The battle of Hastings was a decisive battle fought for control of England between the forces of William Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson King of England.
When Edward the Confessor died without an heir in January 1066 there were three claimants to the throne of England. Harald Hardrada of Norway’s who was descended from King Cnut who was King of England from 1016 to 1035, William Duke of Normandy who claimed that he was promised the throne by Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson, son of the most powerful English noble. On 6th January 1066 Harold Godwinson was crowned King Harold II.
Both Hardrada and William of Normandy began preparing invasions. Harald Hardrada invaded England in early September. The northern Earls, Edwin and Morcar put up a fight but were defeated at the Battle of Fulford Bridge on 20th September. On hearing of the defeat of his Earls, Harold Godwinson marched north leaving the south coast unprotected. Hardrada was defeated and killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September but Harold’s victory was overshadowed by the news that William of Normandy had landed on the south coast. His tired army was forced to march rapidly south.
William Duke of Normandy landed at Pevensey in the South of England on 28th September and began a march towards Hastings. On 14th October William’s forces were camped just outside of Hastings on Senlac Hill. Harold decided not to wait for reinforcements but to make a surprise attack.
Harold ordered his Saxon army to make a shield wall at the top of the hill. William’s army made the first attack but were held off by the shield wall. Successive attacks by the Normans continued to be held off by the shield wall. Some time in the afternoon, some Saxons thought they heard a cry that William had been killed. The Saxon’s believing that they had won the battle, broke the shield wall and chased the retreating Normans down the hill. This gave the Norman horseman the opportunity they had been waiting for. Charging into the Saxon foot soldiers they cut them down before riding up the hill to break the remnants of the shield wall.
The battle lasted all day and towards the end of the day Harold fell, popularly thought to be from an arrow in the eye, but actually from a sword blow wielded by a mounted Norman Knight. The English infantry was broken, William had won the battle. He gave thanks for victory by founding an altar and later an abbey at the place known afterwards as Battle. He was crowned King of England on 25th December 1066.
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