TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century

 

 
 


England in the  Middle Ages
 


CA. 450-1485
 

 

Between the fifth and seventh centuries, the Anglo-Saxons founded a number of kingdoms on the territory of present-day  1 England. In the ninth and tenth centuries, they united in defense against the Danish Vikings. Following a period of Danish rule, the French Normans conquered England in 1066. The holdings of the English kings on the Continent provoked France and, together with English claims to the French throne, led to the Hundred Years' War. In the 15th century, the disputes over the royal succession escalated into the War of the Roses. The nobility used the weaknesses of the monarchy to institutionalize their right to a share in decision making through the creation of a parliament.
 

 


1 First page of Bede's Ecclesiastical History
of the English People
, ca. 830

 


Settlement by the Anglo-Saxons and the Founding of Kingdoms
 

The Anglo-Saxons, and after them the Danish Vikings, conquered wide areas of the British Isles and drove out the native Britons as they settled in their territories. The native British tribes were pushed North and West into Scotland and Wales.

 

Germanic tribes from the North Sea coast landed in the British Isles around 450. They were initially summoned by the Celtic Britons as mercenaries against the Picts, who were invading from Scotland.

However, under their legendary leaders, the brothers 2 Hengist and Horsa, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes settled permanently.

The native Britons were pushed into the fringe regions of Cornwall and Wales, where Celtic princes were able to maintain their independence until the 13th century.

The occupation and settlement by the Germanic tribes, who merged to become the 3 Anglo-Saxons, was complete by the seventh century.

At that point, there were seven major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Mcrcia, Northum bria, East Anglia, Wessex, Essex, Sussex, and Kent. These were known as the Heptarchy. Northumbria's initial hegemony in the seventh century was overtaken by Mcrcia in the eighth century. However, it was out of Wessex, in defense against the Vikings, that the eventual unification of England came.

The first raid by Danish Vikings in 793 targeted the 4 monastery of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northum-bria. Further attacks and raids followed until the Danes, from around 866. set about the total conquest of the British islands. From the Thames estuary, they occupied the areas north of the river, the Danelaw. At the same time, Norwegian Vikings conquered the coastal areas and islands of Ireland. Scotland, and England, where they founded kingdoms such as Dublin and the Isle of Man.
 


2 Hengist and Horsa land on the
English coast, steel engraving,
19th century


3 Anglo-Saxon helmet,
seventh с


4 Ruins of the monastery on Lindisfarne or "Holy Island,"
northeast England

 

 

The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons

St. Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, began his mission in Kent in 597.

The reigning king, Ethelbert, had married a Christian Frank and, under her influence, converted to Christianity and was baptized. Augustine became the first archbishop of the city of Canterbury, which remains to this day the most important bishopric.

Later, Anglo-Saxons themselves became missionaries, such as St. Boniface, who died in 754 and was known as the "Apostle of Germany. "



King Ethelbert of Kent is baptized by
St. Augustine of Canterbury,
copper engraving, 17th century

 

 

 

 


The Battle of the Anglo-Saxons against the Danes and Normans
 

The Danes were unable to conquer the kingdom of Wessex, which became the starting point of England's national unity.

 

King 5 Alfred the Great of Wessex came to the throne in 871.


5 Alfred the Great, painting, 19th century

At first he made a peace agreement with the Danes, but they did not abide by it.

In 878, Alfred defeated the Danes in the 6 Battle of Edington; in 886, he captured London, and by his death in 899 he had been able to extend his territories even further north.


6 Battle between Anglo-Saxons and Danes,
a still from the film Alfred the Great, 1969



Alfred was also a notable legislator and a translator of historical and philosophical works from the Latin. His successors continued the fight against the Danes. Alfred's grandson. Athelstan, completed the reconquest in 937 with a victory over the Danes and their Welsh and Scottish allies. Though the Danish kingdom on English soil was eliminated, further attacks ensued from Denmark itself.
 

 


Alfred the Great


Alfred, also spelled Aelfred, byname Alfred the Great (born 849—died 899), king of Wessex (871–899), a Saxon kingdom in southwestern England. He prevented England from falling to the Danes and promoted learning and literacy. Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle began during his reign, c. 890.

