CHAPTER V--HAROLD'S OATH TO WILLIAM--A.D. 1064?
The lord of Normandy and Maine could now stop and reckon his chances of becoming lord of England also. While our authorities enable us to put together a fairly full account of both Norman and English events, they throw no light on the way in which men in either land looked at events in the other. Yet we might give much to know what William and Harold at this time thought of one another. Nothing had as yet happened to make the two great rivals either national or personal enemies. England and Normandy were at peace, and the great duke and the great earl had most likely had no personal dealings with one another. They were rivals in the sense that each looked forward to succeed to the English crown whenever the reigning king should die. But neither had as yet put forward his claim in any shape that the other could look on as any formal wrong to himself. If William and Harold had ever met, it could have been only during Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever negotiations Harold made during that journey were negotiations unfriendly to William; still he may, in the course of that journey, have visited Normandy as well as France or Anjou. It is hard to avoid the thought that the tale of Harold's visit to William, of his oath to William, arose out of something that happened on Harold's way back from his Roman pilgrimage. To that journey we can give an approximate date. Of any other journey we have no date and no certain detail. We can say only that the fact that no English writer makes any mention of any such visit, of any such oath, is, under the circumstances, the strongest proof that the story of the visit and the oath has some kind of foundation. Yet if we grant thus much, the story reads on the whole as if it happened a few years later than the English earl's return from Rome.
It is therefore most likely that Harold did pay a second visit to Gaul, whether a first or a second visit to Normandy, at some time nearer to Edward's death than the year 1058. The English writers are silent; the Norman writers give no date or impossible dates; they connect the visit with a war in Britanny; but that war is without a date. We are driven to choose the year which is least rich in events in the English annals. Harold could not have paid a visit of several months to Normandy either in 1063 or in 1065. Of those years the first was the year of Harold's great war in Wales, when he found how the Britons might be overcome by their own arms, when he broke the power of Gruffydd, and granted the Welsh kingdom to princes who became the men of Earl Harold as well as of King Edward. Harold's visit to Normandy is said to have taken place in the summer and autumn mouths; but the summer and autumn of 1065 were taken up by the building and destruction of Harold's hunting-seat in Wales and by the greater events of the revolt and pacification of Northumberland. But the year 1064 is a blank in the English annals till the last days of December, and no action of Harold's in that year is recorded. It is therefore the only possible year among those just before Edward's death. Harold's visit and oath to William may very well have taken place in that year; but that is all.
We know as little for certain as to the circumstances of the visit or the nature of the oath. We can say only that Harold did something which enabled William to charge him with perjury and breach of the duty of a vassal. It is inconceivable in itself, and unlike the formal scrupulousness of William's character, to fancy that he made his appeal to all Christendom without any ground at all. The Norman writers contradict one another so thoroughly in every detail of the story that we can look on no part of it as trustworthy. Yet such a story can hardly have grown up so near to the alleged time without some kernel of truth in it. And herein comes the strong corroborative witness that the English writers, denying every other charge against Harold, pass this one by without notice. We can hardly doubt that Harold wore some oath to William which he did not keep. More than this it would be rash to say except as an avowed guess.
As our nearest approach to fixing the date is to take that year which is not impossible, so, to fix the occasion of the visit, we can only take that one among the Norman versions which is also not impossible. All the main versions represent Harold as wrecked on the coast of Ponthieu, as imprisoned, according to the barbarous law of wreck, by Count Guy, and as delivered by the intervention of William. If any part of the story is true, this is. But as to the circumstances which led to the shipwreck there is no agreement. Harold assuredly was not sent to announce to William a devise of the crown in his favour made with the consent of the Witan of England and confirmed by the oaths of Stigand, Godwine, Siward, and Leofric. Stigand became Archbishop in September 1052: Godwine died at Easter 1053. The devise must therefore have taken place, and Harold's journey must have taken place, within those few most unlikely months, the very time when Norman influence was overthrown. Another version makes Harold go, against the King's warnings, to bring back his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, who had been given as hostages on the return of Godwine, and had been entrusted by the King to the keeping of Duke William. This version is one degree less absurd; but no such hostages are known to have been given, and if they were, the patriotic party, in the full swing of triumph, would hardly have allowed them to be sent to Normandy. A third version makes Harold's presence the result of mere accident. He is sailing to Wales or Flanders, or simply taking his pleasure in the Channel, when he is cast by a storm on the coast of Ponthieu. Of these three accounts we may choose the third as the only one that is possible. It is also one out of which the others may have grown, while it is hard to see how the third could have arisen out of either of the others. Harold then, we may suppose, fell accidentally into the clutches of Guy, and was rescued from them, at some cost in ransom and in grants of land, by Guy's overlord Duke William.
The whole story is eminently characteristic of William. He would be honestly indignant at Guy's base treatment of Harold, and he would feel it his part as Guy's overlord to redress the wrong. But he would also be alive to the advantage of getting his rival into his power on so honourable a pretext. Simply to establish a claim to gratitude on the part of Harold would be something. But he might easily do more, and, according to all accounts, he did more. Harold, we are told, as the Duke's friend and guest, returns the obligation under which the Duke has laid him by joining him in one or more expeditions against the Bretons. The man who had just smitten the Bret-Welsh of the island might well be asked to fight, and might well be ready to fight, against the Bret-Welsh of the mainland. The services of Harold won him high honour; he was admitted into the ranks of Norman knighthood, and engaged to marry one of William's daughters. Now, at any time to which we can fix Harold's visit, all William's daughters must have been mere children. Harold, on the other hand, seems to have been a little older than William. Yet there is nothing unlikely in the engagement, and it is the one point in which all the different versions, contradicting each other on every other point, agree without exception. Whatever else Harold promises, he promises this, and in some versions he does not promise anything else.
Here then we surely have the kernel of truth round which a mass of fable, varying in different reports, has gathered. On no other point is there any agreement. The place is unfixed; half a dozen Norman towns and castles are made the scene of the oath. The form of the oath is unfixed; in some accounts it is the ordinary oath of homage; in others it is an oath of fearful solemnity, taken on the holiest relics. In one well-known account, Harold is even made to swear on hidden relics, not knowing on what he is swearing. Here is matter for much thought. To hold that one form of oath or promise is more binding than another upsets all true confidence between man and man. The notion of the specially binding nature of the oath by relies assumes that, in case of breach of the oath, every holy person to whose relies despite has been done will become the personal enemy of the perjurer. But the last story of all is the most instructive. William's formal, and more than formal, religion abhorred a false oath, in himself or in another man. But, so long as he keeps himself personally clear from the guilt, he does not scruple to put another man under special temptation, and, while believing in the power of the holy relics, he does not scruple to abuse them to a purpose of fraud. Surely, if Harold did break his oath, the wrath of the saints would fall more justly on William. Whether the tale be true or false, it equally illustrates the feelings of the time, and assuredly its truth or falsehood concerns the character of William far more than that of Harold.
What it was that Harold swore, whether in this specially solemn fashion or in any other, is left equally uncertain. In any case he engages to marry a daughter of William--as to which daughter the statements are endless--and in most versions he engages to do something more. He becomes the man of William, much as William had become the man of Edward. He promises to give his sister in marriage to an unnamed Norman baron. Moreover he promises to secure the kingdom of England for William at Edward's death. Perhaps he is himself to hold the kingdom or part of it under William; in any case William is to be the overlord; in the more usual story, William is to be himself the immediate king, with Harold as his highest and most favoured subject. Meanwhile Harold is to act in William's interest, to receive a Norman garrison in Dover castle, and to build other castles at other points. But no two stories agree, and not a few know nothing of anything beyond the promise of marriage.
