6 Things You Need To Know About The Battle Of Hastings

To mark the 950th anniversary of Hastings, here are some fast facts on the bloody confrontation that would determine the course of the country…

Harold II killed by Norman arrow at Battle of Hastings, 1066

WILLIAM WASN'T THE ONLY ONE AFTER THE THRONE

We remember the Battle of Hastings as the start of the Norman invasion of Britain, with William the Conqueror determined to take the throne which he believed belonged to him, and not to Anglo-Saxon King Harold. Yet, it's been largely forgotten that another person also fought to take the kingdom: King Harald Hardrada of Norway. In alliance with the English Harold's own brother Tostig, who wanted revenge after being exiled, Harald Hardrada mounted a bold Viking invasion of England. Harold's forces came down on his army hard, and both Harald Hardrada and Tostig were killed, just weeks before Harold himself would be defeated at Hastings.

Battle Abbey, built on the site of the Battle of Hastings, which was some miles from Hastings itself.

Battle Abbey, built on the site of the Battle of Hastings, which was some miles from Hastings itself.

WILLIAM HAD A SHOW-OFF SHIP

William the Conqueror's invasion fleet was led by the leader's own ship, the Mora. It was, by all accounts, a spectacular vessel, adorned with vividly colourful sails and bearing the figurehead of a child pointing forwards and blowing a trumpet. The Mora was also considerably faster than others in the fleet - so fast, in fact, that William found himself so far ahead of his men that he paused in the middle of the Channel to have a leisurely breakfast while waiting for his troops to catch up.

THE BATTLE WASN'T IN HASTINGS

The Battle of Hastings is curiously named, because it actually took place several miles away from Hastings, in the place now called Battle. An early chronicle simply states that it was a battle fought "at the hoary apple tree", a name which thankfully didn't catch on.

THEY THOUGHT WILLIAM HAD DIED

The Battle of Hastings began at 9am on Saturday 14 October, and lasted all day. According to contemporary chronicler Orderic Vitalis, the English fought with "ferocious resolution" and had the upper hand to begin with. Things got worse for the Normans when a rumour began to spread that William himself had been killed. But William was most certainly not dead, and angrily rallied his troops, removing his helmet to show his face and yelling "Look at me, I'm alive and with the aid of God I will gain the victory!" It was a morale-boosting moment that helped turn the tide of the battle.

THE "FEIGNED" RETREATS

One controversial detail about the battle was William's apparent use of feigned retreats. According to contemporary reports, he deliberately ordered his men to fall back, pretending to flee in fear in order to draw out the English and make them break ranks. In the words of William of Poitiers, William's troops "retreated, simulating flight as a trick" before suddenly turning and surrounding the enemy, killing them "to the last man". However, some historians believe this was all just post-battle propaganda to cover up the fact that some Norman soldiers were genuinely trying to run away. Either way, it's fair to say Harold's forces fought remarkably well, especially considering they were exhausted from recent skirmishes up north.

NOBODY KNOWS HOW HAROLD DIED

It's one of the most well-known stories of British history: King Harold after getting an arrow in the eye. This legend stems largely from a scene purporting to depict Harold's death in the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows a soldier gripping an arrow that has indeed pierced him in the eye. However, there's no real indication whether this is supposed to be Harold, as we can see another man being slain by a sword right alongside him. We'll probably never know what really became of him.