normans raised in its stead. The ground having been hastily cleared, William's tent was pitched upon the spot where Harold and his brothers had made their last stand, and the duke slept there all night.

The next day was a Sunday, and as the bells tinkled mournfully in the churches, Englishwomen came flocking to the field of battle, with pale faces and eyes red with weeping, to beg leave to look for their husbands and brothers and sons among the slain. Among them was the mother of Harold, offering William ,its weight in gold for the body of her son.

The conqueror gave her leave to search, and for a long time the noble English lady wandered over the battle-field, seeking vainly among the dead.

Then came Aldwyth, Harold's wife; but she too, was unable to find the body of her husband.

Last of all came Edith of the Swan's Neck, whom Harold had loved; and she sought long for the body.

At last she came to a corpse that was lying upon a heap of dead, disfigured with so many wounds that only she could have known it.

"That is Harold," she said.

William gave orders that the last of the English kings should be buried upon the cliffs that guard the shores of England, and a heap of stones raised upon it.

"Let him lie there," he said; "he kept the shore manfully while he lived; let him stay and guard it ever, now he is dead."