Battle of Hastings

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Battle of Hastings
Section of the Bayeux tapestry
Section of the Bayeux tapestry
date October 14, 1066
place Near Hastings , East Sussex, on the English south coast
output Victory of the Normans
consequences William conquered England and was crowned king
Parties to the conflict




Wilhelm I.

Harald II.

Troop strength
approx. 7000 men approx. 7500 men

about 2000 men

approx. 2000 men, including King Harald II.

Goals: Wilhelm fights for his claim to the English crown

The Battle of Hastings took place on October 14, 1066 and was the first military success of the French Normans in conquering England . The Norman army under Duke Wilhelm the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons under their King Harald II.


Since 1042 the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor ruled over England. During the expansion of the empire, he oriented himself towards the tightly organized Duchy of Normandy in France , where he had spent several years before his coronation. Eduard established an English central administration, which he occupied with numerous Normans. This provoked resistance from the Anglo-Saxon nobility, led by the influential Godwin of Wessex . Eduard died childless on January 5, 1066 and shortly before his death had bowed to the nobility and determined Harald Godwinson , Godwin's second son, to be his heir to the throne. The Witan , the highest council of the Anglo-Saxons consisting of nobles and clergy, confirmed Edward's decision by electing Harald Godwinson as heir to the throne. He was crowned the new King of England as Harald II.

Harald II was challenged for the title of king after a short time. His brother Tostig laid claim to the crown, with the support of the Norwegian King Harald Hardråde . Like the Danes , the Norwegians had made campaigns of conquest against the British Isles since the 9th century, temporarily occupying parts of England. Harald Hardråde also wanted to come to the English throne or at least, with Tostig, help a well-meaning Anglo-Saxon to the title of king. The Norman Duke Wilhelm also made claims to the English throne shortly after Edward's death. He relied on an alleged promise that Eduard is said to have given him during his long stay in Normandy. In addition, a few years before his coronation, Harald Godwinson took an oath, with which he swore allegiance to Wilhelm and renounced the title of king. However, this oath is only mentioned in Norman sources, so that it is questionable whether it was actually taken. In order to give his claim to the English throne greater legitimacy, Wilhelm turned to Pope Alexander II. He presented Harald Godwinson's commitment to the Church as inadequate and convinced the Pope to give the blessing to Wilhelm's campaign to England. In the spring of 1066 Wilhelm began organizing his campaign. With the help of Norman experts from southern Italy , he had a large transport fleet built and recruited numerous fighters in Brittany , Flanders and Picardy . Several French nobles joined William in the hope of acquiring English lands.

Tostig began a campaign against his brother Harald II in May 1066 by raiding the Isle of Wight . From there he went in June with his followers to the east coast of England, where there was a fight against a contingent under Edwin von Mercia and Baldur XII. came from Børneland . Tostig was defeated and fled to Scotland , where he waited for Harald Hardråde and his army to arrive. Harald II had meanwhile been informed of an impending invasion by the French Normans and in July sent his fleet to guard the English south coast. Their supplies were exhausted on September 8th, so she had to return to the port of London. In this situation, Harald II learned that 300 Norwegian ships under Harald Hardråde had arrived on the Yorkshire coast . Together, Tostig and Harald Hardråde went on a campaign through northern England, where they defeated a local militia at Gate Fulford on September 20 . Harald II was now forced to act and went with his army on a forced march north, leaving the south of his kingdom unprotected. On September 25, the decisive battle of Stamford Bridge between Harald II and his opponents took place northeast of York . Tostig and Harald Hardråde were defeated and both fell in battle. On October 1st, Harald II had to find out that an enemy army under Duke Wilhelm of Normandy had landed in southern England.

Taking advantage of the fact that the Anglo-Saxon warships had been anchored in the port of London since September 8th, Wilhelm's fleet set out from Dives-sur-Mer a few weeks later and arrived unhindered in Pevensey on the southern English coast on September 28th . Before that, unfavorable winds had prevented him from crossing over for weeks. Wilhelm stationed around 1,000 foot soldiers in the city and, after several days of pillaging the surrounding area, went to Hastings with the rest of the army . In the meantime, Harald II had made another forced march with the uninjured soldiers of his army from York to London . Within a few days, Harald II set up a Fyrd , which was the Anglo-Saxon militia. Then he set out with his army for Hastings. Harald's plan was to arrest the Norman invaders on the peninsula there. To this end, he and his fighters took up position on October 13 on Senlac Hill, northwest of Hastings, near today's city of Battle . On the morning of October 14th the Norman army arrived in front of the hill and got into order.


