BATTLE OF HASTINGS. 213
part of the Normans at Hastings. But his men, when deprived of his control, would very naturally he led by their inconsiderate ardor into the pursuit that proved so fatal to them. All the narratives of the battle, however much they vary as to the precise time and manner of Harold's fall, eulogize the generalship and the personal prowess which he displayed, until the fatal arrow struck him. The skill with which he had posted his army was proved both by the slaughter which it cost the Normans to force the position, and also by the desperate rally which some of the Saxons made after the battle in the forest in the rear, in which they cut off a large number of the pursuing Normans. This circumstance is particularly mentioned by William of Poictiers, the Conqueror's own chaplain. Indeed, if Harold, or either of his brothers, had survived, the remains of the English army might have formed again in the wood, and could at least have effected an orderly retreat, and prolonged the war. But both Gurth, and Leofwine, and all the bravest Thanes of Southern England lay dead on Senlac, around their fallen king and the fallen standard of their country. The exact number that perished on the Saxon side is unknown; but we read that on the side of the victors, out of sixty thousand men who had been engaged, no less than a fourth perished. So well had the English billmen "plyed the ghastly blow," and so sternly had the Saxon battle-ax cloven Norman casque and mail.* The old historian Daniel justly as well as forcibly remarks,† "Thus was tried, by the great assize of God's judgment in battle, the right of power between the English and Norman nations; a battle the most memorable of all others; and, however miserably lost, yet most nobly fought on the part of England."
Many a pathetic legend was told in after years respecting the discovery and the burial of the corpse of our last Saxon king. The main circumstances, though they seem to vary, are perhaps reconcilable.‡ Two of the monks of Waltham Abbey, which Harold had founded a little time before his election to the throne, had accompanied him to the battle. On the morning after the slaughter, they begged and gained permission of the Conqueror
- The Conqueror's Chaplain calls the Saxon battle-axes "saevissimae
† As cited in the "Pictorial History."
‡ See them collected in Lingard, i., 452, et seq. Thierry, i., 299; Sharon Turner, i., 82; and Histoire de Normandie, par Lieguet, p. 242.