Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHarold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Notes - Notes
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Notes - Notes Post by :nonliteral Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3267

Click below to download : Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Notes - Notes (Format : PDF)

Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Notes - Notes

NOTE (A)

There are various accounts in the Chroniclers as to the stature of William the First; some represent him as a giant, others as of just or middle height. Considering the vulgar inclination to attribute to a hero's stature the qualities of the mind (and putting out of all question the arguments that rest on the pretended size of the disburied bones--for which the authorities are really less respectable than those on which we are called upon to believe that the skeleton of the mythical Gawaine measured eight feet), we prefer that supposition, as to the physical proportions, which is most in harmony with the usual laws of Nature. It is rare, indeed, that a great intellect is found in the form of a giant.

NOTE (B)

Game Laws before the Conquest.

Under the Saxon kings a man might, it is true, hunt in his own grounds, but that was a privilege that could benefit few but thegns; and over cultivated ground or shire-land there was not the same sport to be found as in the vast wastes called forest-land, and which mainly belonged to the kings.

Edward declares, in a law recorded in a volume of the Exchequer, "I will that all men do abstain from hunting in my woods, and that my will shall be obeyed under penalty of life." (280)

Edgar, the darling monarch of the monks, and, indeed, one of the most popular of the Anglo-Saxon kings, was so rigorous in his forest-laws that the thegns murmured as well as the lower husbandmen, who had been accustomed to use the woods for pasturage and boscage. Canute's forest-laws were meant as a liberal concession to public feeling on the subject; they are more definite than Edgar's, but terribly stringent; if a freeman killed one of the king's deer, or struck his forester, he lost his freedom and became a penal serf (white theowe)--that is, he ranked with felons. Nevertheless, Canute allowed bishops, abbots, and thegns to hunt in his woods--a privilege restored by Henry III. The nobility, after the Conquest, being excluded from the royal chases, petitioned to enclose parks, as early even as the reign of William I.; and by the time of his son, Henry I., parks became so common as to be at once a ridicule and a grievance.

NOTE (C)

Belin's Gate.

Verstegan combats the Welsh antiquaries who would appropriate this gate to the British deity Bal or Beli; and says, if so, it would not have been called by a name half Saxon, half British, gate (geat) being Saxon; but rather Belinsport than Belinsgate. This is no very strong argument; for, in the Norman time, many compound words were half Norman, half Saxon. But, in truth, Belin was a Teuton deity, whose worship pervaded all Gaul; and the Saxons might either have continued, therefore, the name they found, or given it themselves from their own god. I am not inclined, however, to contend that any deity, Saxon or British, gave the name, or that Billing is not, after all, the right orthography. Billing, like all words ending in ing, has something very Danish in its sound; and the name is quite as likely to have been given by the Danes as by the Saxons.

NOTE (D)

The question whether or not real vineyards were grown, or real wine made from them, in England has been a very vexed question among the antiquaries. But it is scarcely possible to read Pegge's dispute with Daines Barrington in the Archaeologia without deciding both questions in the affirmative.--See Archaeol. vol. iii. p. 53. An engraving of the Saxon wine-press is given in STRUTT's Horda.

Vineyards fell into disuse, either by treaty with France, or Gascony falling into the hands of the English. But vineyards were cultivated by private gentlemen as late as 1621. Our first wines from Bordeaux--the true country of Bacchus--appear to have been imported about 1154, by the marriage of Henry II. with Eleanor of Aquitaine.

NOTE (E)

Lanfranc, the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lanfranc was, in all respects, one of the most remarkable men of the eleventh century. He was born in Pavia, about 1105. His family was noble--his father ranked amongst the magistrature of Pavia, the Lombard capital. From his earliest youth he gave himself up, with all a scholar's zeal, to the liberal arts, and the special knowledge of law, civil and ecclesiastical. He studied at Cologne, and afterwards taught and practised law in his own country. "While yet extremely young," says one of the lively chroniclers, "he triumphed over the ablest advocates, and the torrents of his eloquence confounded the subtlest rhetorician." His decisions were received as authorities by the Italian jurisconsults and tribunals. His mind, to judge both by his history and his peculiar reputation (for probably few, if any, students of our day can pretend to more than a partial or superficial acquaintance with his writings), was one that delighted in subtleties and casuistical refinements; but a sense too large and commanding for those studies which amuse but never satisfy the higher intellect, became disgusted betimes with mere legal dialectics. Those grand and absorbing mysteries connected with the Christian faith and the Roman Church (grand and absorbing in proportion as their premises are taken by religious belief as mathematical axioms already proven) seized hold of his imagination, and tasked to the depth his inquisitive reason. The Chronicle of Knyghton cites an interesting anecdote of his life at this, its important, crisis. He had retired to a solitary spot, beside the Seine, to meditate on the mysterious essence of the Trinity, when he saw a boy ladling out the waters of the river that ran before him into a little well. His curiosity arrested, he asked "what the boy proposed to do?" The boy replied, "To empty yon deep into this well." "That canst thou never do," said the scholar. "Nor canst thou," answered the boy, "exhaust the deep on which thou dost meditate into the well of thy reason." Therewith the speaker vanished, and Lanfranc, resigning the hope to achieve the mighty mystery, threw himself at once into the arms of faith, and took his refuge in the monastery of Bec.

