The Norman Conquest is the conquest of England by William, Duke
of Normandy, subsequently King
William I. The conquest was effectively completed by William's victory
at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and this is regarded as an important
landmark, the start of English history as we know it.
It may be noted that the conquest of Wales by the Normans was completed
piecemeal and not finalised until 1282, during the reign of King Edward
I. The same king, though he subdued Scotland, cannot be said to have truly
conquered it, as it remained an independent kingdom until 1603.
The Norman conquerors at first spoke a different language and remained
ethnically distinct from the native population of England. However, over
the centuries, the two racial groups merged and are no longer distinguishable.
The Battle of Hastings was the first major Norman victory in
the Norman conquest of England in 1066 A.D.
On September 28, 1066, William of Normandy, bent on asserting by arms
his right to the English crown, landed unopposed at Pevensey. King Harold,
who had just destroyed the invaders of northern England at the Battle
of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, on hearing the news hurried southward,
gathering what forces he could on the way. He took up his position, athwart
the road from Hastings to London, on Senlac Hill some six miles inland
from Hastings, with his back to the great forest of Anderida (the Weald)
and in front of him a long glacis-like slope, at the bottom of which began
the opposing slope of Telham Hill:
The town called Battle in the modern county of East Sussex was named
to commemorate this event.
The English army was composed almost entirely of infantry, and had just
been through two forced marches and a battle. The shire levies, for the
most part destitute of body armour and with miscellaneous and even improvised
weapons, were arranged on either flank of Harold’s guards (huscarles),
picked men armed principally with the Danish axe and shield.
Before this position Duke William appeared on the morning of October
14. His host, composed not only of his Norman vassals but of barons, knights
and adventurers from all quarters, was arranged in a centre and two wings,
each corps having its archers and arbiasters in the front line, the rest
of the infantry in the second and the heavy armoured cavalry in the third.
Neither the arrows nor the charge of the second line of footmen, who, unlike
the English, wore defensive mail, made any impression on the English standing
in a serried mass behind their interlocked shields.
Then the heavy cavalry came on, led by the duke and his brother Odo,
and encouraged by the example of the minstrel Taillefer, who rode forward,
tossing and catching his sword, into the midst of the English line before
he was pulled down and killed. All along the front the cavalry came to
close quarters with the defenders, but the long powerful Danish axes were
as formidable as the halbert and the bill proved to be in battles of later
centuries, and they lopped off the arms of the assailants and cut down
The fire of the attack died out and the left wing (Bretons) fled in
rout. But as the levies broke out of the line and pursued the Bretons down
the hill in a wild, formless mob, William's cavalry swung round and destroyed
them, and this suggested to the duke to repeat deliberately what the Bretons
had done from fear. Another advance, followed by a feigned retreat, drew
down a second large body of the English from the crest, and these in turn,
once in the open, were ridden over and slaughtered by the men-at-arms.
Lastly, these two disasters having weakened the defenders both materially
and morally, William subjected the huscarles, who had stood fast when the
fyrd broke its ranks, to a constant rain of arrows, varied from time to
time by cavalry charges. These magnificent soldiers endured the trial for
many hours, from noon till close on nightfall; but at last, when the Norman
archers raised their bows so as to pitch the arrows at a steep angle of
descent in the midst of the huscarles, the strain became too great. While
some rushed forward alone or in twos and threes to die in the midst of
the enemy, the remainder stood fast, too closely crowded almost for the
wounded to drop.
At last Harold received a mortal wound, the English began to waver,
and the knights forced their way in. Only a remnant of the defenders made
its way back to the forest; and William, after resting for a night on the
hardly-won ground, began the work of the Norman Conquest.
Battle Abbey was built at the site of the battle, and a plaque marks
the place where Harold fell.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge in England
took place on Monday, September 25th, 1066. This was shortly after an invading
Norwegian Viking army under King Harald HardrÃ¥de had just defeated York.
King Harold Godwinson of England met this army with his own, taking
it by surprise after a forced five (?) day march from the south of the
kingdom. And so he was able to defeat the Norwegians and kill Harald HardrÃ¥de,
even though he was out numbered.
Before the battle could start in earnest, the Stamford Bridge had to
be crossed, and it was supposedly held by a particularly fearsome Viking.
The English finally had to skewer him from underneath the bridge, to make
The battle marked the end of full scale invasions of England from Scandinavia,
and was the turning point of Viking activity in that area.
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