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THE CORONATION OF THE CONQUEROR."
25TH DECEMBER, 1066. 1. The Christmas morn at last came; and once more, as on the day of the Epiphany, a King-elect entered the portals of the West Minster to receive his Crown. But now, unlike the day of the Epiphany, the approach to the church was kept by a guard of Norman horsemen. Otherwise all was peaceful. Within the church all was in readiness; a new crown, rich with gems, was ready for the ceremony; a crowd of spectators of both nations filled the minster.
2. The great procession then swept on. A crowd of clergy bearing crosses marched first; then followed the Bishops; lastly, surrounded by the chief men of his own land and of his new kingdom, came the renowned Duke himself, with Ealdred and Stigand on either side of him. Amid the shouts of the people, William the Conqueror passed on to the royal seat before the high altar, there to go through the same solemn rites which had so lately been gone through on the same spot by his fallen rival. The Te Deum which had been sung over Harold was now again sung over William.
3. And now again, in ancient form, the crowd that thronged the minster was asked whether they would that
From The History of the Norman Conquest of England, by permission of Mr. Freeman and the Delegates of the Clarendon Press.
the candidate who stood before them should be crowned King over the land. But a new thing, unknown to the coronation of Eadward or of Harold, had to mark the coronation of William. A King was to be crowned who spake not our ancient tongue, and, with him, many who knew not the speech of England stood there to behold the rite.
4. It was therefore not enough for Ealdred to demand in his native tongue whether the assembled crowd consented to the consecration of the Duke of the Normans. The question had to be put a second time in French by Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, one of the prelates who had borne his part in those rites in the camp at Hastings which had ushered in the day of Saint Calixtus. The assent of the assembled multitude of both nations was given in ancient form. The voices which on the Epiphany had shouted, “Yea, yea, King Harold,” shouted at Christmas with no less of seeming zeal, “Yea, yea, King William.”
5. Men's hearts had not changed, but they had learned, through the events of that awful year, to submit as cheerfully as might be to the doom which could not be escaped. The shout ran loud through the minster; it reached the ears of the Norman horsemen who kept watch round the building. They had doubtless never before heard the mighty voice of an assembled people. They deemed, or professed to deem, that some evil was being done to the newly chosen sovereign. But, instead of rushing in to his help, they hastened, with the strange instinct of their nation, to set fire to the buildings around the minster.
6. At once all was confusion; the glare was seen, the noise was heard, within the walls of the church. Men and women of all ranks rushed forth to quench the flames or to save their goods, some, it is said, to seek for their chance of plunder in such a scene of terror The Kingelect, with the officiating prelates and clergy and the
monks of the abbey, alone remained before the altar. They trembled, and perhaps for the first and the last time in his life, William trembled also. His heart had never failed him either in council or in battle, but here was a scene the like of which William himself was not prepared to brave.
7. But the rite went on; the trembling Duke took the oaths of an English king, the oaths to do justice and mercy to all within his realm, and a special oath, devised seemingly to meet the case of a foreign King, an oath that, if his people proved loyal to him, he would rule them as well as the best of the Kings who had gone
before him. The
and litanies and hymns went on; the rite, hurried and maimed of its splendour, lacked nothing of sacramental virtue or of ecclesiastical significance.
8. All was done in order; while the flames were raging around, amid the uproar and the shouts which surrounded the holy place, Ealdred could still nerve himself to pour the holy oil upon the royal head, to place the rod and the sceptre in the royal hands. In the presence of that small band of monks and bishops the great rite was brought to its end, and the diadem with all its gleaming gems rested firmly on the brow of William, King of the English.—Edward A. Freeman (1823).
Questions on the lesson :—What was the exact date of William's coronation? When had Harold been crowned? Where did the coronation take place? By whom was the approach to Westminster Abbey guarded? What was the order of the procession? Where did William take his place? What question was put to the people? What new thing was there in connection with William's coronation? What answer was given to the question? What mistake was made about the shout which followed ? What effect did it produce on those inside?
as on the day of the Epiphany, that is, the 6th of January, on which day in the same year, 1066, Harold had been crowned King of England. Epiphany (appearance) was believed to commemorate the appearance of the star to the Wise Men at the time of the birth of Christ, or, as otherwise explained, the Saviour's manifestation to the Gentiles.