ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Saxon England: What if History?

Updated on January 19, 2018
ata1515 profile image

The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

The Bayeux Tapestry showing king Harold II, third from the left grasping an arrow in his eye.
The Bayeux Tapestry showing king Harold II, third from the left grasping an arrow in his eye.

Hastings, The Battle That Changed England

The year is 1066, and Harold Godwinson has been crowned king Harold II of England. As news of Harold's ascension to the throne spreads across Europe his contemporaries plot to prevent him from wielding the powers of the crown.

Upon the death of Edward the Confessor there was no definite heir to the English crown and so several people claimed to be the rightful heir. Harold Godwinson the Earl of Sussex, Duke William of Normandy, and Harold Hardrada the King of Norway, all made serious attempts to take the crown of England at this time.

Harold Hardrada invaded England from the North Sea and landed near York. Harold Godwinson had managed to force the Witenagemot, the Saxon royal council, to crown him king, so he rallied an army in lower England and marched north from London to meet the Norwegians. At the Battle of Stamsford Bridge he crushed the Norwegian army and shattered Harold Hardrada's hope for the crown. Meanwhile Duke William of Normandy gathered an army from his French holdings and crossed the English Channel.

King Harold II marched hard from York to Hastings and met the Norman challenger in battle. On the field of Hastings King Harold II was cut down by Duke William's personal knights and the Saxon army was routed from the field. King Harold was the last Saxon king of England, but what if William had failed in his charge?

English foot soldiers and Norman Knights
English foot soldiers and Norman Knights
Battle Abbey, a monument to Harold II
Battle Abbey, a monument to Harold II | Source
An English Huscarl fighting with a Danish battleaxe
An English Huscarl fighting with a Danish battleaxe

How Hastings Could Have Been

The Battle of Hastings was a battle between the new Norman way of fighting with mixed forces against the old Saxon way of fighting entirely on foot. Some scholars see the Norman method as being far more advanced than the Saxon method, but this is an exaggeration. Norman knights were not as heavily armed or armored as later medieval knights, and the shock value they presented against a solid infantry force was not enough to carry a battle.

The English army formed up on top of a ridge on Senlac Hill and the Norman army was forced to attack them uphill. William's army was composed of primarily infantry, with a large contingent of archers and knights for support. The English army was all foot soldiers fighting with the common folk wielding sword or spear and shield, and the royal Huscarls wielding a Danish Battleaxe.

William first had his archers fire upon the English army in an attempt to break their ranks, but the English formed a shield wall and the volley was ineffective. William then had his infantry attack, but this attack also faltered as fighting uphill was a difficult and demoralizing. Faced with defeat William was forced to personally lead his knights in a last ditch attack. Having sworn oathes to defend their king, many men would have rallied to their lords banner when he attacked. In medieval warfare communication was carried across the battlefield through standards, and the Normans would have seen theirs pushing the center and turned to aid it.

At this point Duke William found King Harold II and cut him down. This is where Hastings could have been an entirely different battle. Harold II would have been fighting alongside his personal bodyguard, the Huscarls. Huscarls were a throwback to Danish rule over England and they were professional soldiers picked for their size and capability. A Huscarl was capable of cleaving clean through a man and horse with one blow from his Danish Battleaxe. Had William made one misstep, if a single man had been looking a different way, or if someone had thrown themselves in front of their lord, Harold could have lived and William died on the field of Hastings. If William fell the Norman army would have been shattered and the English would have routed them.

What would this mean for England?

If Harold Godwinson retained the crown of England we would have an entirely different world. Not only is the event extremely old so the changes would affect everything that has happened since, but it radically altered the world view of the British Isles and the Continental Europeans.

Before the Battle of Hastings the British Isles were a far off land. They warred with the Danes, the Norwegians and each other, but were otherwise unconnected to the rest of the European world. The Norman conquest changed everything by bringing the English into France and French matters. If Harold had won the Battle of Hastings England would never have become engaged in French matters, and would probably have had a much better relationship with the French.

Duke William came with the blessing of the Pope and his rule helped to anchor England into the Catholic Church. If Harold had won we would have seen an easier separation from the Catholic Church, similar to the Scandinavians. This would have meant less persecution in England, and less destruction of the Church in England.

England may never have conquered Ireland. It is unlikely that King Harold would have been able to quickly dominate the English system of rule to be able to take advantage of Ireland's weakness during the early Medieval period, and this would have led to the development of three equally matched states, Ireland, Scotland and England, whose main focus would have been territorial control of the minor British islands rather than domination of each other or survival.

Alternate history can be a fun past-time, but it is also educational. Looking into history and seeing all the what-if moments, and how a single action could have changed the entire world helps to understand how much fate or chance has in making the world we live in.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)