William and Harold meet at the Battle of Hastings

Map showing where the battle Hastings took place - 1) 700 Norman ships. 2) 15000 Normans - 5000 Saxons. 3) Normans defeated the Saxons. 4) King Harold killed.

There have been many accounts of the Battle of Hastings and, while it is difficult to know exactly what happened, here is one account:

  • William’s invasion fleet consisted of 700 ships and a large army. Although ready since August, strong winds had prevented William and his fleet from sailing until late September.
  • On September 29th, William landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex. A castle was built and his army set about raiding the surrounding area.
William prepares his troops for battle, as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.
William prepares his troops for battle, as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry
  • Harold II marched quickly south, immediately after the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He left many of his foot soldiers behind and exhausted the others. Harold II arrived in Sussex after two weeks of constant marching.
  • The two sides met at Senlac Hill, near Hastings. Harold II had gathered his men at the top of the hill and they protected their position using a wall of shields.
  • The battle began in the morning with the Norman knights on foot firing arrows followed by those on horseback charging up the hill.
  • The battle continued for two hours before a rumour suggested William had been killed. On hearing this news, one of the Norman soldiers began to flee because they thought William had been killed. William took off his helmet to show them he was still alive. Shouting Look at me! I am alive! And with God’s help we will win!.
Swordman fighting axeman in a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings.
Re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings
  • The next part of the battle was in the afternoon. A turning point in the battle was to occur. The Normans pretended to run away, then turned and cut down the Saxons when the inexperienced fyrdchased them. The Saxons had lost their main advantage: their control of the top of the hill.
  • William had a well-equipped army. He could now use them to his advantage. He had knights on horseback and archers with crossbows. Harold II had a traditional Saxon army – his housecarls fought on foot with axes and the fyrd were just farmers who fought with any weapons they could get. William’s soldiers were fresh and full-time fighters. The Saxons stood no chance!
  • William used archers to break up the Saxon shield wall. Arrows fell like rain on the Saxons, killing many of them in the process.
  • In desperation, the housecarls formed a ring around their king. They failed to protect him however and Harold was killed - although exactly how he died, no-one can be sure of.
  • Harold was killed. It is impossible to know how Harold II died. Most people believe that he was killed by an arrow in the eye. This theory is based on a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry has the words 'Harold is killed' next to a man with an arrow in his eye, but it is impossible to know which soldier is Harold II because all the Saxon soldiers are dressed identically.
Harold is killed by an arrow to the eye, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.
Harold is killed, allegedly by an arrow to the eye
  • William’s army of about 10,000 were experienced and well trained. They used swords, bows and arrows, and knights on horseback. On the other hand, Harold’s army of 8000 were largely peasants, plus the fierce and well trained housecarls. They used spears, axes and swords but also farm tools such as pitchforks.