Battle of Kentish Knock, 28 September 1652

Battle of Kentish Knock, 28 September 1652


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Battle of Kentish Knock, 28 September 1652

The battle of Kentish Knock (28 September 1652) was the first major battle of the First Anglo Dutch War, and ended in a narrow English victory.

The Dutch fleet saw a change of command just before the battle. In early September Vice Admiral Witt Corneliszoon de With put to sea at the head of a fleet of forty-four ships, with orders to find the fleet already at sea under Michiel Adrianszoon de Ruyter and take command of the united force. The two fleets met up at Calais on 22 September, where de With took command. Ten men-of-war and five fireships were judged to be unfit for service and sent home, leaving de With with sixty-four ships. He was at sea to seek a battle, and so the combined fleet left Calais and sailed across the Channel. By the morning of 28 September the Dutch were close to the Kentish Knock, to the north of the British naval anchorage of the Downs.

The British were able to bring together a large fleet of their own in the Downs. The Western Guard, under Blake and Penn, had been unable to stop Ruyter from sailing east up the Channel, and had been forced followed them east, joining the force already in the Downs. Blake had command of the combined fleet, with Penn as his vice-admiral and Bourne as his rear-admiral. The combined English fleet contained around 68 warships, many of which were bigger than their Dutch counterparts.

On 28 September the English sailed north from the Downs and caught the Dutch by surprise. This advantage was partly lost when Blake was forced to wait for Bourne with rear, but it did mean that the Dutch were unable to hold a council of war.

Once enough of the fleet was ready Blake lead the vanguard towards the Dutch. Disaster nearly struck when Penn and some of the larger English ships ran aground on the sands of the Kentish Knock, leaving Blake to face the Dutch fleet alone. Despite this in the early fighting the English held the advantage, dismasting two Dutch ships.

De With responded by ordering his fleet to turn south, to sail around the English right and attack Bourne and the rear. This move might have left Bourne isolated, if it had not coincided with Penn's ships turning south to get off the sand bar. As a result the Dutch fleet was forced to fight Penn and Bourne's combined forces, and suffered heavy losses during the fighting.

Two Dutch ships were captured by the English. The 30 gun Mary was taken into English service, and remained in use throughout the war, but the second was found to be too badly damaged to

On the night after the battle de With held a Council of War, where he attempted to convince his commanders to resume the fight on the following day. De Ruyter and Jan Evertsen, two of his squadron commanders, spoke out against this move, and de With was forced to order a retreat.

Their victory at the Kentish Knock gave the English command of the English Channel, but they soon squandered their advantage. Believing that the naval war was won the Council of State removed the gun batteries protecting the Downs, and scattered the fleet. Some were sent to the Sound, to attempt to break the Dutch blockade of the Baltic, while squadrons were sent to the north-east coast, to Plymouth and to the Mediterranean. Two months later the Dutch returned to sea, this time under Maarten Tromp, and won control of the Channel back at Dungeness (30 November 1652)

Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars


The First Anglo-Dutch War: Overview

T he First Anglo-Dutch War was fought entirely at sea. The major actions of the war revolved around control of the two principal trade routes upon which Dutch commerce depended: the eastern route through the Danish Sound into the Baltic Sea, and the western route along the English Channel to France, Spain, the Mediterranean and the Indies, with a longer, alternative route around the coast of Scotland.


how the King hath knighted Vice-Admirall Lawson and Sir Rich. Stayner
L&M say that this was done on the 24th. They go on to say that "Stayner had previously been knighted by Cromwell in 1657."

And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before) and went away
L&M reproduce this well-known passage as above leaving out the first "I". They note that the unbalanced parentheses are Pepys's own. The footnote goes on to say that the Tee was "imported via Holland from c. 1658, but cost c. £2 per lb.”


The Dutch Navy Temporarily Gains Control of English Channel

Today on December 10, 1652, Dutch warships temporarily take control over the English Channel after winning the Battle of Dungeness.