The tale may be a legend, but not an idle one. Perhaps he related it himself as a parable, and by the fiction explained the process of thought that decided his career. In the prime of his manhood, about 1042, when he was thirty-seven years old, and in the zenith of his scholarly fame, he professed. The Convent of Bee had been lately founded, under Herluin, the first abbot; there Lanfranc opened a school, which became one of the most famous throughout the west of Europe. Indeed, under the Lombard's influence, the then obscure Convent of Bee, to which the solitude of the site and the poverty of the endowment allured his choice, grew the Academe of the age. "It was," says Oderic, in his charming chronicle, "it was under such a master that the Normans received their first notions of literature; from that school emerged the multitude of eloquent philosophers who adorned alike divinity and science. From France, Gascony, Bretagne, Flanders, scholars thronged to receive his lessons." (281)

At first, as superficially stated in the tale, Lanfranc had taken part against the marriage of William with Matilda of Flanders--a marriage clearly contrary to the formal canons of the Roman Church, and was banished by the fiery Duke; though William's displeasure gave way at "the decent joke" (jocus decens), recorded in the text. At Rome, however, his influence, arguments, and eloquence were all enlisted on the side of William: and it was to the scholar of Pavia that the great Norman owed the ultimate sanction of his marriage, and the repeal of the interdict that excommunicated his realm. (282)

At Rome he assisted in the council held 1059 (the year wherein the ban of the Church was finally and formally taken from Normandy), at which the famous Berenger, Archdeacon of Angers (against whom he had waged a polemical controversy that did more than all else to secure his repute at the Pontifical Court), abjured "his heresies" as to the Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In 1062, or 1063, Duke William, against the Lombard's own will (for Lanfranc genuinely loved the liberty of letters more than vulgar power), raised him to the abbacy of St. Stephen of Caen. From that time, his ascendancy over his haughty lord was absolute. The contemporary historian (William of Poitiers), says that "William respected him as a father, venerated him as a preceptor, and cherished him as a brother or son." He confided to him his own designs; and committed to him the entire superintendence of the ecclesiastical orders throughout Normandy. Eminent no less for his practical genius in affairs, than for his rare piety and theological learning, Lanfranc attained indeed to the true ideal of the Scholar; to whom, of all men, nothing that is human should be foreign; whose closet is but a hermit's cell, unless it is the microcosm that embraces the mart and the forum; who by the reflective part of his nature seizes the higher region of philosophy--by the energetic, is attracted to the central focus of action. For scholarship is but the parent of ideas; and ideas are the parents of action.

After the conquest, as prelate of Canterbury, Lanfranc became the second man in the kingdom--happy, perhaps, for England had he been the first; for all the anecdotes recorded of him show a deep and genuine sympathy with the oppressed population. But William the King of the English escaped from the control which Lanfranc had imposed on the Duke of the Normans. The scholar had strengthened the aspirer; he could only imperfectly influence the conqueror.

Lanfranc was not, it is true, a faultless character. He was a priest, a lawyer, and a man of the world--three characters hard to amalgamate into perfection, especially in the eleventh century. But he stands in gigantic and brilliant contrast to the rest of our priesthood in his own day, both in the superiority of his virtues, and in his exemption from the ordinary vices. He regarded the cruelties of Odo of Bayeux with detestation, opposed him with firmness, and ultimately, to the joy of all England, ruined his power. He gave a great impetus to learning; he set a high example to his monks, in his freedom from the mercenary sins of their order; he laid the foundations of a powerful and splendid church, which, only because it failed in future Lanfrancs, failed in effecting the civilisation of which he designed it to be the instrument. He refused to crown William Rufus, until that king had sworn to govern according to law and to right; and died, though a Norman usurper, honoured and beloved by the Saxon people.

Scholar, and morning star of light in the dark age of force and fraud, it is easier to praise thy life, than to track through the length of centuries all the measureless and invisible benefits which the life of one scholar bequeaths to the world--in the souls it awakens--in the thoughts it suggests! (283)

NOTE (F)

Edward the Confessor's reply to Magnus of Denmark who claimed his Crown.

On rare occasions Edward was not without touches of a brave kingly nature.

Snorro Sturleson gives us a noble and spirited reply of the Confessor to Magnus, who, as heir of Canute, claimed the English crown; it concludes thus:--"Now, he (Hardicanute) died, and then it was the resolution of all the people of the country to take me, for the king here in England. So long as I had no kingly title I served my superiors in all respects, like those who had no claims by birth to land or kingdom. Now, however, I have received the kingly title, and am consecrated king; I have established my royal dignity and authority, as my father before me; and while I live I will not renounce my title. If King Magnus comes here with an army, I will gather no army against him; but he shall only get the opportunity of taking England when he has taken my life. Tell him these words of mine." If we may consider this reply to be authentic, it is significant, as proof that Edward rests his title on the resolution of the people to take him for king; and counts as nothing, in comparison, his hereditary claims. This, together with the general tone of the reply, particularly the passage in which he implies that he trusts his defence not to his army but his people--makes it probable that Godwin dictated the answer; and, indeed, Edward himself could not have couched it, either in Saxon or Danish. But the King is equally entitled to the credit of it, whether he composed it, or whether he merely approved and sanctioned its gallant tone and its princely sentiment.

