Portrait — King Harold before the Battle of Hastings by Emily J. Brontë

June 1842 (Draft before correction)

Among all those gathered that evening, on the field, which, on the morrow, would be the scene of so great a catastrophe, one could easily distinguish the king, not by his finery and his retinue, but by his countenance and his bearing.

He walked a little distanced from the camp, upon a height that gave him an ample view of the plain where his army extended like an ocean on all sides, as far as the horizon, which glowed with the enemy’s fires.

When he turned his gaze toward that latter spectacle, when he saw the sky reddened by that hostile light, when he considered that it was on his land that the usurpers reposed and that it was his forests that provided their flames, then, turning his eyes on the countryside below, when 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 thought of the power and of the justice of his cause, a sublime expression lit up his face, his soul fortified itself with the strongest exploits and, burning with a noble ardor, armed with an unshakable dauntlessness, he could not imagine defeat.

At that moment, the spirit of Harold gathered within itself the energy, the power, and the hopes of the nation. Then, he was no more a king; he was a hero. The situation had transformed him; for in peace he would doubtless have been, like almost all other princes seated on a tranquil throne, a nothing, a wretch entombed within his palace, sunk in pleasures, deceived by flatterers, knowing, provided he be not wholly imbecile that of all his people he is the least free; that he is a creature who dares not act, who scarcely dares to think for itself. That all those who surround him try to entangle his soul in a labyrinth of follies and vices; that it is the universal interest to blind his eyes, so that his hand cannot move without being directed by a minister, and so that his body is a true prisoner, having his kingdom for prison and his subjects for guards.

Harold, on the field of battle, without palace, without ministers, without courtiers, without pomp, without luxury, having only the sky of his country above him for a roof, and that land beneath his feet, which he holds from his ancestors, and which he will only abandon with his life — Harold, surround by that crowd of devoted hearts, the representatives of millions more, all entrusting to him their safety, their liberty, and their existence as a people — what a difference! As visible to men as to his Creator, the soul divine shines in his eyes; a multitude of human passions awake there at the same time, but they are exalted, sanctified, almost deified. That courage has no rashness, that pride has no arrogance, that indigation has no injustice, that assurance has no presumption. He is inwardly convinced that a mortal power will not fell him. The hand of Death, alone, can bear the victory away from his arms, and Harold is ready to succumb before it, because the touch of that hand is, to the hero, what the stroke that gave him liberty was to the slave.