Why was the battle of Hastings fought
Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings
|estimated at 7,000 to 12,000||estimated at 5,000 to 13,000|
|estimated at 1: 4||estimated at 1: 2|
The Battle of Hastings was fought on October 14, 1066 between the Norman-French army of William, Duke of Normandy and the Anglo-Saxon army under King Harald II Godwinson. It was the beginning of the Norman conquest of England.
Background [edit | Edit source]
In 911, Charles III the Simple of France allowed a group of Vikings led by Rollo to settle in Normandy.  They quickly adopted the local culture, converted to Christianity, and mixed with the population. Over time, the border of the duchy shifted further and further west. In 1002 Aethelred the Unadvised, King of England married Emma of Normandy, sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy. Their son, Edward the Confessor, spent many years in exile in Normandy and ascended the English throne in 1042. This resulted in the Normans taking a keen interest in English politics, as Edward relied heavily on his former hosts as allies and Norman He brought courtiers, soldiers and clergy to his court, to whom he gave many positions of power, mostly in the Church. He remained childless all his life and had various conflicts with Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons. Presumably he encouraged William, Duke of Normandy in his hope for the English crown.
When Edward died on January 5, 1066, he left no definite heir and various rivals for the throne remained. His direct successor was Harald II Godwinson, the richest and most powerful English nobleman and son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. The Witan elected Harald king and he was crowned by Ealdred, Archbishop of York, but it was rumored by the Normans that the coronation was performed by Stigand of Canterbury, the illegally elected Archbishop of Canterbury. Two powerful rulers challenged him as a possible heir to the throne. Duke Wilhelm claimed that Edward had promised him the throne and that Harald took an oath thereon. Harald III Hardrada of Norway also questioned the succession. His claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor Magnus I and the former English king Harthacnut that if one of them died without an heir, the other would take over his throne and become ruler of England and Norway. Wilhlem and Hardrada immediately began gathering troops and ships to prepare for their invasion. 
Invasion of Tostig Godwinson and Harald III Hardrada Edit source]
- Main article: Battle of Fulford
In early 1066, Tostig Godwinson, the exiled brother of Harald II Godwinson, devastated the south-east coast of England with a fleet that he had received in Flanders and later joined by other ships from Orkney. Threatened by Harald's fleet, he moved north and invaded East Anglia and Lincolnshire, but was repulsed by the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria. After most of his followers left him, he retired to Scotland and spent the next few months gathering new troops. In early September Harald III Hardrada invaded northern England with a fleet of more than 300 ships and about 15,000 men. Tostig joined him and supported the claim to the throne of the Norwegian king. They were able to conquer York after defeating an English army under Edwin and Morcar on September 20th at the Battle of Fulford.
English army and Harald's preparations Edit source]
- Main article: Battle of Stamford Bridge
The English army was organized according to regional guidelines, with the Fyrd - the excavated men - were gathered under a regional leader, who could be an earl, bishop or sheriff. Fyrd consisted of men who owned their own land and were equipped by their community to meet the royal needs for troops. For every fifth hide - a unit of land sufficient to support a household - a man had to serve. The hundred was the main unit for them Fyrd. In total, England was able to carry about 14,000 men through the Fyrd when she was called out.
In the Fyrd one usually served for two months, except in exceptional circumstances. It was seldom that for the whole nation Fyrd was proclaimed; between 1046 and 1065 it happened only three times. The king also had a group of personal soldiers known as the housecarls who formed the backbone of the royal troops. Some earls also had their own troops from housecarls. Thegns, the local elite of landowners, fought either alongside the royal housecarls or with an earl or other leader. The Fyrd and the housecarls fought on foot, the main difference between them being that the housecarls possessed superior armor. There does not appear to have been a significant number of archers in the English Army.
Harald II Godwinson spent the summer of 1066 on the south coast, where he waited with a large army for the Norman fleet under William to land. The majority of his troops consisted of the local militias who had to bring in their crops. Therefore, Harald dismissed the militias and the fleet on September 8th. When he heard of the Norman invasion, he hurried north, gathering troops on the way, and was able to defeat the Norwegians with a surprise attack at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25th. Harald III Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson were killed and the Norwegians suffered such losses that only 24 of the original 300 ships were needed to remove the survivors. The English victory, however, only succeeded with heavy losses, because Harald's army remained battered and weak.
