Battle of Hastings 14th October 1066

Battle of HastingsThis timeline details the background to and events of the Battle of Hastings, 14th October 1066

Please note times given for the battle of Hastings are based on known times and sequence of events

Background
1042 (8th June)
Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy succeeded his half-brother Harthacnut as King of England. He had spent most of his life in exile in Normandy and brought a large number of Normans to England with him. In order to rule the Anglo-Saxons successfully he needed the support of the powerful Godwin family.
1045 (23rd January)
King Edward the Confessor married Edith of Wessex, daughter of Earl Godwin of Wessex.
1051 (September)
Earl Godwin and his family were exiled for refusing to punish men of Dover who had killed some Norman friends of the King. Godwin’s youngest son, Wulfnoth and his grandson Hakon remained in England as hostages of Edward the Confessor.
1051 (Autumn)
William Duke of Normandy paid a visit to England where he visited Edward the Confessor. It is likely that William was seeking approval for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders. He claimed that during this visit Edward promised him the English crown.
1052 (during)
The Godwin family returned to England at the head of an army. King Edward was unable to raise a force that would defeat them and was forced to sue for peace terms. It was agreed that the Godwin family could return and their former lands would be restored to them. A large number of King Edward’s Norman supporters at court had fled to Normandy in the face of the Godwin invasion. It is likely that Edward’s Godwin hostages, Wulfnoth and Hakon were taken to Normandy as hostages.
1053 (15th April)
Earl Godwin of Wessex died. His son Harold Godwinson became Earl of Wessex.
1055 (during)
Earl Siward of Northumbria died and Harold’s brother, Tostig was appointed the new Earldom.
1064 (Spring)
Harold Godwinson had departed England on a ship from Bosham. It is thought that he may have been sailing to Normandy to negotiate the release of his brother Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon who were being held prisoner in Normandy. He may also have simply been on a fishing/hunting trip. The winds changed and he was shipwrecked off the coast of Ponthieu. William, Duke of Normandy ordered that Harold be brought to him. Some sources claim that Harold was kept under house arrest but it may have been that his ship was badly damaged and needed extensive repairs or he may have remained in Normandy to secure the release of the two hostages. It is known that Harold willingly rode into battle with William and helped to defeat Conan II of Brittany. William knighted Harold for his part in the battle. Afterwards, Harold returned to England with his nephew Hakon – Wulfnoth remained in captivity. The Normans later claimed that before leaving Harold  swore an oath to support William’s claim to the throne of England after the death of Edward. The oath is not recorded in any Anglo-Saxon sources.
1065 (3rd October)
The people of Northumbria rebelled against the harsh rule of Harold’s brother Tostig. Earl of Wessex Harold Godwinson was sent to deal with the situation.
1065 (28th October)
Harold Godwinson reported to King Edward the Confessor regarding the situation in Northumbria. It was agreed that Tostig would be sent into exile and Morcar, brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia would replace him as Earl of Northumbria. Tostig was furious with Harold and vowed revenge.
1065 (November)
Tostig Godwinson and his family went to Flanders where they received the support of Count Baldwin V.
1066 (4th or 5th January)
King Edward the Confessor died. He had no children and the succession was unclear.
1066 (6th January)
The Witan met and considered the four claimants to the English throne. Edgar Aetheling was considered too young and both William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada were dismissed because they were not English. This left Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex who was crowned King Harold II later that day.
1066 (mid January)
William of Normandy learned that Harold had been crowned King of England and began preparing an invasion force.
1066 (March)
Halley’s comet appeared in the sky. It was considered a bad omen by the Anglo-Saxons.
1066 (Spring)
Anticipating a challenge to his Kingship by William of Normandy, Harold stationed militia along the South coast and on the Isle of Wight.
1066 (5th May)
Tostig Godwinson was provided with ships by Count Baldwin V of Flanders and made a series of raids along the South Coast.
1066 (20th May)
William made a case against Harold and presented it to the Pope. He succeeded in getting papal backing for his Norman Conquest of England and the Pope sent him a banner to carry into battle. The Pope’s support meant that William was more easily able to raise his army since he could prove God was on his side.
1066 (early Summer)
