Harold: A Drama

Act II

Scene II

Alfred Tennyson

Bayeux. Palace.


We hold our Saxon woodcock in the springe,
But he begins to flutter. As I think
He was thine host in England when I went
To visit Edward.

                Yea, and there, my lord,
To make allowance for their rougher fashions,
I found him all a noble host should be.

Thou art his friend: thou know’st my claim on England
Thro’ Edward’s promise: we have him in the toils.
And it were well, if thou shouldst let him feel,
How dense a fold of danger nets him round,
So that he bristle himself against my will.

What would I do, my lord, if I were you?

What wouldst thou do?

                                My lord, he is thy guest.

Nay, by the splendour of God, no guest of mine.
He came not to see me, had past me by
To hunt and hawk elsewhere, save for the fate
Which hunted him when that un-Saxon blast,
And bolts of thunder moulded in high heaven
To serve the Norman purpose, drave and crack’d
His boat on Ponthieu beach; where our friend Guy
Had wrung his ransom from him by the rack,
But that I slept between and purchased him,
Translating his captivity from Guy
To mine own hearth at Bayeux, where he sits
My ransom’d prisoner.

                Well, if not with gold,
With golden deeds and iron strokes that brought
Thy war with Brittany to a goodlier close
Than else had been, he paid his ransom back.

So that henceforth they are not like to league
With Harold against me.

                        A marvel, how
He from the liquid sands of Coesnon
Haled thy shore-swallow’d, armour’d Normans up
To fight for thee again!

                Perchance against
Their saver, save thou save him from himself.

But I should let him home again, my lord.

Simple! let fly the bird within the hand,
To catch the bird again within the bush!
Smooth thou my way, before he clash with me;
I want his voice in England for the crown,
I want thy voice with him to bring him round;
And being brave he must be subtly cow’d,
And being truthful wrought upon to swear
Vows that he dare not break. England our own
Thro’ Harold’s help, he shall be my dear friend
As well as thine, and thou thyself shalt have
Large lordship there of lands and territory.

I knew thy purpose; he and Wulfnoth never
Have met, except in public; shall they meet
In private? I have often talk’d with Wulfnoth,
And stuff’d the boy with fears that these may act
On Harold when they meet.

                        Then let them meet!

I can but love this noble, honest Harold.

Love him! why not? thine is a loving office,
I have commission’d thee to save the man:
Help the good ship, showing the sunken rock,
Or he is wreckt for ever.



                                Well, boy.

They have taken away the toy thou gavest me,
The Norman knight.

                Why, boy?

                Because I broke
The horse’s leg—it was mine own to break;
I like to have my toys, and break them too.

Well, thou shalt have another Norman knight!

And may I break his legs?

                                        Yea,—get thee gone!

I’ll tell them I have had my way with thee.


I never knew thee check thy will for ought
Save for the prattling of thy little ones.

Who shall be kings of England. I am heir
Of England by the promise of her king.

But there the great Assembly choose their king,
The choice of England is the voice of England.

I will be king of England by the laws,
The choice, and voice of England.

                                Can that be?

The voice of any people is the sword
That guards them, or the sword that beats them down.
Here comes the would-be what I will be . . . king-like . . . 
Tho’ scarce at ease; for, save our meshes break,
More kinglike he than like to prove a king.

Enter HAROLD, musing, with his eyes on the ground.
He sees me not—and yet he dreams of me.
Earl, wilt thou fly my falcons this fair day?
They are of the best, strong-wing’d against the wind.

    HAROLD (looking up suddenly, having caught but the last word).
Which way does it blow?

                        Blowing for England, ha?
Not yet. Thou hast not learnt thy quarters here.
The winds so cross and jostle among these towers.

Count of the Normans, thou hast ransom’d us,
Maintain’d, and entertain’d us royally!

And thou for us hast fought as loyally,
Which binds us friendship-fast for ever!

But lest we turn the scale of courtesy
By too much pressure on it, I would fain,
Since thou hast promised Wulfnoth home with us,
Be home again with Wulfnoth.

Stay—as yet
Thou hast but seen how Norman hands can strike,
But walk’d our Norman field, scarce touch’d or tasted
The splendours of our Court.

                        I am in no mood:
I should be as the shadow of a cloud
Crossing your light.