Wilhelm's preparations and landing Edit source]
William assembled a large invading fleet and army from Normandy and the rest of France, including large contingents from Brittany and Flanders. He spent nearly nine months preparing as he had to create a fleet from scratch . According to some Norman chroniclers, he also secured diplomatic support, although the veracity of the reports is controversial among historians. The most famous claim is that Pope Alexander II put up a papal banner in support that appears only in the William of Poitiers report and no other contemporary narratives. In April 1066, Halley's Comet appeared in the sky. Contemporary sources connect him to the succession crisis in England .
On August 12th Wilhelm had completed the drafting of his troops and was ready to cross the English Channel, but this was prevented, either by bad weather or in order not to be intercepted by the English fleet. The Normans crossed the canal a few days after Harald's victory over the Norwegians and after his fleet had withdrawn. They landed in Pevensey, Sussex on September 28th.  Some ships were drifted off course and landed at Romney, where the Normans opposed the local Fyrd fought. After his landing, Wilhelm's troops built a wooden castle near Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding country. Further fortifications were built near Pevensey.
Norman troops in Hastings Edit source]
The exact number and composition of Wilhelm's troops is unknown. A contemporary source claims he had 776 ships, but that may be an exaggerated number. The sizes given by chroniclers of the time are greatly exaggerated and vary between 14,000 and 150,000 men. Most historians assume the following:
- 7,000 to 8,000 men, including 1,000 to 2,000 cavalry
- 10,000 to 12,000 men
- 10,000 men, including 3,000 cavalry
- 7,500 men
The army consisted of cavalry, infantry, and archers or crossbowmen, half of whom were foot soldiers and the other half consisted of equal parts cavalry and riflemen. Many lists of his companions have since been lost, only about 35 men who fought with Wilhelm at Hastings are known by name. 
The armor most commonly used was chain mail, generally knee length, with slit sides for riding. Some had sleeves up to their elbows. Some armor may have consisted of scales attached to a tunic and made of metal, horn, or leather. The head protection consisted of a conical helmet with a metal strip to protect the nose. Cavalry and infantry carried shields. Those of the foot soldiers were usually round and made of wood, reinforced with metal struts. Horsemen carried a shield in the shape of a dragon square and a lance. Carried close to the body under the right arm, the lance was a relatively recent invention and may not have been used in Hastings; the area was not favorable to long cavalry attacks. Both cavalry and infantry usually fought with a long sword sharpened on both sides, while foot soldiers also used long spears and javelins. Some riders may have used a club instead of a sword. Archers used bows or crossbows, and most wore no armor.
Harald's move to the south Edit source]
After defeating his brother Tostig Godwinson and Harald III Hardrada in the north, Harald II Godwinson left most of his troops there, including Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, and marched south with the rest of his army. He stopped in London and stayed there a few weeks before Hastings, so he probably spent about a week on the march, doing about 43 kilometers a day for the roughly 200 miles. On the night of October 13th he made camp on Caldbec Hill, near what was called a hoar-apple tree has been described. He was about 13 kilometers from Wilhelm's fortress near Hastings. Some of the early Norman sources mention an envoy or a delegation from Harald to Wilhelm, which is likely, but they failed to achieve anything.
Although Harald tried to surprise the Normans, the Norman scouts reported the arrival of the English troops to Wilhelm. The exact sequence of events prior to the battle is unknown, as sources contradict one another, but everyone agrees that William led his army from his fortress to the enemy. Harald had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill, less than ten kilometers from Wilhelm's fortress.
English troops at Hastings Edit source]
The exact number of Harald's soldiers is unknown. Contemporary sources do not give comparable amounts; some Norman sources speak of 400,000 to 1,200,000 men on Harald's side.  The English sources generally give very low numbers for his army, possibly to make the English defeat less devastating. Today's historians speak of numbers between 5,000 and 13,000, with most believing that 7,000 to 8,000 are likely. The army consisted of a mix of Fyrd and housecarls. Only about twenty men are known to have fought with Harald at Hastings, including his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine Godwinson. 
