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Harold II (1066)
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Harold II (1066)

Born in 1022, Harold had been supreme in the council since his father Godwin’s death in 1053. Named as king by Edward on his deathbed, he was duly crowned. Harold was brave, vigorous and generous. However, while waiting to see what William would do, he was threatened by treachery and invasion. His wayward brother Tostig joined forces with Norway’s king Harald Hardrada, and their army landed in the north. Norman historians record that Harold’s brother Girth advised him to hold back and that his mother ‘hung about him in her great anxiety’. But Harold was no man to hesi¬tate. Marching to Yorkshire, he won a triumphant victory on 25 September at Stamford Bridge, where both Harald and Tostig were killed. On 28 September, a fleet of 700 Norman ships landed at Pevensey on the Sussex coast. Harold wheeled south to face the new threat, without gathering reinforcements.
The Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October on Senlac Hill (now Battle in East Sussex), cost Harold his kingdom. His death, and that of his brothers, left the English leaderless, allowing William to take the Crown.

‘One of the battles which, at rare intervals, have decided the fate of nations'
Sir Frank Stenton, historian

History is littered with ‘might have beens’ and ‘what ifs?’. What if Harold had not faced invasion on two fronts in 1066? What if, after Stamford Bridge, he had paused to gather his forces before attacking William?

The Battle jf Hastings
At Hastings, the two sides were fairly evenly matched, with estimates of numbers varying from 3,000 to 7,000. The Normans were fresh, however, and their armoured knights on horseback and archers proved decisive. According to Ordericus Vitalis, the Norman monk- historian, the battle was fought ‘with the greatest fury’ from nine in the morning until the evening. The English wall of shields, axes and spears stood firm under onslaught from arrows and horsemen. At one point William, unhorsed, was feared dead, but he took

off his helmet, shouting, ‘See, I am here, I am still living and by God’s help shall yet have the victory.’ When English troops broke ranks to pursue Normans feigning flight, they were swiftly cut to pieces. By dusk, Harold was dead, along with his brothers Leofwin and Girth, and the hilltop was strewn with bodies.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle comments philosophically the Frenchmen had possession of the place with carnage, all as God granted them for the people’s sins’.

Conqueror at sea
Duke William’s ship leads the Norman fleet across the Channel. The events of the Conquest are recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry, of which this picture forms part.

Harold II (1066)

Harold's marches
This map shows Harold’s move¬ments as he tried to counter invasions on two fronts. William by contrast landed, then awaited the battle that would decide his, and England’s, destiny.

Harold II (1066)

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