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The War Cross Banner of England was not seen in a Vision, or
revealed by a Saint, but was consecrated by a Romish Bishop, and delivered to William of Normandy for the invasion and subjugation of England.—Difference between the Scottish and English Crosses.—The first was said to have been displayed in a great battle and victory against a foreign invader; the second was unfurled in the Conquest of the country.—Some particulars of the War Cross of the Romish Bishop and Norman Conqueror.—The heroic defence by the Anglo-Saxons under their White Banner upreared by Harold.—Reflections on the decisive battle of Hastings.
The war cross of England was not seen in a vision or revealed by a saint, but it was consecrated by a bishop of Rome, became a thing of this earth, and, by an act of the most daring pretension, was delivered by that pope to the Duke of Normandy for his standard, and as his warrant and licence to invade and take possession of that country. It thus differed in its origin from the cross of Scotland, and it also differed in a most important circumstance. The Scottish tradition is, that the cross of Saint Andrew was first displayed in a great battle, to repel a foreign invasion. The stern fact of English history was, the conquest and subjugation of England under the banner of the cross. The invasion and conquest of England by William the Norman, were, in the origin and circumstances of the expedition, strictly a crusade. The use of the cross in consecrated standards in war prevailed for several cen
turies in England before the Conquest, for after the church of Rome got footing in the island, by the successful expedition of Augustin to Kent in 597, it encouraged the Anglo-Saxons in their excursions to drive back and exterminate the old inhabitants of the country, and gave them holy crosses as en
It is not our business to weigh the family or personal claims of Harold and William to the crown of England. All that need be said is, that Harold was a native of England, was in possession of the government by the suffrages of the people, in consequence of the extinction of the old Saxon royal family, and that he was one of the ablest and most enterprising men of the age; and in passing, we may mention as a significant circumstance, illustrative of the character and designs of Harold, that all the coins of his reign which are known, have the word Pax. in the centre of the reverse.t William was a foreigner by birth, and lineage, and language, and rested his claim on an alleged relationship to the last Saxon king, and on a wish that he had expressed on his death-bed in favour of William, and on breach of agreement on the part of Harold. With respect to relationship, his illegitimacy of birth was a legal bar.
At the time when William was intriguing and negotiating at Rome for a recognition of his claims to the crown of England, Hildebrand, a monk of Cluny, was employing the resources of his powerful genius, and applying his indomitable will, to the establishment of the supremacy of the holy see into an universal sovereignty over all Christian States.
* Thierry's “Norman Conquest of England,” b. i.
† Article “Coin,” in the Cyclopædia for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
of William, Duke of the powerful province of Normandy, in such an important matter, strengthened the long-cherished hope of Hildebrand, and he considered the time had come when he might attempt with advantage an interference in the affairs of England. He overruled the opposition he encountered in the conclave of cardinals, and he succeeded in getting a judicial sentence in favour of the pretensions of William. *
The Normans were then the most active and warlike race in Europe ; and in Italy were, by their force of arms, under a banner from the Roman church, extending the territory of the papal government, and confirming its influence in Italy. The Normans, the descendants of Scandinavian pirates and land ravagers, were supporting the papal power in the eleventh century, as effectually as the French armies are performing a similar work in the middle of the nineteenth century. The popes, as political and temporal princes by the votes of cardinals, have in all
ages been the most dependent and helpless of European powers.
Hildebrand was the governing spirit in the business of William's appeal to Rome, but it was transacted in the name of Alexander II. The terms of the judicial award, pronounced by the pope himself, gave William “permission to enter England, to bring it back to its obedience to the holy see, and to re-establish for ever the tax of Saint Peter's pence.”+ Harold and all his adherents were excommunicated by a papal bull, which was transmitted to William, and at the same time was added the gift of a banner from the holy church, and a ring containing one of Saint Peter's hairs. There was thus the double investiture, military
* Thierry's “ Norman Conquest of England.”
and pontifical. It is rather curious that the holy standard which was to sanctify the invasion of England, was the same that had been planted by two Norman chiefs, in the name of the church, on the towns of Campania, in Italy, a few years before.*
The papal bull authorising the invasion of England, and the sight of the consecrated standard, excited the eagerness of vast multitudes in France to enrol themselves for the expedition. All the professed adventurers of Europe, and all outcasts, came by forced marches to the place of muster.
William refused no man. He offered good pay and the plunder of England to every
tall and stout man who would serve him with spear, sword, or crossbow. Every one brought what he could. The bull and the consecrated banner inspired confidence and enthusiasm, “and mothers sent their sons for the salvation of their souls.”+ William had innumerable demands to answer, and he was lavish of his promises. In anticipation, he even went so far as to grant an English bishopric to a Frenchman of the name of Remi, for a ship and twenty men at arms. In September, 1066, he had a force of 60,000 men, bold, determined, and eager for plunder, assembled near Caen, and 3000 vessels of all kinds to convey them to the opposite coasts of England. Adverse winds prevented the sailing of the expedition, and some disasters among the shipping affected the spirits and raised the discontent of the soldiers, who began to think that God was offended at their designs, and they murmured on the “madness and folly of a man who seeks to possess himself of another's kingdom." S At length they put to sea, and landed without opposition at Pevensay Bay, on the coast of Sussex. * Thierry, b. iii. + Ibid. I Ibid.
Unfortunately for the English nation, Harold had been obliged to proceed to York, to meet an invasion of Norwegians, and he returned by forced marches, to encounter a more formidable enemy at Hastings. This caused delay, but not discouragement, to the Saxon people. They mustered to the defence of their country, and Harold was eager to meet the Normans. The two great armies were prepared for the terrible conflict, which was to decide the fate of England. The Saxons occupied a strong position in which to meet the Normans, and passed the night before the battle around their watch-fires, singing the old songs of their nation. The imagination reverts to that awful night passed on the battle-field of Hastings, and with strange emotions hears the plaintive songs of home and family raised amid the stirring sounds of war-songs, bursting out from the heart indignant at the foreign invaders. It was indeed an affecting scene to hear an armed people raise their old songs on the last night of their national independence. In the enemies' camp, the foreign priests and monks who had followed in great numbers the invading army, in hope of booty, assembled to pray and sing litanies, while the soldiers were preparing their arms for the morrow's slaughter.
In the morning, when the troops were ready to advance, William addressed them in a short speech to excite their revenge against the Saxons:-"Remember to fight well, and put all to death ; for if we conquer we shall all be rich. What I gain, you will gain; if I conquer, you will conquer; if I take this land, you shall have it.”* A Norman, named Taillefer, spurred his horse forward in front of the battle, and began to sing a song famous throughout Gaul, at the same time
* Thierry, b. iii.