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THE LAST SAXON KING.
HAROLD'S OATH OF FEALTY TO WILLIAM.--REFUSAL TO PERFORM THE COMPACT. -CONTINENTAL FEELING IN FAVOUR OF WILLIAM'S CLAIM.-TOSTIG'S INVASION AND DEFEAT.-NORMAN INVASION OF ENGLAND.-BATTLE OF HASTINGS. -CHARACTER OF HAROLD.
THE witan of the south or Saxon England decided easily upon nominating Harold as their king. He conciliated the northern provinces by a personal canvass. His connection through the marriages of his family with the Saxon and Danish royal lines, was no doubt an argument in his favour. The only other candidate whom Englishmen could possibly think of, was Edgar Ætheling, the legitimate heir according to modern notions of inheritance, who was still under age, and whose character, as his after-life showed, was feeble and unambitious. His pretensions were satisfied with the title of ealdorman of Oxford. But if the witan were free to choose their king, there was one reason which might have induced a more scrupulous man than Harold to decline the dignity. During the previous summer, 1065 A.D., he had been wrecked on the coast of France;
1 The statement of Florence that he was elected "a totius Angliæ primatibus" is probably near the truth. But great nobles were scarce in the north, and the people north of the Humber were likely enough to object to any king of Saxon descent, even though a few Northumbrian thanes had been present in the witan.
2 The more credible account is that Harold was sailing out, either officially as guardian of the coasts or on a pleasure excursion. Eadmer's story is that he went against the king's advice to reclaim his brother Wlfnoth and his nephew Haco, who had been confided as hostages to the duke of Normandy in 1052 A.D., when Edward and Godwin were reconciled. But no reliable history mentions any giving of hostages on that occasion, when Godwin was able to dictate terms. Even granting that part of the story to be true, it is most improbable that Harold, merely to bring back a brother, would put himself in the power of one
thrown into prison by Guy of Ponthieu, the count of the district where he landed, and finally handed over to the duke of Normandy, who paid his ransom. William entertained the earl with high respect at his court, and even associated him as brother-at-arms in an expedition against Brittany, but allowed him to feel that he was something more than a guest, and might easily become a prisoner. At last, all reserve was thrown aside; Harold was required to promise that he would assist William to obtain the English crown, which the duke claimed in virtue of a promise from Edward when they were both boys in Normandy. The other articles of the treaty stipulated that Harold was to give up the castle of Dover to William, and to let his own sister become the wife of a Norman baron; in return for this, the earl was to marry William's daughter, and might freely make any demand in reason upon William's gratitude. Harold had no alternative but to comply. An oath was demanded, and he could not excite suspicion by refusing it; he laid his hand on what seemed a small reliquary, and vowed before God to perform all that he had agreed to. The covering of the table was withdrawn, and Harold perceived with horror that he had sworn over a vase, in which all the relics that could be found near Bayeux were contained. He was now set free, and returned to England, where his plans for achieving the kingdom were carried on as unscrupulously as before; his nature was not one to be hampered by verbal engagements. But one point in this trans
whose rivalry he must have foreseen. The Norman story that Harold was sent over by the king to confirm a promise of the kingdom made to William long before through the primate, Robert of Canterbury, is absurd; Robert was banished from England in 1052 A.D., and died not long afterwards; yet five years later the scrupulous Edward sent for his nephew, Edward Ætheling, intending to nominate him his successor. Harold was the last man to have accepted such a mission, at a time when the king's death was a question of a few years. Malmesbury's story is not improbable, but his fondness for reconciling contradictions makes him untrustworthy. He represents Harold as declaring himself a secret ambassador to the Norman court, in order to obtain his release from captivity. Guy of Ponthieu was evidently a harsh captor, and the earl would be anxious to obtain his freedom without delay. Threats of war as well as a ransom, were in fact required to effect it.-Eadmer, Hist. Nov., p. 350; Gul. Pict., pp. 85, 107, 108; Malmesbury, lib. ii., pp. 383, 384.
EMBASSIES BETWEEN ENGLAND AND NORMANDY.
action is remarkable. There were at this time several exiles in Normandy: Normans driven from England, or English enemies of Harold, or men outlawed by the witan. These adventurers a little later took part in William's invading army. It is strange that the duke should not have stipulated for the restoration of these men to their homes and dignities. Their return would have been a pledge of Harold's sincerity, would have provided William with adherents, and would certainly not have been disagreeable to the king. The omission of such an article implies that Harold's power was limited, as the stipulation that Dover should be surrendered proves that William anticipated having to carry out the treaty by the sword. It is probable, therefore, that the whole compact was a private one, witnessed only by the duke's chief councillors, and never divulged till it suited William's diplomacy to rouse European feeling by the charge of treachery against his rival.
