Liveblogging the Norman Conquest: October 14, 1066: The Battle of Hastings
Dominic Selwood : The true story of the Battle of Hastings:
On the 13th of October… [Harold the Usurper’s] army of around 7,000 pitched camp on the ridge of Senlac Hill, south of Wealden Forest, around 10 miles north-west of Hastings. The stage was set. As the sun rose on the 14th of October, William moved out to meet Harold. He had his archers in front, his infantry behind, and three divisions of cavalry bringing up the rear. The men were a mix of Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French, with a significant number of mercenaries and adventurers.
Harold’s army was simpler, just infantry, Anglo-Saxon style, who rode to battle but fought on foot. The majority came from the fyrd (locally raised militia), but at the centre of the force were the housecarls, the king’s professional, personal troops, among the toughest infantry of the period anywhere in Europe.
Some medieval accounts say that Taillefer, a Norman jongleur, rode out first, juggling a sword and whipping the men up with a spirited recitation of the Chanson de Roland. He slew an Anglo-Saxon who ran out to silence him, before running into the enemy ranks and being cut down.
Attacking from the south, William’s archers scored initial success against the Anglo-Saxons on the top of the hill, but at the cost of many dead from javelins and slingshot. He then unleashed his mounted cavalry up the slope, but they fled after being savaged by Anglo-Saxon double-handed battle-axes and being spooked by a rumour that William was dead.
William took off his helmet to show he was still alive, regrouped the knights, and set up a rhythm of alternating volleys of arrows and cavalry charges. The Anglo-Saxon shield wall held firm on top of the hill, but William fooled them with two feigned retreats, luring groups of Anglo-Saxons down off the ridge in pursuit, only to be rounded on and massacred.
The grind and gore of close quarters battle wore on throughout the day. Three horses were cut down from under William, but he drove on until eventually the Anglo-Saxons began tiring of their defence against mounted cavalry. As the shadows lengthened, two of Harold’s brothers fell, and — in the late afternoon — Harold was killed. His men fought on for a while, but as dusk came they broke and scattered.
It was over. As the Shropshire monk Orderic Vitalis recorded:
The mangled bodies that had been the flower of the English nobility and youth covered the ground as far as the eye could see. (The Ecclesiastical History)
Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.