Battle of Hastings
In the 800's and 900's AD, the Vikings attacked the English and French
coasts, and eventually were allowed to settle in East Anglia by King
Alfred the Great, and also in Northern France by the French King. The
area they were given in France was named Normandy(The land of the North Men)
Duke William of Normandy aged 24 at the time, was recieved
into the court of Edward the Confessor as a guest. He was a distant blood
relative, and during the visit it is widely believed that Edward named
William as his sucessor. This Norman influence was opposed by the Saxon
nobility, especially Godwin of Wessex, who forced Edward to remove most
of his Norman Councillors.
The Godwin's influence increased throughout Edwards reign, and the king
married Earl Godwin's daughter Edith. Earl Godwin died in 1053, and his
son Harold inherited the title, and became the kings chief advisor.
In 1066 Edward the Confessor died, and the Saxon nobility had managed to
manouver Edward into naming Harold as his successor.
Events in 1066
Early April 1066 saw Halleys Comet return, and the Saxons saw this as
a dark portent of things to come.
Harold's brother Tostig wanted the throne, and he allied himself with King
Harold Hardrada of Norway. Now King Harold had a problem at both ends of
his kingdom. In the North an invasion by the Scandinavians, and in the
South by William. The Normans were a greater threat than the Norwegians
so along the South coast of England were set up watching posts.
By the middle of August 1066 , William had amassed his forces, had
his mission blessed by the Pope, and was waiting favourable winds
to blow his troops towards England.
The winds continued to blow from the East and North East, and Tostig
and Harold Hardrada took advantage of this and landed on the Humber
Estuary in early September. They defeated a Saxon force at Gate Fulford,
and marched on York. King Harold took his troops north, and surprised
and defeated the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge on September 25th 1066.
However the winds had now changed direction, and William was able to
sail across the channel, starting from St Valery in the evening of
27th September , and landing in the morning of the 28th September near
to Pevensey possibly towards North Eye and Hooe or perhaps into the
sheltered valley at Bulverhythe . The area now known as
Normans Bay would have been underwater at the time.
The Normans camped where they landed, and it is believed that they built
a small wooden pre-fabricated fort for protection. News of the landing
sped its way to Harold, who ordered his forces to march the 197 miles to
London by October 6th. He only paused to let his troops rest, and then
continued to march the further 50 miles towards Hastings to try to
surprise the Normans.
By the evening of October 13th the Saxons made their camp at Caldbec Hill
which is where the Windmill is located in Battle .
The Norman scouts had seen the Saxon's arrive, so Harold's plans to surprise
the Normans had failed.
Saturday 14th October dawned, and the Normans had already marched from their
base originally thought to be Hastings, but it is possible that it could have
been at Bulverhythe to the west, or even as far as Hooe . The Hooe option is
possible, as legend has it that Standard Hill at Ninfield was the place where
William's Standard was located, and this would have been unlikely if the
Norman's were based at Hastings .
Harold deployed his troops along the top of Senlac Ridge, about 10 men deep
for about 1/2 mile in a shield wall. It is believed that about 7000 Saxons
were involved, but these troops may have been weary from their forced march
from Yorkshire making them less effective.
The Normans were about the same in number, but they had a few advantages.
They used chain mail covered mounted cavalry, whereas the Saxons knights
dismounted before battle.
They also had time to rest before the battle, and as many were mercenaries
were very keen to win.
At about 9.00am William attacked the shield wall up the hill, and the battle
raged for a number of hours, with no apparent effect on the wall.
The Breton mounted knights on the left flank of William's forces had been
unable to have any effect, and demoralised, they ran, leaving the
Norman centre exposed. At the same time rumours of Williams death went through
the French lines. The Saxon part time soldiers, the fyrdsmen to the right of
Harolds force ignored orders and chased the retreating cavalry. William who was
still alive, took off his helmet and rode up and down his Battle line. This
rallied the Bretons who turned on their pursuers and slaughtered them.
William decided that this was a good tactical manouver, and arranged for his
troops to attack and feign retreat. This worked and more of the less disciplined
Saxons fell to his plans. This now left the House Carls and Theins, the Saxon
regular soldiers as Harolds defenders. The Normans attacked again and this time
Harold was hit in the eye with an arrow, causing a very serious wound. The Saxons
continued to defend Harold but were eventually cut down.
The remaining Saxons retreated into the surrounding woodland, but were pursued
until it became dark. During this time many of the Norman knights chasing the
Saxons fell into a deep ravine (known by the French as the Malfosse - evil ditch)
and were slaughtered. It is likely that this is part of the Ashbourne valley
close to current Ashburnham , Netherfield and Penhurst near an old hill fort
in Creep Wood, or perhaps further inland at Ticehurst .
There is an excellent reference site with a lot of background research that shows
that the Normans could have landed at the present Bulverhythe
of the Norman Invasion the author is Nick Austin.