| 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 |
"ENGLAND IS MINE"
HE strength of the Norman army was its horsemen; the
strength of the English army was its foot soldiers.
While William's forces were well fitted to make an
attack, Harold's power lay in his ability to resist an
attack. William was a great commander, for he knew when
to advance; but Harold was hardly less great, for he
knew when to stand still. He was familiar with southern
England, and on his hurried march from the north he
had mentally chosen his position. It was seven miles
from Hastings and on the direct line from Hastings to
Just below the summit of the hill of Senlac he arranged
his men in order, those on either hand armed with clubs
or javelins or forks or even stone hammers or sharp
stakes. In the centre, where the first advance of the
Normans was expected, were the veterans of the army,
soldiers tried and
 true. Their shields and arms were much like those of
the Normans, save for one terrible weapon, the great
battle-axe. This had a longer handle than the Norman
axe, and in the hands of a strong man it was the most
deadly of weapons. In the midst of the veterans was the
dragon banner of England, and the king's gonfalon
bearing a warrior in full array. Near the banner stood
Harold and his two faithful brothers, Gyrth and
Leofwine. Stretching along in front of the line of
soldiers was a strong palisade.
This was the array which the Normans were advancing to
attack. At the first sight of the English encampment
they paused to put on their armor. William's coat of
mail was brought out, and by mistake the front and back
were reversed. The soldiers who were to bear their part
so boldly in the battle trembled before the omen of
evil, but again the quick-witted duke smiled at their
fear and said:—
"I trust in God, not in signs and warnings; but if this
is an omen of anything, it means that just as I change
this hauberk about, so am I to be changed—changed from
a duke into a king."
William, too, had arranged his men in three divisions,
the Normans in the centre. In the first
 line were the slingers and archers; then came the
heavy-armed infantry; and behind them rode the knights
in full armor with the lance and the sword. In the
centre of the group the holy banner of the Pope waved
in the breeze of the early morning, and under it were
Robert of Mortain, a brave, faithful, kind-hearted
man; and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who, forbidden by the
church to bear sword or spear, solved the difficulty by
arming himself with a war-club. These were the sons of
Arletta and Heriwin of Conteville. Between them rode
their half-brother, the great duke. No lance or javelin
did he carry, but a heavy iron mace, as terrible a
weapon as the axe of Harold.
On toward the hill came the Norman array, but suddenly
a man rode forth in front of the line. It was
Taillefer, the minstrel. He sang songs of Roland and of
Charlemagne; he made his horse curvet and caracole; he
tossed his sword into the air and caught it as it fell.
He chanted words of encouragement to the Normans and of
threatening to the English. Both armies stood as if
spellbound. The minstrel waved his sword to the duke.
"Duke William," he said, "long ago, in happy Falaise,
you promised me one day that whatever
 gift I should ask of you, you would grant. This is the
gift—to strike the first blow against the usurper."
Then, wheeling about, he dashed up to the English line,
thrust his lance through one man, cut down another with
his sword, and in a moment lay dead, struck down by
many an English weapon.
The Norman line advanced. Straight up the hill they
charged. "God help us!" they shouted; while the English
veterans cried, "Holy Cross! Holy Cross!" Harold had
laid his plans well. The palisade, the wall of shields,
the solid ranks of men—as long as these were unbroken
the Norman onslaughts were as powerless as a shower
beating upon an oak tree. Duke William and his men
fell back. The ranks were in disorder. The whole
invading force was panic-stricken.
"Flee, my duke, save yourself!" shouted a soldier.
"The duke is dead! The duke is dead!" cried some one,
and the wild cry ran through the lines. William
uncovered his face and pursued his men.
"Come back," he called; "why do you flee? I live, and
by the grace of God I will conquer. Come back, or with
my own hand I will strike you down."
 At the head of the Normans William dashed forward for
another attack. His horse fell under him. No matter, he
could press nearer on foot. He struck down Gyrth, and
his brother struck down Leofwine; and now the English
fought for vengeance. William mounted another horse. It
was slain. He mounted a third. The Norman forces
pressed on. The wooden palisade was beginning to yield,
but behind it were the deep ranks of brave Englishmen,
and their firmly grasped shields were a stronger wall
than any palisade.
Something more than daring was needed. Part of the
invading force advanced, turned, broke ranks and fled.
The raw troops of the English rushed from their
position and pursued, though the veterans at their
left shouted "Back! back!" for this was the old trick
which the Danes had played upon the English two
centuries before, and which William had played upon
the king of France. The Normans wheeled about, formed
their lines anew, and cut down their scattered
It was almost twilight. Since nine in the morning the
battle had raged. To attack the English behind the firm
line of shields was like making an assault upon a
fortress. William ordered his
 archers to shoot straight up into the air. There fell
upon the English a storm of the deadly steel, the most
terrible event of the day. Men held their shields high
up to protect their heads. Then was the moment for the
Norman lance and the Norman sword.
Harold fell, his eye pierced by an arrow. His own
veterans fought to the death; not one was captured, but
the less disciplined troops fled madly over the hills
to the northward. They knew the country, but their
pursuers were lost in the morass or fell headlong over
the precipice; the land itself was avenging the death
of her heroes. The English turned and took a fearful
revenge on the invaders; but this was only a little
company—the battle was lost. If those Englishmen who
left their lines to pursue the pretended retreat of the
enemy had been as true to Harold in deed as they were
in heart, if they had been as obedient as they were
courageous, then might the battle of Senlac have been
an English victory instead of an English defeat.
The body of Harold was probably buried by William's
orders on the shore near Hastings, and sometime later
removed to the dead king's church
 in Waltham; but there is a legend that many years after
the battle there was seen in far-away Chester a monk
blind in one eye, bent and bowed with trouble and
sorrow, and that on his death-bed he owned that it was
he who had once been called Harold and crowned king of
After the battle the Normans returned to Hastings.
"What is the duke going to do?" said one soldier.
"Will he not march upon London?"
"They say not," said another. "They say that he
declares God has decided between him and Harold, and
that he will remain in Hastings to receive the homage
of the nobles of the land."
"Will they come, do you think?"
"Neither William nor I can tell that."
"And what you two can't tell, no one knows," said the
other with a laugh.
The English knew that William might march directly upon
London. A new king must be chosen at once, and the
council met without delay. A strong leader might have
united England and saved her; but there was none. Worse
than that, there were several parties. One favored the
child Edgar, son of the Outlaw; one said that the
 victory at Senlac was the judgment of God, and that to
refuse to submit to William would be to resist God; and
the northern earls stood aside, willing that the
kingdom should be divided if only they might have a
share. Finally Edgar was chosen as king; but he was a
child, and the army had vanished.
William waited five days in Hastings for the homage
which did not come; then he set out on a march to the
eastward as far as Dover, and from there directly to
London. Wherever the English yielded, he was mild and
gentle, and repaid generously any damage caused by his
soldiers; but wherever there was the least resistance,
he was so severe that many a town surrendered without a
blow. The chief men of England met in London.
"The Duke of Normandy is ravaging the country
roundabout," said one. "Soon we shall have nothing
around us but burned dwellings and fields laid waste.
He is merciful where men yield, and brutal where they
resist. I counsel that we yield."
"Harold gave his life to repel the invader," said
another, "and shall we so lightly resign the liberty
for which he died?"
"We do not resign it, it is already taken from
 us," said one; "the only question is whether we shall
lose our lives as well as our liberty."
"But is our liberty gone?" said another. "Canute came
as a conqueror; but he ruled like an Englishman. Has
not this duke made Normandy the power which she was not
before his reign began?"
"True," said a thoughtful man who sat near him. "Canute
came of a heathen race, but he was a good king. This
William is a faithful son of the church and—"
He may be a son of the church, but he is the grandson
of a tanner," said one bitterly. "Such a disgrace has
never before fallen upon the throne of England."
"We cannot resist him," said one sadly; "we have no
"What should we do if we had a choice?" asked another,
looking hopelessly about the room. "We chose Harold; he
is dead, and there is no one to follow him. We chose
Edgar, but he is a child. It may be that it would have
been wise, even of our own free will, to choose this
great commander, and hope that he would do for us what
he has already done for Normandy."
 So it was that the crown was offered to William. He had
fought for it fiercely, and he had put aside
indignantly the suggestion that he should make a
compromise for gold and treasure; but now that it was
offered, he hesitated. He would have no weak point by
which any one else might demand it of him as he had
demanded it of Harold. He called a council of his chief
"England is mine," he said. "God has chosen between me
and the usurper. In time to come, I shall rule every
sod and every stream; but now my word is obeyed and my
voice is feared over but a small part of the land.
Shall I take the crown before I have won it?"
"Then would a king ever have a crown?" asked a
keen-eyed councillor. "Is a king ever sure of his
kingdom? Can he ever say that no insurrection will
arise, no revolt that, however small, shall yet make
him the less king until it be subdued?"
"True," said the duke thoughtfully; "perhaps you are
right, though when I am once come to my kingdom, I
think there will be no revolts to fear. There is
another reason why I should wish to delay the crowning.
Do you remember that over the sea is your duchess, my
own dearly beloved wife?
 It is she who has freed me from the care of my duchy
that I might cross the water and claim that which is my
right. Whatever I win of honors and glory belongs to
her, and I would gladly have her beside me to share my
"If you are crowned at once," said another councillor,
"it will be taking what is your own as soon as it is
possible; but if you delay till you have conquered
England step by step, then will you seem not like the
rightful king kept out of his own for a time, but like
an invader who seizes the land, field by field, and
when he has grasped it all, then says that he is king."
Arrangements were made for the coronation. It had long
been the custom for the Archbishop of Canterbury to
place the crown upon the head of the newly chosen king;
but there was some doubt whether Stigand of Canterbury
had been made an archbishop with all the due
formalities, and as William meant that no one should
ever question his legal right to the throne, he chose
the Bishop of York to lay upon his head the new crown
all ablaze with jewels which had been made for this
English and Normans filled Westminster Abbey,
 waiting eagerly for the glittering procession. The
clergy in their richest vestments, the English lords in
their splendid mantles gorgeous in coloring and
sparkling with gems, the royal guard in their brightly
burnished armor, swept up toward the altar. There was a
moment's break in the long line, and people held their
breath to watch, for towering above the spectators,
handsome, grave, and stately, came the great duke
himself. On one side of him walked Stigand; on the
other, Ealdred, Bishop of York.
The Te Deum had been sung; there was silence. Then
Ealdred of York and the Bishop of Coutances, who had
come with William from Normandy, took their stand, one
on either side of the altar. William came forward and
stood before the multitude. Then spoke Ealdred of York:—
"This man who now stands before you is William, Duke
of Normandy. I present him to you with the blessing of
the church upon him. Is it your will, O you people of
England, that the crown of England shall be laid upon
his head?" Then spoke the Bishop of Coutances:—
"And you, O you Normans, is it your will that he who is
your duke shall rule a twofold empire?
 that he who governs the duchy of Normandy shall become
the sovereign of the people of England?"
"Yes! yes! King William! King William!" shouted the
whole assembly. But William, who had so many times
faced death on the field of battle, turned pale and
trembled. There were wild shouts of "Fire! fire!"
outside the church. Was it the Norman guards who heard
the cries of assent within and mistook the clamor for
an attack upon the duke, or was it one last effort of
the English people to rid themselves of this foreign
ruler? No one knows, but the buildings around the
church had been fired, and the blaze shone through the
many-colored windows and cast a strange, weird light
upon those who were within.
The solemn ritual went on. There was prayer and litany
and chanting of psalms. There was swinging of censers,
till rich clouds of incense rose far above the altar.
William kissed the cross which had been carried before
him when he entered the church. Then he laid his hand
upon the Gospels; and it may be that there came to him
a thought of the oath which he had driven Harold to
take, and that he trembled at the memory of this rather
than at the fire and the tumult.
 'Do you solemnly swear," said the bishop, "that you
will rule your people according to the laws of the
"Do you swear that you will do justice and mercy to all
that abide within your realm?
"Do you swear to be true to the church, to watch over
her interests, to guard and defend her?"
William, still trembling, made the sacred promise.
Then was he anointed with the consecrated oil, the
glittering crown was laid upon his head, and the Duke
of Normandy was also King of England.
The coronation should have been followed by the
ceremony of paying homage, but this had been prevented
by the fire. William was as wise as he was bold, and he
thought it best to withdraw to Barking; and there it
was that one Saxon noble after another came to become
"his man." William received them as his own beloved
subjects, invited them to hunt and to hawk, and treated
them like favored guests. As a rule, the nobles
dwelling in that part of England which had submitted
paid William a fee and received their lands again as a
fresh grant from him.
The northern earls seem
 to have been convinced that resistance would be
useless, and they, too, did homage. William showed them
special courtesy, and even promised one of them his
little daughter in marriage. Nevertheless, he did not
trust them to return to their distant north, where they
might easily arouse rebellion, but he gave them each
some high office that would keep them in his sight.
To the child Edgar, and his mother and his sisters,
William did not fail to show honor; and for the boy
himself, who came so near to being king, he seemed to
feel a sincere affection. The whole policy of William
was to shed no blood, to arouse no unnecessary
ill-will, to be just and even generous to those who
yielded to him; but to be mercilessly severe in his
treatment of those who opposed him.
But there was a crowd of nobles from Normandy and the
neighboring countries, and they would not fail to say:—
"King William, when we helped you to gain possession of
your kingdom, you said, 'The land that I win, it shall
be yours.' Give us our land as you promised us then,"
and William gave.
According to the ideas of the times, all land
 belonged to the king and was loaned by him to vassals
on condition of their fealty. Now William was the king,
crowned and anointed; therefore all who had opposed him
were rebels and their land belonged to him. Godwin's
family held large tracts, and these he might lawfully
appropriate. Besides this, there were many estates
whose owners and owners' sons had died at Senlac, and
these estates would return to the sovereign. William
did not try to make the English poor and the Normans
rich; but he took from those who opposed him and gave
to those who were loyal to him.
The king must have a well-fortified place of residence
in London, and so it was that he began to build the
Tower of London. At the same time, he gave the city a
special charter. "Ye shall be worthy to enjoy all the
laws ye were worth in King Edward's days," said
William, and he kept his word. Nevertheless, the strong
fortress arose, and it was well garrisoned with men
from Normandy and the districts lying around it.
But the king of England was also Duke of Normandy, and
across the Channel were lands which ought not to be
longer without their lord.
Wil-  liam had landed in October and been crowned at
Christmas. More than two months had passed since then.
He began to feel that he might spend Easter in Normandy
with his beloved wife and children.
Nothing could seem wiser than his plan for the
government of the kingdom during his absence. Those
left in control were his half-brother Odo, the warlike
Bishop of Bayeux, he who kept the letter of the church
law by wearing no sword, but followed the desires of
his own spirit by mounting a war-horse and galloping to
battle armed with a war-club; and the second, William
Fitz-Osbern, the old and tried friend who had first
urged him to make his attack upon England, and who had
tricked the Norman nobles not only into aiding him, but
into aiding him to such an extent as they would never
have dreamed of doing.
Odo and Fitz-Osbern were strong men, but trouble might
arise. Since William would not be in the kingdom to
suppress any revolt, he very wisely carried those who
might become leaders of a revolt with him to Normandy—not
as captives, by any means, but as an escort of
honor. Each one of the most dangerous of the great men
 the English had received a message somewhat like this:—
"William, king of England, is about to cross the sea.
He would be escorted by men of mark in the kingdom over
which he rules, and therefore he sends you courteous
invitation to visit with him his duchy of Normandy."
Probably every one who received this message knew that
he was to be taken to Normandy as a hostage for the
good behavior of the men who were left behind. If
William had demanded their attendance, they might have
refused, though the refusal would have been a signal
for a revolt; but he had invited, and invited with such
flattering courtesy, such apparent confidence in their
loyalty, that to refuse would be not only ungracious,
but a most unwise confession of hostility. They
accepted the invitation; and the ship "Mora," that six
months before had brought William and his army to the
shores of England, now set out for a return, bearing
not only a king of England, but a company of English
nobles who to do him honor had left their own land and
were coming to Normandy.
Nor was English homage the only treasure on
 board the ships. Beautiful vessels of gold and of
silver, adorned with precious stones, finer jewelry,
more exquisite work of enamel and filigree of gold than
the Normans could make in their own land, hanging lamps
of iron and of the precious metals, the finest cloth of
woollen and of linen, robes and vestments rich with
embroidery, tapestries shining with gold thread,
curtains made precious by the work of the needle—with
such things as these the ships were loaded when he who
had left his native land a duke returned to it a king.
No wonder that he received a welcome. Here was the man
who by his own hand had won glory for himself, had
honored his duchy, had enriched his nobles, and had,
as the weapon of the church, punished one whom the
church deemed deserving of punishment.
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