Now if William really required Harold to swear to all these things, it must have been simply in order to have an occasion against him. If Harold really swore to all of them, it must have been simply because he felt that he was practically in William's power, without any serious intention of keeping the oath. If Harold took any such oath, he undoubtedly broke it; but we may safely say that any guilt on his part lay wholly in taking the oath, not in breaking it. For he swore to do what he could not do, and what it would have been a crime to do, if he could. If the King himself could not dispose of the crown, still less could the most powerful subject. Harold could at most promise William his "vote and interest," whenever the election came. But no one can believe that even Harold's influence could have obtained the crown for William. His influence lay in his being the embodiment of the national feeling; for him to appear as the supporter of William would have been to lose the crown for himself without gaining it for William. Others in England and in Scandinavia would have been glad of it. And the engagements to surrender Dover castle and the like were simply engagements on the part of an English earl to play the traitor against England. If William really called on Harold to swear to all this, he did so, not with any hope that the oath would be kept, but simply to put his competitor as far as possible in the wrong. But most likely Harold swore only to something much simpler. Next to the universal agreement about the marriage comes the very general agreement that Harold became William's man. In these two statements we have probably the whole truth. In those days men took the obligation of homage upon themselves very easily. Homage was no degradation, even in the highest; a man often did homage to any one from whom he had received any great benefit, and Harold had received a very great benefit from William. Nor did homage to a new lord imply treason to the old one. Harold, delivered by William from Guy's dungeon, would be eager to do for William any act of friendship. The homage would be little more than binding himself in the strongest form so to do. The relation of homage could be made to mean anything or nothing, as might be convenient. The man might often understand it in one sense and the lord in another. If Harold became the man of William, he would look on the act as little more than an expression of good will and gratitude towards his benefactor, his future father-in-law, his commander in the Breton war. He would not look on it as forbidding him to accept the English crown if it were offered to him. Harold, the man of Duke William, might become a king, if he could, just as William, the man of King Philip, might become a king, if he could. As things went in those days, both the homage and the promise of marriage were capable of being looked on very lightly.
But it was not in the temper or in the circumstances of William to put any such easy meaning on either promise. The oath might, if needful, be construed very strictly, and William was disposed to construe it very strictly. Harold had not promised William a crown, which was not his to promise; but he had promised to do that which might be held to forbid him to take a crown which William held to be his own. If the man owed his lord any duty at all, it was surely his duty not to thwart his lord's wishes in such a matter. If therefore, when the vacancy of the throne came, Harold took the crown himself, or even failed to promote William's claim to it, William might argue that he had not rightly discharged the duty of a man to his lord. He could make an appeal to the world against the new king, as a perjured man, who had failed to help his lord in the matter where his lord most needed his help. And, if the oath really had been taken on relics of special holiness, he could further appeal to the religious feelings of the time against the man who had done despite to the saints. If he should be driven to claim the crown by arms, he could give the war the character of a crusade. All this in the end William did, and all this, we may be sure, he looked forward to doing, when he caused Harold to become his man. The mere obligation of homage would, in the skilful hands of William and Lanfranc, be quite enough to work on men's minds, as William wished to work on them. To Harold meanwhile and to those in England who heard the story, the engagement would not seem to carry any of these consequences. The mere homage then, which Harold could hardly refuse, would answer William's purpose nearly as well as any of these fuller obligations which Harold would surely have refused. And when a man older than William engaged to marry William's child- daughter, we must bear in mind the lightness with which such promises were made. William could not seriously expect that this engagement would be kept, if anything should lead Harold to another marriage. The promise was meant simply to add another count to the charges against Harold when the time should come. Yet on this point it is not clear that the oath was broken. Harold undoubtedly married Ealdgyth, daughter of AElfgar and widow of Gruffydd, and not any daughter of William. But in one version Harold is made to say that the daughter of William whom he had engaged to marry was dead. And that one of William's daughters did die very early there seems little doubt.
Whatever William did Lanfranc no doubt at least helped to plan. The Norman duke was subtle, but the Italian churchman was subtler still. In this long series of schemes and negotiations which led to the conquest of England, we are dealing with two of the greatest recorded masters of statecraft. We may call their policy dishonest and immoral, and so it was. But it was hardly more dishonest and immoral than most of the diplomacy of later times. William's object was, without any formal breach of faith on his own part, to entrap Harold into an engagement which might be understood in different senses, and which, in the sense which William chose to put upon it, Harold was sure to break. Two men, themselves of virtuous life, a rigid churchman and a layman of unusual religious strictness, do not scruple to throw temptation in the way of a fellow man in the hope that he will yield to that temptation. They exact a promise, because the promise is likely to be broken, and because its breach would suit their purposes. Through all William's policy a strong regard for formal right as he chose to understand formal right, is not only found in company with much practical wrong, but is made the direct instrument of carrying out that wrong. Never was trap more cunningly laid than that in which William now entangled Harold. Never was greater wrong done without the breach of any formal precept of right. William and Lanfranc broke no oath themselves, and that was enough for them. But it was no sin in their eyes to beguile another into engagements which he would understand in one way and they in another; they even, as their admirers tell the story, beguile him into engagements at once unlawful and impossible, because their interests would be promoted by his breach of those engagements. William, in short, under the spiritual guidance of Lanfranc, made Harold swear because he himself would gain by being able to denounce Harold as perjured.
The moral question need not be further discussed; but we should greatly like to know how far the fact of Harold's oath, whatever its nature, was known in England? On this point we have no trustworthy authority. The English writers say nothing about the whole matter; to the Norman writers this point was of no interest. No one mentions this point, except Harold's romantic biographer at the beginning of the thirteenth century. His statements are of no value, except as showing how long Harold's memory was cherished. According to him, Harold formally laid the matter before the Witan, and they unanimously voted that the oath--more, in his version, than a mere oath of homage--was not binding. It is not likely that such a vote was ever formally passed, but its terms would only express what every Englishman would feel. The oath, whatever its terms, had given William a great advantage; but every Englishman would argue both that the oath, whatever its terms, could not hinder the English nation from offering Harold the crown, and that it could not bind Harold to refuse the crown if it should be so offered.
CHAPTER VI--THE NEGOTIATIONS OF DUKE WILLIAM--JANUARY-OCTOBER 1066
If the time that has been suggested was the real time of Harold's oath to William, its fulfilment became a practical question in little more than a year. How the year 1065 passed in Normandy we have no record; in England its later months saw the revolt of Northumberland against Harold's brother Tostig, and the reconciliation which Harold made between the revolters and the king to the damage of his brother's interests. Then came Edward's sickness, of which he died on January 5, 1066. He had on his deathbed recommended Harold to the assembled Witan as his successor in the kingdom. The candidate was at once elected. Whether William, Edgar, or any other, was spoken of we know not; but as to the recommendation of Edward and the consequent election of Harold the English writers are express. The next day Edward was buried, and Harold was crowned in regular form by Ealdred Archbishop of York in Edward's new church at Westminster. Northumberland refused to acknowledge him; but the malcontents were won over by the coming of the king and his friend Saint Wulfstan Bishop of Worcester. It was most likely now, as a seal of this reconciliation, that Harold married Ealdgyth, the sister of the two northern earls Edwin and Morkere, and the widow of the Welsh king Gruffydd. He doubtless hoped in this way to win the loyalty of the earls and their followers.
