1066, when England fell to French invaders

A look at the Battle of Hastings

1066, when England fell to French invaders

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings and the death of Harold

On the 25th of September, 1066 Harold Godwinson won a decisive victory at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, killing two of the final threats to his rule of England. After months of turmoil and violence, following the death of Edward the Confessor, Saxon England was almost returned to normalcy; a lone Norman lord remained the only threat.

Still exhausted from defeating the Vikings and his treacherous brother, Tostig, in Yorkshire, Harold learned that William of Normandy had landed a sizable force on the south coast. Weighed down by their armour and armaments the Saxons marched over 320 km to meet the invaders.

Surprise had been a decisive friend to Harold at Stamford Bridge and he hoped to utilise it again against William's forces. Discovery by scouts made this impossible and the Saxons prepared to defend themselves. On the morning of the 14th of October the sun rose on two forces, probably of similar size, as each prepared to defend their lord's claim to the throne of England.

All afoot, the Saxons locked together in a tight shield wall atop a hill. Protected on their flanks by woods and marshy ground this bastion of wood and flesh would provide cover for archers and skirmishers while Harold's own housecarls would strike out with great two handed axes. 

This largely negated the Norman's cavalry advantage, so long as the shield wall held. 

So what exactly happened to make the wall fall, and Harold with it? Was it the death of their king that broke the Saxon backbone? Or Harold's own hubris? How did this one battle hand the English crown to William? And what did that one fatal arrow to the eye mean for history? 

Join Patrick as he talks with a panel of experts about the Battle of Hastings and its impact on history.