In 1066 William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded England. When the English king, Harold, heard the news of the landings, he was fighting an incursion by Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge near York.
Quickly defeating Harald, he and his army began a forced march south. On 14 October 1066, the Battle of Hastings was fought near the south coast of England.
If bravery had been the deciding factor of the battle, Harold would have won, but tactics and weaponry sealed the eventual fate. Harold had an army of about 7,000 men, mainly on foot and wielding axes. William had about 10,000 troops, including well trained archers and cavalry.
Battle commenced about 9.30am with a heavy discharge of arrows by the Normans followed by a steady infantry advance. The English fought ruthlessly and checked the Norman advance, William’s infantry withdrawing in total confusion on one flank, although this could have been a ruse on William’s part. Harold intended to hold his infantry line, allowing the Norman’s to withdraw, but enthusiasm got the better of Harold’s men on this flank, and they gave chase. William immediately intercepted them with units of cavalry, most of the by now undisciplined English element being killed.
This lack of discipline sealed the eventual outcome of the battle, for Harold had to bolster this flank with troops from the rear, greatly diminishing his reserves. The only thing between victory and defeat was a tiring line of battle-weary axemen. William then launched his cavalry against this line, expecting a swift victory, but throughout the afternoon the English army held the line. However, Norman discipline and their relentless rain of arrows began to tell, with gaps beginning to appear in the English line. Finally, towards dark, Harold fell, traditionally thought to have been mortally wounded by an arrow in the eye. At this, the English line crumbled and William was victorious.
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