H́nh ảnh trang

liant train of knights, visited the principal cities and royal castles, leaving everywhere tokens of his munificence. He observed that the fleet stationed at Dover was commanded by Normans; that Norman soldiers garrisoned the castle of Canterbury; that the clergy spoke Norman French; and that almost all the officers of the army used the same language.

Meanwhile Godwin, who had taken refuge in Flanders, was preparing for his return. In 1052, he sailed up the Thames to London, where he was speedily joined by such numbers, that the king, after a little delay, was compelled to negotiate with his detested father-in-law. The men of foreign birth, perceiving their danger, immediately hastened out of the country, and the witenagemot restored the earl to all his honours and possessions, his daughter Edith being at the same time removed from her monastic prison to her husband's court. He did not long survive his victory and the re-establishment of Saxon supremacy. While sitting at the king's table at Windsor, he was attacked with apoplexy, and died three days afterwards, leaving to Harold, the eldest and most accomplished of his sons, all his territories and appointments, and influence more extensive than his own.

The feeble Edward, after heaping riches and dignities on Harold, began to fear that he had given too much power to a subject; and as he did not himself possess energy enough to oppose openly whatever the son of Godwin might attempt, he fancied he could counterbalance one power by another, without reflecting that the most skilful or ambitious of the two antagonists would not fail to crush his adversary, and become still more formidable. This was precisely what happened. When Harold had succeeded to the government of Wessex, the king required that East Anglia, which Harold had governed during his father's life, should be given to Algar, the son of Earl Leofric. This cession displeased the powerful Earl of Wessex, who accused Algar of treason before the witenagemot, and procured his banishment. Algar fled into Wales, where he raised a considerable force among the subjects of his fatherin-law, King Griffith, with which he attacked Hereford and ravaged the country; and although defeated by Harold,

he still showed himself so powerful that negotiations were entered into, by which he was restored to his former possessions and honours. Again, however, he was driven into exile, and a second time, with the aid of the Irish and Welsh, he recovered his earldoms, which he held until his death in 1059. He left two sons, Morcar and Edwin, who divided his possessions and dignities between them.

Harold's influence was further increased by the nomination of his brother Tostig to the earldom of Northumberland, vacant by the death of his rival Siward, and by a successful campaign against the Welsh, whom he reduced to submission. The conquered mountaineers agreed to pay tribute, and a law was enacted that every Welshman found in arms to the east of Offa's Dyke, should lose his right hand.

9. Harold had at length so far gained Edward's friendship and confidence, that the monarch consulted him in every thing, not excepting even his domestic affairs. Yet the king felt convinced that the earl was nourishing the hope of ascending the throne, and therefore resolved to visit Rome, after the example of his predecessors, Canute and Ethelwulf, for the purpose of consulting with the pope. But the witenagemot resolutely opposed his undertaking a journey that might expose the nation to the dangers of a disputed succession, and recalled to his recollection his nephew and namesake Edward, the eldest of Edmund Ironside's sons, then living in exile in Hungary. This prince was the nearest heir to the crown, and an embassy was accordingly sent to invite him to return. Edward immediately came to England with his wife Agatha, daughter of the Emperor Henry III., and his children, Edgar, surnamed the Atheling, Margaret, and Christina. But he had scarcely taken possession of the palace prepared for him in London before he fell ill and died.

Edgar was now the only obstacle between Harold and the throne, when the latter determined to visit Duke William of Normandy, to obtain the release of his brother Walnoth and his nephew Haco, the two hostages for the Godwin family, whom Edward had committed to the duke's custody. William immediately took advantage of the

powerful earl's presence in his dominions to make known his own designs on the throne of England, and to extract from him a promise, confirmed by a solemn oath, that he would assist him in obtaining the crown. Harold, being completely in the duke's power, was obliged to comply, and was then allowed to depart, loaded with magnificent presents.

Edward, feeling that his end was drawing near, is said by some authorities to have bequeathed his kingdom to William of Normandy; while, according to others, he named Harold as his successor. He died on the 5th of January 1066, and was interred with great pomp and solemnity in Westminster Abbey, which he had lived just long enough to complete. He was about sixty-five years old, and had filled the throne of England nearly twentyfour years. He was the last prince of the Saxon race who governed England, and merits great praise for the care he bestowed on the just administration of the laws. He compiled a code, selected from those of Ethelbert, Ina, and Alfred, and adapted it to the manners and customs of his day. During his reign, the people enjoyed a large share of peace and prosperity; and though he did not display any brilliant qualities, he devoted himself entirely to the welfare and happiness of his subjects. His principal amusement was the chase; and the wood that surrounded his castle of Borstall in Buckinghamshire was his favourite resort. He avoided all ostentation, and by well-regulated economy acquired more wealth than any of his predecessors. The people felt the greatest attachment to him, both on account of his Saxon descent and his many estimable qualities; and long afterwards, when groaning under the despotism of their Norman rulers, his death was deplored as a public calamity, and he was fondly remembered as the "good King Edward.”

