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THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS? :
By E. S. CREASY2
LITTLE time before the death of King Edward, Haroldo was in Normandy. The causes of the voyage of the Saxon earl to the Continent are doubtful; but the fact of his having been, in 1065, at the ducal court, and in the power of his rival, is indisputable. William made skillful and unscrupulous use of the opportunity. Though Harold was treated with outward courtesy and friendship, he was made fully aware that his liberty and life depended on his compliance with the duke's requests. William said to him, in apparent confidence and cordiality, “When King Edward and I once lived like brothers under the same roof, he promised that if ever he became King of England, he would make me heir to his throne. Harold, I wish that thou wouldst assist me to realize this promise.” Harold replied with expressions of assent; and further agreed, at William's request, to marry William's daughter, Adela, and to send over his own sister to be married to one of William's barons. The crafty Norman was not content with this extorted promise; he determined to bind Harold by a more solemn pledge, the breach of which would be a weight on the spirit of the gallant Saxon, and a discouragement to others from adopting his cause. Before a full assembly of the Norman barons, Harold was required to do homage to Duke William, as the heir apparent of the English crown. Kneeling down, Harold placed his hands between those of the duke, and repeated the solemn form by which he acknowledged the duke as his lord, and promised to him fealty and true service.
1. This selection is taken from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, a very interesting work in which the author describes the fifteen great battles from Marathon to Waterloo, which, in his opinion, have really changed the history of the world. The battles are as follows: 1. Marathon (B. C. 490); 2. Syracuse (B. C. 413); 3. Arbela (B. C. 331); 4. Metaurus (B. C. 207); 5. Victory of Arminius over the Roman Legions under Varus (A. D. 9); 6. Chalons (451); 7. Tours (732); 8. Hastings (1066); 9. Joan of Arc's victory at Orleans (1429); 10. Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588); 11. Blenheim (1704); 12. Pultowa (1709); 13. Saratoga (1777); 14. Valmy (1792); 15. Waterloo (1815).
2. Sir Edward S. Creasy was born in 1812, three years before the Battle of Waterloo. He was a lawyer of considerable reputation, a professor of history and chief justice of Ceylon. He was the author of several historical works, but the one from which this selection is taken is his most successful one. He was an original thinker and at the same time a vivid writer. Accordingly, his pages are always full of interest and rarely fail to give the reader something new to reflect upon. His skill in language is so great that he brings the great battles before you so closely that you can almost hear the noise of conflict and feel your heart throb in sympathy with the struggling men whom you seem to know personally. Creasy died in 1878.
3. This is Edward the Confessor, who ruled from 1042 to 1066. In his reign Westminster Abbey was founded (1065).
4. Harold was the second of the six sons of Godwin, Earl of Essex.
But William exacted more. He had caused all the bones and relics of saints, that were preserved in the Norman monasteries and churches, to be collected into a chest, which was placed in the council
5. William was the Duke of Normandy, a province of Northern France, just across the English Channel. He claimed the English throne after Edward, who had no sons, because of his relationship to Emma, the wife of Ethelred the Unready.
room, covered over with a cloth of gold. On the chest of relics, which were thus concealed was laid a missal. The duke then solemnly addressed his titular guest and real captive, and said to him, “Harold, I require thee, before this noble assembly, to confirm by oath the promises which thou hast made me, to assist me in obtaining the crown of England after King Edward's death, to marry my daughter Adela, and to send to me thy sister, that I may give her in marriage to one of my barons.” Harold, once more taken by surprise, and not able to deny his former words, approached the missal, and laid his hands on it, not knowing that the chest of relics was beneath. The old Norman chronicler, who describes the scene most minutely, says, when Harold placed his hand on it, the hand trembled, and the flesh quivered; but he swore, and promised upon his oath to take Adela to wife, and to deliver up England to the duke and thereunto to do all in his power, according to his might and wit, after the death of Edward, if he himself should live; so help him God. Many cried, “God grant it !” and when Harold rose from his knees, the duke made him stand close to the chest, and took off the pall that had covered it, and showed Harold upon what holy relics he had sworn; and Harold was sorely alarmed at the sight.
Harold was soon after permitted to return to England; and, after a short interval, during which he distinguished himself by the wisdom and humanity with which he pacified some formidable tumults
6. A missal is a book containing the mass service for the year. An oath upon the sacred relics was considered most solemn and binding, even though the man who swore had no idea what was beneath his hand.
of the Anglo-Danes in Northumbria, he found himself called on to decide whether he would keep the oath which the Norman had obtained from him, or mount the vacant throne of England in compliance with the nation's choice. King Edward the Confessor died on the 5th of January, 1066, and on the following day an assembly of the thanes and prelates present in London, and of the citizens of the metropolis, declared that Harold should be their king. It was reported that the dying Edward had nominated him as his successor. But the sense which his countrymen entertained of his preeminent merit was the true foundation of his title to the crown. Harold resolved to disregard the oath which he made in Normandy as violent and void, and on the 7th day of that January he was anointed King of England, and received from the archbishop's hands the golden crown and sceptre of England, and also an ancient national symbol, a weighty battle-ax. He had truly deep and speedy need of this significant part of the insignia of Saxon royalty.
A messenger from Normandy soon arrived to remind Harold of the oath which he had sworn to the duke “with his mouth, and his hand upon good and holy relics.” “It is true,” replied the Saxon king, “that I took an oath to William; but I took it under constraint: I promised what did not belong to me—what I could not in any way hold; my royalty is not my own; I could not lay it down against the will of the country, nor can I, against the will of the country, take a foreign wife. As for my sister, whom the duke claims that he may marry her to one of his chiefs, she has died within the year; would he have me send her corpse?"
7. Is an oath taken under such circumstances as Harold took his considered binding now? What do you think of Harold's other reasons for refusing to be bound by his oath?
William sent another message, which met with a similar answer; and then the duke published far and wide through Christendom what he termed the perjury and bad faith of his rival, and proclaimed his intention of asserting his rights by the sword before the year should expire, and of pursuing and punishing the perjurer even in those places where he thought he stood most strongly and most securely.
Before, however, he commenced hostilities, William, with deep-laid policy, submitted his claims to the decision of the pope. Harold refused to acknowledge this tribunal, or to answer before an Italian priest for his title as an English king. After a formal examination of William's complaints by the pope and the cardinals, it was solemnly adjudged at Rome that England belonged to the Norman duke; and a banner was sent to William from the Holy See, which the pope himself had consecrated and blessed for the invasion of this island. The clergy throughout the Continent were now assiduous and energetic in preaching up William's enterprise as undertaken in the cause of God. Besides these spiritual arms (the effect of which in the eleventh century must not be measured by the philosophy or the indifferentism of the nineteenth), the Norman duke applied all the energies of his mind and body, all the resources of his duchy, and all the influence he possessed among vassals or allies, to the collection of “the most remarkable and