| In the Days of William the Conqueror|
|by Eva March Tappan|
|Story of the life of William the Conqueror, telling of his boyhood in Normandy, beset by dangers, of his knighting by the King of France and of the after-deeds which made him famous, including the conquest of England. Ages 11-15 |
ON BOARD THE "MORA"
WO years later, on January 5, 1066, King Edward died.
That same day saw the meeting of the council to name
his successor. The choice was soon made, but not
without free discussion.
"I give my word for the crowning of Edgar," said one
"Edgar is but a child," said many voices.
"He is of the royal blood," said the old man. "Never
has England of her own free will bestowed her crown
upon one who was not of the house of Cerdic."
"Shall a few drops of blood in the veins of a child
count for more than the valor in the heart of the man
who has been the real sovereign of England for more
than ten years?" said another councillor. "There is no
one else in the land—or out of it," he added, with a
withering glance at a little group of men who were
suspected of being
 Norman in their sympathies—"there is no one else whom
the people of England love and admire and trust as they
do Earl Harold of Wessex, and I give my voice for him
as the successor of our holy King Edward."
"And yet it is said in Normandy that many years ago the
holy king gave his word that the Duke of Normandy
should be his successor," said the boldest of the
little group in the farther corner.
"Have the Normans who have come to our land been so true
and upright that we should trust even an unproven rumor
of their country?" retorted a knight fiercely.
"No king can bequeath his crown," said another
councillor gravely; "that is the gift of the people;
and, moreover, this is, as you say, but a rumor, while
we know by the testimony of many witnesses that the
king in the last hour of his life recommended Harold as
"Holy men at the hour of death have often new vision
and strange powers of prophecy," said the abbot of a
great convent. "It is not well to pass lightly by what
men see who see more than men can see." The vote was
taken, and Harold was elected with hardly a dissenting
 great chieftains bore to him the slender golden crown
from the chamber of the dead king.
For a moment Harold hesitated. His wise use of his
abilities had raised him to the highest position in
the land; it was a time to be proud. But was it all his
wisdom, was it not the course of events? Would not
another man with his opportunities have done even
more? it was a time to be humble. And in the doorway
stood the two nobles with the golden circle which he
had solemnly promised to give to another man. It was a
forced oath—no, it was not, his word was his own; he
had chosen, a hard choice, but he had chosen. He would
refuse and say boldly, "Come what may, I will not live
a man forsworn. I cannot be your king." What freedom
that would be! But the councillors were speaking:—
"We bring the crown of England from the chamber of King
Edward. We are come to say that it is the will of the
council that you, Harold, Earl of Wessex, should be our
king. Do you accept the crown?"
"The will of the council." That was the way of escape.
He had no more right to refuse the crown than a king
had to give it away. He was
 but a tool, a weapon of the people. Should the sword
say, "Why choose me? I will not be chosen." So said
Harold to himself. Again he yielded, and as he had
once said, "I will promise," so he now said, "I will be
The times were too full of danger for a land to remain
for a single day without a lawful sovereign. Before the
next nightfall, Westminster Abbey had seen the burial
of Edward and the coronation of Harold.
William of Normandy was hunting in the forest near
Rouen. He had bent the bow which no other man had
strength to bend, and he had taken aim at a deer, when
from behind him came a voice, "My lord!" The arrow flew
wide, and the deer sprang away.
"How dare you?" said William, turning upon the man
fiercely. "I have forgiven rebellious vassals, but I
never yet forgave a man who spoiled a shot like that."
"Pardon, my lord," said the man who had spoken. "I have
a message for you from one over the water. Edward has
ended his life, and Earl Harold is raised to the
kingdom." William turned deadly pale. His bow fell to
the ground. He
 laced and unlaced his mantle. Then without a word he
strode to the bank of the Seine and motioned to his
boatman to row him across. He went up the hill to his
castle and entered the great hall. He looked to one
side, then to the other. He dropped upon a bench, and
with his mantle thrown over his face sat leaning
against a pillar. The men in the hall withdrew silently
into little groups.
On the hunt with William had been one William
Fitz-Osbern, son of the faithful guardian whose death
had once saved the life of the duke. He alone ventured
to speak to his master.
