The Battle of Hastings, 1066Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 13:15:59 -0700
From: Rick Sinclair RHSinclair@uswest.net
From the book The Great Battles of All Nations vol.1 publ. 1899
Chapter XI: The Battle of Hastings
Conquest of England by Duke William of Normandy,
Afterward styled William The Conquerer
The Battle of Hastings is recognized as the first step by which England reached her present strength. Previously the importance of the country had been meager. Afterward it emerged from insignificance into power.
The interest of this eventful struggle, by which William of Normandy became King of England, is materially enhanced by the character of the competitors for the crown. They were three in number. One was a foreign prince from the north; one was a foreign prince from the south; and one was a native hero of the land. Harald Hardrada, the strongest and the most chivalric of the kings of Norway, was the first; Duke William of Normandy was the second; and the Saxon Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, was the third. Never was a nobler prize sought by nobler champions, or striven for more gallantly. The Saxon triumphed over the Norwegian, and the Norman triumphed over the Saxon; but Norse valor was never more conspicuous than when Harald Hardrata and his host fought and fell at Stamford Bridge; nor did Saxons ever face their foes more bravely than Harold and his men on the fatal day of Hastings.
During the reign of King Edward the Confessor over the land, the claims of the Norwegian king to the crown were little thought of; and though Hardrada's predecessor, King Magnus of Norway, had on one occassion asserted that, by virtue of a compact with the former king, Hardicanute, he was entitled to the English throne, no serious attempt had been made to enforce his pretensions. But the rivalry of the Saxon Harold and the Norman William was foreseen and bewailed by the Confessor, who was believed to have predicted on his deathbed the calamities that were impending over England. Duke William was King Edward's kinsman. Harold was the head of the most powerful noble house, next to the royal blood, in England; and, personally, he was the bravest and most popular chieftain in the land. King Edward was childless, and the nearest collateral heir was a puny unpromising boy. England had suffered too severely, during royal minorities, to make the accession of Edgar Atheling desirable; and long before King Edward's death, Earl Harold was the destined king of the nation's choice, though the favor of the Confessor was believed to lead toward the Norman duke.
A little time before the death of King Edward, Harold 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 oppurtunity. 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 Williams 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. Befor 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. 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-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 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 hand 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 his flesh quivered; but he swore, and promised upon his oath to take Ele (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.
Remembered having read this recently. Hope it helps. The story goes on to cover the Battle of Hastings.
Last changed: 99/11/21 14:36:29