From nine o’clock in the morning, when the combat began, till three o’clock came, the battle was up and down, this way and that, and no one knew who would conquer and win the land.
Continuing Normans Conquer England,
our selection from Historical and Critical Account of the Several Invasions of England by Sir Edward Creasy published in 1852. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Normans Conquer England.
Time: October 14, 1066
“The Normans press on the assault, and the English defend their post well; they pierce the hauberks and cleave the shields, receive and return mighty blows. Again, some press forward, others yield; and thus, in various ways, the struggle proceeds. In the plain was a fosse, which the Normans had now behind them, having passed it in the fight without regarding it. But the English charged and drove the Normans before them till they made them fall back upon this fosse, overthrowing into it horses and men. Many were to be seen falling therein, rolling one over the others, with their faces to the earth, and unable to rise. Many of the English also, whom the Normans drew down along with them, died there. At no time during the day’s battle did so many Normans die as perished in that fosse. So those said who saw the dead.
“The varlets who were set to guard the harness began to abandon it as they saw the loss of the Frenchmen when thrown back upon the fosse without power to recover themselves. Being greatly alarmed at seeing the difficulty in restoring order, they began to quit the harness, and sought around, not knowing where to find shelter. Then Duke William’s brother, Odo, the good priest, the Bishop of Bayeux, galloped up and said to them: ‘Stand fast! stand fast! be quiet and move not! fear nothing; for, if God please, we shall conquer yet.’ So they took courage and rested where they were; and Odo returned galloping back to where the battle was most fierce, and was of great service on that day. He had put a hauberk on over a white aube, wide in the body, with the sleeve tight, and sat on a white horse, so that all might recognize him. In his hand he held a mace, and wherever he saw most need he held up and stationed the knights, and often urged them on to assault and strike the enemy.
“From nine o’clock in the morning, when the combat began, till three o’clock came, the battle was up and down, this way and that, and no one knew who would conquer and win the land. Both sides stood so firm and fought so well that no one could guess which would prevail. The Norman archers with their bows shot thickly upon the English; but they covered themselves with their shields, so that the arrows could not reach their bodies nor do any mischief, how true so ever was their aim or however well they shot. Then the Normans determined to shoot their arrows upward into the air, so that they might fall on their enemies’ heads and strike their faces. The archers adopted this scheme and shot up into the air toward the English; and the arrows, in falling, struck their heads and faces and put out the eyes of many; and all feared to open their eyes or leave their faces unguarded.
“The arrows now flew thicker than rain before the wind; fast sped the shafts that the English call ‘wibetes.’ Then it was that an arrow, that had been thus shot upward, struck Harold above his right eye, and put it out. In his agony he drew the arrow and threw it away, breaking it with his hands; and the pain to his head was so great that he leaned upon his shield. So the English were wont to say, and still say to the French, that the arrow was well shot which was so sent up against their King, and that the archer won them great glory who thus put out Harold’s eye.
“The Normans saw that the English defended themselves well, and were so strong in their position that they could do little against them. So they consulted together privily, and arranged to draw off, and pretend to flee, till the English should pursue and scatter themselves over the field; for they saw that if they could once get their enemies to break their ranks, they might be attacked and discomfited much more easily. As they had said, so they did. The Normans by little and little fled, the English following them. As the one fell back, the other pressed after; and when the Frenchmen retreated, the English thought and cried out that the men of France fled and would never return.
“Thus they were deceived by the pretended flight, and great mischief thereby befell them; for if they had not moved from their position, it is not likely that they would have been conquered at all; but, like fools, they broke their lines and pursued.
“The Normans were to be seen following up their stratagem, retreating slowly so as to draw the English farther on. As they still flee, the English pursue; they push out their lances and stretch forth their hatchets, following the Normans as they go, rejoicing in the success of their scheme, and scattering themselves over the plain. And the English meantime jeered and insulted their foes with words. ‘Cowards,’ they cried, ‘you came hither in an evil hour, wanting our lands and seeking to seize our property; fools that ye were to come! Normandy is too far off, and you will not easily reach it. It is of little use to run back; unless you can cross the sea at a leap or can drink it dry, your sons and daughters are lost to you.’
“The Normans bore it all; but, in fact, they knew not what the English said: their language seemed like the baying of dogs, which they could not understand. At length they stopped and turned round, determined to recover their ranks; and the barons might be heard crying, ‘Dex Aie!’ for a halt. Then the Normans resumed their former position, turning their faces toward the enemy; and their men were to be seen facing round and rushing onward to a fresh melee, the one party assaulting the other; this man striking, another pressing onward. One hits, another misses; one flies, another pursues; one is aiming a stroke, while another discharges his blow.
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