"Duke William," said he, "this is no secret. Every
street in Rouen is ablaze with the news. This is no
time to mourn that Edward is dead or that Harold is
forsworn. This is the time to cross the water and seize
the kingdom that is your own."
William straightway sent an embassy to Harold,
demanding the keeping of his oath. Harold replied that
it was better to break a bad oath than to keep it; and
that in any case the crown was not for him to give, but
for the nation. It was plain that to win the kingdom
William must fight for it. He appealed to his vassals.
 "Many years ago," he said, "the English crown was
promised to me by King Edward, and this was right, for
I am his lawful heir. When Edward had become a feeble
old man, Harold usurped his power and turned the
English people as he would. Harold belongs to an
accursed race, for to his father is laid the savage
murder of Alfred. In your very presence he swore on the
relics of the saints that he would uphold my
right—not my right, but that of Normandy, for Alfred was
supported by Norman arms, and the relics were those of
the greatest saints of our land. He and his father
together drove the Normans from England. Shall we not
avenge the wrongs of our own countrymen?"
Lanfranc, who had won the Pope's confirmation of
William's marriage, was ready to place his keen
intellect at the service of the duke, and now an appeal
was made to Rome. To the Pope the matter was put as a
missionary undertaking. William was going to England,
it seemed, to punish a usurper and a man forsworn, a
man who had not only stolen a kingdom, but who had
insulted the saints, whose good deeds were the most
cherished possession of the church. Would the Father
 of the Church judge between them? The Pope decided in
favor of William, and sent him a consecrated banner
and a ring containing a sacred relic.
While the embassy was in Rome, William called together
his vassals at Lillebonne and asked their aid. He could
not command it, for a vassal was not bound to cross the
sea with his lord. They were not enthusiastic.
"England is rich," said one, "and Harold can engage
even kings and dukes to fight for him."
"Yes," said another, "we cannot win; and if we attempt
it, we shall only ruin our own Normandy."
"I would gladly follow you over land and sea," said
one, "but I am poor; I cannot furnish ships or even arm
my men as they should be armed for such an attempt."
"Harold will grow stronger every day," said a noble.
"Whatever is done should be done at once; but England
has a great fleet and well-trained sailors. More than
one year, more than two years, would it take us to
prepare ships to meet it." Then came forward bold
"You have fought for the duke," said he, "but
 has he done nothing for you? You owe him service for
your feoffs; and what matters it whether you fight on
one side of the water or the other? The ground is the
same. Shame on the faithless vassal whose chief must
beg for his obedience. There is something more," he
added. "You know the temper of the duke. Is he one to
yield? Has he ever yielded? If you refuse him now, what
do you think the end will be? He is angry. He has left
your assembly. Shall I beg him to return?"
Even the boldest of the barons were alarmed. They did,
indeed, know William's temper. "Speak to him for us,"
they said to Fitz-Osbern.
Fitz-Osbern spoke, but in accordance with his own
wishes, and without the least regard to those of the
"Your barons have such zeal in your service and such
affection for you," he said, "that they will gladly
meet all danger into which you may lead them." The
barons looked at Fitz-Osbern angrily and motioned him
to stop, but William sat by with stern, lowering face,
and they were silent. Fitz-Osbern went on:—
"To punish the wicked usurper, the scorner of Norman
arms, the insulter of Norman saints, I will
 furnish sixty ships, well filled with fighting men; and
every man here will agree to furnish not the number of
men to which he is bound, but twice that number."
Then the wrath of the barons broke out. There was no
attempt to keep order. The hall was full of angry,
shouting men, each struggling to be heard. Now was
William's time. He was no longer the stern ruler, but
the fascinating pleader; and when William chose to
persuade rather than to demand, few could resist him.
One by one they yielded.
This expedition was setting out to avenge a broken oath
and an insult to religion. The Pope had blessed the
enterprise. The ships would sail under the banner of
the church. This was more profitable than a pilgrimage.
A man might gain the good-will of the powerful ruler of
Normandy, who would perhaps be king of England; he
might have a reasonable hope of winning land and gold;
and he might be working for the good of his soul, all
at the same time. So advantageous a bargain as that was
seldom offered. No wonder that soldiers came from near
and from far. No wonder that all the seaport towns were
building ships, and
 that all the inland towns were forging armor. Night and
day the anvils rang and the hammers beat.
