Page 1227

1227 THE AGE OF CHARLEMAGNE-ALFRED AND HIS SUCCESSORS.

he suddenly sickened and died, and the suspicion was blown abroad that the means of

his taking-off was poison, and the cause

the jealousy of Harold. Be this as it may,

the problem of the succession was reduced

to this: whether Harold, as the representative of the Saxon party but of no blood

kinship to the former kings of England,

should succeed Edward on the throne, or

whether the crown, after the demise of

Edward, should descend to William of Normandy.

Now are we come to the complications

which immediately preceded the establishment of a Norman dynasty in the British

Islands. King Edward is said to have made a

will in which he bequeathed his crown to Duke

William, his cousin. It is said that this will

was executed before the recall of Edward the

Atheling. It is said that the nature of this

instrument was kept a profound secret for

years, and that Harold remained in ignorance

of the scheme which had been concocted to

tjiwart his ambition. It is said, on the other

hand, that the king's will was not made until

1065, the year before his death; and that

Harold, instead of being kept in ignorance

of its contents, was himself dispatched by the

.king to reveal the provisions of the instrument to Duke William. Certain it is that

Prince Harold found his way-whether by

accident or design does not appear-to the

Norman court; that he was wrecked at the

mouth of the river Somme; that he was

seized by the Count of Ponthieu; that he

was imprisoned in the castle of Beaurain;

and that he appealed in his distress to Duke

William for help. The latter quickly saw

his advantage. He demanded that Harold

should be released and sent to Rouen. In

order to secure this result he gave to the

Count of Ponthieu a large sum of money

and a fine estate. It was not long until he

had Harold in his power, but the crafty

Norman preferred to gain his end by policy

rather than violence. He made known to

Harold, who now perceived the extreme

peril of his situation, his purpose of claiming

the crown of England in accordance with a

long-standing pledge made to himself by

Edward the Confessor.

Harold was dumfounded and-helpless.

He was in the power of his great rival. William proceeded to extort from his guest a promise that the latter would promote his

scheme for the assumption of the English

crown. He induced the prince to promise

that in the event of Edward's death he would

aid him in obtaining the kingdom. Albeit,

the promise was given with mental reservation; but what could Harold do, being in the

clutches of his rival? To make assurance

doubly sure, William contrived that Harold

should swear to fulfill his pledges. Nor was

either the moral character of the Norman

duke or the spirit of the age above resorting

to a ridiculous subterfuge in order to give additional sanctity to the oath. A meeting was

appointed for the ceremony. William sat in

his chair of state and the Norman nobles were

ranged around according to their rank. When

Harold appeared the Duke arose and said,

"Earl Harold, I require you, before this

noble assembly, to confirm, by oath, the promises you have made me-to wit: to assist me

in obtaining the kingdom of England, after

King Edward's death, to marry my daughter

Adele, and to send me your sister, that I may

give her in marriage to one of mine." The

prince had no alternative but to swear. He

laid his hand upon the Bible and took the

oath, being in evident trepidation. Then, at

a signal from the duke, the cloth which covered a table was jerked aside, and there was

revealed a box filled with the bones of saints

and martyrs. Over this terrible heap of osteology, the son of Godwin had sworn away his

own right to the throne of England!

Prince Harold, thus duped and overreached, was permitted to depart. He returned to England loaded with presents

and accompanied by Haco, one of the

Saxon nobles, whom Godwin had given

as a hostage to Edward the Confessor, and

by him had been sent for safe keeping

to his cousin, William of Normandy.

The other hostage was detained at Rouen

as a guaranty for the fulfillment of Harold's

oath.

On his return to his own country, the

English prince, though humiliated, was received with honor. He became again the recognized head of the Saxon party, by whom he

was openly uphold for the succession. The

event was now at hand which was to determine the value of his claims. The childless

Edward came to his death-bed. It is said

that, in his last hours, he renewed in the