                Nay, rest a week or two,
And we will fill thee full of Norman sun,
And send thee back among thine island mists
With laughter.

        Count, I thank thee, but had rather
Breathe the free wind from off our Saxon downs,
Tho’ charged with all the wet of all the west.

Why if thou wilt, so let it be—thou shalt.
That were a graceless hospitality
To chain the free guest to the banquet-board;
To-morrow we will ride with thee to Harfleur,
And see thee shipt, and pray in thy behalf
For happier homeward winds than that which crack’d
Thy bark at Ponthieu,—yet to us, in faith,
A happy one—whereby we came to know
Thy valour and thy value, noble earl.
Ay, and perchance a happy one for thee,
Provided—I will go with thee to-morrow—
Nay—but there be conditions, easy ones,
So thou, fair friend, will take them easily.

Enter PAGE.

My lord, there is a post from over seas
With news for thee.

[Exit Page.

Come, Malet, let us hear!


Conditions? What conditions? pay him back
His ransom? ‘easy’—that were easy—nay—
No money-lover he! What said the King?
‘I pray you do not go to Normandy.’
And fate hath blown me hither, bound me too
With bitter obligation to the Count—
Have I not fought it out? What did he mean?
There lodged a gleaming grimness in his eyes,
Gave his shorn smile the lie. The walls oppress me,
And yon huge keep that hinders half the heaven.
Free air! free field!

[Moves to go out. A Man-at-Arms follows him.

    HAROLD (to the MAN-AT-ARMS).
I need thee not. Why dost thou follow me?

I have the Count’s commands to follow thee.

What then? Am I in danger in this court?

I cannot tell. I have the Count’s commands.

Stand out of earshot then, and keep me still
In eyeshot.

Yea, lord Harold.


                        And arm’d men
Ever keep watch beside my chamber door,
And if I walk within the lonely wood,
There is an arm’d man ever glides behind!

Enter MALET.
Why am I follow’d, haunted, harass’d, watch’d?
See yonder!                [Pointing to the MAN-AT-ARMS.

        ’Tis the good Count’s care for thee!
The Normans love thee not, nor thou the Normans,
Or—so they deem.

                But wherefore is the wind,
Which way soever the vane-arrow swing,
Not ever fair for England? Why but now
He said (thou heardst him) that I must not hence
Save on conditions.

                So in truth he said.

Malet, thy mother was an Englishwoman;
There somewhere beats an English pulse in thee!

Well—for my mother’s sake I love your England,
But for my father I love Normandy.

Speak for thy mother’s sake, and tell me true.

Then for my mother’s sake, and England’s sake
That suffers in the daily want of thee,
Obey the Count’s conditions, my good friend.

How, Malet, if they be not honourable!

Seem to obey them.

                        Better die than lie!

Choose therefore whether thou wilt have thy conscience
White as a maiden’s hand, or whether England
Be shatter’d into fragments.

                        News from England?

Morcar and Edwin have stirr’d up the Thanes
Against thy brother Tostig’s governance;
And all the North of Humber is one storm.

I should be there, Malet, I should be there!

And Tostig in his own hall on suspicion
Hath massacred the Thane that was his guest,
Gamel, the son of Orm: and there be more
As villainously slain.

                The wolf! the beast!
Ill news for guests, ha, Malet! More? What more?
What do they say? did Edward know of this?

They say, his wife was knowing and abetting.

They say, his wife!—To marry and have no husband
Makes the wife fool. My God, I should be there.
I’ll hack my way to the sea.

                        Thou canst not, Harold;
Our Duke is all between thee and the sea,
Our Duke is all about thee like a God;
All passes block’d. Obey him, speak him fair,
For he is only debonair to those
That follow where he leads, but stark as death
To those that cross him.—Look thou, here is Wulfnoth!
I leave thee to thy talk with him alone;
How wan, poor lad! how sick and sad for home!

[Exit Malet.

    HAROLD (muttering).
Go not to Normandy—go not to Normandy!

Poor brother! still a hostage!

                        Yea, and I
Shall see the dewy kiss of dawn no more
Make blush the maiden-white of our tall cliffs,
Nor mark the sea-bird rouse himself and hover
Above the windy ripple, and fill the sky
With free sea-laughter—never—save indeed
Thou canst make yield this iron-mooded Duke
To let me go.

