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Chapter 18 THE NORTHERN INVASION.

  • The news of Harold's marriage to Ealdgyth put an end to the demands of Willia_f Normandy that Harold should take one of his daughters to wife, and in th_omplaints that he addressed to all Christendom against Harold the breach o_is promise in this respect was placed far more prominently than his failur_o carry out his oath to be the duke's man. It must have been evident indee_o all that it was beyond the power of the English king to keep this oath, obtained from him by force and treachery. He had been elected by the voice o_he English people, and had no more power than the meanest of his subjects t_and the crown they had bestowed to another.
  • The breach of this oath, however, served to obtain all the aid that the churc_ould give to William. Harold was solemnly excommunicated, and the struggl_or which the duke was preparing thereupon assumed the character of a sacre_ar. In England itself the Bull of excommunication had no effect whatever. Th_reat bulk of bishops and clergy were Englishmen, and thought far more o_heir king than of any foreign prince or prelate. Even the bishops and abbot_f Norman blood disregarded the commination, and remained staunch to Harold.
  • He had been a generous patron to the church, had maintained them in all th_rivileges and dignities that Edward had bestowed upon them, and possessed th_ove of the whole English people; therefore, in spite of bann and interdic_he churches remained open, services were held as usual, and people wer_arried and buried as if the Papal Bull had never been issued.
  • But it was not so on the Continent. The Norman barons as a body had at firs_efused to support the duke in an invasion of England, but as individuals the_ad been brought round to join in William's project, and to give far more ai_n ships and men than they were bound to do by their feudal engagements.
  • Having accomplished this, William issued an invitation to all adventurou_pirits in Europe to join him in his crusade against the excommunicated Kin_f England, promising that all should share alike in the plunder of Englan_nd in the division of its land. The bait was a tempting one. Some joined th_nterprise merely for the sake of gaining glory under the banner of one wh_as regarded as the greatest military leader in Europe, others were influence_y love of gain, while, as in the crusades, numbers joined to obtai_bsolution for past misdeeds by taking part in an enterprise blessed by th_ope. Thus the force which William was collecting greatly exceeded that whic_he resources of Normandy alone could have set on foot.
  • Among the first to hurry to the court of William, as soon as Harold'_ccession to the throne was known, was Tostig, in whose mind the refusal o_arold to embark in a civil war for his sake, and to force him upon the peopl_f Northumbria in spite of their detestation of him, was an injury not to b_orgiven. The fact that Tostig was ready thus to sacrifice England to his ow_rivate quarrel showed a baseness and recklessness that could hardly b_xpected from his early career. William naturally accepted the alliance, received Tostig's oath of allegiance, and aided him in fitting out a number o_hips manned by Norman and Flemish adventurers. Evading the watch kept by th_nglish fleet they crossed the sea, landed, and plundered and ravaged _onsiderable extent of country, and then retired, Tostig being enraged tha_illiam of Normandy was unwilling to send an expedition to act in concert wit_im until the whole of his plans were prepared and his great army ready fo_ea.
  • Normandy indeed had been converted into a vast camp. In every port grea_umbers of workmen laboured night and day building ships, for Normandy ha_eased to be a naval power, and its shipping was utterly insufficient to carr_he great army across. Tostig, impatient and hasty, thought no more of th_ath of allegiance that he had sworn to William. Driven from Yorkshire by th_orces of the northern earls he sailed to Scotland, where he was welcomed b_ing Malcolm, both as a sworn brother and as the enemy of England. Fro_cotland he entered into negotiations with Harold Hardrada of Norway. Thi_arlike monarch was in a fit mood to listen to his advances; he had for year_een engaged in a struggle with Denmark, which he had ineffectually attempte_o conquer, and had at last been forced to conclude a treaty of peace wit_weyn, its king.
  • Tostig had already endeavoured by personal persuasions to induce Sweyn t_evive his claim to the crown of England, and to undertake its conquest; bu_e altogether declined to undertake so dangerous and difficult an enterprise, and Tostig had then turned to Harold of Norway. Whether his interview with hi_as before he went to Scotland or whether he went thence to Norway is a poin_n which historians differ. Some deny that any interview took place, but th_alance of probability lies strongly in favour of an early interview, at whic_arold entered heartily into Tostig's plans, and began at once to mak_reparations for the enterprise.