NOTE (G)

Heralds.

So much of the "pride, pomp, and circumstance" which invest the Age of Chivalry is borrowed from these companions of princes, and blazoners of noble deeds, that it may interest the reader, if I set briefly before him what our best antiquaries have said as to their first appearance in our own history.

Camden (somewhat, I fear, too rashly) says, that "their reputation, honour, and name began in the time of Charlemagne." The first mention of heralds in England occurs in the reign of Edward III., a reign in which Chivalry was at its dazzling zenith. Whitlock says, "that some derive the name of Herald from Hereauld," a Saxon word (old soldier, or old master), "because anciently they were chosen from veteran soldiers." Joseph Holland says, "I find that Malcolm, King of Scots, sent a herald unto William the Conqueror, to treat of a peace, when both armies were in order of battle." Agard affirms, that "at the conquest there was no practice of heraldry;" and observes truly, "that the Conqueror used a monk for his messenger to King Harold."

To this I may add, that monks or priests also fulfil the office of heralds in the old French and Norman Chronicles. Thus Charles the Simple sends an archbishop to treat with Rolfganger; Louis the Debonnair sends to Mormon, chief of the Bretons, "a sage and prudent abbot." But in the Saxon times, the nuncius (a word still used in heraldic Latin) was in the regular service both of the King and the great Earls. The Saxon name for such a messenger was bode, and when employed in hostile negotiations, he was styled warbode. The messengers between Godwin and the King would seem, by the general sense of the chronicles, to have been certain thegns acting as mediators.

NOTE (H)

The Fylgia, or Tutelary Spirit.

This lovely superstition in the Scandinavian belief is the more remarkable because it does not appear in the creed of the Germanic Teutons, and is closely allied with the good angel, or guardian genius, of the Persians. It forms, therefore, one of the arguments that favour the Asiatic origin of the Norsemen.

The Fylgia (following, or attendant, spirit) was always represented as a female. Her influence was not uniformly favourable, though such was its general characteristic. She was capable of revenge if neglected, but had the devotion of her sex when properly treated. Mr. Grenville Pigott, in his popular work, entitled "A Manual of Scandinavian Mythology," relates an interesting legend with respect to one of these supernatural ladies:

A Scandinavian warrior, Halfred Vandraedakald, having embraced Christianity, and being attacked by a disease which he thought mortal, was naturally anxious that a spirit who had accompanied him through his pagan career should not attend him into that other world, where her society might involve him in disagreeable consequences. The persevering Fylgia, however; in the shape of a fair maiden, walked on the waves of the sea after her viking's ship. She came thus in sight of all the crew; and Halfred, recognising his Fylgia, told her point blank that their connection was at an end for ever. The forsaken Fylgia had a high spirit of her own, and she then asked Thorold "if he would take her." Thorold ungallantly refused; but Halfred the younger said, "Maiden, I will take thee." (284)

In the various Norse Saga there are many anecdotes of these spirits, who are always charming, because, with their less earthly attributes, they always blend something of the woman. The poetry embodied in their existence is of a softer and more humane character than that common with the stern and vast demons of the Scandinavian mythology.

NOTE (I)

The Origin of Earl Godwin.

Sharon Turner quotes from the Knytlinga Saga what he calls "an explanation of Godwin's career or parentage, which no other document affords;" viz.--"that Ulf, a Danish chief, after the battle of Skorstein, between Canute and Edmund Ironsides, pursued the English fugitives into a wood, lost his way, met, on the morning, a Saxon youth driving cattle to their pasture, asked him to direct him in safety to Canute's ships, and offered him the bribe of a gold ring for his guidance; the young herdsman refused the bribe, but sheltered the Dane in the cottage of his father (who is represented as a mere peasant), and conducted him the next morning to the Danish camp; previously to which, the youth's father represented to Ulf, that his son, Godwin, could never, after aiding a Dane to escape, rest in safety with his countrymen, and besought him to befriend his son's fortunes with Canute." The Dane promised, and kept his word; hence Godwin's rise. Thierry, in his "History of the Norman Conquest," tells the same story, on the authority of Torfaeus, Hist. Rer. Norweg. Now I need not say to any scholar in our early history, that the Norse Chronicles, abounding with romance and legend, are never to be received as authorities counter to our own records, though occasionally valuable to supply omissions in the latter; and, unfortunately for this pretty story, we have against it the direct statements of the very best authorities we possess, viz. The Saxon Chronicle and Florence Of Worcester. The Saxon Chronicle expressly tells us that Godwin's father was Childe of Sussex (Florence calls him minister or thegn of Sussex (285)), and that Wolnoth was nephew to Edric, the all-powerful Earl or Duke of Mercia. Florence confirms this statement, and gives the pedigree, which may be deduced as follows:


________________________________
| |
Edric married Egelric,
Edgith, daughter of surnamed Leofwine
King Ethelred II. |
Egelmar,
|
Wolnoth.
|
Godwin.

