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The defeat of the saxons at the Battle of Hastings, by William of Normandy

Updated on March 18, 2013

The Battle of Hastings

The battle of Hastings took place near Hastings in what is now a small town called Battle. The site of the battle was marked by King William the Conqueror by the construction of Battle Abbey which is now home to a private school.

The site is controlled by English Heritage

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/support-us/join/

I have a yearly ticket which allows me access to all the sites owned by English Heritage and is extremley good value.

The facilities include short and long audio tours, a static exhibition and a good cafe with plenty of seats, both inside and out.

If you think it wasn't a steep hill the fought over, think again. Halfway up I stopped for a rest- well actually flaked out full length on the grass and I wasn't wearing chain mail armour, just a tee shirt and jeans!


The background to the battle

William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy made a poor crossing from France because of bad weather.He timed his attack well as in the middle of September, King Harold Hardrada of Norway arrived with 300 ships off the mouth of the River Tyne where he was joined by Harold's disaffected brother Tostig and reinforcements from the King Of Scotland. The Norwegians battled well and their capture of Jorvik (York) caused Harold to route march his men from London to York in five days. Harold's troops plunged straight into battle at Stamford Bridge and were victorious. The Norwegian King and Harold's brother were killed in battle.

The Gate House at Battle Abbey
The Gate House at Battle Abbey | Source

The Duke Of Normandy lands in England

William, Duke of Normandy landed his forces on the south coast of England, assembling first at Pevensey and then moving towards Battle. Williams soldiers were armed with arrows and crossbows, but his knights were mounted which gave them the advantage over the unmounted English knights.

Once the battle finished at Stamford Bridge Harold turned his troops around and headed south- Harold ran from York to Hastings in 13 days, despite stopping in London for five days to find more recruits for his army, however many of his seasoned troops had remained in the North at York. Harold's troops occupied the high ground at the top of a hill whilst William's troops occupied the plain below.William's troops were divided the Bretons on the left, the Count of Boulogne on the right and the main force, under William in the middle. Harold had few archers, most were still in York, which would cause William some shortage of supplies as it was usual to reuse the opponents arrows in battle and his supply line to France was too long to be quickly replenished.

The battle begins

Legend has it that the battle started in a traditional way where one person from each side fought against each other. Williams jester challenged one of Harold's knights to single combat where he was purported to be singing the "Song of Roland" a french heroic poem as he did it. William's jester is said to have won the combat and so the battle began.

The English battle plan was for the soldiers to stand tightly packed together forming a wall of shields. The battle started with an attack by the Normans that killed many of Harold's men but failed to force a gap in the wall. The advantage of the high ground was decisive in this first failed action.

A rumour went through the ranks of the Norman troops that Duke William was dead. The Breton knights fave way and started to retreat. William is reported to have stood in the stirrups of his horse and said "Look at me, I am alive and with God's help I will conquer". The Normans then returned to fight. The men were so densely packed that there was nowhere for the dead bodies to fall. The Saxons were being reinforced with numbers of fresh men arriving all the time to swell their ranks.

William then implemented his strategic plan- a group of Normans pretended to flee and the English ran after them in pursuit, the Normans turned, encircled Harold's men and slaughtered them, thereby breaching a hole in the sheild wall.

The death of King Harold

King Harold was hit, exactly where is open to record- although the Bayeaux tapestry does indicate that he was hit in the eye. The Normans broke through and hacked Harold down taking his crown for the Duke of Normandy. King Harold's body was found by the victorious norman army and buried in unconsecrated ground upon a cliff, high above the sea, facing towards France.

The number of men killed during the fighting was estimated to be 7,500 but with an average town housing 2,500 people, this was a major loss to the community. Many Saxon nobles were killed and the battle marked the end of the Anglo Saxon age. October 14th 1066 was the date that Saxon rule ended in England, never to return.


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    • CASE1WORKER profile image
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      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Thanks CM Sullivan- I got my version from the battle of Hastings site so i don't know which one has credibility

    • CM Sullivan profile image

      CM Sullivan 6 years ago from California

      Very good hub! I heard another version of the tale of Duke William's jester, that he was unbalanced and charged the Saxon line and was killed outright. Up and interesting!

    • CASE1WORKER profile image
      Author

      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      dahoglund- i guess I know what you mean. I took a concious decision to spend my time reading and researching unfamiliar areas and it has been very rewarding

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I feel that I have so much to absorb just with Americans History, I wonder how to ever learn what came before. Thanks for some background on your hubs.

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