The accession of Harold was perfectly regular according to English law. In later times endless fables arose; but the Norman writers of the time do not deny the facts of the recommendation, election, and coronation. They slur them over, or, while admitting the mere facts, they represent each act as in some way invalid. No writer near the time asserts a deathbed nomination of William; they speak only of a nomination at some earlier time. But some Norman writers represent Harold as crowned by Stigand Archbishop of Canterbury. This was not, in the ideas of those times, a trifling question. A coronation was then not a mere pageant; it was the actual admission to the kingly office. Till his crowning and anointing, the claimant of the crown was like a bishop-elect before his consecration. He had, by birth or election, the sole right to become king; it was the coronation that made him king. And as the ceremony took the form of an ecclesiastical sacrament, its validity might seem to depend on the lawful position of the officiating bishop. In England to perform that ceremony was the right and duty of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but the canonical position of Stigand was doubtful. He had been appointed on the flight of Robert; he had received the PALLIUM, the badge of arch-episcopal rank, only from the usurping Benedict the Tenth. It was therefore good policy in Harold to be crowned by Ealdred, to whose position there was no objection. This is the only difference of fact between the English and Norman versions at this stage. And the difference is easily explained. At William's coronation the king walked to the altar between the two archbishops, but it was Ealdred who actually performed the ceremony. Harold's coronation doubtless followed the same order. But if Stigand took any part in that coronation, it was easy to give out that he took that special part on which the validity of the rite depended.
Still, if Harold's accession was perfectly lawful, it was none the less strange and unusual. Except the Danish kings chosen under more or less of compulsion, he was the first king who did not belong to the West-Saxon kingly house. Such a choice could be justified only on the ground that that house contained no qualified candidate. Its only known members were the children of the AEtheling Edward, young Edgar and his sisters. Now Edgar would certainly have been passed by in favour of any better qualified member of the kingly house, as his father had been passed by in favour of King Edward. And the same principle would, as things stood, justify passing him by in favour of a qualified candidate not of the kingly house. But Edgar's right to the crown is never spoken of till a generation or two later, when the doctrines of hereditary right had gained much greater strength, and when Henry the Second, great-grandson through his mother of Edgar's sister Margaret, insisted on his descent from the old kings. This distinction is important, because Harold is often called an usurper, as keeping out Edgar the heir by birth. But those who called him an usurper at the time called him so as keeping out William the heir by bequest. William's own election was out of the question. He was no more of the English kingly house than Harold; he was a foreigner and an utter stranger. Had Englishmen been minded to choose a foreigner, they doubtless would have chosen Swegen of Denmark. He had found supporters when Edward was chosen; he was afterwards appealed to to deliver England from William. He was no more of the English kingly house than Harold or William; but he was grandson of a man who had reigned over England, Northumberland might have preferred him to Harold; any part of England would have preferred him to William. In fact any choice that could have been made must have had something strange about it. Edgar himself, the one surviving male of the old stock, besides his youth, was neither born in the land nor the son of a crowned king. Those two qualifications had always been deemed of great moment; an elaborate pedigree went for little; actual royal birth went for a great deal. There was now no son of a king to choose. Had there been even a child who was at once a son of Edward and a sister's son of Harold, he might have reigned with his uncle as his guardian and counsellor. As it was, there was nothing to do but to choose the man who, though not of kingly blood, had ruled England well for thirteen years.
The case thus put seemed plain to every Englishman, at all events to every man in Wessex, East-Anglia, and southern Mercia. But it would not seem so plain in OTHER lands. To the greater part of Western Europe William's claim might really seem the better. William himself doubtless thought his own claim the better; he deluded himself as he deluded others. But we are more concerned with William as a statesman; and if it be statesmanship to adapt means to ends, whatever the ends may be, if it be statesmanship to make men believe that the worse cause is the better, then no man ever showed higher statesmanship than William showed in his great pleading before all Western Christendom. It is a sign of the times that it was a pleading before all Western Christendom. Others had claimed crowns; none had taken such pains to convince all mankind that the claim was a good one. Such an appeal to public opinion marks on one side a great advance. It was a great step towards the ideas of International Law and even of European concert. It showed that the days of mere force were over, that the days of subtle diplomacy had begun. Possibly the change was not without its dark side; it may be doubted whether a change from force to fraud is wholly a gain. Still it was an appeal from the mere argument of the sword to something which at least professed to be right and reason. William does not draw the sword till he has convinced himself and everybody else that he is drawing it in a just cause. In that age the appeal naturally took a religious shape. Herein lay its immediate strength; herein lay its weakness as regarded the times to come. William appealed to Emperor, kings, princes, Christian men great and small, in every Christian land. He would persuade all; he would ask help of all. But above all he appealed to the head of Christendom, the Bishop of Rome. William in his own person could afford to do so; where he reigned, in Normandy or in England, there was no fear of Roman encroachments; he was fully minded to be in all causes and over all persons within his dominions supreme. While he lived, no Pope ventured to dispute his right. But by acknowledging the right of the Pope to dispose of crowns, or at least to judge as to the right to crowns, he prepared many days of humiliation for kings in general and specially for his own successors. One man in Western Europe could see further than William, perhaps even further than Lanfranc. The chief counsellor of Pope Alexander the Second was the Archdeacon Hildebrand, the future Gregory the Seventh. If William outwitted the world, Hildebrand outwitted William. William's appeal to the Pope to decide between two claimants for the English crown strengthened Gregory not a little in his daring claim to dispose of the crowns of Rome, of Italy, and of Germany. Still this recognition of Roman claims led more directly to the humiliation of William's successor in his own kingdom. Moreover William's successful attempt to represent his enterprise as a holy war, a crusade before crusades were heard of, did much to suggest and to make ready the way for the real crusades a generation later. It was not till after William's death that Urban preached the crusade, but it was during William's life that Gregory planned it.
The appeal was strangely successful. William convinced, or seemed to convince, all men out of England and Scandinavia that his claim to the English crown was just and holy, and that it was a good work to help him to assert it in arms. He persuaded his own subjects; he certainly did not constrain them. He persuaded some foreign princes to give him actual help, some to join his muster in person; he persuaded all to help him so far as not to hinder their subjects from joining him as volunteers. And all this was done by sheer persuasion, by argument good or bad. In adapting of means to ends, in applying to each class of men that kind of argument which best suited it, the diplomacy, the statesmanship, of William was perfect. Again we ask, How far was it the statesmanship of William, how far of Lanfranc? But a prince need not do everything with his own hands and say everything with his own tongue. It was no small part of the statesmanship of William to find out Lanfranc, to appreciate him and to trust him. And when two subtle brains were at work, more could be done by the two working in partnership than by either working alone.
