Setting the Stage: The Battlefield at Hastings

The battlefield that played host to the Battle of Hastings is not actually at Hastings at all. Today, the battlefield is in a town appropriately known as Battle. At the time of the battle, however, there was no town there at all, and Hastings was the nearest settlement. In the fall of 1066, the battlefield area was largely fields, hedges and trees, with a ridge running along the north end known a Senlac Hill.hastings-map

The English force, led by Harold, was composed entirely of infantry. His forces had been boosted slightly with additional recruits picked up during the journey South, but Harold was missing one vital component in his army: he had no Archers. This may be due to the fact that his Archers were not mounted on horses and that Harold had only been able to mobilise his horsemen in such a short space of time. Some historians speculate that Harold intended to wait for their arrival before engaging William, but time ran out. Hearing of Harold’s arrival, and keen to do battle, William resolved to attack him the next day and marched North to meet him.

On the morning of October 14th, 1066, Harold formed his men into a shield wall some 800 yards across and up to ten men deep along the ridgeline of Senlac Hill. Harold had a strong position, but it was purely a defensive one. He had no major means of attack, having no Archers and no Cavalry, and the day would be won or lost on whether or not his men held Senlac Hill.

William relied on combined arms tactics with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry which would engage in close combat, and finally culminating in a cavalry charge that would break through the English forces. His archers were good, but William’s calvary was widely known as the best in the region. They were heavily armored and well armed.

Regardless of the size and effectiveness of his fighting force, though, William had to attack uphill – an unenviable circumstance that most military men will avoid to this day whenever possible.

The battle began at 09:00 with the sound of trumpets. William ordered his Archers to advance and fire at the English line on Senlac Hill. He then sent in his Infantry and his Cavalry to press home a general attack on the line but it was to no avail. His attack faltered on the English shield wall, which held firm. The English had an excellent defensive position on the top of the ridgeline and they managed to inflict heavy losses amongst the Norman soldiers with javelins and axes as they charged up the slope.

See how things turned out for William and Harold as we interpret this famous battle through a human combat chess match at this year’s Sarasota Medieval Fair!

Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

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