11 Facts About The Battle Of Hastings Some History Buffs Don't Even Know

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Vote up the facts about the Battle of Hastings that took you by surprise.

When King Edward the Confessor of England perished in January 1066, he was succeeded by Harold, Earl of Wessex and Kent. The new monarch was the most powerful landholder in the kingdom, more so than the king, but he had to fight to hold on to his throne: King Harald Hardrada of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy, both took issue with the new king. 

Harald believed he had a claim to the throne through King Harthacnut. William, on the other hand, believed he'd been promised the crown by Edward. As a result of this betrayal, William of Normandy set out to take what was, in his mind, rightfully his.

By the summer of 1066, William had gathered hundreds of ships and men to the coast of Normandy - where they waited for a favorable wind to cross the English Channel. King Harold II was aware of the threat and stationed defenders along the coast, only to disband them as autumn approached. Around the same time, Harold's exiled brother, Tostig, landed in the north of England, ready to take the kingdom alongside Harald. Harold and his Anglo-Saxon forces held off that threat but had to face the superior fighting force of the Normans soon after. 

The events of 1066 culminated in the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, heralded as a major turning point in English and European history. Here are some details about the Battle of Hastings most people don't know - but should. 

  • The First Norman To Strike A Blow Was Taillefer, William's Minstrel
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    419 VOTES

    The First Norman To Strike A Blow Was Taillefer, William's Minstrel

    According to several sources, William of Normandy's court entertainer was Taillefer. Not much is known about Taillefer, but he did accompany William to England in 1066, reportedly running onto the battlefield while singing the Chanson de Roland.

    Twelfth-century chronicler Wace, in his Roman de Rou, described how "Taillefer, who was an excellent singer, rode on a swift horse before the duke singing..."

    Taillefer struck first at Hastings, running toward the English and striking down one or more Anglo-Saxon warriors, and then, in the words of historian E.A. Freeman, "himself fell beneath the blows of their comrades."

    419 votes
  • 2
    361 VOTES

    Both Sides May Have Taken A Break For Lunch

    In some tellings of the events of October 14, 1066, both the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons stopped midday to eat a meal.

    It's nearly impossible to substantiate this; it may have just been a lull in the fighting. Realistically, taking a break on a battlefield wasn't an option - or a good idea. 

    In the longer term, food preferences may have actually been influenced by the results of the battle. Evidence suggests pork became more popular agricullturally and on plates. On the whole, however, "eating habits and cooking methods remained unchanged to a large extent."

    361 votes
  • 3
    285 VOTES

    King Harold Of England Perished In A Brutal Way

    According to the Bayeux Tapestry, King Harold finally fell after being shot in the eye with an arrow. This became the traditional narrative of medieval chroniclers, too. There's no way to authenticate this, however, and some historians doubt that's what actually happened.

    The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, or "Song of the Battle of Hastings," says multiple men went after Harold:

    The first, cleaving his breast through the shield with his point, drenched the earth with a gushing torrent of blood; the second smote off his head below the protection of the helmet and the third pierced the inwards of his belly with his lance; the fourth hewed off his thigh and bore away the severed limb: the ground held the body thus destroyed. 

    Regardless, Harold was dead and, again from the Carmen

    The mother of Harold, in the toils of overwhelming grief, sent even to the duke himself, asking with entreaties that he would restore her, unhappy woman, a widow and bereft of three sons, the bones of one in place of the three.

    Harold's mother didn't just lose her king and son; two of her other children, Gyrth and Leofwine, also perished. William refused her request, however, commanding "the body to be buried in the earth on the high summit of a cliff."

    285 votes
  • William The Conqueror Had The Support Of The Papacy
    Photo: Medieval paintings and files / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    275 VOTES

    William The Conqueror Had The Support Of The Papacy

    The Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story of William's conquest of England has a papal banner on it, demonstrating that William had Pope Alexander II on his side. The papacy supported William largely because of Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    In 1052, Stigand took the position from the papal appointee, Robert of Jumieges, with the help of King Edward the Confessor's counselor, Godwin. Stigand had not been elected or appointed by the papacy and failed to appear in Rome to answer an appeal made by his predecessor. Stigand also refused to give up his bishopric at Winchester.

    Stigand was excommunicated by five successive popes, including Alexander II. William and his brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, knew the papacy was eager to remove Stigand from the archbishopric and offered their services to take on what was essentially a holy war.

    Another aspect of papal support involved King Harold himself. As indicated by the Bayeux Tapestry and described in other sources, Harold had sworn on holy relics that William of Normandy would be king of England after the demise of Edward the Confessor. Harold took the throne as his own, which made him an oath-breaker and a usurper. 

    275 votes
  • The Use Of Feigned Retreats Remains A Matter Of Debate
    Photo: James William Edmund Doyle / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    185 VOTES

    The Use Of Feigned Retreats Remains A Matter Of Debate

    Historians have largely agreed that feigned retreats helped the Normans win at Hastings, drawing heavily on sources like William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi Ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum:

    The Normans and their allies, observing that they could not overcome an enemy which was so numerous and so solidly drawn up, without severe losses, retreated, simulating flight as a trick... among the barbarians there was great joy... some thousands of them... threw themselves in pursuit of those whom they believed to be in flight.

    Other accounts provide comparable information, although they've increasingly come under scrutiny. Some scholars note that because William of Poitiers was writing with a heavy Norman bias, he may have finessed the fact that William's forces were, in fact, retreating out of fear.

    On the other hand, Normans fighting in Italy and France during the mid-11th century also used feigned retreats, potentially attesting to well-known status. Fighters like Walter Giffard, present at the Battle of Arques in 1054 and at Hastings in 1066, could have been familiar with it. Training men and horses to conduct such activities was both costly and took a lot of time, however, further creating doubt as to what happened at Hastings. 

    185 votes
  • William Wasn't Crowned King Until Christmas Day 1066
    Photo: Attributed to George Vertue / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    175 VOTES

    William Wasn't Crowned King Until Christmas Day 1066

    William of Normandy's victory at Hastings was decisive in that he eliminated the reigning monarch, but it was months until he was in a position to be crowned king. After Hastings, William marched through to London, reportedly destroying local resistance efforts along the way.

    Dover submitted to William on October 21, while Canterbury accepted their new king on October 29. As William extended control over Sussex and Kent, London remained an important location for him to control. Residents of the symbolic and strategic city, according to the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, had taken it upon themselves to elect their own ruler - Edgar the Aetheling.

    Edgar was the great-grandson of King Aethelred and represented the last of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. He was never crowned and, like the other Anglo-Saxon nobility and church leaders, submitted to William in December. Only then was the Duke of Normandy crowned at Westminster.

    175 votes