Chapter Twelve: The Battle: 1) The Lines Are Drawn

 

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Harold’s men lined up on the ridge at Caldbeck Hill – Photo c/o http://www.Stormfront.org

Harold was marshalling his men as the Norman army and their allies, marched along the road from Hastings, into the valley that was slung between Telham and Caldbeck Hills. Singing their war songs, and shouting  ‘Dex Aie!’ – God aid us  – and ‘Normandy!’

Watching them whilst on the ridge facing them, Harold’s mob start banging their weapons against their shields and shouting for ‘Godwinson!’ and ‘Oli crosse!’ or ‘Gotte  mite!’ essentially meaning, God is on our side! And of course, the famous ‘Ut! Ut! Ut!’ Imagine the noise these thousands of men would have made, a cacophony of languages and chants. It would not have been unlike a football match here in the modern world, except the chanters were the players and not the observers in this game of death.

The ridge was reportedly 800 yards long, the flanks of which were protected by sharp declines and it cut right across the road back to Hastings. At its highest point it rose to about 150ft, and 60ft above the lowest point of the marshy valley. Behind the shieldwall, lay the road back to London and Lewes, on the top of the hill, there was open heathland big enough to camp on overnight. Nearby was the edge of the forest, where after the battle, survivors would run, or crawl, when they realised they had lost the battle. For now, though, they were not thinking of dying, or losing, well, maybe some were, but the confident among them wanted to get stuck into the enemy, thinking only of driving them back into the sea to whence they came. They were fighting for their freedom, the right to govern themselves as their customs dictated over years of building their country from the days when the first Germanic tribes climbed over the strakes of their longships and stepped onto Britannia’s soil.

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The Normans, on the other hand, were fighting for what they believed in too, except their beliefs were governed by the desire of their leader, who had promised them that he had God on their side, that he, William of Normandy, was the true King of England. He’d also promised them land, riches and status, to encourage them to come with him. They were fighting for their new lives, land where they had none back in France, and greater prospects. And they were doing this at the expense of their English counterparts.

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You can imagine the speeches that each war leader gave their troops, though it must have been difficult to relay a speech to that amount of men without the technology of today, still, no doubt there were speeches and the differences within them would have been to do with the above.

Harold’s men must have been 8-10 men deep and a thousand men across. By these times, the 11th century, that would have been a large army. And there would still be more men Harold could call on, if only he could contain William, at the very least, if not, destroy him completely. His plan must have been to maintain the shieldwall on the ridge until new troops arrived, and all his troops should have known what the plan was. Guy of Amiens, in his Roman de Rou, informs us that many of Harold’s troops deserted him because of the excommunication. Florence of Worcester confirms this but gives a different reason, they left because there was no room on the ridge, the battlefield was full. Howarth (1977) believes that those who went away were local peasants who had turned up to support their masters, perhaps. It seems unlikely that professional warriors would have left their comrades to it, even if there was no more room on the ridge, they would have stayed in reserve, and filled in the gaps when men were wounded or injured.

William had marched at dawn. For an army  of that size to get itself up and going, it must have taken a lot longer than initially thought. When the head of William’s army came over the slope of Telham Hill, the rear was only getting started 6 miles away. William halted in sight of the English army who were already lining up on the ridge. Kinights stopped to put on their mail hauberks. William, put his mail on back to front! Just the sort of thing I do on a daily basis with my clothes – not mail – I might add. But once again, he laughs at the bad omen and his men help him to sort himself out.

William deploys his army to the left and right as the English watch on. There is about 200 yards between them. Battle lines draw up and it begins.

Gravett C (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.

