The Romance of Reality
Author of "Half-Hours with the Best American Authors," "Tales from the Dramatists," etc.
IN FIFTEEN VOLUMES
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
Copyright, 1893, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY. Copyright, 1904, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY. Copyright, 1908, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
HOW ENGLAND BECAME CHRISTIAN 9
KING ALFRED AND THE DANES 19
THE WOOING OF ELFRIDA 35
THE END OF SAXON ENGLAND 49
HEREWARD THE WAKE 62
THE DEATH OF THE RED KING 77
HOW THE WHITE SHIP SAILED 86
A CONTEST FOR A CROWN 93
THE CAPTIVITY OF RICHARD COEUR DE LION 107
ROBIN HOOD AND THE KNIGHT OF THE RUEFUL COUNTENANCE 121
WALLACE, THE HERO OF SCOTLAND 136
BRUCE AT BANNOCKBURN 149
THE SIEGE OF CALAIS 162
THE BLACK PRINCE AT POITIERS 174
WAT TYLER AND THE MEN OF KENT 185
THE WHITE ROSE OF ENGLAND 196
THE FIELD OF THE CLOTH OF GOLD 213
THE STORY OF ARABELLA STUART 228
LOVE'S KNIGHT-ERRANT 241
THE TAKING OF PONTEFRACT CASTLE 262
THE ADVENTURES OF A ROYAL FUGITIVE 276
CROMWELL AND THE PARLIAMENT 297
THE RELIEF OF LONDONDERRY 305
THE HUNTING OF BRAEMAR 315
THE FLIGHT OF PRINCE CHARLES 324
TRAFALGAR AND THE DEATH OF NELSON 339
THE MASSACRE OF AN ARMY 349
THE JUBILEES OF QUEEN VICTORIA 358
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
WARWICK CASTLE Frontispiece.
CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL 12
AN ANGLO-SAXON KING 19
ELY CATHEDRAL 66
STATUE OF RICHARD COEUR DE LION 116
ROBIN HOOD'S WOODS 123
THE WALLACE MONUMENT, STIRLING 141
STIRLING CASTLE 153
THE PORT OF CALAIS 162
CHURCH OF NOTRE DAME, POITIERS 177
WAT TYLER'S COTTAGE 188
BATTLE IN THE WAR OF THE ROSES 196
HENRY THE EIGHTH 218
ROTTEN ROW, LONDON 235
THE ROYAL PALACE, MADRID 251
SCENE ON THE RIVER AVON 286
OLIVER CROMWELL 298
EDINBURGH CASTLE 319
THE OLD TEMERAIRE 340
NORTH FRONT OF WINDSOR CASTLE 362
HOW ENGLAND BECAME CHRISTIAN.
One day, in the far-off sixth century, a youthful deacon of the Roman Church walked into the slave-market of Rome, situated at one extremity of the ancient Forum. Gregory, his name; his origin from an ancient noble family, whose genealogy could be traced back to the days of the early Caesars. A youth was this of imperial powers of mind, one who, had he lived when Rome was mistress of the physical world, might have become emperor; but who, living when Rome had risen to lordship over the spiritual world, became pope,—the famous Gregory the Great.
In the Forum the young deacon saw that which touched his sympathetic soul. Here cattle were being sold; there, men. His eyes were specially attracted by a group of youthful slaves, of aspect such as he had never seen before. They were bright of complexion, their hair long and golden, their expression of touching innocence. Their fair faces were strangely unlike the embrowned complexions to which he had been accustomed, and he stood looking at them in admiration, while the slave-dealers extolled their beauty of face and figure.
"From what country do these young men come?" asked Gregory.
"They are English, Angles," answered the dealers.
"Not Angles, but angels," said the deacon, with a feeling of poetic sentiment, "for they have angel-like faces. From what country come they?" he repeated.
"They come from Deira," said the merchants.
"De ira" he rejoined, fervently; "ay, plucked from God's ire and called to Christ's mercy. And what is the name of their king?"
"Ella," was the answer.
"Alleluia shall be sung there!" cried the enthusiastic young monk, his imagination touched by the significance of these answers. He passed on, musing on the incident which had deeply stirred his sympathies, and considering how the light of Christianity could be shed upon the pagan lands whence these fair strangers came.
It was a striking picture which surrounded that slave-market. From where the young deacon stood could be seen the capitol of ancient Rome and the grand proportions of its mighty Coliseum; not far away the temple of Jupiter Stator displayed its magnificent columns, and other stately edifices of the imperial city came within the circle of vision. Rome had ceased to be the mistress of the world, but it was not yet in ruins, and many of its noble edifices still stood almost in perfection. But paganism had vanished. The cross of Christ was the dominant symbol. The march of the warriors of the legions was replaced by long processions of cowled and solemn monks. The temporal imperialism of Rome had ceased, the spiritual had begun; instead of armies to bring the world under the dominion of the sword, that ancient city now sent out its legions of priests to bring it under the dominion of the cross.
Gregory resolved to be one of the latter. A fair new field for missionary labor lay in that distant island, peopled by pagans whose aspect promised to make them noble subjects of Christ's kingdom upon earth. The enthusiastic youth left Rome to seek Saxon England, moved thereto not by desire of earthly glory, but of heavenly reward. But this was not to be. His friends deemed that he was going to death, and begged the pope to order his return. Gregory was brought back and England remained pagan.
Years went by. The humble deacon rose to be bishop of Rome and head of the Christian world. Gregory the Great, men named him, though he styled himself "Servant of the servants of God," and lived in like humility and simplicity of style as when he was a poor monk.
The time at length came to which Gregory had looked forward. Ethelbert, king of Kentish England, married Bertha, daughter of the French king Charibert, a fervent Christian woman. A few priests came with her to England, and the king gave them a ruined Christian edifice, the Church of St. Martin, outside the walls of Canterbury, for their worship. But it was overshadowed by a pagan temple, and the worship of Odin and Thor still dominated Saxon England.
Gregory took quick advantage of this opportunity. The fair faces of the English slaves still appealed to his pitying soul, and he now sent Augustine, prior of St. Andrew's at Rome, with a band of forty monks as missionaries to England. It was the year of our Lord 597. The missionaries landed at the very spot where Hengist the Saxon conqueror had landed more than a century before. The one had brought the sword to England, the others brought the cross. King Ethelbert knew of their coming and had agreed to receive them; but, by the advice of his priests, who feared conjuration and spells of magic, he gave them audience in the open air, where such spells have less power. The place was on the chalk-down above Minster, whence, miles away across the intervening marshes, one may to-day behold the distant tower of Canterbury cathedral.
The scene, as pictured to us in the chronicles of the monks, was a picturesque and inspiring one. The hill selected for the meeting overlooked the ocean. King Ethelbert, with Queen Bertha by his side, awaited in state his visitors. Around were grouped the warriors of Kent and the priests of Odin. Silence reigned, and in the distance the monks could be seen advancing in solemn procession, singing as they came. He who came first bore a large silver crucifix. Another carried a banner with the painted image of Christ. The deep and solemn music, the venerable and peaceful aspect of the strangers, the solemnity of the occasion, touched the heart of Ethelbert, already favorably inclined, as we may believe, to the faith of his loved wife.
Augustine had brought interpreters from Gaul. By their aid he conveyed to the king the message he had been sent to bring. Ethelbert listened in silence, the queen in rapt attention, the warriors and priests doubtless with varied sentiments. The appeal of Augustine at an end, Ethelbert spoke.
"Your words are fair," he said, "but they are new, and of doubtful meaning. For myself, I propose to worship still the gods of my fathers. But you bring peace and good words; you are welcome to my kingdom; while you stay here you shall have shelter and protection."
His land was a land of plenty, he told them; food, drink, and lodging should be theirs, and none should do them wrong; England should be their home while they chose to stay.
With these words the audience ended. Augustine and his monks fell again into procession, and, with singing of psalms and display of holy emblems, moved solemnly towards the city of Canterbury, where Bertha's church awaited them. As they entered the city they sang:
"Turn from this city, O Lord, thine anger and wrath, and turn it from Thy holy house, for we have sinned." Then Gregory's joyful cry of "Alleluia! Alleluia!" burst from their devout lips, as they moved into the first English church.
The work of the "strangers from Rome" proceeded but slowly. Some converts were made, but Ethelbert held aloof. Fortunately for Augustine, he had an advocate in the palace, one with near and dear speech in the king's ear. We cannot doubt that the gentle influence of Queen Bertha was a leading power in Ethelbert's conversion. A year passed. At its end the king gave way. On the day of Pentecost he was baptized. Christ had succeeded Odin and Thor on the throne of the English heart, for the story of the king's conversion carried his kingdom with it. The men of Kent, hearing that their king had adopted the new faith, crowded the banks of the Swale, eager for baptism. The under-kings of Essex and East-Anglia became Christians. On the succeeding Christmas-day ten thousand of the people followed the example of their king. The new faith spread with wonderful rapidity throughout the kingdom of Kent.