Battle of Hastings (illustration from the Bayeux Tapestry )
The battle formation
The battlefield seen from the north

The Anglo-Saxon contingent of Harald II consisted mostly of fighters of the Fyrd , who were mostly simple farmers with little experience of fighting. The core of the army was made up of the huscarle , also called housecarle, heavily armored foot soldiers who were protected by chain armor and long shields and fought with large battle axes . In the battle of Stamford Bridge about 1000 huscarles had been killed or wounded, so that Harald II could only fall back on 2000 of them, who were supported by over 5000 Fyrd fighters. In addition, there was the personal roster of the Danish renegade Ole Ejnarsen and his brother Jens from approx. 500 heavy Huscarlen, who had offered themselves to the army for 400 marks of Luebian silver. The Anglo-Saxon army consisted of no horsemen and few archers , which is why it took an extremely defensive stance.

According to popular opinion, Harald drew from the top of Caldbec Hill towards the Normans on Senlac Hill .

The Anglo-Saxons formed a thick shield wall on Senlac Hill or Courtback Hill , which offered protection from arrows and cavalry attacks. The first rows of the shield wall were supplemented by the experienced huscarle, who were supposed to guarantee the unity of the formation. Many Anglo-Saxons were armed with spears , which made an attack on their shield wall even more difficult.

Duke Wilhelm divided his army into three formations. The Norman fighters positioned themselves in the center, while the Bretons under Count Alain de Bretagne formed the left wing. The right wing of Wilhelm’s army consisted of a Franco-Flemish contingent under Eustace II of Boulogne and Roger II de Montgomery , whose participation in the battle is not unequivocally proven. Wilhelm's contingent was about 7,000 men, among whom were 2,000 to 3,000 heavy riders. They were armed with chain armor, nasal helmets and long shields and fought with lances , swords and maces . Most of the riders were members of the Norman nobility. The use of stirrups gave them special clout , which enabled them to gallop towards an opponent with their lance without being thrown from the horse by the impact. The Norman army was supplemented by numerous archers. In addition, crossbowmen were used by the Normans for the first time on a European battlefield .

Late in the morning, Norman archers and crossbowmen opened the battle by shooting their arrows and bolts at the Anglo-Saxon shield wall. Most, however, flew past the Anglo-Saxons or got stuck in their shields. The Anglo-Saxons did not fire back because they had lost most of the archers in the battle against Harald Hardråde. Now Wilhelm sent a group of around 50 people to get new arrows (normally the enemy arrows were reused). This was followed by an assault by the Norman foot soldiers, which also failed on the shield wall. Nor was the Norman cavalry able to assert itself and had to withdraw. In this situation it was rumored that Wilhelm had fallen. The Normans' left flank then began to retreat. Motivated by this retreat, some Anglo-Saxons left the protective shield wall and chased after the Normans. Wilhelm pushed his nasal helmet high over his forehead, with which he revealed himself and saved the morale of his army. He managed to restore the lines of battle and rode to counter-attack. His troops ricocheted off the shield wall again, but slaughtered all the English who had left the shield wall.

Wilhelm learned quickly and had his army simulate a retreat once more in order to overcome the shield wall. This tactic had previously been used by Harald II at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Again, as before, numerous Anglo-Saxons were tricked into leaving the shield wall in order to pursue them.

hAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST: "King Harold has been killed."

The Norman horsemen turned again to ride down their opponents. With this tactic, first the right, then the left wing of the Anglo-Saxon shield wall was disordered. This was followed by hours of hand-to-hand fighting, in which the Normans were slowly able to assert themselves through the gaps in the opposing shield wall. Towards evening only Harald II and his best huscars offered serious resistance until he was killed in another attack by Norman horsemen. With the death of Harald II, the Fyrd fighters were released from their duties and fled the battlefield. The Huscarle continued to fight tough battles with the Normans until they too had to withdraw.