Thus this "old peasant," as the North Chronicles call Wolnoth, as, according to our most unquestionable authorities, a thegn of one of the most important divisions in England, and a member of the most powerful family in the kingdom! Now, if our Saxon authorities needed any aid from probabilities, it is scarcely worth asking, which is the more probable, that the son of a Saxon herdsman should in a few years rise to such power as to marry the sister of the royal Danish Conqueror--or that that honour should be conferred on the most able member of a house already allied to Saxon royalty, and which evidently retained its power after the fall of its head, the treacherous Edric Streone! Even after the Conquest, one of Streone's nephews, Edricus Sylvaticus, is mentioned (Simon. Dunelm.) as "a very powerful thegn." Upon the whole, the account given of Godwin's rise in the text of the work appears the most correct that conjectures, based on our scanty historical information, will allow.

In 1009 A.D., Wolnoth, the Childe or Thegn of Sussex, defeats the fleets of Ethelred, under his uncle Brightric, and goes therefore into rebellion. Thus when, in 1014 (five years afterwards), Canute is chosen king by all the fleet, it is probable that Wolnoth and Godwin, his son, espoused his cause; and that Godwin, subsequently presented to Canute as a young noble of great promise, was favoured by that sagacious king, and ultimately honoured with the hand, first of his sister, secondly of his niece, as a mode of conciliating the Saxon thegns.

NOTE (K)

The want of Fortresses in England.

The Saxons were sad destroyers. They destroyed the strongholds which the Briton had received from the Roman, and built very few others. Thus the land was left open to the Danes. Alfred, sensible of this defect, repaired the walls of London and other cities, and urgently recommended his nobles and prelates to build fortresses, but could not persuade them. His great-souled daughter, Elfleda, was the only imitator of his example. She built eight castles in three years. (286)

It was thus that in a country, in which the general features do not allow of protracted warfare, the inhabitants were always at the hazard of a single pitched battle. Subsequent to the Conquest, in the reign of John, it was, in truth, the strong castle of Dover, on the siege of which Prince Louis lost so much time, that saved the realm of England from passing to a French dynasty: and as, in later periods, strongholds fell again into decay, so it is remarkable to observe how easily the country was overrun after any signal victory of one of the contending parties. In this truth, the Wars of the Roses abound with much instruction. The handful of foreign mercenaries with which Henry VII. won his crown,--though the real heir, the Earl of Warwick (granting Edward IV.'s children to be illegitimate, which they clearly were according to the rites of the Church), had never lost his claim, by the defeat of Richard at Bosworth;--the march of the Pretender to Derby,--the dismay it spread throughout England,--and the certainty of his conquest had he proceeded;--the easy victory of William III. at a time when certainly the bulk of the nation was opposed to his cause;--are all facts pregnant with warnings, to which we are as blind as we were in the days of Alfred.

NOTE (L)

The Ruins of Penmaen-mawr.

In Camden's Britannia there is an account of the remarkable relics assigned, in the text, to the last refuge of Gryffyth ap Llewellyn, taken from a manuscript by Sir John Wynne in the time of Charles I. In this account are minutely described, "ruinous walls of an exceeding strong fortification, compassed with a treble wall, and, within each wall, the foundations of at least one hundred towers, about six yards in diameter within the walls. This castle seems (while it stood) impregnable; there being no way to offer any assault on it, the hill being so very high, steep, and rocky, and the walls of such strength,--the way or entrance into it ascending with many turnings, so that one hundred men might defend themselves against a whole legion; and yet it should seem that there were lodgings within those walls for twenty thousand men.

"By the tradition we receive from our ancestors, this was the strongest refuge, or place of defence, that the ancient Britons had in all Snowdon; moreover, the greatness of the work shows that it was a princely fortification, strengthened by nature and workmanship." (287)

But in the year 1771, Governor Pownall ascended Penmaen-mawr, inspected these remains, and published his account in the Archaeologia, vol. iii. p. 303, with a sketch both of the mount and the walls at the summit. The Governor is of opinion that it never was a fortification. He thinks that the inward inclosure contained a carn (or arch-Druid's sepulchre), that there is not room for any lodgment, that the walls are not of a kind which can form a cover, and give at the same time the advantage of fighting from them. In short, that the place was one of the Druids' consecrated high places of worship. He adds, however, that "Mr. Pennant has gone twice over it, intends to make an actual survey, and anticipates much from that great antiquary's knowledge and accuracy."

We turn next to Mr. Pennant, and we find him giving a flat contradiction to the Governor. "I have more than once," (288) says he, "visited this noted rock, to view the fortifications described by the editor of Camden, from some notes of that sensible old baronet, Sir John Wynne, of Gwidir, and have found his account very just.

"The fronts of three, if not four walls, presented themselves very distinctly one above the other. I measured the height of one wall, which was at the time nine feet, the thickness seven feet and a half." (Now, Governor Pownall also measured the walls, agrees pretty well with Pennant as to their width, but makes them only five feet high.) "Between these walls, in all parts, were innumerable small buildings, mostly circular. These had been much higher, as is evident from the fall of stones which lie scattered at their bottoms, and probably had once the form of towers, as Sir John asserts. Their diameter is, in general, from twelve to eighteen feet (ample room here for lodgement); the walls were in certain places intersected with others equally strong. This stronghold of the Britons is exactly of the same kind with those on Carn Madryn, Carn Boduan, and Tre'r Caer."

