Some factors in William's victory, which was not a foregone conclusion:
Harold having to bring a good number of his troops on a long march from the battle of Stamford Bridge against the vikings (and some of the forces involved there staying in the north)
Harold's possible impetuous commitment to battle, when another day's wait would have increased his numbers.
The battle site was not badly chosen by Harold, and his lack of archers not a major problem.
Mid-way through the battle, one flank of the Norman attack (The Bretons) had crumbled and retreated, but a counter-attack by the Saxons had left them out of formation and exposed, suffering very heavy causalities.
It was this tactic repeated deliberately which seems to have turned the battle. A faked retreat (dangerous, in case it turns into a real one) tempted the Saxons from their shield wall and hill.
Whether this was the ill-discipline of troops acting without orders or a terrible decision by Harold is not known.
Apart from the immediate losses, against a disorganized formation the re-deployment of archers was more effective.
The battle which need not have been lost, was.
Here is more input from others:
Here is a summary of what happened in 1066:
The state of Harold Godwinson's army before the Battle of Hastings:
Harold Godwinson's army wasn't in a great state for the battle. The weaknesses in Harold Godwinson's army were that they had all just marched 226 miles (363 km) so they were tired, they didn't have as many soldiers as William, they had just fought so some soldiers were down and some were wounded, their weapons weren't as good as Williams army's weapons and some members were giving up.
The state of William of Normandy's army before the Battle of Hastings
William of Normandy's army was in a good state for the battle. The advantages in William of Normandy's army were that they were well relaxed (they'd been waiting in the South for 9 days), they had around fresh soldiers who were all ready for battle.
There are a number of various reasons why William Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings. William and his army had landed on the South Coast expecting the enemy there, waiting for them. But they were over joyed to find out that nobody was there to meet them. William and his troops were expecting Harold Godwineson and his army to be there, waiting to meet them and start the battle. But instead, Harold and his army were at the North, fighting Harald Hadraada and his army. No wonder they were over joyed. So they decided to have a feast and get a good night's rest.
They now knew that Harald Hadraada and his army had attacked Harold and his troops and were fighting a battle, so they knew that Harold couldn't reach them quickly. So they had the feast and had a good night's sleep, and woke up the next morning, fresh and ready to fight the battle. Meanwhile Harold and his army were up at north, fighting Harald Hadraada and his troops, and then, very luckily, Harold gave his enemy, Harald, a blow that killed him. He sent his army home. Then, on this very triumphant day, Harold received very bad news: the William and the Normans had reached the South Coast and were getting ready to fight Harold. So Harold had to gather his army again, just as they were all tired out from fighting the battle and winning it for him. And he still had to pay them taxes. Harold's army weren't at all happy when he sent for them.
He and his army got ready to fight William, and they set off, marching, to get to the South Coast. So Harold and his army were tired out from all that fighting and now they had to go and fight another battle, which was just too bad luck! When Harold and his army reached Hastings, and stopped there to rest for a bit, they found out that William and his troops were there. So they met William and fought the Battle of Hastings, and, very luckily for him that was, William struck Harold in the eye, which made him stumble around in pain for a while before he was killed.
William had been promised the throne by Edward, or so he claimed. After Harold beat the viking army of Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, he had to march to Hastings to meet William. The Saxon shield wall of Harold held strong, but Williams men feinted a flee. Harolds men followed to route the Normans, breaking their shield wall. The Normans turned and caught the Saxons off guard defeating them. Another important issue was the Norman mounted knights. The development of steers for the Normans gave them a superior advantage over the unmounted Saxons.
Harold had to march his men to Stamford bridge near York and battle the vikings then take them south again. Harold lost some of his best men at Stamford and he was just unlucky. William had more and better men. Harold's men were not disciplined. Harold was killed in the middle of the battle.
The area Hastings was fought in was very different then to now, being almost entriely Fenlands. William landed in a cul de sac and it was important for him to break out. Harold rushed down from Stanford Bridge to hem William in. At the only exit to the Fenland was a high hill, Harold won the race and occupied it. Harold had 6000 troops arriving the following day if William waited a day he had lost the campaign so he chose to attack Harold at a huge disadvantage. It was one of the closest battles in history, for six hours the Normans attacked and the Saxon shield wall held. Until at dusk the Normans launched one last desperate assault on the Saxon left flank. It enjoyed a little success and Harold was forced to commit his reserve, Huscarls led by himself. It was during this assault he was struck by an arrow and killed. Effectively a lucky shot not only won the battle and the war but saved the Normans from annihalation on the following day.
