Duke William enters negotiations with the Saxons
William's only chance of safety lay in bringing on a general engagement; and he joyfully advanced his army from their camp on the hill over Hastings, nearer to the Saxon position at Senlac. But he neglected no means of weakening his opponent, and renewed his summonses and demands on Harold with an ostentatious air of sanctity and moderation.
"A monk, named Hugues Maigrot, came in William's name to call upon the Saxon King to do one of three things:
- either to resign his royalty in favor of William
- to refer it to the arbitration of the Pope to decide which of the two ought to be king
- or let it be determined by the issue of a single combat
Harold abruptly replied, 'I will not resign my title, I will not refer it to the Pope, nor will I accept the single combat". Harold was far from being deficient in bravery; but he was no more at liberty to stake the crown, which he had received from a whole people, in the chance of a duel than to deposit it in the hands of an Italian priest.
William, not at all ruffled by the Saxon's refusal, but steadily pursuing the course of his calculated measures, sent the Norman monk again, after giving him these instructions: "Go and tell Harold that if he will keep his former compact with me, I will leave to him all the country which is beyond the Humber, and will give his brother Gurth all the lands which Godwin held. If he still persist in refusing my offers, then thou shalt tell him, before all his people, that he is a perjurer and a liar; that he and all who shall support him are excommunicated by the mouth of the Pope, and that the bull to that effect is in my hands."
Hugues Maigrot delivered this message in a solemn tone and the Norman chronicle says that at the word "excommunication" the English chiefs looked at one another as if some great danger were impending. One of them then spoke as follows:
"We must fight, whatever may be the danger to us; for what we have to consider is not whether we shall accept and receive a new lord, as if our king were dead; the case is quite otherwise. The Norman has given our lands to his captains, to his knights, to all his people, the greater part of whom have already done homage to him for them: they will all look for their gift if their duke become our king; and he himself is bound to deliver up to them our goods, our wives, and our daughters: all is promised to them beforehand.
They come, not only to ruin us, but to ruin our descendants also, and to take from us the country of our ancestors. And what shall we do? Whither shall we go, when we have no longer a country?"
The English promised, by a unanimous oath, to make neither peace nor truce nor treaty with the invader, but to die or drive away the Normans.
The 13th of October was occupied in these negotiations, and at night the Duke announced to his men that the next day would be the day of battle. That night is said to have been passed by the two armies in very different manners.
The Saxon soldiers spent it in joviality, singing their national songs, and draining huge horns of ale and wine round their campfires.
The Normans, when they had looked to their arms and horses, confessed themselves to the priests, with whom their camp was thronged, and received the sacrament by thousands at a time.