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Key Facts

Date: October 14 1066
Location: Battle near Hastings, East Sussex, England
Result: Decisive Norman Victory
Context: Norman Conquest of England. Last Anglo-Saxon King
Significance: The most important turning point in English history

Events leading up to the Battle of Hastings

Following King Edward's death on 5 January 1066, the lack of a clear heir led to a disputed succession in which several contenders laid claim to the throne of England. Edward's immediate successor was the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats and son of Godwin, Edward's earlier opponent.

The Battle

October 14th, 1066, Senlac Hill, about 6 miles north-west of Hastings: two armies stood opposite each other: the English army of King Harold II in one line; the army of William of Normandy in another.

At around 9:00am the Normans made the first attack raining down on the English countless showers of arrows.

But the English were strong; having formed a near-impenetrable shield wall which kept the Normans at bay. William sent in his infantry but the English threw down javelins and stones as the Normans charged up the hill (as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry). Even the few infantrymen who did make it to the English lines failed to crack the wall.

A frustrated William sent in his cavalry sooner than he probably should have. Within one hour of battle, the left flank of the Norman army had been completely broken. Under such pressure, the left flank retreated and was soon followed by the remaining two divisions. In the chaos some of the English soldiers made the fatal mistake of chasing after them and breaking their ranks. Rumor quickly spread that William had been killed. To prove otherwise, William removed his helmet and restored some much needed morale to the Norman troops. This show of force proved to be a turning point in the battle as William was able to lead a cavalry charge against the English soldiers who had broken rank.

Despite such bloodshed, the bulk of the English shield wall was still intact. By the afternoon, William realized that breaking the wall was the key to victory. His new tactic involved a number of feigned retreats to entice the English out of their lines and cut them down as they ran. Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, soon became victims of William’s deadly tactics and King Harold was not long after.

Legend has it that he was struck in the eye with an arrow, while others believe he was slain by the sword. The contemporary Song of the Battle of Hastings argues that four Norman knights tore off Harold’s limbs and disemboweled him. Whatever the true cause of his death, the English bravely fought on but, without proper leadership, their cause was lost. The Battle of Hastings replaced Stamford Bridge as the longest and most brutal in English history.

Aftermath

The Battle of Hastings was a major turning point in English history. William's claim to the throne was strong, and he was able to back it up with force. On Christmas day in 1066 William was crowned King of England

Bayeux Tapestry

An embroidered cloth nearly 230 ft wide 20 in tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.

Bayeux Tapestry
Scott Snell
The Bayeux Tapestry provides a well-preserved but perhaps quite biased account of the Norman conquest.
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