Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/197

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BATTLE OF HASTINGS. 191


dearly by the opportunity which Duke William had gained of effecting an unopposed landing on the Sussex coast. The whole of William's shipping had assembled at the mouth of the Dive, a little river between the Seine and the Orne, as early as the middle of August. The army which he had collected amounted to fifty thousand knights, and ten thousand soldiers of inferior degree. Many of the knights were mounted, but many must have served on foot, as it is hardly possible to believe that William could have found transports for the conveyance of fifty thousand war-horses across the Channel. For a long time the winds were adverse, and the duke employed the interval that passed before he could set sail in completing the organization and in improving the discipline of his army, which he seems to have brought into the same state of perfection as was seven centuries and a half afterward the boast of another army assembled on the same coast, and which Napoleon designed (but providentially in vain) for a similar descent upon England.

It was not till the approach of the equinox that the wind veered from the northeast to the west, and gave the Normans an opportunity of quitting the weary shores of the Dive. They eagerly embarked, and set sail, but the wind soon freshened to a gale, and drove them along the French coast to St. Valery, where the greater part of them found shelter; but many of their vessels were wrecked, and the whole coast of Normandy was strewn with the bodies of the drowned. William's army began to grow discouraged and averse to the enterprise, which the very elements thus seemed to fight against; though, in reality, the northeast wind, which had cooped them so long at the mouth of the Dive, and the western gale, which had forced them into St. Valery, were the best possible friends to the invaders. They prevented the Normans from crossing the Channel until the Saxon king and his army of defense had been called away from the Sussex coast to encounter Harald Hardrada in Yorkshire; and also until a formidable English fleet, which by King Harold's orders had been cruising in the Channel to intercept the Normans, had been obliged to disperse temporarily for the purpose of refitting and taking in fresh stores of provisions.

Duke William used every expedient to reanimate the drooping spirits of his men at St. Valery; and at last he caused the body of the patron saint of the place to be exhumed and carried in