POD: 14/10/1066, 10:34 Harold Godwinson seethes with rage as he watches the Normans dispatch the last of the ill-disciplined troops from his right flank, who had foolishly pursued the fleeing Bretons down into the marshy ground below Caldbeck hill. He resolves to dispatch his Brother Leofwine to that flank, with a handful of hand-picked huscarles, to keep the rabble in line. As an afterthought he sends his brother Gyrth to the left to prevent the same thing happening there. A young Devon Briton, Maelcun ap Geront, is amongst Gyrth's contingent. He would later write the only first hand account of the battle.
As Gyrth and Leofwine take position, an accurate but ineffectual barrage of arrows is fired at the English lines. Very few casualties.
The Normans send wave after wave of cavalry crashing into the English lines. The huge danish axes of the English (a mixture of Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Danes and Anglo-Britons, with a few Irish exiles thrown in for good measure) bring down horses and men and cause terrible carnage, particularly amongst the Breton and Flemish contingents, who always seem to be ordered to the areas of strongest defence. Many now believe that William was attempting to lure the best troops down on to lower ground in pursuit of his weakest troops, in effect trying to "buy a wicket". Leofwine, Gyrth and Harold ensure calm prevails and the Normans are forced to keep bringing the battle to the English, secure on the hilltop. Casualties are high on the English side, but Duke William's men have lost a fifth of their strength.
William leads a charge at a weak point in the wall, just left of the English centre. It is a serious misjudgment. He loses half his bodyguards and takes 20 minutes fighting for his life to extricate himself. Only a simultaneous attack by the Flemish on the English left stops him being surrounded and killed.
Seeing the need to support William. Eustace of Boulogne leads the battered and tired Flemish knights in an attack on the English left flank, commanded by Gyrth Godwinson. According to Maelcun, who claims to have been present in the fierce melee, Gyrth sees the Papal standard at the back of the attacking group and attempts to hack a path through to the count. With his picked men Gyrth drives forward to his objective and, just as the Flemish seem ready to retreat again, finds himself looking up at the side profile of the count, sword in hand and with his right arm raised to strike. At that moment a Dubliner (apparently of North African ancestry) called Ceannath Dhu Struck the counts horse in the head with his axe. The count fell, dropping the standard, and was probably dispatched by Ceanneth or a Wessexman called Edmund. The Flemish retreat in disarray. But amazingly Gyrth has the presence of mind to hold the line before the pursuit has gone too far. The standard is taken to Harold by Edmund of Ebsfleet.
William tries to rally his own men and the fleeing Flemish to the right of the English line. The Flemish have seen their leader hacked down and have born the brunt of the attacks, they can't be stopped. Another Charge is underway led by Alan Fergent on the Norman left. About this time Harold raises the Papal banner and the Bretons start to break. Bishop Odo is in the centre, with the Norman infantry and some cavalry. The archers are shifting to the back, and will run if they have the chance.
Harold throws caution to the wind as the Bretons break. He orders a charge down the valley, gambling that the Flemish are out of the picture. The screaming English pursue the Bretons and Odo charges to meet them. The archers bolt, as do sections of the infantry. Odo's cavalry are smashed by sheer numbers and the infantry deteriorates into scattered pockets of resistance. William rejoins the battle with what Norman troops will follow him, but flees after the death of Odo.
14/10/1066, until nightfall
Half the Norman Army was destroyed. Of that which remained the majority were militarily useless archers who had run early and Breton and Flemish knights. There was no longer an army, just terrified men, left to their own devices, their ships blockaded in Hastings harbour. With no hope of escape, contingents of knights were trapped on enemy soil awaiting capture.
A group of Flemish mercenaries see a chance to make good their escape. Meeting their former master fleeing the battlefield, they kill William's two remaining bodyguards and take him prisoner. A Frisian man-at-arms is sent to Harold's camp to offer fealty and William in exchange for safe passage home. Harold accepts their conditions and William is in his power the next day.