The English army consisted largely of infantry. Some high-ranking members may have ridden into battle, but they fought on foot.  The core of the army consisted of housecarls. Their armor consisted of a conical helmet, chain mail, and a shield that was round or dragon-shaped. Most of them fought with the two-handed Danish battle ax, but some also fought with the sword. The rest of the army consisted of men of the Fyrd, also foot soldiers, but with lighter armor and less professionally trained. The bulk of the infantry formed the shield wall, in which all men at the front hooked their shields into one another. Behind them stood the ax bearers and men with javelins, as well as archers.
Battle [edit | Edit source]
Background and location Edit source]
|Sunset began at 4:54 p.m. that day, with the battlefield being mostly dark at 5:54 p.m. and completely dark at 6:24 p.m. The moon did not rise until 11:12 p.m. that night, so there was little light after sunset.|
It is impossible to pinpoint the course of the battle as many of the accounts and sources more or less contradict one another. The fact is that the fighting began on October 14, 1066, a Saturday, around 9 a.m. and continued until dusk. William of Jumièges reported that Duke Wilhelm had his army armed and ready to protect against an attack the previous night. The battle took place seven miles north of Hastings, near what is now the town of Battle, between two hills - Caldbec Hill in the north and Tehlam Hill in the south. The area was heavily forested, there was a swamp nearby. The name the battle was given is quite unusual. There were several settlements much closer than Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives it the name "at the hoary apple tree". Over the next forty years, the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis called the battle "senlac" designated,  a Norman-French modification of the Old English word sandlacu, which means sandy water. This could have been the name of the river that crosses the battlefield.  Around 1087 the battle was called the Domesday Book already bellum Hasestingas or Battle of Hastings.
The sun rose at 6:48 a.m. that morning and reports say it was unusually light. The weather conditions have not been recorded. The exact route the English Army took to the battlefield is not known. Different roads are possible: the old Roman road from Rochester to Hastings was long preferred because a large number of coins were found there in 1876. Another option is the Roman road between London and Lewes, and from there local paths to the battlefield. Some reports suggest that the Normans moved from Hastings to the battlefield, but the contemporary report by William of Jumièges says that the Normans were on the battlefield the night before. Most historians tend to prefer the first report, but M. K. Lawson considers William of Jumièges' report to be correct.
Troop formation and tactics Edit source]
Harald's troops lined up in a small, dense formation at the top of a steep slope, their flanks sheltered from undergrowth and marshy ground. Their lines could have extended to a nearby stream. The English formed a shield wall to protect against the attack. Sources contradict each other about the exact place where the English fought: some sources speak of a nearby abbey, others mention Caldbec Hill.
The Norman lineup is better known. Wilhelm seems to have divided his troops into three groups that roughly corresponded to their places of origin. The Bretons stood on the left with the men from Anjou, Poitou and Maine, and were led by Alan le Roux. The center consisted of the Normans under the direct command of Wilhelm and included many of his relatives and followers as a group around the Duke. On the right were the French with the men from Picardy, Boulogne and Flanders, commanded by William FitzOsbern and Eustace II de Boulogne. At the front were the archers, with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind them. There may be a few crossbowmen and slingers among them. The cavalry was kept as a reserve and a small group of clerics and servants on the top of Telham Hill were also not to take part in the fighting.
Wilhelm's troop line-up indicates that he wanted to open the battle with his archers to weaken the enemy with arrows, followed by the infantry, which should go into hand-to-hand combat. They were supposed to open the English lines so that the cavalry could break through and pursue the fleeing soldiers.