When he was born, it must have seemed unlikely that Alfred would become king, since he had four older brothers; he said that he never desired royal power. Perhaps a scholar’s life would have contented him. His mother early aroused his interest in English poetry, and from his boyhood he also hankered after Latin learning, possibly stimulated by visits to Rome in 853 and 855. It is possible also that he was aware of and admired the great Frankish king Charlemagne, who had at the beginning of the century revived learning in his realm. Alfred had no opportunity to acquire the education he sought, however, until much later in life.

He probably received the education in military arts normal for a young man of rank. He first appeared on active service in 868, when he and his brother, King Aethelred (Ethelred) I, went to help Burgred of Mercia (the kingdom between the Thames and the Humber) against a great Danish army that had landed in East Anglia in 865 and taken possession of Northumbria in 867. The Danes refused to give battle, and peace was made. In this year Alfred married Ealhswith, descended through her mother from Mercian kings. Late in 871, the Danes invaded Wessex, and Aethelred and Alfred fought several battles with them. Aethelred died in 871 and Alfred succeeded him. After an unsuccessful battle at Wilton he made peace. It was probably the quality of the West Saxon resistance that discouraged Danish attacks for five years.

In 876 the Danes again advanced on Wessex: they retired in 877 having accomplished little, but a surprise attack in January 878 came near to success. The Danes established themselves at Chippenham, and the West Saxons submitted “except King Alfred.” He harassed the Danes from a fort in the Somerset marshes, and until seven weeks after Easter he secretly assembled an army, which defeated them at the Battle of Edington. They surrendered, and their king, Guthrum, was baptized, Alfred standing as sponsor; the following year they settled in East Anglia.

Wessex was never again in such danger. Alfred had a respite from fighting until 885, when he repelled an invasion of Kent by a Danish army, supported by the East Anglian Danes. In 886 he took the offensive and captured London, a success that brought all the English not under Danish rule to accept him as king. The possession of London also made possible the reconquest of the Danish territories in his son’s reign, and Alfred may have been preparing for this, though he could make no further advance himself. He had to meet a serious attack by a large Danish force from the European continent in 892, and it was not until 896 that it gave up the struggle.

The failure of the Danes to make any more advances against Alfred was largely a result of the defensive measures he undertook during the war. Old forts were strengthened and new ones built at strategic sites, and arrangements were made for their continual manning. Alfred reorganized his army and used ships against the invaders as early as 875. Later he had larger ships built to his own design for use against the coastal raids that continued even after 896. Wise diplomacy also helped Alfred’s defense. He maintained friendly relations with Mercia and Wales; Welsh rulers sought his support and supplied some troops for his army in 893.

Alfred succeeded in government as well as at war. He was a wise administrator, organizing his finances and the service due from his thanes (noble followers). He scrutinized the administration of justice and took steps to ensure the protection of the weak from oppression by ignorant or corrupt judges. He promulgated an important code of laws, after studying the principles of lawgiving in the Book of Exodus and the codes of Aethelbert of Kent, Ine of Wessex (688–694), and Offa of Mercia (757–796), again with special attention to the protection of the weak and dependent. While avoiding unnecessary changes in custom, he limited the practice of the blood feud and imposed heavy penalties for breach of oath or pledge.