  • It was certain that an invading force from Norway would land in Northumbria, and Harold, although he might not be able to rely greatly upon the assistanc_f the northern earls as against the Normans, knew that they would do thei_est to defeat an expedition landing on their own shores, especially whe_ostig was a sharer in the invasion. His own thoughts were wholly bent upo_epelling the mighty expedition gathering in Normandy, and for this purpose, by immense efforts, he collected the greatest army and fleet that had eve_een got together in England. An incessant watch was kept up along the coas_here the Normans might be expected to land, while the fleet cruised fo_onths between the Thames and the Isle of Wight prepared to give battle to th_nvaders.
  • But the conditions of service in England were such that it was impossible t_eep a great force on foot for an indefinite time. The housecarls were th_nly regular portion of the army The great bulk of the force, both land an_ea, consisting of the levies or militia, whose term of service was ver_imited. It says much for the influence of Harold that he was able for fou_onths to keep his army and navy together. Had the foe appeared, soldiers an_ailors would have done their duty, but the long term of inaction, the wear_aiting for a foe that never came, was too much, and when September arrive_nd the harvest was ready to be gathered it was impossible even for him t_eep the men longer together. The army disbanded, the levies went to thei_omes, and the ships of the fleet sailed away to the ports to which the_elonged. All the efforts and anxieties of Harold, all his lavish expenditur_n feeding and providing for so great a number of men had been thrown away.
  • England lay for a time absolutely defenceless against the coming storm.
  • It was not until August that Wulf had completely recovered his strength, an_as able to join the army.
  • "This is not a time," Harold said to him on the day he arrived at the camp,
  • "for the granting of dignities or the bestowal of grants. But if we ar_uccessful, and I remain King of England, the services you have rendered me a_he risk of your life, Wulf, shall be worthily rewarded."
  • "I need no reward," Wulf replied. "My estates are sufficient for all my needs, and I desire neither land nor dignity, being more than content that I hav_een enabled to render a service to you and to England."
  • Wulf was, however, at once appointed as commander of the whole of th_ousecarls supplied by the thanes of the south coast of Sussex. None of thes_odies were equal in strength to his own carefully prepared contingent, few o_he thanes having kept up more than fifteen or twenty men constantly unde_rms, and these only for the past few months, in consequence of Harold'_xhortations. Altogether the force amounted to about four hundred men. Eac_arty had its own sub-officer, and Wulf did his best to weld them into on_ody. When the army broke up, he returned with the king to Westminster. Th_ay after he arrived there a man met him as he issued from the palace, an_anded him a letter. It contained but the words:
  • " _I would fain see you. If you will follow the bearer he will bring you t_e. Say naught to any one of this message. Edith._ "
  • "Is the distance far?" he asked the man.
  • "It is to Croydon, my lord. I have ridden here on horseback."
  • Wulf at once ordered his horse to be brought to him.
  • "Will you be back to-night, my lord," Osgod asked, as he mounted, "in case th_ing should wish to see you?"
  • "I shall not be back till late, possibly not until to-morrow I do not tell yo_here I am going, in order that if you are asked you may be able truly t_eply that I said nothing before I mounted, as to my destination."
  • It was just mid-day when Wulf drew up his horse before a modest house standin_n a secluded position a quarter of a mile from the village of Croydon. Edit_et him at the doorway.
  • "I thank you, Wulf, for answering my request so speedily. There is much that _ould ask you about my lord. I hear of him only by general report, fo_lthough from time to time I send him messages I give him no opportunity fo_riting to me, and I know that he has respected my wishes, and has caused n_earch to be made for me."
  • "Harold sometimes speaks to me of you, lady, and has in no way forgotten you.
  • He did charge me to find out if I could the place of your abode; not that h_ould seek an interview with you, but, should there be need, he might be abl_o send a message." By this time they were seated in the room where Edit_pent the greater part of her time.
  • "It is better that we should not meet," she said earnestly. "His mission is t_ork and to fight for England; mine to remain apart from all men and to spen_y time in prayers for him. I know that he places great confidence in you, a_ndeed he well may, for I heard how you had saved his life, well nigh at th_xpense of your own. Is he happy with his new queen?"
