Today on October 14, 1066, William the Conqueror emerges victorious at the Battle of Hastings, forever changing the future of England.
The Battle of Hastings was an epic showdown between William of Normandy and Harold Godwinson. Many regard it as a major turning point in history. The King of England, Edward the Confessor, had suddenly died earlier that year without a clear heir. As a result, several successors laid claim to the throne. Harold Godwinson, the richest and most powerful aristocrat, was first to be crowned following Edward’s death. However, two other neighboring claimants vied for the throne as well. Only a few weeks before Hastings, King Harold managed to defend his title at Stamford Bridge from an invading Viking army under the King of Norway. He then immediately marched his army south to defend his kingdom from William, Duke of Normandy.
Interestingly, William was the only true blood relative of Edward. At the time, chroniclers reported that he had promised the crown to William in 1051. After years of consolidating his power over Normandy, William had become a battle-hardened veteran. He spent nine months preparing for his invasion of England, building a vast landing fleet to cross the channel. He assembled an army with troops from across Brittany and Flanders. The exact size of his army is unknown, however, modern historians estimate it to be around 10,000 men with heavy cavalry and crossbowmen units.
Shortly after landing in southern England, he engaged with Harold’s army near the town of Hastings. Harold’s army consisted almost entirely of infantry but did have the advantage of higher terrain on the battlefield. The battle lasted from morning to dusk. William deployed an innovative strategy of pretending to retreat, then turning back to face his enemy head-on. This created cracks among the English lines. Towards the end of the day, Harold was killed after being struck by an arrow through his eye. Panic quickly swept across his army, leading to a full-scale retreat. William continued his invasion and was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1066. The Norman-French invasion of England changed the course of British history forever.