Memorial plaque at Hastings

The Battle of Hastings was Wilhelm's first and most important success in his conquest of England , which he completed by 1071. He was crowned King of England as William I on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey and subsequently secured his rule by building numerous forts . Most of the Anglo-Saxon nobles were expropriated and replaced by Normans. Wilhelm established a Norman central administration and created an English feudal system with a league oath ( Salisbury Oath ). Norman French became the language of the English upper class, administration and judiciary, but the vast majority of the population continued to speak Anglo-Saxon . In the 14th century, against the backdrop of the Hundred Years War, the Anglo-Saxon language prevailed again, but in a form that was greatly changed by numerous Norman-French terms ( Middle English ). The Norman kings ruled England until 1154. They were replaced by the house of Anjou-Plantagenet , also from France . In the 1070s, the 70-meter-long Bayeux Tapestry was the most important contemporary document on the Battle of Hastings. This tapestry may have been commissioned by Wilhelm's half-brother, Bishop Odo von Bayeux . Odo also took part directly in the battle, as is shown several times on the carpet. The death of King Harald II is also depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry (see above).

The placement of the corresponding text leaves open whether it refers to the Anglo-Saxon who is struck by an arrow in the eye or to another who is struck down by a Norman horseman. According to the artistic conventions of the time, depicting the death of a king struck by a simple archer's arrow was impossible. But Wilhelm did not recognize Harald's kingship. So it is likely that he - as the customer of the carpet - wanted exactly this representation as documentation of his opinion.

A later (not contemporary) Norman chronicler describes the end of Harald II as follows: The Anglo-Saxon king got an arrow in the eye and was then struck down with a sword by a Norman horseman in the following fight. In this respect, no “either-or”, but the Bayeux Tapestry shows the timing:

Harold was there, defending himself fiercely, but an arrow hit him in the eye and he was in excruciating pain. A knight rushed into battle and forced him to the ground with one blow on the helmet. When he was about to get up again, another knight struck him down with a blow on the thigh that went to the bone ... and Harold and his followers were killed. But so many wanted to kill him and there was such a crush around him that I don't know who killed him ... "

At the site of the battle, Wilhelm had the Battle Abbey built during his lifetime to commemorate the victims of the battle. The small town of Battle gradually developed around the monastery . The remains of the abbey now serve as an (open-air) museum about the Battle of Hastings. Every year on the anniversary of the battle, reenactment groups from all over Europe re- enact the battle.


  • Kelly DeVries: The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 1999, ISBN 978-0-85115-763-4 .
  • Sten Körner: The Battle of Hastings. England and Europe 1035-1066. Skanska Centraltryckeriet, Lund 1964.
  • Stephen Morillo: The Battle of Hastings. Sources and interpretation. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 1996, ISBN 978-0-85115-593-7 .
  • Jörg Peltzer : 1066. The fight for England's crown. CH Beck, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-406-69750-0 , pp. 225ff.
  • Ian W. Walker: Harold. The Last Anglo-Saxon King. Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud 1997, ISBN 978-0-7509-1388-1 .
  • Dominik Waßenhoven: 1066. England's conquest by the Normans (= CH Beck Wissen 2866). CH Beck, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-406-69844-6 .
  • Kristin Weber: 1066 - The Norman Conquest of England. Matthias Schäfer Verlag, Eschwege 2009, ISBN 978-3-939482-05-5 .

Web links

Commons : Battle of Hastings  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
  • WDR ZeitZeichen broadcast on October 14, 2011, to be heard in the podcast (accessed on September 8, 2019; MP3; 7.0 MB).


  1. See also: Companion of Wilhelm the Conqueror
  2. Telegraph ( online )
  3. Inscription: This stone has been set in this place to commemorate the fusion of the English and Norman peoples which resulted from the great battle fought here in 1066. ( This stone was at this point to commemorate the union of the English with the Norman peoples which took place as a result of the great battle fought here in 1066. )

Coordinates: 50 ° 54 ′ 43 ″  N , 0 ° 29 ′ 15 ″  E