Battle of Hastings

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*I’m going to talk about the Battle of Hastings.

*In January, 1066 Harold Godwinson crowned himself King of England.

*A few months later, in April, Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky. This was considered to be a bad omen for Harold, and a divine signal for William.

*Harold knew that William would invade, and so assembled an army of 10,000 men to meet William’s invasion force near Hastings. Harold waited all summer for William to arrive, but because of unfavorable winds, William’s army remained stranded in Normandy. Finally, as summer came to an end and William had still not appeared, Harold, running out of supplies, decided to disband his army to allow his nobles to return to their lands and harvest their crops.

This proved to be an unfortunate decision by Harold, because almost immediately upon the disbanding of his army, Harold Hadrada of Norway, who also had a claim to the English throne, landed in Northern England and defeated an English army lead by two local Earls at the Battle of Fulford.

Harold immediately reassembled his army and marched almost 200 miles north, in just five days, to surprise and defeat Harold Hadrada’s army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York. It was a great victory for Harold Godwinson. It is said that of the 300 ships that had carried Harold Hadrada’s invasion force to England, only 20 were needed to carry the survivor’s back home to Norway.

Yet Harold Godwinson had no time to celebrate his victory, as just two days later, William’s invasion force landed at Pevensey Bay in England. Harold, therefore, had to march what remained of his battle weary army 200 miles back down to London, recruit more soldiers, reassemble his army there, and then march them to Hastings, where William was busy burning and pillaging the countryside in order to entice William out to defend his people.

*On September 27, William had set sail for England with a flotilla of 700 ships, carrying about 8000 men and 3000 war horses. This was the biggest cross channel invasion since the Romans 1000 years earlier, and would remain the biggest cross channel invasion until D-day, going in the opposite direction, nearly 900 years later.

*When William arrived at Pevensy Bay he happily was greeted with no resistance.

*However, the first thing that he did upon disembarking his ship was to fall flat on his face in the mud. As soldiers are very superstitious before a battle, this would be seen by them as a very bad omen.

*But legend has it that William sprang back up from the mud, raised both hands high in the air, turned to his men, and proclaimed, “Behold, how I seize the land of England with my bare hands.”

*Harold’s Godwinson’s army was a very traditional, old school, Viking type army.

*The backbone of his army was the Huscarls. The Huscarls were his professional soldiers. They were well protected with chain mail, and carried the fearsome, four foot long, Danish axe, which could fell a horse and rider with one stroke.

*The bulk of his army was comprised of Fryd, or local militia. They were part-time soldiers, local landowning nobility who were required to outfit themselves, and train and serve their king for several months out of the year.

*Harold also had a body of even less professional archers and slingers. However, at Hastings most of these soldiers were yet on the march from York and London, and he was still waiting anxiously for them to arrive as the battle began.

*The Saxon’s fought in the traditional Viking style, utilizing the shield wall, a wall of shields which could be virtually impenetrable as long as it held solid.

*Thus, Harold had about 7000 professional and semiprofessional foot soldiers at Hastings.

*William’s army carried the Papal banner into battle. This was very fortuitous for William. After Harold had proclaimed himself King of England, William had sent envoys to Rome to secure the blessing of the Pope. With the Papal blessing, William was able to...
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