As has been said before, there was always danger in a
sovereign's leaving his country, if only for a short
time. As far as possible, William must secure the
friendliness of the surrounding districts. As a vassal
of France, he went to Philip, son of Henry, to offer
him a share in the conquest of England. Philip and his
councillors had already discussed this project of
William's, and they were prepared to oppose it.
"Normandy," said they, "is so independent as it is that
her vassalage is only a name. Let her win England, and
it will not be even that." So when William came to
Philip and said:—
"I come to you as my suzerain to ask if you will assist
me to gain my rights in England and to punish a
usurper. If you will help me, I promise to hold
England, as I do Normandy, as a feoff of the kingdom
of France." Then the young Philip replied rather
pertly, inasmuch as he was speaking to a man much older
than himself and the greatest military commander in
"And who will care for your duchy while you are trying
to gain these rights of yours across the
 sea?" William looked down upon the young fellow before
him and answered:—
"That is a matter which need not trouble my neighbors,
for God has given me a prudent wife and loving
subjects, and together they will care for my duchy."
William then invited his wife's brother-in-law to join
with him, but young Baldwin asked first what he would
gain by it. William never could pass by the opportunity
for a jest, and even in this hurried time he stopped to
fold a blank parchment into the shape of a royal
missive, sealed it with the ducal seal, and on the
outside he wrote:—
"Brother-in-law, in England you'll win
Just as much as you find within."
Afterward, however, he made generous promises to
Matilda's relatives for their aid.
The last thing before setting out to join his forces,
William solemnly appointed Matilda ruler of Normandy
during his absence; and that in case of his death his
son Robert, a boy of twelve or thirteen, might be
already in power, he put him in nominal command of the
military forces of the duchy. There was a great
assemblage of the chief
 men of Normandy when Matilda was formally declared
"Duchess Regent," and at the end of the ceremony
William said earnestly:—
"We beg that you and the ladies of your court will give
us your prayers that the blessing of God may go with us
and may give us success."
At the mouth of the Dive, not so very far from the ford
of Varaville, whence King Henry and his men had begun
their wild flight from the land of the Normans,
assembled the ships, seven hundred, one chronicler puts
it; three thousand and more, others say. Ships came and
men came, grave and dignified barons and wild,
turbulent young adventurers; no easy horde to keep in
order, but the duke was able to control the power that
he had aroused. Plunder was forbidden, and the rule
against it was enforced. The cattle and the cornfield
of the peasant were untouched.
So strict was the order maintained that a man who had
hoped to make his way through the camp by his Norman
dress and his knowledge of the Norman tongue, was
captured at once and brought before the duke. He was an
English spy, but William received him like a guest,
treated him courteously, and finally sent him away with
mes-  sage to Harold. "Tell your lord," said he, "to go where he
thinks himself safest, and if he does not meet me there
before the year ends, then need he never fear me while
Harold had some reason to be comforted by the message,
for day after day passed, and still the fleet was
weather-bound at the mouth of the Dive. September came.
The north wind blew and the rain fell and the surf
pounded on the shore. No ship could go to sea in
safety, and for one long month the whole fleet waited
impatiently for the south wind that should speed the
vessels on their way to England.
Not only did the south wind fail, but provisions began
to be scarce. It was easier to move the fleet than to
bring food; and so, at the first breath of the west
wind, William took the ships to Ponthieu, and anchored
off the mouth of the river Somme. Still the south wind
refused to blow. The soldiers murmured.
"Where are the fertile lands that this great conqueror
promised?" said one.
"Here is land enough," said another, "I want to get out
on the water;" and one who had been gazing out over the
sea turned and said:—
 "The terrible comet that swept through the sky, we
thought that it meant ruin to England, but it is borne
in upon my mind that the two long fiery trains that
trailed after it portend rather that Normandy shall be
divided and shattered by this evil plan of Duke
William's to seize upon land that God's ocean has
separated from us."