  • "His thoughts at present, lady, are altogether turned to public affairs, an_t is well perhaps that it should be so. I do not think that he receives muc_ympathy from the queen, who cares more, I should say, for her brothers, th_orthern earls, than for her husband."
  • "It is scarce a wonder that it should be so," Edith replied; "though it seem_trange to me that any woman could live with Harold without loving him wit_ll her heart. And yet she may well feel that she, like Harold, has bee_acrificed. There was no shadow of love between them before their marriage, i_act she may even have hated him, for it was he who brought ruin and deat_pon her husband, the Welsh king. She must know that he only married her i_rder to gain the firm alliance of her brothers, and that her hand was give_y them to Harold without any reference to her feelings. I would that the kin_ere happy, even though it were with another. But it was not for his happines_hat I left him, but that England might be one. Is it true that the army i_roken up and the fleet scattered?"
  • "It is true, lady. Save for three or four thousand housecarls, there is not a_rmed man in readiness to defend England."
  • "It must be a terrible trial to him."
  • "It is, my lady. He returned to town yesterday dispirited and cast down at th_ailure of the work of months."
  • "Still they will reassemble rapidly," she said, "when the Normans reall_ome?"
  • "Doubtless they will. But the loss of the fleet is greater than that of th_rmy, for at sea we could have met and almost assuredly have conquered them, for the Normans are no match for our sailors; whereas to meet so great an arm_f trained soldiers, with hastily assembled levies, is to fight under ever_isadvantage."
  • "And is the rumour true which says that Tostig and Harold of Norway are als_reparing for an invasion?"
  • "All reports that come to us through Denmark are to that effect."
  • "It is enough to make the stones cry out," Edith said indignantly, "that a so_f Godwin should thus betray England. I never thought it of him. He wa_eadstrong and passionate; yet as a young man he was loved almost as much a_arold himself, nay, some loved him more. But it was not on account of publi_ffairs that I brought you here, but to talk of Harold. I know nought of hi_aily doings, of his thoughts, or his troubles. Tell me all you can of him, Wulf."
  • For a long time they talked of the king. She had from the first been draw_owards Wulf by seeing how he loved Harold, and as they talked her tears ofte_ell.
  • "I am proud of him," she said at last; "more proud of him than when he was th_ight of my life. My sacrifice has not been in vain. He is what I would hav_im. One whose thoughts are all fixed upon his country; who gives all hi_nergy, all his wisdom, all his time to her service. Humbler men can be happy, but a king has higher duties than others, and for him love and marriage, wif_nd children, the joys of the peasant, must be altogether secondary. The goo_f his country, the happiness and welfare of tens of thousands are in hi_ands; and if in these respects he acts worthily, if he gains the blessings o_is people, he can afford to do without the home joys that are so much t_esser men. You are sure that he is not unhappy? If I did but know this, _ould be content."
  • "I do not think he is unhappy," Wulf said confidently. "He has the applaus_nd love of all men, and the knowledge that all his work is for the good o_is country and his people. He may have regrets, but he has little time t_pend upon them when he has in hand so vast a work, upon which night and da_is every thought is directed."
  • "I suppose you wish to get back to-night, Wulf?"
  • "I should greatly prefer it," he said.
  • "And I would rather that you did not remain here. It may seem inhospitable, but I feel it would be better so. No one here knows who I am, and at first m_ervants were plied with questions whenever they went abroad; but the wonde_as died away, and the villagers have come to believe that I am, as I gav_ut, the widow of a court official. Should it be known that a young than_tayed here the night, it would set them gossiping afresh. Stay and sup wit_e before you start."
  • "And am I to tell the king I have seen you?" he asked.
  • "What think you yourself, Wulf?"
  • "I am sure that he would be glad to know. I need not say where you are living.
  • I will say that you have charged me to keep it secret, and he will forbea_uestioning me. But I am sure that it will give him deep pleasure to know tha_ have seen you, to learn how you look, how you are living, how you occup_ourself, and how you think of him. It cannot but be a trial to him to kno_othing of one he so loves. More than once he has told me that he wondere_hether you had entered a convent, whether you were in health, how you bor_ourself, and other matters."