Alfred is most exceptional, however, not for his generalship or his administration but for his attitude toward learning. He shared the contemporary view that Viking raids were a divine punishment for the people’s sins, and he attributed these to the decline of learning, for only through learning could men acquire wisdom and live in accordance with God’s will. Hence, in the lull from attack between 878 and 885, he invited scholars to his court from Mercia, Wales, and the European continent. He learned Latin himself and began to translate Latin books into English in 887. He directed that all young freemen of adequate means must learn to read English, and, by his own translations and those of his helpers, he made available English versions of “those books most necessary for all men to know,” books that would lead them to wisdom and virtue. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, by the English historian Bede, and the Seven Books of Histories Against the Pagans, by Paulus Orosius, a 5th-century theologian—neither of which was translated by Alfred himself, though they have been credited to him—revealed the divine purpose in history. Alfred’s translation of the Pastoral Care of St. Gregory I, the great 6th-century pope, provided a manual for priests in the instruction of their flocks, and a translation by Bishop Werferth of Gregory’s Dialogues supplied edifying reading on holy men. Alfred’s rendering of the Soliloquies of the 5th-century theologian St. Augustine of Hippo, to which he added material from other works of the Fathers of the Church, discussed problems concerning faith and reason and the nature of eternal life. This translation deserves to be studied in its own right, as does his rendering of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. In considering what is true happiness and the relation of providence to faith and of predestination to free will, Alfred does not fully accept Boethius’ position but depends more on the early Fathers. In both works, additions include parallels from contemporary conditions, sometimes revealing his views on the social order and the duties of kingship. Alfred wrote for the benefit of his people, but he was also deeply interested in theological problems for their own sake and commissioned the first of the translations, Gregory’s Dialogues, “that in the midst of earthly troubles he might sometimes think of heavenly things.” He may also have done a translation of the first 50 psalms. Though not Alfred’s work, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of the greatest sources of information about Saxon England, which began to be circulated about 890, may have its origin in the intellectual interests awakened by the revival of learning under him. His reign also saw activity in building and in art, and foreign craftsmen were attracted to his court.

In one of his endeavours, however, Alfred had little success; he tried to revive monasticism, founding a monastery and a nunnery, but there was little enthusiasm in England for the monastic life until after the revivals on the European continent in the next century.

Alfred, alone of Anglo-Saxon kings, inspired a full-length biography, written in 893, by the Welsh scholar Asser. This work contains much valuable information, and it reveals that Alfred laboured throughout under the burden of recurrent, painful illness; and beneath Asser’s rhetoric can be seen a man of attractive character, full of compassion, able to inspire affection, and intensely conscious of the responsibilities of kingly office. This picture is confirmed by Alfred’s laws and writings.

Alfred was never forgotten: his memory lived on through the Middle Ages and in legend as that of a king who won victory in apparently hopeless circumstances and as a wise lawgiver. Some of his works were copied as late as the 12th century. Modern studies have increased knowledge of him but have not altered in its essentials the medieval conception of a great king.

Dorothy Whitelock
 

Encyclopædia Britannica
 


King Ethelred II tried in vain to buy off the Danes by paying large sums of 8 "Danegeld" tribute.


8 English coins used to pay the Danegeld
tribute to the Viking invaders, tenth-eleventh century



However, the Danish king Sweyn I Forkbeard forced him into exile with a military campaign of invasions that followed the massacre of England's Danish settlers. Sweyn's son, Canute the Great, eventually defeated Ethelred's son, Edmund II, in 1016 at the Battle of Assandun and was thereafter generally recognized as king of the English. Canute married Emma of Normandy, widow of Ethelred II, and converted to Christianity. After he also became king in Denmark and Norway, he ruled over a vast kingdom situated on the coasts of the North Sea that also encompassed northern parts of Germany.

When Canute's son 7 Hardecanute died in 1042 without an heir, Godwin, earl of Wessex, the leader of the Anglo-Saxon nobility, brought 9 Edward the Confessor, the son of Ethelred II, out of exile in Normandy and made him the new king.


7 Hardecanute orders the body of his
half-brother and usurper, Harold, exhumed,
decapitated and thrown into the Thames,
copper engraving, 17th с


9 Edward the Confessor, book illustration,
late twelfth century



 
 

Ethelred II

Ethelred II, also spelled Aethelred, byname Ethelred the Unready, or Aethelred Unraed (born 968?—died April 23, 1016, London, England), king of the English from 978 to 1013 and from 1014 to 1016. He was an ineffectual ruler who failed to prevent the Danes from overrunning England. The epithet “unready” is derived from unraed, meaning “bad counsel” or “no counsel,” and puns on his name, which means “noble counsel.”

