H́nh ảnh trang
PDF
ePub

all the Continent, and had long been inured to danger. The -men of Bretagne, Bologne, Flanders, Poictou, Maine, Orleans, France, and Normandy, were all voluntarily united under his command. England never before, nor ever since, saw two such armies drawn up to dispute its crown. The day before the battle, William sent an offer to Harold to decide the quarrel between them by single combat, and thus to spare the blood of thousands; but Harold refused, and said, he would leave it to the God of armies to determine. Both armies, therefore, that night pitched in sight of each other, expecting the dawning of the next day with impatience. The English passed the night in songs and feasting; the Normans in devotion and prayer.

The next morning, at seven, as soon as day appeared, both armies were drawn up in array against each other. Harold appeared in the centre of his forces, leading on his army on foot, that his men might be more encouraged by seeing their king exposed to an equality of danger. William fought on horseback, leading on his army that moved at once, singing the song of Roland, one of the famous chiefs of their country. The Normans began to fight with their cross-bows, which, at first, galled and surprised the English; and, as their ranks were close, their arrows did great execution. But soon they came to closer fight, and the English, with their bills, hewed down their adversaries with great slaughter. Confusion was spreading among the ranks, when William, who found himself on the brink of destruction, hastened, with a select band, to the relief of his forces. His presence restored the suspense of battle; he was seen in every place, endeavouring to pierce the ranks of the enemy, and had three horses slain under him. At length, perceiving that the English line continued impenetrable, he pretended to give ground, which, as he expected, drew the enemy from their ranks, and he was instantly ready to take advantage of their disorder. Upon a signal given, the Normans immediately returned to the charge with greater fury than before, broke the English troops, and pursued them to a rising ground. It was in this extremity, that Harold was seen flying from rank to rank, rallying and inspiring his troops with vigour; and though he had toiled all day till near night-fall, in the front of his Kentish men, yet he still seemed unabated in force or courage, keeping his men to the post of honour. Once more, therefore, the victory seemed to turn against the Normans, and they fell in great numbers, so that the fierceness and obstinacy of this memorable battle was often renewed by

the courage of the leaders, whenever that of the soldiers began to slacken. Fortune, at length, determined a victory that valour was unable to decide. Harold, making a furious onset at the head of his troops against the Norman heavy armed infantry, was shot into the brains by an arrow; and his two valiant brothers, fighting by his side, shared the same fate. He fell with his sword in his hand, amidst heaps of slain; and, after the battle, the royal corpse could hardly be distinguished among the dead.

This was the end of the Saxon monarchy in England, which had continued for more than six hundred years.

[merged small][graphic][merged small]

S soon as William passed the Thames, at Wallinfgord,

A Stigand, the primate, made submissions to him in the

name of the clergy; and, before he came within sight of the city, all the chief nobility came into the camp, and declared an intention of yielding to his authority. William was glad of being peaceably put in possession of a throne which several of his predecessors had not gained without repeated victories.

But in order to give his invasion all the sanction possible, he was crowned at Westminster, by the Archbishop of York, and took the oath usual in the times of the Saxon and Danish kings; which was, to protect and defend the church, to observe the laws of the realm, and to govern the people with

impartiality. Having thus secured the government, and, by a mixture of rigour and lenity, brought the English to an entire submission, he resolved to return to the Continent, there to enjoy the triumph and congratulation of his ancient subjects.

In the mean time, the absence of the Conqueror in England, produced the most fatal effects. His officers, being no longer controlled by his justice, thought this a fit opportunity for: extortion; while the English, no longer awed by his presence, thought it the happiest occasion for vindicating their freedom. The English had entered into a conspiracy to cut off their invaders, and fixed the day for their intended massacre, which was to be on Ash-Wednesday, during the time of divine service, when all the Normans would be unarmed as penitents, according to the discipline of the times. But William's return quickly disconcerted all their schemes. And from that time forward he began to lose all confidence in his English subjects, and to regard them as inveterate and irreconcilable enemies. He had already raised such a number of fortresses in the kingdom, that he no longer dreaded the tumultuous or transient efforts of a discontented multitude: he therefore determined to treat them as a conquered nation; to indulge his own avarice, and that of his followers, by numerous confiscations; and to secure his power, by humbling all who were able to make any resistance. He proceeded to confiscate all the estates of the English gentry, and to grant them liberally to his Norman followers. Thus all the ancient and honourable families were reduced to beggary, and the English found themselves entirely excluded from every road that led either to honour or preferment.

