Battle of Hastings: Causes, Effects, & Major Facts
It is often erroneously stated that the Battle of Hastings, a conflict which raged about 1000 years ago, took place in Hastings. The actual location of the battle was about almost seven miles away – at a place now called Battle, a town in the district of Rother in East Sussex, England.
There is no doubt that the Battle of Hastings, which took place on October 14, 1066, was a pivotal event in English history. It marked the Norman conquest of England and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule, which had lasted for more than six centuries.
What else do we know about the Battle of Hastings? What were the main causes? And how significant was it to British history?
Below, World History Edu presents some key details about the battle:
Multiple contenders to the English throne
The battle was the culmination of a complex series of events and conflicts over the English throne. It stemmed from competing claims to the throne of England by several contenders.
The primary contenders were Harold Godwinson, the Anglo-Saxon King of England, and William, Duke of Normandy (commonly known as William the Conqueror). Harold had been crowned king in January 1066 after the death of Edward the Confessor.
William claimed that he had been promised the English throne by Edward the Confessor, and he believed Harold’s coronation was illegitimate.
Preparations made by both sides
The French duke assembled an army and a fleet in Normandy, while Harold had to defend England against another invasion threat from Norway by King Harald Hardrada. After defeating the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold’s forces had to march south quickly to face William’s invading army.
October 14, 1066: The Battle Erupts
The Battle of Hastings took place near the town of Hastings in East Sussex, England. It was a day-long battle characterized by intense fighting.
The Norman forces used archers, infantry, and cavalry to attack the English shield wall formation. The English fought valiantly but were eventually overwhelmed.
Tactics used by the Normans
It’s been stated that Normans employed a clever and strategic maneuver during the Battle of Hastings known as “feigned flight.” This tactic has a long history and involves deceiving the enemy by pretending to retreat or run away, thereby luring the opposing forces into pursuing them.
Death of Harold and William the Conqueror’s victory
During the battle, King Harold was killed, traditionally believed to have been struck in the eye with an arrow. His death marked a turning point in the battle.
With the death of Harold and the collapse of the English shield wall, the Normans secured victory. William emerged as the victor.
William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066, solidifying Norman rule.
The Norman conquest of England led to significant changes in English society, including the introduction of Norman-French aristocracy and the merging of Norman and Anglo-Saxon cultures and languages.
Significance of the Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings remains one of the most well-known events in English history, marking the beginning of Norman rule and the end of the Anglo-Saxon era.
It had profound and lasting effects on English culture, politics, and language, as well as on the course of medieval European history.
Did you know…?
The Battle of Hastings, one of the most famous battles in English history, occurred in a field located approximately seven miles away from the town of Hastings. This field, where the battle unfolded, is now commemorated as the appropriately named village of Battle.
The Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story of Hastings
Dating back to the 11th century, the Bayeux Tapestry is indeed a remarkable historical artifact, but did you know that artwork is actually an embroidered cloth.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a long, narrow piece of cloth measuring approximately 230 feet (70 meters) in length. Rather than being woven like a traditional tapestry, it features intricate embroidery.
The Bayeux Tapestry is believed to have been commissioned by Odo, who was the Bishop of Bayeux and also the half-brother of William the Conqueror, the victor of the Battle of Hastings. Odo played a significant role in the battle and its aftermath.
The tapestry is considered one of the most important historical and artistic documents of the medieval period. It provides valuable insights into the events and culture of the time.
Today, the Bayeux Tapestry is displayed at the Bayeux Museum in Bayeux, Normandy, France. It attracts visitors from around the world who come to see this unique piece of history.
William the Conqueror, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, founded Battle Abbey on the very site where the battle took place. This act was seen as a form of penance for the bloodshed and loss of life that occurred during the battle. Battle Abbey was constructed as a place of prayer and reflection, and it served as a lasting reminder of the Norman victory.
Today, Battle Abbey is maintained by English Heritage, a heritage conservation organization in the United Kingdom.
Visitors to Battle Abbey can enjoy rooftop views, which offer a unique perspective of the surrounding area and the battlefield where this historic event unfolded.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Battle of Hastings
Where did the Battle of Hastings take place?