The Battle of Dungeness was a naval engagement fought between the English and Dutch navies. The battle was part of the First Anglo-Dutch War and occurred off the coast near Kent. Before the battle, English-commander Robert Blake mistakenly split up his core fleet. He sent the bulk of his ships to serve the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas during the winter months. The Royal Navy recently defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Kentish Knock in September 1652. As a result, Blake falsely assumed that the enemy was finished attacking for the season. It was considered dangerous to try and move the fleet so late in the year.

After their loss at Kentish Knock, the Dutch immediately began reinforcing their navy. They desperately needed warships to protect a recently assembled merchant convoy of three-hundred vessels. Their fleet was under the command of Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp who had 73 warships at his disposal. He safely escorted the convoy through the most dangerous parts of the English Channel by late November. Instead of returning home, Tromp ordered his captains to hunt down the remaining English ships. Blake severely underestimated his enemy and miscalculated the strength of their navy.

The Battle of Dungeness began in the afternoon on December 10. The weather ended up playing a pivotal role in the outcome. The winds conveniently blew Blake’s vanguard directly into the Dutch navy before he was able to confirm the number of their ships. Many of the English ships were in fact impressed merchant vessels that were reluctant to enter the fray. By the end of the day, Tromp succeeded in capturing three boats and sinking two, while only losing one of his own. According to legend, he attached a broom to his mast signaling he had swept the sea clean of his enemies. English reinforcements returned by the following February and quickly re-established control of the Channel. It was once again closed off to Dutch trading.


The English Parliament had passed the first of the Navigation Acts in October 1651, aimed at hampering the shipping of the highly trade-dependent Dutch. Agitation among the Dutch merchants had been further increased by George Ayscue's capture in early 1652 of 27 Dutch ships trading with the royalist colony of Barbados in contravention of an embargo. Both sides had begun to prepare for war, but conflict might have been delayed if not for an unfortunate encounter on 29 May 1652 (19 May in the Julian calendar then in use in England) near the Straits of Dover between a Dutch convoy escorted by 40 ships under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp and an English fleet of 25 ships under General-at-Sea Robert Blake.

An ordinance of Cromwell required all foreign fleets in the North Sea or the Channel to dip their flag in salute, but when Tromp did not comply because he saw no reason to lower his flag for the English, Blake fired three warning shots. When the third hit his ship, wounding some sailors, Tromp replied with a warning broadside from his flagship Brederode. Blake then fired a broadside in anger and a five-hour battle ensued.

Both fleets were damaged, but as darkness fell the Dutch fleet withdrew in a defensive line to protect the convoy, and the English captured two Dutch stragglers: Sint Laurens, which was taken back by them but not used, and Sint Maria, which was abandoned in a sinking condition and later made its way to the Netherlands. Tromp then offered his excuses to Blake and asked for the return of the prize, but this was refused by Blake.


Aftermath

The Dutch recognized after their defeat that they needed larger ships to take on the English, and instituted a major building program that never really came to pass until the Second Anglo-Dutch War. According to De With this, besides a lack of a sufficient number of fireships, had been the main cause of the Dutch failure he pointed out that many a light English frigate could outshoot the average Dutch warship. However according to public opinion there was only one to blame for the defeat: De With himself. As one of the more polite pamphlets put it, a week after the battle:

From this disorder and unwillingness to fight it can be seen and noticed what difference it makes whether one has or appoints a Head of a fleet who is judicious, polite and popular — or whether one imposes on the men a Head who is unloved, despised by the men and unsavoury to them. Vice-Admiral De Witt is, we all know this, an excellent soldier and bold Sailor, who fears no danger, nor even death itself. Likewise Commodore de Ruyter is an audacious and fearless Hero, who would not hesitate to engage the worst of enemies, heeding no danger. Notwithstanding all of this, we also know that Admiral Tromp possesses all these same qualities and besides these uncommon virtues: of being an extraordinary careful, Godfearing and virtuous man who does not call his men dogs, devils, or devil's brood but children, friends, comrades and similar loving and endearing words to address them with. By which he so much endears those serving under him that they, as they say, would go through fire for him and risk their lives, yes, by manner of speech, would not hesitate to fight the devil. If such a loved and respected Head is then kept from the fleet and replaced by those who displease the men, now it is shown what calamity and disaster this brings with it.

