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The Battle of Hastings (1066) is perhaps the most famous battles in Medieval Britain, if not Europe. This bloody day changed the course of British history and had a profound impact on the development of the modern world. It led not only to a change of dynasty in England but also indirectly to the development of the English language, law, and political institutions which have had an immense impact, far beyond the British Isles. The battle followed in the wake of the Normans landing on the southern coast of England. King Harold II, after defeating a Viking invasion at Stamford Bridge in the north of England headed south to meet the invaders. The two sides met at Hastings in Sussex on the 16th of October 1066. The battle lasted all day and only ended with the death of Harold II. At Hastings, the Normans routed the Anglo-Saxons, and this allowed them to conquer and occupy England. The Battle of 1066 is so famous that many think they know what happened. This is not the case and there are many myths about the battle, that many people accept as historical fact. In reality, the surviving accounts of the Battle of Hastings are all suspect. They are either written by Anglo-Saxon writers who hated the Normans as foreign overlords, or they were authored by Normans who had an interest in misrepresenting events. This article will try and disentangle fact from fiction and truth from myth, with regard to the Battle of Hastings.
[[File: Hastings One.jpg|200px|thumb|left|alt text]]
The cause of the battle == There is a common misconception of the cause of the battle. The background to Hastings was the death of Edward the Confessor, king of England from 1042-1066. He died without an heir and this as usual in the Middle Ages led to a succession crisis <ref> Lawson, M. K. The Battle of Hastings: 1066 (Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2002), p 12</ref>. There were two main contenders for the crown of England; Harold Godwinson, a member of one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon families and Duke William of Normandy, the future William the Conqueror. William and his Normans were the descendants of Norse Vikings who had been given land in northern France and were largely independent of the French King. The Anglo-Saxon had been the brother-in-law of Edmund the Confessor. It is widely reported from sources at the time, the dying king made Harold his heir and left his widow and Kingdom in his care. However, there is a contradictory Norman account, and this holds that Edward the Confessor during a period of exile made Duke William his heir if he died childless. Historians have long debated which claim was the legitimate and most believe that Harold was the heir of Edward the Successor. The story that Duke William was the legitimate successor of Edward, is most likely untrue and only Norman propaganda. Even if Edward had made him his heir he had almost certainly changed his mind before his death. Indeed, Harold had even been legitimately elected by the Witan the assembly of the Anglo-Saxons and they viewed him as the rightful ruler. King Harold II was defending his realm at the battle and William the Conqueror was an invader who had no real support in the wider country. The Battle of Hastings was not a result of William the Conqueror pursuing his legitimate claims to the Crown as stated in Norman sources but was a result of his naked ambitions<ref>Marren, Peter. 1066: The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings. Battleground Britain. (Barnsley, UK: Leo Cooper, 2007), p. 113</ref>.
[[File: Hastings 2.jpg |200px|thumb|left|A scene from the Bayeux tapestry showing Norman knights charging the shield-wall]]
==The course of the battle==
The Anglo-Saxons were forced to march south at speed in the wake of their victory over the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada and Anglo-Saxon allies at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This was a bloody clash and the forces of Harold suffered many casualties even though they decisively defeated the Viking army. Then the victors at Stamford Bridge had to make a forced march from the north of England to the south coast and it is widely argued that this was a contributory factor in the Anglo-Saxon defeat. However, not all historians agree with this and they point out to the fact that the army of Harold fought very well during the battle. Indeed, even in the Norman accounts they all show the Anglo-Saxons as fighting fiercely, from early morning until the evening. Based on the distance between the two battles it would seem that the Anglo-Saxon army marched 27 miles (39 km) a day, but that they had a day’s rest before the battle <ref>Marren, p 201</ref>. Indeed, Harold was able to seize the high ground and establish a strong defensive position on the battlefield. It is not correct to state that the fact that the Anglo-Saxons were tired after their forced march and earlier battle and that this led to their defeat at the hands of the Normans.