| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
 WHEN Edward the Confessor died, the people chose Harold
Godwin to be their king, although he was not the real heir
to the throne. The real heir was Edgar Ætheling, Edward's
grand-nephew and grandson of Edmund Ironside, that king who
had such a short and troubled reign and who fought so
bravely against Canute the Dane.
But Edgar Ætheling was only a little boy. It seemed to the
people as if he was not even an English boy, because he had
lived all his life in a far-off country called Hungary, to
which Canute had banished his father, and had come to
England only a few months before Edward, his grand-uncle,
had died. He did not understand the English language nor
English ways, so nearly all the people looked upon him as a
stranger. They were very tired of the strangers and
foreigners with whom Edward had filled his court, and so
they said, "Let us have a real Englishman to rule over us,
and one who is brave and wise."
They knew Harold was brave, for he had already led them many
times in battle. They knew that he was wise, because Edward,
during the last years of his life, had been very ill and
week, and had allowed Harold to rule for him. And above all
they knew Harold bitterly hated Edward's friends, the Norman
nobles, and they
 were sure he would drive them out of the
country. But they did not know what was perhaps Harold's
chief reason for hating the Normans. They did not know that
he had promised the crown of England to the most powerful of
them all, William, Duke of Normandy.
So it came about that the day after Edward the Confessor was
buried, the people crowded again to the grand new church at
Westminster. This time they came to see the new king
crowned. The church was filled with the nobles and the great
people of the land. Outside the common folk and those who
could not get inside waited, impatient to know what was
It was in the beginning of January, and the weather was
bitterly cold, but the people did not seem to mind that, so
eager were they to see their new king as he passed. Although
the wind blew keenly from the north, the sky was blue, and
the winter sun shone brightly on the gay colours of their
holiday clothes, making the gold ornaments of the women, and
the helmets and shields of the soldiers, glitter and
The day before, the streets had been full of grave and
mourning crowds, sorrowing for the death of their king. This
day there was no mourning, everything seemed joyful and
glad, and hope shone in the faces of all. Only here and
there in the crowd could be seen a few scowling Normans, but
they soon slunk away, afraid of the fierce looks and angry
words with which the Saxons greeted them.
Within the church all was solemn and quiet. After earnest
prayer to God, the Archbishop of York, holding the crown in
his hand, turned to the people. Harold knelt humbly at the
steps of the high altar, while a breathless hush filled the
great church from end to end. Then in the silence the voice
of the old archbishop rang
 out clear and sharp, "Do you
choose Harold, Earl of Wessex, son of Godwin, to be your
Like the thunder of the waves as they break upon the beach
came the answer, "We do, we do."
The words sounded again and again through the aisles of the
great church, echoing and re-echoing from the vaulted roof,
till it seemed as if all England had answered. Outside the
church the people took up the cry, "Harold, son of Godwin,
Harold, son of Godwin, Harold the Englishman for our king."
In the silence which followed, Harold placed his hands
between those of the archbishop, and promised to fear God,
to rule wisely, and to keep the laws of the land.
Then the archbishop, speaking solemn words, anointed him
with holy oil, placed the crown of England upon his head,
and the sceptre in his hand.
Harold rose from his knees, no longer Earl of Wessex, but
King of England. As he turned to the people he looked so
brave, handsome, and kingly, that a cry of love and
gratitude rose from them, and once again the arches of the
great church rang with shouts. One after another the lords
and mighty men of England passed before their king. They
knelt to him, promising to be true to him, to fight for and
obey him, just as he had promised them that he would try to
rule well and be a good king.
At last the solemn ceremony was over. Harold passed down the
long aisles, followed by the archbishop and bishops in their
splendid robes, and the lords and knights in their shining
armour. Out of the dim church into the open air they went;
out into the sunshine where the people were waiting for
their king. When Harold appeared, wearing the crown and
royal robes and carrying the sceptre in his hand, they
shouted and cheered again
 and again for joy. "Harold for
ever; Harold the King!" they cried.
So Harold was crowned, and all England was glad and at
But the peace and the gladness did not last long. As soon as
Harold was crowned, the few Normans who still remained in
England fled to Normandy. They went to Rouen, the town in
Normandy where Duke William lived.
