186 BATTLE OF HASTINGS.
icance. The authority of Gibbon may be taken as decisive when he pronounces that "assuredly England was a gainer by the Conquest." And we may proudly adopt the comment of the Frenchman Rapin, who, writing of the battle of Hastings more than a century ago, speaks of the revolution effected by it as "the first step by which England is arrived to the height of grandeur and glory we behold it in at present."*
The interest of this eventful struggle, by which William of Normandy became king of England, is materially enhanced by the high personal character of the competitors for our crown. They were three in number. One was a foreign prince from the north; one was a foreign prince from the south; and one was a native hero of the land. Harald Hardrada, the strongest and the most chivalric of the kings of Norway,† was the first; Duke William of Normandy was the second; and the Saxon Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, was the third. Never was a nobler prize sought by nobler champions, or striven for more gallantly. The Saxon triumphed over the Norwegian, and the Norman triumphed over the Saxon; but Norse valor was never more conspicuous than when Harald Hardrada and his host fought and fell at Stamford Bridge; nor did Saxons ever face their foes more bravely than our Harold and his men on the fatal day of Hastings.
During the reign of King Edward the Confessor over this land, the claims of the Norwegian king to our crown were little thought of; and though Hardrada's predecessor, King Magnus of Norway, had on one occasion asserted that, by virtue of a compact with our former king; Hardicanute, he was entitled to the English throne, no serious attempt had been made to en force his pretensions. But the rivalry of the Saxon Harold and the Norman William was foreseen and bewailed by the Confessor, who was believed to have predicted on his death-bed the calamities that were impending over England. Duke William was King Edward's kinsman. Harold was the head of the most powerful noble house, next to the royal blood, in England; and, personally, he was the bravest and most popular chieftain in the land. King Edward was childless, and the nearest collateral
- Rapin, "Hist. England," p. 164. See also, on this point, Sharon
Turner, vol. iv., p. 72.
† See in Snorre the Saga of Haraldi Hardrada.