Tostig Godwinson attempted to invade England and take Mercia but was beaten by Earls Edwin and Morcar. He retreated to Scotland.
1066 (Summer)
Tostig Godwinson made contact with Harald Hardrada in Norway and offered his support for Harald’s claim to the English throne.
1066 (4th August)
William’s vast fleet of around 1,000 ships was ready to sail but he delayed sailing, possibly due to unfavourable wind direction and possibly because he was waiting for harvest season in the hopes that some of the men stationed along the South coast would go home. While waiting to sail William had to provide food and provisions for up to 14,000 men and 3,000 horses.
1066 (8th September)
With food provisions and morale running low, King Harold II took the decision to send his troops home. He believed that it was too late in the year for William to cross the Channel and that England was safe until Spring.
1066 (8th September)
Harald Hardrada the Norwegian King, supported by Harold’s brother Tostig, invaded England. They had crossed the North Sea from Norway and landed at the mouth of the River Tyne.
1066 (11th September)
Harold Godwinson learned of Harald Hardrada’s invasion. Having just disbanded his army he was forced to recall his troops and march north.
1066 (early September)
William, was eager to begin his Norman Conquest of England and decided not to wait for favourable weather and put his fleet to sea. The ships were unable to withstand the powerful stormy weather and those that survived were forced to put in to port at St Valery-sur-Somme.
1066 (20th September)
Battle of Fulford
Earl Morcar of Northumbria and Earl Edwin of Mercia called up their reserves and met the forces of Hardrada and Tostig at Fulford. The English earls were easily defeated by the Norwegians and fled.
1066 (24th September)
The city of York fell to Hardrada.
1066 (24th September)
Harold Godwinson reached Tadcaster, 15 miles south of York, at the head of an English army.
1066 (25th September)
Battle of Stamford Bridge
Harold Godwinson’s English army reached the north and surprised Harald Hardrada and Tostig who were completely unprepared for battle. The English had to cross a small bridge which legend states was defended by a very large Viking. The English had to get under the bridge and kill him by thrusting a sword upwards. Once the bridge was cleared the English army defeated the Norwegians, many of whom had not put on their protective chain mail or armour. Harald Hardrada was killed around midday. Tostig Godwinson was offered a pardon but he refused and the fighting continued until Tostig was killed in the early evening. The Earls Edwin and Morcar played no part in this battle.
1066 (28th September)
William duke of Normandy landed at Pevensey on the South coast of England, marking the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England. On landing, William was surprised to find to army waiting for them. They occupied the Roman fort at Pevensey and began constructing a prefabricated wooden castle inside the ancient walls. Scouts were sent to find food but reported back that there was not enough food in the surrounding area to feed William’s army.
1066 (30th September – 1st October)
William of Normandy made the decision to move his base camp to Hastings where he knew there was enough food to be had. They began their march, camped overnight near Herstmonceux then marched on to Hastings. Local legend states that Standard Hill in the village of Ninfield is so named because William raised his standard at the top of the hill declaring war on Harold.
1066 (1st October)
Harold learned of the Norman invasion. He and those men that had horses immediately rode South. Harold told the northern earls to march south as quickly as they could. However, Edwin and Morcar were in no rush to fight another major battle and took their time.
1066 (6th October)
Harold and his Saxon army reached London. Harold issued a call for men to join his cause.
1066 (10th October)
Although it had been suggested that Harold should remain in London and let his brother Gyrth lead the Anglo-Saxon army into battle, Harold refused and told his men to get themselves ready to leave London.
1066 (11th October)
Even though the northern earls Edwin and Morcar had not reached London with their armies, Harold and the Saxon army left London and began the march south. Harold believed that he would be able to take the Norman army by surprise, as he had Harald Hardrada, and win another victory.
1066 (13th October)
By the evening of 13th October Harold and his army had reached Caldbec Hill in the South of England. He soon learned that his plan to surprise the Normans was bound to fail since William had spies across the south-east and would have been aware of when they left London.
The Battle of Hastings
1066 (14th October – 7.00 a.m.)
William marched north to meet the Saxons. It is likely that he followed what is now the A2100 towards the position of the Saxon army. It was a march of around 7 miles (11.25 km)
1066 (14th October – 7.30 a.m.)
