My husband was born on 14 October. On the same day in 1066, there was another great event in English history: a Norman Duke, William, won a decisive battle against the Anglo-Saxon King Harold and took the English throne.
The previous King, Edward the Confessor, had died in January 1066. Both Harold and William claimed the crown.
On 28 September, to enforce his claim, William landed an invading force at Pevensey, near Hastings.
Harold was threatened on two fronts. Norwegian invaders under King Harald Hardrada, supported by Harold’s brother Tostig, were attacking in the north. On 20 September, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York, Harold and his army defeated and killed Harald Hardrada and Tostig. Then, to confront the invading army of William Duke of Normandy, Harold was forced to march his army the 260 miles from Stamford Bridge south to Hastings.
By 13 October the two armies, William’s, with 10,000 men, and Harold’s, with 7,000, were camped within sight of each other. The invading force was half infantry, a quarter cavalry and the rest archers. Harold’s army was almost entirely infantry, with very few archers. Greg notes that none were wearing proper eye protection.
The battle began with Harold’s army lined up defensively along the ridge now occupied by the buildings of Battle Abbey. The English front, in the form of a shield-wall, stretched for almost half a mile. A shield-wall – soldiers in close formation with overlapping shields – was considered almost impervious to cavalry, but left little room for manoeuvre.
William’s army was south of the Anglo-Saxon force, on a hillside above the marshy valley bottom. His army was arranged in three ranks: archers in front, then infantry, and behind them mounted knights.
In the first exchanges, William’s cavalry made little impact on the Saxon defensive wall of shields. William’s army employed some tricky tactics: at least twice the Normans pretended to flee in mid-battle, to encourage the English to break ranks and pursue them. The turning point in the battle came when Harold was killed, according to legend shot in the eye by an arrow.
Nearly a thousand years later it can be hard to say with certainty what happened and where. However, it seems likely that the Battle of Hastings was fought on the site where Battle Abbey now stands. An obituary of William the Conqueror in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and written before 1100 by an Englishman who describes himself as having lived at the king’s own court tells us: ‘On the very spot where God granted him the conquest of England, he caused a great abbey to be built’.
On a trip to France in 2003, we saw the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts seventy-five scenes from the events leading up to the Norman conquest, culminating in the Battle of Hastings and Harold’s death: ‘Harold Rex interfectus est’ (Here King Harold is slain).
I can trace my genealogy back to William I of England who was one of my 28th grandfathers. Many millions of people are descended from William. My descent is through my Mainwaring forebears.
- Dennis, C. ‘The Strange Death of King Harold II’, The Historian (Spring 2009), 14–18 retrieved from https://www.history.org.uk/primary/resource/2530/the-strange-death-of-king-harold-ii-propaganda-an .
- Morris, Marc ‘1066: The limits of our knowledge’, The Historian (Spring 2013 issue 117), 12 – 15 retrieved from https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/resource/6408/1066-the-limits-of-our-knowledge
- Cavenagh-Mainwaring, James Gordon The Mainwarings of Whitmore and Biddulph in the County of Stafford. An account of the family, and its connections by marriage and descent; with special reference to the Manor of Whitmore. J.G. Cavenagh-Mainwaring, about 1935
- John Burke (1848). The Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales, with Their Descendants, Sovereigns and Subjects: By John Burke & John Bernard Burke. In Two Volumes. I. Churton. pp. 24–25.