Photo © hjjanisch, 28 February 2010
The Christmas morn at last came; and once more, as on the day of the Epiphany, a King-elect entered the portals of the West Minster to receive his Crown. But now, unlike the day of the Epiphany, the approach to the church was kept by a guard of Norman horsemen. Otherwise all was peaceful. Within the church all was in readiness; a new crown, rich with gems, was ready for the ceremony; a crowd of spectators of both nations filled the minster. The great procession then swept on. A crowd of clergy bearing crosses marched first; then followed the Bishops; lastly, surrounded by the chief men of his own land and of his new kingdom, came the renowned Duke himself, with Ealdred and Stigand on either side of him. Amid the shouts of the people, William the Conqueror passed on to the royal seat before the high altar, there to go through the same solemn rites which had so lately been gone through on the same spot by his fallen rival. The Te Deum which had been sung over Harold was now again sung over William. And now again, in ancient form, the crowd that thronged the minster was asked whether they would that the candidate who stood before them should be crowned King over the land.
But a new thing, unknown to the coronation of Eadward
or of Harold, had to mark the coronation of William. A King was to be crowned
who spake not our ancient tongue, and, with him, many who knew not the speech
of England stood there to behold the rite. It was therefore not enough for Ealdred
to demand in his native tongue whether the assembled crowd consented to the
consecration of the Duke of the Normans. The question had to be put a second
time in French by Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, one of the prelates who had
borne his part in those rites in the camp at Hastings which had ushered in the
day of Saint Calixtus. The assent of the assembled multitude of both nations
was given in ancient form. The voices which on the Epiphany had shouted "Yea,
yea, King Harold," shouted at Christmas with no less of seeming zeal, "Yea,
yea, King William." Men's hearts had not changed, but they had learned,
through the events of that awful year, to submit as cheerfully as might be to
the doom which could not be escaped. The shout rang loud through the minster;
it reached the ears of the Norman horsemen who kept watch around the building.
They had doubtless never before heard the mighty voice of an assembled people.
They deemed, or professed to deem, that some evil was being done to the newly
chosen sovereign. But, instead of rushing in to his help, they hastened, with
the strange instinct of their nation, to set fire to the buildings around the
minster. At once all was confusion; the glare was seen, the noise was heard,
within the walls of the church. Men and women of all ranks rushed forth to quench
the flames or to save their goods, some, it is said, to seek for their chance
of plunder in such a scene of terror. The King-elect, with the officiating prelates
and clergy and the monks of the abbey, alone remained before the altar. They
trembled, and, perhaps for the first and the last time of his life, William
trembled also. His heart had never failed him either in council or in battle,
but here was a scene the like of which William himself was not pre pared to
brave. But the rite went on; the trembling Duke took the oaths of an English
King, the oaths to do justice and mercy to all within his realm, and a special
oath, devised seemingly to meet the case of a foreign King, an oath that, if
his people proved loyal to him, he would rule them as well as the best of the
Kings who had gone before him.
The prayers and litanies and hymns went on; the rite, hurried and maimed of its splendour, lacked nothing of sacramental virtue or of ecclesiastical significance. All was done in order; while the flames were raging around, amid the uproar and the shouts which surrounded the holy place, Ealdred could still nerve himself to pour the holy oil upon the royal head, to place the rod and the sceptre in the royal hands. In the presence of that small band of monks and bishops the great rite was brought to its end, and the diadem with all its gleaming gems rested firmly upon the brow of William, King of the English.
The work of the Conquest was now formally completed; the Conqueror sat in the royal seat of England. He had claimed the Crown of his kinsman; he had set forth his claim in the ears of Europe; he had maintained it on the field of battle, and now it had been formally acknowledged by the nation over which he sought to rule. As far as words and outward rites went, nothing was now wanting; William was King, chosen, crowned, and anointed. -- Freeman