Robert Fitz Wimarc

At the moment of William's landing, and even at the moment of his occupation of Hastings, he must have been quite uncertain as to the fortunes of his rival in the North. It was perfectly possible that he might never have to contend with Harold of England at all. The result of the Northumbrian campaign could hardly have been known in Sussex two days after the fight of Stamfordbridge, and it was one of the possible chances of war that William might have to fight for the Crown of England against the victorious host of Tostig and Harold Hardrada. But the two great rivals were not long kept in ignorance of each other's movements and purposes. The news was brought to William by a message from an English landowner of Norman birth, in whom it is easy to recognize the Staller Robert the son of Wymarc, him who had stood at the bed's head of the dying Eadward. We know not whether he had kept his stallership, or any other office, under Harold. But it is plain that he had become the man of the new King, for he was living in England under the King's peace and in full possession of his lands. There is nothing in his present conduct which sets him before us as a traitor to his new allegiance. It is scarcely ground enough for such a charge to say that he could hardly have been with Harold at Stamfordbridge. His conduct in fact seems to have been that which was really right and honourable under the circumstances in which he stood. He had to reconcile his good will and his duty towards his adopted country with his earlier good will and earlier duty towards his natural sovereign. He sent a messenger to Hastings, with a message meant to persuade the Duke, in the interest of all parties, to give up his enterprise, and to go quietly back to his own land. He, Robert, counselled him as a friend and kinsman; he would be deeply sorry if any harm befell him or his army, and, if he stayed in England, he and his army would meet with certain destruction. It was hopeless for William to think of striving against the forces of England. King Harold had just defeated the Norwegian invader with a slaughter of twenty thousand men; Tostig and Harold Hardrada were slain; the King of the English was coming southwards with a countless host, a host, men said, of a hundred thousand. Against the English King and the English army, flushed with their victory over the greatest warrior in the whole world, it would be madness to risk a battle. Neither in number nor in strength were the Normans fit to do battle against King Harold and the English. Against them, in short, William's army would count for no more than so many barking curs. The Duke was a prudent man, and had hitherto always acted prudently. Let him act prudently now; let him go home; let him at all events keep within his entrenchments and not risk a battle. If he did go forth to fight, his rashness would certainly bring about his utter overthrow. Such counsel as this, addressed to William the Conqueror, speaks much more highly for the good intentions of Robert than for his knowledge of mankind, above all for his knowledge of the man with whom he was dealing. William had not crossed the sea for nothing; he was not like the King in the Gospel, who had to stop on his march to think whether he were able with his ten thousand to meet him who came against him with twenty thousand.

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