The 14th October 1066 was to be a date that changed the course of British history. On that Saturday morning the Battle of Hastings was launched with an intensive bombardment of arrows fired from Norman archers towards the ranks of Harold’s army. William the Duke of Normandy and leader of the Norman troops advanced his army closer to the English line which was led by King Harold Godwinson. The previous English king Edward the Confessor had died without an heir. As a result a bad tempered and violent quarrel broke out to decide who would become the new King of England.
Soon this quarrel became more sinister and led to a now famous battle between William and Harold. Some while before Harold had ‘promised’ the throne of England to William when Harold was being held captive in France following a shipwreck. Subsequently to his release Harold chose to forget his promise to William and was secretly crowned the King of England. In his quest to wrestle the throne of England from Harold, William had gathered an army of some 7,000 – 8,000 men, including calavary, Bretons, archers and men at arms.
Yet on their first attempt they were denied access to the English coast because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction! Despite realising that the invasion was imminent Harold decided to do battle first with the Norwegian King Harald Hadraada, another contender for his Throne, Whilst King Harold was away fighting his Norwegian foe, the direction of the wind changed and William was able to arrive unchallenged at Pevensey on the south coast of England.
Subsequently King Harold’s celebrations after the battle of Stamford where he had defeated the Norwegians and killed their King, along with his ally Harold’s treacherous brother Tostig, were dramatically cut short, On hearing the news that William had landed in England Harold had to quickly head south to do battle. In his hurry many of his archers were left behind and those that did make the journey were exhausted after completing the 300 mile trek o Hastings. Harold’s army were made up mainly from relatively inexperienced peasants, called fryd men, and housecarls who wore lots of armour and were supplied with huge Danish axes. Harold deployed his troops on Senlac Hill with William below, and then battle ensued with the English pushing the Normans down the hill. To inspire his men and show he was still alive William decided to remove his helmet, and consequently his men rallied.
Although the English were strong in battle the Normans remembered the trick of pretending to retreat, and accordingly ran down the hill. Several thousand English gave pursuit, then the Norman cavalry turned and slew a great many of the English. King Harold was killed; it is thought that was from a hit in the eye by an arrow. Disheartened and depleted the remaining English force fled for the cover of the forest Andenda.
In conclusion one of the reasons that William triumphed was his luck, luck that the wind changed almost simultaneous with Harald invading from the North, The tiredness of the English troops weakened them and their constant desire for ale left them less than highly tuned soldiers. But it is important not to underestimate the bravery and strategy that William demonstrated with his determination to capture the throne of England. Without his preparation, clever use of tactics and personal bravery the English may yet have been victorious and the course of history have taken a very different path.