The same evening of the 12th the States-General learned of the defeat, they sent a letter to both Tromp and Johan Evertsen, asking them to return.

The English believed that the Dutch had been all but defeated, and sent twenty ships away to the Mediterranean, a mistake that led to a defeat at the Battle of Dungeness but didn't prevent the defeat of the not yet reinforced English Mediterrenean fleet at the Battle of Leghorn. In the former battle the Dutch were led again by Tromp De With had suffered a mental breakdown and would be officially replaced as supreme commander in May 1653.


Conduct of the War [ edit | edit source ]

The States of Holland sent their highest official, the Grand Pensionary Adriaan Pauw to London in a last desperate attempt to prevent war, but in vain: English demands had become so extreme that no self-respecting state could meet them. War was declared by the English Parliament on 10 July 1652. The Dutch diplomats realised what was at stake: one of the departing ambassadors said, "The English are about to attack a mountain of gold we are about to attack a mountain of iron." The Dutch Orangists were jubilant however they expected that either victory or defeat would bring them to power.

The first months of the war saw attacks by the English against the convoys of the Dutch. Blake was sent with 60 ships to disrupt Dutch fishing in the North Sea and Dutch trade with the Baltic, leaving Ayscue with a small force to guard the Channel. On 12 July 1652, Ayscue intercepted a Dutch convoy returning from Portugal, capturing seven merchantmen and destroying three. Tromp gathered a fleet of 96 ships to attack Ayscue but winds from the south kept him in the North Sea. Turning north to pursue Blake, Tromp caught up with the English fleet off the Shetland Islands but a storm scattered his ships and there was no battle. On 26 August 1652 Ayscue attacked an outward-bound Dutch convoy commanded by Vice-Commodore Michiel de Ruyter but was beaten back in the Battle of Plymouth and relieved of his command.

This painting, Action between ships in the First Dutch War, 1652� by Abraham Willaerts, may depict the Battle of the Kentish Knock. It is a pastiche of popular subjects of naval painting of the time: on the right Brederode duels Resolution on the left the enormous Sovereign.

Tromp had also been suspended after the failure at Shetland, and Vice-Admiral Witte de With was given command. The Dutch convoys being at the time safe from English attack, De With saw an opportunity to concentrate his forces and gain control of the seas. At the Battle of the Kentish Knock on 8 October 1652 the Dutch attacked the English fleet near the mouth of the River Thames, but were beaten back with a high number of casualties. The English Parliament, believing the Dutch to be near defeat, sent away twenty ships to strengthen the position in the Mediterranean. This division of forces left Blake with only 42 men of war by November, while the Dutch were making every effort to reinforce their fleet, and this led to an English defeat by Tromp in the Battle of Dungeness in December but didn't save the English Mediterranean fleet, largely destroyed at the Battle of Leghorn in March 1653. The Dutch had effective control of the Channel, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, with English ships blockaded in port. As a result Cromwell managed to convince Parliament to make secret peace contacts with the Dutch. In February 1653, Adriaan Pauw responded favourably, sending a letter from the States of Holland indicating their sincere desire to reach a peace agreement.

Despite its successes, the Dutch Republic was unable to sustain a prolonged naval war. As press-ganging was forbidden, enormous sums had to be paid to attract enough sailors. English privateers inflicted serious damage on Dutch shipping. Unable to assist all of their colonies the Dutch had to allow the Portuguese to reconquer Brazil.