When word of this great event reached Pope Gregory at Rome his heart was filled with joy. He exultingly wrote to a friend that his missionaries had spread the religion of Christ "in the most remote parts of the world," and at once appointed Augustine archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England, that he might complete the work he had so promisingly begun. Such is the story of the Christianizing of England as told in the ancient chronicle of the venerable Bede, the earliest of English writers.
As yet only Kent had been converted. North of it lay the kingdom of Northumbria, still a pagan realm. The story of its conversion, as told by Bede, is of no less interest than that just related. Edwin was its king, a man of great ability for that early day. His prowess is shown in a proverb: "A woman with her babe might walk scathless from sea to sea in Edwin's day." The highways, long made dangerous by outlaw and ruthless warrior, were now safe avenues of travel; the springs by the road-side were marked by stakes, while brass cups beside them awaited the traveller's hand. Edwin ruled over all northern England, as Ethelbert did over the south. Edinburgh was within his dominions, and from him it had its name,—Edwin's burgh, the city of Edwin.
Christianity came to this monarch's heart in some such manner as it had reached that of Ethelbert, through the appealing influence of his wife. A daughter of King Ethelbert had come to share his throne. She, like Bertha her mother, was a Christian. With her came the monk Paulinus, from the church at Canterbury. He was a man of striking aspect,—of tall and stooping form, slender, aquiline nose, and thin, worn face, round which fell long black hair. The ardent missionary, aided doubtless by the secret appeals of the queen, soon produced an influence upon the intelligent mind of Edwin. The monarch called a council of his wise men, to talk with them about the new doctrine which had been taught in his realm. Of what passed at that council we have but one short speech, but it is one that illuminates it as no other words could have done, a lesson in prose which is full of the finest spirit of poetry, perhaps the most picturesque image of human life that has ever been put into words.
"So seems to me the life of man, O king," said an aged noble, "as a sparrow's flight through the hall when you are sitting at meat in winter-tide, with the warm fire lighted on the hearth, while outside all is storm of rain and snow. The sparrow flies in at one door, and tarries for a moment in the light and heat of the fire within, and then, flying forth from the other, vanishes into the wintry darkness whence it came. So the life of man tarries for a moment in our sight; but of what went before it, or what is to follow it, we know nothing. If this new teaching tells us something more certain of these things, let us follow it."
Such an appeal could not but have a powerful effect upon his hearers. Those were days when men were more easily moved by sentiment than by argument. Edwin and his councillors heard with favoring ears. Not last among them was Coifi, chief priest of the idol-worship, whose ardent soul was stirred by the words of the old thane.
"None of your people, King Edwin, have worshipped the gods more busily than I," he said, "yet there are many who have been more favored and are more fortunate. Were these gods good for anything they would help their worshippers."
Grasping his spear, the irate priest leaped on his horse, and riding at full speed towards the temple sacred to the heathen gods, he hurled the warlike weapon furiously into its precincts.
The lookers-on, nobles and commons alike, beheld his act with awe, in doubt if the deities of their old worship would not avenge with death this insult to their fane. Yet all remained silent; no thunders rent the skies; the desecrating priest sat his horse unharmed. When, then, he bade them follow him to the neighboring stream, to be baptized in its waters into the new faith, an eager multitude crowded upon his steps.
The spot where Edwin and his followers were baptized is thus described by Camden, in his "Description of Great Britain," etc.: "In the Roman times, not far from its bank upon the little river Foulness (where Wighton, a small town, but well-stocked with husbandmen, now stands), there seems to have formerly stood Delgovitia; as it is probable both from the likeness and the signification of the name. For the British word Delgwe (or rather Ddelw) signifies the statues or images of the heathen gods; and in a little village not far off there stood an idol-temple, which was in very great honor in the Saxon times, and, from the heathen gods in it, was then called Godmundingham, and now, in the same sense, Godmanham." It was into this temple that Coifi flung his desecrating spear, and in this stream that Edwin the king received Christian baptism.
But Christianity did not win England without a struggle. After the death of Ethelbert and Edwin, paganism revived and fought hard for the mastery. The Roman monks lost their energy, and were confined to the vicinity of Canterbury. Conversion came again, but from the west instead of the east, from Ireland instead of Rome.
Christianity had been received with enthusiasm in Erin's isle. Less than half a century after the death of St. Patrick, the first missionary, flourishing Christian schools existed at Darrow and Armagh, letters and the arts were cultivated, and missionaries were leaving the shores of Ireland to carry the faith elsewhere. From the famous monastery which they founded at Iona, on the west coast of Scotland, came the new impulse which gave Christianity its fixed footing in England, and finally drove paganism from Britain's shores. Oswald, of Northumbria, became the bulwark of the new faith; Penda, of Mercia, the sword of heathendom; and a long struggle for religion and dominion ensued between these warlike chiefs. Oswald was slain in battle; Penda led his conquering host far into the Christian realm; but a new king, Oswi by name, overthrew Penda and his army in a great defeat, and the worship of the older gods in England was at an end. But a half-century of struggle and bloodshed passed before the victory of Christ over Odin was fully won.
KING ALFRED AND THE DANES.
In his royal villa at Chippenham, on the left bank of the gently-flowing Avon, sat King Alfred, buried in his books. It was the evening of the 6th of January, in the year 878, a thousand years and more backward in time. The first of English kings to whom a book had a meaning,—and the last for centuries afterwards,—Alfred, the young monarch, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a thirst then difficult to quell, for books were almost as rare as gold-mines in that day. When a mere child, his mother had brought to him and his brothers a handsomely illuminated book, saying,—
"I will give this to that one of you four princes who first learns to read."
Alfred won the book; so far as we know, he alone sought to win it, for the art of reading in those early times was confined to monks, and disdained by princes. Ignorance lay like a dismal cloud over England, ignorance as dense as the heart of the Dark Ages knew. In the whole land the young prince was almost alone in his thirst for knowledge; and when he made an effort to study Latin, in which language all worthy literature was then written, we are told that there could not be found throughout the length and breadth of the land a man competent to teach him that sealed tongue. This, however, loses probability in view of the fact that the monks were familiar with Latin and that Alfred succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of that language.
When little more than a boy Alfred became king. There was left him then little time for study, for the Danes, whose ships had long been descending in annual raids on England's shores, gave the youthful monarch an abundance of more active service. For years he fought them, yet in his despite Guthrum, one of their ablest chiefs, sailed up the Severn, seized upon a wide region of the realm of Wessex, made Gloucester his capital, and defied the feebly-supported English king.
It was midwinter now, a season which the Danes usually spent in rest and revelry, and in which England gained some relief from their devastating raids. Alfred, dreaming of aught but war, was at home with his slender store of much-beloved books in his villa at Chippenham. With him were a few of his thanes and a small body of armed attendants, their enjoyment the pleasures of the chase and the rude sports of that early period. Doubtless, what they deemed the womanish or monkish tastes of their young monarch were objects of scorn and ridicule to those hardy thanes, upon whom ignorance lay like a thick garment. Yet Alfred could fight as well as read. They might disdain his pursuits; they must respect his prowess.
While the king lay thus in ease at Chippenham, his enemies at Gloucester seemed lost in enjoyment of their spoils. Guthrum had divided the surrounding lands among his victorious followers, the Saxons had been driven out, slain, or enslaved, and the brutal and barbarous victors dwelt in peace and revelry on their new lands, spending the winter in riot and wassail, and waiting for the spring-time budding of the trees to renew the war with their Saxon foes.
Not so with Guthrum. He had sworn revenge on the Saxons. Years before, his father, a mighty chieftain, Ragnar by name, had fallen in a raid on England. His sons had vowed to Odin to wash out the memory of his death in English blood, and Guthrum now determined to take advantage of the midwinter season for a sudden and victorious march upon his unsuspecting enemy. If he could seize Alfred in his palace, the war might be brought to an end, and England won, at a single blow.
If we can take ourselves back in fancy to New-Year's day of 878, and to an open plain in the vicinity of Gloucester, we shall see there the planted standard of Guthrum floating in the wind, while from every side armed horsemen are riding into the surrounding space. They know not why they come. A hasty summons has been sent them to meet their chieftain here on this day, armed and mounted, and, loyal to their leader, and ever ready for war, they ride hastily in, until the Danish champion finds himself surrounded by a strong force of hardy warriors, eager to learn the cause of this midwinter summons.
"It is war," said Guthrum to his chiefs. "I have sworn to have England, and England shall be mine. The Saxons are scattered and at rest, not dreaming of battle and blood. Now is our time. A hard and sudden blow will end the war, and the fair isle of England will be the Raven's spoil."