Beginning of the battle Edit source]
The battle opened with a volley of Norman archers on the English shield wall, but had little effect. Due to the higher position of the English, the arrows either ricocheted off their shields or flew over their targets.  The lack of English archers hampered Norman archers as there were few English arrows to be picked up and used. After the archers attacked, Wilhelm sent the spearmen to attack the English. They were received shot like spears, axes and stones. The infantry failed to cut an opening in the shield wall and the cavalry came to their support, but also failed and a general retreat began, the fault of which was the Bretons on Wilhelm's left flank. Rumors surfaced that the Duke had fallen, adding to the confusion. The English troops began to pursue the fleeing Normans, but Wilhelm rode through his troops, showing his face and shouting that he was still alive. Then he led a counterattack against the English pursuers; some of the English gathered on a hill before they were overwhelmed.
It is not known whether Harald ordered the persecution or whether it happened spontaneously. Robert Wace reported that Harald ordered his men to stay in formation, but no other report gives this detail. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the deaths of Harald's brothers Gyrth and Leofwine just before the battle for the top of the hill. This could mean that the two brothers were leading the advance. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio tells another story about the death of Gyrth and reports that Wilhelm killed him in battle, possibly because he thought Gyrth was Harald. William of Poitiers reported that Gyrth and Leofwine's bodies were found close to Harald's, meaning they later died in the battle. It is possible that the brothers died early in the battle and their bodies were brought to Harald, which is why they were found close to his body after the battle. Military historian Peter Marren speculated that Gyrth and Leofwine's early deaths in battle may have influenced Harald's fight to the end.
Faked escape Edit source]
There was probably a truce in the early afternoon and a break to rest and eat was probably required. It may also have taken Wilhelm time to devise a new strategy, inspired by the English advance and their subsequent defeat by the Normans. If the Normans sent their cavalry against the shield wall and the English could make further advances, the English lines could be broken. William of Poitiers claims that this tactic was used twice. Although it has been argued that the chronicler's account of this tactic was intended to obscure the Norman troops' escape from the battlefield, this is unlikely as the earlier escape was not concealed. It was a tactic that had been used by other Norman armies during this period.  Some historians believe that the story of using fake escape as a deliberate post-battle tactic was added; however, most historians believe that it was used by the Normans at Hastings.
Even if the feigned escape failed to break the English lines, it probably thinned out the Housecarls in the English shield wall. They were with members of the Fyrd replaced and the shield wall held. Archers appear to have been used again by cavalry and infantry before and during an attack carried out by the Duke. While a 12th century source says the archers were ordered to aim high to shoot over the shield wall, there is no trace of such an act in the more contemporary sources. It is not known how many attacks were carried out against the English lines, but some sources report various acts, both by Normans and English, that took place in the afternoon fighting. The Carmen states that Duke Wilhelm lost two horses in the fighting, while William of Poitiers reports that it was three.
Death of Harald Edit source]
Harald II Godwinson appears to have died late in the battle, but the various sources contradict one another here. William of Poitiers only mentions his death, without any details of how it happened. The Bayeux Tapestry is not helpful either, as it shows a figure with an arrow in its eye, next to a falling fighter who is being slain with a sword. Above both figures is the inscription "Here King Harald was killed". It is not clear which figure is meant, or whether it even refers to both.  The earliest written mention of the traditional lore, Harald dying of an arrow in the eye, dates back to the 1080s, from a Norman tale written by an Italian monk. William of Malmesbury reported that Harald died of an arrow in the eye that struck him in the brain and that a knight wounded Harald at the same time. Robert Wace repeats the report of the arrow in the eye. The Carmen reports that Duke Wilhelm killed Harald, but this is unlikely as this would have been recorded elsewhere. The report by William of Jumièges is even less likely as it claims that Harald died in the early hours of the morning during the first few hours. The Chronicle of Battle Abbey reports that no one knows who killed Harald as it happened in the heat of battle. Ian Walker, Harald's biographer, believes that Harald may have died of an arrow in the eye, but also believes it is possible that he was slain by a Norman knight while he was fatally wounded in the eye. Peter Rex, also Harald's biographer, has come to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine how Harald died.
The death of Harald left the English troops leaderless and they began to break apart. Many of them fled, but the soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harald's body and fought to the end. The Normans began to pursue the refugees and with the exception of a rearguard measure at a place called "Malfosse" the battle was over. What exactly happened at Malfosse, or the "evil dig", and where it took place is unclear. At a small fortification or a ditch, some Englishmen rallied and seriously wounded Eustace II de Boulogne before they were defeated by the Normans.
