The native people of Britain were repeatedly attacked and their land invaded by warriors and settlers from Europe. But the Norman Conquest in 1066 was to be the last invasion from Europe.
The Norman invasion did not come as a surprise to the English, for King Harold who had taken the throne on the death of Edward the Confessor had in fact pledged his support to Duke William of Normandy in the Norman's claim to the English throne. William was the only contender to the throne who could claim royal blood. He was distantly related to four kings whilst Harold could only claim that his sister had married Edward the Confessor. A third contender for the throne came from Norway and Harold Hardrada claimed England on the basis of a treaty made by his father with Hardacanute.
William and Hardrada planned invasions soon after Harold had been crowned in Westminster Abbey on the 6th January, 1066.
Harold had a well trained army and in September he camped in southern England ready to repel the Normans. But Hardrada struck first and on 18th September the Norse fleet sailed up the estuary of the Humber. Harold rapidly marched his army to the north and decisively defeated Hardrada and the Norse army at Stamford Bridge on 25th September. Three days later William landed near Hastings after ferrying his troops and horses across the Channel. Harold immediately rushed his army southwards to fend off the new attack.
At daybreak on 14th October, 1066, William formed his army up in front of the Saxon forces which were grouped near Hastings on a low hill protected on either side by marshland.
The battle started with a shower of arrows from the Normans, but the fusilade was not returned and the Norman archers soon ran out of arrows. The battle was joined in close combat and lasted all morning. At midday the Norman left flank retreated into the marshland, William was unhorsed and the pursuing Saxons thought the breakthrough had come. But William quickly remounted and urged his soldiers on. The Saxons who had broken formation to chase the Normans into the marsh were annihilated and once again the two armies faced each other. But the Normans now realised that the Saxons could be drawn and during the afternoon they repeatedly lured the foolhardy Saxons away by feigning retreat and then turning on the men who were giving chase.
At 4.0 p.m. the final onslaught began. The Norman archers, now re-equipped, fired a fusilade of arrows high into the air and, as the Saxons raised up their shields to fend off the aerial attack, they were charged by the Norman troops. Harold was killed together with many of his finest soldiers. The remnants of the Saxon army fled, leaving William undisputed master of the field and the new King of England.
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The Norman Conquest written by Monique Barb for FamousWhy.com
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