1066: A Tale of Two Invasions
Many of us know of the famous invasion of England by William “the Bastard,” the Duke of Normandy in the year 1066. But, many do not realize that William’s invasion was the second one of the year. In fact, Harold Godwinson (Harold II), the King of England, had just defeated the Viking King of Norway and Denmark, Harald Sigurdsson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The Viking King was also known as Harald ‘Hardrada,’ which roughly translates to “Harald the Hard Ruler.” Harald was accompanied by the King of England’s brother, Tostig Godwinson, because Tostig and the King of Norway made a deal to split England up, once they defeated Harold II of course. The King of England had a different idea, and changed the course of history.
The English King was expecting an invasion that year, but from a different direction. William of Normandy thought he was the rightful heir of the English crown when the former ruler, Edward the Confessor, died earlier that year. Harold II even made overtures to William, before Edward’s death, confirming that he would support William for the throne when Edward died. So, William considered Harold’s succession to the throne as an act of treason, and he would invade and defeat the new King of England to prove his point. Once Edward died, Harold II decided he did not want to have a King from Normandy, and would be the next Anglo-Saxon (and last ) king of England.
Harold II prepared and had soldiers waiting along the southern coast of England for William’s invasion, but it never materialized. William’s invasion fleet was stuck in a port because of poor winds. Meanwhile, the Vikings were raiding northern England (around Yorkshire), and terrorizing the English countryside. Harold II heard of this, and gathered his army for a forced march north to confront the Vikings and his traitorous brother. Harold’s army was in sight of the Viking army after his men marched over 100 miles in four days, and surprised the Vikings who were trapped on the wrong side of a bridge without their armor. Harold’s men slaughtered the Vikings and sent the few survivors back to Scandinavia.
There was no time to celebrate their great victory, since word had just reached Harold that William had landed his invasion force on the southern coast of England. Harold’s tired, but motivated men, marched again towards the south to confront William’s invasion force. By the time Harold and his men reached the village of Hastings in southern England, they were very tired and wore out from their many days of marching and battle.
William and his men were on the bottom of a hill, and Harold chose good ground on the top of the hill. I will not go into the details of the battle since you can find that anywhere, but I will wrap this story up by telling you the aftermath of the battle. In one day, William went from “bastard” to “conqueror.” William’s army defeated the Anglo-Saxons in a very hard fought victory. Harold II, King of England, was killed during the battle by an arrow to the eye. He was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, which started a new Norman dynasty of occupation throughout the British Isles. That day on a small hill in southern England changed not only English history, but the history of the Western world. Who knows what would have happened if William was killed and his army was forced back into the sea. Would England have ever been invaded again? We will never know, but I hope this sparks an interest in the topic and you will read more about that momentous and historic year: 1066.