Though the politicians were close to making an end to the conflict, the war would prove to have a momentum of its own. Over the winter of 1652󈞡, the English repaired their ships and considered their position. Robert Blake wrote the Sailing and Fighting Instructions, a major overhaul of naval tactics, containing the first formal description of the line of battle. By February 1653 the English were ready to challenge the Dutch, and in the three-day Battle of Portland in March they drove them out of The Channel. Their success saw an abrupt end to the English desire for peace. On 18 March the States-General sent a detailed peace proposal to the English Parliament, but it replied on 11 April by reiterating the same demands that had put off Pauw in June the previous year, to be accepted before negotiations were even to begin. On 30 April the States-General ignored this and asked for negotiations to begin in a neutral country on 23 May Cromwell, having dissolved the pro-war Rump Parliament, responded that he would receive Dutch envoys in London on 5 June the States-General decided to send them.

The Battle of the Gabbard, 12 June 1653 by Heerman Witmont, shows the Dutch flagship Brederode, right, in action with the English ship Resolution, the temporary name during the Commonwealth of HMS Prince Royal.

Meanwhile the English navy tried to gain control over the North Sea also and in the two-day Battle of the Gabbard in June drove the Dutch back to their home ports, starting a blockade of the Dutch coast, which led to an immediate collapse of the Dutch economy and even starvation. The Dutch were unable to feed their dense urban population without a regular supply of Baltic wheat and rye prices of these commodities soared and the poor were soon unable to buy food.

The final battle of the war was the costly Battle of Scheveningen in August. The Dutch desperately tried to break the English blockade after heavy fighting with much damage to both sides, the defeated Dutch retreated to the Texel but the English had to abandon the blockade. Tromp was killed early in the battle, a blow to morale, which increased the Dutch desire to end the war. Similar feelings arose in England. Although many had gained riches from the war (Dutch prizes taken during the war,about 1200 merchantmen or 8% of their total mercantile fleet, amounted to double the value of England's entire ocean-going merchant fleet), trade as a whole had suffered. Cromwell himself was exasperated that two Protestant nations should exhaust themselves in this useless conflict he had started, while catholic Spain profited. He decided to begin negotiations in earnest with the four Dutch envoys having arrived in late June. Hostilities largely ended until the conclusion of peace.


Military conflicts similar to or like Battle of Dungeness

The first engagement of the First Anglo-Dutch War between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The English Parliament had passed the first of the Navigation Acts in October 1651, aimed at hampering the shipping of the highly trade-dependent Dutch. Wikipedia

Naval battle between the fleets of the Dutch Republic and England, fought on 28 September 1652 (8 October Gregorian calendar), during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the shoal called the Kentish Knock in the North Sea about thirty kilometres east of the mouth of the river Thames. Soon forced to withdraw, losing two ships and many casualties. Wikipedia

Naval battle in the First Anglo-Dutch War. Short battle, but had the unexpected outcome of a Dutch victory over England. Wikipedia

Naval battle that took place during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. A combined French and Dutch fleet under Job Forant encountered a larger English fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Thomas Allin, 1st Baronet. Wikipedia

Attacked by a fleet of the Dutch Republic under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp escorting merchant shipping through the English Channel. Killed in a firefight. Wikipedia

The naval Battle of the Gabbard, also known as the Battle of Gabbard Bank, the Battle of the North Foreland or the Second Battle of Nieuwpoort took place on 2–3 June 1653 (12–13 June 1653 Gregorian calendar). during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the Gabbard shoal off the coast of Suffolk, England between fleets of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces. Wikipedia


Battle of Elba

This was the Third fleet engagement of the First Anglo-Dutch War between the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

The Battle of Monte Cristo (or the Battle of Elba) was the first battle in the Mediterranean Sea between the Dutch and the English, during the First Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch out-numbered the English, but they quickly found that they were at a great disadvantage, when facing any of the English "Second Rates", such as the English flagship. Other English ships were faster than any Dutch ship. The frigate Constant Warwick was scouting for the fleet, when first sighted by the Dutch, as they passed the island of Elba.