The son of King Edgar (ruled 959–975), Ethelred ascended the throne upon the assassination of his half brother King Edward the Martyr in March 978. Widespread suspicion that Ethelred may have had a part in the murder created much of the distrust and disloyalty that undermined his authority. Hence, there was no unified defense when the Danish invasions resumed in 980.

Nearly all of the country was ravaged, and Ethelred’s efforts to buy peace only made the invaders more rapacious. When they did begin to settle down in towns, Ethelred provoked further invasions by launching a massacre of Danish settlers (Nov. 13, 1002). By the end of 1013 the Danish king Sweyn I had been accepted as king in England, and Ethelred had fled to Normandy.

After Sweyn died in February 1014, Ethelred’s council of advisers invited him to return to the throne on condition that he agree to satisfy their grievances. At the time of Ethelred’s death in 1016, Sweyn’s son Canute was ravaging England. Ethelred was succeeded by his son Edmund II Ironside (ruled 1016); one of his other sons ruled England as Edward the Confessor from 1042 to 1066. Despite the overall failures of the reign, evidence from his charters and coinage suggest that Ethelred’s government was more effective than was once believed.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 

 

 

Edmund II

Edmund II, byname Edmund Ironside (born c. 993—died Nov. 30, 1016), king of the English from April 23 to Nov. 30, 1016, surnamed “Ironside” for his staunch resistance to a massive invasion led by the Danish king Canute.

The son of King Ethelred II the Unready (reigned 978–1016), Edmund defied his father’s orders by marrying (1015) the widow of one of the Danish lords then occupying English territory, probably in order to enhance his chances at succession. Nevertheless, when Canute invaded England later in 1015, Edmund raised an army in northern England and ravaged regions that would not rally to his cause.

Upon Ethelred’s death (April 1016), a small number of councillors and citizens of London proclaimed Edmund as their ruler, but a larger body of nobles at Southampton declared for Canute. Edmund then launched a series of offensives against his rival. He recovered Wessex and relieved London of a siege before being decisively defeated by Canute at Ashington, Essex, on October 18. In the ensuing peace settlement, Edmund retained Wessex, while Canute held the lands north of the River Thames. After Edmund died (probably of natural causes), Canute became sole ruler of England.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 

 

 

Edward the Confessor

Edward, byname Saint Edward the Confessor (born 1002/05, Islip, Eng.—died Jan. 5, 1066, London; canonized 1161; feast day originally January 5, now October 13), king of England from 1042 to 1066. Although he is often portrayed as a listless, ineffectual monarch overshadowed by powerful nobles, Edward preserved much of the dignity of the crown and managed to keep the kingdom united during his reign of 24 years. His close ties to Normandy prepared the way for the conquest of England by the Normans under William, duke of Normandy (later King William I), in 1066.

Edward was the son of King Ethelred II (reigned 978–1016) and Emma, daughter of Richard II, duke of Normandy. When the Danes invaded England in 1013, the family escaped to Normandy; the following year Edward returned to England with the ambassadors who negotiated the pact that returned his father to power. After Ethelred’s death in 1016 the Danes again took control of England. Edward lived in exile in Normandy until 1041, when he returned to the London court of his half brother (Emma was their mother), King Hardecanute. Edward succeeded to the throne in 1042 and quickly seized the property of his mother, who had plotted against his accession. Nevertheless, for the first 11 years of his reign the real master of England was Godwine, earl of Wessex, though Edward preserved his right as king to appoint bishops. Edward married Godwine’s daughter Edith in 1045, but by 1049 a breach had occurred between the two men. In 1051 Edward outlawed the Godwine family and dismissed Edith. During this period Edward rapidly lost popularity by giving foreigners—particularly Normans—high positions in his government. Hence, in 1052 Godwine and his sons were able to gather large forces against the king. They compelled Edward to restore their lands and recall Edith as his wife, and they exiled many of his foreign favourites.

