The Conquest

Harold versus Harlad

On becoming King of England, Harold II prepared his country's defences for war, undaunted by the ill-omened appearance in the sky of Halley's Comet.
In September, king Harald Hardrada of Norway (aided by Harold's alienated brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria) invaded England and was defeated by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge near York. Hardrada's army had invaded using over 300 ships; so many were killed that only 24 - 25 ships were needed to transport the survivors home.


Meanwhile, William Duke of Normandy had landed in Sussex. Harold had to rush south and with his army of some 7,000 infantry. On 6th October 1066 King Harold reached London. He then marched his weary army south again and on the 14th October drew them up on a ridge, known to the Normans as Senlac Hill, blocking William’s route out of Hastings.

The Conquest

The town of Caen in Normandy was one of Duke William’s principal bases where he built a huge castle and two monasteries. William’s preparations for war made not far away on the banks of the River Dives are vividly shown on the Bayeux Tapestry.
In his army William had his own followers alongside groups of mercenary knights, many of whom were Breton, Flemish and French. They were trained to fight on foot and, unlike the English, on horseback. They were also skilled in building what are known as known as motte and bailey castles.
William took seven months to prepare his invasion force, using about sixhundred transport ships to

carry around 7,000 men (including 2,000-3,000 cavalry) across the Channel. He set off on the conquest of England under the standard sent to him by the Pope in early September, but bad weather in the Channel forced him to take refuge at St Valery at the mouth of the River Somme.

On receiving a fair wind the Normans embarked on 27th September and landed unopposed in Pevensey Bay near Hastings. William occupied the old Roman fort. On the 29th September he moved to Hastings where he quickly built a castle.

The Battle of Hastings

Most of what we know about the Battle of Hastings comes from Norman sources and battle scenes are shown in the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
At the Battle of Senlac (near Hastings) on 14th October, Harold's weary and under-strength army (6-7000 men on each side) faced William's cavalry supported by archers.

Despite their exhaustion, Harold's troops were equal in number (they included the best infantry in Europe equipped with their terrible two-handled battle axes) and they had the battlefield advantage of being based on a ridge with Harold and his brothers stationed at the highest point above the Norman positions.

The first uphill assaults by the Normans failed and a rumour spread that William had been killed; William rode among the ranks raising his helmet to show he was still alive.

The battle was close-fought: a medieval chronicler described the Norman counter- attacks and the Saxon defence as 'one side attacking with all mobility, the other withstanding as though rooted to the soil'.

Three of William's horses are said to be killed under him.

William skilfully co-ordinated his archers and cavalry, both of which the English forces lacked. During a Norman assault, Harold was killed - hit by an arrow and then mowed down by the sword of a mounted knight. Two of his brothers and many English lords also lost their lives. The demoralised English forces fled and was slaughtered by the norman cavalry.

The Normans saw Harold’s defeat as the judgement of God on king who had broken his word to support William’s claim to the crown. In atonement for the great bloodshed at Hastings, however, William built an abbey in 1070 at what became known as Battle, with the high altar on the place where Harold fell.



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