"This was most judiciously chosen to cover the passage into Anglesey, and the remoter part of their country; and must, from its vast strength, have been invulnerable, except by famine; being inaccessible by its natural steepness towards the sea, and on the parts fortified in the manner described." So far, Pennant versus Pownall! "Who shall decide when doctors disagree?" The opinion of both these antiquarians is liable to demur. Governor Pownall might probably be a better judge of military defences than Pennant; but he evidently forms his notions of defence with imperfect knowledge of the forts, which would have amply sufficed for the warfare of the ancient Britons; and moreover, he was one of those led astray by Bryant's crotchets as to "High places," etc. What appears most probable is, that the place was both carn and fort; that the strength of the place, and the convenience of stones, suggested the surrounding the narrow area of the central sepulchre with walls, intended for refuge and defence. As to the circular buildings, which seem to have puzzled these antiquaries, it is strange that they appear to have overlooked the accounts which serve best to explain them. Strabo says that "the houses of the Britons were round, with a high pointed covering--," Caesar says that they were only lighted by the door; in the Antonine Column they are represented as circular, with an arched entrance, single or double. They were always small, and seem to have contained but a single room. These circular buildings were not, therefore, necessarily Druidical cells, as has been supposed; nor perhaps actual towers, as contended for by Sir John Wynne; but habitations, after the usual fashion of British houses, for the inmates or garrison of the enclosure. Taking into account the tradition of the spot mentioned by Sir John Wynne, and other traditions still existing, which mark, in the immediate neighbourhood, the scenes of legendary battles, it is hoped that the reader will accept the description in the text as suggesting, amidst conflicting authorities, the most probable supposition of the nature and character of these very interesting remains in the eleventh century (289), and during the most memorable invasion of Wales (under Harold), which occurred between the time of Geraint, or Arthur, and that of Henry II.

NOTE (M)

The Idol Bel.

Mons. Johanneau considers that Bel, or Belinus, is derived from the Greek, a surname of Apollo, and means the archer; from Belos, a dart or arrow. (290)

I own I think this among the spurious conceits of the learned, suggested by the vague affinities of name. But it is quite as likely, (if there be anything in the conjecture,) that the Celt taught the Greek, as that the Greek taught the Celt.

There are some very interesting questions, however, for scholars to discuss--viz. 1st, When did the Celts first introduce idols? 2d, Can we believe the classical authorities that assure us that the Druids originally admitted no idol worship? If so, we find the chief idols of the Druids cited by Lucan; and they therefore acquired them long before Lucan's time. From whom would they acquire them? Not from the Romans; for the Roman gods are not the least similar to the Celtic, when the last are fairly examined. Nor from the Teutons, from whose deities those of the Celt equally differ. Have we not given too much faith to the classic writers, who assert the original simplicity of the Druid worship? And will not their popular idols be found to be as ancient as the remotest traces of the Celtic existence? Would not the Cimmerii have transported them from the period of their first traditional immigration from the East? and is not their Bel identical with the Babylonian deity?

NOTE (N)

Unguents used by Witches.

Lord Bacon, speaking of the ointments used by the witches, supposes that they really did produce illusions by stopping the vapours and sending them to the head. It seems that all witches who attended the sabbat used these unguents, and there is something very remarkable in the concurrence of their testimonies as to the scenes they declared themselves to have witnessed, not in the body, which they left behind, but as present in the soul; as if the same anointments and preparatives produced dreams nearly similar in kind. To the believers in mesmerism I may add, that few are aware of the extraordinary degree to which somnambulism appears to be heightened by certain chemical aids; and the disbelievers in that agency, who have yet tried the experiments of some of those now neglected drugs to which the medical art of the Middle Ages attached peculiar virtues, will not be inclined to dispute the powerful and, as it were, systematic effect which certain drugs produce on the imagination of patients with excitable and nervous temperaments.

NOTE (O)

Hilda's Adjurations.


I.

"By the Urdar fount dwelling,
Day by day from the rill,
The Nornas besprinkle
The Ash Ygg-drasill."


The Ash Ygg-drasill.--Much learning has been employed by Scandinavian scholars in illustrating the symbols supposed to be couched under the myth of the Ygg-drasill, or the great Ash-tree. With this I shall not weary the reader; especially since large systems have been built on very small premises, and the erudition employed has been equally ingenious and unsatisfactory: I content myself with stating the simple myth.

The Ygg-drasill has three roots; two spring from the infernal regions--i.e. from the home of the frost-giants, and from Niffl-heim, "vapour-home, or hell"--one from the heavenly abode of the Asas. Its branches, says the Prose Edda, extend over the whole universe, and its stem bears up the earth. Beneath the root, which stretches through Niffl-heim, and which the snake-king continually gnaws, is the fount whence flow the infernal rivers. Beneath the root, which stretches in the land of the giants, is Mimir's well wherein all wisdom is concealed; but under the root which lies in the land of the gods, is the well of Urda, the Norna--here the gods sit in judgment. Near this well is a fair building, whence issue the three maidens, Urda, Verdandi, Skulda (the Past, the Present, the Future). Daily they water the ash-tree from Urda's well, that the branches may not perish. Four harts constantly devour the birds and branches of the Ash-tree. On its boughs sits an eagle, wise in much; and between its eyes sits a hawk. A squirrel runs up and down the tree sowing strife between the eagle and the snake.

Such, in brief, is the account of the myth. For the various interpretations of its symbolic meaning, the general reader is referred to Mr. Blackwell's edition of MALLETT's Northern Antiquities, and PIGOTT's Scandinavian Manual.

