The Battle of Hastings

On 14 October, 1066, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England died in battle.

(If you don't get the joke, it's because you haven't played Skyrim.)

Many people don't know that the Anglo-Saxon army that the Normans defeated had very recently fought and beaten a Viking army led by "the Thunderbolt of the North," King Harald Hadrada of Norway. Harald was a king with a storied career, having fought in the Vaering guards for the Byzantine emperors before returning to Norway to claim his throne. There's a whole book about him contained within the Heimskringla, the story of the Norse kings. He died fighting Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in the north of England. That battle was on 25 September. Barely had they defeated the Viking army when word came of the Norman invasion in the south. The Anglo-Saxons had to force-march their way across the country in order to catch William's Normans.

Nevertheless it is not thought to be exhaustion but communication that lost the battle for the Anglo-Saxons. They fought dismounted in a shield wall, as also did the Vikings. The Norman cavalry could not pierce the wall, but it could withdraw, plan, and re-engage. Once committed to the fight, Harold's forces had difficulty seeing the battle as a whole and reorganizing accordingly. The Normans could change plans as the battle progressed. In a demonstration of the concept that Colonel Boyd would later formalize as the "OODA loop," this increased capacity to communicate and respond to changes on the field is thought to have been the decisive factor at Hastings.

Few battles have changed history as completely as the Battle of Hastings. The Normans' rise to the leadership of England lasted for hundreds of years, and committed England as a nation to defending Norman possessions in France during the Hundred Years War. The expansionist Normans went on to conquer Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, only one of them with finality but setting the stage for the rise of Great Britain. It's hard to imagine what the world would look like today if the English had remained an Anglo-Saxon power content with England alone.


raven said...

Interesting- never read any of the particulars of the battle, only that it was a defeat for the Anglo Saxons.

Lars Walker said...

1066 was an incredible year. I read Howarth's book about it in high school, and I've never gotten over the fascination. We Viking guys sometimes try to imagine a world in which Harald Hardrada conquered England and successfully resisted William, but that's a) far-fetched, and b) pointless, as Harald H. was every bit the bloody despot William was.

Texan99 said...

The Normans were pretty amazing generally, at a time when the rest of Europe had sort of run out of steam. They kept striking out in all directions and stirring things up wherever they arrived.

Grim said...

The Normans were pretty amazing. I sometimes think Tolkien had them in mind when he wrote about the Dunedain, the natural-born "Kings of Men" who went everywhere and, whatever men they found where they went, became kings. Even where it didn't work out in the long run, the kings who replaced them were usually of Norman stock, intermarried with the locals. The Irish call them the "Old English" even today, but they mean the Fitzpatricks and Fizgeralds -- names we think of as prototypically Irish because they prospered and came to lead the culture, as they did the nation. Robert the Bruce's insurgency was Norman-Scottish, not just a Celtic revolt against invaders from the south, but also a revolt by another branch of the Norman nobility that saw itself as properly independent from Edward I's Anglo-Norman kingdom.

MikeD said...

I was also under the impression the Normans themselves were of Norse descent (thus Nor-man, North Man). And that they settled in Normandy as a form of tribute from the French kings in exchange for cessation of raiding. Was I incorrect?

Grim said...

Not at all.

Ymar Sakar said...

Don't need to play Skyrim to get that joke, it's a common internet meme on youtube and other sites by now. For any intel analysts, it's pretty easy to open source data mine that.

I'm thinking of Stamford Bridge as I read Grim's opening lines.

Thinking also of William the Conqueror. The Normans being the Vikings linked up with the Bretons, that is, up near Frisia or Zeeland, or what is now Holland.

He died fighting Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in the north of England.

Ooh, here's the answer. There it is.

I had thought it was William the Norman Conqueror, but it was a different Norse king. 1066 is actually farther along in the timeline than what I'm looking at, history wise.

Ragnarr and his sons did quite a number on the Anglo Saxon Britain territories.

Talk about taking defeat from the mouth of victory. Godwinson had to fight two Viking blood derived armies. Tough situation to be in. His dynasty got diminished as a result too.