 

 

Chapter Eleven:The Eve of Battle

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For a better look http://www.angelfire.com/mb2/battle_hastings_1066/hastingsmaps.html

There were two hills that made the valley called Santlache, meaning a sandy lake in modern English. They were Telham Hill and Caldbeck Hill. Most likely the land here was  marshy and that was why they called it a lake, though obviously not a lake in actual fact. The origin of the name is unknown, but it was not called Senlac until the the Normans, or the French,  changed the original meaning to Sanguelac, which translates as bloody lake, as a sort of pun on the original meaning, and very apt for what it was to become. It was not until Orderic Vitalis wrote in 1140, that it began to be used, before that, chroniclers seem to have called it plain old Battle of Hastings (Howarth 1977).  It was in this valley that the battle was going to take place, Harold, choosing to defend the ridge that ran across the road to Hastings, at the top of the of incline on Caldbeck Hill.

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http://www.jeron.je/anglia/learn/sec/history/hastings/page10.htm

Harold met with his army by the Hoary Old Apple Tree on Caldbeck Hill the night before the battle, approaching via the road from Rochester with the men from the west joining them from a prehistoric pathway that joined the London to Lewes road as stated by Gravett 2000. Knowing that Duke William was waiting in Hastings, Harold knew that the best position to defend against an army containing cavalry, would be on the high ground. He must also have known the mustering place quite well to have chosen this as the spot. No doubt this place was a local meeting point for the local levies who would meet every year to train and hone their skills. He would have seen the advantages of the terrain. The ground was around 235 feet higher than the bottom of the slope and behind the ridge on Caldbeck Hill was open heathland and the forest lay at the edge of the hill, a good escape route if it were  needed.

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http://www.jeron.je/anglia/learn/sec/history/hastings/page10.htm

William was about 6 miles away in his encampment at Hastings when he was told that his rival for the English throne had taken up the position on the top of Caldbeck Hill, his army arriving in units from all over the country. As is the usual custom, more messengers were sent to and fro, not because the matter of the messages were important, but to spy on each other, to see what their plans were and to report anything of importance that they might find out whilst within their camps. One of the messengers reported back to Harold that there were a lot of priests accompanying the Norman army, but Harold knew the habit of the Normans to shave the back of their heads, and so was not surprised. He knew he would not be fighting a bunch of wet, weakling clergy. He had seen William’s army in action. Another messenger reported that William was going to march at dawn (Guy de Amiens), and so Harold knew they were coming, and I am certain that William did not ‘surprise’ or catch the English unawares the next morning. He would have known by now a rough count of their numbers and would have also worked out how long it would take for the invaders to march the 6 miles to Santlache. He would be ready. Unfortunately, there are no contemporary English sources of the battle itself, all we have to go on were those that came from the victorious winners, Guy of Amiens in the Roman de Rou and the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, being the main ones. What we know of the English side is what the Normans saw, and not what it was like from within the English army itself. Some sources insist that William’s convoy came over Telham Hill and into view just as Harold was still marshalling his troops along the ridge, but on reflection, so many troops would have taken quite some time to organise.  Plus some were still arriving.

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Norman Knight

What was the mental state of these two men on the eve before battle? William was buoyant, asssured and confident of a victory, with everything going his way. So far, he had been lucky, but he wouldn’t have seen it as just luck; everything that had happened so far was God’s will: the change of wind, the safe sea crossing, the safe landing with no opposition. And now Harold was out of his safe place in London and coming to him.  He was confident that he would win tomorrow. He had the papal banner to prove he had the right of it. God was on his side.

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Anglo/Danish Huscarle

Harold, I’m guessing, would have been in quite a different state of mind from William. He had recently marched north to destroy his brother and the Norsemen. His brother… dead. Not happy news to give to his mother and  sister. So Tostig had betrayed him, but he was still his brother. The psychological impact this must have had on him would have been traumatic. And just when he thought he had dealt with all he needed to deal with that year, along comes the news that William was raiding his lands on his doorstep. The stress of rousing his men, having to march back down in just a few days, must have put a considerable amount of pressure on him. And then, he hears a rumour that the pope had excommunicated him. The Roman de Rou, would claim that this caused men to desert him before the battle had even started. God had deserted him and the effect on his psyche would have been tremendous.

Further Reading

Gravett C (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.