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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Battle of Hastings

It was found after the death of King Edward the Confessor, that the English monarch had disinherited his cousin, William of Normandy and appointed Harold, the second son of Godwin, instead as his successor. William, believing he has the rightful claim to the throne and having received the pope's blessing landed on Pevensey beach on September 28, 1066.

William the Conqueror invades England

William's first action on landing on Pevensey beach was ominously to trip over, land on his face and swallow some sand. A great cry went up that it was a bad omen but always ready for a bon mot, Norman duke splattered " I have seized England with both hands."

Arming for the Battle of Hastings, William put his mail shirt on back to front, causing worried comments among his superstitious followers.“Just as I turn the hauberk round, I will turn myself from duke to king,” responded the quick-thinking Norman.

The Battle of Hastings was fought between Anglo-Saxon King Harold II and his men and the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy, on October 14, 1066. The engagement took place around a small stream called the Senlac, which is actually nearer to the town of Battle than Hastings.

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings.

Taillefer, William of Normandy's minstrel, asked for the honor of charging the Saxon lines first. His request duly granted, he rode towards the enemy singing "The Song of Roland," a tale of bravery of a Frankish general  in the service of the Emperor of Hastings. Taillefer cut down his first two opponents but was soon dashed to pieces by the Saxons who let out their traditional war cry of "ut, ut, ut."

King Harold had made the mistake of rushing his tired troops, many of whom had just fought a successful battle against the Norwegian King Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, near York. In between cavalry charges William ordered the Norman archers to shoot at the thickest part of the English.

All the British battles in medieval times stopped for lunch, and the Battle of Hastings was no exception.

King Harold was hit in the eye by an arrow, but bravely fought on, before succumbing to the injury. The English monarch's body was identified by his wife's name, Edith, tattooed on his heart. After eight hours the battle was over.

Just before the Battle of Hastings, William had sworn to erect an abbey if he won. He and his fellow Normans spend the night before in prayer whilst King Harold and his men sat up drinking. After the battle William and his victorious men erected St Martins Abbey on the hilltop where Harold was killed.

One of the contributory factors towards the Normans' victory was the drunken condition of many of the Saxons at Hastings. Indeed some of the French invaders recorded in their chronicles their amazement as to how inebriated the English soldiers were on the battlefield.

Bayeux Tapestry -The Battle of Hastings: Norman knights and archers.

William ordered Harold's body to be buried at the top of a cliff with a stone bearing the inscription "By the Duke's command, O Harold you rest here, a King that you may still be a guardian of the shore and sea.".

After the demise of their king the English chose Edgar, grandson of Edmund Ironside as his successor but Edgar wisely chose to submit to William who treated him well.

The site on which the Battle of Hastings was fought is now a field of timid sheep.

William faced rebellions for years after the Battle of Hastings, and was not secure on his throne until after 1072. He confiscated the lands of the resisting English elite, some of whom fled into exile. To control his new kingdom, William gave lands to his followers and built castles commanding military strongpoints.

England's Queen Elizabeth II is descended not from William but Harold through one of his daughters who married a Russian ruler.

The Battle of Hastings was the only instance in English history when a King William fought a King Harry.

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