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Teresa Cole’s latest book has been published by Amberley Publishing to coincide with the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, on October 14, 1066. Our friends at Amberley have been kind enough to run a special promotion for Medievalists readers. From today until November 30th, 2016 Our Site readers get 20% off all Amberley titles! Just head over to their website, select your title and when checking out, use the code: Medieval16. The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror’s Subjugation of England is also available in Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats and includes 40 colour illustrations. Here is an excerpt from the book.
In that fateful year of 1066 three kings ruled England in succession. One was a saint, one a soldier and one a Frenchman. Tradition tells us the conquest of England by the powerful Normans was inescapable, and suggests England benefited almost at once by closer links with Europe. New discoveries however, have thrown doubt on these long accepted truths. The Battle of Hastings itself has been re-assessed, its very site disputed, as too are the whereabouts of the mortal remains of the defeated King Harold. As for the kings themselves; was Edward the Confessor as saintly and William as dominant as they have been portrayed, and was Harold more than just the hinge on which history turned? Nine and a half centuries later it is appropriate to look again at the course and outcomes of the Norman Conquest of England, the genocide committed in northern England, the wholesale transfer of lands to Norman lords, and the Domesday Book designed to enable every last drop of taxation to be extracted from a subdued kingdom.
From the Chapter: THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS, OCTOBER 1066
William of Jumièges records that the battle began at the third hour of the day, that is at 9 a.m. A bizarre little flourish is added by Poitiers who declares that, just as it is for the prosecution to begin a case in court, so it was William, the claimant’s, forces that opened hostilities.
The first attack was by the archers, advancing up the slope to discharge their weapons. Fired at that angle, though, they would have had little effect, either sticking in shields or passing overhead. In return the English hurled down on them javelins, axes and miscellaneous other missiles so that the archers were forced to retreat. The heavy infantry tried next but they could make no headway against the packed shield wall, and to save the situation William had to send in his cavalry. Many of these rode close up the hill to hurl their javelins, the usual form of attack and that depicted on the Tapestry. Others went even closer, using their swords to hack at the men in the shield wall. William of Poitiers acknowledges that at this stage the advantage was all on the English side, as they ‘successfully repulsed those who were engaging them at close quarters,’ while ‘their weapons found easy passage through the shields and armour of their enemies’.
It was rare for medieval battles to last much over an hour. By that time some weakening of one side or the other usually proved decisive and at Hastings, too, there was just such a weakening. ‘Panic-stricken by the violence of the assault,’ says Poitiers, the infantry and Breton knights on the left wing fell back, causing their panic to spread along the line so that ‘the whole army of the duke was in danger of retreat’. The alarm was fuelled by a sudden rumour that William was slain and in a moment the retreat could have become headlong flight.
It is here that people tend to point up the differences in the generalship of William and Harold, heaping praise on one and deriding the other. One swift charge by the English forces, they say, would have swept the Normans from the field and won the day. Maybe on another day that is exactly what Harold would have done, but we must remember that this army was not the army he had fought with in the north. He was undoubtedly missing numbers of housecarls who could have made all the difference, and we don’t know how far he was having to rely on the less well-trained select fyrd who may possibly have been second-, third-, or even fourth- choice ghters from regions that had already answered at least two calls that year. What would have been absolutely clear is that, if once they abandoned their commanding position on the hill, they would never get it back.
Teresa Cole has been a teacher for thirty years and has written several law books and a historical biography by Amberley, Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415
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