We may still hear in fancy the wild shouts of approval with which this stirring declaration was heard. Visions of slaughter, plunder, and rich domains filled the souls of chiefs and men alike, and their eagerness to take to the field was such that they could barely wait to hear their leader's plans.
"Alfred, the Saxon king, must be ours," said Guthrum. "He is the one man I dread in all the Saxon hosts. They have many hands, but only one head. Let us seize the head, and the hands are useless. Alfred is at Chippenham. Thither let us ride at speed."
Their bands were mustered, their arms examined, and food for the expedition prepared, and then to horse and away! Headlong over the narrow and forest-bordered roads of that day rode the host of Danes, in triumphant expectation of victory and spoil.
In his study sat Alfred, on the night of January 6, poring over an illuminated page; or mayhap he was deep in learned consultation with some monkish scholar, mayhap presiding at a feast of his thanes: we may fancy what we will, for history or legend fails to tell us how he was engaged on that critical evening of his life.
But we may imagine a wide-eyed Saxon sentinel, seared and hasty, breaking upon the monarch's leisure with the wild alarm-cry,—
"Up and away, my king! The Danes are coming! hosts of them, armed and horsed! Up and away!"
Hardly had he spoken before the hoof-beats of the advancing foe were heard. On they came, extending their lines as they rode at headlong speed, hoping to surround the villa and seize the king before the alarm could be given.
They were too late. Alfred was quick to hear, to heed, and to act. Forest bordered the villa; into the forest he dashed, his followers following in tumultuous haste. The Danes made what haste the obstructions in their way permitted. In a few minutes they had swept round the villa, with ringing shouts of triumph. In a few minutes more they were treading its deserted halls, Guthrum at their head, furious to find that his hoped-for prey had vanished and left him but the empty shell of his late home.
"After him!" cried the furious Dane. "He cannot be far. This place is full of signs of life. He has fled into the forest. After him! A king's prize for the man who seizes him."
In vain their search, the flying king knew his own woods too well to be overtaken by the Danes. Yet their far cries filled his ears, and roused him to thoughts of desperate resistance. He looked around on his handful of valiant followers.
"Let us face them!" he cried, in hot anger. "We are few, but we fight for our homes. Let us meet these baying hounds!"
"No, no," answered the wisest of his thanes. "It would be worse than rash, it would be madness. They are twenty—a hundred, mayhap—to our one. Let us fly now, that we may fight hereafter. All is not lost while our king is free, and we to aid him."
Alfred was quick to see the wisdom of this advice. He must bide his time. To strike now might be to lose all. To wait might be to gain all. He turned with a meaning look to his faithful thanes.
"In sooth, you speak well," he said. "The wisdom of the fox is now better than the courage of the lion. We must part here. The land for the time is the Danes'. We cannot hinder them. They will search homestead and woodland for me. Before a fortnight's end they will have swarmed over all Wessex, and Guthrum will be lord of the land. I admire that man; he is more than a barbarian, he knows the art of war. He shall learn yet that Alfred is his match. We must part."
"Part?" said the thanes, looking at him in doubt. "Wherefore?"
"I must seek safety alone and in disguise. There are not enough of you to help me; there are enough to betray me to suspicion. Go your ways, good friends. Save yourselves. We will meet again before many weeks to strike a blow for our country. But the time is not yet."
History speaks not from the depths of that woodland whither Alfred had fled with his thanes. We cannot say if just these words were spoken, but such was the purport of their discourse. They separated, the thanes and their followers to seek their homes; Alfred, disguised as a peasant, to thread field and forest on foot towards a place of retreat which he had fixed upon in his mind. Not even to the faithfulest of his thanes did he tell the secret of his abode. For the present it must be known to none but himself.
Meanwhile, the cavalry of Guthrum were raiding the country far and wide. Alfred had escaped, but England lay helpless in their grasp. News travelled slowly in those days. Everywhere the Saxons first learned of the war by hearing the battle-cry of the Danes. The land was overrun. England seemed lost. Its only hope of safety lay in a man who would not acknowledge defeat, a monarch who could bide his time.
The lonely journey of the king led him to the centre of Somersetshire. Here, at the confluence of the Tone and the Parret, was a small island, afterwards known as Ethelingay, or Prince's Island. Around it spread a wide morass, little likely to be crossed by his pursuers. Here, still disguised, the fugitive king sought a refuge from his foes.
For several months Alfred remained in this retreat, his place of refuge during part of the time being in the hut of a swineherd; and thereupon hangs a tale. Whether or not the worthy herdsman knew his king, certainly the weighty secret was not known to his wife. One day, while Alfred sat by the fire, his hands busy with his bow and arrows, his head mayhap busy with plans against the Danes, the good woman of the house was engaged in baking cakes on the hearth.
Having to leave the hut for a few minutes, she turned to her guest, and curtly bade him watch the cakes, to see that they did not get overdone.
"Trust me for that," he said.
She left the room. The cakes smoked on the hearth, yet he saw them not. The goodwife returned in a brief space, to find her guest buried in a deep study, and her cakes burned to a cinder.
"What!" she cried, with an outburst of termagant spleen, "I warrant you will be ready enough to eat them by-and-by, you idle dog! and yet you cannot watch them burning under your very eyes."
What the king said in reply the tradition which has preserved this pleasant tale fails to relate. Doubtless it needed some of the swineherd's eloquence to induce his irate wife to bake a fresh supply for their careless guest.
It had been Guthrum's main purpose, as we may be assured, in his rapid ride to Chippenham, to seize the king. In this he had failed; but the remainder of his project went successfully forward. Through Dorset, Berkshire, Wilts, and Hampshire rode his men, forcing the people everywhere to submit. The country was thinly settled, none knew the fate of the king, resistance would have been destruction, they bent before the storm, hoping by yielding to save their lives and some portion of their property from the barbarian foe. Those near the coast crossed with their families and movable effects to Gaul. Elsewhere submission was general, except in Somersetshire, where alone a body of faithful warriors, lurking in the woods, kept in arms against the invaders.
Alfred's secret could not yet be safely revealed. Guthrum had not given over his search for him. Yet some of the more trusty of his subjects were told where he might be found, and a small band joined him in his morass-guarded isle. Gradually the news spread, and others sought the isle of Ethelingay, until a well-armed and sturdy band of followers surrounded the royal fugitive. This party must be fed. The island yielded little subsistence. The king was obliged to make foraging raids from his hiding-place. Now and then he met and defeated straggling parties of Danes, taking from them their spoils. At other times, when hard need pressed, he was forced to forage on his own subjects.
Day by day the news went wider through Saxon homes, and more warriors sought their king. As the strength of his band increased, Alfred made more frequent and successful forays. The Danes began to find that resistance was not at an end. By Easter the king felt strong enough to take a more decided action. He had a wooden bridge thrown from the island to the shore, to facilitate the movements of his followers, while at its entrance was built a fort, to protect the island party against a Danish incursion.
Such was the state of Alfred's fortunes and of England's hopes in the spring of 878. Three months before, all southern England, with the exception of Gloucester and its surrounding lands, had been his. Now his kingdom was a small island in the heart of a morass, his subjects a lurking band of faithful warriors, his subsistence what could be wrested from the strong hands of the foe.
While matters went thus in Somerset, a storm of war gathered in Wales. Another of Ragnar's sons, Ubbo by name, had landed on the Welsh coast, and, carrying everything before him, was marching inland to join his victorious brother.
He was too strong for the Saxons of that quarter to make head against him in the open field. Odun, the valiant ealderman who led them, fled, with his thanes and their followers, to the castle of Kwineth, a stronghold defended only by a loose wall of stones, in the Saxon fashion. But the fortress occupied the summit of a lofty rock, and bade defiance to assault. Ubbo saw this. He saw, also, that water must be wanting on that steep rock. He pitched his tents at its foot, and waited till thirst should compel a surrender of the garrison.
He was to find that it is not always wise to cut off the supplies of a beleaguered foe. Despair aids courage. A day came in the siege in which Odun, grown desperate, left his defences before dawn, glided silently down the hill with his men, and fell so impetuously upon the Danish host that the chief and twelve hundred of his followers were slain, and the rest driven in panic to their ships. The camp, rich with the spoil of Wales, fell into the victors' hands, while their trophies included the great Raven standard of the Danes, said to have been woven in one noontide by Ragnar's three daughters. This was a loss that presaged defeat to the Danes, for they were superstitious concerning this standard. If the raven appeared to flap its wings when going into battle, victory seemed to them assured. If it hung motionless, defeat was feared. Its loss must have been deemed fatal.
