by Kung Fu Zu 10/14/16
On this date in A.D. 1066, i.e. 950 years ago, one of the most important battles in history took place. We know it as “The Battle of Hastings” although it took place some miles from Hastings in a town which is appropriately called “Battle.” The towering opponents in this duel were the Norman Duke William (called “the Bastard” as he was the illegitimate son of a Norman Duke) and King Harold Godwinson, who had been an Anglo-Saxon Earl.
Upon the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066, Harold was elected King by the consent of the English ruling assembly of nobles. William took exception to this because he believed Harold had sworn his support for William as the next King of England once the Confessor died. William was a cousin of Edward. Upon hearing of Harold’s crowning, William immediately began preparations for the invasion of England to claim the royal crown.
Unfortunately for Harold, William was not his only problem. His brother, Tostig, who had split with Harold, closed an alliance with Harald Hardrada of Norway, who is sometimes called the last Viking. His story is very interesting, but this is not the place to go into it further.
So on the one hand, Harold had to worry about an invasion in the north and on the other he had to worry about another invasion in the south. Which would come first? In the event, it was Tostig and Hardrada who struck before William. They invaded the northeast of England on September 8, 1066 and defeated an English army led by the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria on September 20th. This forced Harold to rush to the north to meet Tostig and Hardrada where he destroyed them at The Battle of Stamford Bridge (map) on September 25, 1066.
But Harold had little time to rest. William landed in England on September 27, 1066 and when Harold received word of this, he force marched his army 241 miles in four days to meet the Norman threat. On October 14, 1066, the two armies met. The exact location of the battle is in question, but I will accept the notion that it took place at the location of the present Battle Abbey, which I have visited (map).
Harold positioned his army very well at the top of a broad slope which would make the Normans work attacking at an incline. His men formed a shield wall, waiting for the Norman knights on horse and the Norman foot soldiers to attack. The battle took place over many hours and Harold and his men had the best of it until the Norman knights feigned a disorganized retreat which caused many of Harold’s men to break ranks and follow the Normans. Once this happened, the Normans turned on the Anglo-Saxons and slaughtered them.
From that moment, the battle started to favor the Normans and it appears all Saxon opposition disintegrated once Harold and his brothers were killed. The Normans went on to subjugate the rest of England as the organized opposition was too little, too late. William was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. His sons and grand nephew ruled after him, after which the crown moved to Henry Plantagenet, the father of Richard Lion Heart.
For some three hundred years after the Battle, French was the official court language. Anglo-Saxon was spoken by the peasants and thought inferior to French. Read Ivanhoe for further comments on this. Yet as time went on, a new tongue, which was a mixture of French and Anglo-Saxon, developed. Today we call it English. This language reached its golden-age very quickly and brought out the genius in writers such as William Shakespeare.
Perhaps more importantly, the Battle of Hastings was the last time that England was successfully invaded by another continental army. This relative peace gave England the chance to develop without the constant strife and destruction which took place on the continent. As a result, English institutions were given the chance to grow and improve without the violent interruptions which plagued the rest of Europe. Perhaps this is one reason why England has been so successful for so many centuries. Maybe the Frogs weren’t so bad after all.
Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely (including Hastings, although he was not actually at the battle) and lived outside the United States.
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