Portrait — Harold on the Eve of the Battle of Hastings (Heger’s version) by Emily J. Brontë

June 1842

Among all those men gathered there, on that plain, where the fate of a kingdom must soon be decided, one could easily distinguish the king, not by his finery and his retinue, but by his countenance and his bearing.

He walked far from the camp, to a height that gave him an ample view of the plain where, like an ocean, his army extended on all sides as far as the horizon, which the enemy’s fires illuminated. When he considered that it was on his own territory that the usurpers reposed; that it was his forests that fed the fires of their bivouacs; when, lowering his eyes to the valley, he contemplated the long lines of his troops, which he knew to be as brave as they were numerous, as faithful as they were brave, when he weighed in his mind both the power and thejustice of his cause, a sublime expression lit up his pale face, and he could not imagine defeat.

It was then that Harold reunited in himself all the energy, all the hopes, of a nation. Harold was no more a man, but a King.

In times of peace, he would doubtless have been, like all the other princes seated on a tranquil throne, a luxurious slave, confined in his palace, sunk in pleasures, deceived by his flatterers, knowing, unless he be a complete imbecile, that, of all his people, he is the man least free; that he can neither act, nor scarcely think for himself; that all those who surround him try to lead him astray; that never can he move without being directed by a minister, and that his body is a royal prisoner, having his kingdom for prison and his subjects for guards.

But on the field of battle, without palace, without ministers, without courtiers, without pomp, without luxury, Harold, having only the sky of his country above him, for a roof, and that land, beneath his feet, that land which he holds from his ancestors and which he will only abandon with his life; Harold, surrounded by devoted hearts, who have entrusted in him their safety, their liberty, their existence — what a difference! Harold is no more a man; his passions bubble up, they become exalted, but shedding their egotism, they are purified; they are sanctified: his courage has no more rashness; his pride has no more arrogance — his assurance is without presumption; his indigation is without injustice.

Let the enemy come! still the victory is Harold’s. He feels that all must retreat, fall, before him … But Death? … — to him who fights in defense of his native soil, the stroke of death is the stroke given to the slave, to liberate him and set him free.