NOTE (P)

Harold's Accession.

There are, as is well known, two accounts as to Edward the Confessor's death-bed disposition of the English crown. The Norman chroniclers affirm, first, that Edward promised William the crown during his exile in Normandy; secondly, that Siward, Earl of Northumbria, Godwin, and Leofric had taken oath, "serment de la main," to receive him as Seigneur after Edward's death, and that the hostages, Wolnoth and Haco, were given to the Duke in pledge of that oath (291); thirdly, that Edward left him the crown by will.

Let us see what probability there is of truth in these three assertions.

First, Edward promised William the crown when in Normandy. This seems probable enough, and it is corroborated indirectly by the Saxon chroniclers, when they unite in relating Edward's warnings to Harold against his visit to the Norman court. Edward might well be aware of William's designs on the crown (though in those warnings he refrains from mentioning them)--might remember the authority given to those designs by his own early promise, and know the secret purpose for which the hostages were retained by William, and the advantages he would seek to gain from having Harold himself in his power. But this promise in itself was clearly not binding on the English people, nor on any one but Edward, who, without the sanction of the Witan, could not fulfil it. And that William himself could not have attached great importance to it during Edward's life, is clear, because if he had, the time to urge it was when Edward sent into Germany for the Atheling, as the heir presumptive of the throne. This was a virtual annihilation of the promise; but William took no step to urge it, made no complaint and no remonstrance.

Secondly, That Godwin, Siward, and Leofric, had taken oaths of fealty to William.

This appears a fable wholly without foundation. When could those oaths have been pledged? Certainly not after Harold's visit to William, for they were then all dead. At the accession of Edward? This is obviously contradicted by the stipulation which Godwin and the other chiefs of the Witan exacted, that Edward should not come accompanied by Norman supporters--by the evident jealousy of the Normans entertained by those chiefs, as by the whole English people, who regarded the alliance of Ethelred with the Norman Emma as the cause of the greatest calamities--and by the marriage of Edward himself with Godwin's daughter, a marriage which that Earl might naturally presume would give legitimate heirs to the throne.--In the interval between Edward's accession and Godwin's outlawry? No; for all the English chroniclers, and, indeed, the Norman, concur in representing the ill-will borne by Godwin and his House to the Norman favourites, whom, if they could have anticipated William's accession, or were in any way bound to William, they would have naturally conciliated. But Godwin's outlawry is the result of the breach between him and the foreigners.--In William's visit to Edward? No; for that took place when Godwin was an exile; and even the writers who assert Edward's early promise to William, declare that nothing was then said as to the succession to the throne. To Godwin's return from outlawry the Norman chroniclers seem to refer the date of this pretended oath, by the assertion that the hostages were given in pledge of it. This is the most monstrous supposition of all; for Godwin's return is followed by the banishment of the Norman favourites--by the utter downfall of the Norman party in England--by the decree of the Witan, that all the troubles in England had come from the Normans--by the triumphant ascendancy of Godwin's House. And is it credible for a moment, that the great English Earl could then have agreed to a pledge to transfer the kingdom to the very party he had expelled, and expose himself and his party to the vengeance of a foe he had thoroughly crushed for the time, and whom, without any motive or object, he himself agreed to restore to power or his own probable perdition? When examined, this assertion falls to the ground from other causes. It is not among the arguments that William uses in his embassies to Harold; it rests mainly upon the authority of William of Poitiers, who, though a contemporary, and a good authority on some points purely Norman, is grossly ignorant as to the most accredited and acknowledged facts, in all that relate to the English. Even with regard to the hostages, he makes the most extraordinary blunders. He says they were sent by Edward, with the consent of his nobles, accompanied by Robert, Archbishop of Canterbury. Now Robert, Archbishop of Canterbury, had fled from England as fast as he could fly on the return of Godwin; and arrived in Normandy, half drowned, before the hostages were sent, or even before the Witan which reconciled Edward and Godwin had assembled. He says that William restored to Harold "his young brother;" whereas it was Haco, the nephew, who was restored; we know, by Norman as well as Saxon Chroniclers, that Wolnoth, the brother, was not released till after the Conqueror's death, (he was re-imprisoned by Rufus;) and his partiality may be judged by the assertions, first, that "William gave nothing to a Norman that was unjustly taken from an Englishman;" and secondly, that Odo, whose horrible oppressions revolted even William himself, "never had an equal for justice, and that all the English obeyed him willingly."

We may, therefore, dismiss this assertion as utterly groundless, on its own merits, without directly citing against it the Saxon authorities.

Thirdly, That Edward left William the crown by will.

On this assertion alone, of the three, the Norman Conqueror himself seems to have rested a positive claim (292). But if so, where was the will? Why was it never produced or producible? If destroyed, where were the witnesses? why were they not cited? The testamentary dispositions of an Anglo-Saxon king were always respected, and went far towards the succession. But it was absolutely necessary to prove them before the Witan (293). An oral act of this kind, in the words of the dying Sovereign, would be legal, but they must be confirmed by those who heard them. Why, when William was master of England, and acknowledged by a National Assembly convened in London, and when all who heard the dying King would have been naturally disposed to give every evidence in William's favour, not only to flatter the new sovereign, but to soothe the national pride, and justify the Norman succession by a more popular plea than conquest,--why were no witnesses summoned to prove the bequest! Alred, Stigand, and the Abbot of Westminster, must have been present at the death-bed of the King, and these priests concurred in submission to William. If they had any testimony as to Edward's bequest in his favour, would they not have been too glad to give it, in justification of themselves, in compliment to William, in duty to the people, in vindication of law against force! But no such attempt at proof was ventured upon.

