Battle of Hastings Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Battle of Hastings, part of the Norman Conquest, marked the defeat of Anglo-Saxon forces by the French-speaking Normans and the decline of the Anglo-Saxon ruling class and its language and culture.

Summary of Event

In 1066, on the death of Edward the Confessor Edward the Confessor , the childless Anglo-Saxon king, there were three rivals for the throne: Harold Hardrada Harold Hardrada (king of Norway) , king of Norway, who based his claim on his relationship to Canute the Great of Denmark, who had ruled England from 1016 to 1035; Harold II Harold II (king of England) , accepted as heir to the throne by the dying Edward and by the Witan, the Anglo-Saxon assembly of nobles; and William the Conqueror William the Conqueror , duke of Normandy, who based his claim on blood relationship as well as on promises from both Edward the Confessor and Harold II that the throne should be his. [kw]Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066) [kw]Hastings, Battle of (October 14, 1066) Hastings; Battle of (1066) England;Oct. 14, 1066: Battle of Hastings[1620] Cultural and intellectual history;Oct. 14, 1066: Battle of Hastings[1620] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 14, 1066: Battle of Hastings[1620] Edward the Confessor Harold II Harold Hardrada William the Conqueror

William’s claim to the throne was no surprise. Edward, although English on his father’s side, had been born of a Norman mother and had spent his early years in Normandy. He included many Normans in his court and received frequent Norman visitors, William among them. William maintained that Edward had promised him the English throne when he had visited Edward in England. In addition, William based his claim on a promise he had exacted from Harold II when Harold had been held captive in Normandy after a shipwreck. William also had the support of the pope, who wanted to closen the ties between the English Church and Rome.

To enforce his claim, William assembled a feudal army composed not only of Normans but also of knights from the neighboring duchies of Maine and Brittany and from Flanders, central France, Aquitaine, and the Norman colonies in southern Italy. These mercenary troops consisted mostly of landless men, looking to gain wealth and land in England by fighting for William. Their strength lay in their cavalry tactics and in the leadership of William, who had proven himself an indomitable soldier in the campaigns in Normandy and elsewhere in France. As they waited in Normandy for good sailing weather, William’s troops numbered conservatively between five thousand and six thousand men, a massive force by medieval standards. England;Norman conquest of

Harold II’s force had two parts: the standing army, made up of housecarls, trained members of the king’s bodyguard, and fyrdmen, a part-time force made up of men who owed service to the king. When Harold received news of William’s preparations, he marched his army to the coast to wait for William’s attack. When he heard that his brother, Tostig, and the Norwegian Harold Hardrada had attacked England, however, Harold II turned his army northward, engaging the invaders at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire and defeating them soundly.

The Battle of Hastings.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

Three days later, William landed at Pevensey on the south coast of England on September 28. Still in the north, Harold received word of William’s landing after the decisive victory at Stamford Bridge. By a forced march of some two hundred miles (125 kilometers), Harold brought his weary army to meet the fresh enemy. He reached London by October 5-6 with the vanguard of his army. He stayed in London for several days, resting his troops and waiting for the rest of his army to arrive from Yorkshire. Ignoring the advice from his brother Gyrth to wait longer, Harold left London on October 11 with less than his full force to meet William. Had he delayed, time would have proven his best ally, because William needed to fight before his supplies ran out and winter set in. Instead, on a field between Hastings and Senlac in Sussex, the two armies met on October 14, 1066. The famous Bayeux tapestry, a 231-foot piece of linen needlework created to commemorate the battle, provides a graphic representation of the fighting, detailing the Normans and Anglo-Saxons in battle.

The battle started at about 9:00 a.m. and continued throughout the day. For all their disadvantages, the English troops fought tenaciously and almost won the day. They depended on a close phalanx formation, a long line of men shoulder to shoulder with spears raised. This formation held during the early hours of the battle, and the Saxons successfully repulsed William’s Breton troops, who were in the lead. As the afternoon wore on, large numbers of both Saxons and Normans were killed, including Leofwin and Gyrth, Harold’s brothers. By late afternoon, the Normans began to force their way through the Saxon line. Even then, according to the chronicler William of Malmesbury, the English fought bravely and “by frequently making a stand, they slaughtered their pursuers by heaps.” King Harold was killed during the last stages of the battle, and without leadership, the Saxon defense crumbled. William had won the day and England.

William the Conqueror lands in England.

(Library of Congress)

During the Battle of Hastings, many of the Anglo-Saxon nobility were killed; those who survived had their lands confiscated. The defeat at Hastings led effectively to the end of the Anglo-Saxon Anglo-Saxons[Anglo Saxons];end of ruling class. It took William another seven years to put down all the resistance in the north and in the west.

Significance

With the Norman Conquest, William fused Norman and Saxon institutions so that England became, much earlier than France, a consolidated monarchy with an efficient central government. He also introduced Norman feudal Feudalism;England practices into England and made himself an effective sovereign over his nobles by insisting that they acknowledge him as liege lord. At the same time, he left the machinery of government on the local level much as he found it, keeping the Anglo-Saxon shires with their sheriffs responsible to the king. William also inaugurated a remarkable census when he ordered the Domesday Book Domesday survey (1086), also called the Domesday survey, which recorded properties and their holders at the time of the Norman Conquest Norman Conquest (1066) . It was this record that enabled the royal government to provide for itself an adequate and consistent income, since officials knew what revenues could be expected from any piece of land.

A scene from the twelfth century Bayeux Tapestry showing the funeral of Edward the Confessor, who died in the Battle of Hastings.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

The Norman Conquest also meant that French, along with Latin, became the language of the upper class, the government, and power for the next three hundred years at the expense of Anglo-Saxon. Ecclesiastical life was greatly affected also, as William repaid the pope for his support by strengthening the ties between the English Church and Rome.

If Duke William had not won the Battle of Hastings, England might have developed an isolated culture or maintained an orientation toward Scandinavia. In the opinion of some historians, the battle constitutes the most important single event in English history. It not only marks the last time that the island was successfully invaded, but, more important, it is also the event that effectively brought England into the European orbit.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, Malcolm. “The Kingdom of England.” In The Two Cities: Medieval Europe, 1050-1320. London: Routledge, 1992. Carefully traces the events leading to Hastings as well as the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, paying particular attention to the medieval mentality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bradbury, Jim. The Battle of Hastings. Stroud, England: Sutton, 1998. Focuses on the tactics and strategies of the battle and discusses the battle in the context of European military events of the eleventh century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, R. A. “The Battle of Hastings.” The Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies 3 (1981): 1-21. Explores military tactics and strategies of Hastings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Furneaux, Rupert. Invasion 1066. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1966. Presents a vivid account, complete with maps, diagrams, and a reconstruction of the scene of battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morillo, Stephen, ed. The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1996. Collection discusses the Bayeux tapestry, fyrds, naval logistics in the English Channel, the larger Norman Conquest, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stenton, F. M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Hastings is covered in a section on the Norman Conquest.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walker, David. The Normans in Britain. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. An overview of the Anglo-Norman period in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, beginning with Hastings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wright, Peter Poyntz. The Battle of Hastings. Salisbury, England: Michael Russell, 1986. Traces the events leading to the battle, its tactics and strategies, and the immediate aftermath. Filled with illustrations and maps.

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