So short an interval had been allowed to elapse between Edward's death and Harold's nomination, that the news of the two events reached Normandy simultaneously. William was furious at finding himself overmatched by Harold's treachery; but a contest with England, headed by a proved statesman and warrior, was too great a risk to be lightly undertaken; the duke resolved to negotiate. He first sent an embassy to claim the literal fulfilment of the treaty. Harold returned a resolute denial. As regarded his sister, she was dead; if the duke desired it, he would send over her corpse. The castle of Dover
This is proved by the appearance of English names in the roll of Norman conquerors: Raoul de Gael, Mallet, Carew, Wake, &c. Raoul de Gael was nephew of Edward the Confessor. W. Mallet is called half English by Guy of Amiens, and his sister Ælveva was mother of the Earl Morcar.-Kelham's Domesday Book, pp. 107, 208. Carew and Conyers appear on the roll of Battle Abbey, while a Devonshire proverb says—
"Carew, Conyers, and Coplestone,
When the Conqueror came, were at home."
Arguments of this sort are only probabilities; but they are in this case, I think, probabilities of a high order.
TRIUMPH OF SAXON NATIONALITY.
being Harold's property, should be given up, though it were to his disadvantage. But it lay with the English witan to appoint their king, and choose a wife for him. Harold had accepted their nomination, and could not control their opinions. In a second embassy, William offered to waive every point except that of his daughter's marriage. Perhaps the dread of Norman favourites was still too deep-rooted for such a proposal to be entertained; perhaps Harold wished to conciliate the Northumbrians: he refused this last condition, and married the sister of the earls Edwin and Morcar. A slight circumstance indicated the complete triumph of the Saxon re-action. Under Edward, charters had been ratified with the royal seal pendant in the Norman fashion. Under Harold, the old method of simple subscription was revived. In fact, the Saxon king was less afraid of invasion from Normandy than of Tostig and a Norwegian fleet. However, he made ample preparations by sea and land to repel any enemy, and allied himself with the strong church party by benefactions to monasteries. He had taken the precaution to be crowned by the archbishop of York, as Stigand had never been recognised at Rome, where the Norman Robert was considered primate of England. But Stigand was none the less one of Harold's most trusted councillors; and a man so unscrupulous, placed at the head of a church so powerful, was likely enough to head a re
1 Eadmer's words are very difficult: "Castellum Dofris et in eo puteum aquæ licet nesciam cui ut vobis convenit explevit." I read "explevi," or better still, "explebo," and translate: "I will perform as to the castle, &c., though I know not whom it can advantage so much as you."
2 Malmesbury's language is perhaps a little too strong: "Nisi quod Noricorum regem adventare didicit, nec militem convocare nec aciem dirigere dignatus fuisset."-Lib. iii., p. 408. But it seems clear that Harold undervalued his enemy.
3 The language of Florence is express: "Ut regni gubernacula susceperat * episcopos, abbates, monachos, clericos colere simul ac venerari."-Vol. i., p. 224. Moreover, the presence of clergy at Hastings shows that Harold had the good wishes of the church. His spoliations of monasteries, which Sir H. Ellis has proved out of Domesday Book, probably belong to the times when he was not yet a king. After all, such depredations were not uncommon in England.
PUBLIC FEELING IN EUROPE.
volt from Rome, at a time when the whole nation was animated by a common feeling against foreign influences.
The event showed that the public opinion of Europe could not safely be disregarded. William was honestly convinced that a grievous wrong had been done him; he forgot the compulsion by which Harold's oath had been extorted, and only remembered that it had been pledged and violated. This feeling was shared generally on the continent, where monarchy was regarded as a property like any other fief, with the single difference that, as the king had no superior, he could alienate it without asking leave of any man. No one doubted that Edward had preferred his cousin to the son of his brother's murderer; and the Normans adroitly circulated a report that he had even nominated the duke on his death-bed. Partly, perhaps, influenced by these considerations of justice, partly, no doubt, by the scandal of Stigand's primacy, and the dread of a further revolt in the Saxon church, Hildebrand, the ablest churchman of his time, persuaded the papal curia, which he dominated, to bless the expedition which William was now preparing against the shores of England. A bull excommunicating Harold, a consecrated banner, and a ring containing one of St. Peter's hairs, were sent to the duke of Normandy, as symbols that the justice of his cause was recognised by the great tribunal of international law at the time. That charge of treachery, which in later centuries has so often been brought against English foreign policy, was then heard for the first time; and men enumerated with horror, the treacherous massacre of the Danes, the surprise of Alfred and his companions, and this last seizure of a heritage guarded by an oath. Animated by the sense of a righteous cause and the hope of plunder, adventurers from all parts, and of every degree, flocked to the Norman standard. Although Philip of France declined to assist his formidable vassal to any increase of power, yet the knights of France proper, of Burgundy, Poitou, and Aquitaine, enlisted eagerly in the cause which the church blessed. The count of Flanders was William's father-in-law. Conan of Brittany stood aloof, and even threatened Normandy with invasion