Why, brother, so he will;
But on conditions. Canst thou guess at them?

Draw nearer,—I was in the corridor,
I saw him coming with his brother Odo
The Bayeux bishop, and I hid myself.

They did thee wrong who made thee hostage; thou
Wast ever fearful.

                And he spoke—I heard him—
‘This Harold is not of the royal blood,
Can have no right to the crown,’ and Odo said,
‘Thine is the right, for thine the might; he is here,
And yonder is thy keep.’

                No, Wulfnoth, no.

And William laugh’d and swore that might was right,
Far as he knew in this poor world of ours—
‘Marry, the Saints must go along with us,
And, brother, we will find a way,’ said he—
Yea, yea, he would be king of England.


        Yea, but thou must not this way answer him.

Is it not better still to speak the truth?

Not here, or thou wilt never hence nor I:
For in the racing toward this golden goal
He turns not right or left, but tramples flat
Whatever thwarts him; hast thou never heard
His savagery at Alencon,—the town
Hung out raw hides along their walls, and cried
‘Work for the tanner.’

                That had anger’d me
Had I been William.

                Nay, but he had prisoners,
He tore their eyes out, sliced their hands away,
And flung them streaming o’er the battlements
Upon the heads of those who walk’d within—
O speak him fair, Harold, for thine own sake.

Your Welshman says, ‘The Truth against the World,’
Much more the truth against myself.

But for my sake, oh brother! oh! for my sake!

Poor Wulfnoth! do they not entreat thee well?

I see the blackness of my dungeon loom
Across their lamps of revel, and beyond
The merriest murmurs of their banquet clank
The shackles that will bind me to the wall.

Too fearful still!

Oh no, no—speak him fair!
Call it to temporize; and not to lie;
Harold, I do not counsel thee to lie.
The man that hath to foil a murderous aim
May, surely, play with words.

Words are the man.
Not ev’n for thy sake, brother, would I lie.

Then for thine Edith?

There thou prick’st me deep.

And for our Mother England?

Deeper still.

And deeper still the deep-down oubliette,
Down thirty feet below the smiling day—
In blackness—dogs’ food thrown upon thy head.
And over thee the suns arise and set,
And the lark sings, the sweet stars come and go,
And men are at their markets, in their fields,
And woo their loves and have forgotten thee;
And thou art upright in thy living grave,
Where there is barely room to shift thy side,
And all thine England hath forgotten thee;
And he our lazy-pious Norman King,
With all his Normans round him once again,
Counts his old beads, and hath forgotten thee.

Thou art of my blood, and so methinks, my boy,
Thy fears infect me beyond reason. Peace!

And then our fiery Tostig, while thy hands
Are palsied here, if his Northumbrians rise
And hurl him from them,—I have heard the Normans
Count upon this confusion—may he not make
A league with William, so to bring him back?

That lies within the shadow of the chance.

And like a river in flood thro’ a burst dam
Descends the ruthless Norman—our good King
Kneels mumbling some old bone—our helpless folk
Are wash’d away, wailing, in their own blood—

Wailing! not warring? Boy, thou hast forgotten
That thou art English.

                Then our modest women—
I know the Norman license—thine own Edith—

No more! I will not hear thee—William comes.

I dare not well be seen in talk with thee.
Make thou not mention that I spake with thee.

[Moves away to the back of the stage.


We have the man that rail’d against thy birth.

Tear out his tongue.

He shall not rail again.
He said that he should see confusion fall
On thee and on thine house.

Tear out his eyes, And plunge him into prison.

It shall be done.

[Exit Officer.

Look not amazed, fair earl! Better leave undone
Than do by halves—tongueless and eyeless, prison’d—

Better methinks have slain the man at once!

We have respect for man’s immortal soul,
We seldom take man’s life, except in war;
It frights the traitor more to maim and blind.

In mine own land I should have scorn’d the man,
Or lash’d his rascal back, and let him go.

And let him go? To slander thee again!
Yet in thine own land in thy father’s day
They blinded my young kinsman, Alfred—ay,
Some said it was thy father’s deed.

They lied.

