Cavalry gathering on the battlefield.

8 things you didn't know about 1066

There are many sources which describe the Battle of Hastings. However, there are a lot of differences between their accounts, so it is difficult to say many things for certain.

So what do we know (or not know) about the Battle of Hastings?

Halleys Comet on the Bayeux Tapestry.

The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066 was taken as an important omen

The Bayeux Tapestry shows the audience witnessing Harold’s coronation watching Halley's Comet, which is depicted in the sky as an omen of Harold's fate.

Three metal helmets on a wooden bench.

There were two other important battles in 1066

Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy were not the only contenders for the English throne in 1066.

Harold’s banished brother Tostig invaded England with King Harald Hardrada  ('hard ruler') of Norway and his Norwegian army. Tostig and Hardrada defeated the northern and midland English Earls on the 20 September at Fulford near York, before themselves being defeated on the 25 September at Stamford Bridge, East Yorkshire, by an army led by Harold himself.

Saxon shield wall at a reenactment of 1066.

It was not obvious William would win the battle

The Saxon and Norman armies were fairly evenly matched, which is why the battle lasted most of the day – unusually long for a medieval battle.

The Saxons created effective defensive walls using their shields, which the Normans were unable to break through. The Normans gained the upper hand when they feigned retreat. This led some Saxons to break rank and follow the Normans, which allowed other Norman soldiers to attack the weak points left in the shield wall.

A close up shot of a sword in a soldiers hand.

A minstrel struck the first blow in the Battle of Hastings

Ivo Taillefer (William’s minstrel--whose name means 'hewer of iron') killed the first Saxon of the battle.

The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio ('Song of the Battle of Hastings' ) says that a Saxon soldier broke ranks, and Taillefer killed him, while later sources say that Taillefer charged into the enemy shield-wall, where he killed several Saxons before he was overwhelmed.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicting Harold with an arrow in his eye.

Harold may not have been killed by an arrow in his eye

Harold’s death is described in different ways by different sources. Some suggest that the image of an anonymous arrow falling from the heavens and striking Harold is more favourable to William than the idea of him being hacked to pieces by William's men.

The ruins of Waltham Abbey Gate.

The location of King Harold’s body remains unknown

Early sources record that William denied Harold’s mother his body, though she offered its weight in gold. This is contradicted by later sources, which say that Harold’s mutilated body was identified by his mistress and buried at Waltham Abbey, Essex, which he had re-founded.

Parts of the abbey remains are in English Heritage care, and you can still see his alleged grave there. But the exact location of Harold’s body is disputed to this day.

The stone plaque marking the spot where King Harold died.

But you can visit the spot where King Harold was killed

Visitors who come to Battle Abbey today can see a stone marker showing where Harold fell during the battle. William insisted that the high altar of the abbey church should mark the place where Harold fell.

A close up shot of a quill on parchment.

Modern English is a result of the Norman Conquest

The English we speak today is the product of a lot of intermingling with French words. Poor, letter, age, and pork are all words with Norman-French origins, to name just a few. 950 years later, English reflects the result of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

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