The Battle of Hastings Explained: Facts, date and deaths

Battle of Hastings

When did the Battle of Hastings take place and when did it end?

The Battle of Hastings officially began during the early morning of October 14th at around 7am. Fighting throughout the day, the battle eventually ended at 6pm, where a victor was announced.

What was the catalyst that started the Battle of Hastings?

The Battle of Hastings took place because of a disputed succession to the throne. For the previous 24 years England had been ruled by Edward the Confessor. Although Edward was married, he failed to produce any children to succeed him.

During the autumn of 1051, William Duke of Normandy paid a visit to England where he visited Edward the Confessor. It is likely that William was seeking approval for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders. He claimed that during this visit Edward promised him the English crown.

When King Edward died without producing a clear heir to the throne, The Witan met and considered four claimants to the English throne. Edgar Aetheling was considered too young and both William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada were dismissed because they were not English. This left Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex who was crowned King Harold II later that day. 

When William of Normandy learned that Harold had been crowned King of England, he began preparing an invasion force.

Where did the Battle of Hastings take place?

Despite its title, the Battle of Hastings did not take place in Hastings, East Sussex, but instead close to the present-day town of Battle, some 7 miles northwest of Hastings.

Who fought in the Battle of Hastings?

The Battle of Hastings was fought between William Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson (King Harold II).

Battle of Hastings Summary

King Harold knew that he did not have enough men to defend Caldbec Hill and so he moved his army to Senlac Hill to await the Norman arrival. The men were arranged about six deep in a shield wall formation.

The Norman army arrived and William positioned his army at the bottom of the hill. Trumpets were blown by both sides to signal the beginning of the battle.

William ordered his infantry to charge up the hill and try to break the shield wall. The foot soldiers were beaten back by spears, axes and stones and unable to break the wall.

At around 11am, a group of Breton infantrymen turned and fled down the hill on rumours that William Duke of Normandy had fallen. William saw this and raised his helmet to show he was still alive.

1pm saw a stalemate between both sides, who stopped for lunch. This was typical in Medieval battles and gave each side the time to take on food and drink, and also for Kings and leaders to re-think strategy.

In the afternoon, at around 4.30pm, King Harold was killed. The manner of his death is disputed but it’s believed that an arrow went through his eye and pierced his brain.

The death of King Harold led to most of those Saxons still alive fleeing the battlefield as there was no one left to lead them. Harold’s two brothers had died earlier and the northern earls, Edwin and Morcar, had not been present at the battle. Those that tried to fight on were soon killed.

Who won the Battle of Hastings?

The Battle of Hastings was won by William Duke of Normandy at around 6pm after King Harold II was killed and the remaining soldiers either fled the battle of were killed.

How many people were killed?

We only know the names of three people died in The Battle of Hastings, thanks to the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the death of King Harold II and his two brothers, Earls Gurth and Leofwin. However, it’s believed that around 6,000 men died in the historic conflict, with both sides marching into combat with between 5,000-7,000 men.

What happened after?

On 15th October, William summoned Edith Swanneck to identify Harold’s body. Harold’s mother, Gytha, offered William Harold’s weight in gold for the body but William refused. Harold’s body was given to William Malet for burial. The exact location of Harold’s body is unknown but he may have been buried at Bosham or Waltham.

William then returned to his camp at Hastings. He expected the English nobles to submit to him but he was mistaken. The same day the Witan proclaimed Edgar Aetheling, great grandson of Aethelred the Unready, King of England. William’s fight for England was not over.

William had conquered the south of England and received the submission of Edgar and the Witan. He was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. However, it would take four more years before he completed the Norman Conquest and subdued the whole of England.

Why was the Battle of Hastings so important?

The Battle of Hastings was extremely important for the history of England. The Anglo-Saxons had ruled for over 600 years, and now that the Normans had taken over, big changes were afoot.

The language notably changed. William didn’t speak any English at all so he made the official language of Engand into French. The common people would still have spoken Anglo-Saxon English. This mix eventually became an archaic version of the English language we use today.

Better links to France and the rest of Europe were established, as well as influence in architecture, with some buildings still showing Norman influence to this day, including the Tower of London and Battle Abbey.

William also initiated the Domesday Book, rewarding many Norman nobles with English lands and enacting a recording system of who owned what and therefore what tax they owed the crown.

This battle is a significant to English history, vastly changing large parts of the country and influencing all facets of society.

You can check out a more comprehensive timeline of events in our Battle of Hastings Timeline here!

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