National Geographic : 1966 Aug
William, His Brothers, and Barons Map Their Strategy bowls. However, none dare overindulge, for William "abhorred drunkenness in all men and disdained it more particularly in himself and at his court," wrote a monk of Caen. After the meal, the Norman lord holds a council of war with Odo and another half brother, Robert of Mortain. A soldier, holding a spear, orders fortifications built at Hastings. northward march, arriving in London about October 6 and setting out for Hastings on the 11th. He would have done well to avoid con tact with William's forces as long as he could. Time was his ally. But Harold, inspired by the success of his tactics at Stamford Bridge, wanted to surprise William and detach him from the Norman fleet at Hastings. By forced marches, Harold drove his tired men the approximately 65 miles from Lon don to the Sussex Downs in three days. He reached the ridge of Senlac, seven miles from Hastings, on Friday night, October 13. William of Poitiers notes that the English thus secured a position on higher ground than the Normans could possibly command in the area. But Harold's men were exhausted, and William's scouts were too vigilant for the invaders to be taken by surprise. N the early-morning hours of Saturday, Oc tober 14, William rode out of Hastings with the Norman army and made for the top of Telham Hill. Across the valley, on the nearby height of Senlac, were massed the troops of Harold. Each side numbered some 7,000 men. The fate of England hung in the balance as, in William of Poitiers' words, "the terrible sound of trumpets on both sides signalled the beginning of the battle." The chronicler, a soldier-turned-priest who became the Conqueror's chaplain, supplies the best contemporary account of the battle other than the Bayeux Tapestry. William "advanced in good order with the papal banner... borne aloft at the head of his troops. In the van he placed foot-soldiers equipped with arrows and bows; in the sec ond rank came the more heavily armed in fantry clad in hauberks; and finally came the squadrons of knights in the midst of whom he rode himself...." Harold's soldiers "drew themselves up on foot," forming a wall of shields about 600 yards in length atop the ridge. The standard of the Wessex Golden Dragon and Harold's personal banner of the Fighting Man, em blazoned with a golden warrior, rose proudly above his soldiers, massed 10 to 12 deep. William's infantry "provoked the English by raining death and wounds upon them with their missiles." Harold's soldiers "hurled back spears and javelins and weapons of all kinds together with axes and stones fastened to pieces of wood.... The shouts both of the Normans and of the barbarians were drowned in the clash of arms and by the cries of the dying, and for a long time the battle raged with the utmost fury." William's army had to advance uphill, over rough ground. The Breton knights and infan try, forming the left wing, struck the Saxon line first, flinging spears and stones. Then the Norman knights moved in with flashing swords. But they couldn't break the shield wall. The Saxons stood their ground, and "their weapons found easy passage through the shields and armour of their enemies." 237 ANI) HtRE TH11[HSHOI' 1l1 SIS IEf 1(01) AMN) I)RINK BISHOIt )1)0, \VIIIIA\M, ROBFR! THib MAN I\S OR)I REI).