1066 – The Battle of Hastings.

1066 The Battle of Hastings. Normans conquest England


It’s the 14th of October, 1066 and two opposing armies come together on Senlac Hill to argue Harold’s right to the English throne or uphold William the Bastard’s claim of an old king’s dying behest.
For the Normans the ominous sight of Harold’s Saxon shield wall straddling Senlac ridge with the dragon banner of Wessex and his own personal banner of the Fighting Man, flying in the stiffening breeze greets them on this bleak October morning.
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 his 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.
William’s victory placed a foreign ruler on the throne of England.


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    Swede could be heir to English throne.

    Published: 11 Jan 07 17:00 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation.


    Someone in Sweden could have a claim to the throne of England, and an international search has been launched to find out who.

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    The quest has been started by English Heritage, which believes that the descendants of King Harold (Harold Godwinson), defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, could be living in Scandinavia.

    The state-run organization, which maintains historic English buildings, has placed adverts looking for descendants in newspapers in Britain, Norway, Australia, Germany and the United States, but says that there could also be potential claimants to the throne in Sweden.

    “If William had not taken the throne in 1066, the entire course of English history would have been very different,” said Dr Nick Barratt, who presents BBC ancestry programme Who Do You Think You Are?

    “We’d probably be speaking a different language, consider our closest allies to be Scandinavian and have a completely different system of government. Who knows? We may even be a republic by now.”

    In fact, many of those who were vying for the crown in 1066 had Scandinavian links, although Harold’s were among the strongest. His mother was Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, granddaughter of Swedish Viking Styrbjörn the Strong.

    The strong links between England and Scandinavia at the time are demonstrated by the Scandinavian-sounding name of Harold’s common law wife, Ealdgyth Swanneshals, known in English as Edith Swanneck.

    The researchers are also looking for people of the lineage of Edgar the Aetheling, who was chosen as king but never crowned.

    Simon Judges, who is promoting English Heritage’s ancestor search, says there are no plans to throw Elizabeth II off the throne.

    “This is a what if scenario. We’re not into sedition or treason or anything,” he said. He also points out that the throne in that period was less likely than today to pass down through generations of the same family.

    “There were many challenges to the throne at the time. In a sense, it was more democratic.”

    People who think that they might be descended from one of the English kings are encouraged to visit a special website, where they can find out how to stake their claim.

    Death of Harold Godwinson

    The account of the battle Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (the Song of the Battle of Hastings), said to have been written shortly after the battle by Guy, Bishop of Amiens, says that Harold was killed by four knights, probably including Duke William, and his body brutally dismembered. Amatus of Montecassino’s L’Ystoire de li Normant (History of the Normans), written thirty years after the battle of Hastings, is the first report of Harold being shot in the eye with an arrow. Later accounts reflect one or both of these two versions. A figure in the panel of the Bayeux Tapestry with the inscription “Harold Rex Interfectus Est” (Harold the King is killed) is depicted gripping an arrow that has struck his eye, but some historians have questioned whether this man is intended to be Harold, or if Harold is intended as the next figure lying to the right almost prone, being mutilated beneath a horse’s hooves.

    The spot where Harold Godwinson died which became the site of Battle Abbey.
    Harold Stone