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Posted on Nov 18, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Battlefield Tour – Hastings

Armchair General

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With small parts of Harold’s Army slowly being destroyed with each Norman feint, his impregnable shield wall was gradually diminished until it became less resistant to William’s Archers who led a final attack on the ridge line at around 19:00.

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Some views from the East side of the battlefield, again demonstrate the gradient of the slope of Senlac Hill.

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Harold’s men began to fall, and with the shield wall now ineffective, Williams’s follow-up waves of Infantry were able to break the English defences to inflict a terrible slaughter.

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Having reached the summit, I have come full circle, back to the Abbey buildings, and I am once again looking down on the Norman positions.

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Around the time of this final massacre of Harold’s Army, Harold himself was killed and Duke William’s victory was complete. The outcome had never been certain, and both sides had proved to be evenly matched, but ultimately, with the English limited to a defensive battle, it was William’s use of combined arms that won the day.

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There remains some doubt as to how Harold was killed. The traditional view, as indicated by the Bayeux Tapestry, is that he received an arrow in his right eye, which killed him. However there are indications that the arrow was added to the Tapestry during a later period of renovation, and perhaps even that the fellow with the arrow in his eye is not even Harold but one of his soldiers. You may have observed that I have included a few panels from the Bayeux Tapestry in this piece, and as a final nod to the Tapestry, you can see the relevant panel that purports to show Harold’s death here.

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I myself have only been made aware of other theories surrounding Harold’s end since first posting my photos here on the Armchair General website, and indeed rather than steal the thunder of others, I would urge anyone interested in this aspect of the battle to read the accompanying thread in our Forums here.

What doesn’t seem to be in doubt however is the spot where Harold fell, and it was at this point that the original Abbey Church was built, with the high altar placed over the very spot of Harold’s death. This photo shows the remaining outline of the Church, which is all that remains now.

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On the site of the high altar, this stone marks the point where King Harold of England fell in battle and died of his wounds. And there I am, stood on the very spot myself. An awesome moment.

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At the beginning of this piece, I suggested that the Battle of Hastings might be a pivotal moment in world history and I can hear some of you asking how that can be. The facts are that within a very few years after the battle, the former Anglo-Saxon aristocracy had been replaced wholesale by Norman overseers and the entire face of English society had been changed. The Norman conquest was the last successful hostile invasion of the British isles, and despite some early troubles in the years immediately following 1066, it was ultimately a total success. It would not take too long for the two cultures to become completely merged, creating a new race of Englishmen who were no longer restricted to an island backwater, but who had territorial ties to the continent of Europe itself.

Sophisticated forms of Government started by the former Anglo-Saxon Lords were expanded and improved upon by the new Norman masters, and control of the Church in England passed over to the conquerors. The English language began to lose some of its earlier German influences, replacing these with Latin undertones. Advanced forms of Taxation and an Exchequer were introduced (helped by the census information acquired for the Domesday Book), but perhaps more importantly, the Norman Lords, formally subservient to their masters in France, suddenly found themselves their equals as rulers of England. This would lay the seeds for future wars and conflicts, not least of which was the Hundred Years War, with the descendants of the Norman conquerors attempting to maintain their possessions in France itself.

What might have happened if Harold had won the Battle of Hastings? In my view, it’s unlikely he would have faced a significant external threat ever again, having so roundly beaten the forces of Harald Hardråda and then Duke William of Normandy within a matter of weeks, he would likely have found his position unassailable, and perhaps even become one of the greatest English Kings in history. But at the same time, without those continental links, it’s also possible that England itself would have remained isolated from European affairs for some time, and would perhaps have found its own development stifled by remaining separate from the nations surrounding it. Unless Harold had adopted an aggressive strategy of expansion, Southwards towards the continent or Northwards to the Scandinavian countries, England may have simply found itself ripe for invasion at some future time.

The consequences of Harald Hardråda winning the Battle of Stamford Bridge are even more uncertain. For if Harald had won on September the 25th, he too would have found himself facing a Norman Army just a few scant days later. Would he have marched South to meet this new threat or would he have consolidated his hold in the North near York and waited for William to come to him? It is unlikely he would have simply headed back to Norway to allow William to take control of his newly conquered land, so a battle was surely inevitable. Given the fact that such a scenario would seen England effectively being fought over by two occupying forces with no native Army to defend it, perhaps the result between King Harald and Duke William would simply rest with the Army that was most able to recruit soldiers from the surrounding lands within England itself, and on that I would not care to postulate.

If you live in the UK and have even only a passing interest in the history of your country, then in my view a visit to Hastings is a definite must. If you are planning to visit Britain to investigate the military history of this island, then again, I would urge you to pay a visit to this corner of England.

Links:

English Heritage – Battle Abbey and Battlefield

English Heritage – Battle Abbey

Battle of Hastings – 1066

Battle of Hastings

Bayeux Tapestry

Centre Guillaume Le Conquérant, Bayeux

To view the complete set of images from my visit, go to the ACG image gallery here.

Discuss this article in our Forums here.

A J Summersgill

andrew@armchairgeneral.com

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1 Comment

  1. Nice work, Andrew. I appreciate the photos of the battlefield. I am a public historian (M.A. plus public history training and work experience) and I would give anything to come over give tours of that special place. Thank you for the photo tour. I enjoyed it. Best, Jim

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