The English fleet commander was Richard Badiley. He had been a Parliamentarian naval commander from 1649, after having spent time in the Mediterranean, both trading and "fighting Turks." Van Galen had also been active fighting the Barbary pirates, a seemingly never-ending occupation for a Dutch Mediterranean squadron. The first Dutch commander, Joris Cats, had offended the Grand Duke of Tuscany, so Johan van Galen was rushed overland to relieve him.


Description of the battle TRN2

Badiley, on being joined by the Constant Warwick at Cephalonia, made the best of his way towards Leghorn. He hoped that, by touching at no port on the way, he might arrive before the Dutch expected him, and that he might thus avoid the blockading ships and join with Appleton. This was not the case. As he passed Monte Cristo, on August 27th, he found the Dutch squadron, ten strong, lying between that island and Elba.

Badiley had with him, besides his own ship the Paragon, 42, the Constant Warwick, 30, Captain Owen Cox, the Elizabeth, 38, and the Phoenix, 38, with which he was convoying four Levant merchantmen. On the 27th the wind was light, and the squadrons could not come to close action. The merchantmen made no attempt to offer help, considering that their own safety was the point under discussion and they made the best of their way into Porto Longone. Badiley hoped for some help from Appleton, but Appleton declared that he was too ill to leave port an excuse which Badiley refused to accept, alleging that, even if such were the case, he might at least have sent his vessels. The four ships were thus left to fight it out by themselves and, as all accounts agree, they made a right gallant defence.

The calm gave the English some little help, by keeping three of the enemy out of action and, although the odds were still two to one, Badiley did not despair. He decided that, as his ship was the heaviest, it would be best that she should meet the brunt of the attack, and accordingly he bade his consorts take up their stations under his stern. This, he says, the Constant Warwick, and apparently the Elizabeth, did with satisfactory results, but the Phoenix remained too far off to allow of any support being given to her by the others. The manoeuvre may be looked upon as one of the earliest attempts at the formation of a line but as the ships were so few in number, it is at least likely that Badiley merely intended to collect his squadron into a compact group for mutual support, with a reservation to himself of the post of honour in the van.

The Paragon drew the fire of the three Dutch flagships, which engaged her within pistol-shot and she continued throughout in the heat of the fight, being always well supported by the Constant Warwick, whose captain, Owen Cox, was, by his record, a man of more than ordinary valour. Little mention is made of the Elizabeth, but she seems to have been somewhat to leeward of, and screened by, the two first-named ships. That she was closely engaged may be taken for granted, in view of the balance of force in favour of the enemy, but though she did not come off by any means free, her loss was slight compared with that sustained by the Paragon.

The Phoenix, wrote Badiley, was taken in a strange and sudden manner, and would not have been thus lost had she fallen astern of the Paragon as ordered. A heavy ship of the enemy's ran her aboard, and, owing to her want of a forecastle, captured her. Badiley, however, declared that he had four ships close aboard him at the time, so that it may reasonably be doubted whether he was in a position to say what happened. The accepted account of the loss has nothing unlikely in it. It shows that a Dutch ship which was closely engaged with Badiley, lost her mainmast, and hauled out of the fight. The Phoenix, seeing this, ran alongside of her, and boarded, but, while she was thus left empty and defenceless, a second Dutch ship in turn boarded the Phoenix, and took her without resistance. The boarding-party from the Phoenix had no means of retreat, and, being overpowered, was killed or taken.

With evening the fight came to an end and the remaining English ships, torn and shattered, and with all, or nearly all, their ammunition expended, were towed into Porto Longone. The Paragon's loss was twenty-six men killed, including her principal officers, and fifty-seven wounded. She had received fifty great shot in her hull, many between wind and water and hardly a spar was sound. The other ships had suffered only less heavily. The Dutch loss was represented by three captains killed, besides very many of their men. Two ships also had lost their mainmasts, and the whole squadron was hardly in a position to keep the sea.