The Battle of Hastings took place near the town of Hastings in East Sussex, England. More specifically, the battle unfolded at a location that is now known as Battle, which is approximately seven miles (11 kilometers) inland from Hastings. This site is where William the Conqueror’s Norman forces confronted King Harold II’s English army on October 14, 1066, in one of the most decisive battles in English history.
What triggered the battle?
The Battle of Hastings was a conflict that erupted in 1066 over the English crown. It stemmed from a succession dispute: Edward the Confessor likely designated William, the Duke of Normandy and his cousin, as his heir in 1051.
Norman accounts suggest that Harold, Earl of Wessex, went to Normandy in 1064 to confirm Edward’s promise to William, and Harold swore to support William’s claim.
However, just as Edward was about to die, he bestowed the English kingdom on Harold, who was quickly crowned. Safe to say, this move angered William, who believed he had a rightful claim to the throne.
An infuriated William responded by gathering his army and launched an invasion of England, leading to the Battle of Hastings.
Who was Harold II of England?
Harold was born into the powerful Godwin family, one of the most influential noble families in England at the time.
Following the death of his father Godwine in 1053, he became the Earl of Wessex, a prominent earldom in England. In the time that he was an earl, he worked diligently to consolidate his power and gain favor among the nobility and clergy. This period of preparation and political maneuvering ultimately led to Harold becoming one of the most influential figures in England and played a significant role in the events leading up to the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Following the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066, Harold, having amassed a lot of power, was elected as King of England by the Witenagemot, an assembly of nobles and clergy. His coronation took place on January 6, 1066.
Shortly after Harold’s coronation, he faced several external threats to his rule. King Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded England in September 1066, leading to the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Immediately after the victory at Stamford Bridge, Harold had to hastily march south to confront the Norman invasion led by William the Conqueror, culminating in the Battle of Hastings.
Who was William the Conqueror?
William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, held significant control over key harbors along the northern coast of Europe, thanks to alliances and his strategic positioning. His father-in-law, Baldwin V of Flanders, had influence as the regent of France. Luckily for William, his only notable potential adversary, Geoffrey III of Anjou, had his hands full with a fierce rebellion.
With the blessing of Pope Alexander II, William prepared to right the wrong and assert his claim to the English crown. He rallied the support of Norman barons, and he recruited volunteers from various regions, including Brittany, Maine, France, Flanders, Spain, and Italy.
William is praised for the manner in which he organized the supplies and transport for this diverse army. He successfully united them under Norman discipline and cohesion, which were crucial for his military campaign to conquer England.
What was the strength of the two armies?
William gathered a force of between 4,200–7,000 troops, including archers, crossbowmen, heavy infantry, and mounted knights in Normandy before invading England. Upon hitting the shores of England, the French duke marched his army eastward along the coast to Hastings.
Harold’s army consisted of around 7,000 men, but many were peasants with no prior battle experience, incomplete armor and weapons. Harold’s forces also lacked archers and cavalry, and he had only mustered about half of England’s trained soldiers for the battle.
This discrepancy in troop quality and composition played a significant role in the outcome of the battle, ultimately resulting in William’s victory and his subsequent coronation as King of England.Top of Form
Who were some of the key figures in the Battle of Hastings?
The Battle of Hastings featured several key figures on both the Norman (invading) and English (defending) sides. Here are some of the most prominent individuals involved in the battle:
Norman (Norman-French) Side
The Duke of Normandy, William was the main instigator of the Norman invasion and the central figure in the battle. He went on to become King of England after his victory.
Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, was William’s half-brother and played a crucial role in leading the Norman forces during the battle. He is also known for commissioning the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events of the Norman conquest.
William FitzOsbern was one of William’s trusted commanders and a key strategist in the battle. He later became the Earl of Hereford.
English (Anglo-Saxon) Side
Harold Godwinson was the English king who faced the Norman invasion. He was crowned king in January 1066 and led the defense against William’s forces at the Battle of Hastings. He was killed during the battle.
