Battle of Hastings: Luck or Skill?

August 6th, 2009  

Topic: Battle of Hastings: Luck or Skill?

I have recently been learning about the battle of Hastings, and I was wondering on your opinion on wether the Normans and William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwineson by skill, or if they won it because of an amazing amount of luck which changed the face of the Earth?

To be honest, I think that Harold Hardrada and the Battle of Stanford Bridge should be taken into consideration aswell. When Harold Godwineson was moving towards York, he gathered up as many peasants and farmers as he could to form an army, and with them he eventually won the battle at Stanford Bridge, but then he had to walk ALL the way down to the South Coast of England to Hastings in 4 days time, and then he had to confront Williams experienced, well-trained soldiers.

As far as I know, William and Harold Hardrada didnt bother keeping in touch [I mean, they both wanted the throne of England to themselves, after all], so I think William was very lucky that he chose to attack England a few days after the Battle of Stanford Bridge.

Then there was the fact that they fluked the voyage to England. At the start of the voyage, winds were blowing south-easternly and I beleive that a large number of Norman ships were destroyed by rocks and stuff. Then William decided to, instead of turning back, to continue to England, and he managed it by the change of weather.

People say that the Normans and Viking are excellent sailors, but I think the voyage across the channel was not done by skill, but by luck.

Your opinions?
August 6th, 2009  
both Hasting and Stamford Bridge were ultimately decided by the fates of the leading protagonists; though in retreat at Stamford Hadrada still had a sizeable force to contest the battle; Godwinson's Housecarls were still a formed body of warriors when he fell. so in this sense the two battles were decided by luck.
the Housecarls and Vikings fought essentially the same sort of battle with the same sort of equipment and weapons. in this sense the greater (relative) discipline of the Housecarls, and Harold's mastery of the type of battle being fought, ensured that the defeat of the Vikings was no mere fluke. inheritor of a martial tradition that had led to the demise of the Danegeld within a generation of the greatest of Scandanavian Kings, Cnut, Harold and his men were well able to defeat the traditional Viking hoard represented by Hadrada and his men.
by contrast the 'vikings' of the South, the Normans, though recently come to France, had embraced French culture in its entirety; but remained fierce warriors in the Viking tradition. the army that William landed on the south coast of England had embraced the continental style of warfare, represented by the knight. not only was this early form of knight more disciplined than any Housecarl, his weapons were suited to defeating the very forces that Godwinson could muster. the site of the battle of Hastings remains a strong defensive position that ought to have allowed a tired army, force marched from the north to the south, to hold for a long time, especially against a similarly armed foe. yet all accounts describe the closeness of the battle throughout the day. William's main failure for much of the day lay in a lack of numbers; a force equal in size to the Anglo-Saxons would have probably won earlier in the day.
the key lay in the lance- horse combination. although most lances would have been thrown overhand like a javelin- the additional momentum provided by the horse gave it significant penetrative power. but as the Bayeaux Tapestry makes clear- the lance was also being couched in the charge so that even a normally non-lethal penetration became fatal with the additional shock provided by a charging horse.
that William had greater control of his army is demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of the battle- rather than plundering the Anglo-Saxon baggage most of the knights continued with the attack that effectively routed the Housecarls beyond recovery, something quite rare in medieval warfare and thus lending credence to the feigned retreat theory. that William advanced directly on London and conqered it suggests that he also had a mastery of strategy. London was by far the most important, and richest, city in England; with its capture the Invasion became self supporting; it removed a symbol of unity from the Anglo-Saxons; and it also removed a formidable source of finance for the Saxons. though legitimacy may have been a post conflict problem, there were plenty of suitable Saxon nobles who, in possession of London, could still have unified Saxon resistance and driven William from England. without the symbol of unity provided by London the Saxons failed to unite their disparate resistance efforts, even fighting among themselves, effectively handing England to William.
the initial problems with his boats came in the period when William was trying to converge his fleet. fleets of ships need a certain amount of space between the hulls for safety; high seas require greater dispersal running the risk, for an invasion fleet, of being too separated upon landing. the fact that a single hull was able to survive the crossing comes from the fact that an informant was actually able to make the crossing to inform Godwinson of developments in Normandy and send him marching north. William was on the verge of losing the non-Norman elements of his army when the weather calmed enough to make the crossing; had the reputation of Norman seamanship been less than it was it would have been unlikely that these men could have been convinced to depart even then.
in any event- the vikings and their expertise in sailing was no myth. we know that not only did they cross the Atlantic to Greenland but settled the continental mainland in North America; political events at home prevented more settlers from joining their compatriots in America. a re-enforced colony may have overcome the difficulties the norsemen faced in America, which led to their demise. the Danegeld in England and Normandy on the continent inherited these traditions and the technological improvements that came with them. traditional hulls with Roman influences were built for the Mediterranean; viking hulls were built for the wilder Atlantic.
the conquest itself, and the Norman reign over England, was probably not as important to England's destiny than it was a conduit to those Houses that would. the original dynasty had died out within two generations; this led to the Angevins gaining power and leading to the subsequent continental entanglements of the Angevin Empire and its relations with the French Crown. more important than the familial ties of the Angevins and the Houses of Lancaster and York was the cloth trade with Flanders. whilst English valour rested on the lances and bows of its knights and yeomen; the English capacity for war relied heavily on the flows of wool to Flanders. whilst there was a significant dynastic factor in its continental wars there was also a remarkable consistency in English continental policy that sought a stable, and England Friendly, Flanders as its ultimate goal.
August 10th, 2009  
Life is full of ifs and buts, Now the Saxon warrior was fear some beast and would die rather than desert the battlefield. Now Vikings and the Normans are one and the same. The Country called Normandy was giving the the Viking on the understanding that they stopped raiding France. Place names in England and Normandy ending in DY are typical of the vikings place names.
Now the Normans were lucky that Harold had just had forced march up to Stamford Bridge and wiped out a huge Viking Army which arrived in 300 ships and those that were left filled just 30 ships when they made a run for it. After this Harold had to make a forced march the whole length of England to face another Battle and he did not have his full army with him when the battle started. The battle raged all day and was still a close run thing, and half of Harold's army consisted of Peasants from the the local area

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