Dispirited and panic-stricken at the loss of their leader, his troops fell into disorder, took to flight, and, until darkness set in, were pursued with merciless slaughter by the victorious Normans.
On retiring to their camp, the Normans, in fervent prayer, thanked God for so signal a victory, and for that night retired to rest upon the battle field, which ever since has been called Sanguelac, or the lagoon of blood, in commemoration of this long and fiercely contested battle. William's victory was most complete and decisive. He lost but six thousand men, whilst the power of the Saxons was completely crushed, sixty thousand of their best and bravest veterans having fallen on that fatal day.
The Normans devoted the following day to the burial of their dead, and they permitted the Saxons to perform the like sad office to their own slaughtered friends. On hearing of the overthrow and death of Harold, Girtha, his mother, overcome with sorrow at the direful calamity, hastened to the Conqueror, and offered him rich presents for permission to bury the body of her beloved son. William, with a worthy generosity, freely accorded the boon, but peremptorily refused the proffered ransom. After thanking the Conqueror with tears of gratitude, Girtha hastened to the field of the slain; but so mangled and hacked had been the dead by the vengeful victors, that their features could not be identified, and all search for the remains of Harold was at first in vain. There, however, was one who had loved too well not to identify, even amongst thousands of stripped and frightfully gashed bodies, the adored object of her affections. Edith, or the "swan necked," a beautiful Saxon lady of high rank, who had been his jilted mistress, scoured the battle field, and discovered his remains, which were interred in the abbey, founded by Harold himself, at Waltham, in Essex, by his unhappy mother, who placed over the tomb the simple but expressive device—
(Harold the Unhappy.)
In compliance with his vow, William lost no time in having the stately abbey of St. Martin, now called Battle Abbey, erected upon the field of victory, where prayers were daily said for the sins of all who fell in the battle of Hastings, the name by which that sanguine engagement is now known. The high altar in the chapel of this stately structure is said to have stood on the very spot where Harold first planted his standard.
In that remarkable specimen of needlework, the Bayeaux tapestry, now preserved in the museum of Bayeaux, the battle of Hastings is graphically delineated, as also is the great comet which was visible in England just before the arrival of the Conqueror and his armament, and which frightened the inhabitants into a belief that a national calamity was about to occur. The Bayeaux tapestry is said to be the most beautiful embroidery extant, and the work of Matilda's own hands. It consists of a roll of linen cloth about seventy yards long, and eighteen or nineteen inches wide, forming a pictorial-chronicle of the Norman conquest.—First is presented the visit of Harold to Normandy; then succeeds his oath on the relies of the saints, which is followed by the preparations for the conquest and the embarkation: after which, comes the landing in England, the battle of Hastings, and Harold's death.
William of Normandy crowned king of England — Matilda rules Normandy with success — Her revenge on her scorner Brithric — Williams court in Essex — Triumphant return to Normandy — Rebellion in England — Matilda, reappointed regent of Normandy — William hastens to England — Restores tranquillity — Arrival of Matilda in England — Her coronation — Champion instituted — Birth of Prince Henry — Tower and other fortresses built — Abortive plot of the Earls Edwin and Morcar — Matilda and her family return to Normandy — Starvation and civil war in England — Curfew — Bitter sufferings of the Saxons — The churches pillaged — Saxon prelates deposed- — The king's intrigue with a Kentish maiden — Matilda's vengeance on her rival — Normandy invaded — Matilda's daughter Constance marries Alan Fergeant.
N the Christmas day that succeeded the battle of Hastings, the thoroughfares of London and "Westminster were crowded with gaily apparelled persons, all anxious to behold the expected pageant, for on that festival day was William to be inaugurated monarch of England.
The stately edifice where the coronation was to take place, was strewed with rushes, and decorated with fantastic hangings of rich embroidery, especially worked for the occasion by the Saxon ladies, whoso stitchery was at that period unmatched.
Early on Christmas morning, William, who had passed the previous night at the palace of Blackfriars, proceeded by water to London Bridge, where he landed, mounted his charger, and, accompanied by a grand cavalcade of English and Norman nobles, proceeded, amidst the deafening shouts of the excited multitude, to Westminster Abbey, the English all the time riding nearest to his person.
In consequence of a dispute between Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Holy See, William, to prevent his coronation being questioned at any future period, chose to be consecrated by Aldred, Archbishop of York ; and he received the royal circlet, not as a right obtained by conquest, but as a gift from the English people.
Before placing the crown upon the head of the royal duke, the officiating prelate paused, and addressing the English nobles, demanded,—
"Are you willing to accept William, Duke of Normandy, as your king ?"
The English answered with deafening shouts of assent, "which," says a learned chronicler, "so shook the abbey, that a scaffold, and twenty knights that sat thereon, were bestrewed on the ground in a woful plight." When silence returned, the prelate addressed the same question to the Norman nobles, whose acclamations of approbation were loud and long as those of the English.