  • "Tell him then, Wulf. You can tell him that great as has been my grief ove_ur separation, I can yet feel happy in my solitude in knowing how nobly he i_oing his kingly work, and that I have never wavered in my assurance that _as right when I bade him go. Tell him that I have no thought of entering _loister; that I have my old servants and my garden and needle-work; that _pend much of my time in ministering to my poorer neighbours, and that I a_etting to be loved by them. Say that my health is good, and that I have ever_omfort I need save his presence. Tell him that if I fall ill, and the leeche_ay that I shall die, I shall send for him to see me once again, but that i_uch manner only will we meet in this life; and that it is my prayer that h_ill not seek to alter my resolution, for that the pain of parting again woul_e more than the joy of seeing him. He is another woman's now, and that by m_ct, therefore it would be a grievous sin for us, loving each other as we do, to meet again, unless he or I was on a death-bed."
  • The supper was served early, and when it was eaten Wulf's horse was brough_ound to the door.
  • "Am I to come again?" he asked.
  • She did not answer for a time. "Not unless I send for you, Wulf. Our meetin_as given me much pleasure, and I shall be the happier for it, but for a tim_ur talk of the past and present will unsettle me and stir up afresh regret_nd longings. Therefore, it were best that you come not again until I send fo_ou."
  • The darkness was just closing in when Wulf rode into Westminster.
  • "The king has twice asked for you, my lord," Osgod said, as he alighted. "Th_ast time a quarter of an hour since."
  • Wulf at once went to the king's closet, where he was at work with two or thre_ecretaries, to whom he was dictating.
  • "I want you, Wulf," the king said as he entered. "Where hast been?" Wul_lanced at the secretaries, and Harold bade them retire till he summoned the_gain. Wulf then related at length his interview with Edith. Harold listene_n silence.
  • "I am right glad at your news," he said, when the latter had finished. "It i_ust what I thought she would do. Her words are lofty and wise; truly a kin_an little hope for happiness such as that which is in the reach of th_umblest of his subjects. But we will talk of this again. For the present _ust think of public business. News has been brought me by a sure hand fro_enmark that the fleet of Norway has sailed. 'Tis said that Harold has calle_ut a levy of half the fighting men of his kingdom, and that he has fiv_undred war-ships besides transports. His son, Magnus, has been left behind t_ule Norway with the title of king. Harold intends to conquer England an_eign here. I must lose no moment in sending the news to the northern earls.
  • Doubtless it is on their coast he will first land. There is no one I woul_ooner trust than yourself, and you shall be my messenger.
  • "I have the letters already written to them, warning them that every ma_apable of bearing arms should be summoned to their standard, and ever_reparation made to repulse the foe. Of help at present I can give them none; my army is dispersed, my shores undefended, and at any moment William's flee_ay appear off the coast. Let them meet the Norwegians, while I meet th_ormans. It is for you to press upon them the counsels I give in my letters; and I would that you should remain with them, sending messages to me from tim_o time, giving me full tidings of what takes place at York and how they far_n their struggle with Harold of Norway, and, as I fear, with my brothe_ostig. They met you at Northampton, and they know the confidence I place i_ou and the services you rendered in the Welsh campaign. However, althoug_hey may receive you well I fear that your counsel will go for nought. The_re haughty and headstrong, and assuredly they will not be guided by one of m_hanes. Do not, therefore, press the matter with them, or risk incurring thei_nger. I want you to stand well with them, for so only can you learn thei_iews and keep me informed of what is doing. Being assured that you woul_ndertake the duty I have highly commended you to them as my representative a_ork, and I doubt not that you will be well received. Brothers-in-law thoug_hey are I can count on but little aid from them in our struggle with th_ormans, but there they will be fighting for their own earldoms and will d_heir best, though I fear the result, for they have been deaf to my entreatie_o keep an army on foot, and the hurried levies of the North will scarce stan_gainst the mighty army Harold Hardrada is bringing against them."
  • "I will start immediately, my lord."
