|The Battle of Hasting
|Part of The Failed Conquest|
The English defending a hill during the battle of Hastings
|Commanders and leaders|
|Harold the warrior||William the Second|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Hastings, also known as The Battle for England, or William's Folly, was a brief but decisive conflict between the English, led by Harold, and the Normans, led by William. The most common name, The Battle of Hastings, is somewhat of a misnomer - it was not a battle, but rather a brief war. The misunderstanding is justified, however, as the Battle of Hastings itself is the most famous and most destructive part of the conflict.
Whatever you call it, the conflict was probably one of the most decisive in history, right up there with the Grand War. If Harold had failed, England would have almost certainly fallen to William, and English culture would have fallen with it. Additionally, had events gone differently, many nations that were formed as an indirect result of the conflict would have never formed, and history would have been changed completely.
William Duke of Normandy, had set his sights on England. Wanting to conquer it, he gathers an army of 8000 and on September 28th, set sail for England. Upon arrival, he began to ravage the landscape, even winning a few battles against local nobles. With Harold and much of them English army in the north, William had plenty of time and plenty of space to make sure any confrontation would be on his own terms. He began to build a temporary wooden castle as his headquarters with temporary barracks erected nearby. He also began to pay off local farmers and merchants to keep an eye on any aggressive movements the English might make.
Meanwhile, as William sought to secure the South, Harold was returning from securing the north. He had just defeated a major Norse attack, and had gone to London to recover from the battle, leaving the bulk of his army behind. However, upon learning that William had landed an army in England, he quickly began to rally an army from around London, and called his existing troops down from York. By the time his troops arrived, William had been in England for almost a month, and was pretty dug in. However, Harold had an army more than twice the size of Williams, and with this in mind, the English began to march south.
As he marched south, Harold used William's tactic of paying off locals to his advantage, gathering informants and making sure they gave false reports to William. By doing this, Harold ensured any reports that got back to William vastly understated the size of the English army. After only about a week of marching, Harold's army moved into position to attack the next day on the night of October 7th. Wanting to conceal the true size of his army until the very last moment, Harold stationed more than half his army almost a mile behind him. With this setup, Harold and the English were ready to try and take back their nation.
The Battle of Hastings
On the morning of October 8th, Harold had his army roused early, probably by three or four in the morning. After a brief meal, 8000 of the 18,000 English troops marched about a mile to a hill nearby. By 6 in the morning, their position was solid, and they began a bombardment William's temporary castle. Because the castle could serve as shelter for no more than 2000 of William's force, the bombardment forced William's hand. By seven in the morning, the two armies were assembled, and faced each other down.
The first charge was William's initial charge against Harold. About 900 mounted troops charged the English. Harold, who had left most of his mounted troops behind, was forced to deploy all 400 of his mounted fighters. The two forces met at the middle of the field, where after 10 minutes of fighting, the remaining English force, perhaps 150 men, half with horse retreated, leaving about 450 Norman troops for the main assault. The assault came crashing into the center of the English line, causing light casualties, but being repulsed within 10 minutes.
After the first charge The English were essentially emptied of mounted troops, While the Normans had upwards of 1800. With this in mind, at about 8:00, William began to move his army forward, supported by the horses on the flanks. At this point, the armies were pretty evenly matched in size. The English army, however, was much less diversified. They had about the same amount of archers, but other than that, the English were mostly Swordsman and Spearmen, while the Normans still had cavalry, and probably a significant contingent of axe men.
The armies collided at around 8:30. Moments before the Normans had arrived, the English had plunged their army down the hill. While they still maintained the high ground, this significantly blunted the advantage of the horse, but also guaranteed hours of bloody combat. for hours, chaos reigned. The horses gave the Normans an advantage on the flanks, but the English position and their weakness in the middle made it impossible to profit from this.
As the battle wore on, William's mounted troops started to fall - forced to dismount, or otherwise removed from combat. This gave the English a huge advantage. They had more troops on the ground, and a stronger center. By 10:00, the Normans had lost almost all of their cavalry, and it was starting to look like a rout. William, desperate and fighting a losing battle, pulled his army back, leaving the English to control the hill.