Tidings of this Saxon victory flew as if upon wings throughout England, and everywhere infused new spirit into the hearts of the people, new hope of recovering their country from the invading foe. To Alfred the news brought a heart-tide of joy. The time for action was at hand. Recruits came to him daily; fresh life was in his people; trusty messengers from Ethelingay sought the thanes throughout the land, and bade them, with their followers, to join the king at Egbert, on the eastern border of Selwood forest, in the seventh week after Easter.
Guthrum, meanwhile, was not idle. The frequent raids in mid-Somersetshire had taught him where his royal enemy might be found. Action, immediate and decisive, was necessary, or Alfred would be again in the field with a Saxon army, and the fruits of the successful midwinter raid be lost. Messengers were sent in haste to call in the scattered Danish bands, and a fortified camp was formed in a strong place in the vicinity of Ethelingay, whence a concerted movement might be made upon the lurking foe.
The time fixed for the gathering of the Saxon host was at hand. It was of high importance that the numbers and disposition of the Danes should be learned. The king, if we may trust tradition, now undertook an adventure that has ever since been classed among the choicest treasures of romance. The duty demanded was too important to trust to any doubtful hands. Alfred determined himself to venture within the camp of the Danes, observe how they were fortified and how arranged, and use this vital information when the time for battle came.
The enterprise was less desperate than might seem. Alfred's form and face were little known to his enemies. He was a skilful harper. The glee-man in those days was a privileged person, allied to no party, free to wander where he would, and to twang his harp-strings in any camp. He might look for welcome from friend and foe.
Dressed in Danish garb, and bearing the minstrel's harp, the daring king boldly sought and entered the camp of the invaders, his coming greeted with joy by the Danish warriors, who loved martial music as they loved war.
Songs of Danish prowess fell from the disguised minstrel's lips, to the delight of his audience. In the end Guthrum and his chiefs heard report of the coming of this skilled glee-man, and ordered that he should be brought to the great tent, where they sat carousing, in hopeful anticipation of coming victory.
Alfred, nothing loath, sought Guthrum's tent, where, with stirring songs of the old heroes of their land, he flattered the ears of the chiefs, who applauded him to the echo, and at times broke into wild refrains to his warlike odes. All that passed we cannot say. The story is told by tradition only, and tradition is not to be trusted for details. Doubtless, when the royal spy slipped from the camp of his foes he bore with him an accurate mind-picture of the numbers, the discipline, and the arrangement of the Danish force, which would be of the highest value in the coming fray.
Meanwhile, the Saxon hosts were gathering. When the day fixed by the king arrived they were there: men from Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devonshire, and Somerset; men in smaller numbers from other counties; all glad to learn that England was on its feet again, all filled with joy to see their king in the field. Their shouts filled the leafy alleys of the forest, they hailed the king as the land's avenger, every heart beat high with assurance of victory. Before night of the day of meeting the woodland camp was overcrowded with armed men, and at dawn of the next day Alfred led them to a place named Icglea, where, on the forest's edge, a broad plain spread with a morass on its front. All day long volunteers came to the camp; by night Alfred had an army in open field, in place of the guerilla band with which, two days before, he had lurked in the green aisles of Selwood forest, like a Robin Hood of an earlier day, making the verdant depths of the greenwood dales his home.
At dawn of the next day the king marshalled his men in battle array, and occupied the summit of Ethandune, a lofty eminence in the vicinity of his camp. The Danes, fiery with barbaric valor, boldly advanced, and the two armies met in fierce affray, shouting their war-cries, discharging arrows and hurling javelins, and rushing like wolves of war to the closer and more deadly hand-to-hand combat of sword and axe, of the shock of the contending forces, the hopes and fears of victory and defeat, the deeds of desperate valor, the mighty achievements of noted chiefs, on that hard-fought field no Homer has sung, and they must remain untold. All we know is that the Danes fought with desperate valor, the English with a courage inspired by revenge, fear of slavery, thirst for liberty, and the undaunted resolution of men whose every blow was struck for home and fireside.
In the end patriotism prevailed over the baser instinct of piracy; the Danes were defeated, and driven in tumultuous hosts to their intrenched camp, falling in multitudes as they fled, for the incensed English laid aside all thought of mercy in the hot fury of pursuit.
Only when within the shelter of his works was Guthrum able to make head against his victorious foe. The camp seemed too strong to be taken by assault, nor did Alfred care to immolate his men while a safer and surer expedient remained. He had made himself fully familiar with its formation, knew well its weak and strong points and its sparseness of supplies, and without loss of time spread his forces round it, besieging it so closely that not a Dane could escape. For fourteen days the siege went on, Alfred's army, no doubt, daily increasing, that of his foe wasting away before the ceaseless flight of arrows and javelins.
Guthrum was in despair. Famine threatened him. Escape was impossible. Hardly a bird could have fled unseen through the English lines. At the end of the fortnight he yielded, and asked for terms of surrender. The war was at an end. England was saved.
In his moment of victory Alfred proved generous. He gave the Danes an abiding-place upon English soil, on condition that they should dwell there as his vassals. To this they were to bind themselves by oath and the giving of hostages. Another condition was that Guthrum and his leading chiefs should give up their pagan faith and embrace Christianity.
To these terms the Danish leader acceded. A few weeks after the fight Aubre, near Athelney, was the scene of the baptizing of Guthrum and thirty of his chiefs. To his heathen title was added the Saxon name of Athelstan, Alfred standing sponsor to the new convert to the Christian faith. Eight days afterwards Guthrum laid off the white robe and chrysmal fillet of his new faith, and in twelve days bade adieu to his victorious foe, now, to all seeming, his dearest friend. What sum of Christian faith the baptized heathen took with him to the new lands assigned him it would be rash to say, but at all events he was removed from the circle of England's foes.
The treaty of Wedmore freed southern England from the Danes. The shores of Wessex were teased now and then by after-descents, but these incursions were swept away like those of stinging hornets. In 894 a fleet of three hundred ships invaded the realm, but they met a crushing defeat. The king was given some leisure to pursue those studies to which his mind so strongly inclined, and to carry forward measures for the education of his people by the establishment of schools which, like those of Charlemagne in France, vanished before he was fairly in the grave. This noble knight died in 901, nearly a thousand years ago, after having proved himself one of the ablest warriors and most advanced minds that ever occupied the English throne.
THE WOOING OF ELFRIDA.
Of all the many fair maidens of the Saxon realm none bore such fame for beauty as the charming Elfrida, daughter of the earl of Devonshire, and the rose of southern England. She had been educated in the country and had never been seen in London, but the report of her charms of face and person spread so widely that all the land became filled with the tale.
It soon reached the court and came to the ears of Edgar, the king, a youthful monarch who had an open ear for all tales of maidenly beauty. He was yet but little more than a boy, was unmarried, and a born lover. The praises of this country charmer, therefore, stirred his susceptible heart. She was nobly born, the heiress to an earldom, the very rose of English maidens,—what better consort for the throne could be found? If report spoke true, this was the maiden he should choose for wife, this fairest flower of the Saxon realm. But rumor grows apace, and common report is not to be trusted. Edgar thought it the part of discretion to make sure of the beauty of the much-lauded Elfrida before making a formal demand for her hand in marriage.
Devonshire was far away, roads few and poor in Saxon England, travel slow and wearisome, and the king had no taste for the journey to the castle of Olgar of Devon. Nor did he deem it wise to declare his intention till he made sure that the maiden was to his liking. He, therefore, spoke of his purpose to Earl Athelwold, his favorite, whom he bade to pay a visit, on some pretence, to Earl Olgar of Devonshire, to see his renowned daughter, and to bring to the court a certain account concerning her beauty.
Athelwold went to Devonshire, saw the lady, and proved faithless to his trust. Love made him a traitor, as it has made many before and since his day. So marvellously beautiful he found Elfrida that his heart fell prisoner to the most vehement love, a passion so ardent that it drove all thoughts of honor and fidelity from his soul, and he determined to have this charming lass of Devonshire for his own, despite king or commons.
Athelwold's high station had secured him a warm welcome from his brother earl. He acquitted himself of his pretended mission to Olgar, basked as long as prudence permitted in the sunlight of his lady's eyes, and, almost despite himself, made manifest to Elfrida the sudden passion that had filled his soul. The maiden took it not amiss. Athelwold was young, handsome, rich, and high in station, Elfrida susceptible and ambitious, and he returned to London not without hope that he had favorably impressed the lady's heart, and filled with the faithless purpose of deceiving the king.
"You have seen and noted her, Athelwold," said Edgar, on giving him audience; "what have you to say? Has report spoken truly? Is she indeed the marvellous beauty that rumor tells, or has fame, the liar, played us one of his old tricks?"