Reasons for the outcome of the battle Edit source]
Harald II Godwinson's defeat is based on several circumstances. One was the need to defend against two near-simultaneous invasions. The fact that Harald had dismissed his troops in the south of England on September 8th also contributed to this. Many historians blame Harald for moving south so quickly and not rallying any more troops before confronting William I the Conqueror at Hastings, although it is not clear whether the English troops were insufficient to deal with Wilhelm's men . Against this argument of an exhausted army is the length of the battle, which lasted all day and shows that the English troops were not tired from their long march. Linked to the speed of Harald's advance into Hastings is the possibility that he did not trust his Earls Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, since their enemy Tostig Godwinson was now defeated and rushed to get their troops south . Contemporary historians have suggested that one of the reasons Harald's rush to get into battle was to halt Wilhelm's looting and prevent him from moving too far from his landing site.
The main reason for the defeat probably lies in the events of the actual battle. Wilhelm was the more experienced general and the lack of a cavalry on the English side offered Harald fewer tactical options. Some chroniclers have criticized Harald for failing to use the rumor of Wilhelm's death early in the battle. The English seem to have made a mistake by not maintaining their formation but chasing the retreating Normans, exposing their flanks for an attack. It is unclear whether this was due to the lack of experience of the English commanders or the indiscipline of the English soldiers.  In the end, Harald's death appears to have been decisive as it precipitated the collapse of the English troops in disarray. Historian David Nicolle said of the battle that Wilhelm's army "demonstrated - not without difficulty - the superiority of the Norman-French mixed cavalry and infantry tactics over the Germanic-Scandinavian infantry tradition of the Anglo-Saxons".
Follow [edit | Edit source]
- See also: Norman Conquest of England # Consequences
The day after the battle, Harald II Godwinson's body was identified, either by his armor or body marks.  His personal standard was presented to William I the Conqueror and later sent to the Pope. The bodies of the dead Englishmen, including Harald's brothers and the Housecarls, were left on the battlefield, although some were later removed by relatives. The dead Normans were buried in a mass grave that was not found.  The exact number of losses is unknown. From the English, who are known to have participated in the battle, the death rate points to fifty percent, but that could also be too high. It is known from the Normans who fought in battle by name that probably one in seven died, but these were all nobles and it is possible that the death rate was higher among the common soldiers. Although Oderic Vitalis' numbers are very exaggerated, his rate of one in four could be correct. Marren speculates that possibly 2,000 Normans and 4,000 English were killed at Hastings. Reports say that some of the dead Englishmen could still be found on the hill in later years. Although scholars have long believed that the remains could not be rediscovered because of the acidic soil, recent discoveries have changed this view. A skeleton found in a medieval cemetery and originally associated with the Battle of Lewes in the 13th century is now believed to be a victim of Hastings. 
One story tells that Gytha, Harald's mother, offered the victorious Wilhelm the weight of her son in gold in order to receive his body, but she was rejected. Wilhelm ordered that Harald's body should be thrown into the sea, but where this took place is unclear. Another story says he was buried on the top of a cliff. Waltham Abbey, founded by Harald, later claimed that his body was secretly buried there. Other legends say that Harald did not die in Hastings, but escaped and became a hermit in Chester.
William awaited the submission of the remaining English leaders after his victory, but instead Edgar Aetheling was declared king by the Witan, with the assistance of Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ealdred, Archbishop of York. William moved on to London, marching along the Kent coast. He defeated an English force that attacked him at Southwark, but was unable to storm London Bridge, forcing him to reach the city by a more difficult route.
He led his soldiers into the Thames Valley to cross the river at Wallingford, where Stigand submitted to him. He then moved further northeast along the Chilterns before moving from the northwest to London,  and fought against other troops from the city. The English leaders surrendered to William at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. He was born on the 25th. Crowned King of England December 1066 in Westminster Abbey by Ealdred.