By what arguments did the Duke of the Normans and the Prior of Bec convince mankind that the worse cause was the better? We must always remember the transitional character of the age. England was in political matters in advance of other Western lands; that is, it lagged behind other Western lands. It had not gone so far on the downward course. It kept far more than Gaul or even Germany of the old Teutonic institutions, the substance of which later ages have won back under new shapes. Many things were understood in England which are now again understood everywhere, but which were no longer understood in France or in the lands held of the French crown. The popular election of kings comes foremost. Hugh Capet was an elective king as much as Harold; but the French kings had made their crown the most strictly hereditary of all crowns. They avoided any interregnum by having their sons crowned in their lifetime. So with the great fiefs of the crown. The notion of kingship as an office conferred by the nation, of a duchy or county as an office held under the king, was still fully alive in England; in Gaul it was forgotten. Kingdom, duchies, counties, had all become possessions instead of offices, possessions passing by hereditary succession of some kind. But no rule of hereditary succession was universally or generally accepted. To this day the kingdoms of Europe differ as to the question of female succession, and it is but slowly that the doctrine of representation has ousted the more obvious doctrine of nearness of kin. All these points were then utterly unsettled; crowns, save of course that of the Empire, were to pass by hereditary right; only what was hereditary right? At such a time claims would be pressed which would have seemed absurd either earlier or later. To Englishmen, if it seemed strange to elect one who was not of the stock of Cerdic, it seemed much more strange to be called on to accept without election, or to elect as a matter of course, one who was not of the stock of Cerdic and who was a stranger into the bargain. Out of England it would not seem strange when William set forth that Edward, having no direct heirs, had chosen his near kinsman William as his successor. Put by itself, that statement had a plausible sound. The transmission of a crown by bequest belongs to the same range of ideas as its transmission by hereditary right; both assume the crown to be a property and not an office. Edward's nomination of Harold, the election of Harold, the fact that William's kindred to Edward lay outside the royal line of England, the fact that there was, in the person of Edgar, a nearer kinsman within that royal line, could all be slurred over or explained away or even turned to William's profit. Let it be that Edward on his death-bed had recommended Harold, and that the Witan had elected Harold. The recommendation was wrung from a dying man in opposition to an earlier act done when he was able to act freely. The election was brought about by force or fraud; if it was free, it was of no force against William's earlier claim of kindred and bequest. As for Edgar, as few people in England thought of him, still fewer out of England would have ever heard of him. It is more strange that the bastardy of William did not tell against him, as it had once told in his own duchy. But this fact again marks the transitional age. Altogether the tale that a man who was no kinsman of the late king had taken to himself the crown which the king had bequeathed to a kinsman, might, even without further aggravation, be easily made to sound like a tale of wrong.
But the case gained tenfold strength when William added that the doer of the wrong was of all men the one most specially bound not to do it. The usurper was in any case William's man, bound to act in all things for his lord. Perhaps he was more; perhaps he had directly sworn to receive William as king. Perhaps he had promised all this with an oath of special solemnity. It would be easy to enlarge on all these further counts as making up an amount of guilt which William not only had the right to chastise, but which he would be lacking in duty if he failed to chastise. He had to punish the perjurer, to avenge the wrongs of the saints. Surely all who should help him in so doing would be helping in a righteous work.
The answer to all this was obvious. Putting the case at the very worst, assuming that Harold had sworn all that he is ever said to have sworn, assuming that he swore it in the most solemn way in which he is ever said to have sworn it, William's claim was not thereby made one whit better. Whatever Harold's own guilt might be, the people of England had no share in it. Nothing that Harold had done could bar their right to choose their king freely. Even if Harold declined the crown, that would not bind the electors to choose William. But when the notion of choosing kings had begun to sound strange, all this would go for nothing. There would be no need even to urge that in any case the wrong done by Harold to William gave William a CASUS BELLI against Harold, and that William, if victorious, might claim the crown of England, as a possession of Harold's, by right of conquest. In fact William never claimed the crown by conquest, as conquest is commonly understood. He always represented himself as the lawful heir, unhappily driven to use force to obtain his rights. The other pleas were quite enough to satisfy most men out of England and Scandinavia. William's work was to claim the crown of which he was unjustly deprived, and withal to deal out a righteous chastisement on the unrighteous and ungodly man by whom he had been deprived of it.
In the hands of diplomatists like William and Lanfranc, all these arguments, none of which had in itself the slightest strength, were enough to turn the great mass of continental opinion in William's favour. But he could add further arguments specially adapted to different classes of minds. He could hold out the prospect of plunder, the prospect of lands and honours in a land whose wealth was already proverbial. It might of course be answered that the enterprise against England was hazardous and its success unlikely. But in such matters, men listen rather to their hopes than to their fears. To the Normans it would be easy, not only to make out a case against Harold, but to rake up old grudges against the English nation. Under Harold the son of Cnut, Alfred, a prince half Norman by birth, wholly Norman by education, the brother of the late king, the lawful heir to the crown, had been betrayed and murdered by somebody. A widespread belief laid the deed to the charge of the father of the new king. This story might easily be made a ground of national complaint by Normandy against England, and it was easy to infer that Harold had some share in the alleged crime of Godwine. It was easy to dwell on later events, on the driving of so many Normans out of England, with Archbishop Robert at their head. Nay, not only had the lawful primate been driven out, but an usurper had been set in his place, and this usurping archbishop had been made to bestow a mockery of consecration on the usurping king. The proposed aggression on England was even represented as a missionary work, undertaken for the good of the souls of the benighted islanders. For, though the English were undoubtedly devout after their own fashion, there was much in the ecclesiastical state of England which displeased strict churchmen beyond sea, much that William, when he had the power, deemed it his duty to reform. The insular position of England naturally parted it in many things from the usages and feelings of the mainland, and it was not hard to get up a feeling against the nation as well as against its king. All this could not really strengthen William's claim; but it made men look more favourably on his enterprise.
The fact that the Witan were actually in session at Edward's death had made it possible to carry out Harold's election and coronation with extreme speed. The electors had made their choice before William had any opportunity of formally laying his claim before them. This was really an advantage to him; he could the better represent the election and coronation as invalid. His first step was of course to send an embassy to Harold to call on him even now to fulfil his oath. The accounts of this embassy, of which we have no English account, differ as much as the different accounts of the oath. Each version of course makes William demand and Harold refuse whatever it had made Harold swear. These demands and refusals range from the resignation of the kingdom to a marriage with William's daughter. And it is hard to separate this embassy from later messages between the rivals. In all William demands, Harold refuses; the arguments on each side are likely to be genuine. Harold is called on to give up the crown to William, to hold it of William, to hold part of the kingdom of William, to submit the question to the judgement of the Pope, lastly, if he will do nothing else, at least to marry William's daughter. Different writers place these demands at different times, immediately after Harold's election or immediately before the battle. The last challenge to a single combat between Harold and William of course appears only on the eve of the battle. Now none of these accounts come from contemporary partisans of Harold; every one is touched by hostile feeling towards him. Thus the constitutional language that is put into his mouth, almost startling from its modern sound, has greater value. A King of the English can do nothing without the consent of his Witan. They gave him the kingdom; without their consent, he cannot resign it or dismember it or agree to hold it of any man; without their consent, he cannot even marry a foreign wife. Or he answers that the daughter of William whom he promised to marry is dead, and that the sister whom he promised to give to a Norman is dead also. Harold does not deny the fact of his oath--whatever its nature; he justifies its breach because it was taken against is will, and because it was in itself of no strength, as binding him to do impossible things. He does not deny Edward's earlier promise to William; but, as a testament is of no force while the testator liveth, he argues that it is cancelled by Edward's later nomination of himself. In truth there is hardly any difference between the disputants as to matters of fact. One side admits at least a plighting of homage on the part of Harold; the other side admits Harold's nomination and election. The real difference is as to the legal effect of either. Herein comes William's policy. The question was one of English law and of nothing else, a matter for the Witan of England and for no other judges. William, by ingeniously mixing all kinds of irrelevant issues, contrived to remove the dispute from the region of municipal into that of international law, a law whose chief representative was the Bishop of Rome. By winning the Pope to his side, William could give his aggression the air of a religious war; but in so doing, he unwittingly undermined the throne that he was seeking and the thrones of all other princes.
