Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/203

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BATTLE OF HASTINGS. 197


to them beforehand. They come, not only to ruin us, but to ruin our descendants also, and to take from us the country of our ancestors. And what shall we do—whither shall we go, when we have no longer a country?' The English promised, by a unanimous oath, to make neither peace, nor truce, nor treaty with the invader, but to die, or drive away the Normans."*

The 13th of October was occupied in these negotiations, and at night the duke announced to his men that the next day would be the day of battle. That night is said to have been passed by the two armies in very different manners. The Saxon soldiers spent it in joviality, singing their national songs, and draining huge horns of ale and wine round their camp-fires. The Normans, when they had looked to their arms and horses, confessed themselves to the priests with whom their camp was thronged, and received the sacrament by thousands at a time.

On Saturday, the 14th of October, was fought the great battle. It is not difficult to compose a narrative of its principal incidents from the historical information which we possess, especially if aided by an examination of the ground. But it is far better to adopt the spirit-stirring words of the old chroniclers, who wrote while the recollections of the battle were yet fresh, and while the feelings and prejudices of the combatants yet glowed in the bosoms of living men. Robert Wace, the Norman poet, who presented his "Roman de Rou" to our Henry II, is the most picturesque and animated of the old writers, and from him we can obtain a more vivid and full description of the conflict than even the most brilliant romance-writer of the present time can supply. We have also an antique memorial of the battle more to be relied on than either chronicler or poet (and which confirms Wace's narrative remarkably) in the celebrated Bayeux tapestry which represents the principal scenes of Duke William's expedition, and of the circumstances connected with it, in minute, though occasionally grotesque details, and which was undoubtedly the production of the same age in which the battle took place, whether we admit or reject the legend that Queen Matilda and the ladies of her court wrought it with their own hands in honor of the royal conqueror.

Let us therefore suffer the old Norman chronicler to transport our imaginations to the fair Sussex scenery northwest of Hastings,

  • Thierry.