1066 and the Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army of Duke William of Normandy and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The reason for the battle was a dispute as to who should be King of England after the death of the previous king (Edward the Confessor) who had died with no offspring.

Harold Godwinson – the most powerful man in England – was crowned king shortly after Edward’s death but Harold’s brother Tostig and Harold Hardrada of Norway disputed the succession. However, Tostig and Hardrada were defeated on 20th September 1066 by Harold’s army at Stamford Bridge in the north of England, leaving William as the only serious rival.

Initially William and Harold Godwinson were friends and allies. In 1064 Harold had visited Normandy but historical sources disagree about the reason for his visit; the Normans say he came to offer William the throne but Saxon sources suggest he was on his way to France and was shipwrecked in a storm. He was captured by Count Guy of Ponthieu, handed over to William, taken on a campaign against Brittany and finally swore an oath of allegiance.

The promise agreed in this oath is one of the great historical debates. The Normans said he promised to support William’s claim to the English throne and the Saxons said he was just promising to be William’s supporter in Normandy.

When Harold was crowned King, William was furious that Harold had broken his oath, assembled an army at St Valéry sur Somme and landed in England on 28 September.  Harold’s army had to march quickly south, his army having lost men and horses and suffering from fatigue. The exact numbers present at the battle are unknown; estimates are about 10,000 for William and about 7,000 for Harold. The battle lasted from about 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye towards the end of the day, which signalled the defeat of the English.

William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 and started the construction of an imposing fortress which is now called the Tower of London. He also asked for  a survey to assess the extent of the land and resources owned in England at the time, and to make it easier for him to confiscate property to reward his Norman allies and to raise taxes. This survey is called the Domesday Book.

A contemporary of the survey wrote that « there was no single yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out ». The comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place, and the irreversible nature of the information collected, led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or ‘Doomsday’, described in the Bible. The Norman invasion really was, for the Anglo-Saxons, the end of time.


1 What was the background to the Battle of Hastings?

2 Who claimed the throne?

3 What happened at Stamford Bridge?

4 Why did Harold go to Normandy in 1064?

5 Why did he swear an oath?

6 What happened to Harold?

7 What is the Domesday Book?

8 How did it get that name?


Find synonyms in the text for these words :


at first

on a boat destroyed during a storm at sea

taken prisoner

a solemn promise to be loyal

title / right

very angry

approximate amounts








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