Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Battle of Hastings

When Edward the Confessor died, in 1066, leaving no children, there were several claimants to the English throne. One of them was Harold, the son of God win, who was chosen by the Witenagemot to be the next king. It seems, moreover, that Edward the Confessor had picked out the same Harold to succeed him.

The Duke of Normandy, also a relative of Edward, claimed that the throne should belong to him. He said that Edward had once promised to name him his successor, and added that when Harold was shipwrecked in Normandy he solemnly swore to help the duke get possession of the English crown.

According to some histories, William, Duke of Normandy, had forced the shipwrecked Harold to make that promise. The Saxon prince, thinking an oath under such circumstances could not be binding, laid his hand upon a small relic which William placed on the table. But as soon as the words were spoken, the duke removed the cloth which covered the table, and showed Harold a pile of the holiest relics that could be found.

Of course, in these days a promise is a promise, but in the time of Harold it was considered more binding if made upon several relics than if upon one. If Harold really promised to give William the throne, he should have done so, but you will find in some histories that Harold made no such promise, and hence did not break his word when he accepted the crown.

However that may be, Harold was no sooner named king than he found himself compelled to fight against the Danes, who invaded his kingdom on one side, and the Normans, who were coming on the other.

Harold, who is known as the "Last of the Saxons," because he was the last Saxon king, promptly collected his army, and, marching rapidly northward, met and defeated the Danes at Stamford Bridge. But scarcely had he won this victory, when a herald came in great haste to announce that the Normans were crossing the Channel in many ships. Without giving his men a moment to rest, Harold marched them from Stamford Bridge to the shore at Hastings, where he arrived three days later, only to find that the Normans had already landed.

We are told that as William was leaving his boat he stumbled and fell. People were very superstitious in those days, so some of his followers began to mutter something about evil omens and bad luck. But William, who was very quick-witted, laughed aloud, and, seizing some sand in his hands, he cried that he now held England fast. This gave his men new courage, and when they met Harold's army at Senlac, a few miles away, they fought with great energy.

For a long while the battle raged furiously, and it seemed doubtful how it would end. Then, suddenly, a cry arose that William had been killed, and his men paused in dismay. But before they could turn and flee, he put, spurs to his horse, and, snatching his helmet from his head so that all might see his face, rode through the ranks, crying, "I am still alive, and, with the help of God, I shall yet conquer."

The Norman soldiers, encouraged by these words, again attacked the weary Saxons, who fought bravely, in spite of the terrible rain of Norman arrows, until they saw their king fall dead. When the battle was over, and William remained victor, Harold's lady-love came to look for his body. She found it under a heap of slain, on the very spot where he had fought gallantly to the last. A Norman arrow was sticking through his eye into his brain, and his hand still grasped his sword.

Some historians say that Harold's body was buried in an abbey near London. Others declare that William ordered that he should be buried on the shore, saying, "He guarded the coast while he was alive; let him continue to guard it after death." Upon his grave, wherever it was, his lady is said to have put this epitaph: "Here lies Harold the Unfortunate."