The old Norman chroniclers describe the preparations of William on his landing with a graphic vigor, which would be wholly lost by transfusing their racy Norman couplets and terse Latin prose into the current style of modern history.
Continuing Normans Conquer England,
our selection from Historical and Critical Account of the Several Invasions of England by Sir Edward Creasy published in 1852. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Normans Conquer England.
Time: September 29, 1066
Place: Pevensey Bay, Sussex
With full sails, and a following southern breeze, the Norman armada left the French shores and steered for England. The invaders crossed an undefended sea, and found an undefended coast. It was in Pevensey Bay, in Sussex, at Bulverhithe, between the castle of Pevensey and Hastings, that the last conquerors of this island landed on the 29th of September, 1066.
Harold was at York, rejoicing over his recent victory, which had delivered England from her ancient Scandinavian foes, and resettling the government of the counties which Harald Hardrada had overrun, when the tidings reached him that Duke William of Normandy and his host had landed on the Sussex shore. Harold instantly hurried southward to meet this long-expected enemy. The severe loss which his army had sustained in the battle with the Norwegians must have made it impossible for many of his veteran troops to accompany him in his forced march to London, and thence to Sussex. He halted at the capital only six days, and during that time gave orders for collecting forces from the southern and midland counties, and also directed his fleet to reassemble off the Sussex coast. Harold was well received in London, and his summons to arms was promptly obeyed by citizen, by thane, by socman, and by ceorl, for he had shown himself, during his brief reign, a just and wise king, affable to all men, active for the good of his country, and, in the words of the old historian, sparing himself from no fatigue by land or by sea. He might have gathered a much more numerous army than that of William; but his recent victory had made him overconfident, and he was irritated by the reports of the country being ravaged by the invaders. As soon, therefore, as he had collected a small army in London he marched off toward the coast, pressing forward as rapidly as his men could traverse Surrey and Sussex, in the hope of taking the Normans unawares, as he had recently, by a similar forced march, succeeded in surprising the Norwegians. But he had now to deal with a foe equally brave with Harald Hardrada and far more skilful and wary.
The old Norman chroniclers describe the preparations of William on his landing with a graphic vigor, which would be wholly lost by transfusing their racy Norman couplets and terse Latin prose into the current style of modern history. It is best to follow them closely, though at the expense of much quaintness and occasional uncouthness of expression. They tell us how Duke William’s own ship was the first of the Norman fleet. It was called the Mora, and was the gift of his duchess Matilda. On the head of the ship, in the front, which mariners call the prow, there was a brazen child bearing an arrow with a bended bow. His face was turned toward England, and thither he looked, as though he was about to shoot. The breeze became soft and sweet, and the sea was smooth for their landing. The ships ran on dry land, and each ranged by the other’s side. There you might see the good sailors, the sergeants, and squires sally forth and unload the ships; cast the anchors, haul the ropes, bear out shields and saddles, and land the war-horses and the palfreys. The archers came forth and touched land the first, each with his bow strung, and with his quiver full of arrows slung at his side. All were shaven and shorn; and all clad in short garments, ready to attack, to shoot, to wheel about and skirmish. All stood well equipped and of good courage for the fight; and they scoured the whole shore, but found not an armed man there. After the archers had thus gone forth, the knights landed all armed, with their hauberks on, their shields slung at their necks, and their helmets laced. They formed together on the shore, each armed and mounted on his war-horse; all had their swords girded on, and rode forward into the country with their lances raised. Then the carpenters landed, who had great axes in their hands, and planes and adzes hung at their sides. They took counsel together, and sought for a good spot to place a castle on. They had brought with them in the fleet three wooden castles from Normandy in pieces, all ready for framing together, and they took the materials of one of these out of the ships, all shaped and pierced to receive the pins which they had brought cut and ready in large barrels; and before evening had set in they had finished a good fort on the English ground, and there they placed their stores. All then ate and drank enough, and were right glad that they were ashore.
When Duke William himself landed, as he stepped on the shore he slipped and fell forward upon his two hands. Forthwith all raised a loud cry of distress. “An evil sign,” said they, “is here.” But he cried out lustily: “See, my lords, by the splendor of God,[*] I have taken possession of England with both my hands. It is now mine, and what is mine is yours.”
[Footnote *: William’s customary oath.]
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