On this day in 1066 the Battle of Hastings was fought in England, approximately 7 miles Northwest of Hastings, England near the present day town of Battle, England, named after the event. It was one of the battles that forever changed the history of the World, the consequences of which continue to this day. The battle was fought between the last Anglo-Saxon army, led by Harold Godwinson, then King of England, and the Norman Army of William, Duke of Normandy in France. The events leading to the battle started with the death of King Edward the Confessor, who, had no children to pass the Crown to. He had spent many years in exile in Normandy before becoming King. After his coronation in 1042, he continued to rely on Norman support and used many Norman courtiers and assistants in his government. There were several claimants to the throne after his passing, Harold Godwinson was one. His brother Tostig, Harold Hardrada of Norway, and William, Duke of Normandy were the others.
William was a descendant of Rollo, the Viking Leader seen in the television show VIKINGS the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok. He and Ragnar in reality were not brothers and lived about 150 years apart. Rollo was a bad ass! He had been exiled from Norway for killing too many people and had raised another army of Vikings from Denmark. One of my direct ancestors was one of his Danish Captains. They raided France so much that the French King, Charles the Simple, finally offered Rollo a large chunk of France to be his own Duchy, as long as he acknowledged Charles as his Sovereign and paid fealty to him. There is an amusing story that when Rollo performed the ceremony making him Duke he had to kiss the foot of the king to seal his solemn oath. Rollo refused and ordered one of his men to do it. The man did, but immediately after kissing the King's foot he flipped the King out of the chair and onto his ass. (I always wondered if maybe that guy was my ancestor). At any rate the bargain worked well; France now had a buffer against attacks from other vikings as Rollo and his boys kept stopping them. In time, Rollo's Northman army intermarried with the local populace and assimilated their own culture and the culture of the existing populace. Their language mixed with French to become 'Norman-French,' not entirely French and not entirely Norse, but a mixture of the two. The people in their duchy called the Vikings 'Northmen" and in time they called their new duchy "Normandy' as a result.
Before Edward the Confessor died, he had already performed a ceremony wherein it was agreed that William, Duke of Normandy would become the next King of England. Harold Godwinson had even participated in the ceremony and solemnly swore on sacred relics that he agreed. But after Edward's death he broke his oath, had himself crowned King of England, and raised an army to enforce his Kingship. He first defeated his brother Tostig and Harold Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, usually seen by modern historians as the last true viking raid in England. He then force marched south to kick William's ass, who had crossed the English Channel with an Army to make Harold keep his promise and declare William King.
The two armies met at a field between two hills, Caldbec Hill to the North, and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded and a marsh lay nearby. It is believed that the English arranged themselves on Cladbec Hill or therebouts, and the Normans attacked from the south. The two were comprised of different elements.
Harold's army were entirely infantry. The Thegns, or noblemen,and their professional fighter, the housecarls, wore chain hauberks and carried shields, axes and javelins. The remainder of their men were non-professionals, were more lightly armored and carried two handed axes and spears. They numbered around 10,000 men, though exact figures cannot be 100% proven.
William's Army was about a third infantry, a third cavalry with the rest being archers. They numbered around 7,000 to 8,000, though these numbers cannot be 100% proven either. They wore chainmail armor and carried broadswords, lances and kite-shaped shields. Their helmets were very viking like; pointed, with a nose guard that hung down in front between their eyes. Their hair cuts were very short, with the backs of their heads shaved clean.
It is known that the battle began at 9:00 am and lasted til dusk, at 4:54 local time. The English stayed arrayed in a Shield Wall and repelled repeated attacks by the Normans. Finally, after yet another failed attempt, the Normans decided to fake a retreat, a tactic that they were fond of doing at the time. Sure enough, a large group of the English broke ranks and chased them. Seeing the opportunity, William used his cavalry to surround and cut them down. Ecstatic that the ploy had worked, they wondered if it would work again. Sure as hell. . . same results. They attacked, ran away and were chased by a large chunk of the English. The Norman cavalry destroyed them.
About this time, or at least near the end of the battle, an arrow struck Harold Godwinson in the left eye. It appears that he was simultaneously cut with a broadsword from a Norman knight. His two brothers had been killed in the first faked Norman retreat and with the loss of their King the rout was on. The Normans chased down and killed many of the fleeing English. Harold's loyal houecarls surrounded his body and all went down fighting. William had won.
The Normans had more battles to fight before William was fully acknowledged and crowned King, and after several revolts he ordered the infamous "Harrying of the North,' where his army devastated much of the northern part of England. The devastation can still be seen in England to this day. William took all of the lands and castles from the remaining English nobles and distributed them to his own Generals and Captains. According to Ancestry.com my ancestors received lands in Kent and Somerset on one side, and in Scotland and Ireland on the other. The battle also led to the Hundred Year's War, and the animosities even led to the American Revolution. For hundreds of years, the leaders of England, its Nobles, Kings and Queens didn't even speak English; they spoke Norman-French. It was one of the biggest events in human history