Review of the Battle of Hastings
It is indeed
evident that the loss of the battle by the English was owing
to the wound which Harold received in the afternoon, and which
must have incapacitated him from effective command.
When we remember
that he had himself just won the battle of Stamford Bridge
over Harald Hardrada by the manoeuvre of a feigned flight, it
is impossible to suppose that he could be deceived by the same
stratagem on the part of the Normans at Hastings.
But his men, when
deprived of his control, would very naturally be led by their
inconsiderate ardor into the pursuit that proved so fatal to
All the narratives
of the battle, however much they vary as to the precise time
and manner of Harold's fall, eulogize the generalship and the
personal prowess which he displayed until the fatal arrow
The skill with
which he had posted his army was proved both by the slaughter
which it cost the Normans to force the position, and also by
the desperate rally which some of the Saxons made after the
battle in the forest in the rear, in which they cut off a
large number of the pursuing Normans. This circumstance is
particularly mentioned by William of Poitiers, the Conqueror's
Indeed, if Harold
or either of his brothers had survived, the remains of the
English army might have formed again in the wood, and could at
least have effected an orderly retreat and prolonged the war.
But both Gurth and Leofwine, and all the bravest thanes of
Southern England, lay dead on Senlac, around their fallen King
and the fallen standard of their country.
The exact number
that perished on the Saxons' side is unknown; but we read
that, on the side of the victors, out of sixty thousand men
who had been engaged, no less than a fourth perished; so well
had the English billmen "plyed the ghastly blow," and so
sternly had the Saxon battle-axe cloven Norman's casque (a
visorless headpiece) and mail.
The old historian
Daniel justly as well as forcibly remarks: "Thus was tried, by
the great assize of God's judgment in battle, the right of
power between the English and Norman nations; a battle the
most memorable of all others, and, however miserably lost, yet
most nobly fought on the part of England."
On Christmas Day in the same year William the Conqueror was
crowned, at London, King of England.