William is handed over by the Flemings, who are escorted to London by a detachment of fyrdmen. New detachments of fyrdmen and better trained troops from the midlands arrive throughout the day.A brutal mopping up operation gets underway. Very few of William's army will see their homes again, the Normans will pay dearly for the ravaging of Sussex.
The dejected, wounded William and the furious Harold talk for two hours in Harold's tent. The two men have a fierce argument in French. In attendance are Maelcun and Ceanneth Dhu. Specifically chosen as guards for their loyalty and their complete unfamiliarity with the French language. The two warlords argue fiercely and at the end of the interview Harold strikes William down with his dagger. Maelcun will later write that he "would forget all the words I have heard in my 70 years to understand their speech. For I believe that all of my fortune, and the fortune of this Island, rested upon it."
Duke William is buried in a mass grave near the battlefield. Free ranging bands of horsemen still cause a problem for the English, along with the well provisioned, largely Breton force trapped, but well fortified in the Roman camp at Pevensey. Harold leaves Gyrth in command in Sussex, and before the end of the month he has eliminated all resistance outside the fort. The Bretons negotiate safe passage with Harold's brother and are ferried to the Channel Islands by Edric, commander of the fleet. All horses, armour and weapons are retained by Gyrth.
Harold is, at the end of the campaigning season, undisputed master of England. He returns in weary triumph to London. Morkar and Edwin, the Earls of Northumbria and Mercia, recognise him publicly as rightful king, and swear an oath to that effect in London. They are perhaps ashamed that in the past few months Harold has defeated two fearsome enemies, when they have succeeded only in losing their best men being defeated by Harald Hardrada.
Harold calls together the Witan at the end of the month, and proposes a few changes.
When the extent of the defeat becomes known in Normandy, the province is rocked by unrest. William's son Robert is technically now Duke of Normandy, but he is, along with his brother Richard, now the ward of Phillip of France, a child. France, Normandy and Picardy all now have weak central leadership leaving local warlords in charge. The only thing that stops a descent into total chaos is the fact that most of the region's armed thugs are dead in Sussex.
Pope Alexander excommunicates Harold, for his alleged mistreatment of the Papal banner and his massacre of the Normans. Both the King and Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are now outside the community of the church.
The Witan assembles in London, from all corners of England. The assembly is more complete than the Ad hoc Witan which proclaimed Harold king, including Northumbrian and Mercian earls and thanes, churchmen from all over the kingdom and even Harold's formidable mother, Gytha.
Harold's Fighting Man banner (based on the priapic giant of Cerne, Dorsaete) and the bloodied Papal standard adorn the hall of Westminster Abbey, where the debates are held. These banners are a reminder to all present that Harold has succeeded where others, notably Earls Morkar and Edwin have failed. He has defended his new kingdom against two foreign princes, using only his personal retinue of troops and the Fyrd.
Harold is rapidly becoming a folk hero, songs and poems are composed in his honour in England and Scandinavia. He has the political capital to push through reforms. His basic argument is that the nation was only saved from Norwegian expansionism or worse, French-Style absolutism, by his own bravery. He states that the only guarantee that England can survive another summer like the one gone is the introduction of strategic permanent garrisons, loyal only to the king. Uproar ensues and many of the northern representatives are on the point of marching out. But a compromise motion is suggested by Ealdred, Bishop of York, the Garrisons are to be commanded not by the king, but by the Witan. Therefore any use, except the immediate defence of the realm in face of foreign invasion, must be authorised by the Witan.
Harold approves of this on the basis that he can select and remove the commanders of the garrisons. The locations selected for these forts are Leeds, Lancaster, Meols near Chester, Ludlow, Ely, Ipswich, Canterbury, Dover, Pevensey, Maiden Castle and Exeter. It is decided that there will be Castles built on these sites, similar to those unserved by Harold in Normandy two years earlier, and mounted knights will be trained at these locations. The Flemish knights who betrayed William are offered the position of Cavalry instructors to the Witan Host.
The Witan has instituted the only Christan standing army west of Byzantium.
All northern Europe shivers by the fire. In hovels, halls and castles the talk is of the coming campaigning season, and the death and havoc it must bring.