Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | March 28, 2010

Good Ground at Hastings in 1066

View from just forward of Norman Line of Departure.

Dry Viking, Joel, Bob, and other old soldier readers  – wish we coulda tromped this ground together.   It was great fun.  Walked the battlefield at Hastings.  Fun to see the French kids there.  Wonder if past glory is taught as future potential?  Doubt it.

But, Winston Churchill said that is precisely why the Normans won.  The Normans  had been Christianized, civilized and Frenchified for about 8 generations – roughly 200 years – since their Viking ancestors conquered Normandy – and named it Normandy.  Yet, they were the most martial culture in Europe – according to Winnie.  They had the most potential for war.   More than the Spanish slogging their way back through the 800 year ReConquista  and the Knights on the Front against Islam in Malta, Sicily, Cyprus, and the Levant- according to Winnie.  More than the Byzantine Christians holding the line in the East for Christian Civilization.  But, I digress.

English King Harold had hurried 250 miles in 10 days on foot from the huge victory over the Vikings at Stamford Bridge.  They never invaded again.  Harold met the Normans not far from the coast – so he engaged them far forward – strategically.

Harold picked good ground.  Excellent ground.  Marse Bobby Lee would have approved greatly.  

Interestingly to me, there was no other feature that forced the Normans to fight the English here.  Harold could have picked ground to the left or right for miles.  This hill didn’t guard a river crossing or the mountain pass or intersection of roads.  It was just good ground.

William the Conqueror, who was only William the Bastard at the start of the fight, had used his strategic chip – maritime manuever.   He had no operational chip for operational manuever. Unless he kept his largely, horse-mounted knights moving to another piece of ground – avoiding a fight – but he didn’t have too many miles behind him to go – and no speed advantage to outflank the English.  And unlike the Yankees in Georgia in 1863 and Virginia 1864, William didn’t have the overwhelming numbers to confront and outflank simultaneously. 

But,William could have used tactical movement 500 meters to his left or right before going against the shield wall of the axe-man English infantry.   He didn’t.

And, William still won.

William used the old Viking tactics of false retreat to pull over-zealous infantry into the open – to slaughter them.   He had his archers increase the angle of their fires.  His voice couldn’t  carry across the battlefield, but he took off his helmet so the troops could see he was still alive.  He got close enough and fought to loose two horses to cutting and stabbing weapons. 

And, he won.   What would have been a company objective when I was a Rifle Company Commander or a platoon objective when I was Bradley Infantry Ops Officer, was the focus of about 7,000 Normans and military entrpeneurs recruited from across Europe.   This piece of ground changed history.   Profoundly.

William the Conqueror’s Occupation was brilliant.  Quite unlike the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld recent debacle – he had a plan.  He kept the political cultural organization that Alfred the Great had introduced with the Counties (Shires) and the Shire Reeves (Sheriffs) which reaches down the ages and over the seas to our Virginia.  He added Normans, loyal to him, as military colonists on the top of the social – cultural – heap.   Perfect.



  1. Wish that I could have been there to have a staff ride with you. Hastings is a field that I have never seen in person (I envy your extended stay in the UK to visit such sites). I have always been most impressed by Harold’s troops covering so much ground in such short time over terrible roads that wind and wind adding distance to the trek. As a true light infantryman, I salute their dedication and to be ready to fight so early on the 14th, amazing.

  2. DV: I knew you would have loved it.

    I may get to Stirling, thank you William Wallace, if my wife can handle it – in a week.

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