The importance of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest

I like to attend short courses at further education colleagues in order to continue learning, keep the mind active, and postpone dementia. This weekend, I was at the City Lit college in London to do a one-day course entitled “Making Sense Of The Battle Of Hastings And Its Aftermath”. Our lecturer was the redoubtable Michael Bloomfield.

The battle took place on Saturday 14 October 1066. It was not in fact located at Hastings on the coast but at a hill some seven miles north-west of the town which was later named Battle.

In those days, battles tended to last only a few hours before one side was deemed to have won. However, the Battle of Hastings started at around 9 am and went on until dusk.

The English were led by King Harold II while the Normans were commanded by Duke William II. We do not know the precise number of troops invovled on either side, but the English are thought to have had around 7,000 men while the Normans are believed to have had about 10,000. It was a bloody conflict with the estimated dead being perhaps 4,000 English and 2,000 Normans.

Famously the Normans won and Harold was killed, although the arrow in his eye has no more evidence than the Bayeux Tapestry which features some misrepresentations.

The Norman Conquest changed England. It introduced a new political system, a new language, a new system of land holding, a new direction for Anglo-Scandinavian society and a reform programme for the church in England.

The Norman Conquest also came to define what we now call the United Kingdom. The Normans were not satisfied with conquering England and, over the next few centuries, tried to conquer Ireland, Wales and Scotland. They succeeded with the first two and failed with the last despite several wars over the centuries.

The seminal point about the Norman Conquest is that it was the last successful invasion of England and therefore Britain.

The single most important fact in understanding the nature of the British political system is the fundamental continuity of that system. Britain has not had a revolution of the kind experienced by so many other countries and Britain has not been invaded or occupied for almost 1,000 years. Is this true of any other country in the world? I can only think of Sweden.

You can learn a lot more about the Battle of Hastings on the relevant Wikipedia page.


  • Nick

    Sounds very interesting, Roger.

    Arguably there was an invasion (of sorts) in 1688 – London was under military occupation by Dutch troops for more than a year. See The 1688 invasion of Britain that’s been erased from history.

  • Phil Holt

    Always like your articles. However, don’t understand your statement about Britain not having a revolution like so many other countries. The Cromwellian revolution and English civil war (1642) which resulted in one of the first Reginisides (if thats how you spell it) culminating with the execution of Charles 1. It was a bloody revolution fought mainly by artisans and peasants against aristocrats. I suggest the books of William Hill (former Master os Baliol College Oxford) should be required reading for anyone wanting a real rendition of perhaphs the first great european revolution. Tony Benns articles on the Levellers and the Diggers are also worth reading. Regards

  • Roger Darlington

    Hi, Nick. I suppose you could argue that 1688 was an invasion of sorts, but William of Orange had a real claim to the throne and the British elite did not contest that claim and arguably supported it. Certainly the ‘invasion’ was not resisted and nobody was killed, so it hardly bares comparison with the invasions of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Romans, and Normans.

    Hi, Phil. I suppose you could argue that the English Civil War was a revolution of sorts. However, I don’t believe that the two sides were divided as neatly as you suggest in class terms. There were aristocrats on both sides. Although a king was killed, the monarchy was restored quite soon. Certainly this was not a revolution to be compared to the French or American Revolutions or (more recently) the expulsion of, or liberation from, a colonial power.

  • Phil Holt

    Actually I totally disagree with this. The French and American revolutions had profound implications for the world but the English revolution was much more profound in many different ways. Christopher Hill in one of many books nicely summed it up as “The world turned upside down” This was not a “revolution of sorts” but the real thing whereas the American revolution “merely” expelled a colonial Government and the French revolution “merely” overthrew a Monarchy.

    You are correct of course that “some” aristocrats sided with Cromwell but 30000 Russian Officers sided with Trotsky and fought for the Red Army. That doest change the class nature of that struggle. The fact that the Monarchy was later restored in England doesn’t alter the class nature of the civil war. In any case the whole nature of the monarchy and British society had changed. Most of the changes introduced by Cromwell remained and the idea of an absolute monarchy was gone leading to a constitutional monarchy.

    I am afraid too many British historians like to underplay our revolution which was bitter, bloody and had an army (the New Model Army) which was incredibly radical and revolutionary. I really would recommend reading Hills books which are authoritative and very readable. You will enjoy them. Available as usual at Amazon.


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