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Letter 21

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Another question. At the time of the fatal arrow, I have read that the
Norman archers deliberately fired two shots in quick succession.
One was at a high angle (that arched high into the sky) and then
one was fired closer to horizontal. They theory was that both arrived
at the same time and Harold's men had the choice of protecting
themselves with their wooden shields against the arrow coming from
above or the arrow coming from closer to horizontal. Either way,
they were doomed.

This tactic sounds rather fanciful to me. It sounds like something
that would be made up after the fact to enhance the legend of
William the Bastard, er Conqueror. I had never read of this tactic
before, but most of the time, the archers were placed far enough
from the enemy so that ALL shots would have had to be taken at a
relatively high angle. The fact that both sides were so close at
Hastings (or Battle or wherever) means that it could have taken
place, but I believe that it either did not take place or it was an

If it did take place, whoever thought of it was a genius and it should
have made it a regular battle tactic. It would also be incredible luck
to have the archers try it without practice and get it right the first
time after several hours of exhausting battle. In trying it out for
myself (many years ago) with a modern 40# recurve bow (not
historical, but probably not far different from the strength of the bows
used then--remember, they were not longbows yet) I was able to
pick up the technique fairly quickly, but the arrows were not
anywhere near each other the first try. In a mass volley, this
probably would not be that important, but how many arrows would
they have had left by then?

Brilliant battle strategy, dumb luck, or fanciful story? Who knows.

Dear Everett.

Your question is one which can be argued about for some time. The
premise that the battle was fought where it was has been
questioned by a number of people. Certain historical factors indicate
that it was fought on a hill that was much steeper than the actual
battle site is today. This is after taking the earthworks that must
have been carried out to build the abbey. This leads us to the
assumption that it may have been elsewhere in the area. I have
certain ideas which will be added to the main text later. Assuming a
steeper hill, imagine Harold having the higher ground,as he did.
Before him were his troops and shield wall. Harold's command post
would have been very visible. It would not have taken much of a
change of bow angle to fire above the shield wall.It would probably
only needed to have been about 5degrees higher. If the battle field
was indeed where it is claimed to have been today, A greater effort
would have had to be made to fire over the wall. The arrows would
have lost a great amount of momentum on the way down. If Harold
sustained an injury from one such arrow, it was probably by more
luck than judgement. It is also doubtful that he was hit in the eye.
The death of Harold was probably by the sword as stated in my text.

The question of strategy is interesting. William was close to losing
this battle during the mid afternoon. He had to do something
different. He had these archers who were still fresh after the initial
barrage. Your comment about a shortage of arrows stems from the
mistakes made in earlier battles by various invaders against Saxon
troops. I feel William knew full well the way the Saxons fought and
would not have made the mistake of not having enough arrows, even
if modern accounts tend to stick to this theory. If this fact of running
out of arrows was so, how could this last barrage happen?

Norman propaganda was developing to a fine art at this time. From
attaining the Papal blessing to disputing the right of Harold to ever
having a claim to the English throne in the first place. As stated in
the introduction, you have to read between the lines to come up with
a scenario that makes sense. It is even worse when you live here
and know the area well.

Glen Crack.


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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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