Against these, the mere assertion of William, and the authority of Normans who could know nothing of the truth of the matter, while they had every interest to misrepresent the facts--we have the positive assurances of the best possible authorities. The Saxon Chronicle (worth all the other annalists put together) says expressly, that Edward left the crown to Harold:


"The sage, ne'ertheless,
The realm committed
To a highly-born man;
Harold's self,
The noble Earl.
He in all time
Obeyed faithfully
His rightful lord,
By words and deeds:
Nor aught neglected
Which needful was
To his sovereign king."


Florence of Worcester, the next best authority, (valuable from supplying omissions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,) says expressly that the King chose Harold for his successor before his decease (294), that he was elected by the chief men of all England, and consecrated by Alred. Hoveden, Simon (Dunelm.), the Beverley chronicler, confirm these authorities as to Edward's choice of Harold as his successor. William of Malmesbury, who is not partial to Harold, writing in the reign of Henry the First, has doubts himself as to Edward's bequest, (though grounded on a very bad argument, viz. "the improbability that Edward would leave his crown to a man of whose power he had always been jealous;" there is no proof that Edward had been jealous of Harold's power--he had been of Godwin's;) but Malmesbury gives a more valuable authority than his own, in the concurrent opinion of his time, for he deposes that "the English say," the diadem was granted him (Harold) by the King.

These evidences are, to say the least, infinitely more worthy of historical credence than the one or two English chroniclers, of little comparative estimation, (such as Wike,) and the prejudiced and ignorant Norman chroniclers (295), who depose on behalf of William. I assume, therefore, that Edward left the crown to Harold; of Harold's better claim in the election of the Witan, there is no doubt. But Sir F. Palgrave starts the notion that, "admitting that the prelates, earls, aldermen, and thanes of Wessex and East-Anglia had sanctioned the accession of Harold, their decision could not have been obligatory on the other kingdoms (provinces); and the very short time elapsing between the death of Edward and the recognition of Harold, utterly precludes the supposition that their consent was even asked." This great writer must permit me, with all reverence, to suggest that he has, I think, forgotten the fact that, just prior to Edward's death, an assembly, fully as numerous as ever met in any national Witan, had been convened to attend the consecration of the new abbey and church of Westminster, which Edward considered the great work of his life; that assembly would certainly not have dispersed during a period so short and anxious as the mortal illness of the King, which appears to have prevented his attending the ceremony in person, and which ended in his death a very few days after the consecration. So that during the interval, which appears to have been at most about a week, between Edward's death and Harold's coronation (296), the unusually large concourse of prelates and nobles from all parts of the kingdom assembled in London and Westminster would have furnished the numbers requisite to give weight and sanction to the Witan. And had it not been so, the Saxon chroniclers, and still more the Norman, would scarcely have omitted some remark in qualification of the election. But not a word is said as to any inadequate number in the Witan. And as for the two great principalities of Northumbria and Mercia, Harold's recent marriage with the sister of their earls might naturally tend to secure their allegiance.

Nor is it to be forgotten that a very numerous Witan had assembled at Oxford a few months before, to adjudge the rival claims of Tostig and Morcar; the decision of the Witan proves the alliance between Harold's party and that of the young Earl's--ratified by the marriage with Aldyth. And he who has practically engaged in the contests and cabals of party, will allow the probability, adopted as fact in the romance, that, considering Edward's years and infirm health, and the urgent necessity of determining beforehand the claims to the succession--some actual, if secret, understanding was then come to by the leading chiefs. It is a common error in history to regard as sudden, that which in the nature of affairs never can be sudden. All that paved Harold's way to the throne must have been silently settled long before the day in which the Witan elected him unanimi omnium consensu. (297)

With the views to which my examination of the records of the time have led me in favour of Harold, I can not but think that Sir F. Palgrave, in his admirable History of Anglo-Saxon England, does scanty justice to the Last of its kings; and that his peculiar political and constitutional theories, and his attachment to the principle of hereditary succession, which make him consider that Harold "had no clear title to the crown any way," tincture with something like the prejudice of party his estimate of Harold's character and pretensions. My profound admiration for Sir F. Palgrave's learning and judgment would not permit me to make this remark without carefully considering and re-weighing all the contending authorities on which he himself relies. And I own that, of all modern historians, Thierry seems to me to have given the most just idea of the great actors in the tragedy of the Norman invasion, though I incline to believe that he has overrated the oppressive influence of the Norman dynasty in which the tragedy closed.

NOTE (Q)

Physical Peculiarities of the Scandinavians.

"It is a singular circumstance, that in almost all the swords of those ages to be found to the collection of weapons in the Antiquarian Museum at Copenhagen, the handles indicate a size of hand very much smaller than the hands of modern people of any class or rank. No modern dandy, with the most delicate hands, would find room for his hand to grasp or wield with ease some of the swords of these Northmen."