Gyrth and Leofwine were Harold’s brothers and fought alongside him in the battle. Like their brother, they both perished in the conflict.
Edwin, Earl of Mercia, and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, were powerful Anglo-Saxon nobles who also played significant roles in the English defense.
What happened at the battle?
According to historical accounts, the Battle of Hastings commenced at dawn on October 14, 1066. William’s Norman army advanced towards Harold’s English forces, who were positioned on a ridge about 10 miles northwest of Hastings.
Over the course of the day, the English defense gradually weakened and became outnumbered by the French duke’s forces.
According to the Bayeux Tapestry, an iconic historical artwork, King Harold was killed late in the afternoon during the battle.
And as darkness descended, the English forces scattered, and William emerged as the victor of what is considered one of the most audacious gambles in history.
This battle marked the Norman conquest of England and established William the Conqueror as the King of England.
Why did Harold lose at the Battle of Hastings?
As stated above, Harold II, the English king, advanced towards Hastings with an army of approximately 7,000 men. However, this force included many individuals who were ill-equipped and lacked proper training, often being untrained peasants. Moreover, Harold had only managed to mobilize around half of England’s trained soldiers for this campaign.
Harold most likely shot himself in the foot choosing to advance against William the Conqueror’s Norman army instead of adopting a more defensive strategy, such as fortifying a position and forcing William to come to him. This bold approach can be explained by several factors.
First, Harold was motivated by a strong desire to protect his people and lands from the incursions and harrying tactics employed by William’s forces. He may have believed that confronting the Normans directly was the best way to safeguard his kingdom.
Second, Harold likely wanted to halt the Norman invasion and push the invaders back into the sea. Engaging the Normans in open battle might have seemed like a way to decisively defeat them and end the threat.
Finally, Harold’s eagerness to confront the Normans head-on may have been influenced by his determination to assert his claim to the English throne and defend it from external threats.
Despite his boldness, Harold’s strategy ultimately proved unsuccessful at the Battle of Hastings, where he faced a well-disciplined and tactically superior Norman force. The open-field battle led to his defeat and death, marking the beginning of Norman rule in England and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule.
How long did the battle last?
The battle is said to have begun in the morning, at around 9:00 AM, and continued until dusk. In the context of the time, dusk would have been approximately around 5:00 PM, as daylight hours vary with the seasons. This means the battle lasted for roughly eight hours.
What were some of the major effects of the battle?
William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 had profound and far-reaching consequences for England.
Firstly, the Norman Conquest brought England into closer contact with the European continent, particularly France, where the Normans originated.
Secondly, William’s victory led to a significant transformation of the English aristocracy. Many English nobles were replaced by Norman nobles who received land and titles as rewards for their support during the conquest. Similar changes occurred among the upper clergy and administrative officials, with Norman churchmen and administrators taking on key roles in the English church and government.
The conquest also brought about a shift in language. English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, was gradually superseded by Latin in official documents and records.
Additionally, Anglo-Norman, a variety of Old Norman with some English influence, became the dominant language in England, especially among the elite and in court circles. Written English became less common in official documents and only started to reappear in the 13th century.
What are the major sources of the Battle of Hastings?
Two important historical sources that provide insights into the events of the Battle of Hastings are William of Poitiers and the Bayeux Tapestry:
- William of Poitiers: William of Poitiers was a Norman chronicler who documented the events leading up to and including the Battle of Hastings. While he did not personally participate in the battle, his account is valuable because he had knowledge of those who did. He provides a written narrative that offers a Norman perspective on the battle, its preparations, and its significance.
- Bayeux Tapestry: The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth, not a traditional woven tapestry, that visually narrates the story of the Battle of Hastings and the events surrounding it. It is considered one of the most iconic and significant historical artifacts from the medieval period. The tapestry provides a visual account of the battle, offering scenes and depictions of the key moments and individuals involved.
Together, these two sources—William of Poitiers’ chronicle and the Bayeux Tapestry—provide complementary perspectives on the Battle of Hastings, offering both written and visual accounts of this pivotal event in English history.