Page images

are borne in splendid procession to the magnificent house which he had builded (i.e. rebuilded), Westminster Abbey; over which, in the sky, a hand is seen to point as if in benediction. It is well known that the Abbey was barely finished at the time of the pious monarch's death, and this circumstance is intimated in an intelligible though homely manner in the tapestry by a person occupied in placing a weathercock on the summit of the building.

The first pageant seen within its walls was the funeral array of the monarch who so beautifully rebuilt and so amply endowed it. Before the high altar, in a splendid shrine, where gems and jewelry flashed back the gleams of innumerable torches, and amid the solemn chant of the monks, whose e% Miserere" echoed through the vaulted aisles, interrupted but by the subdued wail of the mourners, or the emphatic benediction of the poor whose friend he had been, were laid the remains of him who was called the Sainted Edward; whose tomb was considered so hallowed a spot that the very stones around it were worn down by the knees of the pilgrims who resorted thither for prayer; and the very dust of whose shrine was carefully swept and collected, exported to the continent, and bought by devotees at a high price.

We next see in the tapestry the crown offered to Harold (a circumstance to be peculiarly remarked, since thus depicted by his opponent's wife), and then Harold shows right royally receiving the homage and gratulations of those around.

But the next scene forbodes a change of fortune: "Isti Mirant Stella," is the explanation wrought over it. For there appeared "a biasing starre, which was seene not onelie here in England, but also in other parts of the world, and continued the space of seven daies. This biasing starre might be a prediction of mischeefe imminent and hanging over Harold's head; for they never appeare but as prognosticats of afterclaps.,,

Popular belief has generally invested these illomened bodies with peculiar terrors. "These biasing starres—dreadful to be seene, with bloudie haires, and all over rough and shagged at the top." They vary, however, in their appearance. Sometimes they are pale, and glitter like a sword, without any rays or beams. Such was the one which is said to have hung over Jerusalem for near a year before its destruction, filling the minds of all who beheld it with awe and superstitious dread. A comet resembling a horn appeared when the " whole manhood of Greece fought the battaile of Salamis." Comets foretold the war between Caesar and Pompey, the murder of Claudius, and the tyranny of Nero. Though usually, they were not invariably, considered as portents of evil omen: for the birth and accession of Alexander, of Mithridates, the birth of Charles Martel, and the accession of Charlemagne, and the commencement of the Tatar empire, were all notified by blazing stars. A very brilliant one which appeared for seven consecutive nights soon after the death of Julius Csesar was supposed to be conveying the soul of the murdered dictator to Olympus. An author who wrote on one which appeared in the reign of Elizabeth was most anxious, as in duty bound, to apply the phenomenon to the queen. But here was the puzzle. "To have foretold calamities might have been misprision of treason; and the only precedent for saying anything good of a comet was to be drawn from that which occurred after the death of Julius Caesar;" but it so happened that at this time Elizabeth was by no means either ripe or willing for her apotheosis.* Comets, one author writes, "were made to the end the etherial regions might not be more void of monsters than the ocean is of whales and other great thieving fishes, and that a gross fatness being gathered together as excrements into an imposthume, the celestial air might thereby be purged, lest the sun should be obscured." Another says, they "signifie corruption of the ayre. They are signes of earthquake, of warres, chaunging of kyngdomes, great dearth of corne, yea, a common death of man and beast." So a poet of the same age:—

"There with long bloody hair a blazing star Threatens the world with famine, plague, and war j
To princes death, to kingdoms many crosses,
To all estates inevitable losses;
To herdsmen rot, to plowmen hapless seasons,
To sailors storms, to cities civil treasons."

But a writer on comets in 1665 crowned all previous conjecture. "As if God and Nature in* The Comet of 1618 carried dismay and horror in its course. Not only mighty monarchs, but the humblest private individuals seem to have considered the sign as sent to them, and to have set a double guard on all their actions. Thus Sir Symonds D'Ewes, the learned antiquary, having been in danger of an untimely end by entangling himself among some bell-ropes, makes a memorandum in his private diary never more to exercise himself in bell-ringing when there is a comet in the sky.—Aikin.

tended by comets to ring the knells of princes; esteeming the bells of churches upon earth not sacred enough for such illustrious and eminent performances.'

No wonder that the comet in Harold's days was regarded with fearful misgivings.

It did not, however, dismay him. Duke William, as may be supposed, did not tamely submit to a usurpation of what he considered, or affected to consider, his own dominions—a circumstance which we see an envoy, probably from his party in England, makes him acquainted with. He holds a council, seemingly an earnest and animated one, which evidently results in the immediate preparation of a fleet; of which the tapestry delineates the various stages and circumstances, from the felling of the timber in its native woods to the launching of the vessels, stored and fully equipped in arms, provisions, and heroes for invasion and conquest.

William in this expedition received unusual assistance from his own tributary chiefs, and from various other allies, who joined his standard, and without whom, indeed, he could not, with any chance of success, have made his daring attempt. A summer and autumn were spent in fitting-up the fleet and collecting the forces, " and there was no knight in the land, no good serjeant, archer, nor peasant of stout heart, and of age for battle, that the duke did not summon to go with him to England; promising rents to the vavassors, and honours to the barons." Thus was an armament prepared of seven hundred ships, but the one which bore William, the hero of the expedition, shone proudly pre-eminent over the rest. It was the gift of his affectionate queen. It is represented in the canvas of larger size than the others: the mast, surmounted by a cross, bears the banner which was sent to William by the Pope as a testimony of his blessing and approbation On this mast also a beacon-light nightly blazed as & point dapproche of the remainder of the fleet. On the poop was the figure of a boy (supposed to be meant for the conqueror's youngest son),gilded, and looking earnestly towards England, holding in one hand a banner, in the other an ivory horn, on which he is sounding a joyful reveillee.

But long the fleet waited at St. Valeri for a fair wind, until the barons became weary and dispirited. Then they prayed the convent to bring out the shrine of St. Valeri and set it on a carpet in the plain; and all came praying the holy relics that they might be allowed to pass over sea. They offered so much money, that the relics were buried beneath it; and from that day forth they had good weather and a fair wind. "Than Willyam thanked God and Saynt Valary, and toke shortly after shyppynge, and helde his course towarde Englande."

On the arrival of the fleet in England a banquet is prepared. The shape of the table at which William sits has been the theme of some curious remarks by Father Montfaucon, which have been copied by Ducarel and others. It is in form of a half-moon, and was called by the Romans sigma, from the Greek Q. It was calculated only for seven

« PreviousContinue »