Despite the subjugation of the English nobility, the resistance continued for several years. There were rebellions in Exeter in late 1067, an invasion by Harald's sons in mid-1068, and an uprising in Northumbria in 1068. In 1069, William was faced again with Northumbrian rebels, an invading Danish fleet, and rebellions in the south and west of England. He mercilessly put down all of them, which culminated in the Harrying of the North in late 1069 and early 1070, devastating parts of northern England. Another 1070 rebellion by Hereward the Guardian was also put down.
On the battlefield, he had the Battle Abbey founded. According to sources from the 12th century, Wilhelm had taken an oath to found the abbey and the high altar of the church was erected where Harald had died. It is more likely, however, that papal legates asked Wilhelm to establish it in 1070. The topography of the battlefield was changed by the later construction, and the slope defended by the English is now far less steep than it was at the time of the battle. The top of the range of hills was also built on and leveled. After the abbey was dissolved in the 16th century, the abbey lands passed to secular landowners who used them as country houses. In 1976 the property was put up for sale and bought by the government with the help of a few American donors who wanted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of American independence. The abbey battlefield and lands are currently owned by the charity English Heritage and are open for sightseeing. The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered story of the events leading up to Hastings, possibly commissioned by Odo of Bayeux shortly after the battle, presumably to be hung in his Bayeux Episcopal Palace.  Today, the annual re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings draw thousands of participants and spectators to the battlefield.
Notes [edit source]
- ↑ The Vikings of the region were called Northmen known what gave rise to the name Normandy.
- ↑ There were other challengers. One of them was Edgar Aetheling, great-nephew of Edward the Confessor and descendant of Edmund II Iron Side. He had the strongest claim to the throne in England, but was only thirteen or fourteen at the time. Another challenger was Sweyn II of Denmark, who had a claim to the throne as the grandson of Sven Gabelbart, but he did not start pursuing his claim until 1069. Tostig Godwinson's attack on England in early 1066 could also have been the beginning of a battle for the throne, but he died with Harald III Hardrada in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
- ↑ The surviving inventory lists 776 ships from 14 different Norman nobles. It doesn't contain Wilhelm's flagship, the Morawhich had been given to him by his wife Matilda of Flanders. She is portrayed on the Bayeux Tapestry with a lion figurehead.
- ↑ The appearance of the comet is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, where it is related to Harald's coronation. However, the comet must have appeared later, between April 24th and March 1st, 1066. The image on the carpet is the earliest representation of the comet that has survived to this day.
- ↑ Most historians agree with this date, although some contemporary sources speak of September 29th.
- ↑ Most contemporary reports mention Pervensey, only the E version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells that Wilhelm landed in Hastings. Most of today's reports also confirm that his troops landed in Pevensey.
- ↑ Of these 35, five died in battle: Robert of Vitot, Engenulf of Laigle, Robert fitzErneis, Roger, son of Turold and Taillefer.
- ↑ "hoar" means gray and may refer to a crab apple tree covered in lichen that served as a location marker.
- ↑ 400,000 is the number in Wace's Romance de Rou, 1.2 million refers to the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio.
- ↑ Of these twenty men, eight died in battle: Harald II Godwinson, Gyrth Godwinson, Leofwine Godwinson, Godric the Sheriff, Thurkill of Berkshire, Breme, and someone referred to only as "the son of Helloc".
- ↑ Some historians argue, based on comments by Snorri Sturlson from the 13th century, that the English army sometimes fought as cavalry. Contemporary sources like that Anglo-Saxon Chronicle report that when the English soldiers were forced to fight on horseback, they were usually beaten, as in 1055 at Hereford.
- ↑ This name was spread by Edward Freeman, a Victorian historian who penned one of the most authoritative accounts of the battle.
- ↑ Freeman believes that Senlac meant "sand lake", the Norman conquerors taking it in French sanguelac called. He saw this as a joke, because translated it meant "blood lake".
- ↑ There is a story that the first battle at Hastings took place between a juggler named Taillefer and some of the English soldiers, which comes from three sources: the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, Robert Wace's Romance de Rou and the report of Henry of Huntingdon
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