Three days later, William landed in England at Pevensey. With approximately 7, troops and cavalry, William seized Pevensey and marched to Hastings, where he paused to organize his forces.
On October 13, Harold arrived near Hastings with his army, and the next day William led his forces out to give battle. At the end of a bloody, all-day battle, King Harold II was killed—shot in the eye with an arrow, according to legend—and his forces were defeated. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!
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He fought in Africa and Spain, quelled the slave revolt of Spartacus, Sign up now to learn about This Day in History straight from your inbox.
- 1. He was also known as William the Bastard.
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9 surprising facts about William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest
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There were plenty in Normandy before , but only a tiny handful in England, built in the previous generation by French friends of the English king, Edward the Confessor. The Norman conquest changed all that. Most were constructed from earth and timber, but work had also begun on great stone towers in London, Colchester and Chepstow.
This may perhaps seem unsurprising , but it is worth emphatically re-stating, given the various alternatives that have attracted media attention in recent years. It is generally very difficult to pinpoint the location of medieval battles with any accuracy. People often suppose that archaeology can solve the problem, but this is seldom the case.
William the Conqueror - Children's British History Encyclopedia
Metal rusts and wood rots, and battlefields were picked clean of valuables by scavengers and bodies were carted away to be buried in grave pits. The battle of Falkirk, fought between Edward I and William Wallace in , was one of the largest engagements in medieval Britain, with almost 30, men on the English side alone, but not so much as a single arrowhead has ever been unearthed.
Happily, however, the case for Battle is well grounded, because William built an abbey to mark the site, which still stands today. The tradition that states he did this was not, as conspiracy theorists assert, invented by the monks of Battle in the late 12th century, but stretches right back to the time of the Conqueror himself. The size of the armies on both sides at Hastings is unknown, but neither is likely to have exceeded 10, men. Many were killed during the battle, but thousands more would die in the years that followed, as English resistance led to Norman repression.
In the winter of —70, after a combined English rebellion and Danish invasion, William laid waste to England north of the Humber, destroying crops and livestock so that the region could not support human life. Famine followed, and, according to a later chronicler, , people perished as a result. Modern analysis of the data in Domesday Book suggests that a drop in population of this magnitude did indeed occur. Savage in their warfare, William and the Normans were more civilised in their politics. Before , the English political elite had routinely resorted to murdering their political rivals, as they would do again in the later Middle Ages.
But for more than two centuries after the Conquest, chivalry prevailed, and political killing became taboo. Waltheof of Northumbria, beheaded in , was the only earl to be executed after the Norman takeover.
William I (the Conqueror)
The next execution of an earl in England occurred in , some years later. In pre-Conquest England, at least 10 per cent of the population — and perhaps as much as 30 per cent — were slaves. Slaves were treated as human chattels, and could be sold, beaten and branded as their masters saw fit. It was a sin to kill a slave, but not a crime.
The Norman Conquest hastened the demise of this system. William banned the slave trade and in some cases freed slaves, to the extent that by the end of his reign their number had fallen by 25 per cent. By the early 12th century, slavery in England was no more.