"Not altogether; the woman is not bad-looking," said Athelwold, with studied lack of enthusiasm; "but I fear that high station and a pretty face have combined to bewitch the people. Certainly, if she had been of low birth, her charms would never have been heard of outside her native village."
"I' faith, Athelwold, you are not warm in your praise of this queen of beauty," said Edgar, with some disappointment. "Rumor, then, has lied, and she is but an every-day woman, after all?"
"Beauty has a double origin," answered Athelwold; "it lies partly in the face seen, partly in the eyes seeing. Some might go mad over this Elfrida, but to my taste London affords fairer faces. I speak but for myself. Should you see her you might think differently."
Athelwold had managed his story shrewdly; the king's ardor grew cold.
"If the matter stands thus, he that wants her may have her," said Edgar. "The diamond that fails to show its lustre in all candles is not the gem for my wearing. Confess, Athelwold, you are trying to overpaint this woman; you found only an ordinary face."
"I saw nothing in it extraordinary," answered the faithless envoy. "Some might, perhaps. I can only speak for myself. As I take it, Elfrida's noble birth and her father's wealth, which will come to her as sole heiress, have had their share in painting this rose. The woman may have beauty enough for a countess; hardly enough for a queen."
"Then you should have wooed and won her yourself," said Edgar, laughing. "Such a faintly-praised charmer is not for me. I leave her for a lower-born lover."
Several days passed. Athelwold had succeeded in his purpose; the king had evidently been cured of his fancy for Elfrida. The way was open for the next step in his deftly-laid scheme. He took it by turning the conversation, in a later interview, upon the Devon maiden.
"I have been thinking over your remark, that I should woo and win Elfrida myself," he said. "It seems to me not a bad idea. I must confess that the birth and fortune of the lady added no beauty to her in my eyes, as it seems to have done in those of others; yet I cannot but think that the woman would make a suitable match for me. She is an earl's daughter, and she will inherit great wealth; these are advantages which fairly compensate some lack of beauty. I have decided, therefore, sire, if I can gain your approbation, to ask Olgar for his daughter's hand. I fancy I can gain her consent if I have his."
"I shall certainly not stand in your way," said the king, pleased with the opportunity to advance his favorite's fortunes. "By all means do as you propose. I will give you letters to the earl and his lady, recommending the match. You must trust to yourself to make your way with the maiden."
"I think she is not quite displeased with me," answered Athelwold.
What followed few words may tell. The passion of love in Athelwold's heart had driven out all considerations of honor and duty, of the good faith he owed the king, and of the danger of his false and treacherous course. Warm with hope, he returned with a lover's haste to Devonshire, where he gained the approval of the earl and countess, won the hand and seemingly the heart of their beautiful daughter, and was speedily united to the lady of his love, and became for the time being the happiest man in England.
But before the honey-moon was well over, the faithless friend and subject realized that he had a difficult and dangerous part to play. He did not dare let Edgar see his wife, for fear of the instant detection of his artifice, and he employed every pretence to keep her in the country. His duties at the court brought him frequently to London, but with the skill at excuses he had formerly shown he contrived to satisfy for the time the queries of the king and the importunities of his wife, who had a natural desire to visit the capital and to shine at the king's court.
Athelwold was sailing between Scylla and Charybdis. He could scarcely escape being wrecked on the rocks of his own falsehood. The enemies who always surround a royal favorite were not long in surmising the truth, and lost no time in acquainting Edgar with their suspicions. Confirmation was not wanting. There were those in London who had seen Elfrida. The king's eyes were opened to the treacherous artifice of which he had been made the victim.
Edgar was deeply incensed, but artfully concealed his anger. Reflection, too, told him that these men were Athelwold's enemies, and that the man he had loved and trusted ought not to be condemned on the insinuations of his foes. He would satisfy himself if his favorite had played the traitor, and if so would visit him with the punishment he deserved.
"Athelwold," said Edgar, in easy tones, "I am surprised you do not bring your wife to court. Surely the woman, if she is true woman, must crave to come."
"Not she," answered Athelwold. "She loves the country well and is a pattern of the rural virtues. The woman is homely and home-loving, and I should be sorry to put new ideas in her rustic pate. Moreover, I fear my little candle would shine too poorly among your courtly stars to offer her in contrast."
"Fie on you, man! the wife of Athelwold cannot be quite a milkmaid. If you will not bring her here, then I must pay you a visit in your castle; I like you too well not to know and like your wife."
This proposition of the king filled Athelwold with terror and dismay. He grew pale, and hesitatingly sought to dissuade Edgar from his project, but in vain. The king had made up his mind, and laughingly told him that he could not rest till he had seen the homely housewife whom Athelwold was afraid to trust in court.
"I feel the honor you would do me," at length remarked the dismayed favorite. "I only ask, sire, that you let me go before you a few hours, that my castle may be properly prepared for a visit from my king."
"As you will, gossip," laughed the king. "Away with you, then; I will soon follow."
In all haste the traitor sought his castle, quaking with fear, and revolving in his mind schemes for avoiding the threatened disclosure. He could think of but one that promised success, and that depended on the love and compliance of Elfrida. He had deceived her. He must tell her the truth. With her aid his faithless action might still be concealed.
Entering his castle, he sought Elfrida and revealed to her the whole measure of his deceit, how he had won her from the king, led by his overpowering love, how he had kept her from the king's eyes, and how Edgar now, filled, he feared, with suspicion, was on his way to the castle to see her for himself.
In moving accents the wretched man appealed to her, if she had any regard for his honor and his life, to conceal from the king that fatal beauty which had lured him from his duty to his friend and monarch, and led him into endless falsehoods. He had but his love to offer as a warrant for his double faithlessness, and implored Elfrida, as she returned his affection, to lend her aid to his exculpation. If she loved him as she seemed, she would put on her homliest attire, employ the devices of the toilette to hide her fatal beauty, and assume an awkward and rustic tone and manner, that the king might be deceived.
Elfrida heard him in silence, her face scarcely concealing the indignation which burned in her soul on learning the artifice by which she had been robbed of a crown. In the end, however, she seemed moved by his entreaties and softened by his love, and promised to comply with his wishes and do her utmost to conceal her charms.
Gratified with this compliance, and full of hope that all would yet be safe, Athelwold completed his preparations for the reception of the king, and met him on his appearance with every show of honor and respect. Edgar seemed pleased by his reception, entered the castle, but was not long there before he asked to see its lady, saying merrily that she had been the loadstone that had drawn him thither, and that he was eager to behold her charming face.
"I fear I have little of beauty and grace to show you," answered Athelwold; "but she is a good wife withal, and I love her for virtues which few would call courtly."
He turned to a servant and bade him ask his mistress to come to the castle hall, where the king expected her.
Athelwold waited with hopeful eyes; the king with curious expectation. The husband knew how unattractive a toilet his wife could make if she would; Edgar was impatient to test for himself the various reports he had received concerning this wild rose of Devonshire.
The lady entered. The hope died from Athelwold's eyes; the pallor of death overspread his face. A sudden light flashed into the face of the king, a glow made up of passion and anger. For instead of the ill-dressed and awkward country housewife for whom Athelwold looked, there beamed upon all present a woman of regal beauty, clad in her richest attire, her charms of face and person set off with all the adornment that jewels and laces could bestow, her face blooming into its most engaging smile as she greeted the king.
She had deceived her trusting husband. His story of treachery had driven from her heart all the love for him that ever dwelt there. He had robbed her of a throne; she vowed revenge in her soul; it might be hers yet; with the burning instinct of ambition she had adorned herself to the utmost, hoping to punish her faithless lord and win the king.
She succeeded. While Athelwold stood by, biting his lips, striving to bring back the truant blood to his face, making hesitating remarks to his guest, and turning eyes of deadly anger on his wife, the scheming woman was using her most engaging arts of conversation and manner to win the king, and with a success greater than she knew. Edgar beheld her beauty with surprise and joy, his heart throbbing with ardent passion. She was all and more than he had been told. Athelwold had basely deceived him, and his new-born love for the wife was mingled with a fierce desire for revenge upon the husband. But the artful monarch dissembled both these passions. He was, to a certain extent, in Athelwold's power. His train was not large, and those were days in which an angry or jealous thane would not hesitate to lift his hand against a king. He, therefore, affected not to be struck with Elfrida's beauty, was gracious as usual to his host, and seemed the most agreeable of guests.
But passion was burning in his heart, the double passion of love and revenge. A day or two of this play of kingly clemency passed, then Athelwold and his guests went to hunt in the neighboring forest, and in the heat of the chase Edgar gained the opportunity he desired. He stabbed his unsuspecting host in the back, left him dead on the field, and rode back to the castle to declare his love to the suddenly-widowed wife.