"He is mad," said one. "His father had the same
madness; and when he, too, set out to conquer England,
the winds opposed him, just as they oppose Duke
William. God is against him. Let us leave him and go to
The little church of Saint Valéry was not far away, and
William alternately offered prayers at its altar and
watched the vane on its spire. Finally he arranged a
solemn procession of the clergy of the church bearing
the relics of their patron saint. Gold and silver and
jewels were cast upon the shrine until it was almost
buried beneath the offerings. Duke and army prayed,
and at last, after six weeks of waiting, the wind blew
from the south. The ships made ready to set sail for
But a great warship was coming into the harbor. No one
had ever seen it before. It was all a-glitter
 with its bright decorations, and its sails were of many
"I have no vassal," said William, "who could bring me a
ship like that. It must be from some other country."
"But there are the three lions of Normandy on her
sails," cried Fitz-Osbern. As she came nearer, William
saw that the figure-head was a child, a boy wrought all
of gold, and in his hand was an ivory horn. As William
looked at it he fancied that it was like his little son
William; and so it was, and in the boat was the Duchess
Matilda with her attendants. The name of the ship was
the "Mora," the "Delay," and she was a gift from
Matilda to her husband.
"As you have been delayed by foul winds," said the
duchess, "so now shall the 'Delay' fill her sails with
fair winds and bear you swiftly to the land that is of
right your own."
"So shall it be," said William, "for the 'Mora' and no
other vessel shall carry me across the water." The
consecrated banner was run up to the masthead. Matilda
said her farewell, and to the music of cymbals and
pipes and many other instruments William set out for
 Harold's months on the English throne had not been
easy. The Norwegians, aided by his own brother, Tostig,
had descended upon the north coast, and he had been
obliged to march beyond the Humber to repulse them. So
it was that when William landed at Pevensey, not a blow
was struck, though if the south wind had blown but a
few days sooner, an army would have been ready to
receive him. William was the first to spring ashore,
but in his eagerness he fell at full length. A low
groan of fear came from the soldiers.
"It is a terrible omen," said one.
"God is against us," said another; but William rose
with a bit of turf in either hand and said jubilantly,—
"So it is that I take seizin of my rightful kingdom." A
soldier pulled a handful of thatch from the roof of a
"Here, too, is seizin," he said, "of England and all
that is within it."
"I accept it," said the duke, "and may God be with us."
After one day the whole force marched to Hastings,
where provisions could more easily be procured. A
wooden fortress was put up and a moat
 was dug. William did not wish to go far inland, so he
set to work to harass the country round-about that he
might provoke Harold to come to him. By forced marches
Harold came southward, and when he reached London,
William's messenger met him.
"This is the word of the Duke of Normandy," said the
messenger: "By Edward's will and by your own oath I
call upon you to give up the kingdom."
"And this is the reply of the King of England," said
Harold: "So long as a man lives, he has a right to
alter his will, and in no court is an extorted oath
held sacred. I offer you my friendship and costly gifts
if you will depart from the land without violence or
harm; but if you persist in grasping for that which is
not your own, then will I and my brave men meet you in
battle on Saturday, and as we have just driven an
invader from our northern coasts, so will we drive you
from our southern."
Few days were there before the one that was set for the
battle, but Harold took a little time to go to his own
church at Waltham. Many gifts he laid upon the altar,
then he knelt in prayer for the
for-  giveness of his sins and for the welfare of his
land. "I sought to do for the best," he prayed, "but it
may be that I am entangled in the meshes of evil.
Forgive me, and save my country from the usurper, and
give the victory as shall be for her own best good."
Harold went back to London and there met him his
faithful brother Gyrth, who pleaded with him:—
"Do you stay and defend London. A forced oath is not
binding, but yet it is an oath, and I fear that God
will be against you. No oath have I sworn. Let me go
forth to meet the invader. If I am slain, then can you,
the king, gather another army and avenge me; and let us
now burn the houses and lay waste the harvest fields
and leave this invader with nothing but the desert and
the sea. So will he go to his ships and betake him to
his own country." Then spoke Harold:—
"No friend of mine," said he, "shall go forth to face
danger that I ought to face. Never will I set fire to
an English home or lay waste an English harvest field."
And so it was that Harold of England went forth to meet
William of Normandy.
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