The Battle of Hastings - Leadership and Strategy
The Battle of Hastings (1066)
1. King William
Duke of Normandy (in Northern France) who won the battle (pictured right).
He became William I, king of England (now known as William the Conqueror).
2. King Harold
The loser but a hero:
As the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, he was fighting for the native English (or
Anglo-Saxon) people who had created Europe’s richest country, economically and
3. The Bayeux Tapestry
A 70 metre long embroidery, telling the story of William’s invasion and the battle.
It famously shows Harold being killed by an arrow in his eye, pictured right, (although, in
reality, he probably wasn’t killed in this way).
Key events in 1066
The king of England (Edward the Confessor, pictured right) dies.
Harold crowned king
William gathers his invasion fleet and waits for a favourable wind at St. Valéry (on the
20 & 25 September
Harold defeats the Vikings (from Norway), near York in northern England, at the:
- Battle of Fulford (20 September)
- Battle of Stamford Bridge, (25 September).
William lands at Pevensey on the Sussex coast.
Harold arrives in London and gathers his troops.
The Battle of Hastings in which Harold is killed and defeated.
William crowned king of England.
Why did William win?
1. William’s luck
He was also known as William the Bastard (because of his illegitimate birth), so you could
say he was a lucky bastard! Why?
a) the Pope's blessing
Pope Alexander II (pictured right) blessed William ,because Harold had broken his
oath, given in Normandy in 1064 or 1065, to support William as the English king.
Harold said he had been tricked.
This papal blessing
- boosted the morale of William’s army.
- turned the invasion into a holy crusade
- persuaded other French regions to help William.
b) Halley’s Comet
A shooting star in April 1066 (later known as Halley’s Comet)
William told his superstitious troops that this was a sign of bad luck for Harold, not them!
c) delay of invasion
William's invasion fleet was delayed during September by unfavourable winds.
This enabled him to land unopposed, because Harold had gone to fight the Vikings (see point 2).
2. The Battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge (20 & 25
In these battles (near York in northern England), Harold crushingly defeated the invading Vikings, led
- his exiled brother, Tostig.
- the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, pictured right.
This was difficult enough (Hadrada’s army was the most feared in Europe), but Harold and his exhausted troops
had to march 500 miles (via London) to fight William.
He also lost many of his best troops, so he had no archers at the Battle of Hastings.
3. Harold’s tactics
Instead of fighting the battle, Harold should have:
- destroyed the crops (so starving William’s army).
But his military pride got the better of him, and he decided to attack.
4. William’s leadership
Although greedy and cruel, he inspired his men through his:
- was ruthlessly determined and dynamic.
- kept his army united and disciplined (during the delay in its
crossing of the Channel in September).
He was a brilliant strategist.
c) charisma and example
He led from the front (as he did at the Battle of Hastings, where he took
off his helmet to show his troops he was still alive).
When and where did the battle happen?
Saturday, 14th October 1066, near the present town
of Battle, near Hastings in the south of England.
William had landed at Pevensey on September 28th with
Harold had at least as many men but only 3,000 professional soldiers.
How long did the battle last?
6 to 9 hours, one of the longest battles in medieval
The English shield wall defended the 800 yard (732 metre) Senlach Ridge between
- Caldbec Hill (on Harold’s side) and
- Telham Hill (on William’s).
Crucially some English troops chased after some Normans, who were pretending a
This allowed William to counter-attack with his archers, foot soldiers and cavalry.
William eventually won after Harold was hit (and possibly killed) by an arrow.
But the English would probably have won, if they had:
- remained steadfast in their defensive position.
William’s reign was famous for...
1. Building the Tower of London (pictured
right) and lots of castles
These were built to keep the English people under control.
William had to defeat several rebellions including one led by Edgar, a direct descendant of
Alfred the Great (pictured right
2. The Doomsday Book (1086)
This was a record of everything English people owned, so they couldn’t escape paying tax!
3. The feudal system
William took all the land in England, giving it to his Norman friends (Earls) who:
- received rent from the poor English peasants (who were also forced to become soldiers in
times of war).
So the English hated their Norman landlords and William who:
- normally lived in France (until his death in 1087).