Upon Godwine’s death in 1053, his son Harold became the most powerful figure in the kingdom. It was Harold rather than Edward who subjugated Wales in 1063 and negotiated with the rebellious Northumbrians in 1065. Consequently, Edward on his deathbed named Harold as his successor, even though he allegedly had already promised the crown to William, duke of Normandy. (Edward had exploited his lack of an heir as a diplomatic tool by promising the succession to various parties.) Indeed, according to Norman accounts, Edward sent Harold to Normandy in 1064 to confirm his promise to William. While en route, Harold was captured by one of William’s vassals and may have been ransomed by the duke, who then took Harold on a military campaign in Brittany. Harold swore an oath to William that he would defend William’s claim to the English throne. The violation of the alleged oath was one of the justifications used in support of the Norman invasion of England. Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings in Sussex in October 1066, and two months later William ascended the throne.

In the years following Edward’s death, his reputation for piety grew, in part as a result of the political needs of his successors. In the late 11th and the early 12th century, Edward’s childless marriage came to be understood as the consequence of his devotion to virginity and the chaste life. He was praised for issuing prophecies, and a number of miracles were attributed to him. In the 1130s Osbert of Clare, a monk at Westminster Abbey, where Edward had built a new church, wrote the saint’s life the Vita beati Eadwardi regis Anglorum (“Life of the Blessed Edward, King of the English”). In 1161 Pope Alexander III, during his struggle with Frederick Barbarossa and the antipope Victor IV, was recognized as the legitimate pope by England’s King Henry II in exchange for canonizing Edward, and in 1163 the translation of Edward’s relics was attended by secular and political leaders of the kingdom. In the later Middle Ages Edward was a favourite saint of English kings such as Henry III and Richard II.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 


Edward, however, became unpopular because he brought Norman counselors with him into the country and preferred them over the Anglo-Saxon nobility. When his marriage to Godwin's daughter remained childless, he designated his cousin, Duke William II of Normandy, as his successor.

But the Anglo-Saxons chose Godwin's son, 10 Harold II, as king after Edward's death in 1066.

Harold was able to repulse an invasion by the Vikings, who wanted to reconstitute Canute's North Sea kingdom, but then was defeated in 1066 at the 11 Battle of Hastings by William of Normandy's invading troops.

Harold fell in battle, and William the Conqueror had himself crowned king of England.
 


10 Coronation of Harold II, detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, late eleventh century

 

 

 

Bayeux Tapestry, medieval embroidery depicting the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, remarkable as a work of art and important as a source for 11th-century history.

The tapestry is a band of linen 231 feet (70 metres) long and 19.5 inches (49.5 cm) wide, now light brown with age, on which are embroidered, in worsteds of eight colours, more than 70 scenes representing the Norman Conquest. The story begins with a prelude to Harold’s visit to Bosham on his way to Normandy (1064?) and ends with the flight of Harold’s English forces from Hastings (October 1066); originally, the story may have been taken further, but the end of the strip has perished. Along the top and the bottom run decorative borders with figures of animals, scenes from the fables of Aesop and Phaedrus, scenes from husbandry and the chase, and occasionally scenes related to the main pictorial narrative. It has been restored more than once, and in some details the restorations are of doubtful authority.

When first referred to (1476), the tapestry was used once a year to decorate the nave of the cathedral in Bayeux, France. There it was “discovered” by the French antiquarian and scholar Bernard de Montfaucon, who published the earliest complete reproduction of it in 1730. Having twice narrowly escaped destruction during the French Revolution, it was exhibited in Paris at Napoleon’s wish in 1803–04 and thereafter was in civil custody at Bayeux, except in 1871 (during the Franco-German War) and from September 1939 to March 1945 (during World War II).

Montfaucon found at Bayeux a tradition, possibly not more than a century old, that assigned the tapestry to Matilda, wife of William I (the Conqueror), but there is nothing else to connect the work with her. It may have been commissioned by William’s half brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux; Odo is prominent in the later scenes, and three of the very few named figures on the tapestry have names borne by obscure men known to have been associated with him. This conjecture would date the work not later than about 1092, an approximate time now generally accepted. The tapestry has affinities with other English works of the 11th century, and, though its origin in England is not proved, there is a circumstantial case for such an origin.