William won the battle of Hastings because his troops were well prepared. Wiliiam used clever and well planned tactics to fool Harold's army. Part of the victory was down to luck. While Harold Gowinson was up near York At Stamford bridge, The Normans were able to cross the channel. This meant that Harold had to march his troops down to the small village, Hastings to fight the battle against William. This put Harold at a disadvantage, because some of his best fighters had died at the battle of Stamford bridge, and all Harold's troops were tired.
My uncle who used to work as a tour guide at battle abbey said that William had an idea for some of his army to look like they were running away from the battle, so a large chunk of Harold's army followed the people who were fleeing, but little did they no a trap was set. When the people who were following the fleeing people got to a point, some of Williams army surprised them and killed them. Leaving Harold's defenses small and out numbered.
Harold had been waiting on the south English coast for William to make a move from Normandy, then amassing his multi-national army. William waited until Harold's army had almost depleted their food reserves, etc.
But a huge Norwegian Viking army of '300 ships' (maybe 12-18,000 men)under the fearsome King Harald Hardrada('hard ruler') invaded northern England, with Tostig(Harold's own brother, still irate that his brother didn't help him keep his earldom a year earlier), advanced to near York and routed a Saxon army in battle, at ''Fulford Gate''(20th Sept 1066) Harold agonized, but decided to speed-ride north 190miles to beat the Norse, then dash back hopefully in time to defend the realm against William, who might invade anytime. This Harold did- he surprised the Norsemen and in a bloody and costly victory at ''Stamford Bridge''(25th Sept), the English slaughtered the Norsemen, Hardrada & Tostig.
Harold dashed back south again, having just got word of the Norman's landing on the south coast(29th Sept), and made for London to arrange for battle. His messengers had already ridden ahead to the western and southern shires to raise another fyrd(farmer/soldiers owing 2mnths annual war service). Crucially, he had had to leave his archers and many infantrymen- who were marching the hard slog on foot, and would be weary/late for battle.
On the 13th October, Harold uncharacteristically ignored the wise advice of his brother Gyrth(who said he instead would lead the half-prepared army, then Harold could lead a second)ordered every available man to follow him, and again marched, this time the 58m south to Senlac hill- originally intending to meet the fyrdsmen there(still coming in from the north/shires) before a possible night attack on the Normans then in their wooden stockade at Hastings harbor, 7m south.
But William's scouts found the gathering English there, and William marched north quickly. Now the two armies would fight here(Senlac, wrongly called the battle of Hastings), the Normans/French/Bretons on the low, marshy ground and the English/some Danes tightly packed atop the narrow, steep ridge above, half-mile wide. Harold's men were in a great position, guarded on their flanks by marshes/woods, and a steep incline ahead- but they were exhausted after their recent marches and previous battle.
King Harold of England had traveled to the far North of England to do battle with the invading Vikings, whom he defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He was making his return to Winchester (then the capital of England), and disbanding his army as he went, when he got news that William, Duke of Normandy had invaded at Hastings on the South Coast. Harold immediately recalled his men and made a forced march South. The speed with which Harold's army moved took William by surprise and as a consequence Harold was able to choose his ground to his best advantage. Harold had the high ground, but he suffered from two disadvantages; First, he had just fought a battle in the North and had lost many men that he had not had time to replace, and Second, having marched the length of Britain his men were exhausted. In spite of this he managed great discipline and fought off charge after charge from the mostly mounted knights of William. His shield wall proving impossible to break.
William then made a mass charge with 75% of his cavalry, instructing them to break off quickly and appear to desert the field. This they did. Many of Harold's men, convinced they had finally won the day ran down the hill after them, on foot. By the time they reached the bottom of the hill Williams remaining cavalry cut them off while the 'retreating' horsemen turned back and slaughtered them. This seriously weaken Harold's position and he was no longer able to withstand the repeated cavalry charges. It is almost certain that the story of Harold being shot in the eye with an arrow is a myth. However, he was certainly killed on the battlefield that day in 1066 and William had his victory.
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