This peculiarity is by some scholars adduced, not without reason, as an argument for the Eastern origin of the Scandinavian. Nor was it uncommon for the Asiatic Scythians, and indeed many of the early warlike tribes fluctuating between the east and west of Europe, to be distinguished by the blue eyes and yellow hair of the north. The physical attributes of a deity, or a hero, are usually to be regarded as those of the race to which he belongs. The golden locks of Apollo and Achilles are the sign of a similar characteristic in the nations of which they are the types; and the blue eye of Minerva belies the absurd doctrine that would identify her with the Egyptian Naith.

The Norman retained perhaps longer than the Scandinavian, from whom he sprang, the somewhat effeminate peculiarity of small hands and feet; and hence, as throughout all the nobility of Europe the Norman was the model for imitation, and the ruling families in many lands sought to trace from him their descents, so that characteristic is, even to our day, ridiculously regarded as a sign of noble race. The Norman probably retained that peculiarity longer than the Dane, because his habits, as a conqueror, made him disdain all manual labour; and it was below his knightly dignity to walk, as long as a horse could be found for him to ride. But the Anglo-Norman (the noblest specimen of the great conquering family) became so blent with the Saxon, both in blood and in habits, that such physical distinctions vanished with the age of chivalry. The Saxon blood in our highest aristocracy now predominates greatly over the Norman; and it would be as vain a task to identify the sons of Hastings and Rollo by the foot and hand of the old Asiatic Scythian, as by the reddish auburn hair and the high features which were no less ordinarily their type. Here and there such peculiarities may all be seen amongst plain country gentlemen, settled from time immemorial in the counties peopled by the Anglo-Danes, and inter-marrying generally in their own provinces; but amongst the far more mixed breed of the larger landed proprietors comprehended in the Peerage, the Saxon attributes of race are strikingly conspicuous, and, amongst them, the large hand and foot common with all the Germanic tribes.

NOTE (R)

The Interment of Harold.

Here we are met by evidences of the most contradictory character. According to most of the English writers, the body of Harold was given by William to Githa, without ransom, and buried at Waltham. There is even a story told of the generosity of the Conqueror, in cashiering a soldier who gashed the corpse of the dead hero. This last, however, seems to apply to some other Saxon, and not to Harold. But William of Poitiers, who was the Duke's own chaplain, and whose narration of the battle appears to contain more internal evidence of accuracy than the rest of his chronicle, expressly says, that William refused Githa's offer of its weight in gold for the supposed corpse of Harold, and ordered it to be buried on the beach, with the taunt quoted in the text of this work--"Let him guard the coast which he madly occupied;" and on the pretext that one, whose cupidity and avarice had been the cause that so many men were slaughtered and lay unsepultured, was not worthy himself of a tomb. Orderic confirms this account, and says the body was given to William Mallet, for that purpose. (299)

Certainly William de Poitiers ought to have known best; and the probability of his story is to a certain degree borne out by the uncertainty as to Harold's positive interment, which long prevailed, and which even gave rise to a story related by Giraldus Cambrensis (and to be found also in the Harleian MSS.), that Harold survived the battle, became a monk in Chester, and before he died had a long and secret interview with Henry the First. Such a legend, however absurd, could scarcely have gained any credit if (as the usual story runs) Harold had been formally buried, in the presence of many of the Norman barons, in Waltham Abbey--but would very easily creep into belief, if his body had been carelessly consigned to a Norman knight, to be buried privately by the sea-shore.

The story of Osgood and Ailred, the childemaister (schoolmaster in the monastery), as related by Palgrave, and used in this romance, is recorded in a MS. of Waltham Abbey, and was written somewhere about fifty or sixty years after the event--say at the beginning of the twelfth century. These two monks followed Harold to the field, placed themselves so as to watch its results, offered ten marks for the body, obtained permission for the search, and could not recognise the mutilated corpse until Osgood sought and returned with Edith. In point of fact, according to this authority, it must have been two or three days after the battle before the discovery was made.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Footnotes - Footnotes Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Footnotes - Footnotes

Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Footnotes - Footnotes
(1) Sismondi's History of France, vol. iv. p. 484.(2) "Men's blinded hopes, diseases, toil, and prayer, And winged troubles peopling daily air."(3) Merely upon the obscure MS. of the Waltham Monastery; yet, such is the ignorance of popular criticism, that I have been as much attacked for the license I have taken with the legendary connection between Harold and Edith, as if that connection were a proven and authenticated fact! Again, the pure attachment to which, in the romance, the loves of Edith and Harold are confined, has been alleged to be a
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Book 12. The Battle Of Hastings - Chapter 9 Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Book 12. The Battle Of Hastings - Chapter 9

Harold, The Last Of The Saxon Kings - Book 12. The Battle Of Hastings - Chapter 9
BOOK XII. THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS CHAPTER IXClose by his banner, amidst the piles of the dead, William the Conqueror pitched his pavilion, and sate at meat. And over all the plain, far and near, torches were moving like meteors on a marsh; for the Duke had permitted the Saxon women to search for the bodies of their lords. And as he sate, and talked, and laughed, there entered the tent two humble monks: their lowly mien, their dejected faces, their homely serge, in mournful contrast to the joy and the splendour of the Victory-Feast. They came to the
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT