The English were in great trouble at having lost their King and at the Duke’s having conquered and beat down the standard; but they still fought on, and defended themselves long, and in fact till the day drew to a close.
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: October 14, 1066
“One of them was a man of great strength, a wrestler, who did great mischief to the Normans with his hatchet; all feared him, for he struck down a great many Normans. The Duke spurred on his horse, and aimed a blow at him, but he stooped, and so escaped the stroke; then jumping on one side, he lifted his hatchet aloft, and as the Duke bent to avoid the blow, the Englishman boldly struck him on the head and beat in his helmet, though without doing much injury. He was very near falling, however; but, bearing on his stirrups, he recovered himself immediately; and when he thought to have revenged himself upon the churl by killing him, he had escaped, dreading the Duke’s blow. He ran back in among the English, but he was not safe even there; for the Normans, seeing him, pursued and caught him, and having pierced him through and through with their lances, left him dead on the ground.
“Where the throng of the battle was greatest, the men of Kent and Essex fought wondrously well, and made the Normans again retreat, but without doing them much injury. And when the Duke saw his men fall back and the English triumphing over them, his spirit rose high, and he seized his shield and his lance, which a vassal handed to him, and took his post by his standard.
“Then those who kept close guard by him and rode where he rode, being about a thousand armed men, came and rushed with closed ranks upon the English, and, with the weight of their good horses, and the blows the knights gave, broke the press of the enemy, and scattered the crowd before them, the good Duke leading them on in front. Many pursued and many fled; many were the Englishmen who fell around, and were trampled under the horses, crawling upon the earth, and not able to rise. Many of the richest and noblest men fell in the rout, but still the English rallied in places, smote down those whom they reached, and maintained the combat the best they could, beating down the men and killing the horses. One Englishman watched the Duke, and plotted to kill him; he would have struck him with his lance, but he could not, for the Duke struck him first, and felled him to the earth.
“Loud was now the clamor and great the slaughter; many a soul then quitted the body it inhabited. The living marched over the heaps of dead, and each side was weary of striking. He charged on who could, and he who could no longer strike still pushed forward. The strong struggled with the strong; some failed, others triumphed; the cowards fell back, the brave pressed on; and sad was his fate who fell in the midst, for he had little chance of rising again; and many in truth fell who never rose at all, being crushed under the throng.
“And now the Normans had pressed on so far that at last they had reached the standard. There Harold had remained, defending himself to the utmost; but he was sorely wounded in his eye by the arrow, and suffered grievous pain from the blow. An armed man came in the throng of the battle, and struck him on the ventail of his helmet, and beat him to the ground; and as he sought to recover himself a knight beat him down again, striking him on the thick of his thigh, down to the bone.
“Gurth saw the English falling around, and that there was no remedy. He saw his race hastening to ruin, and despaired of any aid; he would have fled, but could not, for the throng continually increased. And the Duke pushed on till he reached him, and struck him with great force. Whether he died of that blow I know not, but it was said that he fell under it and rose no more.
“The standard was beaten down, the golden standard was taken, and Harold and the rest of his friends were slain; but there was so much eagerness, and throng of so many around, seeking to kill him, that I know not who it was that slew him.
“The English were in great trouble at having lost their King and at the Duke’s having conquered and beat down the standard; but they still fought on, and defended themselves long, and in fact till the day drew to a close. Then it clearly appeared to all that the standard was lost, and the news had spread throughout the army that Harold, for certain, was dead; and all saw that there was no longer any hope, so they left the field, and those fled who could.
“William fought well; many an assault did he lead, many a blow did he give, and many receive, and many fell dead under his hand. Two horses were killed under him, and he took a third when necessary, so that he fell not to the ground and lost not a drop of blood. But whatever anyone did, and whoever lived or died, this is certain that William conquered and that many of the English fled from the field, and many died on the spot. Then he returned thanks to God, and in his pride ordered his standard to be brought and set up on high, where the English standard had stood; and that was the signal of his having conquered, and beaten down the standard. And he ordered his tent to be raised on the spot among the dead, and had his meat brought thither, and his supper prepared there.
“Then he took off his armor; and the barons and knights, pages and squires came, when he had unstrung his shield; and they took the helmet from his head and the hauberk from his back, and saw the heavy blows upon his shield and how his helmet was dinted in. And all greatly wondered and said: ‘Such a baron (ber) never bestrode war-horse nor dealt such blows nor did such feats of arms; neither has there been on earth such a knight since Rollant and Oliver.’
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