Henry of Huntingdon Historia Anglorum


[A.D. 1063] In the twenty-second year of King Edward's reign, when Philip was king of France, on the death of his father Henry, William, duke of Normandy, subjugated Maine. Harold crossing the sea to Flanders, was driven by a storm on the coast of Ponthieu. The Earl of that province arrested him, and brought him to William, duke of Normandy. Whereupon Harold took a solemn oath to William upon the most holy relics of saints that he would marry his daughter, and on the death of King Edward would aid his designs upon England. Harold was entertained with great honour and received many magnificent gifts. However, after his return to England, he was guilty of perjury. ...

[AD. 1066] In the year of of our Lord 1066, the Lord, who ruleth all things, accomplished what He had long designed with respect to the English nation; giving them up to destruction by the fierce and crafty race of the Normans. For when the church of St. Peter at Westminster had been consecrated on Holy Innocents' day, and soon afterwards King Edward departed this life on the eve of Epiphany, and was interred in the same church, which he had built and endowed with great possessions, some of the English sought to make Edgar Etheling king; but Harold, relying on his power and his pretensions by birth, seized the crown. Meanwhile, William, duke of Normandy, was inwardly irritated and deeply incensed, for three reasons. First, because Godwin and his sons had dishonoured and murdered his kinsman Alfred. Secondly, because they had driven out of England Robert the bishop, and Odo the earl, and all the other Frenchmen. Thirdly, because Harold, committing perjury, had usurped the kingdom, which by right of relationship belonged to himself. Duke William, therefore, assembling the principal men of Normandy, called on them to aid him in the conquest of England. As they were entering the council chamber, William Fitz-Osbert, the Duke's steward, threw himself in their way. representing that the expedition to England was a very serious undertaking, for the English were a most warlike people: and argued vehemently against the very few who were disposed to embark in the project of invading England. The barons, hearing this, were highly delighted, and pledged their faith to him that they would all concur in what he should say. Upon which he presented himself at their head before the Duke, and thus he addressed him: "I am ready to follow you devotedly with all my people in this expedition." All the great men of Normandy were thus pledged to what he promised, and a numerous fleet was equipped at the port called St. Valery. Upon hearing this, the warlike Harold fitted out a fleet to meet that of Duke William. Meanwhile, Earl Tosti entered the Humber with 60 ships; but Earl Edwin came upon him with his troops and put him to flight. He escaped to Scotland, where he fell in with Harold, king of Norway, with 300 ships. Tosti was overjoyed, and tendered him his allegiance. Then they joined their forces and came up the Humber, as far as York, near which they were encountered by the Earls Edwin and Morcar; the place where the battle was fought is still shown on the south side of the city. Here Harold, king of Norway, and Tosti, his ally, gained the day. When this intelligence reached Harold, king of England, he advanced with a powerful army, and came up with the invaders at Stanford Bridge. The battle was desperately fought, the armies being engaged from daybreak to noonday, when, after fierce attacks on both sides, the Norwegians were forced to give way before the superior numbers of the English, but retreated in good order. Being driven across the river, the living trampling on the corpses of the slain, they resolutely made a fresh stand. Here a single Norwegian, whose name ought to have been preserved, took post on a bridge, and hewing down more than forty of the English with a battle-axe, his country's weapon, stayed the advance of the whole English army till the ninth hour. At last some one came under the bridge in a boat, and thrust a spear into him, through the chinks of the flooring. The English having gained a passage, King Harold and Tosti were slain; and their whole army were either slaughtered, or, being taken prisoners, were burnt.

