Since the Battle of Hastings falls on October 14th this week I was interested in doing a week study of 1066; one of the most important years in English History. In this year the Anglo-Saxon era ends and the England we recognize begins. Often times many studies of English history do not even start until the rule of the Normans. The Norman Conquest in 1066 was the last time (even to the present day!) that England was conquered by a foreign power. To me, that is incredible. William the Conqueror certainly earned his name due to the others who followed in history failed to achieve this even with modern weaponry and advancements.
Due to the Norman conquest, the development of England went into a completely different direction. The Anglo-Saxons were originally came from Scandinavian/Germanic origin, while the Normans were French. One may not think that this was a big deal, but with the Norman conquest English society and history was now becoming closer to French culture instead of the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic. The English language developed with a French influence and the noble class began to speak exclusively in French to show their status (with English being reserved for the lower classes). In The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry, Bridgeford discusses how, if Harold won the Battle of Hastings, the English language we are speaking may have been unrecognizable with a more Germanic/Scandinavian influence. That just blows my mind.
The governing system changed as well. Gone were the days of witans and election of kings and the introduction of a powerful, absolute ruling King and dynastic succession. Some may say the Normans brought a form of “feudalism” to England. Literature changed with the rejection of Anglo-Saxon epic poems and this is the start of when England was more involved in French affairs and were focused on the English control of the Western part of the continent. It is amazing how much the course of history could have changed with just one battle.
To me, I feel the Battle of Hastings really could have gone either way and, in my opinion, these are the variables that could have gone either way to change the outcome.
- Natural conditions- the weather was difficult for William to make his crossing of the channel for months. If he was able to make the crossing when he wanted to he would have found Harold and his army prepared and waiting for him on the shore.
- Bad timing of additional invasion- In a previous post I discuss Harald Hardrada and his invasion of York. This was extremely bad timing causing Harold to have to leave his post in the south awaiting William and take care of another fierce army. The Battle of Stamford Bridge and the amazing four day march of 200miles (TWICE!) took a toll on the troops with exhaustion, injury and casualties. The battle had just ended when they heard the William had landed and they had to make another speedy four day march of 200 miles to get prepped for another battle. They were exhausted!! This leads me to my next point…
- Harolds overconfidence in decision making. I admire Harold II, but after Stamford Bridge (and the great victory it was!) he made the decision to push his exhausted troops on to another battle. If he had let his troops recover or waited to make a better strategy he may have had better luck at the Battle of Hastings. Of course, that would sacrifice some villages/cities in the south as (I am assuming) William would have conquered and pillage, but the Anglo-Saxons could have possibly run a better campaign instead of one battle ending the whole conflict.
- The death of Harold II during the battle. These were the days when Kings fought in the thick of battle with their troops and provided moral support. When a leader dies, honestly, that usually marks the end of that armies success. When the troops find out that their King has been killed that really destroys any inspiration they have to continue to fight. Since the Battle of Hastings was so evenly matched if Harold had survived longer maybe they would have overcome the Normans?
These are just my thoughts and I don’t claim to know anything about military strategy; this is just a year I am very interested in.
I am going to attempt this 1066 week and we shall see how well I do. I hope you all enjoy and possibly learn something new!
How do you think the development of England could have changed if Harold and the Anglo-Saxons had won?