Elfrida had won the game for which she had so heartlessly played. Ambition in her soul outweighed such love as she bore for Athelwold, and she received with gracious welcome the king whose hands were still red from the murder of her late spouse. No long time passed before Edgar and Elfrida were publicly married, and the love romance which had distinguished the life of the famed beauty of Devonshire reached its consummation.
This romantic story has a sequel which tells still less favorably for the Devonshire beauty. She had compassed the murder of her husband. It was not her last crime. Edgar died when her son Ethelred was but seven years of age. The king had left another son, Edward, by his first wife, now fifteen years old. The ambitious woman plotted for the elevation of her son to the throne, hoping, doubtless, herself to reign as regent. The people favored Edward, as the rightful heir, and the nobility and clergy, who feared the imperious temper of Elfrida, determined to thwart her schemes. To put an end to the matter, Dunstan the monk, the all-powerful king-maker of that epoch, had the young prince anointed and crowned. The whole kingdom supported his act, and the hopes of Elfrida were seemingly at an end.
But she was a woman not to be easily defeated. She bided her time, and affected warm regard for the youthful king, who loved her as if he had been her own son, and displayed the most tender affection for his brother. Edward, indeed, was a character out of tone with those rude tenth-century days, when might was right, and murder was often the first step to a throne. He was of the utmost innocence of heart and amiability of manners, so pure in his own thoughts that suspicion of others found no place in his soul.
One day, four years after his accession, he was hunting in a forest in Dorsetshire, not far from Corfe-castle, where Elfrida and Ethelred lived. The chances of the chase led him to the vicinity of the castle, and, taking advantage of the opportunity to see its loved inmates, he rode away from his attendants, and in the evening twilight sounded his hunting-horn at the castle gates.
This was the opportunity which the ambitious woman had desired. The rival of her son had put himself unattended within her reach. Hastily preparing for the reception she designed to give him, she came from the castle, smiling a greeting.
"You are heartily welcome, dear king and son," she said. "Pray dismount and enter."
"Not so, dear madam," he replied. "My company will miss me, and fear I have met with some harm. I pray you give me a cup of wine, that I may drink in the saddle to you and my little brother. I would stay longer, but may not linger."
Elfrida returned for the wine, and as she did so whispered a few words to an armed man in the castle hall, one of her attendants whom she could trust. As she went on, this man slipped out in the gathering gloom and placed himself close behind the king's horse.
In a minute more Elfrida reappeared, wine-cup in hand. The king took the cup and raised it to his lips, looking down with smiling face on his step-mother and her son, who smiled their love-greeting back to him. At this instant the lurking villain in the rear sprang up and buried his fatal knife in the king's back.
Filled with pain and horror, Edward involuntarily dropped the cup and spurred his horse. The startled animal sprang forward, Edward clinging to his saddle for a few minutes, but soon, faint with loss of blood, falling to the earth, while one of his feet remained fast in the stirrup.
The frightened horse rushed onward, dragging him over the rough ground until death put an end to his misery. The hunters, seeking the king, found the track of his blood, and traced him till his body was discovered, sadly torn and disfigured.
Meanwhile, the child Ethelred cried out so pitifully at the frightful tragedy which had taken place before his eyes, that his heartless mother turned her rage against him. She snatched a torch from one of the attendants and beat him unmercifully for his uncontrollable emotion.
The woman a second time had won her game,—first, by compassing the murder of her husband; second, by ordering the murder of her step-son. It is pleasant to say that she profited little by the latter base deed. The people were incensed by the murder of the king, and Dunstan resolved that Ethelred should not have the throne. He offered it to Edgitha, the daughter of Edgar. But that lady wisely preferred to remain in the convent where she lived in peace: so, in default of any other heir, Ethelred was put upon the throne,—Ethelred the Unready, as he came afterwards to be known.
Elfrida at first possessed great influence over her son; but her power declined as he grew older, and in the end she retired from the court, built monasteries and performed penances, in hopes of providing a refuge for her pious soul in heaven, since all men hated her upon the earth.
As regards Edward, his tragical death so aroused the sympathy of the people that they named him the Martyr, and believed that miracles were wrought at his tomb. It cannot be said that his murder was in any sense a martyrdom, but the men of that day did not draw fine lines of distinction, and Edward the Martyr he remains.
THE END OF SAXON ENGLAND.
We have two pictures to draw, preliminary scenes to the fatal battle of Hastings Hill. The first belongs to the morning of September 25, 1066. At Stamford Bridge, on the Derwent River, lay encamped a stalwart host, that of Harold Hardrada, king of Norway. With him was Tostig, rebel brother of King Harold of England, who had brought this army of strangers into the land. On the river near by lay their ships.
Here Harold found them, a formidable force, drawn up in a circle, the line marked out by shining spears. The English king had marched hither in all haste from the coast, where he had been awaiting the coming of William of Normandy. Tostig, the rebel son of Godwin, had brought ruin upon the land.
Before the battle commenced, twenty horsemen rode out from Harold's vanguard and moved towards the foe. Harold, the king, rode at their head. As they drew near they saw a leader of the opposing host, clad in a blue mantle and wearing a shining helmet, fall to the earth through the stumbling of his horse.
"Who is the man that fell?" asked Harold.
"The king of Norway," answered one of his companions.
"He is a tall and stately warrior," answered Harold, "but his end is near."
Then, under command of the king, one of his noble followers rode up to the opposing line and called out,—
"Is Tostig, the son of Godwin, here?"
"It would be wrong to say he is not," answered the rebel Englishman, stepping into view.
The herald then begged him to make peace with his brother, saying that it was dreadful that two men, sons of the same mother, should be in arms against each other.
"What will Harold give me if I make peace with him?" asked Tostig.
"He will give you a brother's love and make you earl of Northumberland."
"And what will he give to my friend, the king of Norway?"
"Seven feet of earth for a grave," was the grim answer of the envoy; "or, as he seems a very tall man, perhaps a foot or two more."
"Ride back, then," said Tostig, "and bid Harold make ready for battle. Whatever happens, it shall never be said of Tostig that he basely gave up the friend who had helped him in time of need."
The fight began,—and quickly ended. Hardrada fought like a giant, but an arrow in his throat brought him dead to the ground. Tostig fell also, and many other chiefs. The Northmen, disheartened, yielded. Harold gave them easy terms, bidding them take their ships and sail again to the land whence they had come.
This warlike picture on the land may be matched by one upon the sea. Over the waves of the English Channel moved a single ship, such a one as had rarely been seen upon those waters. Its sails were of different bright colors; the vanes at the mast-heads were gilded; the three lions of Normandy were painted here and there; the figure-head was a child with a bent bow, its arrow pointed towards the land of England. At the mainmast-head floated a consecrated banner, which had been sent from Rome.
It was the ship of William of Normandy, alone upon the waves. Three thousand vessels in all had left with it the shores of France, six or seven hundred of them large in size. Now, day was breaking, and the king's ship was alone. The others had vanished in the night.
William ordered a sailor to the mast-head to report on what he could see.
"I see nothing but the water and the sky," came the lookout's cry from above.
"We have outsailed them; we must lay to," said the duke.
Breakfast was served, with warm spiced wine, to keep the crew in good heart. After it was over the sailor was again sent aloft.
"I can see four ships, low down in the offing," he proclaimed.
A third time he was sent to the mast-head. His voice now came to those on deck filled with merry cheer.
"Now I see a forest of masts and sails," he cried.
Within a few hours afterwards the Normans were landing in Pevensey Bay, on the Sussex coast. Harold had been drawn off by the invasion in the north, and the new invaders were free to land. Duke William was among the first. As he set foot on shore he stumbled and fell. The hearts of his knights fell with him, for they deemed this an unlucky sign. But William had that ready wit which turns ill into good fortune. Grasping two handfuls of the soil, he hastily rose, saying, cheerily, "Thus do I seize upon the land of England."
Meanwhile, Harold was feasting, after his victory, at York. As he sat there with his captains, a stir was heard at the doors, and in rushed a messenger, booted and spurred, and covered with dust from riding fast and far.
"The Normans have come!" was his cry. "They have landed at Pevensey Bay. They are out already, harrying the land. Smoke and fire are the beacons of their march."
That feast came to a sudden end. Soon Harold and his men were in full march for London. Here recruits were gathered in all haste. Within a week the English king was marching towards where the Normans lay encamped. He was counselled to remain and gather more men, leaving some one else to lead his army.
"Not so," he replied; "an English king must never turn his back to the enemy."
We have now a third picture to draw, and a great one,—that of the mighty and momentous conflict which ended in the death of the last of the Saxon kings, and the Norman conquest of England.