The answers which Harold either made, or which writers of his time thought that he ought to have made, are of the greatest moment in our constitutional history. The King is the doer of everything; but he can do nothing of moment without the consent of his Witan. They can say Yea or Nay to every proposal of the King. An energetic and popular king would get no answer but Yea to whatever he chose to ask. A king who often got the answer of Nay, Nay, was in great danger of losing his kingdom. The statesmanship of William knew how to turn this constitutional system, without making any change in the letter, into a despotism like that of Constantinople or Cordova. But the letter lived, to come to light again on occasion. The Revolution of 1399 was a falling back on the doctrines of 1066, and the Revolution of 1688 was a falling back on the doctrines of 1399. The principle at all three periods is that the power of the King is strictly limited by law, but that, within the limits which the law sets to his power, he acts according to his own discretion. King and Witan stand out as distinct powers, each of which needs the assent of the other to its acts, and which may always refuse that assent. The political work of the last two hundred years has been to hinder these direct collisions between King and Parliament by the ingenious conventional device of a body of men who shall be in name the ministers of the Crown, but in truth the ministers of one House of Parliament. We do not understand our own political history, still less can we understand the position and the statesmanship of the Conqueror, unless we fully take in what the English constitution in the eleventh century really was, how very modern-sounding are some of its doctrines, some of its forms. Statesmen of our own day might do well to study the meagre records of the Gemot of 1047. There is the earliest recorded instance of a debate on a question of foreign policy. Earl Godwine proposes to give help to Denmark, then at war with Norway. He is outvoted on the motion of Earl Leofric, the man of moderate politics, who appears as leader of the party of non-intervention. It may be that in some things we have not always advanced in the space of eight hundred years.
The negotiations of William with his own subjects, with foreign powers, and with the Pope, are hard to arrange in order. Several negotiations were doubtless going on at the same time. The embassy to Harold would of course come first of all. Till his demand had been made and refused, William could make no appeal elsewhere. We know not whether the embassy was sent before or after Harold's journey to Northumberland, before or after his marriage with Ealdgyth. If Harold was already married, the demand that he should marry William's daughter could have been meant only in mockery. Indeed, the whole embassy was so far meant in mockery that it was sent without any expectation that its demands would be listened to. It was sent to put Harold, from William's point of view, more thoroughly in the wrong, and to strengthen William's case against him. It would therefore be sent at the first moment; the only statement, from a very poor authority certainly, makes the embassy come on the tenth day after Edward's death. Next after the embassy would come William's appeal to his own subjects, though Lanfranc might well be pleading at Rome while William was pleading at Lillebonne. The Duke first consulted a select company, who promised their own services, but declined to pledge any one else. It was held that no Norman was bound to follow the Duke in an attempt to win for himself a crown beyond the sea. But voluntary help was soon ready. A meeting of the whole baronage of Normandy was held at Lillebonne. The assembly declined any obligation which could be turned into a precedent, and passed no general vote at all. But the barons were won over one by one, and each promised help in men and ships according to his means.
William had thus, with some difficulty, gained the support of his own subjects; but when he had once gained it, it was a zealous support. And as the flame spread from one part of Europe to another, the zeal of Normandy would wax keener and keener. The dealings of William with foreign powers are told us in a confused, piecemeal, and sometimes contradictory way. We hear that embassies went to the young King Henry of Germany, son of the great Emperor, the friend of England, and also to Swegen of Denmark. The Norman story runs that both princes promised William their active support. Yet Swegen, the near kinsman of Harold, was a friend of England, and the same writer who puts this promise into his mouth makes him send troops to help his English cousin. Young Henry or his advisers could have no motive for helping William; but subjects of the Empire were at least not hindered from joining his banner. To the French king William perhaps offered the bait of holding the crown of England of him; but Philip is said to have discouraged William's enterprise as much as he could. Still he did not hinder French subjects from taking a part in it. Of the princes who held of the French crown, Eustace of Boulogne, who joined the muster in person, and Guy of Ponthieu, William's own vassal, who sent his son, seem to have been the only ones who did more than allow the levying of volunteers in their dominions. A strange tale is told that Conan of Britanny took this moment for bringing up his own forgotten pretensions to the Norman duchy. If William was going to win England, let him give up Normandy to him. He presently, the tale goes, died of a strange form of poisoning, in which it is implied that William had a hand. This is the story of Walter and Biota over again. It is perhaps enough to say that the Breton writers know nothing of the tale.
But the great negotiation of all was with the Papal court. We might have thought that the envoy would be Lanfranc, so well skilled in Roman ways; but William perhaps needed him as a constant adviser by his own person. Gilbert, Archdeacon of Lisieux, was sent to Pope Alexander. No application could better suit papal interests than the one that was now made; but there were some moral difficulties. Not a few of the cardinals, Hildebrand tells us himself, argued, not without strong language towards Hildebrand, that the Church had nothing to do with such matters, and that it was sinful to encourage a claim which could not be enforced without bloodshed. But with many, with Hildebrand among them, the notion of the Church as a party or a power came before all thoughts of its higher duties. One side was carefully heard; the other seems not to have been heard at all. We hear of no summons to Harold, and the King of the English could not have pleaded at the Pope's bar without acknowledging that his case was at least doubtful. The judgement of Alexander or of Hildebrand was given for William. Harold was declared to be an usurper, perhaps declared excommunicated. The right to the English crown was declared to be in the Duke of the Normans, and William was solemnly blessed in the enterprise in which he was at once to win his own rights, to chastise the wrong-doer, to reform the spiritual state of the misguided islanders, to teach them fuller obedience to the Roman See and more regular payment of its temporal dues. William gained his immediate point; but his successors on the English throne paid the penalty. Hildebrand gained his point for ever, or for as long a time as men might be willing to accept the Bishop of Rome as a judge in any matters. The precedent by which Hildebrand, under another name, took on him to dispose of a higher crown than that of England was now fully established.
As an outward sign of papal favour, William received a consecrated banner and a ring containing a hair of Saint Peter. Here was something for men to fight for. The war was now a holy one. All who were ready to promote their souls' health by slaughter and plunder might flock to William's standard, to the standard of Saint Peter. Men came from most French-speaking lands, the Normans of Apulia and Sicily being of course not slow to take up the quarrel of their kinsfolk. But, next to his own Normandy, the lands which sent most help were Flanders, the land of Matilda, and Britanny, where the name of the Saxon might still be hateful. We must never forget that the host of William, the men who won England, the men who settled in England, were not an exclusively Norman body. Not Norman, but FRENCH, is the name most commonly opposed to ENGLISH, as the name of the conquering people. Each Norman severally would have scorned that name for himself personally; but it was the only name that could mark the whole of which he and his countrymen formed a part. Yet, if the Normans were but a part, they were the greatest and the noblest part; their presence alone redeemed the enterprise from being a simple enterprise of brigandage. The Norman Conquest was after all a Norman Conquest; men of other lands were merely helpers. So far as it was not Norman, it was Italian; the subtle wit of Lombard Lanfranc and Tuscan Hildebrand did as much to overthrow us as the lance and bow of Normandy.