But thou and he—whom at thy word, for thou
Art known a speaker of the truth, I free
From this foul charge—

Nay, nay, he freed himself
By oath and compurgation from the charge.
The king, the lords, the people clear’d him of it.

But thou and he drove our good Normans out
From England, and this rankles in us yet.
Archbishop Robert hardly scaped with life.

Archbishop Robert! Robert the Archbishop!
Robert of Jumiéges, he that—

                        Quiet! quiet!

Count! if there sat within the Norman chair
A ruler all for England—one who fill’d
All offices, all bishopricks with English—
We could not move from Dover to the Humber
Saving thro’ Norman bishopricks—I say
Ye would applaud that Norman who should drive
The stranger to the fiends!

Why, that is reason!
Warrior thou art, and mighty wise withal!
Ay, ay, but many among our Norman lords
Hate thee for this, and press upon me—saying
God and the sea have given thee to our hands—
To plunge thee into life-long prison here:—
Yet I hold out against them, as I may,
Yea—would hold out, yea, tho’ they should revolt—
For thou hast done the battle in my cause;
I am thy fastest friend in Normandy.

I am doubly bound to thee . . . if this be so.

And I would bind thee more, and would myself
Be bounden to thee more.

Then let me hence With Wulfnoth to King Edward.

So we will. We hear he hath not long to live.

It may be.

Why then the heir of England, who is he?

The Atheling is nearest to the throne.

But sickly, slight, half-witted and a child,
Will England have him king?

                        It may be, no.

And hath King Edward not pronounced his heir?

Not that I know.

When he was here in Normandy,
He loved us and we him, because we found him.
A Norman of the Normans.

                        So did we.

A gentle, gracious, pure and saintly man!
And grateful to the hand that shielded him,
He promised that if ever he were king
In England, he would give his kingly voice
To me as his successor. Knowest thou this?

I learn it now.

                Thou knowest I am his cousin,
And that my wife descends from Alfred?


Who hath a better claim then to the crown
So that ye will not crown the Atheling?

None that I know . . . if that but hung upon
King Edward’s will.

Wilt thou uphold my claim?

    MALET (aside to HAROLD).
Be careful of thine answer, my good friend.

    WULFNOTH (aside to HAROLD).
Oh! Harold, for my sake and for thine own!

Ay . . . if the king have not revoked his promise.

But hath he done it then?

Not that I know.

Good, good, and thou wilt help me to the crown?

Ay . . . if the Witan will consent to this.

Thou art the mightiest voice in England, man,
Thy voice will lead the Witan—shall I have it?

    WULFNOTH (aside to HAROLD).
Oh! Harold, if thou love thine Edith, ay.

Ay, if—

    MALET (aside to HAROLD).
Thine ‘ifs’ will sear thine eyes out—ay.

I ask thee, wilt thou help me to the crown?
And I will make thee my great Earl of Earls,
Foremost in England and in Normandy;
Thou shalt be verily king—all but the name—
For I shall most sojourn in Normandy;
And thou be my vice-king in England. Speak.

    WULFNOTH (aside to HAROLD).
Ay, brother—for the sake of England—ay.

My lord—

    MALET (aside to HAROLD).
                Take heed now.


                                I am content,
For thou art truthful, and thy word thy bond.
To-morrow will we ride with thee to Harfleur.

[Exit William.

Harold, I am thy friend, one life with thee,
And even as I should bless thee saving mine,
I thank thee now for having saved thyself.

[Exit Malet.

For having lost myself to save myself,
Said ‘ay’ when I meant ‘no,’ lied like a lad
That dreads the pendent scourge, said ‘ay’ for ‘no’!
Ay! No!—he hath not bound me by an oath—
Is ‘ay’ an oath? is ‘ay’ strong as an oath?
Or is it the same sin to break my word
As break mine oath? He call’d my word my bond!
He is a liar who knows I am a liar,
And makes believe that he believes my word—
The crime be on his head—not bounden—no.

[Suddenly doors are flung open, discovering in an inner hall COUNT WILLIAM in his state robes, seated upon his throne, between two BISHOPS, ODO OF BAYEUX being one: in the centre of the hall an ark covered with cloth of gold; and on either side of it the NORMAN BARONS.

Enter a JAILOR before WILLIAM’S throne.

