Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings was a brief but significant battle fought in October 14, 1066 in East Sussex between the forces of William, the Duke of Normandy, who led a combined army of Normans and Frenchmen, and an English force led by the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson. At the end of the day it was William and his forces who won.

Battle of Hastings

Why the battle was fought

William and Harold were fighting over the succession of the English throne. Earlier that year in January, the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor had died without an heir and Harold Godwinson was crowned as king. However, several claimants to the throne later invaded England to claim it, including Harold’s own brother, Tostig, and the Norwegian King Harald Haradra.

The forces of Tostig and Harald defeated a force of Englishmen in the Battle of Fulford in September 20, 1066. However, Harold’s forces struck five days later and dispatched the two during the Battle of Stamford Bridge. It was while Harold’s forces were recovering from this battle when William landed his invasion in Pevensey in southern England on September 28, 1066.

Harold gathered his forces, headed south, and in October 14 clashed with the army of William outside Hastings, after which the battle would be named.

How it was fought

According to records, the battle started around 9 a.m. and ended around dusk.

After being unsuccessful in breaking the English line, the Normans resorted to the tactic of pretending to retreat in a panic, then they turned and attacked the English flanks when they gave chase. Harold was killed in the fighting that followed.

The importance of the battle

The Battle of Hastings was significant because it completely changed who ruled England, as it was the Normans who took over after more than 600 years of Anglo-Saxon rule in England.

Interesting facts about the Battle of Hastings

  • During the battle, William had around 10,000 men. Half of them were foot soldiers, a quarter of them cavalry and the rest archers. Harold had only 7,000 men, mostly foot soldiers and a few archers.
  • The battle didn’t actually happen in Hastings, but seven miles north of Hastings. The actual battle site is now part of a town called Battle.
  • During the battle, William had to ride through his own army to reassure them he was still alive after rumors spread that he had been killed in the fighting.
  • After the battle, William established a monastery at the site of the battle, at the spot where Harold’s body was allegedly found.
  • Rumors spread that Harold actually survived the battle and hid as a hermit in Chester.
  • After the battle, there was a story that Harold’s mother, Gytha, allegedly offered the weight of her son’s body in gold to William if he would return it to her. He allegedly refused.
  • Years after the Battle of Hastings, people living in the area were still finding bodies of Englishmen killed during the battle. The Normans and Frenchmen killed were buried in a mass grave that has never been found.
  • The modern-day reenactment of the Battle of Hastings is a tourist attraction in the area where it happened.

How exactly was Harold killed?

Experts now say his exact cause of death cannot be determined. However, the popular theory is he was either killed by an arrow to the eye, or he was killed by a Norman knight while helpless from an arrow wound to the eye.

Reenactment in front of Battle Abbey

When was William crowned king of England?

William was eventually crowned the king of England on Christmas Day that same year. He would later take the name William the Conqueror.

Why was it hard to break the English defense at first?

The Normans found it hard to break the English line because the English were trained in the shield wall; a formation where shields were held close together in overlapping formation to protect against attacks.

What did the fighting men of the battle wear?

Most of the professional foot soldiers involved in the battle would have worn the hauberk, a chainmail suit that had sleeves up to the elbows and a slit in the skirt to allow riding. The commoners would have been less armored.