Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
his Chronicle of
THE NORMAN CONQUEST
ROMAN DE ROU
EDGAR TAYLOR ESQ. F. S. A.
WILLIAM PICKERING, 1837
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2004
WHAT FURTHER PARLEY WAS HAD BETWEEN THE KING AND DUKE WILLIAM BEFORE THE BATTLE.
Then the duke chose a messenger, a monk learned and wise, well instructed and experienced, and sent him to king Harold. He gave him his choice, to take which he would of three things. He should either resign England and take his daughter to wife; or submit to the good judgment of the apostle and his people; or meet him singly and fight body to body, on the terms that he who killed the other, or could conquer and take him prisoner, should have England in peace, nobody else suffering. Harold said he would do neither; he would neither perform his covenant, nor put the matter in judgment, nor would he meet him and fight body to body.
Before the day of the battle, which was now become certain, the duke of his great courage told his barons, that he would himself speak with Harold; and summon him with his own mouth to render up what he had defrauded him of, and see what he would answer; that he would appeal him of perjury, and summon him on his pledged faith; and if he would not submit, and make reparation forthwith, he would straightway defy, and fight him on the morrow; but that if he yielded, he would, with the consent of his council, give up to him all beyond the Humber towards Scotland.
The barons approved this, and some said to him, "Fair sir, one thing we wish to say to you; if we must fight, let us fight promptly, and let there be no delay. Delay may be to our injury, for we have nothing to wait for, but Harold's people increase daily; they come strengthening his army constantly with fresh forces." The duke said this was true, and he promised them that there should be no more delay.
Then he made a score of knights mount upon their war-horses. All had their swords girt, and their other arms were borne by the squires who went with them. A hundred other knights mounted next, and went riding after them, but at a little distance; and then a thousand knights also mounted and followed the hundred, but only so near as to see what the hundred and the twenty did.
The duke then sent to Harold, whether by monk or abbot I know not, and desired him to come into the field, and speak with him, and to fear nothing, but bring with him whom he would, that they might talk of an arrangement. But Gurth did not wait for Harold's answer, and neither let him speak, nor go to talk with the duke; for he instantly sprang up on his feet, and said to the messenger, "Harold will not go! tell your lord to send his message to us hither, and let us know what he will take, and what he will leave, or what other arrangement he is willing to make." Whilst the messenger returned to carry this answer, Harold called together his friends and his earls, all by their names, to hear what message the duke would send back. And he sent word to Harold, that if he would abide by his covenant, he would give him all Northumberland, and whatever belonged to the kingdom beyond Humber; and would also give to his brother Gurth the lands of Godwin their father: And if he refused this, he challenged him for perjury in not delivering up the kingdom, and not taking his daughter to wife, as he ought: in all this he had lied and broken faith; and unless he made reparation he defied him. And he desired the English should know and take notice, that all who came with Harold, or supported him in this affair, were excommunicated by the apostle and the clergy. At this excommunication the English were much troubled; they feared it greatly, and the battle still more. And much murmuring was to be heard on all hands, and consulting one with the other; none was so brave, but that he wished the battle might be prevented.
"Seignors," said Gurth, "I know and see that you are in great alarm; that you fear the event of the battle, and desire an arrangement: and so do I as much, and in truth more, I believe; but I have also great fear of duke William, who is very full of treachery. You have heard what he says, and how low he rates us, and how he will only give us what he likes of a land which is not yet his. If we take what he offers, and go beyond the Humber, he will not long leave us even that, but will push us yet further. He will always keep his eye upon us, and bring us to ruin in the end. When he has got the uppermost, and has the best of the land, he will leave little for us, and will soon try to take it all. He wants to cheat us into taking instead of a rich country, a poor portion of one, and presently he will have even that. I have another fear, which is more on your than on my account, for I think I could easily secure myself. He has given away all your lands to knights of other countries. There is neither earl nor baron to whom he has not made some rich present: there is no earldom, barony, nor chatelainie, which he has not given away: and I tell you for a truth, that he has already taken homage from many, for your inheritances which he has given them. They will chase you from your lands, and still worse, will kill you. They will pillage your vassals, and ruin your sons and daughters: they do not come merely for your goods, but utterly to ruin you and your heirs. Defend yourselves then and your children, and all that belong to you, while you may. My brother hath never given away, nor agreed to give away the great fiefs, the honors, or lands of your ancestors; but earls have remained earls, and barons enjoyed their rights; the sons have had their lands and fiefs after their fathers deaths: and you know this to be true which I tell you, that peace was never disturbed. We may let things remain thus if we will, and it is best for us so to determine. But if you lose your houses, your manors, demesnes, and other possessions, where you have been nourished all your lives, what will you become, and what will you do? Into what country will you flee, and what will become of your kindred, your wives and children? In what land will they go begging, and where shall they seek an abode? When they thus lose their own honour, how shall they seek it of others ?"
By these words of Gurth, and by others which were said at his instance, and by pledges from Harold to add to the fiefs of the barons, and by his promises of things which were then out of his power to give, the English were aroused, and swore by God, and cried out, that the Normans had come on an evil day, and had embarked on a foolish matter. Those who had lately desired peace, and feared the battle, carried themselves boldly, and were eager to fight; and Gurth had so excited the council, that no man who had talked of peace would have been listened to, but would have been reproved by the most powerful there.