« AnteriorContinuar »
exercised its sovereign right to choose a ruler to its mind, passing by the next of kin as inefficient, going even beyond the royal line, to place the crown on the brow of Harold. More than all, quite beneath the surface, as it were, each village-moot discussed and voted, and from each went forth the representatives to speak for their townsmen in the larger sphere. In dark centuries that were to come, men often recalled with fondness the laws of Edward the Confessor, and demanded their restoration. We reach now an event so important in the history of Anglo-Saxon freedom that it will be in place to give it careful consideration.
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS.
THERE is a little patch of a square mile or so, in the midst of the rich Sussex landscape in England. Through it, in low ground, sluggishly Present apflows a small brook, and from the brook pearance of ridges slope up gently on either hand. It Benlac. is covered for the most part with the green, thick English grass, dotted now and then by old elms and oaks. A gray, half-ruined wall, toothed with battlements at the summit, runs along one verge of the field; and there are two or three old towers, forlorn, through desertion and decrepitude, as Lears, whose comforting Cordelias are masses of close-clinging ivy,
wall and towers suggesting a splendor that has now departed. What happened there in October, 1066, decided some important things; for instance, that in the sentence that is now being written there should be nineteen words of Saxon origin and four of Latin; and that in general, when we write and talk, about a quarter of our speech should be derived from Rome, and three-quarters from the German forests. It was decided there, in fact, that those of us of English blood are what we are in mind and body, a cross, namely, between two tough stocks, each of which
The beach at
contributed precious qualities of brain and brawn to form a race which in the nineteenth century should stand so high. The field is that of Hastings, where the Normans under William beat the Saxons under Harold. Thence came a blending of tongues ; thence a blending of traits — on the one hand enterprise, on the other sturdy fortitude — into a national character, too full of spring to break, too hard to be wasted, as carbon and iron blend together into steel.
One day, at the end of September, I stood on the beach at Hastings, a watering-place of some fashion
on the south coast of England. It was
a slope covered with rough shingle, close upon one edge of which crowded the blocks of the modern town, and on the other, the waters of the English Channel. On the summit of a high cliff to the eastward was the ruin of a Norman castle — cliff and ruin so in sympathy through a long community of stormy exposure, that the turf and rock of the downs seemed to rise into the moss and masonry with scarcely a perceptible dividing line. In front lay in the motionless air the wide glassy level of the Channel, with the horizon line blotted out by the afternoon haze. Coasters lay at anchor off the beach, somewhat dim, with their sails hanging slack. There was a sound of oars from pleasure-boats, and as I stood on the beach, the sailors came up and pressed me to row with them. Close by, among the many promenaders, a Sunday-school from an interior village was holding a picnic. A day or two before, it was in 1870, – the Prince Imperial from France, with the Empress, just driven from Paris, had landed in Hastings from Normandy in great distress. Mother and son were
still in the town, and not improbably among the groups on the beach.
It was in a different way that a prince from France landed at the same spot eight hundred years ago. Had I stood then on the shore looking southward through precisely such Septem- the Normans ber mist upon a motionless sea, I should have seen countless sails floating up in the offing ; and, in the front of the fleet, an ornamented bark, with a great cross on its flag, a sail marked with a coat of arms of three lions, and on the prow a brazen child holding an arrow and a bow bent to shoot. The chronicler, William of Malmesbury, says the sails of the vessel were crimson. These were kept turned to the wind and aided by oars until finally the keel grated upon the shore; and the multitude of craft that followed, bringing sixty thousand men, ranging eastward and westward for miles on either hand, were beached one after another by their crews in a similar manner. Over their sides instantly sprang a multitude of archers; then of knights; then from the holds of the ships were led the horses, full of mettle from their long confinement, which pranced on the sand and filled the air with their neighing. Lastly, on the ship whose prow bore the brazen child, a tall, strong man approached the of Duke Wilside. His hair and beard were light, his face florid. It had power and decision, bespeaking a character fearless, enterprising, cruel. As he leaped down in his armor from the low vessel
the wet sand, his foot slipped, and he fell forward upon his two hands. The thousands watching him from the decks of the vessels and from the beach sent up at
once a cry of distress; for it was taken as a sign of evil omen. Several of the chroniclers say it was a
. knight standing by who gave a favorable turn to the incident by a sudden explanation; but I like best the account of Wace, in the fine old “Roman de Rou," whose father was a soldier in that host, and had, no doubt, told the whole story to the son. It is that the strong warrior sprang up vigorously, and holding on high his dripping hands full of wet sand : “See, my lords,” he cried, “ by the splendor of God, I have taken possession of England with both my hands. It is now mine, and what is mine is yours.” It was Duke William of Normandy. How he and his followers looked, with their kite-shaped shields, their helmets with the “nasals ” projecting down from the front, their chain-armor, their boots of steel or strips of variegated cloth wound about the leg from knee to ankle, — all this we know from the Bayeux tapestry. What they said and did was rehearsed at length by many a patient monk, and far more picturesquely by the minstrels, who told the tale to the sound of the harp many generations after, to King and
noble. The Saxon King, Harold, was Difficult situ. ation of Har. beset with enemies. He overthrew in the
north a rival claimant, but it was at that very time that the crimson sail came leading the Norman fleet from the southward, when the Saxons, though victorious, were weakened and disorganized. Harold, however, hurried to meet the new enemy, leaving behind, in his impetuosity, all the strength of the northern counties. He made a hasty levy of forces in London and in the south, and came swiftly towards the coast, hoping to take William by surprise.