Sunday, 14 October 2012

Hastings, 1066

Today marks the 946th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important conflicts in the history of the world. It was just a few miles inland within East Sussex that the invading Norman forces under William Duke of Normandy met the Saxons and their King, Harold II over a dispute for the English crown.
Edward the Confessor (England's sainted king) died in January of 1066. On his deathbed he had to make a choice of his successor. One tale suggests he grabbed then hand of Harold Godwinson and the latter took this to heart as his right to rule. Off in Normandy, William was furious as he was supposedly promised the crown, at least verbally, by the late king. His forces mustered and he invaded the islands towards the end of September and finally engaged Harold just northwest of Hastings on October 14.
The Normans suffered heavy casualties early in the battle as Williams's tactic of softening the enemy lines with arrows failed due to a strong Saxon shield wall. Subsequently charging up a hill did not help matters either. It was only when William regained control of his forces that the Saxon force began to waver. The duke ordered the arrows to be fired over the shield wall and the result inflicted heavy casualties. Legend has it that King Harold II met his end via an arrow to the eye (this is also depicted in the famous Bayeaux Tapestry which chronciles events leading up to, during and after the battle).
With the death of the king, William was able to march inland and secure England and the crown for himself. He was crowned William I on Christmas Day, 1066. Now known as William the Conqueror, he quickly set about securing his foothold. That legacy includes fortifications which still stand: the White Tower (Tower of London) and Windsor Castle.

One last note: Westminster Abbey was built as a monument and memorial tomb for Edward the Confessor. His grave and tomb sit behind the main altar and prayers can still be made at it to this day. Similarly, his arms of a cross mounted on a shield and surrounded by five birds can still be seen carved into the stonework.

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