Battle of Hastings begins the
by Jeff Provine
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icon to follow us on Twitter.the English Crown had been tossed into
the air, and three would-be kings fought to catch it. Edward the Confessor
had no son to take over the throne, which meant that less legitimate bids
for the throne could now be heard.
Harold Godwinson, the primary landowner in England, had the best claim to
the throne; he was proclaimed as such upon Edward's death and accepted by
the people. William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that Harold had sworn upon
holy relics to support him after being sent as an emissary from Edward in
years past to judge William as a successor. Harold denied the claim, but
it was enough to give William the blessing of the Church. King Harald III
of Norway also made a bid, saying that the crown belonged to him because
of an agreement with old King Harthacnut in the 1040s. It was the weakest
of the bids, but he was supported by Harold's brother Tostig. He had
already added Denmark to his realms, and England would make another
powerful Nordic nation.
"I am not certain that even this level of fighting
in England coupled with Norman adventurers (such as de Brus's forefathers)
gaining acendancy in Scotland would result in a full scale Scottish
conquest that." - reader's commentAfter a summer of staving off
William's fleet with an army on the Isle of Wight, Harold retired toward
London just in time to learn of Harald's invasion. He made a forced march
and met Harald's army at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, which had long been
Viking soil. Before the battle, Harold bravely, though covertly, rode up
to Harald and his brother Tostig, offering an earldom if Tostig would turn
on the Norwegian. Tostig asked what would be given to Harald, and the
rider, King Harold himself, replied, "Six feet of ground or as much more
as he needs, as he is taller than most men". The battle ensued, and Harold
won victory, killing both Tostig and Harald.
With the Norwegian army destroyed, Harold turned back south to face the
fleet of William, who had invaded as quickly as he had the chance. The
Norman had some 7000 men in his army, powerful knights and mercenaries.
Harold had a similar number, primarily ax men, and the advantage of
defense. Harold fortified a ridge at Hastings and readied their defensive
shield wall, which stopped the onslaught of Norman arrows, even those from
the cutting edge technology known as crossbows.
The Norman infantry charged uphill, and the English fought back, throwing
rocks and javelins. Unwounded by the barrage of arrows, the English held
firm and drove the Normans back. Harold's men, including his two surviving
brothers, began pursuit. In the confusion, William fell, but his
triumphant stand and tossing his helmet rallied his soldiers to
counter-attack. Harold's brothers were slain, and the Normans charged with
additional arrow barraged. William aimed directly for Harold, who realized
that he alone was the English heir to the throne with his brothers gone.
Norway had been deprived of its king in battle, and now England might,
"This would have had all sorts of knock-on
effects...just for starters, English would be a very different language if
this had happened; more like Flemish or Dutch, and with much less of a
Latinate/French overlay in vocabulary. And would the Normans stay away, or
come again?" - reader's commentCalling for a last desperate defense,
Harold began the retreat. The rearguard took heavy casualties from the
Norman knights, who took up pursuit until they were caught on steep ground
in the night and were slaughtered in ambush at the Malfosse or "Bad
Ditch". The Normans had won the battle, but Harold and the English were
still a force. Morale sank, but Harold reminded his men that they had lost
to Harald at Fulford and then smashed him at Stamford Bridge. He who had
bravely rode up alone to face Harald would lead them to victory no matter
how many battles it took.
William pressed, sending Harold from Sussex back to London, but the
campaign season ended as winter came on. The Normans took losses from
dysentery, with even William himself falling ill, but fresh troops arrived
from across the English Channel. Harold called up reinforcements himself,
attempting to unite the English in defense, but many nobles held that the
dispute was a family matter between Harold and William. Some nobles
politicked with Normandy over the winter and became supporters of William.
In spring, war resumed in what many called William's War or the
Anglo-Norman War. Harold had the home-field advantage while William had
international support from the Church's blessing. The armies checked one
another, devastating southern England and at one point even driving Harold
as far as Chester. Finally, in 1072, Harold drove William from England
back across the Channel.
The war had been won, but it had crippled England. Normandy survived with
enormous debts, but whole towns of England had been put to the torch.
While they would rebuild and grow in strength, they would be outpaced by
their Celtic neighbors to the north with the rise of Robert the Bruce in
1306. His brother Edward became king of Ireland in 1316, affirming his
position in 1318 by handily defeating an army of Irish lords backed by the
English at the Battle of Faughart. In later wars with the English, the
Bruce would add Wales to their holdings and eventually merge the clans
under one crown in the Gaelic Union.
The English were pushed farther and farther southeast until they were
something of a republican city-state around London ruled by their
says in reality Alfred was killed at Hastings. William would march on
London and be crowned king on Christmas Day. Normans would achieve noble
control over the Saxons, beginning the complicated mix of language and
culture that eventually gave us the fluid modern English.
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