Battle of Hastings


October 17, 2021

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between a Norman-French army led by Duke William I of Normandy and an army led by Anglo-Saxon King Harold II. The battle was named after the English town of Hastings, but in reality it took place about ten kilometers northwest of Hastings, where Battle is now named after the battle. The outcome of the Battle of Hastings was a decisive Norman victory, the first and most important step in the Norman conquest of England. The 19th-century British historian Edward Creasy counted the Battle of Hastings among the fifteen most decisive battles in the world. The background of the battle was the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor in January 1066. This was followed by a succession struggle between a large number of different princes, each of whom claimed the English crown. Harold Godwinson was crowned king shortly after Edward's death, but soon after had to face invasions by his own brother Tostig and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harald III of Norway) and Duke William II of Normandy. Hardrada and Tostig defeated a hastily assembled English army at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066. They, in turn, were defeated by Harold five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The deaths of both Tostig and Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge left William as Harold's only serious opponent. While Harold and his troops were gathering strength after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, William landed with his invading troops at Pevensey in southern England on September 28, 1066. William built a bridgehead for his conquest of the kingdom. Harold was forced to march south quickly; along the way, he gathered additional troops. The exact numbers of the participants in the battle are unknown; estimates are about 10,000 for William and about 7,000 for Harold. The composition of the armies is clearer; the English army consisted almost entirely of infantry; they had only a small number of archers; about half of the invasion force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers. Harold seems to have tried to surprise William, but scouts from the Normandy army were able to locate his army and immediately reported this to William. This was now marching northwest from Hastings. He met Harold's army at the later Battle. The battle lasted from about 9 a.m. to sunset (late September: around 6 p.m.). Early attempts by the invasion force to break through the English lines had little effect; then the Normans used the tactic of supposedly fleeing in panic, only to turn around and pounce on pursuers. Harold's death probably occurred at the end of the day; this event led to a withdrawal and defeat of most of his army. After moving further into England and fighting some minor skirmishes, William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066. Although there were later revolts and resistance to William's rule, the Battle of Hastings was decisive in the Norman conquest of England. Figures on the number of casualties in the battle are difficult to obtain; however, some historians estimate that some 2,000 Normans perished and about twice as many Englishmen. Willem founded an abbey on the site of the battle. The high altar of the abbey church of Battle Abbey is said to have been placed on the spot where Harold was said to have been killed.


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