The enemy managed, however, to follow Badiley to Porto Longone, where they would have made an attack on him at once had they not met with opposition from the governor. The next expedient tried was to attempt to bribe the governor, but he not only proved incorruptible, but also allowed the English to land guns and make batteries on shore for their protection, whereupon the Dutch withdrew.


Battle of Hastings

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Battle of Hastings, battle on October 14, 1066, that ended in the defeat of Harold II of England by William, duke of Normandy, and established the Normans as the rulers of England.

Why was the Battle of Hastings fought?

The Battle of Hastings was fought for the English crown. In 1051 Edward the Confessor probably designated William, duke of Normandy, a cousin, as his heir. According to Norman accounts, Edward sent Harold, earl of Wessex, to Normandy in 1064 to confirm his promise to William, and Harold swore to defend William’s claim. Nevertheless, on his deathbed Edward granted the kingdom to Harold, who was crowned the next day. In response, William gathered an army.

Who was the Battle of Hastings between?

The Battle of Hastings was between William, duke of Normandy, and Harold II of England. William assembled a force of 4,000–7,000, composed of archers and crossbowmen, heavy infantry, and knights on horseback, on the Continent before sailing for England. Harold’s army numbered about 7,000 men, many of whom were half-armed untrained peasants. He lacked archers and cavalry and had mobilized barely half of England’s trained soldiers.

How was the Battle of Hastings fought?

The Battle of Hastings began at dawn on October 14, 1066, when William’s army moved toward Harold’s army, which was occupying a ridge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Hastings. As the day progressed, the defense was worn down and slowly outnumbered. According to the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold was killed late in the afternoon. As darkness fell, the English scattered, leaving William the winner of one of the most daring gambles in history.

How did the Battle of Hastings change the course of English history?

William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings brought England into close contact with the Continent, especially France. It led to the almost total replacement of the English aristocracy with a Norman one, which was paralleled by similar changes of personnel among the upper clergy and administrative officers. English was superseded in official documents and other records by Latin and then increasingly in all areas by Anglo-Norman written English hardly reappeared until the 13th century.

Throughout his reign, the childless Edward the Confessor had used the absence of a clear successor to the throne as a bargaining tool. In 1051, after a breach with Godwine, the earl of Wessex and the most powerful man in England, Edward probably designated William, a cousin, as his heir. Upon Godwine’s death in 1053, his son Harold became earl of Wessex, and Harold spent the next decade consolidating his power and winning favour among the nobles and clergy. According to Norman accounts, among them the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold subsequently swore an oath of fealty to William and promised to uphold William’s claim to the English throne. Nevertheless, on his deathbed (January 5, 1066) Edward granted the kingdom to Harold, who, with the backing of the English nobility, was crowned king the next day.

By this time, however, William controlled, directly or by alliance, every harbour from the Schelde to Brest. His father-in-law, Baldwin V of Flanders, was regent of France, and Geoffrey III, the count of Anjou and his only dangerous neighbour, was distracted by rebellion. With a solemn blessing from Pope Alexander II and the emperor’s approval, William prepared to enforce his claim to the English crown. He persuaded the Norman barons to promise support and recruited thousands of volunteers from Brittany, Maine, France, Flanders, Spain, and Italy. The organization of supplies and transport for this miscellaneous host and the imposition of disciplined Norman cohesion upon them were probably William’s supreme military achievements.

