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Why Did William Win the Battle of Hastings?



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    Luck and timing were central to William’s success at Hastings. Firstly, in advance of the campaign, two of William’s rivals had died; Henry, king of France and Count Fulk of Anjou. This was very significant to the campaign because it enabled William to leave Normandy feeling safe because his two main adversaries were dead, and permitted him to get to Hastings without agonizing over an invasion and to dedicate his full thought to the campaign which lay ahead.

    When he did embark on the campaign, the weather was in the favour of the Normans. Initially, William had intended to embark in July but owing to adverse winds, the invasion was delayed from the end of July to September; first at the River Dives and then at St. Valery on the Somme. Additionally the Navy were no longer at seas as only remained on the Seas until the 8th September. With the amalgamation of clear seas and good weather on the 28th September, the day of crossing, The Saxons crossed the channel in just over 24 hours.

    Moreover, unbeknownst to William, this also was an extremely auspicious time for him because if he had arrived at his intended time of crossing in July, Harold and the Saxon army would have been waiting for him. However, it was a time of unease for Harold that year, as it was apparent that England was going to be invaded by either a Norman or a Scandinavian Force, and so Harold was nervous throughout the entirety of his nine month rain.

    Harold, thinking that he could be ubiquitous, had troops both at the North and at the South, waiting in vain for these invasions; however this only tired out his troops and stretched his resources. The Scandinavians arrived first, and so Harold made the southern fyrd march north to fight the Vikings. The battles of Gate Fulford, led by Edwin and Morcar, and the Battle of Stanford Bridge, were both won by the Saxons, boosting their morale but nonetheless they suffered great losses and the troops were tired where as the Normans were full of vigour and highly motivated.

    This was another way in which luck played in the favour of William. Without the invasions from the Scandinavians, William would have had to fight an energized army; instead the Normans fought only one battle against an already weakened enemy due to the significant losses of housecarles. Ultimately Harold proved himself an adequate leader with success in the north, but it seems that a sequence of grossly miscalculated decisions ultimately contributed to his defeat. We can deduce that if Harold had waited longer before striking on the Normans, the battle might not have had the same outcome.

    This is because Harold had been working his men into the ground; facing a double invasion had put an enormous strain on the army, and the army had been mobilised since May 1066, a notable feat in itself. If Harold had rested his troops for a few days it would have benefited him greatly. Not only would he have been able to join up with Edwin and Morcar who were marching south at the time of Hastings and in turn recruited thousands more archers and troops, but it would have also given his army some time to rest after the Battle of Stanford Bridge.

    Instead, Harold marched his army from York to London and the 58 mile walk from London to Hastings in just three days, further contributing to the army’s fatigue. Although it was in Harold’s best interest to wait, as this would rejuvenate his troops and starve William out, his impetus to fight William was too great to exact revenge for rampaging his lands. Even so, Hastings was closely fought. The Saxon’s shield wall held was at first impenetrable, helped by the steep incline of the hill. Harold’s mistake during the battle was due to the fact that he was fighting on foot.

    This meant he wasn’t as mobile, thus struggling with controlling the fyrd who were deceived by the Normans as they ‘retreated’. Due to his nature as a soldier on foot, Harold’s tactics were limited and meant that he couldn’t control his army to dictate his plan for the battle. It was due to the domino effect of Harold’s initial mistake of not waiting a few days to increase the size of his army while giving them time to rest that contributed to the Saxon loss of the Battle of Hastings. William’s acute intuition, ability to adjust in battle and strong and effective leadership all contributed to the Norman win at the Battle of Hastings.

    While in Normandy, William had a good military reputation and a strong personality which enabled him to persuade Normans and nearby states that he would succeed. This strong personality came with him to the battlefield where he kept up morale and discipline throughout the entire campaign. In addition to his, he was experienced as a campaigned, knowing just what to do to rile Harold, such as ravaging the land around Hastings to provoke Harold into a quick attack. The Norman army was also dominated by men on horseback whom William had brought over from Normandy in specially built boats (as shown in the Bayeux tapestry. This was an essential difference between the two armies as it gave William the advantage to attack, be more mobile, and travel quicker. These knights had sworn an oath to William and were highly trained and well equipped. Also Harold’s intellect and intuition was subservient to William’s, so while William continually learnt from the battle, and adapted his tactics accordingly, Harold didn’t have the means to facilitate a change in his plan, nor the imagination to think of a counter attack.

    Early on William realised that he would need to break the shield wall in order to get to London and claim his crown. At one point in the battle, the Normans believed that William had been killed and so started to disperse and consequently the Saxons also broke their formation, believing the battle to be won. William learnt quickly from this and staged some feigned retreats gradually wearing down the wall, allowing the knights to infiltrate the Saxons.

    It was through William’s ability to adjust and hiss strong leadership that the Saxons eventually won the Battle. If William did not possess such acute intuition, the two armies would have stayed fighting for days. Instead, William and the Saxons adapted accordingly to the situation, and won the battle. Ultimately, it was an amalgamation of factors that led to the saxon win at Hastings. Nonetheless the win stemmed from the lucky weather and the deterioration of the opponent’s energy, morale and numbers from fighting war on two fronts. If these

    Why Did William Win the Battle of Hastings?. (2017, Mar 03). Retrieved from

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