The tapestry is of greater interest as a work of art. It is also important evidence for the history of the Norman Conquest, especially for Harold’s relation to William before 1066; its story of events seems straightforward and convincing, despite some obscurities. The decorative borders have value for the study of medieval fables. The tapestry’s contribution to knowledge of everyday life about 1100 is of little importance, except for military equipment and tactics.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 


11 Armed with battle-axes, Anglo-Saxons fight against the Norman cavalry, detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, late eleventh century

 
 


Harold II

Harold II, also called Harold Godwineson or Harold Godwinson (born c. 1020—died Oct. 14, 1066, near Hastings, Sussex, Eng.), last Anglo-Saxon king of England. A strong ruler and a skilled general, he held the crown for nine months in 1066 before he was killed at the Battle of Hastings by Norman invaders under William the Conqueror.

Harold’s mother, Gytha, belonged to a powerful Danish noble family with close connections to Canute, the Danish king of England. Harold’s father, Godwine, earl of Wessex and Kent, was an important supporter of the king. Although an ally of the Anglo-Danish line, Godwine accepted the accession as king of a member of the former English royal family, Edward the Confessor (1042–66), following the death of Canute’s successor. Godwine emerged as the dominant figure in the kingdom early in Edward’s reign, more powerful even than the king himself. About 1044, Godwine obtained for Harold the earldom of East Anglia, Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, and in 1045 Edward married Edith, Godwine’s daughter and Harold’s sister.

In 1051, however, Godwine refused to obey a royal command to punish the people of a town friendly to him. Both sides rallied their troops, but Godwine’s rebellion collapsed when powerful nobles supported the king. Godwine and his sons were banished for defying royal authority, and Edward sent his wife to a convent and designated William of Normandy as his heir. (Exiled from 1016 to 1041, Edward had found sanctuary in Normandy. In addition, his mother was a Norman, and he had close connections to Norman churchmen.) In 1052 Harold invaded England and forced the king to restore his father and his family to their previous positions.

Godwine’s restoration was short-lived; he died in 1053. Harold, whose older brother Sweyn had died on pilgrimage the previous year, succeeded to his father’s earldoms, becoming (as his father had been) the dominant figure in the kingdom. His hand was further strengthened in the 1050s by the deaths of Leofric, the earl of Mercia, and other rivals, and by 1057 Harold had obtained earldoms for his three brothers, Tostig, Gyrth, and Leofwine. Harold cultivated good relations with the leading clerics of the kingdom, including Stigand, the bishop of Winchester and archbishop of Canterbury, and was an active patron of various religious houses, most notably the college of canons at Waltham.

Harold faced opposition, however, from Aelfgar, the exiled son and heir of Leofric, who raided Mercia with help from a leading Welsh prince. In retaliation, Harold and Tostig subjugated Wales in 1063. Two years later Harold endured another challenge when the Northumbrians revolted against Tostig, their earl. After killing many of Tostig’s supporters, the rebels offered the earldom to Morcar of Mercia, a member of the family of Leofric, and forced Harold to accept him. Tostig, declared an outlaw by the Northumbrians and abandoned by Harold, fled to Flanders. Harold, however, gained some advantage from this situation. Although he had lost the support of Tostig, he strengthened his position with the Mercians and the Welsh by marrying Morcar’s sister, who had previously been married to a Welsh prince.

Having established himself as the preeminent figure in England by the mid-1060s, Harold most likely expected to ascend the throne after the passing of the childless Edward. His designs, however, were complicated by events in 1064. According to contemporary Norman sources, notably the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold was sent by Edward to Normandy to confirm Duke William as the king’s heir. While en route, Harold was shipwrecked and captured by Guy I of Ponthieu, one of William’s vassals. The duke demanded Harold’s release and may have ransomed him. Harold was warmly welcomed by William and joined him on a military campaign in Brittany. According to the Bayeux Tapestry and other Norman accounts, Harold also swore an oath of fealty to William and promised to protect William’s claim to the English throne.

Despite his promise of the throne to William, Edward from his deathbed designated Harold his heir. On Jan. 6, 1066, the day after Edward’s death, Harold was elected by the English nobility and crowned and anointed king at Winchester Abbey by the archbishop of York.