Harold mobilized his fleet and army in May, repelled his outlawed brother Tostig’s raids on the south and east coasts, and concentrated his large fleet off Spithead and his militia along the Hampshire, Sussex, and Kentish coasts. Ready to move early in August, William’s transports were kept in port by north winds for eight weeks, first in the Dives estuary until September 12, then at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. Meanwhile, the English militia, short of supplies after four months’ fruitless waiting, lost morale and were dismissed on September 8. Harold’s ships were brought back to the Thames, with many being lost en route. The English Channel was thus left open, and the best chance of destroying William’s army was lost. About that time Harald III Sigurdson, king of Norway and another claimant of the English crown, allied himself with Tostig and entered the Humber with 300 ships. There he defeated the forces of Edwin, earl of Mercia, and his brother Morcar, earl of Northumbria, in a heavy battle at Gate Fulford, outside York (September 20). This battle not only crippled Harald’s forces, but also left the two earls incapable of raising another army that year. King Harold, hearing of this invasion, left London immediately with his housecarls and such thanes and shire militia as he could muster, and by forced marches surprised the invaders at Stamford Bridge on September 25, utterly destroying them and killing Harald and Tostig.

On September 27 the wind changed, and William crossed to England unopposed, with an army of 4,000 to 7,000 cavalry and infantry, disembarking at Pevensey in Sussex. He quickly moved his forces eastward along the coast to Hastings, fortified his position, and began to explore and ravage the area, determined not to lose touch with his ships until he had defeated Harold’s main army. Harold, at York, learned of William’s landing on or about October 2 and hurried southward, gathering reinforcements as he went. By October 13 Harold was approaching Hastings with about 7,000 men, many of whom were half-armed, untrained peasants. He had mobilized barely half of England’s trained soldiers, yet he advanced against William instead of making William come to meet him in a chosen defensive position. The bold yet ultimately unsuccessful strategy is probably explained by Harold’s eagerness to defend his own men and lands, which William was harrying, and to thrust the Normans back into the sea.

William, warned of Harold’s approach, determined to force battle immediately. At dawn on October 14 William moved toward Harold’s army, which was occupying a ridge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Hastings. William disposed his army for attack—archers and crossbowmen in the front line, his heavy infantry in the second, his knights in three divisions in the rear, Normans in the centre, Bretons and French on left and right, respectively. Harold’s English army, lacking archers and cavalry, prepared for defense on the protected summit of the ridge. Their position was not wholly favourable William’s advance was unexpected, and Harold had to fight where he stood or retreat. He placed himself, his housecarls, and his other trained troops around his standard at the summit of the ridge (where the high altar of Battle Abbey was later placed), grouping his other troops along the crest for about 400 yards (365 metres) westward and about 200 yards (about 180 metres) eastward, at which points the slope became steep enough to protect both flanks. The front was too small: some men, finding no fighting room, withdrew the rest, in too close order, made a perfect target for arrows.

The easy slope allowed William’s knights an open approach, against which Harold relied on the close “shield wall” formation of his trained troops to hurl back and dishearten the enemy. The heavily armoured knight, riding a powerful charger and holding couched a heavy thrusting lance, was still 100 years away. Norman armour was flimsy, the horses light and unprotected, and the knights, using javelins, maces, and swords, had to engage the English infantry hand-to-hand. Harold’s hopes depended on keeping his line unbroken and his casualties light, thus exhausting and demoralizing the Normans.

William’s archers opened at close range, inflicting many casualties but suffering heavily from the English slings and spears. William therefore threw in his cavalry, which was so badly mauled by English infantry wielding two-handed battle-axes that it panicked and fled. William himself checked and turned them, counterattacking a large body of Englishmen who had broken ranks in pursuit. William pressed his cavalry charges throughout the day, interspersing them with flights of arrows, and annihilating considerable numbers of Englishmen whom he drew from their positions by feigning retreat twice. The defense, hard-pressed, depleted, and tiring, was worn down and slowly outnumbered. Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, fell, and, according to the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold himself was killed late in the afternoon when he was struck in the eye by an arrow. The leaderless English fought on until dusk, then broke a last rally in the gloom caused the Normans further casualties and endangered William himself. As darkness fell, the English scattered, leaving William the winner of one of the most daring gambles in history. After the battle his army moved to isolate London, where William I was crowned king on December 25.


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