Norman Conquest Timeline
NORMAN FORCE SWEEPS INTO HASTINGS
Hasting, 30 September 1066
In a surprise move, the Norman invading force suddenly moved out of their beachhead in Pevensey and headed east. Norman knights appeared without warning at the small fishing port of Hastings, where the burgers were powerless to resist. Many have fled.
Reports that the Normans marched along the shore have been discounted as the salt marshes and numerous channels would have such prevented rapid progress. Experts say the cavalry re-embarked on the Norman fleet and were carried by ship to Hastings, while the footsoldiers travelled inland via Polegate, Hailsham, Herstmonceux and Ninfield.
The reason for the move is no mystery. Hastings is a much better base for an invading army. It has a larger harbour where the Norman fleet can moor and manoeuvre. Its citizens are prosperous and can provide food and sustenance for the troops - along with the booty that William of Normandy promised his men. Hastings is more easily defensible. It is on a peninsula between the estuaries of the Brede and Bulverhythe rivers, cut off from the mainland by hills and steep-sided valleys and would be easy to hold. The only way in or out of Hastings is along the old Roman road which crosses the Brede at Sedlescombe, where there is a ferry. This would slow the advance of any army and give the Norman forces ample warning of their arrival. Hastings is also a good offensive base for an invading army. After Sedlescombe, the Roman road runs on to Maidstone where it joins the main Dover road to London.
But leaving the peninsula and striking on the 60 miles to London would risk losing touch with the fleet. For the time being, William seems to be content to stay in Hastings. A wooden castle with pallisaded ditch is being built above the town. Many of his ships have been drawn up on the beaches around the town, their masts unstepped and their oars stowed in case of a storm. Others are safely in the harbour, rigged for action in case an English fleet appears. It is still vital for the Normans to keep open lines of communication across the Channel. A small garrison has been left behind at Pevensey and Norman ships hold the harbour there too.
Plans are now being laid for the future of the campaign. William of Normandy has been closeted in a council of war for most of the day with his half-brothers Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain. News of the defeat of Harald Hardrada, another contender for the crown, at Stamford Bridge has brought some relief. The Norwegian king was considered a more formidable foe. But since then there has been no news of Harold. The Norman council of war has no idea of his strength. Although his army must have been depleted by its engagement with the Vikings, victory would have boosted its morale. So William has opted for caution. He has ruled out a precipitous march on London and has decided to dig in and wait for the English army to come to him.
Article by Nigel Cawthorne