Knave, hast thou let thy prisoner scape?

                                Sir Count,
He had but one foot, he must have hopt away,
Yea, some familiar spirit must have help’d him.

Woe knave to thy familiar and to thee!
Give me thy keys.                [They fall clashing.
Nay let them lie. Stand there and wait my will.

[The JAILOR stands aside.

Hast thou such trustless jailors in thy North?

We have few prisoners in mine earldom there,
So less chance for false keepers.

                        We have heard
Of thy just, mild, and equal governance;
Honour to thee! thou art perfect in all honour!
Thy naked word thy bond! confirm it now
Before our gather’d Norman baronage,
For they will not believe thee—as I believe.

[Descends from his throne and stands by the ark.
Let all men here bear witness of our bond!
[Beckons to HAROLD, who advances.

Enter MALET behind him.

Lay thou thy hand upon this golden pall!
Behold the jewel of St. Pancratius
Woven into the gold. Swear thou on this!

What should I swear? Why should I swear on this?

    WILLIAM (savagely).
Swear thou to help me to the crown of England.

    MALET (whispering HAROLD).
My friend, thou hast gone too far to palter now.

    WULFNOTH (whispering HAROLD).
Swear thou to-day, to-morrow is thine own.

I swear to help thee to the crown of England . . . 
According as King Edward promises.

Thou must swear absolutely, noble Earl.

    MALET (whispering).
Delay is death to thee, ruin to England.

    WULFNOTH (whispering).
Swear, dearest brother, I beseech thee, swear!

    HAROLD (putting his hand on the jewel).
I swear to help thee to the crown of England.

Thanks, truthful Earl; I did not doubt thy word,
But that my barons might believe thy word,
And that the Holy Saints of Normandy
When thou art home in England, with thine own,
Might strengthen thee in keeping of thy word,
I made thee swear.—Show him by whom he hath sworn.

[The two BISHOPS advance, and raise the cloth of gold.
The bodies and bones of Saints are seen lying in the ark

The holy bones of all the Canonised
From all the holiest shrines in Normandy!

Horrible!        [They let the cloth fall again.

Ay, for thou hast sworn an oath
Which, if not kept, would make the hard earth rive
To the very Devil’s horns, the bright sky cleave
To the very feet of God, and send her hosts
Of injured Saints to scatter sparks of plague
Thro’ all your cities, blast your infants, dash
The torch of war among your standing corn,
Dabble your hearths with your own blood.—Enough!
Thou wilt not break it! I, the Count—the King—
Thy friend—am grateful for thine honest oath,
Not coming fiercely like a conqueror, now,
But softly as a bridegroom to his own.
For I shall rule according to your laws,
And make your ever-jarring Earldoms move
To music and in order—Angle, Jute,
Dane, Saxon, Norman, help to build a throne
Out-towering hers of France. . . . The wind is fair
For England now. . . . To-night we will be merry.
To-morrow will I ride with thee to Harfleur.

[Exeunt WILLIAM and all the NORMAN BARONS, etc.

To-night we will be merry—and to-morrow—
Juggler and bastard—bastard—he hates that most—
William the tanner’s bastard! Would he heard me!
O God, that I were in some wide, waste field
With nothing but my battle-axe and him
To spatter his brains! Why let earth rive, gulf in
These cursed Normans—yea and mine own self.
Cleave heaven, and send thy saints that I may say
Ev’n to their faces, ‘If ye side with William
Ye are not noble.’ How their pointed fingers
Glared at me! Am I Harold, Harold, son
Of our great Godwin? Lo! I touch mine arms,
My limbs—they are not mine—they are a liar’s—
I mean to be a liar—I am not bound—
Stigand shall give me absolution for it—
Did the chest move? did it move? I am utter craven!
O Wulfnoth, Wulfnoth, brother, thou hast betray’d me!

Forgive me, brother, I will live here and die.

Enter PAGE.

My lord! the Duke awaits thee at the banquet.

Where they eat dead men’s flesh, and drink their blood.

My lord—

        I know your Norman cookery is so spiced,
It masks all this.

                My lord! thou art white as death.

With looking on the dead. Am I so white?
Thy Duke will seem the darker. Hence, I follow.


Harold: A Drama - Contents     |     Act III - Scene I

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