King Harold knew that he did not have enough men to defend Caldbec Hill and so moved his army to Senlac Hill to await the Norman arrival. The men were arranged about six deep in a shield wall formation.
1066 (14th October – 8.30 a.m.)
The Norman army arrived and William positioned his army at the bottom of the hill. The Normans took the centre position with the Bretons to the left and Flemings to the right. Archers were positioned in front, infantry behind and cavalry at the back.
1066 (14th October – 9.00 a.m.)
Trumpets were blown by both sides to signal the beginning of the battle.
1066 (14th October – 9.10 a.m.)
Williams archers opened the battle by firing a barrage of arrows towards the Saxon army.
1066 (14th October – 9.20 a.m.)
William ordered his infantry to charge up the hill and try to break the shield wall. The foot soldiers were beaten back by spears, axes and stones and unable to break the wall.
1066 (14th October – 10.00 a.m.)
William sent his cavalry to support the infantry. Although it must have been terrifying seeing horses charge towards them the shield wall held firm.
1066 (14th October – 11.00 a.m.)
A group of Breton infantrymen turned and fled down the hill. At the same time a cry was heard that William Duke of Normandy had fallen. The shield wall behind the fleeing Bretons broke and the Saxons charged down the hill in pursuit. Some sources state that this was led by Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine. William saw what was happening, raised his helmet to show that he was alive and ordered infantrymen to surround the Saxons and cut them down. Harold’s brothers are believed to have been killed at this point.
1066 (14th October – 11.30 a.m.)
King Harold ordered the gap in the shield wall to be closed and sent out an order that the wall was to hold firm.
1066 (14th October – 1.00 p.m.)
After the earlier break in the wall, Harold’s shield wall remained intact and William was unable to make any gains. Having reached this stalemate it was an ideal time in the battle to break for lunch. This was typical in Medieval battles and gave each side the time to take on food and drink and also for Kings and leaders to re-think strategy.
1066 (14th October – 2.00 p.m.)
The battle resumed. Having seen his only success come from the shield wall breaking to pursue Bretons down the hill, William decided to use this as a tactic. He repeatedly ordered his cavalry and infantry to charge and then feign flight down the hill. Although it did not have the same effect as earlier it did have some effect and may have thinned the shield wall. At the same time the Norman army would have been weakened by spear, axe and stone attacks as they met the shield wall. During this time there may also been some hand to hand combat. William took part in the fighting – sources state that two or three of William’s horses died in the combat.
1066 (14th October – 4.30 p.m.)
As the light was fading (sunset was at 5.10 p.m.) William ordered his archers to fire volleys of arrows at the English but to aim high in order to hit those men behind the shield wall. It is believed that one of those arrows struck Harold in the right eye or close to the eye. It is known that King Harold died at this point but sources dispute the manner of his death. Some state that the arrow went through his eye and pierced his brain. Others state that the arrow struck close to his eye and while reeling from the shock he was cut down and decapitated by four Norman knights.
1066 (14th October – 5.00 p.m.)
The death of King Harold led to most of those Saxons still alive fleeing the battlefield as there was no one left to lead them. Harold’s two brothers had died earlier and the northern earls Edwin and Morcar had not been present at the battle. Those that tried to fight on were soon killed.
1066 (14th October – 6.00 p.m.)
William Duke of Normandy had won the Battle of Hastings.
1066 (15th October)
William summoned Edith Swanneck to identify Harold’s body. Harold’s mother, Gytha, offered William Harold’s weight in gold for the body but William refused. Harold’s body was given to William Malet for burial. The exact location of Harold’s body is unknown but he may have been buried at Bosham or Waltham.
1066 (15th October)
William returned to his camp at Hastings. He expected the English nobles to submit to him but he was mistaken. The same day the Witan proclaimed Edgar Aetheling, great grandson of Aethelred the Unready, King of England. William’s fight for England was not over.
1066 (25th December)
William had conquered the south of England and received the submission of Edgar and the Witan. He was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. However, it would take four more years before he completed the Norman Conquest and subdued the whole of England.

 

Published Sept 19, 2020 @ 5:30 pm – Updated – Sep 19, 2020 @ 5:30 pm

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). Battle of Hastings 14th October 1066 Available: https://www.totallytimelines.com/battle-of-hastings-14th-october-1066. Last accessed October 28th, 2020