The force of William greatly outnumbered that of Harold. It comprised about sixty thousand men, while Harold had but twenty or thirty thousand. And the Normans were more powerfully armed, the English having few archers, while many of them were hasty recruits who bore only pitchforks and other tools of their daily toil. The English king, therefore, did not dare to meet the heavily-armed and mail-clad Normans in the open field. Wisely he led his men to the hill of Senlac, near Hastings, a spot now occupied by the small town of Battle, so named in memory of the great fight. Here he built intrenchments of earth, stones, and tree-trunks, behind which he waited the Norman assault. Marshy ground covered the English right. In front, at the most exposed position, stood the "huscarls," or body-guard, of Harold, men clad in mail and armed with great battle-axes, their habit being to interlock their shields like a wall. In their midst stood the standard of Harold,—with the figure of a warrior worked in gold and gems,—and beside it the Golden Dragon of Wessex, a banner of ancient fame. Back of them were crowded the half-armed rustics who made up the remainder of the army.
Duke William had sought, by ravaging the land, to bring Harold to an engagement. He had until now subsisted by plunder. He was now obliged to concentrate his forces. A concentrated army cannot feed by pillage. There was but one thing for the Norman leader to do. He must attack the foe in his strong position, with victory or ruin as his only alternatives.
The night before the battle was differently passed by the two armies. The Normans spent the hours in prayer and confession to their priests. Bishop Odo celebrated mass on the field as day dawned, his white episcopal vestment covering a coat of mail, while war-horse and battle-axe awaited him when the benediction should be spoken. The English, on their side, sat round their watch-fires, drinking great horns of ale, and singing warlike lays, as their custom for centuries had been.
Day had not dawned on that memorable 14th of October, of the year 1066, when both sides were in arms and busily preparing for battle. William and Harold alike harangued their men and bade them do their utmost for victory. Ruin awaited the one side, slavery the other, if defeat fell upon their banners.
William rode a fine Spanish horse, which a Norman had brought from Galicia, whither he had gone on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Iago. The consecrated standard was borne by his side by one Tonstain, "the White," two barons having declined the dangerous honor. Behind him rode the pride of the Norman nobility.
On the hill-side before them stood Harold and his stout body-guard, trenches and earthworks in their front, their shields locked into a wall of iron. In the first line stood the men of Kent, this being their ancient privilege. Behind them were ranged the burgesses of London, the royal standard in their midst. Beside the standard stood Harold himself, his brothers Gurth and Leofwin by his side, and around them a group of England's noblest thanes and warriors.
On came the Norman column. Steadily awaited them the English phalanx. "Dieu aide!" or "God is our help!" shouted the assailing knights. "Christ's rood! the holy rood!" roared back the English warriors. Nearer they came, till they looked in each other's eyes, and the battle was ready to begin.
And now, from the van of the Norman host, rode a man of renown, the minstrel Taillefer. A gigantic man he was, singer, juggler, and champion combined. As he rode fearlessly forward he chanted in a loud voice the ancient "Song of Roland," flinging his sword in the air with one hand as he sang, and catching it as it fell with the other. As he sang, the Normans took up the refrain of his song, or shouted their battle cry of "Dieu aide."
Onward he rode, thrusting his blade through the body of the first Englishman he met. The second he encountered was flung wounded to the ground. With the third the "Song of Roland" ended; the giant minstrel was hurled from his horse pierced with a mortal wound. He had sung his last song. He crossed himself and was at rest.
On came the Normans, the band of knights led by William assailing Harold's centre, the mercenary host of French and Bretons attacking his flanks. The Norman foot led the van, seeking to force a passage across the English stockade. "Out, out!" fiercely shouted the men of Kent, as they plied axe and javelin with busy hands. The footmen were driven back. The Norman horse in turn were repulsed. Again and again the duke rallied and led his knights to the fatal stockade; again and again he and his men were driven back. The blood of the Norseman in his veins burned with all the old Viking battle-thirst. The headlong valor which he had often shown on Norman plains now impelled him relentlessly forward. Yet his coolness and readiness never forsook him. The course of the battle ever lay before his eyes, its reins in his grasp. At one time during the combat the choicest of the Norman cavalry were driven upon a deep trench which the English had dug and artfully concealed. In they went in numbers, men and horses falling and perishing. Disaster threatened Duke William's army. The Bretons, checked by the marshes on the right broke in disorder. Panic threatened to spread through the whole array, and a wild cry arose that the duke was slain. Men in numbers turned their backs upon the foe; a headlong flight was begun.
At this almost fatal moment Duke William's power as a leader revealed itself. His horse had been killed, but no harm had come to him. Springing to the back of a fresh steed, he spurred before the fugitives, and bade them halt, threatened them, struck them with his spear. When the cry was repeated that the duke was dead, he tore off his helmet and showed his face to the flying host. "Here I am!" he cried, in a stentorian voice. "Look at me! I live, and by God's help will conquer yet!"
Their leader's voice gave new courage to the Norman host, the flight ceased; they rallied, and, following the headlong charge of the duke, attacked the English with renewed fierceness and vigor. William fought like an aroused lion. Horse after horse was killed under him, but he still appeared at the head of his men, shouting his terrible war-cry, striking down a foeman with every swing of his mighty iron club.
He broke through the stockade; he spurred furiously on those who guarded the king's standard; down went Gurth, the king's brother, before a blow of that terrible mace; down went Leofwin, a second brother of the king; William's horse fell dead under him, a rider refused to lend him his horse, but a blow from that strong mailed hand emptied the saddle, and William was again horsed and using his mighty weapon with deadly effect.
Yet despite all his efforts the English line of defence remained unbroken. That linked wall of shields stood intact. From behind it the terrible battle-axes of Harold's men swung like flails, making crimson gaps in the crowded ranks before them. Hours had passed in this conflict. It began with day-dawn; the day was waning, yet still the English held their own; the fate of England hung in the scale; it began to look as if Harold would win.
But Duke William was a man of resources. That wall of shields must be rent asunder, or the battle was lost. If it could not be broken by assault, it might by retreat. He bade the men around him to feign a disorderly flight. The trick succeeded; many of the English leaped the stockade and pursued their flying foes. The crafty duke waited until the eager pursuers were scattered confusedly down the hill. Then, heading a body of horse which he had kept in reserve, he rushed upon the disordered mass, cutting them down in multitudes, strewing the hill-side with English slain.
Through the abandoned works the duke led his knights, and gained the central plateau. On the flanks the French and Bretons poured over the stockade and drove back its poorly-armed defenders. It was mid-afternoon, and the field already seemed won. Yet when the sunset hour came on that red October day the battle still raged. Harold had lost his works of defence, yet his huscarls stood stubbornly around him, and with unyielding obstinacy fought for their standard and their king. The spot on which they made their last fight was that marked afterwards by the high altar of Battle Abbey.
The sun was sinking. The battle was not yet decided. For nine hours it had raged. Dead bodies by thousands clogged the field. The living fought from a platform of the dead. At length, as the sun was nearing the horizon, Duke William brought up his archers and bade them pour their arrows upon the dense masses crowded around the standard of the English king. He ordered them to shoot into the air, that the descending shafts might fall upon the faces of the foe.
Victory followed the flight of those plumed shafts. As the sun went down one of them pierced Harold's right eye. When they saw him fall the Normans rushed like a torrent forward, and a desperate conflict ensued over the fallen king. The Saxon standard still waved over the serried English ranks. Robert Fitz Ernest, a Norman knight, fought his way to the staff. His outstretched hand had nearly grasped it when an English battle-axe laid him low. Twenty knights, grouped in mass, followed him through the English phalanx. Down they went till ten of them lay stretched in death. The other ten reached the spot, tore down the English flag, and in a few minutes more the consecrated banner of Normandy was flying in its stead.
The conflict was at an end. As darkness came the surviving English fled into the woods in their rear. The Normans remained masters of the field. Harold, the king, was dead, and all his brothers had fallen; Duke William was England's lord. On the very spot where Harold had fallen the conqueror pitched his tent, and as darkness settled over vanquished England he "sate down to eat and drink among the dead."
No braver fight had ever been made than that which Harold made for England. The loss of the Normans had been enormous. On the day after the battle the survivors of William's army were drawn up in line, and the muster-roll called. To a fourth of the names no answer was returned. Among the dead were many of the noblest lords and bravest knights of Normandy. Yet there were hungry nobles enough left to absorb all the fairest domains of Saxon England, and they crowded eagerly around the duke, pressing on him their claims. A new roll was prepared, containing the names of the noblemen and gentlemen who had survived the bloody fight. This was afterwards deposited in Battle Abbey, which William had built upon the hill where Harold made his gallant stand.
The body of the slain king was not easily to be found. Harold's aged mother, who had lost three brave sons in the battle, offered Duke William its weight in gold for the body of the king. Two monks sought for it, but in vain. The Norman soldiers had despoiled the dead, and the body of a king could not be told among that heap of naked corpses. In the end the monks sent for Editha, a beautiful maiden to whom Harold had been warmly attached, and begged her to search for her slain lover.