To keep the clergy, as much as possible, in his interests, he appointed none but his own countrymen to the most considerable church dignities, and even displaced Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, upon some frivolous pretences.

William, having crushed several conspiracies, and, by punishing the malecontents, thus secured the peace of his dominions, now expected rest from his labours; and, finding none either willing or powerful enough to oppose him, he hoped that the end of his reign would be marked with prosperity and peace. But such is the blindness of human hope, that he found enemies where he least expected them; and such too as served to imbitter all the latter part of his life. His last troubles were excited by his own children, from the opposing of whom he could expect to reap neither glory nor gain. He had three sons, Robert, William, and Henry, he

sides several daughters. Robert, his eldest son, surnamed Curthose, from the shortness of his legs, was a prince who inherited all the bravery of his family and nation, but was rather bold than prudent; and was often heard to express his jealousy of his two brothers, William and Henry. These, by greater assiduity, had wrought upon the credulity and affections of the king, and consequently were the more obnoxious to Robert. A mind, therefore, so well prepared for resentment, soon found or made a cause for an open rupture. The princes were one day in sport together, and, in the idle petulance of play, took it into their heads to throw water over their elder brother, as he passed through the court, on leaving their apartment. Robert, all alive to suspicion, quickly turned this frolic into a studied indignity; and having these jealousies still farther inflamed by one of his favourites, he drew his sword, and ran up stairs with intent to take revenge. The whole castle was quickly filled with tumult, and it was not without some difficulty that the king himself was able to appease it; but he could not allay the animosity which, from that moment, ever after prevailed in his family. Robert, attended by several of his confederates, withdrew to Rouen that very night, hoping to surprise the castle, but his design was defeated by the governor.

The flame being thus kindled, the popular character of the prince, and a sympathy of manners, engaged all the young nobility of Normandy and Maine, as well as of Anjou and Brittany, to espouse his quarrel: even his mother, it is said, supported him by secret remittances, and aided him in this obstinate resistance by private encouragement. This unnatural contest continued for several years to inflame the Norman state, and William was at last obliged to have recourse to England for supporting his authority against his son. Accordingly, drawing an army of Englishmen together, he led them over to Normandy, where he soon compelled Robert and his adherents to quit the field, and he was quickly reinstated in all his dominions.

William had scarcely put an end to this transaction, when he felt a very severe blow in the death of Matilda, his queen; and, as misfortunes generally come together, he received information of a general insurrection in Maine, the nobility of which had always been averse to the Norman government. Upon his arrival on the Continent, he found that the insurgents had been secretly assisted and excited by the King of France, whose policy consisted in thus lessening the Norman power,

D

by creating dissentions among the nobles of its different provinces. William's displeasure was not a little increased by the account he received of some railleries which that monarch had thrown out against him. It seems that William, who was become corpulent, had been detained in bed some time by sickness; and Philip was heard to say, that he only lay-in of a big belly. This so provoked the English monarch that he sent him word, that he should soon be up, and would at his churching present such a number of tapers, as would set the kingdom of France in a flame.

In order to perform this promise, he levied a strong army, and entering the isle of France, destroyed and burned all the villages and houses without opposition, and took the town of Mante, which he reduced to ashes. But the progress of these hostilities was stopped by an accident, which shortly after put an end to William's life. His horse chancing to place his fore-foot on some hot ashes, plunged so violently, that the rider was thrown forward, and bruised upon the pummel of the saddle to such a degree, that he suffered a relapse, of which he died shortly after, at a little village near Rouen.

[merged small][graphic]
[ocr errors]

WILLIAM RUFUS.

ILLIAM, surnamed Rufus, from the colour of his hair, was appointed, by the king's will, his successor, while the eldest son, Robert, was left in possession of Normandy.

« TrướcTiếp tục »