Harold, king of England, returned to York the same day, with great triumph. But while he was at dinner, a messenger arrived with the news that William, duke of Normandy, had landed on the south coast and had built a fort at Hastings. The king hastened southwards to oppose him, and drew up his army on level ground in that neighbourhood. Duke William commenced the attack with five squadrons of his splendid cavalry, a terrible onset; but first he addressed them to this effect: "What I hace to say to you, ye Normans, the bravest of nations, does not spring from any doubt of your valour or uncertainty of victory, which never by any chance or obstacle escaped your efforts. If, indeed, once only you had failed of conquering, it might be necessary to inflame your courage by exhortation. But how little does the inherent spirit of your race require to be roused! Most valiant of men, what availed the power of the Frank king, with all his people, from Lorraine to Spain, against Hastings, my predecessor? What he wanted of the territory of France he appropriated to himself; what he chose, only, was left to the king; what he had, he held during his pleasure; when he was satisfied, he relinquished it, and looked for something better. Did not Rollo, my ancestor, the founder of our nation, with your progenitors, conquer at Paris the king of the Franks in the heart of his dominions; nor could he obtain any respite until he humbly offered possession of the country which from you is called Normandy, with the hand of his daughter? Did not your fathers take prisoner the king of the French, and detain him at Rouen till he restored Normandy to your Duke Richard, then a boy; with this stipulation, that in every conference between the King of France and the Duke of Normandy, the duke should have his sword by his side, while the king should not be allowed so much as a dagger? This concession your fathers compelled the great king to submit to, as binding for ever. Did not the same duke lead your fathers to Mirmande, at the foot of the Alps, and enforce submission from the lord of the town, his son-in-law, to his own wife, the duke's daughter? Nor was it enough to conquer mortals; for he overcame the devil himself, with whom he wrestled, and cast down and bound him, leaving him a shameful spectacle to angels. But why do I go back to former times? When you, in our own time, engaged the French at Mortemer, did not the French prefer flight to battle, and use their spurs instead of their swords; while - Ralph, the French commander, being slain - you reaped the fruits of victory, the honour and the spoil, as natural of your wonted success? Ah! let any one of the men whom our predecessors, both Danes and Normans, have defeated in a hundred battles, come forth avow that the race of Rollo ever suffered a defeat from them until now, and I will submit and retreat. Is it not so, then, that a people accustomed to be conquered, will be ignorant of the art of war, a people not even in possesion of arrows, should make a show of being arrayed for battle against you, most valiant? Is it not a a crime that this King Harold, perjured as he was in your presence, should dare to show his face to you? It is better to me that you have been allowed to see those guilty of a horrible crime who beheaded your relations and my kinsman, and that their own accursed heads be on their shoulders. Raise, then, your standards, brave men, and set no bounds to your merited rage. Let the lightning of your glory flash, and the thunders of it be heard from east to west, and be the avengers of the noble blood which has been spilled."

William had not concluded his harangue, when all the squadrons, inflamed with rage, rushed on the enemy in indescribable impetuosity, and left the duke speaking to himself! Before the armies closed for the fight, one jester, sportively brandishing swords before the English troops, while they were lost in amazement at his game slew one of their standard-bearers. A second time he enemy fell. The third time he was slain himself.

Then the ranks met; a cloud of arrows carried death among them; the clang of sword-strokes followed; helmets gleamed, and weapons clashed. But Harold had formed his whole army in close column, making a rampart which the Normans conld not penetrate. Duke William, therefore, commanded his troops to make a feigned retreat. In their flight they happened unawares on a deep trench, which was treacherously covered, into which numbers fell and perished. While the English were engaged in pursuit the main body of the Normans broke the centre of the enemy's line, which being perceived by those in pursuit over the concealed trench, when they were consequently recalled most of them fell there. Duke William also commanded his bowmen not to aim their arrows directly at the enemy, but to shoot them in the air that their cloud might spread darkness over the enemy's ranks; this occasioned great loss to the English. Twenty of the bravest knights also pledged their troth to each other that they would cut through the English troops, and capture the royal ensign called The Standard. In this attack the greater part were slain; but the remainder, hewing a way with their swords captured the standard. Meanwhile, a shower of arrows fell round King Harold, and he himself was pierced in the eye. A crowd of horsemen now burst in, and the king, already wounded, was slain. With him fell Earl Gurth and Earl Leofric, his brothers. After the defeat of the English army, and so great a victory, the Londoners submitted peaceably to William, and he was crowned at Westminster, by Aldred, archbishop of York. Thus the hand of the Lord brought to pass the change which a remarkable comet had foreshadowed in the beginning of the same year; as it was said, "In the year 1066, all England was alarmed by a flaming comet." The battle was fought in the month a October, on the feast of St. Calixtus [Oct 14]. King William afterwards founded a noble abbey on the spot, which obtained the fitting name of Battle Abbey.

Translation by Thomas Forester 1853