Editha, the "swan-necked," as some chroniclers term her, groped, with eyes half-blinded with tears, through that heap of mutilated dead, her soul filled with horror, yet seeking on and on until at length her love-true eyes saw and knew the face of the king. Harold's body was taken to Waltham Abbey, on the river Lea, a place he had loved when alive. Here he was interred, his tomb bearing the simple inscription, placed there by the monks of Waltham, "Here lies the unfortunate Harold!"
HEREWARD THE WAKE.
Through the mist of the far past of English history there looms up before our vision a notable figure, that of Hereward the Wake, the "last of the Saxons," as he has been appropriately called, a hero of romance perhaps more than of history, but in some respects the noblest warrior who fought for Saxon England against the Normans. His story is a fabric in which threads of fact and fancy seem equally interwoven; of much of his life, indeed, we are ignorant, and tradition has surrounded this part of his biography with tales of largely imaginary deeds; but he is a character of history as well as of folk lore, and his true story is full of the richest elements of romance. It is this noteworthy hero of old England with whom we have now to deal.
No one can be sure where Hereward was born, though most probably the county of Lincolnshire may claim the honor. We are told that he was heir to the lordship of Bourne, in that county. Tradition—for we have not yet reached the borders of fact—says that he was a wild and unruly youth, disrespectful to the clergy, disobedient to his parents, and so generally unmanageable that in the end his father banished him from his home.
Little was the truculent lad troubled by this. He had in him the spirit of a wanderer and outlaw, but was one fitted to make his mark wherever his feet should fall. In Scotland, while still a boy, he killed, single-handed, a great bear,—a feat highly considered in those days when all battles with man and beast were hand to hand. Next we hear of him in Cornwall, one of whose race of giants Hereward found reserved for his prowess. This was a fellow of mighty limb and boastful tongue, vast in strength and terrible in war, as his own tale ran. Hereward fought him, and the giant ceased to boast. Cornwall had a giant the less. Next he sought Ireland, and did yeoman service in the wars of that unquiet island. Taking ship thence, he made his way to Flanders, where legend credits him with wonderful deeds. Battle and bread were the nutriment of his existence, the one as necessary to him as the other, and a journey of a few hundreds of miles, with the hope of a hard fight at the end, was to him but a holiday.
Such is the Hereward to whom tradition introduces us, an idol of popular song and story, and doubtless a warrior of unwonted courage and skill, agile and strong, ready for every toil and danger, and so keenly alert and watchful that men called him the Wake. This vigorous and valiant man was born to be the hero and champion of the English, in their final struggle for freedom against their Norman foes.
A new passion entered Hereward's soul in Flanders, that of love. He met and wooed there a fair lady, Torfrida by name, who became his wife. A faithful helpmeet she proved, his good comrade in his wanderings, his wise counseller in warfare, and ever a softening influence in the fierce warrior's life. Hitherto the sword had been his mistress, his temper the turbulent and hasty one of the dweller in camp. Henceforth he owed a divided allegiance to love and the sword, and grew softer in mood, gentler and more merciful in disposition, as life went on.
To this wandering Englishman beyond the seas came tidings of sad disasters in his native land. Harold and his army had been overthrown at Hastings, and Norman William was on the throne; Norman earls had everywhere seized on English manors, Norman churls, ennobled on the field of battle, were robbing and enslaving the old owners of the land. The English had risen in the north, and William had harried whole counties, leaving a desert where he had found a fertile and flourishing land. The sufferings of the English at home touched the heart of this genuine Englishman abroad. Hereward the Wake gathered a band of stout warriors, took ship, and set sail for his native land.
And now, to a large extent, we leave the realm of legend, and enter the domain of fact. Hereward henceforth is a historical character, but a history his with shreds of romance still clinging to its skirts. First of all, story credits him with descending on his ancestral hall of Bourne, then in the possession of Normans, his father driven from his domain, and now in his grave. Hereward dealt with the Normans as Ulysses had done with the suitors, and when the hall was his there were few of them left to tell the tale. Thence, not caring to be cooped up by the enemy within stone walls, he marched merrily away, and sought a safer refuge elsewhere.
This descent upon Bourne we should like to accept as fact. It has in it the elements of righteous retribution. But we must admit that it is one of the shreds of romance of which we have spoken, one of those interesting stories which men believe to be true because they would like them to be true,—possibly with a solid foundation, certainly with much embellishment.
Where we first surely find Hereward is in the heart of the fen country of eastern England. Here, at Ely in Cambridgeshire, a band of Englishmen had formed what they called a "Camp of Refuge," whence they issued at intervals in excursions against the Normans. England had no safer haven of retreat for her patriot sons. Ely was practically an island, being surrounded by watery marshes on all sides. Lurking behind the reeds and rushes of these fens, and hidden by their misty exhalations, that faithful band had long defied its foes.
Hither came Hereward with his warlike followers, and quickly found himself at the head of the band of patriot refugees. History was repeating itself. Centuries before King Alfred had sought just such a shelter against the Danes, and had troubled his enemies as Hereward now began to trouble his.
The exiles of the Camp of Refuge found new blood in their organization when Hereward became their leader. Their feeble forays were quickly replaced by bold and daring ones. Issuing like hornets from their nests, Hereward and his valiant followers sharply stung the Norman invaders, hesitating not to attack them wherever found, cutting off armed bands, wresting from them the spoils of which they had robbed the Saxons, and flying back to their reedy shelter before their foes could gather in force.
Of the exploits of this band of active warriors but one is told in full, and that one is worth repeating. The Abbey of Peterborough, not far removed from Ely, had submitted to Norman rule and gained a Norman abbot, Turold by name. This angered the English at Ely, and they made a descent upon the settlement. No great harm was intended. Food and some minor spoil would have satisfied the raiders. But the frightened monks, instead of throwing themselves on the clemency of their fellow-countrymen, sent word in haste to Turold. This incensed the raiding band, composed in part of English, in part of Danes who had little regard for church privileges. Provoked to fury, they set fire to the monks' house and the town, and only one house escaped the flames. Then they assailed the monastery, the monks flying for their lives. The whole band of outlaws burst like wolves into the minster, which they rapidly cleared of its treasures. Here some climbed to the great rood, and carried off its golden ornaments. There others made their way to the steeple, where had been hidden the gold and silver pastoral staff. Shrines, roods, books, vestments, money, treasures of all sorts vanished, and when Abbot Turold appeared with a party of armed Normans, he found but the bare walls of the church and the ashes of the town, with only a sick monk to represent the lately prosperous monastery. Whether or not Hereward took part in this affair, history does not say.
King William had hitherto disregarded this patriot refuge, and the bold deeds of the valiant Hereward. All England besides had submitted to his authority, and he was too busy in the work of making a feudal kingdom of free England to trouble himself about one small centre of insurrection. But an event occurred that caused him to look upon Hereward with more hostile eyes.
Among those who had early sworn fealty to him, after the defeat of Harold at Hastings, were Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumberland. They were confirmed in the possession of their estates and dignities, and remained faithful to William during the general insurrection of northern England. As time went on, however, their position became unbearable. The king failed to give them his confidence, the courtiers envied them their wealth and titles, and maligned them to the king. Their dignity of position was lost at the court; their safety even was endangered; they resolved, when too late, to emulate their braver countryman, and strike a blow for home and liberty. Edwin sought his domain in the north, bent on insurrection. Morcar made his way to the Isle of Ely, where he took service with his followers, and with other noble Englishmen, under the brave Hereward, glad to find one spot on which a man of true English blood could still set foot in freedom.
His adhesion brought ruin instead of strength to Hereward. If William could afford to neglect a band of outlaws in the fens, he could not rest with these two great earls in arms against him. There were forces in the north to attend to Edwin; Morcar and Hereward must be looked after.
Gathering an army, William marched to the fen country and prepared to attack the last of the English in their almost inaccessible Camp of Refuge. He had already built himself a castle at Cambridge, and here he dwelt while directing his attack against the outlaws of the fens.
The task before him was not a light one, in the face of an opponent so skilful and vigilant as Hereward the Wake. The Normans of that region had found him so ubiquitous and so constantly victorious that they ascribed his success to enchantment; and even William, who was not free from the superstitions of his day, seemed to imagine that he had an enchanter for a foe. Enchanter or not, however, he must be dealt with as a soldier, and there was but one way in which he could be reached. The heavily-armed Norman soldiers could not cross the marsh. From one side the Isle of Ely could be approached by vessels, but it was here so strongly defended that the king's ships failed to make progress against Hereward's works. Finding his attack by water a failure, William began the building of a causeway, two miles long, across the morasses from the dry land to the island.