England - Periods - Norman 1066-1154

1066

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1066 was the year that changed everything in England. If ever there was a watershed event, the defeat of Harold, by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings was just that.

On June 8th of 1042 Edward the Confessor return to England to reclaim his throne and was faced with a powerful genrtry who quickly forced him to retreat into his passionate support of the church as an outlet for his frustrated attempts to rule. He was crowned on April 3, 1043 but bore no heirs to the throne. The acsession question loomed large over the kingdom but many assumed that Harold Godwinson would become the King after Edward's death. Matters became complicated in 1064 when Harold was ship wrecked on the French coast and fell into the hands of William of Normandy who also had a claim to the English Throne, albeit a much weaker claim.

As depicted in the Bayeaux Tapestry, the legend says that Harold was forced to support Williams claim to the English Throne and was tricked into swearing his oath of support on an assortment of holy relics, hidden under his hand while taking the oath. Harold was allowed to return to England where he quickly re-asserted his claim as the heir to the Throne and on January 4/5 1066 when Edward passed away, Harold Godwinson claimed the throne as his and was crowned in Westminster Abby on January 6th.

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The year before, Harold had exiled his brother Tostig from England when Tostig was confronted with a Saxon rebellion in his lands. Tostig decided to join forces with another claimant to the English Throne, Harold Hardrada, King of Norway. Harold Godwinson now faces potential invasion from two other claimants o the throne and had to prepare for both of them. William had appealed to the Pope for support in his claim to the English Throne and after he received it, was able to assemble a large force of Knights from across Europe and prepared to sail to England to claim his throne.

To the North, Harold  Hardrada and King Godwinson's brother Tostig also prepared to invade and on September 20, 1066 the attacked English forces loyal to King Harold just outside York and defeated the English army at the Battle of Fulham. Harold was forces to give up his watch for William on the English Channel and rush North to confront the Scandinavian opponent and his own brother Tostig. Harold was able to surprise Harold Hardrada and Tostig at Stamford Bridge and defeat their army and kill both Tostig and Harold Hardrada. This surprise was only achieved by a series of forced marches North but when William became aware that Harold had gone North to meet that threat, he launched his ships from Normandy and landed on the English coast to begin his march on London to claim his throne.

King Harold Godwinson, was forced to repeat the draining march his army had just completed and return south to meet William. Harold had also released many of his troops to bring in their crops before the Battle of Stamford Bridge and had feverishly put out e call for them t return to face the Norman. After rushing south and through London towards the English Channel, Harold came into contact with William near the small town of Battle (named after the famous battle that was about to occur) and both armies deployed to fight.

The date was October 14th, 1066 and the fate of England hung in the balance. Harold took a strong position at the top of a hill and dug in to await the Norman attack. William decided to finish the Normans and launched several attacks up the hill in an effort to break the English shield defense. The attacks were all unsuccessful and the day wore on. Finally an attack by the Norman's on the English right flank dissolved into apparent chaos and the Normans fled down the hill in disarray. The English commanders could not hold their men back and the English soldiers broke their shield defense and started down the hill to finish the Norman's off. Someone thought they had heard that William had been killed and the English counter attack turned into running rush to finish of the Normans.

This was the turning point of the battle, of the war and of English history. The Normans lay in wait and as the English rushed down the hill, they counter attacked and quickly smashed the English army and then were able to rush the almost empty right flank and overcome the core of English resistance, killing King HArold in the process with a legendary arrow into his eye.

After Harold's death, resistance on the battlefield and throughout England crumbled. William entered London, was crowned King and the Norman ascendancy began, forever changing the course of Engish history.

 

 

 

 

Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2017

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