Page images
PDF
EPUB

scarcely time to rejoice on account of this victory, before he received intelligence that the duke of Normandy, having landed with a formidable force in the south of England, was determined to dispute with him the crown.

8. William, the Norman, pretended that when he formerly visited England, kivg Edward had made a will in his favour, and also that he had delivered Harold from prison, who had in return, yielded up to hit his right to the crown. These weak reasons he supported by a powerful army. He invited the neighbouring princes, as well as his own vassals, to join hin, and made liberal promises to his followers of lands and honours in England, to induce them to assist him etfectually. By these means he collected an immense force. His fleet, which consisted of three hundred vessels, great and small, and carried an army of sixty thousand men, had been assembled early in the summer, and embarked soon after; but being long detained by contrary winds, the troops began to imagine that heaven had declared against them, and that, notwithstanding the pope's benediction, they were destined to destruction. The wind, however, fortunately changed on the eve of the feast of St. Michael, the tutelar saint of Normandy; and the soldiers and their bold leaders, who had equally a contempt of real, and a dread of imaginary dangers, fancying they saw the hand of Providence in the cause of their former terrors, set out with the greatest alacrity, and arrived safe at Pevensey, in Sussex, where the troops quietly disembarked. The duke himself had the misfortune to fall as he leaped ashore; a circunstance which, considering the superstition of the times, might have been construed to his disadvantage, but which he had the presence of mind to turn in his favour, by calling aloud-" I have taken possession of England !" and a soldier, running to a neighbouring cottage, plucked some thatch, which he presented to his general, as giving him seizin of the kingdom. The confidence of William and his followers was now so great, that when they heard of Harold's victory over the Danes, instead of being discouraged, they seemed only to long with more impatience for the arrival of the English army.

9. Harold was at York when he received intelligence of the Norman invasion, and hastened by quick marches to meet his competitor. But on reviewing his forces, he found them much diminished, though he had been reinforced with fresh troops from London and other places. His victory proved his ruin. Many of his bravest officers, and veteran soldiers, fell in the action; some retired from fatigue, and others secretly from discontent, because he had refused to distribute the Danish spoils among them; a conduct little suited to his usual generosity of temper, and which can only be accounted for from the desire he had of delivering his people from the war in Normandy, and which he fore. saw must be attended with great expense. !

Harold, notwithstanding the advice of his brother Guth, approached to the Normans, who had removed their camp to Hastings. He was even so confident of success, that he sent a message to the Duke of Normandy, offering him a sum of money if he would depart the kingdom without effusion of blood; and William, not to be behind him in vaunting, commanded him to resign the crown of England, to submit their cause to the arbitration of the pope, or to fight him iu single combat. Harold replied, that the God uf battles would soon be the arbiter of all their dilferences. Both armies now impatiently expected the aw: fal decision; but night drawing on, it was deferred till morning. During this interval of darkness and suspense, the scene was very different in the two camps : The English spent the night in rint and feasting; the Normans in prayer and preparation for batile. At break of day the duke assembled his principal officers, and made them a speech suitable to the occasion. He next divided his army into three lines. The first consisted of archers and light-armed infantry; the second was composed of bis bravest battallions, heavy-armed, and ranged in close order. The cavalry, at whose head William placed himself, formed the third line, and was so disposed that they stretched beyond the infantry, and flanked each wing of the army. He commanded the signal to be given; and the whole army moving at once, and singing the celebrated song of Rowland, the fabulous nephew, but renowned captain of Charlemague, advanced in order of battle.

10. Harold, whose army was inferior to William's in number as well as in discipline, had seized the advantage

of a rising ground; and having drawn some trenches to secure his flanks, seemed inclined to act upon the defensive, and to avoid all encounter with the Norman cavalry, to which his strength in borse was very wequal. The Kentish men were placed in the front, a post which they had always claimed as their due; the Loncioners guarded the standard; and the king, dismountins, placed himself in the centre at the liead of his infantry, expressing his resolution to conquer or die. The first attack of the Norman infantry was terrible; their archers sorely galled their adversaries; and as the English ranks were close, the arrows did great execution. But Harold's army received the shock of the enemy andismayed; and after a furious struggle, which long remained undecided, the Normans gave way! Confusion was spreading from rank io rank; when William, who found himself on the brink of ruin, hastened with a select band to the relief of his broken forcés. His presence restored the battle. The English were obliged to retire in their turn; but the duke finding they still made á vigoroas resistance, aided by the advantage of ground, and animated by the example of their valiant prince, ordered his troops to make a hasty retreat, and allure their antagonists from their station by the appearance of fight. The artifice succeeded. Impelled by the enthusiasm of valour and the heat of action, the troops of Harold precipitately followed the Normans into the plain; while William instructed his infantry at once to face about on their pursuers, and the cavalry to make an assault upon their wings. The English were thrown into disorder, and driven back with loss to the hill; where, being rallied by the generalship of Harold, they again maintained the combat. William tried the saine stratagem a second time, and with equal success. Yet he still found a large body of English forces that remained firm around their prince, and seemed determined to dis. pute the field to the last man; when fortune decided à victory which valour had left doubtful. Harold, who had fought with unspeakable courage and personal prowess from dawn until eve, was shot in the head with an arrow, while bravely defending the royal standardi at the head of his guards. His two gallant brothers, Gurth and Leofwin, also were slain; and the English army, dis