CHAPTER VII--WILLIAM'S INVASION OF ENGLAND--AUGUST-DECEMBER 1066
The statesmanship of William had triumphed. The people of England had chosen their king, and a large part of the world had been won over by the arts of a foreign prince to believe that it was a righteous and holy work to set him on the throne to which the English people had chosen the foremost man among themselves. No diplomatic success was ever more thorough. Unluckily we know nothing of the state of feeling in England while William was plotting and pleading beyond the sea. Nor do we know how much men in England knew of what was going on in other lands, or what they thought when they heard of it. We know only that, after Harold had won over Northumberland, he came back and held the Easter Gemot at Westminster. Then in the words of the Chronicler, "it was known to him that William Bastard, King Edward's kinsman, would come hither and win this land." This is all that our own writers tell us about William Bastard, between his peaceful visit to England in 1052 and his warlike visit in 1066. But we know that King Harold did all that man could do to defeat his purposes, and that he was therein loyally supported by the great mass of the English nation, we may safely say by all, save his two brothers-in-law and so many as they could influence.
William's doings we know more fully. The military events of this wonderful year there is no need to tell in detail. But we see that William's generalship was equal to his statesmanship, and that it was met by equal generalship on the side of Harold. Moreover, the luck of William is as clear as either his statesmanship or his generalship. When Harold was crowned on the day of the Epiphany, he must have felt sure that he would have to withstand an invasion of England before the year was out. But it could not have come into the mind of Harold, William, or Lanfranc, or any other man, that he would have to withstand two invasions of England at the same moment.
It was the invasion of Harold of Norway, at the same time as the invasion of William, which decided the fate of England. The issue of the struggle might have gone against England, had she had to strive against one enemy only; as it was, it was the attack made by two enemies at once which divided her strength, and enabled the Normans to land without resistance. The two invasions came as nearly as possible at the same moment. Harold Hardrada can hardly have reached the Yorkshire coast before September; the battle of Fulford was fought on September 20th and that of Stamfordbridge on September 25th. William landed on September 28th, and the battle of Senlac was fought on October 14th. Moreover William's fleet was ready by August 12th; his delay in crossing was owing to his waiting for a favourable wind. When William landed, the event of the struggle in the North could not have been known in Sussex. He might have had to strive, not with Harold of England, but with Harold of Norway as his conqueror.
At what time of the year Harold Hardrada first planned his invasion of England is quite uncertain. We can say nothing of his doings till he is actually afloat. And with the three mighty forms of William and the two Harolds on the scene, there is something at once grotesque and perplexing in the way in which an English traitor flits about among them. The banished Tostig, deprived of his earldom in the autumn of 1065, had then taken refuge in Flanders. He now plays a busy part, the details of which are lost in contradictory accounts. But it is certain that in May 1066 he made an ineffectual attack on England. And this attack was most likely made with the connivance of William. It suited William to use Tostig as an instrument, and to encourage so restless a spirit in annoying the common enemy. It is also certain that Tostig was with the Norwegian fleet in September, and that he died at Stamford bridge. We know also that he was in Scotland between May and September. It is therefore hard to believe that Tostig had so great a hand in stirring up Harold Hardrada to his expedition as the Norwegian story makes out. Most likely Tostig simply joined the expedition which Harold Hardrada independently planned. One thing is certain, that, when Harold of England was attacked by two enemies at once, it was not by two enemies acting in concert. The interests of William and of Harold of Norway were as much opposed to one another as either of them was to the interests of Harold of England.
One great difficulty beset Harold and William alike. Either in Normandy or in England it was easy to get together an army ready to fight a battle; it was not easy to keep a large body of men under arms for any long time without fighting. It was still harder to keep them at once without fighting and without plundering. What William had done in this way in two invasions of Normandy, he was now called on to do on a greater scale. His great and motley army was kept during a great part of August and September, first at the Dive, then at Saint Valery, waiting for the wind that was to take it to England. And it was kept without doing any serious damage to the lands where they were encamped. In a holy war, this time was of course largely spent in appeals to the religious feelings of the army. Then came the wonderful luck of William, which enabled him to cross at the particular moment when he did cross. A little earlier or later, he would have found his landing stoutly disputed; as it was, he landed without resistance. Harold of England, not being able, in his own words, to be everywhere at once, had done what he could. He and his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine undertook the defence of southern England against the Norman; the earls of the North, his brothers-in-law Edwin and Morkere, were to defend their own land against the Norwegians. His own preparations were looked on with wonder. To guard the long line of coast against the invader, he got together such a force both by sea and land as no king had ever got together before, and he kept it together for a longer time than William did, through four months of inaction, save perhaps some small encounters by sea. At last, early in September, provisions failed; men were no doubt clamouring to go back for the harvest, and the great host had to be disbanded. Could William have sailed as soon as his fleet was ready, he would have found southern England thoroughly prepared to meet him. Meanwhile the northern earls had clearly not kept so good watch as the king. Harold Hardrada harried the Yorkshire coast; he sailed up the Ouse, and landed without resistance. At last the earls met him in arms and were defeated by the Northmen at Fulford near York. Four days later York capitulated, and agreed to receive Harold Hardrada as king. Meanwhile the news reached Harold of England; he got together his housecarls and such other troops as could be mustered at the moment, and by a march of almost incredible speed he was able to save the city and all northern England. The fight of Stamfordbridge, the defeat and death of the most famous warrior of the North, was the last and greatest success of Harold of England. But his northward march had left southern England utterly unprotected. Had the south wind delayed a little longer, he might, before the second enemy came, have been again on the South-Saxon coast. As it was, three days after Stamford bridge, while Harold of England was still at York, William of Normandy landed without opposition at Pevensey.
Thus wonderfully had an easy path into England been opened for William. The Norwegian invasion had come at the best moment for his purposes, and the result had been what he must have wished. With one Harold he must fight, and to fight with Harold of England was clearly best for his ends. His work would not have been done, if another had stepped in to chastise the perjurer. Now that he was in England, it became a trial of generalship between him and Harold. William's policy was to provoke Harold to fight at once. It was perhaps Harold's policy--so at least thought Gyrth--to follow yet more thoroughly William's own example in the French invasions. Let him watch and follow the enemy, let him avoid all action, and even lay waste the land between London and the south coast, and the strength of the invaders would gradually be worn out. But it might have been hard to enforce such a policy on men whose hearts were stirred by the invasion, and one part of whom, the King's own thegns and housecarls, were eager to follow up their victory over the Northern with a yet mightier victory over the Norman. And Harold spoke as an English king should speak, when he answered that he would never lay waste a single rood of English ground, that he would never harm the lands or the goods of the men who had chosen him to be their king. In the trial of skill between the two commanders, each to some extent carried his point. William's havoc of a large part of Sussex compelled Harold to march at once to give battle. But Harold was able to give battle at a place of his own choosing, thoroughly suited for the kind of warfare which he had to wage.