10. HAROLD was proclaimed king by an assembly of nobles and citizens of London, and solemnly crowned by Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, on the day of Edward's funeral. The legitimate heir to the throne was the young Edgar Atheling; but his bodily and mental imbecility incapacitated him from governing, and his claim, if ever mentioned, was instantly abandoned.

The beginning of the new reign was marked by a complete return to those national usages which had been abandoned under the former sovereign; and in the royal charters, the ancient Saxon signature displaced the hanging Norman seals. But Harold did not carry his reformation so far as to drive away the men of foreign birth who occupied the public stations throughout the country. They continued to enjoy all their civil rights; and ungratefully returned this generous conduct by intriguing in behalf of the Duke of Normandy.

No sooner had William heard of Edward's decease, and of Harold's quiet accession, than he determined to assert his claims to the crown of England. He accordingly convoked his parliament or assembly at Lillebonne, to acquaint them with his designs, and to request their assistance; but the members hesitated for a long time, being unwilling to leave their own country on an enterprise involving so great danger and uncertainty. The Norman lords, however, were unanimous in their opinion that the island should be invaded; and by holding out dazzling prospects of gain and glory, William at length succeeded in removing the scruples of the wavering commoners. Preparations on a great scale were then made for the expedition, and messengers sent to solicit the aid of the King of France and the benediction of the pope. The former was refused, but the latter was granted, and the blessing alone determined numbers to take part in the invasion. The rumour of William's enterprise soon spread far and wide, and the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne, with a numerous company of barons, crowded round his standard. Emulation excited the Normans not to remain in the background, and it soon became a matter of rivalry who should supply the greatest number of vessels and menat-arms for the conquest of England, where treasures, estates, and dignities were to be the portion of the conquerors. Such was the activity displayed, that William soon beheld at his disposal a fleet of 3000 ships, in which he embarked about 60,000 chosen men; and on the 28th of September 1066, he landed without opposition at a place named Bulverhithe, between Pevensey and Hastings, on the coast of Sussex.

11. In the mean time, Harold was threatened with a more

immediate danger than that from Normandy. Tostig, his unnatural brother, who had been expelled from Northumberland after several piratical incursions, had repaired to the court of Norway, where he prevailed upon Harold Hadrada to invade England. Early in autumn the Norwegian monarch set sail with a fleet of 200 war-ships, and twice as many vessels of inferior size, laden with all kinds of warlike stores. He sailed up the Humber and captured York; but Harold immediately attacked him, and in the battle of Stamford Bridge most of the invaders perished, and the fleet became the prize of the conqueror.

While Harold was recruiting his exhausted troops at York, he was informed of William's landing in Sussex, and immediately hastened towards London, pressing forward his soldiers with the utmost speed. On the 13th of October, he came in sight of the invading army, and having chosen a favourable position on a declivity named Senlac, nine miles from Hastings, entrenched his camp and waited for the attack. The Normans were posted on the opposite hill, which they descended about nine in the morning of the 14th, and crossing the intervening space, began to ascend that on which the English were stationed. Before closing with their opponents, they raised the shout of "Dieu aide! God is our help!" and were answered by Harold's troops with that of "Christ's rood-the holy rood!" or cross. The attack was commenced by the Norman archers, who produced no impression upon the firm phalanx of the English. William then brought his steel-clad horsemen to the charge, but they were repulsed with great slaughter, their coats of mail, on which they so much depended, being no protection against the battle-axes of the sturdy islanders. The Normans now began to waver; and a report being spread that the duke was killed, a portion of their left wing took to flight. William, however, rode up to them with his helmet in his hand, and crying out, "I am still alive, and with the help of God I shall still conquer," succeeded in restoring confidence. He again led his troops to the attack, and the battle continued to rage with the utmost fury; but the English firmly repelled his most furious onsets, and at three o'clock in the afternoon, victory seemed to favour the cause of Harold. The Nor

« TrướcTiếp tục »