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England 1066

bayeux_tapestry The Battle of Hastings, which took place on 14 October 1066, was the decisive Norman victory in the Norman Conquest of England. It was fought between the Norman army of Duke William II of Normandy and the English army of King Harold II.[1] The battle took place at Senlac Hill, approximately 6 miles northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex. Harold II was killed in the battle—legend has it that he was shot through the eye with an arrow. Although there was further English resistance, this battle is seen as the point at which William gained control of England, becoming its first Norman ruler as King William I. The famous Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events before and during the battle. Battle Abbey in East Sussex was subsequently built on the site of the conflict.



Harold Godwinson, from the most powerful family in England, claimed the throne shortly after Edward the Confessor died in January 1066. He secured the support of the Witenagemot, the Anglo-Saxon assembly of nobles, for his accession. Some sources say that Edward had verbally promised the throne to his cousin, William, the Duke of Normandy, but decided on his deathbed to give it to Harold. While Edward the Confessor had an English nephew who might have qualified as his successor, he was deemed too young. William the Duke of Normandy had been establishing policy in England for over 15 years, and took Harold's crowning as a declaration of war. He planned to invade England and take the crown. The Norman army was not powerful enough, so nobles as far as Southern Italy were called to convene at Caen, in Normandy. There, William promised land and titles to his followers and claimed that the voyage was secured by the Pope. William assembled a fleet said to number 696 ships—if accurate this would imply an army of over 20,000 men. This force waited in port through the summer, supposedly because of adverse weather but quite possibly from fear of a clash at sea with the large English fleet. They finally sailed for England after the exhaustion of supplies forced Harold to dismiss his fleet and army and many English ships were wrecked by a storm. On 28 September 1066 William landed unopposed at Pevensey. The English King Harold II had just annihilated an invading Norwegian Viking army under King Harald Hardråda and Tostig Godwinson (Harold's brother) at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York. Upon hearing that the Duke's forces had landed he hurried southward to meet the invaders. His brother, Earl Gyrth, urged a delay while more men could be assembled, but Harold was determined to show his people that he could defend his new kingdom decisively against every invader. He departed London on the morning of 12 October, gathering what forces he could on the way. After camping at Long Bennington, he arrived at Senlac Hill on the night of 13 October.[2] Harold deployed his force, astride the road from Hastings to London, on Senlac Hill, some 6 miles inland north-west of Hastings. Behind him was the great forest of Anderida (the Weald), and in front the ground fell away in a long glacis-like slope, which rose again at the bottom as the opposing slope of Telham Hill.English army The English army fought two other major battles, at Gate Fulford and Stamford Bridge, less than three weeks before the Battle of Hastings. The latter resulted in the destruction of Harald Hardrada's Viking army but affected the English army's battle-worthiness at Hastings. The English army consisted entirely of infantry. It is possible that some or all the members of the army rode to battle, but once at the appointed place they dismounted to fight on foot. The core of the army was made up of full-time professional soldiers called Housecarls who had a long-standing dedication to the King. Their armour consisted of a conical helmet, a chain mail hauberk, and a kite-shaped shield. Their primary weapon was the two-handed Danish battleaxe, although every man would have carried a sword as well. The bulk of the army, called the fyrd, was composed of part-time English soldiers drawn from the landowning minor nobility. These thegns were the land-holding aristocracy of the time and were required to serve with their own armour and weapons for a certain number of days each year. The Victorian concept of the noble peasant defending his lands with a pitchfork has been quashed by modern archaeological research. The most formidable defence of the English was the shield wall, in which all the men on the front ranks locked their shields together. In the early stages of the battle, the shield wall was very effective at defending against the Norman archery barrages. The entire army took up position along the ridge-line; as casualties fell in the front lines the rear ranks would move forward to fill the gaps.[2]

Norman army

The Norman army was made up of nobles, mercenaries, and troops from Normandy (around half), Flanders, Brittany (around one third) and France (today Paris and Île-de-France), with some from as far as southern Italy. The Norman army's power derived from its cavalry which were reckoned amongst the best in Europe. They were heavily armoured, and usually had a lance and a sword. As with all cavalry, they were generally at their most effective against troops whose formation had begun to break up. Apart from the missile troops, the Norman infantry were probably protected by ring mail and armed with spear, sword and shield, like their English counterparts. The large numbers of missile troops in William's army reflected the trend in European armies for combining different types of forces on the battlefield. The bow was a relatively short weapon with a short draw but was effective on the battlefield. Hastings marks the first known use of the crossbow in English history.[3]


