When Edward the Confessor died in 1066, the Witan (the king’s council) named Harold Godwin, Edward’s brother-in-law, as the heir to the Anglo-Saxon throne of England. The Witan had the right to name the next king because Edward did not have a son. Harold II legally became the king, but his reign was short-lived due to the invasions of two other would-be kings: Harald Hardrada and William, Duke of Normandy.
Harald Hardrada was a descendent of Edward’s father, Cnut. His claim was shaky at best, but he persuaded Harold II’s brother Tostig to side with him to take the throne.
William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that Edward had willed the monarchy to him just before he died. The known facts are that Edward did send Harold as an ambassador to see William, but Harold’s boat shipwrecked, leaving him at the mercy of William. Apparently William wrung a promise out of Harold to give William the throne when Edward died. No proven facts can substantiate William’s story.
The Battle of Hastings which gave England to the Normans was lost by the Anglo-Saxons for several reasons. Prior to the battle, Harold II had to march north to fight his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada who had landed at York. Harold II soundly beat them at Stamford Bridge. However, while Harold won battles in the north, William landed in southern England to claim the throne.
The first reason the Saxons lost was because Harold’s men were weary and tired from fighting. When he heard of William’s landing, Harold quick-marched his men south and stopped at London to summon the trained bands (the militia). Before the London militia could assemble, Harold continued his march to Senlac Hill outside of Hastings.
At dawn on October 14, 1066, Harold had his men form a shield wall which became impregnable. His archers and spearmen easily kept the Norman horsemen at bay. However, as the day went on, Harold’s men grew cocky and started leaving the shield wall to fight. This was the second reason the Saxons lost. William saw this weakness and trapped the Saxons on the next run. Eventually William took the wall because too few Saxons were left to defend it. Harold fell with an arrow to his eye. Evening came and the battle was won for the Normans.
The London bands showed up too late to fight which was the third reason the Saxons lost. William marched to London and was crowned king on Christmas Day. The beautiful Bayeux Tapestry is a pictorial representation of William’s conquest of England. It is an account of the Battle of Hastings and the events which preceded it. The tapestry was woven just twenty years after the battle by women in Normandy who heard the stories from their husbands. The tapestry currently hangs in the Bayeux Cathedral in northern France.
– Hannah S. Bowers