The Battle of Hastings as it might have appeared to a soldier in the conflict…
There are few pictures of bedlam more vivid in my life than the chaos I saw on medieval battlefields. None so more committed to memory than that fateful day in 1066. As I would later learn, it was a day that would change the course of England, writing yet another significant chapter in its history.
It all began when our King, Edward the Confessor of England, died in early 1066, leaving no child to succeed him. In the barracks we had heard rumours (later confirmed) that war had broken out among the dukes as they fought for control of the late king’s empire. On January 6, 1066 Harold Godwinson, King Harold, was made King of all England. He defended his claim against all challengers that sought to make England their own.
It was William of Normandy (pictured) on that fateful day in battle, October 14, 1066, that would take England for the Normans.
Marching to Intercept the Invader
We heard news that William had landed his troops at the English shore and was in the process of marching towards London to stake his claim to the throne. Our King got wind of this news and immediately took us – his finest infantrymen – south to fend off William’s army. Although we were walking 40 kilometers a day, it still took us a week to reach him.
The Day of the Battle
From where I stood the armies seemed extend right the way to the horizon (I later learned that we were 7,000 strong, while William had nearer 10,000 men) although I could see that William had more archers and more horses than us right from the start. Our King took the advantage of home ground, and ordered us to defend from a high hill and wait for William to make his advance. William obliged the king and our wall of chain mail and shields protected us from Williams’s attempts to overpower us. We were winning the battle and not conceding any ground, while William’s army took casualties. In the end the oppressor’s soldiers were left with no choice but to run up the hill and fight us hand-to-hand. Again this was a futile and ineffective strategy, and again we saw the Norman invaders retreat.
However, some of our troops saw this retreat as a chance to attack, and they mistakenly gave up the security and advantage of our position to engage with William’s troops on equal terms. The battle was brutal and raged backwards and forwards incoherently, with causalities amassing on both sides.
Confusion on the Battlefield
In the midst of the battle, with men bleeding, horses trampling, and the screams of the dying on every side, it was nearly impossible to keep abreast of what was happening. At one point the Normans came to believe that William was dead, and had he not ridden through the mob of fighting men without his helmet on loudly declaring that he still lived, we are sure that they would have retreated. There is no way to know what would have come from the battle, were it not for the actions of a single archer.
The Death of King Harold
Near sundown an archer fired a single arrow at King Harold. Myself, and others around me, think that it was one of the luckiest shots of all time. The arrow pierced Harold’s eye, killing him instantly (pictured). Within moments the baffling battle transformed into a resounding defeat and my fellow troops yelled out ‘run for your lives’. Without our King Harold, we were unable to steer the battle in the right direction and we all quickly fled to the nearby countryside. What were we to do? The battle was lost and many of us had families back home. The Norman invader went on continue his conquest of England, seize the throne, and in so doing ended the great reign of Anglo-Saxon kings in England.
Maria Jakobson is a travel writer and journalist that grew up in London and now lives in the Netherlands. It was while staying at the Gallivant Hotel in East Sussex, that she was able to visit the historic town of Battle where this momentous historic event took place.