At this point, both sides had about 7000 men in fighting shape left on the battlefield. Both were out of any significant number of cavalry, and it is doubtful either side had any horses by this point, except for perhaps officers. Because of this, the pace of the battle slowed, and until noon, it was more of a skirmish, with around 500 men on each side engaging.
As the day wore on, it became apparent to William that this was a battle he could not win, but one he couldn't afford to lose. By 1:00, he realized his only option was a final stand - he needed to put Harold off balance to escape an recoup, but given the current situation, that might be an impossibility. Unbeknownst to him, William had one more thing to worry about - on both his flanks, 5000 fresh English troops lay in wait, ready to attack.
After about another hour of skirmishes, William had his army form up and begin marching toward the English position. Much to his surprise, instead of waiting for him to arrive, the English charged straight at his army, apparently to meet him in the middle. The English force slammed into William's army, causing upheaval on both sides.
Only then did the 10,000 English troops Harold had left behind break their cover and charge in on either side of the Norman army. Taken of guard and grossly outnumbered, the Normans had no chance to fend off this assault. After less than ten minutes of fighting, the Norman formation broke, the English in close pursuit. While the English had undoubtedly won the battle at this point, a crucial mistake was made in the pursuit of the Normans.
Harold himself led the charge, riding in front of his army. This meant when the English caught up to the back of the Norman army, Harold found himself and was thrown off his horse. While he survived this endeavor, he would go missing until the conclusion of the war, allowing Edgar to take the throne, and inciting the English civil war. Some even argue this made the English the "losers" of this battle - ultimately, they were indeed worse off as a result. For all practical purposes though, the English won the battle.
Besides that obvious loss of Harold, the day was very successful for the English. The English lost around 2500 men to death or wounds, While the Normans lost about 2000, with 800 of their troops captured to boot. William's remaining 4700 troops were spread apart, with as little as 2000 actually near William. By this point, William's invasion was basically an abject failure, and his only goal was to get his troops of the island.
Following William's defeat at Hasting, his army was spread across southern England, While the English army, now under control of Leofwine and Gyrth, was in one location and began to hunt down the remainder of the Normans. The fighting that too place was minimal, and William mostly tried to get his army together to make his escape. None of the fighting included more than around 1000 people on both sides, and because of this, casualties were low.
The major conflict after the battle of Hastings came after much of the fighting had concluded, and William was preparing to leave. Much of his army was assembled hear were he landed, and the English army was closing in. With no plausible way to fight the English onslaught, William was forced to start boarding his troops onto the boats they arrived on. However, at the same time, Gyrth led a small force around the Norman army.
Upon arriving at the shore, Gyrth and his force of perhaps 500 troops began to set dozens of Norman ships ablaze. Before the army could even react, they had retreated back to English lines. While about half the ships were saved, many had been lit in the first place, and thus a large portion of William's army was left without transportation. This created a mad rush for the non-burned ships, effectively doing the job of the English army for them.
The English army didn't even attack, and William escaped with 3,500 of his men left, though many were wounded. The remaining 1,200 or so Normans were captured by the English army. This effectively destroyed William's chances of ever taking over England, and largely discredited him across Europe. The 500 German mercenaries that remained, along with many Normans, abandoned William, leaving him with just 2,500 loyal troops.
William, with only a fraction of his army remaining, knew he would not be accepted again as Duke of Normandy. Instead, he sailed west to Norway, where he requested the protection of Olaf III. The Norse king accepted, and made William part of his court, thus sowing the seeds of an eventual Norman dynasty in Norway. This would shape the future of Norway, Sweden, and even Scotland, and would lead to the eventual creation of the famed Northern Empire.
Meanwhile, in England, Edgar ascended the throne after the supposed death of Harold. After executing all 2,000 of the captured Norman soldiers, he dispersed the army Harold had raised. Harold would eventually be discovered in a field hospital put together in Kent, and after Edgar refused to resign his crown to Harold, the English Civil war would start. Essentially, after fighting to save England from invaders, Harold would have to fight to save his crown from Edgar.