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The Battle of Hastings: Duke of Normandy, Earl of Wessex, King of Norway

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At the beginning of 1066, King Edward the Confessor ruled England. He had no children so there was uncertainty on who would rule next. There were three men who wished to be king.

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They were William, Duke of Normandy; Harold Godwineson, Earl of Wessex, and Harald Hardraada, King of Norway. On January 6th, 1066, the day after Edward died, Harold Godwineson was crowned king. William saw this as a declaration of war, and said he would kill Harold. He immediately made plans to invade England. It took him two months to assemble his army and navy.

When they were ready to leave, the wind had been blowing the wrong direction so William had to wait another couple months before he could set sail. During this time Harold was preparing for William. Harold’s army mainly consisted of highly trained soldiers known as the Housecarls. It also consisted of Fyrds, peasants serving two months at war a year for the king, who did not have much skill. Harold had been waiting at the South Coast for a long time now. His army were running out of food supplies and everyone was getting wrestles. So he decides William is not coming and dismantles his army, returning to London.

Harald Hardraada, with his Viking army, had now landed on the North East Coast of England and attacked Yorkshire. Harold hears the news, reassembles his army and head on foot to Yorkshire, deciding that William would not be coming. They walked 180miles in 5 days, which was a very fast speed on foot. The Vikings were unprepared and were slaughtered. This battle was known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge. On the 27th September, 1066, William’s army set sail for England, as the weather had changed and conditions were favourable. A day later they arrived at the South Coast, expecting resistance, but none came.

There was no army waiting for them. He moved through English villages, burning the villagers to attract Harold’s attention. William wanted to fight. Horses were at the heart of William’s battle plan. His army consisted of more than 2000 mounted knights. He had, in addition, hired mercenary soldiers to fight on his side. Harold’s army only fought on foot. They would not know how to respond to soldiers on horseback. Harold heard the news that the Norman’s had finally landed. He orders his army, who had many injuries and fatalities after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, south towards William.

Over 7000 English soldiers together walked 250 miles. A long the way, they pass through villages, and Harold attempts to get peasants to join his army. He falsely claimed it was the Pope’s war, and that they would be instantly accepted into Heaven. After hearing this many peasants joined. However, they had no experience. Harold’s army lined up at the top a hill, forcing William to attack uphill. Harold is waiting for reinforcements to come and help out. The men at the front of Harold’s army, including Harold himself, form a shield wall. William divided his troops into three groups.

His plan was to use archery to weaken the shield wall, then, when a hole appeared, would strike and break through. However the archers made little difference as they were shooting uphill. The Norman army then advances up the hill. The Saxons started throwing anything they could, including axes, towards the approaching army. The shield wall holds. When the Norman’s had reached the shield wall the cavalry tried desperately to break through the shield wall. Their attempts were useless. The left side of the Norman army falls back, and the Saxons on that side follow – a foolish mistake.

These Saxons were surrounded and all killed. Both sides returned to their previous battle positions. The front line of the Saxons was now shorter, allowing the Normans to attack from the side. The Norman’s charged again at the shield wall and this time it collapsed and the Norman’s broke through. By this time Harold was dead, so his army retreated into the wood behind. This ended the Battle of Hastings. The next day Harold’s mother asked William for Harold’s body in exchange for his body weight in gold, but William refused. He said that his body should be buried in the land that he sought to guard.