Page images
PDF
EPUB

not, of course, deprived of his bird, but by a beautiful fiction the bird is represented depressed, and with its head turned towards its master's breast as if trying to nestle and shelter itself there. Could sympathy be more poetically expressed? Afterwards, on Harold's release, the bird is again depicted as fluttering to " soar elate."

The practice very prevalent in these "barbarous times," as we somewhat too sweepingly term them, of entering on no expedition of war or pastime without imploring the protection of heaven, is intimated by a church which Harold is entering previously to his embarkation. That this observance might degenerate in many instances into mere form may be very true; and the " hunting masses " celebrated in song might, some of them, be more honoured in the breach than the observance: nevertheless in clearing away the dross of old times, we have, it is to be feared, removed some of the gold also; and the abolition of the custom of having the churches open at all times, so that at any moment the heart-prompted prayer might be offered up under the holy shelter of a consecrated roof, has tended very much, it is to be feared, to abolish the habit of frequent prayer. A habit in itself, and regarded even merely as a habit, fraught with inestimable good.

We next see Harold and his companions refreshing themselves prior to their departure, pledging each other, and doubtless drinking to the success of their enterprise whatever it might be. The horns from which they are drinking have been the subject of critical remark. We find that horns were used for various purposes, and were of four sorts, drinking horns, hunting horns, horns for summoning the people, and of a mixed kind.

They were used as modes of investiture, and this manner of endowing was usual amongst the Danes in England. King Cnute himself gave lands at Pusey in Berkshire to the family of that name, with a horn solemnly at that time delivered, as a confirmation of the grant. Edward the Confessor made a like donation to the family of Nigel. The celebrated horn of Alphus, kept in the sacristy in York Minster, was probably a drinking cup belonging to this prince, and was by him given together with all his lands and revenues to that church. "When he gave the horn that was to convey it (his estate) he filled it with wine, and on his knees before the altar, 'Deo et S. Petro omnes terras et redditus propinavit.' So that he drank it off, in testimony that thereby he gave them his lands."* Many instances might be adduced to show that this mode of investiture was common in England in the time of the Danes, the Anglo-Saxons, and at the close of the reign of the Norman conqueror.

The drinking horns had frequently a screw at the end, which being taken off at once converted them into hunting horns, which circumstance will account for persons of distinction frequently carrying their own. Such doubtless were those used of old by the Breton hunters about Brecheliant, which is poetically described as a forest long and broad, much famed throughout Brittany. The fountain of Berenton rises from beneath a stone there. Thither the hunters are used to repair in sultry weather, and drawing up water with their horns (those horns which had just been used to sound the animated warnings of the chase), they sprinkle the stone for the purpose of having rain, which is then wont to fall throughout the whole forest around. There too fairies are to be seen, and many wonders happen. The ground is broken and precipitous, and deer in plenty roam there, but the husbandmen have forsaken it. Our author * goes on to say that he personally visited this enchanted region, but that, though he saw the forest and the land, no marvels presented themselves. The reason is obvious. He had, before the time, contracted some of the scepticism of these matter-of-fact " schoolmaster abroad" days. He wanted faith, and therefore he did not deserve to see them.

* Archaeol. 1 and 3.

The use of drinking horns is very ancient. They were usually embellished or garnished with silver; they were in very common use among our Saxon ancestors, who frequently had them gilded and magnificently ornamented. One of those in use amongst Harold's party seems to be very richly decorated.

The revellers are, however, obliged to dispatch, as their leader, Harold, is already wading through the water to his vessel. The character of Harold as displayed throughout this tapestry is a magnificent one, and does infinite credit to the generous and noble disposition of Matilda the queen, who dis* Master Wace. Roman de Rou, &c, by Taylor.

dained to depreciate the character of a fallen foe. He commences his expedition by an act of piety; here, on his embarkation at Bosham, he is kindly carrying his dog through the water. In crossing the sands of the river Cosno, which are dangerous, so very dangerous as most frequently to cause the destruction of those who attempt their transit, his whole concern seems to be to assist the passage of others, whose inferior natural powers do not enable them to compete with danger so successfully as himself; his character for undaunted bravery is such, that William condescends to supplicate his assistance in a feud then at issue between himself and another nobleman, and so nobly does he bear himself that the proud Norman with his own hands invests him with the emblems of honour (as seen in the tapestry); and, last scene of all, he disdained all submission, he repelled all the entreaties with which his brothers assailed him not personally to lead his troops to the encounter, and the corpses of 15,000 Normans on this field, and of even a greater number on the English monarch's side, told in bloody characters that Harold had not quailed in the last great encounter.

Unpropitious winds drive him and his attendants from their intended course. Many historians accuse the people of Ponthieu of making prisoners all whose ill fortune threw them upon their coast, and of treating them with great barbarity, in order to extort the larger ransom. Be this as it may, Harold has scarcely set his foot on shore ere he is forcibly captured by the vassals of Guy of Ponthieu, who is there on horseback to witness the proceeding. The

F

tapestry goes on to picture the progress of the captured troop and their captors to Belrem or Beurain, and a conference when there between the earl and his prisoner, where the fair embroideresses have given a delicate and expressive feature by depicting the conquering noble with his sword elevated, and the princely captive, wearing indeed his sword, but with the point depressed.

It is said that a fisherman of Ponthieu, who had been often in England and knew Harold's person, was the cause of his capture. "He went privily to Guy, the Count of Pontif, and would speak to no other; and he told the Count how he could put a great prize in his way, if he would go with him; and that if he would give him only twenty livres he should gain a hundred by it, for he would deliver him such a prisoner as would pay a hundred livres or more for his ransome." The Count agreed to his terms, and then the fisherman showed him Harold.

Hearing of Harold's captivity, William the Norman is anxious on all and every account to obtain possession of his person. He consequently sends ambassadors to Guy, who is represented on the tapestry as giving them audience. The person holding the horses is somewhat remarkable; he is a bearded dwarf. Dwarfs were formerly much sought after in the houses of great folks, and they were frequently sent as presents from one potentate to another. They were petted and indulged somewhat in the way of the more modern fool or jester. The custom is very old. The Romans were so fond of them, that they often used artificial methods to pre

« PreviousContinue »