Harold’s reign, however, was destined to be short and troubled. He was immediately threatened by William and Harald III Hardraade, king of Norway, as well as by Tostig. In May, Harold mobilized his fleet and a peasant army of the south to guard the coast against an expected invasion by William. Meanwhile, Harold was forced to repel Tostig’s raids on the southern and eastern coasts. In September Harald and Tostig invaded in the north, defeating an army at Gate Fulford; marching northward, Harold met them at Stamford Bridge, where he won an overwhelming victory on September 25. Harald and Tostig were killed, and the remnants of their armies quickly left England.

Earlier in September, Harold had been forced to disband his southern army because he had run out of supplies and because his troops had to return to the harvest. Thus, William was free to cross the English Channel unopposed. Finally blessed with favourable winds, William sailed from Normandy on the evening of September 27–28, landed without incident at Pevesney, and set up camp at Hastings. Harold, having just defeated Harald and Tostig, marched southward in all haste, reaching London on October 6. There his army, exhausted by the forced marches across England, rested a few days before setting out to Hastings. In the morning of October 14, however, before Harold had prepared his troops for battle, William’s forces attacked. Despite the surprise, the outcome of the battle was far from certain. William’s efforts to shatter Harold’s shield wall (a formation of troops in which soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder with their shields overlapping) failed at first, and William’s horsemen broke ranks and fled in confusion, with Harold’s army in hot pursuit. But William managed to rally his mounted knights, who turned and cut their pursuers to pieces. Later in the battle, William’s knights feigned two retreats, killing those who chased them. The deaths of Harold—killed by an arrow in the eye, according to the Bayeux Tapestry—and other Anglo-Saxon leaders finally won the day for William. His accession to the English throne as King William I ended the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history.

The manner of Harold’s legendary death, in the medieval view, was the proper fate of perjurers. It is unclear whether Harold really died in this way, however; indeed, legends from the 12th century maintain that he was not killed at Hastings. According to one such tale, Harold spent two years recovering from wounds he received at Hastings before going on pilgrimage in France and England. He returned as an old man and lived as a hermit at Dover and Chester, where he revealed his true identity just before dying. Despite his brief reign, Harold was a key figure in English history and a talented leader in peace and war.




Battle of Hastings
 

Battle of Hastings, (Oct. 14, 1066), battle that ended in the defeat of Harold II of England by William, duke of Normandy, and established the Normans as the rulers of England.

Harold’s predecessor, the childless Edward the Confessor, had at first probably designated William, a cousin, as his heir but on his deathbed (Jan. 5, 1066) granted the kingdom to Harold, earl of Wessex and the most powerful man in the kingdom; Harold was crowned king the next day.

On September 27 William crossed to England unopposed, with an army of 4,000 to 7,000 cavalry and infantry, disembarking at Pevensey in Sussex and moving eastward along the coast to Hastings. Harold learned of William’s landing on or about October 2 and hurried southward; by October 13 Harold was approaching Hastings with about 7,000 men, many of whom were half-armed, untrained peasants. At dawn on October 14 William moved toward Harold’s army, which was occupying a ridge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Hastings. William disposed his army for attack—archers in front, infantrymen behind, and the knights in three groups to the rear. Harold’s English army, lacking archers and cavalry, prepared for defense on the protected summit of the ridge. His men, too closely ranged, provided an excellent target for William’s archers, who opened the Norman attack but suffered heavily from English slings and spears. William therefore threw in his cavalry, which was so badly mauled by the English infantry wielding two-handed battle-axes that it fled. William checked its flight and throughout the day launched on the English position a series of alternate cavalry charges and flights of arrows. By two feigned retreats he drew considerable numbers of Englishmen from their position and then turned and annihilated them. Gradually the English were worn down; two of Harold’s brothers fell, and in the late afternoon he himself was killed when, according to the Bayeux Tapestry, he was struck in the eye by an arrow. The leaderless English fought on until dusk, then broke; after a last rally they scattered, leaving William the winner of one of the most daring gambles in history. After the battle his army moved to isolate London, where William I was crowned king on December 25.


Encyclopædia Britannica