  • "Here is a royal order upon all governors and thanes to give you changes o_orses and to aid you in all ways. Take that giant of yours with you, he is _aithful fellow and is not wanting in sense; you will find him of great us_here. You will, of course, accompany the earls to the field. Watch well ho_he levies fight, it is long since they have been called upon to meet a foe, and I would fain know how much they can be trusted on the day of battle. A_our own horse has travelled to-day take two of my best, here is an order t_he head of the stables to deliver them to you. Is there aught else that I ca_o for you?"
  • "Nothing, my lord. I understand your wishes, and will follow them as closel_s I can."
  • "Do not expose yourself too much on the field of battle, Wulf. I cannot spar_ou, and therefore charge you not to be rash, and if matters go ill to provid_or your safety as far as you may."
  • Wulf found Osgod awaiting him in the hall below.
  • "I thought you might require me, master, so I waited till you had seen th_ing."
  • "You did well, Osgod. I am starting on a journey to York and you are t_ccompany me. We ride armed, so get on your coat of mail and take you_avourite axe, then carry this order to the stables and tell them to have th_wo horses ready at the gates in half an hour's time; then go to the kitche_nd eat a hearty meal and put up some bread and cold meat in a wallet. W_hall ride fast and with few stoppages, for I have the royal order for chang_f horses everywhere."
  • "That is good news, my lord. After dawdling away the last four months doin_othing I am glad to hear that there is a chance of striking a strong blow o_omeone, though who it is I know not."
  • "Now go, Osgod, I have also to change my clothes and drink a horn of ale an_at something, though I supped but three hours since. Put my gayest suit int_he saddle-bag, for I may stay some time at York, and must make a fair show, going as I do as Harold's messenger."
  • The journey was accomplished at an extraordinary rate of speed, Harold's orde_rocuring them a change of horses when ever they stopped; and they but onc_alted for a few hours' sleep. Wulf found that Edwin and Morcar were both a_ork, and alighted at the gate of their residence. Announcing himself as _essenger from the king, he was at once conducted into their presence.
  • "It is Wulf of Steyning, is it not?" Edwin said courteously. "The message mus_e urgent indeed since Harold has chosen you to carry it. When did you leav_im?"
  • "I left Westminster at nine o'clock on the evening of Tuesday."
  • "And it is now but mid-day on Thursday," the earl said in a tone o_stonishment. "You have ridden nigh two hundred miles in less than fort_ours."
  • "The roads are good, my lord, and I had the king's order for changes of horse_henever needed. I slept six hours at Northampton, but have ridden withou_ther stop save to take meals. I knew that the message I bore was o_mportance, as you will see by the king's letter."
  • Edwin opened the letter and laid it before Morcar, and the two read i_ogether.
  • "This is serious news indeed," Edwin said when they had perused it. "So Harol_f Norway is on his way hither with five hundred warships and half the male_f Norway. Since the news has come from Denmark he must already have been nig_ fortnight at sea, and if he had sailed hitherwards we should have heard lon_re this of his being within sight of our shores. As we have heard nought o_im it may be that his object has been misreported, and that it is not agains_s that his fleet is bound."
  • "I fear that it can have no other destination," Wulf said; "though it may b_hat it has sailed first to Scotland to obtain assistance from Malcolm. There, too, he will find Tostig, whom the king fears is in alliance with him."
  • "Then assuredly it is against us that he comes," Morcar said, "and unless th_inds shatter his fleet we shall hear of him before long. But he may lan_nywhere from the border of Scotland to the Humber, and it is useless ou_rying to hinder him along so great a line. He may delay his coming as Willia_f Normandy has done, and our men, like those of Harold, will not remain unde_rms for months doing nothing. With so great an army he must move slowly an_e shall have plenty of time to gather our forces to meet him. Harold urges u_o call out the levies at once, but he does not know the Northumbrians as w_o. They will fight, and stoutly, but they will scatter as soon as their ter_xpires. It is but six weeks since we called them under arms to repuls_ostig, and unless they themselves see the danger presses they will not leav_heir homes again after so short an interval. I am glad to see by the king'_etter that he has charged you to stay with us for a while. We shall be gla_f your presence, both as the agent of our royal brother and as one who ha_lready proved himself a valiant and skilful soldier."
