The Battle of Hastings (Harold v. William)

19 November, 2009

No sooner had Harold sent the Norwegians packing, after a hard fight, than he got news that William of Normandy had landed in the south. Without hesitating he marched his forces to meet this challenge to his sovereignty. He was able to recover one element of the fyrd he’d lost at Stamford and he brought his force up to strength with some hastily raised levies of dubious worth. Hi s force to face the Norman invader was, 3x4Bd (huscarls), 6x4Sp (fyrd), 1x2Ps (skirmishers) and 2x7Hd (fyrd dregs). The huscarls acquitted themselves so well at Stamford that I decided to give them a bonus; they can only be killed by knights if they’re doubled. This was a variant rule I saw in Slingshot 263 (“The Normans in Italy”). It seems eminently reasonable to make these elite troops the steadiest in the army against knights rather than some of the most vulnerable.

William had brought with him plenty of cavalry (7x3Kn and 1x2LH) with some spear (2x4Sp) and archers (2x2Ps). It was a toss-up whether to deploy the archers as skirmishers or in formation, as the formed-up archers could have a lot of fun with the hordes, but then so can the knights.

William had the first piece of luck as he was able to set the terrain, and he wasn’t about to play fair! He managed to meet Harold on a road with only a pair of small woods in opposite corners to break up the flatness. This was that flat bit on the way to Senlac Hill, which is clearly where Harold was heading! This is the battle of Hastings where Harold doesn’t get to that hill.

There was little to choose between the various edges, but Harold got the road running between them and the smallest hill on his left flank. William deployed with his spear on the road, hoping to use it to help them keep up with the knight. He them put his light horse and skirmishers on the right flank, hoping to move quickly to contest the wood with the Saxons. Otherwise his knights formed up either side of the spear.

Harold met this with a block of psiloi-supported spear flanked by himself and his huscarls and a two-deep block of spear on the right flank. He tried to give the hordes what little protection they could by placing them near the woods, hoping to delay the Norman light troops with them. He kept some fyrd in the camp in case the LH got through to it.

Initial deployments; William on the left, Harold on the right.

On his first turn Harold moved his horde out of the woods to stop the Norman light horse getting around it to the camp and he advanced the line (not needing 2 PIPs to move hordes on the first turn is handy!).

With 4 PIPs William opted to send his light troops forward quickly.

Turn 1: The Norman light troops advance quickly.

On the next turn Harold wheeled his line and brought the horde on the end out to anchor it. William with 6 PIPs got clever and advanced his spear along the road and broke up his knights as they chased along after.

Turn 2: The Normans rush forward.

Harold, excited to see the Normans in disarray, rushed forward, moving his horde around to ZOC the enemy skirmishers. William paid the price of his rashness with only a single PIP, which he used to try to get the spear across to face Harold’s spear.

Turn 3: Harold gets closer and William's line is not yet organized.

Harold continued to advance. Now he had the enemy ZOCed. It would be harder for them to manoeuvre. William was still in a dither with only 2 PIPs. He used these to support his spear as best he could.

Turn 4: Harold's bold advance looks to catch the Normans in disarray.

Harold didn’t hesitate and on the next turn attacked William’s left flank before it could properly deploy. He succeeded in destroying a conroi of Norman knights with spear that had overlap support (6-3) and drive back some knights with his huscarls.

Turn 5 (Harold): First blood to the English as the knights on the right flank break.

William has better PIPs now (4) and starts to organize a response, but it’s not easy with the enemy already so close. His skirmishers attack the end of Harold’s line forcing the fyrd to turn to react, and William gets a better line to face Harold on his left.

Turn 5 (William): The Norman skirmishers force the Saxons to turn to face them.

Harold now throws his army into the attack before William can outflank it. It’s a disaster! Despite being two-deep, the spear on the right flank are routed (3-6). Any chance of an advantage against William with his huscarls is lost and they are forced to retire (had I not made them special it would have been game over!). The huscarls to the left of Harold seem disheartened too and are forced back, destroying any chance against the Norman spear, who are fought to a standstill.

Turn 6: Harold's luck fails and his right flank is blown away.

William responds by flanking Harold’s huscarls and throwing everything he has against the Saxons. The hordes remain unfazed by the Norman light horse supported by skirmishers and throw them back. Elsewhere there are three stalemates, including the beleagured huscarls and the fight between the two commanders.

