The Battle of Hastings 1066: Summary, Facts & Significance

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Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Ever wonder why there are so many French-sounding words in English? This is just one of the lasting effects of the Battle of Hastings, which you can learn more about in this lesson. Read on to find a summary of the conflict, along with some fun facts!

Summary of the Battle of Hastings

Any of us with siblings or other extended relatives knows that family members often like to fight with each other. The royal families of medieval Europe were also notoriously combative with one another, quite frequently because many of the noble houses were related through intermarriage. Their squabbles, though, weren't over the remote control or a vacation spot, but typically concerned rights of succession to the various thrones of Europe. It was a family feud that began in the mid-11th century - that culminated in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a battle between the English and the Norman-French that boiled down to a squabble over secession.

Following the death of the childless English king Edward the Confessor in January of 1066, there were many questions as to who would rule next. Edward had married the only daughter (Edith) of Godwin of Wessex, the most powerful family in England at the time. Having no heirs to claim his crown, the dying Edward declared Edith's brother - Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex - his successor, and he became King Harold II of England. However, this hasty handover was problematic for several men with aspirations to the English crown.

Harold's brother Tostig also claimed rights of succession, along with the Viking King, Harald Hardrada of Norway, who staked his own claim on a prior Anglo-Norse unification. Harold defeated Tostig and Hardrada on September 25th, 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. However, little did he know that he would soon face an even greater threat.

William, Duke of Normandy , eventually known as William the Conqueror, perhaps felt the most cheated of all, especially considering that King Edward had already promised him the throne in 1051. William, a distant cousin of Edward's, asserted his right to the crown based both on his relationship to the former king, as well as the verbal contract between them. With Harold II trying to recuperate from his run-ins with Tostig and Hardrada, William landed at Pevensey, England on September 28th, 1066 and took the city. After securing Pevensey, William marched on toward Hastings to regroup his men, and it was there that William and Harold would settle their differences.

On Senlac Hill, about seven miles outside of Hastings, William and Harold's forces clashed on October 14th, 1066. William (hereafter known as 'the Conqueror') led his winning combination of Norman infantry, cavalry, and archers against Harold's poorly trained Anglo-Saxon peasants, with the total show of force running between 5,000 and 7,000 men. By day's end, King Harold II had been reportedly shot through the eye with an arrow, allowing William to claim victory and Norman control of England.

Significance of the Battle of Hastings

Once William had defeated Harold at Hastings, he marched on to London, where he received no resistance when the city submitted to his rule. It was here that William re-established the seat of government (formerly in Winchester) and where it remains to this day. It was also here on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey that William the Conqueror was crowned King William I of England, forever ending the reign of Anglo-Saxon monarchs in the country.

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