The Battle of Hastings – a first person view

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.

William I of EnglandIt 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.

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Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria – a summary

Born c.1029, Tostig Godwinson, the third son of Earl Godwine, was exiled with the rest of the family by England’s Edward the Confessor in 1051. On their return in the following year, Tostig married Judith of Flanders who bore him two sons; Skuli and Ketil. The couple were well-known for their generous alms-giving and devotion, including, in 1061, a pilgrimage to Rome.

In 1055 Tostig became the earl of Northumbria. An area known for its lawlessness, Tostig was able to subdue Northumbria by implementing new laws and severely punishing offenders. He ruled until 1065 when rebellion broke out and he was accused of increasing brutality and misrule. His lands were confiscated by the king and Tostig was forced to take refuge in his wife’s native home in Flanders.

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Tostig Godwinson and HaroldShortly after his brother’s, Harold II, coronation in January 1066, which Tostig did not attend, he visited Duke William of Normandy in the hope of forming an alliance. He was unsuccessful but eventually persuaded King Harald Hardrada of Norway to undertake a joint invasion of England.

They arrived on the English coast in early September and plundered the local towns and villages. They defeated the armies of the northern earls at the Battle of Fulford Gate and were able to take the city of York.

(Pictured: brothers Tostig and Harold (the future King Harold II) fighting, bottom right, at a feast hosted by King Edward the Confessor).

On 25 September 1066, Tostig and Harald met the English army at Stamford Bridge. King Harold offered to reinstate Tostig’s lands if he switched sides but Tostig refused. He was killed during the battle, alongside Harald Hardrada.

Following the death of Harald Hardrada, shot in the throat with an arrow, Harold II renewed his offer of reconciliation. Again, Tostig refused and picked up the Norwegian battle standard. It took the alleged gruesome decapitation of Tostig Godwinson by his own brother, Harold, to end the battle.

1066 in an hourKaye Jones

For more about the Norman Invasion see 1066: History In An Hour
 published by Harper Press.

See also articles on the Battle of Hastings, Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror.

Harold II – a summary

The last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, Harold Godwinson, or Harold II, born around 1022, met his death against the forces of William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066.

Harold Godwinson was the second son of Earl Godwin, the most powerful man in England. By his early 20s, Harold held an extensive earldom in eastern England and took as his concubine, Edith Swan-neck. In 1051 the family were exiled after an altercation with the king, Edward the Confessor, and all their lands and wealth were confiscated. With the help of their allies at home, the Godwines returned in 1052, forcing the king to take them back and reinstating their lands and titles. With the death of his father in 1053, Harold became the new Earl of Wessex and had ascended to become the most powerful nobleman in the country.

The Oath of Fealty

After a series of successful campaigns against the Welsh ruler, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, in 1052-1053, Harold earned a reputation as an excellent military commander and his victories were celebrated throughout England. It is alleged that in 1054 he was sent by King Edward on a diplomatic errand to William, Duke of Normandy. The voyage began badly; Harold was shipwrecked and captured by the Guy, Count of Ponthieu. After being rescued by Duke William, Harold accompanied him in battle against Conan, the Duke of Brittany, and was knighted shortly after. According to Norman sources, Harold then swore an oath of fealty to William over holy relics, promising that he would support his claim to the English throne when King Edward died. He then returned to England, only to become embroiled in a rebellion against his brother, Tostig Godwinson. This resulted in Tostig’s exile and, soon after, King Edward became seriously ill.

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Harald Hardrada – a summary

Harald Hardrada Sigurdsson, King of Norway, was one of the claimants to the English throne following the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066. Kaye Jones summarises Harald Hardrada’s life and his death at the hands of England’s Harold II at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, 25 September 1066.

Born in 1015, Harald ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson was the son of the Norwegian king, Sigurd the Sow. At the age of 15 Harald fought his first battle alongside his half brother, Olaf, at Sticklestad. Olaf was killed while the injured Harald fled to Kiev where he was given refuge by King Yaroslav. Harald stayed there for three or four years and then travelled to Constantinople to work for the Emperor of Byzantine.

Harald possessed natural fighting ability and quickly rose to become the commander of the emperor’s special guard. Having amassed a great personal wealth, Harald left Constantinople in 1043. After a brief time in Kiev, where he married King Yaroslav’s daughter, he returned to Norway.