Harold was blamed, as defeated generals are blamed, for being too eager to fight and not waiting for more troops. But to any one who studies the ground it is plain that Harold needed, not more troops, but to some extent better troops, and that he would not have got those better troops by waiting. From York Harold had marched to London, as the meeting-place for southern and eastern England, as well as for the few who actually followed him from the North and those who joined him on the march. Edwin and Morkere were bidden to follow with the full force of their earldoms. This they took care not to do. Harold and his West-Saxons had saved them, but they would not strike a blow back again. Both now and earlier in the year they doubtless aimed at a division of the kingdom, such as had been twice made within fifty years. Either Harold or William might reign in Wessex and East-Anglia; Edwin should reign in Northumberland and Mercia. William, the enemy of Harold but no enemy of theirs, might be satisfied with the part of England which was under the immediate rule of Harold and his brothers, and might allow the house of Leofric to keep at least an under-kingship in the North. That the brother earls held back from the King's muster is undoubted, and this explanation fits in with their whole conduct both before and after. Harold had thus at his command the picked men of part of England only, and he had to supply the place of those who were lacking with such forces as he could get. The lack of discipline on the part of these inferior troops lost Harold the battle. But matters would hardly have been mended by waiting for men who had made up their minds not to come.
The messages exchanged between King and Duke immediately before the battle, as well as at an earlier time, have been spoken of already. The challenge to single combat at least comes now. When Harold refused every demand, William called on Harold to spare the blood of his followers, and decide his claims by battle in his own person. Such a challenge was in the spirit of Norman jurisprudence, which in doubtful cases looked for the judgement of God, not, as the English did, by the ordeal, but by the personal combat of the two parties. Yet this challenge too was surely given in the hope that Harold would refuse it, and would thereby put himself, in Norman eyes, yet more thoroughly in the wrong. For the challenge was one which Harold could not but refuse. William looked on himself as one who claimed his own from one who wrongfully kept him out of it. He was plaintiff in a suit in which Harold was defendant; that plaintiff and defendant were both accompanied by armies was an accident for which the defendant, who had refused all peaceful means of settlement, was to blame. But Harold and his people could not look on the matter as a mere question between two men. The crown was Harold's by the gift of the nation, and he could not sever his own cause from the cause of the nation. The crown was his; but it was not his to stake on the issue of a single combat. If Harold were killed, the nation might give the crown to whom they thought good; Harold's death could not make William's claim one jot better. The cause was not personal, but national. The Norman duke had, by a wanton invasion, wronged, not the King only, but every man in England, and every man might claim to help in driving him out. Again, in an ordinary wager of battle, the judgement can be enforced; here, whether William slew Harold or Harold slew William, there was no means of enforcing the judgement except by the strength of the two armies. If Harold fell, the English army were not likely to receive William as king; if William fell, the Norman army was still less likely to go quietly out of England. The challenge was meant as a mere blind; it would raise the spirit of William's followers; it would be something for his poets and chroniclers to record in his honour; that was all.
The actual battle, fought on Senlac, on Saint Calixtus' day, was more than a trial of skill and courage between two captains and two armies. It was, like the old battles of Macedonian and Roman, a trial between two modes of warfare. The English clave to the old Teutonic tactics. They fought on foot in the close array of the shield-wall. Those who rode to the field dismounted when the fight began. They first hurled their javelins, and then took to the weapons of close combat. Among these the Danish axe, brought in by Cnut, had nearly displaced the older English broadsword. Such was the array of the housecarls and of the thegns who had followed Harold from York or joined him on his march. But the treason of Edwin and Morkere had made it needful to supply the place of the picked men of Northumberland with irregular levies, armed almost anyhow. Of their weapons of various kinds the bow was the rarest. The strength of the Normans lay in the arms in which the English were lacking, in horsemen and archers. These last seem to have been a force of William's training; we first hear of the Norman bowmen at Varaville. These two ways of fighting were brought each one to perfection by the leaders on each side. They had not yet been tried against one another. At Stamfordbridge Harold had defeated an enemy whose tactics were the same as his own. William had not fought a pitched battle since Val-es-dunes in his youth. Indeed pitched battles, such as English and Scandinavian warriors were used to in the wars of Edmund and Cnut, were rare in continental warfare. That warfare mainly consisted in the attack and defence of strong places, and in skirmishes fought under their walls. But William knew how to make use of troops of different kinds and to adapt them to any emergency. Harold too was a man of resources; he had gained his Welsh successes by adapting his men to the enemy's way of fighting. To withstand the charge of the Norman horsemen, Harold clave to the national tactics, but he chose for the place of battle a spot where those tactics would have the advantage. A battle on the low ground would have been favourable to cavalry; Harold therefore occupied and fenced in a hill, the hill of Senlac, the site in after days of the abbey and town of Battle, and there awaited the Norman attack. The Norman horsemen had thus to make their way up the hill under the shower of the English javelins, and to meet the axes as soon as they reached the barricade. And these tactics were thoroughly successful, till the inferior troops were tempted to come down from the hill and chase the Bretons whom they had driven back. This suggested to William the device of the feigned flight; the English line of defence was broken, and the advantage of ground was lost. Thus was the great battle lost. And the war too was lost by the deaths of Harold and his brothers, which left England without leaders, and by the unyielding valour of Harold's immediate following. They were slain to a man, and south-eastern England was left defenceless.
William, now truly the Conqueror in the vulgar sense, was still far from having full possession of his conquest. He had military possession of part of one shire only; he had to look for further resistance, and he met with not a little. But his combined luck and policy served him well. He could put on the form of full possession before he had the reality; he could treat all further resistance as rebellion against an established authority; he could make resistance desultory and isolated. William had to subdue England in detail; he had never again to fight what the English Chroniclers call a FOLK- FIGHT. His policy after his victory was obvious. Still uncrowned, he was not, even in his own view, king, but he alone had the right to become king. He had thus far been driven to maintain his rights by force; he was not disposed to use force any further, if peaceful possession was to be had. His course was therefore to show himself stern to all who withstood him, but to take all who submitted into his protection and favour. He seems however to have looked for a speedier submission than really happened. He waited a while in his camp for men to come in and acknowledge him. As none came, he set forth to win by the strong arm the land which he claimed of right.
Thus to look for an immediate submission was not unnatural; fully believing in the justice of his own cause, William would believe in it all the more after the issue of the battle. God, Harold had said, should judge between himself and William, and God had judged in William's favour. With all his clear-sightedness, he would hardly understand how differently things looked in English eyes. Some indeed, specially churchmen, specially foreign churchmen, now began to doubt whether to fight against William was not to fight against God. But to the nation at large William was simply as Hubba, Swegen, and Cnut in past times. England had before now been conquered, but never in a single fight. Alfred and Edmund had fought battle after battle with the Dane, and men had no mind to submit to the Norman because he had been once victorious. But Alfred and Edmund, in alternate defeat and victory, lived to fight again; their people had not to choose a new king; the King had merely to gather a new army. But Harold was slain, and the first question was how to fill his place. The Witan, so many as could be got together, met to choose a king, whose first duty would be to meet William the Conqueror in arms. The choice was not easy. Harold's sons were young, and not born AEthelings. His brothers, of whom Gyrth at least must have been fit to reign, had fallen with him. Edwin and Morkere were not at the battle, but they were at the election. But schemes for winning the crown for the house of Leofric would find no favour in an assembly held in London. For lack of any better candidate, the hereditary sentiment prevailed. Young Edgar was chosen. But the bishops, it is said, did not agree; they must have held that God had declared in favour of William. Edwin and Morkere did agree; but they withdrew to their earldoms, still perhaps cherishing hopes of a divided kingdom. Edgar, as king-elect, did at least one act of kingship by confirming the election of an abbot of Peterborough; but of any general preparation for warfare there is not a sign. The local resistance which William met with shows that, with any combined action, the case was not hopeless. But with Edgar for king, with the northern earls withdrawing their forces, with the bishops at least lukewarm, nothing could be done. The Londoners were eager to fight; so doubtless were others; but there was no leader. So far from there being another Harold or Edmund to risk another battle, there was not even a leader to carry out the policy of Fabius and Gyrth.
