The battle of Hastings was responsible for the rise of England to its status of power and strength. Prior to the battle, England was a relatively meager country. The battle transformed the country into a great power. “The battle of Hastings is recognized as the first step by which England reached her present strength.” (Wilberforce, 1898, p. 226)
The battle occurred October 14, 1066, in a village in England that is now known as Battle. (The town of Hastings is about six miles southeast of the battle site.) The battle of Hastings was fought between Duke William of Normandy, who was named heir to the throne, and the Saxon Harold Godwinson, who had crowned himself King of England. William and Harold both claimed the throne of England. Harald Hardrada, a Scandinavian king, also thought the throne was rightfully his. “Never was a nobler prize sought by nobler champions, or striven for more gallantly.” (Wilberfoce, 1898, p. 227)
Harald Hardrada was King of Norway. He was a brilliant soldier. Before he became king, he had fought for the King of Novgorod and had served Empress Zoe in Constantinople. He returned to Norway in 1042, during which time Magnus the Good was the King of Norway when Hardrada returned. However, Hardrada was so rich and had such a remarkable reputation, that Magnus gave half of his kingdom to him. In 1047, King Magnus died and Hardrada inherited all of the kingdom. Through a pact between Magnus and Hardicanute, the former King of England, Hardrada was entitled to the English throne. The pact was given little esteem and King Hardrada was not considered by many to be the true heir.
Harold was the foremost member of the most powerful noble family in England next to the royals. Harold was the son of Godwin, a man who, at one time, was the most powerful Earl in all of England. Godwin even acted as a proxy for the King when he was overseas. When Godwin died, Harold took over as “the most powerful man in the kingdom, second only to the king.” (Siddorn, 1997) During King Edward the Confessor’s reign, Harold became Dux Anglorum, a title created expressly for him. When King Edward died in January 1066, Harold was the favorite of the English people and the Witan, the governing body of England. Whether or not he was the King’s choice, is controversial. Two days after King Edward’s death, Harold was crowned King of England.
Duke William of Normandy was a relative of King Edward the Confessor. In 1051, Edward privately made William heir to the English crown. The Duke was not unfamiliar with battle. “He was a seasoned general and master tactician, using cavalry, archers and infantry and had fought many noble battles.” (Hall of Names International, 1997)
When William heard of Harold’s coronation, he sent a messenger to England to proclaim his quest for the throne. Following an old traditional policy, William first submitted his plan and claim to the crown of England to the pope. The pope, along with his cardinals, reviewed the Duke’s complaint and gave William his full blessing and support.
Duke William left St. Valery in Normandy, France, on September 27, 1066. He was accompanied by about 10,000 to 12,000 men and around 600 ships. William had been preparing for the invasion since the spring of 1066.
William’s ship the Mora, a gift from his duchess Matilda, arrived ahead of the rest of the ships off Beachy Head. After the rest of the fleet arrived, William moved them east to a bay to protect his force. By the bay, were two villages. Pevensey was to the west and Bulverhythe to the east. An old fort built by the Romans protected Pevensey. Behind the fort was enough land to provide adequate accommodations for the Duke’s army. William’s choice of Pevensey was not unplanned. Over the course of a few months, much information had been accumulated by William’s side.
At the time when William landed at Pevensey, Harold was farther north, at Stamford Bridge. King Harold was involved in battle with King Hardrada and the Norwegians. Hardrada had previously defeated a hastily gathered army which had met him at the Battle of Fulford Gate at the beginning of his invasion. Hardrada was collaborating with Tostig, the