‘Hardrada’, Hard Ruler

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William the Conqueror – a summary

William the Conqueror, the future William I of England, was born between 1027 and 1028 at Falaise in Normandy. As the product of a brief relationship between his father, Robert, the 2nd Duke of Normandy and his mother, Herleva, the daughter of a local tanner, William came to be known as the Bastard by his contemporaries. After the death of his father in 1035, the boy William inherited the Duchy of Normandy with his great uncle acting as regent. Due to his illegitimacy, there were several Norman magnates who refused to accept the young William as the rightful heir and in 1040 they hatched a plan to murder him. The plot failed but William’s guardians were killed.

Norman Invasion

By 1045 William was old enough to take control of the Duchy and successfully crushed the first threat to his power in 1047 at Val-es-Dunes. It was after a visit to his distant cousin, King Edward the Confessor, in 1051 that William alleged he had been promised the throne of England. This was later confirmed with Harold’s Godwinson’s visit in 1064. After King Edward’s death and the coronation of Harold as Harold II in January 1066, William prepared to invade the country. The Norman army arrived at Pevensey on September 28th and defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings on October 14th. After his coronation on Christmas Day 1066, William spent the early years of his reign stamping out English resistance and strengthening the borders, including the building of defensive “marcher” counties along the border of Wales in 1081.

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Edward the Confessor – a summary

Edward the Confessor was born in 1003 to King Aethelred II and Queen Emma. Little is known about his early years but, after the Danish invasion of 1013, Edward and his family were exiled and fled to Normandy. They returned one year later but were exiled again in 1016. With the support of Earl Godwin, the most powerful nobleman in England, Edward was able to return in 1041 and was crowned king the following year. In 1045 Edward married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwin.

Edward the Confessor1051, King Edward had been on the throne for nine years and so far, his reign had been peaceful and he had proven himself to be an able and successful monarch.

But, despite a happy union, rumours abounded that his marriage to Edith had yet to be consummated. This created a potentially serious problem – who would succeed to the throne when Edward died?

According to French writers, Edward had devised a solution to this problem; secure the succession by promising the throne to William, the Duke of Normandy. The two men were distant cousins and William had visited Edward at his court in England sometime in 1051.

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1066: History in an Hour

History for busy people. William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 changed the country forever. 1066: History In An Hour is a concise exploration of that eventful year.

During the year 1066, England had three different kings and fought three huge battles in defence of the realm, including the bloody Battle of Hastings. The result was the Norman Conquest which defined England during the Middle Ages.

1066 in an Hour will guide you through the politics and personalities of the Norman invasion. It will help you understand why William the Conqueror was victorious and introduce you to the new king and subsequent ancestor to the Plantagenets and Tudors.

Love your history? Find out about the world with History in an Hour…

Only 99p. Buy now from iTunesAmazonB&N and other online stores.

Also available as an audio download and an app for the iPhone / iPad.

Contents:

  • The Background to 1066
  • January 1066: The Death of a King
  • The First Omen?
  • The Witan Decide
  • The Contenders Emerge
  • February / March 1066: Developments Abroad
  • April 1066: A Divine Omen?
  • Tostig Godwinson: A New Problem
  • May 1066: Tostig Returns to England
  • Tostig Flees England
  • June 1066: Harold’s Fleet is Ready
  • The Norwegians
  • August 1066: Ready For War
  • September 1066: Problems At Home
  • The Northern Problem
  • September 20th: The Battle of Fulford Gate
  • The Norwegians Take York
  • September 25th: The Battle of Stamford Bridge
  • September 28th: The Normans Arrive
  • October 1066: Harold Heads South
  • Preparing For Battle
  • October 14th: The Battle of Hastings
  • The Aftermath
  • The Process of Conquest
  • The Capital Rebels
  • December 25th: The Coronation of William I
  • A Conquered People

Reader reviews:

Another great book in the History in an hour series. An informative and insightful look into the year of 1066. Also a useful guide at the end of the book which gives more detail on each of the people involved in the events of this year. A good read!”

“This was my first “History in an Hour” purchase and I wasn’t disappointed. As someone who really loves history, I’ve discovered there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read everything I want in great detail. That’s why the quick overview format works so well for me. The book is exactly as advertiseda solidly researched book that highlights everything you need to know to get a good understanding of the events of 1066.”