Meanwhile the Conqueror was advancing, by his own road and after his own fashion. We must remember the effect of the mere slaughter of the great battle. William's own army had suffered severely: he did not leave Hastings till he had received reinforcements from Normandy. But to England the battle meant the loss of the whole force of the south-eastern shires. A large part of England was left helpless. William followed much the same course as he had followed in Maine. A legal claimant of the crown, it was his interest as soon as possible to become a crowned king, and that in his kinsman's church at Westminster. But it was not his interest to march straight on London and demand the crown, sword in hand. He saw that, without the support of the northern earls, Edgar could not possibly stand, and that submission to himself was only a question of time. He therefore chose a roundabout course through those south-eastern shires which were wholly without means of resisting him. He marched from Sussex into Kent, harrying the land as he went, to frighten the people into submission. The men of Romney had before the battle cut in pieces a party of Normans who had fallen into their hands, most likely by sea. William took some undescribed vengeance for their slaughter. Dover and its castle, the castle which, in some accounts, Harold had sworn to surrender to William, yielded without a blow. Here then he was gracious. When some of his unruly followers set fire to the houses of the town, William made good the losses of their owners. Canterbury submitted; from thence, by a bold stroke, he sent messengers who received the submission of Winchester. He marched on, ravaging as he went, to the immediate neighbourhood of London, but keeping ever on the right bank of the Thames. But a gallant sally of the citizens was repulsed by the Normans, and the suburb of Southwark was burned. William marched along the river to Wallingford. Here he crossed, receiving for the first time the active support of an Englishman of high rank, Wiggod of Wallingford, sheriff of Oxfordshire. He became one of a small class of Englishmen who were received to William's fullest favour, and kept at least as high a position under him as they had held before. William still kept on, marching and harrying, to the north of London, as he had before done to the south. The city was to be isolated within a cordon of wasted lands. His policy succeeded. As no succours came from the North, the hearts of those who had chosen them a king failed at the approach of his rival. At Berkhampstead Edgar himself, with several bishops and chief men, came to make their submission. They offered the crown to William, and, after some debate, he accepted it. But before he came in person, he took means to secure the city. The beginnings of the fortress were now laid which, in the course of William's reign, grew into the mighty Tower of London.
It may seem strange that when his great object was at last within his grasp, William should have made his acceptance of it a matter of debate. He claims the crown as his right; the crown is offered to him; and yet he doubts about taking it. Ought he, he asks, to take the crown of a kingdom of which he has not as yet full possession? At that time the territory of which William had even military possession could not have stretched much to the north-west of a line drawn from Winchester to Norwich. Outside that line men were, as William is made to say, still in rebellion. His scruples were come over by an orator who was neither Norman nor English, but one of his foreign followers, Haimer Viscount of Thouars. The debate was most likely got up at William's bidding, but it was not got up without a motive. William, ever seeking outward legality, seeking to do things peaceably when they could be done peaceably, seeking for means to put every possible enemy in the wrong, wished to make his acceptance of the English crown as formally regular as might be. Strong as he held his claim to be by the gift of Edward, it would be better to be, if not strictly chosen, at least peacefully accepted, by the chief men of England. It might some day serve his purpose to say that the crown had been offered to him, and that he had accepted it only after a debate in which the chief speaker was an impartial stranger. Having gained this point more, William set out from Berkhampstead, already, in outward form, King-elect of the English.
The rite which was to change him from king-elect into full king took place in Eadward's church of Westminster on Christmas day, 1066, somewhat more than two months after the great battle, somewhat less than twelve months after the death of Edward and the coronation of Harold. Nothing that was needed for a lawful crowning was lacking. The consent of the people, the oath of the king, the anointing by the hands of a lawful metropolitan, all were there. Ealdred acted as the actual celebrant, while Stigand took the second place in the ceremony. But this outward harmony between the nation and its new king was marred by an unhappy accident. Norman horsemen stationed outside the church mistook the shout with which the people accepted the new king for the shout of men who were doing him damage. But instead of going to his help, they began, in true Norman fashion, to set fire to the neighbouring houses. The havoc and plunder that followed disturbed the solemnities of the day and were a bad omen for the new reign. It was no personal fault of William's; in putting himself in the hands of subjects of such new and doubtful loyalty, he needed men near at hand whom he could trust. But then it was his doing that England had to receive a king who needed foreign soldiers to guard him.
William was now lawful King of the English, so far as outward ceremonies could make him so. But he knew well how far he was from having won real kingly authority over the whole kingdom. Hardly a third part of the land was in his obedience. He had still, as he doubtless knew, to win his realm with the edge of the sword. But he could now go forth to further conquests, not as a foreign invader, but as the king of the land, putting down rebellion among his own subjects. If the men of Northumberland should refuse to receive him, he could tell them that he was their lawful king, anointed by their own archbishop. It was sound policy to act as king of the whole land, to exercise a semblance of authority where he had none in fact. And in truth he was king of the whole land, so far as there was no other king. The unconquered parts of the land were in no mood to submit; but they could not agree on any common plan of resistance under any common leader. Some were still for Edgar, some for Harold's sons, some for Swegen of Denmark. Edwin and Morkere doubtless were for themselves. If one common leader could have been found even now, the throne of the foreign king would have been in no small danger. But no such leader came: men stood still, or resisted piecemeal, so the land was conquered piecemeal, and that under cover of being brought under the obedience of its lawful king.
Now that the Norman duke has become an English king, his career as an English statesman strictly begins, and a wonderful career it is. Its main principle was to respect formal legality wherever he could. All William's purposes were to be carried out, as far as possible, under cover of strict adherence to the law of the land of which he had become the lawful ruler. He had sworn at his crowning to keep the laws of the land, and to rule his kingdom as well as any king that had gone before him. And assuredly he meant to keep his oath. But a foreign king, at the head of a foreign army, and who had his foreign followers to reward, could keep that oath only in its letter and not in its spirit. But it is wonderful how nearly he came to keep it in the letter. He contrived to do his most oppressive acts, to deprive Englishmen of their lands and offices, and to part them out among strangers, under cover of English law. He could do this. A smaller man would either have failed to carry out his purposes at all, or he could have carried them out only by reckless violence. When we examine the administration of William more in detail, we shall see that its effects in the long run were rather to preserve than to destroy our ancient institutions. He knew the strength of legal fictions; by legal fictions he conquered and he ruled. But every legal fiction is outward homage to the principle of law, an outward protest against unlawful violence. That England underwent a Norman Conquest did in the end only make her the more truly England. But that this could be was because that conquest was wrought by the Bastard of Falaise and by none other.
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