Manual 1066 A Year of Swords

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Casualties on both sides were heavy. Those killed included Harold's two brothers, Gyrth and Leofwin. However, the English line held and the Normans were eventually forced to retreat. The fyrd, this time on the left side, chased the Normans down the hill. William ordered his knights to turn and attack the men who had left the line. Once again the English suffered heavy casualties. William of Normandy ordered his troops to take another rest.

The Normans had lost a quarter of their cavalry.

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Many horses had been killed and the ones left alive were exhausted. William decided that the knights should dismount and attack on foot. This time all the Normans went into battle together. The archers fired their arrows and at the same time the knights and infantry charged up the hill. It was now 4. Heavy English casualties from previous attacks meant that the front line was shorter. The Normans could now attack from the side. The few housecarls that were left were forced to form a small circle round the English standard.

The Normans attacked again and this time they broke through the shield wall and Harold and most of his housecarls were killed. With their king dead, the fyrd saw no reason to stay and fight, and retreated to the woods behind. The Normans chased the fyrd into the woods but suffered further casualties themselves when they were ambushed by the English.

According to William of Poitiers : "Victory won, the duke returned to the field of battle. He was met with a scene of carnage which he could not regard without pity in spite of the wickedness of the victims. Far and wide the ground was covered with the flower of English nobility and youth. Harold's two brothers were found lying beside him. He refused, declaring that Harold should be buried on the shore of the land which he sought to guard.

The Battle-Axe

I have no desire to protect myself behind any rampart With the aid of God I would not hesitate to oppose the English with my own men even if I had only ten thousand of these instead of sixty thousand I now command. Then came William duke of Normandy into Pevensey This was then made known to King Harold, and he then gathered a great force, and came to meet him at the estuary of Appledore; and William came against him unawares before his people were assembled.

But the king nevertheless strenuously fought against him with those men who would follow him; and there was great slaughter made on either hand. There was slain King Harold and Leofwine the earl The courageous leaders mutually prepared for battle, each according to his national custom. The English few in number and brave in the extreme Finding this, William gave a signal to his party, that, by a feigned flight, they should retreat.

Through this device the close body of the English, opening for the purpose of cutting down the straggling enemy brought upon itself swift destruction; for the Normans, facing about, attacked them thus disordered, and compelled them to fly. Harold, not merely content with the duty of a general in exhorting others would strike the enemy when coming to close quarters, so that none would approach him with impunity; for immediately the same blow levelled both horse and rider first one party conquering, and then the other, prevailed as long as the life of Harold continued; but when he fell, his brain pierced by an arrow One of the soldiers with a sword gashed his thigh as he lay prostrate; for which shameful and cowardly action he was branded with ignominy by William and dismissed.

Duke William advanced with the banner which the Pope had sent him. There were two bishops from Normandy, together with many clergy and a number of monks.

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The clergy led prayers before the battle. The vast forces of English had come from all regions. Harold took up position on higher ground, on a hill by a forest through which they had just come. They abandoned their horses and drew themselves up in close order. The duke placed his infantry in front armed with bows and crossbows and behind them other infantry more heavily armed with mail tunics; in the rear came the mounted knights.

The terrible sound of trumpets on both sides announced the opening of the battle.

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The Norman foot soldiers The English The English were greatly helped by the advantage of the high ground Terrified by this ferocity, the Norman foot soldiers began to retreat The duke galloped up in front of them, shouting and brandishing his lance. Removing his helmet to bare his head, he cried: "Look at me. I am alive, and, by God's help, I shall win. What madness puts you to flight? Where do you think you can go? You are deserting victory and everlasting honour; you are running away to destruction and everlasting shame.

And by flight not one of you will avoid death.


The English were so densely massed that the dead could scarcely fall. However, breaches were cut in several places by the swords of the Norman knights The Normans realising that they could not overcome an enemy so numerous and standing so firm without great loss to themselves, retreated, deliberately feigning flight.

The English poured scorn upon our men and boasted that they would be destroyed then and there. As before, thousands of them were bold enough to launch themselves as if on wings after those they thought to be fleeing. The Normans, suddenly wheeling their horses about, cut them off, surrounding them, and slew them on all sides, leaving not one alive. Twice they used the same strategy to the same effect, and then attacked more furiously than ever The English began to weaken. William was a noble general, inspiring courage, sharing danger, more often commanding men to follow than urging them on from the rear The enemy lost heart at the mere sight of this marvellous and terrible knight.

Three horses were killed under him. Three times he leapt to his feet.

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Shields, helmets, hauberks were cut by his furious and flashing blade, while yet other assailants were clouted by his own shield. His knights were astonished to see him a foot-soldier, and many, stricken with wounds, were given new heart. As the day went on the English army realised they could no longer stand against the Normans. They knew they were reduced by heavy loses; that the king himself, with his brothers and many other magnates, had fallen.

Those who still stood were almost drained of strength They saw the Normans threatening them more keenly than in the beginning, as if they found new strength in the flight; they saw the fury of the duke who spared no one who resisted him; they saw that courage which could only find rest in victory. They therefore turned to fight and made off as soon as they got the chance, some on stolen horses, many on foot The Normans pursued them keenly, slaughtering the guilty fugitives and bringing matters to a fitting end.

Victory won, the duke returned to the field of battle. Harold's two brothers were found lying beside him Harold's mother offered for her beloved son's body his weight in gold. William believed Harold to be unworthy of burial as his mother wished. He gave the body to William Malet, and not to Harold's mother. The Battle of Hastings Answer Commentary. William the Conqueror Answer Commentary. The Feudal System Answer Commentary.

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