Today, the 14th October, in 1066 the battle of Hastings was fought in southern England. The victor was the Norman Duke William, who had landed at Pevensey on the 28th September. The new King of England, Harold II, had recently beaten the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, near York, in the North.
Harold had chosen the site as it blocked the road to London. He probably had 8000 men, very few of whom were archers. His best men were in the front line, with the unarmoured Sussex Militia behind them. He had no cavalry and he awaited William’s attack atop a ridge.
William, who had 7500 men, opened the battle with his archers, but the slope and Saxon shields meant they were ineffectual in softening up Harold’s front line. Next he sent in his Infantry, who were met with all manner of missiles from Harold’s men. William’s men could not break into the Saxon line and soon his left flank force, Bretons for the most part, started to run. His centre, which was made up of Normans, had to withdraw slightly to compensate. His right were Franco Flemish troops. A part of Harold’s force followed the Bretons down the hill and were dispatched by fast moving Norman cavalry. Despite this reverse, Harold still looked strong.
William sent in his numerous cavalry more than once, but they too found it impossible to make a break in the line. Saxon double handed axes cleaved through many of the knights’ armour and into their mounts.
The turning point came when Harold was killed; his two younger brothers were already dead. It was late afternoon and the Saxons soon started to melt away. Pursuit was not possible as darkness fell early and the Norman Horse were tired from the day’s exertions. Before this happened there had been a scare in the Norman ranks, as a rumour started William was dead. It was unfounded and possibly this gave the Normans the Boost they needed.
William had indeed been lucky, as he had no option of retreat or reinforcements from across the Channel.