Nowadays, if one wants to speak to a king, or great prince,
it is not always easy, for soldiers and servants guard the
doors. But in those days it was much more easy, so one of
these Normans who fled from England went to find Duke
William, for he knew he had great news to tell. William was
out hunting when this messenger from England arrived. He was
so eager to tell the news that he could not wait until the
duke returned, but followed him into the park. He searched
about for some time, and at last saw William riding towards
him surrounded by all his lords and ladies, his falcon on
his wrist, and his bow in his hand. The duke looked so
splendid and powerful that the messenger was almost afraid
to tell the news he brought. "My lord," he said, dropping on
his knees, "Edward, King of England, is dead."
Duke William's bright eyes shone with joy.
"Ah!" he exclaimed.
"And Harold, son of Godwin, is crowned king
in his stead," went on the man.
Then Duke William's eyes flashed fire, his bow dropped from
his hand, his face grew red and dark with anger.
"The Saxon dog, the oath-breaker," he thundered, in a voice
which made those who heard him tremble. Then
 he was silent,
and those around him were silent too, trembling in fear
before the awful wrath of their lord.
For many minutes William sat in dumb rage, clasping and
unclasping the rich cloak which fell from his shoulders.
Then, still without uttering a word, he turned and rode back
to his palace. He seemed neither to see nor hear anything,
but throwing himself on a couch, he buried his face in his
cloak, and gave himself up to angry thoughts.
His courtiers stood round whispering and frightened. At last
one, more bold than the others, went up to him, and laying
his hand upon the duke's shoulder, "Rouse yourself, my
lord," he said, "you have a message to send to Harold
Godwinson, before the common folk hear how he has insulted
"Ay, that have I," said William fiercely. Then he called for
the man who had brought the news.
He came in fear and trembling, but William only looked
darkly at him. "Go," he said after a pause, "go back to
England. Tell Harold Godwinson (he would not call him King
Harold) that I, William of Normandy, demand the crown and
throne of England. Tell him if he will not give it
peaceably, that I will come and take it by force."
So the messenger returned to England, and came to Harold as
he was sitting in state surrounded by his lords and nobles.
Harold listened quietly to the message. Then in a clear and
calm voice he replied, "Go tell your master that the crown
and throne of England are not mine to give and take at will.
Tell him that the people of England have given them to me in
trust, and that while I live, I will keep and guard them as
best I can. Let William of Normandy beware!"
When the messenger returned to Rouen with this
William's anger was terrible. At first he could neither
speak nor think for rage, but soon he recovered himself and
called all his lords together. He asked them to go with him
over the sea, to help him to fight Harold and make himself
King of England.
But his lords and nobles refused. "It is a very dangerous
thing to do," they said. "These English are a great and
brave people. They will kill us all. We will not go."
Although William was lord over these men, he could not force
them to go across the sea with him. He could only ask them
to go. He was very angry with them for refusing, so he broke
up the council and sent all the nobles away. Then he made
each one come to him alone, and tried to persuade them, one
by one, to go with him over the sea to England.
But it was of no use, one after another they refused. "It is
all very well for you," they said, "if you win you will have
the crown of England; but as for us, those of us who are not
killed will return poorer than before. We will not go."
Then Duke William said, "If you will only come with me I
will give you fair lands, strong castles, and great stores
of money. England is a rich country, and when I have
conquered the people, I will take their lands and money away
from them and give them to you."
Then all the nobles answered, "We will go."
After that they went to their own homes to gather their
soldiers together, and to prepare armour and weapons for
battle. But William was not content with the soldiers which
his own Norman nobles had promised. He sent messengers into
all parts of France, with the promise of land and money as
reward, to every one who would come to fight for him.
 Very many came. From far and near they flocked to the court
of William, glad at the thought of possessing the green
fields and broad forest lands of England.
But William had not ships enough to carry so large a company
over the sea, so he bought ships, and made people build them
for him, paying sometimes with money, sometimes with
promises of English land.
Never was such a wonderful army and so great a fleet
gathered together in so short a time.
But William was a great leader. He was fierce, strong, and
determined. He had set his heart on being King of England,
and King of England he meant to be. So night and day he
planned and worked, persuading and forcing people in one way
or another to help him.
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