Armies and Tactics at the Battle of Hastings

How was the Battle of Hastings fought by the armies?
The two sides in the Battle of Hastings fought with different tactics and in different styles.
What was the Norman army like at the Battle of Hastings?
William's army consisted of knights on horseback, archers, and infantry (footmen).
What were the Norman archers like in the Battle of Hastings?
Norman archers had padded jackets, called gambesons, as armour. They included crossbowmen.
What were the Norman knights like in the Battle of Hastings?
Knights were William's elite troops. They were skilled, well-equipped, and fought on horseback.
  • Their weapons included lances, javelins, swords and maces.
  • War-horses were called destriers. They were especially bred to be strong enough to carry an armoured knight, and trained to be vicious in battle.
  • Their shields were kite-shaped to protect the left side.
  • Their armour was chain mail, and they wore a conical helmet with a nose-piece.
  • Saddles held the knights in place to free their arms for fighting, while stirrups allowed them to stand up for extra power in attacks. Spurs were used to direct their horses in manoeuvres.
  • Knights carried a gonfanon, a flag to signal manoeuvres.
  • Knights spent years training to fight effectively on horseback.
What was the Norman infantry like at the Battle of Hastings?
The infantry, or foot-soldiers, of the Norman army probably had chain mail, shields, swords and javelins.
What was the Anglo-Saxon army like at the Battle of Hastings?
It is not known how many housecarls Harold brought to the Battle of Hastings, but the Anglo-Saxon army had a well-trained, well-equipped core, along with the men of the fyrd.
What were the Anglo-Saxon housecarls like at the Battle of Hastings?
The housecarls were the elite of the Anglo-Saxon army. They were formidable soldiers who fought on foot.
  • They were armed with swords, javelins, and long heavy axes.
  • They carried a round wooden shield, with a metal boss in the centre for reinforcement.
  • Housecarls were trained to open gaps in the shield wall for axe blows, then to close it up again. They were skilled with their axes and had great strength, discipline, and endurance.
  • Their armour was chain mail, or metal plates sewn onto leather. They also had a conical helmet with a nose-piece.
Who were the Anglo-Saxon fyrd at the Battle of Hastings?
Harold had had to call the fyrd quickly as he marched back south, and some had not turned up on time, possibly including his own archers. The thegns had proper weapons, but many of the fyrd were armed only with farm tools.
Why did the Anglo-Saxon army not have horses at the Battle of Hastings?
The Norman cavalry turned out to be an advantage in the Battle of Hastings, but there were a number of reasons why the Anglo-Saxons did not fight on horseback.
  • Instead of horses, the Anglo-Saxons invested in their fleet, and in fortifying towns against attacks from the sea. This was based on long experience of dealing with Viking invasions.
  • The Norman cavalry was the result of years of breeding horses, training knights, and developing technology such as the saddle and lance. Developing good cavalry was difficult, expensive and time-consuming.
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