The battle field from the north side
William relied on basic tactics with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry which would engage in close combat, culminating in a cavalry charge that would break through the English forces. However, his tactics did not work as well as planned. William's army attacked the English as soon as they were ready and formed up. Norman archers shot several volleys but many of the arrows hit the shield wall and had very little effect. Believing the English to have been softened up, William ordered his infantry to attack. As the Normans charged up the hill, the English threw down whatever they could find: stones, javelins, and maces. The barrage inflicted heavy casualties among the Norman ranks, causing the lines to break up. The infantry charge reached the English lines, where ferocious hand-to-hand fighting took place. William had expected the English to falter, but the arrow barrage had little effect and nearly all the English troops still stood, their shield wall intact. As a result William ordered his cavalry to charge far sooner than planned. Faced with a wall of axes, spears and swords, many of the horses shied away despite their careful breeding and training. After an hour of fighting, the Breton division on William's left faltered and broke completely, fleeing down the hill. Suffering heavy casualties and realising they would be quickly outflanked, the Norman and Flemish divisions retreated with the Bretons. Unable to resist the temptation, many of the English broke ranks, including hundreds of fyrdmen and Harold's brothers, Leofwyne and Gyrthe. In the following confused fighting, William's horse was killed from underneath him, and he toppled to the ground. Initially, many of William's soldiers thought that he had been killed, and an even greater rout ensued. It was only after he stood up and threw off his helmet that William was able to rally his fleeing troops. William and a group of knights successfully counter-attacked the pursuing English, who were no longer protected by the shield wall, and cut down large numbers of fyrdmen. Many did not recognise the Norman counter-attack until it was too late, but some managed to scramble back up the hill to the safety of the housecarls. Harold's brothers were not so fortunate—their deaths deprived the English of an alternative leader after the death of Harold. The two armies formed up, and a temporary lull fell over the battle. The battle had turned to William's advantage, since the English had lost much of the protection provided by the shield wall. Without the cohesion of a disciplined, strong formation, the individual English were easy targets. William launched his army at the strong English position again and many of the English housecarls were killed. With such a large number of English fyrdmen now holding the front rank, the disciplined shield wall that the housecarls had maintained began to falter, presenting an opportunity to William. At the start of the battle the hail of arrows fired at the English by William's bowmen was ineffective because of the English shields. Though many on the front ranks still had shields, William ordered his archers to fire over the shield wall so that the arrows landed in the clustered rear ranks of the English army. The archers did this with great success. Legend states that it was at this point that Harold was hit in the eye by an arrow. Many of the English were now weary. William's army attacked again, and managed to make small chinks in the shield wall. They were able to exploit these gaps, and the English army began to fragment. William and a handful of knights broke through the wall, and struck down the English king. Without their leader and with many nobles dead, hundreds of fyrdmen fled the field. The housecarls kept their oath of loyalty to the king, and fought bravely until they were all killed.


Harold's plaque (2006)
Only a remnant of the defenders made their way back to the forest. Some of the Norman forces pursued the English but were ambushed and destroyed in the dusk when they ran afoul of steep ground, called, in later (12th century) sources, "the Malfosse", or "bad ditch".[citation needed] William rested his army for two weeks near Hastings, waiting for the English lords to come and submit to him. Then, after he realised his hopes of submission at that point were in vain, he began his advance on London. His army was seriously reduced in November by dysentery, and William himself was gravely ill. However, he was reinforced by fresh troops crossing the English Channel. After being thwarted in an attempt to cross London Bridge, he approached the city by a circuitous route crossing the Thames at Wallingford, and advancing on London from the north-west. The northern earls, Edwin and Morcar, Esegar the sheriff of London, and Edgar the Atheling, who had been elected king in the wake of Harold's death, all came out and submitted to the Norman duke before he reached London. William was crowned king on Christmas Day, 1066 at Westminster Abbey.


See also: Norman conquest of England#Consequences.
Plaque at Battle Abbey commemorating the fusing of the English and Norman peoples
Battle Abbey was built on the site of the battle. A plaque marks the place where Harold is believed to have fallen and the location where the high altar of the church once stood. The settlement of Battle, East Sussex, grew up around the abbey and is now a small market town. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events before, during, and after the Battle of Hastings. The Battle of Hastings is an example of the theory of combined arms. The Norman bowmen, cavalry and infantry cooperated to deny the English the initiative and gave the homogeneous English army few tactical options except defence. It is possible that this tactical sophistication existed primarily in the minds of the Norman chroniclers. The account of the battle given in the earliest source, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, is one where the Norman advance surprises the English, who manage to gain the top of Senlac Hill before the Normans. The Norman light infantry is sent in while the English are forming their shield wall (to no avail) and then the main force was sent in (no distinction being made between infantry and cavalry). Succeeding sources include (in chronological order) William of Poitiers's Gesta Guillelmi (written between 1071 and 1077), The Bayeux Tapestry (created between 1070 and 1077), and the much later Chronicle of Battle Abbey, the chronicles written by William of Malmesbury, Florence of Worcester, and Eadmer's Historia Novorum in Anglia embellishes the story further, with the final result being a William whose tactical genius was at a high level that he failed to display in any other battle. The Battle of Hastings had a tremendous influence on the English language. The Normans were French-speaking, and as a result of their rule, they introduced many French words that started in the nobility and eventually became part of the English language itself. As Paul K. Davis writes, "William's victory placed a foreign ruler on the throne of England, introducing European rather than Scandinavian society onto the isolated island" in "the last successful invasion of England."[4]

See also



  1. ^ In this article dates before 14 September 1752 are in the Julian calendar, later dates are in the Gregorian calendar.
  2. ^ a b Howarth, p. 165
  3. ^ [http://www.collegeofidaho.edu/academics/history/courses/102/WCDocs/1066William%20of%20Malmesbury%20The%20Battle%20of%20Hastings.htm William of Malmesbury, d. 1143?: The Battle of Hastings (1066)]
  4. ^ Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present: The World's Major Battles and How They Shaped History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 113.


  • Howarth, David (1993), 1066: The Year of the Conquest, New York: Barnes and Noble
  • Douglas, Daniel C. (1964), William the Conqueror, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
  • Gravett, Christopher, Hastings 1066, The Fall of Saxon England; Osprey Campaign Series #13, Osprey Publishing, 1992
  • Morton, Catherine and Muntz, Hope (eds). The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Guy Bishop of Amiens, Oxford at the Clarendon Press 1972.




Coordinates: 50°54′43″N 0°29′15″E / 50.91194°N 0.4875°E / 50.91194; 0.4875
Borough of Hastings, East Sussex
Landmarks and places of interest Hastings fishing boats on beach + cliff railway + old town.jpg
Sport and recreation
Other topics
Hastings website

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