The Battle of Hastings fought on the 14th of October, 1066, was among the most famous battles in British history. This war forever changed England’s history when William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II. However, there are facts about the Battle of Hastings that one should know to get a deeper understanding of British history.
10 Facts about the Battle of Hastings
Below are the 10 facts about the Battle of Hastings which will surprise you:
1. The most interesting fact about the Battle of Hastings is the events that led up to the battle. The power struggle for the English throne started after the death of Edward the Confessor, King of Anglo-Saxon England; in January 1066, Harold Godwinson was proclaimed King. Since Edward had been childless, so he chose Harold, the head of the most powerful noble family in England, to succeed him on his deathbed. However, not everyone agreed with this decision. Across the English Channel, one man believed he had a right to the English throne. William, Duke of Normandy, was a distant blood relative of the dead King who gathered his troops and crossed the English Channel to reach Britain to claim his right. His claim was not wrong. Ten years before King Edward died, he promised William that he would be the one to succeed him.
2. The Battle of Hastings saw the death of King Harold and the birth of a new ruling dynasty as the Anglo-Saxons made way for the Normans. The battle lasted from 9 in the morning until dusk and was unusually long for a medieval fight, as such battles were often over within an hour.
3. Despite the battle’s name, the Battle of Hastings was not fought in Hastings at all!
The actual battle with King Harold took place some six miles to the northwest of Hastings, at a site known ever since as ‘Battle.’
4. Surprisingly, there is no actual record of the number of soldiers involved in the battle. However, it is certain that the Normans vastly outnumbered the Anglo-Saxons.
5. According to the most famous source for the battle of Hastings – the Bayeux Tapestry, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans used very similar weapons. On both sides, men wore mail shirts and conical helmets with flat, fixed nasals, held kite-shaped shields, and attacked their opponents with swords and spears. The only notable difference was that some English preferred to wield axes.
6. King Harold’s death has always been shrouded in mystery as no one is sure how he died. The long-established story suggests that the King was killed by an arrow that struck him in the eye. However, many historians believe he died after being beaten to death.
7. After the battle, a tapestry was made to commemorate William’s victory called Bayeux Tapestry. It is a 230ft long embroidered cloth that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings. It was commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and the Earl of Kent, who was the half-brother of William the Conqueror. This tapestry is sometimes referred to as the Tapestry of Queen Matilda in France. It is called so after the legend that says that William’s wife, Queen Matilda, and her ladies-in-waiting made the tapestry, although, in truth, this is highly unlikely.
8. Another exciting fact about the Battle of Hastings is that it was not the first battle in which King Harold was forced to defend his crown. Less than a month before the Battle of Hastings, he fought off his brother Tostig and Harold Hadrada, the Norwegian King, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge to protect the crown.
9. After King Harold was defeated, William of Normandy was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in Westminster Abbey in 1066. Even after winning the Battle of Hastings, the surviving English leaders resisted for a few months, which was why William was not crowned King sooner. Post the battle, William was determined to commemorate his victory and atone for the bloodshed by building the ‘Battle Abbey,’ whose ruins still survive today.
According to a bevy of 12th-century chroniclers, the abbey church’s high altar was erected over where Harold was killed. William’s obituary in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written in 1087 by an Englishman, noted that ‘Battle Abbey’ was constructed “on the very spot” where God had granted William The Conqueror his victory.
10. Many significant changes took place after William’s victory. One of the most significant changes was that French became the official language of the King’s court. The decision was taken due to the language barrier between him and his English subjects, as William only spoke French, and the court only spoke English. French blended with Anglo-Saxon English and eventually evolved into modern English; hence many French words are used in common parlance. Intriguingly, some genealogists believe that around 25 per cent of the English population is descended from William the Conqueror.
Even after over 950 years, yearly reenactments of the Battle of Hastings are done on or near the battle site. It draws thousands of viewers from around the world. The reenactment of the battle is the largest gunpowder reenactment in the world. Previously, it was conducted by amateur groups of reenactors; however, recently, more professionals have been added to the mix. Therefore there is no doubt that the famous Battle of Hastings was a significant event in English history and has made England what it is today.
If you liked reading Facts about the Battle of Hastings, you should also check out the History of Hastings Castle!