The Battle of Hastings 1066

The Battle of Hastings 1066

Fought on 14 October 1066, the Battle of Hastings was to change the course of English history. After King Harold’s defeat at the battle, William of Normandy was crowned King of England - marking the beginning of the Norman conquest of Britain.

The reason for the Battle of Hastings was a dispute over Harold’s claim to the English throne. William of Normandy believed he had a legitimate claim to the English throne following the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor, but Harold was crowned king instead. William launched a series of invasions in an attempt to topple Harold, culminating in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which resulted in the defeat of the Scandinavian army led by Tostig and Harald Hardrada.

However, while Harold and his forces were recovering from the battle, William landed his forces in the south of England to launch a new attack. Although the exact number of his army is not known, modern historians have estimated it to be from 7,000-12,000 men. The army was made of infantry, cavalry, and archers.

Harold's view from the top of Seniac Hill
Harold's view from the top of Seniac Hill

After the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold marched his army south to face the Norman invasion. Harold planned to surprise the Normans, but William’s scouts reported their arrival, prompting him to lead his army from the castle towards the enemy’s defensive position on Senlac Hill, in present-day Battle.

The battle began at 9am and continued to dusk. The exact events of the battle are difficult to establish as the contemporary accounts give contradicting reports. However, most historians agree that Harold deployed his forces in a dense formation around the top of Caldbec Hill, then formed a shield wall with the front ranks holding their shields close together.

The battle began with the Norman archers firing at the English, but they had little effect. WIlliam then ordered the spearman to attach Harold’s army, but they were met with a barrage of stones, axes and spears. The cavalry moved forward to break the shield wall, but they too failed to make much progress.

William’s force started to retreat when a rumour spread that the duke had been killed. The English pursued the invaders, but William appeared, leading a counter-attack against the pursuing forces. Historians debate over what happened next, but some argue that William decided to use another feigned flight as a tactic - drawing the English into a pursuit, before launching a counter-attack.

Although the feined flights failed to break the lines, they likely thinned out the housecarls in the English shield wall. Later in the day William finally breached the shield wall and the English defence collapsed.

The collapse of the English defence may have been as a result of the death of Harold, although the exact time he was killed is debated. Historians also argue over how the king died. Harold is shown with an arrow in his eye in the Bayeux Tapestry, but written accounts give contradicting accounts of the incident.

However, what is clear is that the king’s death left his forces in disarray, making them easy targets for the Normans. The English began to flee, but William’s army pursued them. The battle was over.

Harold’s defeat was the result of a number of outcomes. His army, which was already smaller than William’s, had to defend against two invasions. Historians have argued that had Harold spent longer building his army before travelling south, his chances would have been better.

Victory at Hastings had given William one of the greatest prizes in Europe, but it also marked the beginning of a new era for England.

See also:

The Bayeux Tapestry Depicting The Battle of Hastings Scene By Scene

The Legacy of the Norman Conquest

The Bayeux Tapestry

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Battle of Hastings 1066". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.



Key facts

Event: Battle of Hastings
Date: 14 October 1066
Location: Battle, East Sussex
Opposing sides: Normandy versus England
Winning victory: Normans