Turn 6 (William): The Saxons hold firm against the Norman charge.

Harold can do little to put pressure on the Normans beyond straightening his battleline and fighting bravely. Sadly this was not to be a repeat of Stamford, and this time his huscarls are destroyed. Nevertheless, he throws back William’s attack on him, and his other huscarls, heartened by this, rout the knights in front of them (5-2).

Turn 7 (Harold): The right flank continues to collapse, but elsewhere Harold's huscarls are victorious.

William now gets 5 PIPs and flanks his rival for the throne. Clinically he straightens his line, extending the spear to cover for the lost knights. His skirmishers advance to ZOC the spear on his far right again. No heroics here, he’ll wait for English right flank to collapse under the weight of knights opposing it. He is victorious. Harold’s huscarls fight bravely, but flanked they go down in a close fight (4-4). Legend has it that Harold was killed in single combat with William, who was able to lift the crown of England from his head.

Turn 7: (William): Harold falls surrounded by his huscarls. The heart of English resistance collapses with him.

With their commander gone all resistance collapsed and the Norman cavalry was able to carry out a terrible pursuit. Only the hordes got away. They melted into the woods and claimed to be innocent truffle-collectors. The Normans, being partial to these, were surprisingly fooled!

  • Review:

There was no Senlac Hill for Harold, unlike at Stamford. For all that he gave the Normans some anxious moments. Had the right flank not folded, the odds against the rest of the knights there would have been in his favour. William was still really getting organized, and it could have got even worse. Surprisingly the hordes were not the weak link. Harold’s bold advance gave William no time to organize a real attack on them, and they performed their duty of guarding the left flank very well.

William would have been better to have moved his spear as part of his reaction to Harold’s set-up. If he could have got them opposite Harold’s psiloi-supported spear he would have been able to drive it back and attack the remaining spear with knights at even odds and a quick kill. That was his plan part way through his advance. They were certainly better against spear, but the manoeuvre threw his line into disorder. It was luck that brought down the Saxon’s right flank and gave him the battle. Harold’s plan was really as good as it could get in the circumstances. Waiting to be attacked would only have made the hordes a target and allowed the camp to be attacked.

  • The outcome of the battle:

Well, I can let out a sigh of relief. I was worried Harold might create another upset. And what if he wasn’t killed himself? What if his hordes and a few fyrd were destroyed? There might have been yet another battle!

With Harold dead, William set to securing the south of the kingdom. Harald got wind of this victory and returned to claim the north of England for himself. Neither were keen to attack the other that summer, and in the next season, when William advanced north he was met by Harald at Navenby and given a bloody nose.

The only battle remaining to be fought before the campaign can begin is the battle between Gruffudd ap Cynan and Gruffudd ap Rhys to see which represents the Welsh in this campaign.

I think I’ll give the same status to Harald’s huscarls that I gave to Harold’s. They certainly showed it at Navenby! This means that the Anglo-Norse will get 3x4Bd (huscarls), 1x3Kn (Norman adventurers), 7x4Sp (fyrd), 1x2Ps or 3Bw (archers). Now that I’ve finally painted enough archers for them to have more I’ve decided not to use them!

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6 Responses to “The Battle of Hastings (Harold v. William)”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Nicely done, William.

    Hd are often surprisingly good – they’re only a little worse than knights.

    By the way there was a fourth battle in 1066, more like a riot really, when the Normans arrived at London. There’s a good article about it here: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-457-1/dissemination/pdf/vol08/vol08_03/08_03_059_062.pdf

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks for that other battle—anything else to justify William not going north is handy.

      Well, if William had been more cautious, he’d had the time to be a bit more clinical on those hordes. Flanked by psiloi against LH, they may have gone down quite easily.

  2. Neldoreth Says:

    Excellent stuff! I am enjoying watching this come together!

    n.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks. I am too. After the long slow process of getting things ready, these last few battles have really revived my interest in the campaign (I have to confess the Conquest competition had distracted me a bit and caused my enthusiasm to wane).

  3. Dougal Says:

    Another nice battle report,thanks you strike a nice balance between what’s going on technically and the story narrative


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