Battle of Hastings
Many thousands of words have been written about the Battle of Hastings on the 14th of October 1066, in possibly almost as many works, and this history does not intend to fully rehash the tale nor to theorise as to location of the battle etc.
The two invasions of 1066
There were two invasions of England in 1066; the first invasion - to the north-east of the country was by King Harald Hardrada of Norway understudied by Harold of England's traitorous brother, Tostig - this was unsuccessful. Harald of Norway and Tostig were both killed in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold of England retired to York to rest his army when news arrived of the Norman invasion led by Duke William in person. King Harold needed to get his army to the South Coast what must have been a record time to confront a new and even more dangerous enemy. This battle was a close-fought battle, with Harold almost tasting success - indeed without the Norwegian invasion he certainly would have. For that reason the unpleasant Tostig was a very important political and military factor. Unwittingly, he had greatly aided William of Normandy.
The victor crowned
As the histories record, Harold was killed as were most of his army leaving the road to London open. William of Normandy was crowned at Westminster on Christmas Day 1066 and began a reign of terror in order to subdue a country which had a severe dislike for him, with excellent reasons for doing so. In January 1066 England had been at peace under the rule of Edward the Confessor; going as far as enjoying the rudiments of constitutional government in the form of a 'parliament' known as the Witangemot, whose members elected Harold Godwineson as Edward's successor. The Church of England went its own way also - with married clergy - special usages inherited from the Celtic Church, and the cult of English saints of whom no-one else had heard. It is no surprise that the Pope supported William's invasion, which promised to bring the Church into line with Rome's rule-book. By the end of 1066, all civil liberties that the population had enjoyed had been wiped out and England was ruled by a tyrant who cared little for his subjects' welfare; the deer in his forests were more important than the occupants of England.
Why so many Norman Castles?
This evidence is visible to the current day; the surviving Norman castles were put there to dominate a hostile countryside. The Elite of the Anglo-Saxons had no need for such fortresses; they lived in large wooden houses. Twenty years later the Conquest, when the Domesday Book was compiled, there was virtually no land held by Anglo-Saxons. Any Anglo-Saxon nobility had been wiped out or dispossessed and replaced by Normans. The same went for the Church; the bishops and abbots were almost all Norman. Norman-French had become the language of administration, the law and heraldry. Although the English language ultimately won, it was an English heavily influenced by French, as we can see from the Middle-English works of Chaucer and Langland.
The Bayeux Tapestry - a pictorial history
Perhaps one reason why the Norwegian invasion is less well-known than the Norman one is that it did not succeed; the other is that it produced no equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry nor much in the way of documentary evidence. It is remarkable that this work of embroidery should still survive, with its images giving a surprisingly accurate record of the battle and events leading up to it. It is reputed that during WW2 Heinrich Himmler wanted to acquire it for his collection.
Current research would state that Harold was not killed by an arrow to his eye; the 'arrow' is in fact poor 18th century repair-work to the Bayeux Tapestry. Harold is probably a foot soldier nearby, who is being cut down by a mounted knight. This much agrees with contemporary accounts. Neither were the English inferior to the Normans as soldiers: Harold's regular soldiers, the Huscarls, were reckoned to be the best in Europe. The conscripts, the Fyrd, were another matter however. William's army was about one-third Norman; the other two thirds were from Flanders, Brittany and even further afield. Many names that are perhaps now famous in English, and wider British, history, came into Britain around this time, including Percy and Grosvenor (Norman), D'arcy (from Burgundy), Bruce and Ker (from Brittany).
Other details of the Battle
A few lesser-known writings and details of the event may however be permitted to grace the pages of this history. One of which is the fact that a tragedic play was written about the battle by Richard Cumberland in 1778.
References & Notes
- 1066, A Guide to the Battles and the Campaigns (Michael Livingstone and Kelly Devries)
- Open Library: The Battle of Hastings - a tragedy by Richard Cumberland