  • Apartments were at once assigned to Wulf in the palace, and he was treated a_n honoured guest. He had been furnished by the royal chamberlain with a_mple sum of money, and every two or three days despatched messengers t_ondon. He was greatly disturbed in mind, for the earls made no preparatio_hatever to meet the coming storm, but continued to hunt or to hawk, to giv_ntertainments, and to pass their time as if the news of a mighty invasion ha_ever reached them. The first attempts he made to urge them to follow Harold'_ounsel were dismissed so curtly that he felt it useless to persevere.
  • A fortnight passed by, and then a messenger rode into York with the news tha_ vast fleet had entered the Tyne, and that the Norsemen were harrying an_urning the country. Harold Hardrada had first sailed to the Isles of Shetlan_nd Orkney, which, with the northern districts of the mainland, formed _owerful Scandinavian province. Paul and Erning, the two young earls of th_tate, and a large number of their subjects, joined the fleet, as did a Scotc_ontingent sent by Malcolm and commanded by Tostig, who also had with him th_orce he had brought from Flanders. Iceland, then a great Norwegian colony, sent ships and men, as did an Irish sovereign of Danish descent.
  • Roused to action at last the northern earls sent out summonses in al_irections for the levies to assemble. The invaders were next heard of a_carborough, which made a brave resistance, but the Norsemen took post on th_teep hill overhanging the town, and gathering there a vast pile of wood se_t on fire, and hurled blazing timbers down on the place. Many of the house_aught fire, and this spread rapidly. The inhabitants surrendered, but th_reater portion was slaughtered and the town given up to plunder. Holderness, like Scarborough, bravely but unsuccessfully resisted the attack, and th_reat fleet sailing south entered the Humber. Hour by hour messengers rod_nto York bringing news of the progress of the invaders; hour by hour th_orthumbrian levies poured into the capital.
  • Much as he had disapproved of their previous carelessness and delay, Wul_cknowledged that the two northern earls now bore themselves as men. They sa_o the defences of the town, mustered all the inhabitants capable of bearin_rms, arranged for the feeding and disposition of the levies, and did all tha_as possible at so short a notice to get them to take the field But he saw, too, that this raw militia was but little calculated to stand before th_ssault of the Norsemen. There was no body of seasoned troops like th_ousecarls to serve as a nucleus, and to bear the chief brunt of the battle.
  • All alike were raw, inexperienced, and badly armed, save for the axe, whic_as the favourite weapon of the English.
  • The great fleet made no stay but sailed up the Humber, packing closely in th_iver as it narrowed, till it seemed well-nigh covered from shore to shor_ith the crowded ships. It passed the little village of Selby, and cast ancho_eside the left bank of the Ouse, near the village of Riccall, but nine miles'
  • march from York. Olaf, the king's son, the two earls of Orkney, and the bisho_f those islands remained on board to guard the ships, for the Northumbria_leet, which was far too small to encounter so great an armament, had take_efuge up the Wharfe, and might descend and attack the Norse vessels were the_eft unguarded. The main body of the great army under the king and Tosti_anded and prepared to march upon York. Sudden as the call had been there wa_o lack of spirit or patriotism in the English levies. Among their ranks wer_any priests and monks, who felt that it was their duty to aid in the defenc_f the land against the semi-heathen host that invaded it. The memory of th_ast invasion of the Norsemen, when the churches had been sacked and th_riests slain on the altar, inspired them, and they and the monks responded a_eadily as did the laymen to the summons of the earls. These had not hesitate_o consult Wulf as to the post where they had best station themselves to giv_attle, and the disposition of their forces. One who had distinguished himsel_nder Duke William of Normandy, and under Harold in Wales, had, young thoug_e was, more experience of war than any of the northern thanes, and as th_epresentative of Harold all these were ready to listen with respect to hi_dvice. He had already spent four or five days in surveying the ground in th_irection from which the Norsemen were likely to advance, and had decided tha_ place known as Gate Fulford, two miles from the city, was best calculate_or defence, it being situated on a narrow ridge, having the river and it_wampy banks on one side, and a flat marshy country on the other. Thither th_rmy of the earls marched to take up its position.