The Normans were the descendants of the Viking raiders who settled in Normandy from 10th century onwards. In the 11th century, a succession dispute ensued after the death of Anglo-Saxon king, Edward The Confessor. Although his place was taken by Harold Godwinson, William of Normandy disputed this claim.
Consequently, William landed a large army in England in 1066 and after successfully defeating the local Anglo-Saxon forces, was able to take control of the whole England over subsequent years. After William became the King of England, the throne of England effectively passed from Anglo-Saxon hands to Norman royalty, marking a permanent change in English history.
Prelude to the Conquest
Edward The Confessor succeeded to the English throne in 1042. Although he was an Anglo-Saxon king, he had been brought up in Normandy. So with his ascension to English throne, the influence of Normandy became a powerful factor in England.
Edward depended significantly on his Norman supporters during his reign and it is possible he promised the throne to William of Normandy. When he died without an heir in 1066, the dispute of succession ensued. The three contenders to the throne were Harold Godwinson who was the Earl of Essex, Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy.
Norman Preparations and Landing in England
Harold Godwinson was immediately crowned king after Edward’s death. He was then able to muster sufficient forces to defeat the Norwegian forces under Harald who raided England in the north. William of Normandy had mustered a sizable force by this time. It is historically estimated that William’s army comprised of 10,000 to 15,000 people including infantry, cavalry and archers.
As Harold was engaged with Harald in the north, William landed his army unopposed near Sussex and proceeded to station his army within a wooden castle at the site of Hastings. Harold learned of this and moved towards the south with an estimated army of 7,000 to 8,000 soldiers.
The Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings fought between armies of Harold and William on 14 October, 1066 was the key event which marked the Norman era of England. The Anglo-Saxon army was deployed on a ridge and formed lines in a shield-wall formation with little to no accompanying cavalry.
William’s army, on the other hand, comprised of cavalry, infantry and archers as well. At the early assaults, William’s archers and infantry failed to disrupt Anglo-Saxon lines. However, when the Anglo-Saxon warriors pursued the fleeing troops of William’s army, William’s cavalry was able to intercept, killed the pursuers and disrupt the lines of Harold’s army. In the thick of fighting, King Harold Godwinson fell and this finally turned the tide in the favour of the Normans.
Aftermath of Norman Conquest
The Battle of Hastings cemented the success of the invading Norman force. Although William of Normandy had to face many rebellions all over England, he was able to subdue them over time and install Norman nobility in place of the former Anglo-Saxon nobles. By December 1066, William had subdued some of the most powerful aristocrats all over England and had been crowned king. This marked the permanent end of Anglo-Saxon rulers in England and the beginning of the Norman era.