On 14 October 1066 the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy faced the army of Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings. William I – more commonly known as William the Conqueror – won a decisive victory in the battle which marked the beginning of the Norman conquest of England.
The Battle of Hastings was in direct response to the death of King Edward the Confessor who died childless in January 1066. Harold was chosen as successor by the Witenagemot (an assembly of ruling class men whose role was to advise the king) and he was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 6 January 1066. He immediately faced a succession struggle as three other claimants to the throne – his brother Tostig, the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy – came forward to challenge his rule.
When Tostig’s original coup attempts were foiled he threw his support behind Hardrada. Together they fought off an attack of Englishmen on 20 September 1066 at the Battle of Fulford. Their success was not to continue however as when they faced King Harold in the Battle of Stamford Bridge less than a week later they were defeated and ultimately killed, leaving William as the only serious other claimant to the crown.
William and the Norman forces had spent nine months preparing landed at Pevensey in the south of England on 28 September, ready to launch an attack. Having only just fought Tostig and Harald of Norway, King Harold of England was forced to march his exhausted army south to meet the Norman threat.
The battle began around 9 o’clock in the morning of 14 October and continued until dusk as Harold’s army of almost entirely infantry faced William’s mixed forces of infantry, cavalry and archers. Modern estimates as to the size of the forces who fought at the Battle of Hastings suggest that William had 10,000 men or more on his side and Harold held around 7,000.
Though the bigger fighting force, the Normans quickly realised they could not break the English battle lines and so used the tactic of pretending to flee in order to encourage the English to give chase. This successful strategy allowed them to turn on their pursuers and catch them unaware, granting the Normans the upper hand and playing a significant role in their triumph.
When King Harold was killed (though the exact time and nature of his death is a matter of dispute) his forces retreated leaving William the Conqueror the decisive victor.
Though further combat followed the major battle had been won and William was crowned as William I, the first Norman King of England, on Christmas Day 1066. He reigned until his death in 1087 and was succeeded by his son, William II.