The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066, and is largely thought to have been one of the most influential battles in Britain’s history.
The battle took place between the armies of King Harold of Wessex and William of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror). William’s victory saw him crowned King of England and marked the start of the Norman conquest of Britain.
The Battle of Hastings was the result of an ongoing dispute over Harold’s claim to the English throne. Following the death of Edward the Confessor without an heir William believed he had a legitimate claim to the throne, but Harold was crowned king. William retaliated, launching a series of invasions aimed at defeating the new monarch.
Harald Hardrada and Tostig of Scandinavia also felt they were entitled to the throne, and on 25 September 1066 they met with Harold’s army in London. The two armies fought in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, with resulted in victory for Harold. However, a now weary English army had little time to recover before William landed his forces in the south of England.
The exact size of William’s army remains unknown, but historians believe he brought between 7,000 and 12,000 men, including infantry, cavalry and archers. Harold’s, on the other hand, was thought to have been between 5,000 and 8,000.
Harold quickly marched his injured army over to meet the Normans in a bid to surprise William. However, Norman scouts had already reported their arrival, which prompted him to move his troops away from the castle and towards Senlac Hill, in modern-day Battle. His aggressive move marked the start of the battle, which began at 9am and continued until sundown.
Although the exact events that took place on that day are impossible to define, most modern historians believe that Harold’s soldiers were deployed in a dense formation around Caldbec Hill, before forming a shield wall with the front troops.
As a result of Harold’s formation, the first wave of arrow fire from the Norman archers had little effect. William followed this up by ordering an attack from his spearman, but this was met with stones, axes and spears from Harold’s forces. The cavalry also moved forward, only to be met by an unbreakable shield wall.
It was at this point that William’s army began to retreat, having heard a rumour that the duke had been killed. However, as the English started to pursue the Normans, William appeared and lead a counter-attack against Harold’s soldiers.
The events that took place after this are in dispute, but some argue that William used a second feigned flee as a tactic to draw the English closer, only to launch a second counter-attack.
This is thought to have failed in breaking the English lines, but is believed to have removed some of the troops in the shield wall, which was finally breached and led to the collapse of Harold’s army.
Some historians agree that the eventual collapse of the English army was a result of Harold’s death, although the exact time of his demise is unclear. Accounts of his death area also contradictory, with the Bayeux Tapestry suggesting he was met with an arrow in the eye, while other reports state otherwise.
Whatever the reason for his death, it’s clear that the loss of the king caused his forces to panic, making them easy targets for the reorganised Norman troops. As the English army began to flee, William’s soldiers pursued in what would be the final moments of the battle.
It’s difficult for historians to pinpoint a single reason for Harold’s defeat as there are so many factors that could have led to his defeat. However, many believe that, should Harold have spent longer building his army before moving south, he would have defeated William. For William, a victory at the Battle of Hastings marked one of the greatest achievements of any European monarch. For England, the outcome of the battle marked the start of a brand new era.
"The Battle of Hastings 1066". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.
|Event:||Battle of Hastings|
|Date:||14 October 1066|
|Location:||Battle, East Sussex|
|Opposing sides:||Normandy versus England|