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Finding the hope vain, he drew up his army a few miles from the shore and waited for the Norman onset.
Turning from the calm sea and the beach which those historic keels had grated, I followed back on William's track to the scene of the engagement. I rode through farms and handsome estates where there was nothing to suggest what filled my own thoughts but the name of the station at which I finally alighted, - Battle. Thence I walked into the High Street of the little town, whose existence dates back even to the great day, when it was called Senlac.
Each receding century had left its wave-mark on the little ridge where ran the principal street. The railroad depot was a wrinkle which to-day had made, and going from thence there were waifs deposited now by one time and now by another. There was a portico on which beaux of George the Fourth's time might have stood in surtouts and high stocks; old thatched roofs, with house-leek green among the weather-beaten mass, that came from a hundred years back; projecting upper stories from Cromwell's day. Close to the church I got glimpses of a lovely vicarage, withdrawn into quiet, whose shadow-dappled front had the elaborate gables and oriel windows above and below that marked it as Elizabethan, and the church itself was partly at least, from the Wars of the Roses. But at the end of the street rose a structure so massive and venerable that it subordinated to itself the whole of the little vil
Battle Abbey. lage. It was two-storied, guarded at the ends by solid turrets, and battlemented at the top. In the centre was a broad, low-arched gate, above which
the front rose sixty feet into a huge square tower. The side of the gateway was sculptured with the heads of Norman kings and queens. Everywhere over the front the weather had eaten into the brown stone, so that it was marked and crow's-footed as an old man's face. There was no decrepitude, however, but the halest old age. I went up to a narrow open door close by the broader portal. I found the masonry was many feet in thickness, and the doorstep firm and serviceable, though deeply grooved by foot-beats. From the dim room beyond, lit by slits in the thick wall, a woman came forward to answer my inquiries. It was the gateway of famous Battle Abbey, built by William to commemorate the victory on the spot where he won it. Following the direction, I turned out of the High Street into a footpath, skirted the enclosure of a park, with a ravine to the right which once was full of wounded Saxons, and came out at last upon more open ground — a ridge of greensward,
with now and then a tree, the ground from which descended to a little brook, then rose again into an answering ridge. The whole was traversed here and there by hedges, there were stacks about farmhouses; sometimes the brown thatch of cottages; to the left, the irregular line of the ruined abbey, with the fresher buildings of a nobleman's seat — all sweet under the subdued light of the autumn afternoon. I stood on the spot occupied by Harold's vanguard, the men of Kent.
I counsel all who make a pilgrimage to Hastings to take as a guide for the battle-field the old “Roman
de Rou," either the translation, or, still better, the original Norman-French, as
The Roman de Rou.
Thierry gives it in an appendix. A little previous study will make it intelligible enough to a reader of ordinary French; and if it is crossed now and then by an obscurity, the fine chivalric picture is hardly injured. It is like the fierce beauty of a knight's face suggesting itself through helmet-bars; and the prompt iambics of the metre strike the ear with a vigorous music, like the rhythmic hoof-beat of a troop ranging for a charge. I could easily trace from point to point the progress of the battle. Right from my position had the handsome King, the idol of his people, run his simple entrenchment, a line of stakes
, a between which osiers were twisted. This marked the front of the position; and about the knoll to the left, a stronger and higher enclosure of the same sort seems to have been made for the protection of the Saxon standard, — the figure of a fighting man embroidered upon a banner and richly set with The two argems and gold. The Norman monk, Or- mies opposed. dericus Vitalis, while condemning Harold as cruel and perjured, shows him in attractive colors. He had a fine mind and ready eloquence, was intrepid and courteous, stalwart in figure, and of great strength. He appears in the Bayeux tapestry in a tunic of iron rings, and probably on the battle day wore his crown upon his helmet, as was the custom of Kings of his race. The banner shone and sparkled above a strong, yellowhaired host, among whose weapons the two-handed axe was conspicuous. Their shields were round, with a boss in the centre. Probably, since the levies came in hastily at the King's call, some wore the ancient picturesque Saxon armor, described by Sir Samuel Meyrick,' heirlooms from warriors who had fought against the Danes, - plates of tough, hard
1 Creasy gives much of it in the “Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World.”
leather overlying one another on a long-skirted tunic, leaf-shaped and stained variously, brown, orange, or scarlet, so that the men must have seemed to have clothed themselves from the October woods that were gorgeous about them. Raising my eyes and glancing across to the opposite slope, I tried to call up a vision of the Norman columns, troops of horsemen in steel, with front and flanks guarded by archers and pikemen in quilted coats or girt about with hides. I thought I could nearly fix the spot where the duke, putting on his hauberk, threw it over his shoulder, the back side in front. Those who stood near were sorely alarmed at the bad omen, as at the landing; but the ready leader changed it in an instant, crying out: “ The hauberk which was turned wrong by me and then set right signifies that a change will take place out of the matter which is now stirring. We shall see the name of duke changed to King." The duke then mounted his Spanish charger and careered before his retinue, who burst forth into impetuous tribute to his strength and prowess.
Down the slope there, at nine o'clock, moved the Norman lines. But the page of battle about to be written in blood was illuminated at its edge with picThe minstrel turesque poetry. The minstrel Taillefer,
having begged the boon of William, suddenly spurred forward to within a few paces of the
a. waiting Saxons, pausing, I conjectured, a few rods down the slope from where I sat. There he sang the
1 Antient Armour, I, p. liiii, introduction.
song of Roland and the peers of Charlemagne, engaging meantime in single combats, until at length he fell under a lance-thrust. Says the “Roman de Rou”:
The battle now began with the utmost fierceness. Over the slopes the trumpets rang, the tramp of the horses resounded hollow on the earth, the shields echoed, struck by swords and maces.
Like swarms of migrating wild fowl, the feathered arrows of the archers sounded through the air, which they darkened by their number. The Normans shouted their war-cry, “God aid us!” The Saxons clamored in return, “Out, out, Holy Cross! God Almighty!” The “ Roman de Rou” is here most pleasantly quaint:
66'Olicrosse, 'sovent crioent; E'Godemite, 'reclamoent; 'Olicrosse, 'est en engleiz Ke Sainte Croix est en franceiz, E'Godemite, 'altretant Com en franceiz Dex tot poissant."