On This Day in History: 1066
Today peaceful with wild flowers and birdsong, this evocative landscape once played host to thousands of men, fighting for the future of king and country.
It is October 14th, 1066; After a bloody battle lasting over nine hours from dawn until dusk, William of Normandy defeats King Harold of England on a battlefield 8 miles from Hastings.
The English army, led by King Harold, took up their position on Senlac Hill near Hastings on the morning of the 14th October 1066. Harold’s exhausted and depleted Saxon troops had been forced to march southwards following the bitter, bloody battle to capture Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire only days earlier.
William attacked with cavalry as well as infantry; in the classic English manner, Harold’s well trained troops all fought on foot behind their mighty shield wall.
The fighting continued for most of the day with the shield wall unbroken. It is said that it was the sight of retreating Normans which finally lured the English away from their defensive positions as they broke ranks in pursuit of the enemy.
Once their carefully organised formation was broken, the English were vulnerable to cavalry attack. King Harold was struck in the eye by a chance Norman arrow and was killed, but the battle raged on until all of Harold’s loyal bodyguard were slain.
Four years after the Battle of Hastings, Pope Alexander II ordered William the Conquerer to make penance for his invasion. As a consequence, William commissioned an abbey to be built on the site of the battle, and the remains of Battle Abbey (as it would later be known) stands proudly to this day.
The site is now operated by English Heritage, and also includes a gatehouse exhibition as well as wooden sculptures of Norman and Saxon troops scattered across the landscape.