By Tim Lambert
In 1066 Harold was king of England but William of Normandy claimed the throne. Harald Hardrada, king of Norway, also claimed it. He sailed to Yorkshire with 10,000 men in 300 ships. The Earls of Northumbria and Mercia attacked him but they were defeated. However, King Harold marched north with another army. He took the Norwegians by surprise and routed them at Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066. That ended any threat from Norway.
Meanwhile, the Normans built a fleet of ships to transport their men and horses across the Channel. They landed in Sussex at the end of September. the Normans then plundered English farms for food. They also burned houses. Harold rushed to the south coast. He arrived with his men on 13 October.
The Anglo-Saxon army was made up of the housecarles, the king’s bodyguard. They wore coats of chain mail called hauberks. Kite-shaped shields protected them. However, most Anglo-Saxon soldiers had no armor only axes and spears, and round shields. They fought on foot. Their normal tactic was to form a ‘shield wall’ by standing side by side. However, the Anglo-Saxons had no archers.
Norman knights fought on horseback. They wore chainmail and carried kite-shaped shields. They fought with lances, swords, and maces. Some Normans fought on foot protected by chainmail, helmets, and shields. The Normans also had a force of archers.
The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066. The Anglo-Saxons were assembled on Senlac Hill. The Normans formed below them. Both armies were divided into 3 wings. William also divided his army into 3 ranks. At the front were archers, in the middle soldiers on foot then mounted knights.
The Norman archers advanced and loosed their arrows but they had little effect. The foot soldiers advanced but they were repulsed. The mounted knights then charged but they were unable to break the Anglo-Saxon shield wall. Then the Anglo-Saxons made a disastrous mistake. Foot soldiers and knights from Brittany fled. Some of the Anglo-Saxons broke the formation and followed them. The Normans then turned and attacked the pursuing Anglo-Saxons. They annihilated them. According to a writer called William of Poitiers, the Anglo-Saxons made the same mistake twice. Seeing Normans flee for a second time some men followed. The Normans turned and destroyed them.
The battle was now lost. Harold was killed with all his housecarles. The surviving Saxons melted away. William captured Dover and Canterbury. Finally, he captured London and he was crowned king of England on 25 December 1066. The Anglo-Saxon era was over.