K

pirited by the loss of its leaders, gave way on all sides, and was pursued with great slaughter by the victorious Nor

mans.

Thus in the year 1066, was gained by William the Norman, afterwards sirvamed the Conqueror, the famous battle of Hastings, which terminated the Anglo-Saxon monarchy in England ; and which, by the heroic feats of valour displayed on both sides, by both armies and both commanders, seemed worthy to decide the fate of a mighty kingdom. Fifteen thousand of the Normans fell, and a much greater number of the English forces.

IV. The Norman Line, 1. William I, duke of Normandy who assumed the title of the Conqueror, was crowned king of England, Dec. 29, 1066. He secured his victory by loading the Saxons with the heaviest chains of the feudal laws, and imposed upon all the proprietors of land, various hardships unknown before in England. These were the subjects of complaint and opposition for many ages after the conquest. With the Norman lunguage, which was adopted in the courts of justice, were introduced the Norman laws. The antient trial by jury was supersetied by the uncertain and unjust decision by single combat, a practice which was established by law, and conducted with regular ceremonies and forms of devotion. The extinction of all fires at the melancholy sound of the curfew or evening bell, was a striking emblem of the extinction of liberty. The nation groaned under every distress that a politic and obdurate couqueror could inflict; and their chains were so firmly rivetted, as to require a degree of energy and unanimity to break them, which the oppressed Saxons bad not sufficient resolution to exert. The conqueror not only broke the line of hereditary succession to the crown of England, but reduced the people to the most abject slavery. The confiscation of the estates of the Saxou nobles indicated both his policy and rapacity. He caused a survey to be made of all the lands in the kingdom, with a distinct account of their extent and value, and the naines of the proprietors. i This, curious record, called Doomsday Book, Domus Dei Liber, is preserved in the Exchequer, and has been printed. These lands were divided into 60,215 military fiefs ; some

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

were reserved by the Conqueror for himself; and the rest were bestowed upon his Norman followers, to be held under the obligation of eaeh vassal taking np arms, and

appearing in the field, whenever the king raised his standë ard of war. Of hunting, William was fond 10 an extra

vagant degree. He seized upon more than thirty miles of country in Hampshire, turned out the iniabitants, exposed their cultivated fields to waste, and destroyed the houses and churches, in order to make tlie New Forest a fit habitation for beasts of the chase. His laws suflicie tly proved the selfishness of his pleasures, and the cruelty of his temper; for he debarred even his nobles from hunting in his forests; and the killing a deer, a wild boar, or even a hare, was pupished by putting out the eyes of the offender. To gratify: his avarice, he levied the severest penalties upon all who presumed to kill game without his permission. He died 1087, aged 61, after reigning 21 years. He had many great qualities, but few virtues : and, if those actions that most particularly distinguish the man or the king are impartially considered, we shall find that in his character there is much to admire, but still more to abhor.

3. William II. (sirnamed Rufus) succeeding Robert in 1087, to the prejudice of his elder brother. Both were absent in France. But the father's death, which was kept a secret from Robert, was immediately made known by express, to William. Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, who had been his tutor, made such a combination in his favour, that the royal treasure and the important fortress at Dover were seized for his use, before he landed.

His father's claim by conquest, seemed to authorize his ; and he was quietly crowned at Westminster, in 1088. But Odo, bishop of Bayeux, another spiritual politician, envious of Lanfranc, espoused the cause of Robert. Some seditions ensued, which were, however soon suppressed; and though the struggle contiued longer in France, the issue was favourable to the prince in possession. Against the Scots and Welsh, he was not so fortunate. William was wise aud intrepid, but no friend to superstition. He opposed with proper spirit, the avarice and insolence of Anselm, by birth an Italian, who succeeded Lanfranc, and who was so true a priest as to obey the pope, rather than bis sovereigu. In 1096, began the famous crusade under

« PreviousContinue »