Norman Conquest Timeline
THE TRAP SHUTS
Hastings, 12 October 1066
Norman intelligence reported that the English army is on its way from London today. They are marching down the Dover Road and have crossed the Medway at Rochester. William, Duke of Normandy, and his council of war are delighted. They had been dreading a long, drawn-out campaign and believe a swift engagement will be to their advantage.
William's troops have been in England for two weeks now and are rested and ready for action. He has superiority in archers and his cavalry are well trained. The English are known to be weak in this quarter, preferring to fight on foot. The Normans know that, despite their decisive victory over the Vikings in, the English will have lost some of their élite troops. The rest will have been exhausted by travelling the 400 miles to York and back. Soldiers on foot - notably the archers - will not have returned from the North yet. Although scouts say that Harold has made up the numbers in his army with fresh troops, these are raw recruits who will be little match for battle-hardened Normans and French mercenaries.
Even the new English recruits will be tired out from the forced march from London. Meanwhile, all William has to do is wait until the English are within striking distance. He has already made it clear that he intends to attack at the first possible opportunity. To delay would hand the advantage back to the English. If they were allowed to take up defensive positions between the estuaries of the Brede and Blythehaven rivers, the Norman army would face a long, hungry winter in Hastings. And there is always the risk that Harold's fleet would reassemble and cut off his rear.
Although Harold will be fighting on home territory, the Normans have now scouted the terrain thoroughly. Harold will have to cut off the road leading out of Hastings before it forks. This will mean that the English army will be close enough for the Normans to attack them without stretching their supply lines from the fortifications at Hastings and Pevensey.
If Harold tries to stay out of striking distance and draw the Normans out, William can goad him further by attacking more English villages. William also knows that news of his excommunication is hurting his enemy. If Harold delays, his men might lose heart and return to their homes. William's men have nowhere to go. Any trip back across the Channel would be hazardous at this time of year. Besides, his men have come for plunder and will not be eager to return without it.
But most of all William is depending on hubris. He believes that the English victory at Stamford Bridge has made Harold and his men overconfident. A swift engagement there worked in the English favour. A swift attack at Hastings will work in the Normans'. So the mood in the Norman camp tonight is cheerful. The English are still a little way off. Tonight the Normans and their allies can still eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow - or the next day - it is the English, they believe, who will die.
Article by Nigel Cawthorne