1066 and the Conquest of England

The Battle of Hastings

Plan of the battlefield at HastingsOn 6th October 1066 King Harold, recently victorious against Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, reached London. He then marched his weary army south again and on the 14th October drew them up on a ridge, known to the Normans as Senlac Hill, blocking William’s route out of Hastings.

Most of what we know about the Battle of Hastings comes from Norman sources and battle scenes are shown in the Bayeux Tapestry. There were probably 6 - 7000 men on each side. They wore helmets and chain mail armour and fought with swords and spears. The Normans also had archers and men on horseback while the English were largely foot soldiers.

Death of Harold (Bayeux Tapestry)The English formed a shield wall along the ridge with Harold and his brothers stationed at the highest point. The Normans attacked up the ridge using their archers and spear throwers. One source suggests that the Normans gained the upper hand by pretending to retreat which led the English to pursue them into the low-lying ground below the ridge where they were cut down by the Norman horsemen. Whether this happened or not, in the end superior tactics wore down the English. Although Harold and his men fought bravely, they were comprehensively defeated. Harold was killed and his brothers and many English lords also lost their lives.

The Normans saw Harold’s defeat as the judgement of God on king who had broken his word to support William’s claim to the crown. In atonement for the great bloodshed at Hastings, however, William built an abbey at what became known as Battle, with the high altar on the place where Harold fell.

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