“Bought this to read on the plane. Great read, covers all the key dates/people/events and almost acted as a guidebook when I visited the area. History in an hour is a good format and the author shows real skill in covering all the important details whilst remaining brief and easy to take in. Great for students, tourists and people with an hour to kill. I know as I fit all three categories!”

“Puts this chapter of English and European history into quick context and basic order. Allows imagination to fill the gaps. No real need to go deeper. Will now buy next ‘in an hour’ book.”

“The Norman Invasion and 1066 and all that neatly summarised into one hour’s worth of reading. An excellent introduction to the subject. Thank you.”

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So what did the Normans ever do for us?

What did the Normans ever do for us? By us, I mean the Anglo-Saxons that had been gradually subdued and beaten into submission by the Norman Conquest of the 11th Century. Let us reflect on the conquering achievements of the bastard Duke of Normandy in his role as King of England. In his twenty-one years of rule, what exactly did he achieve?

The first achievement that leaps to mind is castles. The Normans knew how to throw up a mud hill, stick giant wooden stakes around it and shelter behind this relatively secure construction. With the local area secure, they then progressed to upgrade the Motte and Bailey to a stone construction using stone from Norman quarries. These castles would then keep the local population under control and discourage any further insurrection.

So apart from castles, what did the Normans ever do for us?

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The Battle of Hastings – a brief summary

Kaye Jones offers a brief summary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, perhaps the most fateful date in English history.

October 14th, 1066, Senlac Hill, about 6 miles north-west of Hastings: two armies stood opposite each other: the English army of King Harold II in one line; the army of William of Normandy in another.

At around 9:00am the Normans made the first attack raining down on the English countless showers of arrows. But the English were strong; having formed a near-impenetrable shield wall which kept the Normans at bay. William sent in his infantry but the English threw down javelins and stones as the Normans charged up the hill (as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry). Even the few infantrymen who did make it to the English lines failed to crack the wall.

William Removes His Helmet

A frustrated William sent in his cavalry sooner than he probably should have. Within one hour of battle, the left flank of the Norman army had been completely broken. Under such pressure, the left flank retreated and was soon followed by the remaining two divisions. In the chaos some of the English soldiers made the fatal mistake of chasing after them and breaking their ranks. Rumour quickly spread that William had been killed. To prove otherwise, William removed his helmet and restored some much needed morale to the Norman troops. This show of force proved to be a turning point in the battle as William was able to lead a cavalry charge against the English soldiers who had broken rank.

Despite such bloodshed, the bulk of the English shield wall was still intact. By the afternoon, William realised that breaking the wall was the key to victory. His new tactic involved a number of feigned retreats to entice the English out of their lines and cut them down as they ran. Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, soon became victims of William’s deadly tactics and King Harold was not long after.

Arrow in the eye

Legend has it that he was struck in the eye with an arrow, while others believe he was slain by the sword. The contemporary Song of the Battle of Hastings argues that four Norman knights tore off Harold’s limbs and disembowelled him. Whatever the true cause of his death, the English bravely fought on but, without proper leadership, their cause was lost. The Battle of Hastings replaced Stamford Bridge as the longest and most brutal in English history.

Kaye Jones
Read more about the Normandy Invasion in 1066: History In An Hour

1066: The Impact and Legacy of the Norman Invasion of England

On October 14th, 1066, the English army, led by King Harold II, was defeated by Duke William and the Normans at the Battle of Hastings. Most people will remember this famous story from their school days, particularly the gruesome image of King Harold with an arrow in the eye. But Hastings was more than just a battle, it was the start of a new chapter in England’s history. The Norman Invasion may seem like a very distant event in our nation’s past, but it is one worth remembering.

Land and Wealth

When Duke William first approached his men with the idea of invading England, he received a cool reception. It took the promise of foreign lands and titles to persuade them otherwise. After the Battle of Hastings, William kept this promise and rewarded those who had fought alongside him at the expense of the native English aristocracy. To illustrate the full extent of this, just look at one of William’s greatest achievements, the Domesday Survey of 1086. By this point, William had been king for 20 years and whatever his motivations for completing a survey on this scale, it shows a dramatic reversal of English fortunes. Continue reading