Battle and Death of King Harold II on the 14th October 1066.
arold's men had been arriving all day in small groups on the 13th October 1066. These men had fought a battle on the 25th September, 260 miles to the north and were now expected to fight another only a few days later. Despite the hardship of it all, the troops morale must have been quite high. Having defeated Hardrada would have boosted their confidence, But not their numbers. Edwin and Morcar declined to help on this occasion, preferring to mind their business in the north. This lack of support severely reduced the numbers Harold would be able to use in the battle. How many veterans of Stamford Bridge were at Hastings is not known. It is clear that he recruited many of his force on the trip south. His soldiers came from as far a field as Somerset and Devon in the west and from Essex and Kent in the south east. Harold knew that a battle was inevitable as no form of dialogue to end the dilemma seems to have been made. Harold made the decision to fight William before he could consolidate any further. The location of the battle was chosen with care by Harold. Caldbec Hill was chosen for a number of reasons. Firstly it was well known in the area. It gave a natural advantage to anybody wishing to fight from there because of its natural all round visibility. It was easy to reach by road or track from London and was close ( possibly too close ) to William's position. By nightfall, at least 7500 men should have arrived. Made up of housecarls and fyrd, preparations were laid to challenge William as soon as possible. This would be indicative of Harold's impetuous nature. Why Harold chose to fight William the next day has always been something of a mystery. If he had waited another day for his full force to arrive, the outcome may have been totally different. Many theories have been put forward for this. Harold always had a reputation for being impetuous and impatient. He may also have been informed of atrocities carried out by William on the population, so wanted to conclude this battle sooner rather than later. His hand may have been forced when William was informed of Harold's arrival and pre-empted his first move. If Harold was nothing else he was his fathers son, a patriot through and through. His father defied the king when be refused to punish the people of Dover when they were abused by Eustace of Boulogne, and paid the consequences. The Godwin family were for the people.
Go On The Offensive
illiam had now been in Hastings for almost two weeks. Food must have been in short supply, so he had soon to make a decision. Should he wait for Harold to come to him, or should he break out and go on the offensive? The decision was made for him. He was not prepared to be trapped or starved into submission. No mention seems to have been made about re-provision by Sea. There was plenty of time for his ships to return home for supplies, conditions permitting. A theory has been put forward that William may have had his ships burned to stop desertion. He left his men in no doubt that this was a do or die expedition. The morning of the 14th October 1066 would be the culmination of a battle between two men who had politically and mentally been at war for many years.
Old Hoare Apple Tree
side knew the location of the other. Harold on Caldbec Hill and its rallying
point of the Old Hoare Apple Tree and William in Hastings. At first light,
William assembled his men and informed them of what was expected of them
through his generals. He would have had to send out his scouts to recall
the foraging parties. Many atrocities were committed in this area and we
can assume that foraging and ransacking went hand in hand. Prayers would
have been said throughout the night prior to setting out. Weapons would
have been sharpened and wagons loaded with armour and provisions. William's
men set off in a long column, due to the forest nature of the terrain at
that time. William must have been relieved that the situation was coming
to a conclusion as morale was possibly beginning to wane amongst the foot
soldiers, who were less concerned about moral crusades and promises of
wealth to the nobility, than staying alive.
from the Saxon position looking down towards the advancing Normans.
Where Else Can We Fight?
oday, we try to analyse the logic behind the battle tactics of Harold and William. We wonder why Harold chose Caldbec Hill. It was very close to William's position in Hastings, which left himself open to counter attack. William seeing his opportunity, pounced upon it immediately. He knew what happened to Harald Hardrada and Harold's surprise attack. He was not going to be caught the same way. Harold therefore could be accused of naiveté. For the reason mentioned above, his choice was considered appropriate for the tactics he must have had in mind. Even today this area is still very forested. The decision of where to have the battle may have been academic. It may have been the only piece of open ground in the area at that time large enough for the battle. Comments were made by chroniclers after the battle about how cramped the area was to stage such a thing. William's troops advanced to this open area, known today as Senlac Ridge. Located due south of Caldbec Hill, the natural terrain slopes south from Caldbec Hill to William's position. With natural depressions on either side and marshy ground and banks outside this area. It has always been considered an advantage to have the high ground, so Harold, in theory, was in the preferred location.
would have taken William and his men about 1.5 to 2 hours to march the
10 km north to Senlac Ridge from Hastings. Harold would have known that
William had departed, from information received from scouts he would have
sent out. Harold prepared for battle. William's force consisted of three
main forces. The Norman army, commanded by himself. The Bretons, commanded
by Alan Fergant and the Flemish army commanded by Eustace of Boulogne and
eeing William take the initiative must have come as a surprise to Harold. He totally miscalculated the invasion in the first place by dismissing his ships for the winter. Now he was being forced into battle before he was really ready. Before William could arrange his battle formation, he had to negotiate two streams and marshy ground that was between himself and the open battlefield. Once negotiated, his line was organized. Looking north, towards Caldbec Hill, the Bretons were on the left, the Flemish contingent were on the right and William's Normans were in the middle. Taking up normal battle ranks of archers in the front row. Depending on the length of the line, behind the archers would be six or seven rows of foot soldiers. Behind them, would be the cavalry. William would have set up his command post behind the cavalry.
Lull Before The Storm
o meet this challenge, Harold moved his men down from Caldbec Hill to within two hundred metres of William's position. The Saxon way of fighting was different to that of the Normans. The housecarls were in the front rank and were responsible for forming the shield wall. This would be particularly effective against the initial onslaught. Behind the housecarls were the fyrd or militia. Again, depending on the length of the line, would have been about ten deep. Harold set up his command post behind and centrally positioned to give him an elevated view of proceedings. The time would now have been about 09:30. In many of the battles through history of this type, there seems to have been a level of protocol that was adhered to prior to proceedings. Similar to a lull before a storm, a short period of recollection seems to occur followed by taunting of the opposition. The Saxon war cry was Ut,ut ( or out, out ), Godemite ( God Almighty ) and "Oli Crosse" ( Holy Cross ). The Normans would have responded in kind. The battle was about to begin.
A Minstrel Named Taillefer
the chronicler, Wace is to be believed, the battle commenced with a heroic
but foolhardy one man attack on the English line by a minstrel named Taillefer.
He was quickly cut down by the Saxon housecarls. This was the signal for
the battle to begin in earnest. As was traditional in Norman assaults,
the front row which consisted of archers, began to let loose their arrows
in a concentrated barrage. This resulted in a limited success, due to the
Saxon tactic of using the shield wall. This tactic had been developed by
Alfred the Great and had been used ever since. It protected the front row
of housecarls and the fyrd behind. The English had never used bows and
arrows in battle and therefore could not return fire. This became a problem
to William because it required an exchange of arrows to keep the ammunition
levels up. The Normans, soon ran out of arrows. This reduced his efficiency
somewhat. His archers were not attired for hand to hand conflict, nor were
they trained or expected to. Debate concerns whether crossbows were used
by William in the front row. They did exist but none are shown in the Bayeux
Tapestry. It is possible that they were used, but because they were so
deadly and accurate, they were frowned upon by the Church and were banned
in battles against Christian enemies. If they were used here, it is not
surprising that they do not appear on the Tapestry as it was commissioned
by Bishop Odo.
© copyright Glen Ray Crack -
Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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