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The Normans – Hastings and the Thorny Question of the Feigned Retreat

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Another bone of contention for a long time has been this business of the feigned retreat, particularly at Hastings.

Until recently, historians, especially those with a military background themselves, have contended for many years that the Norman cavalry broke and ran because they were afraid of the Anglo-Saxons pouring down on them from the hill upon which the lines of the latter were positioned. Three points nullify this theory.

Firstly, the likelihood of the Norman cavalry sudden being the victims of fear is most unlikely as to be discounted. They may have been many things, but cowards they were not.

Secondly, the Anglo-Saxon charge was piecemeal. It wasn’t a disciplined, concerted effort. Quite simply, the left flank of Harold’s army saw a group of Normans relatively isolated and they decided to take advantage of what they saw as a promising situation. The Normans turned and let them chase them down the hill, where they dispatched them.

Thirdly, the knights were disciplined men. Also, it’s been supposed that it was impossible for any order to have been given to the knights because of the complete lack of battlefield communications. But the truth of the matter is that their commander would have had little trouble in turning his men in just such a feigned retreat.

This was simply a case of the Anglo-Saxons breaking ranks and trying to take advantage of what they saw as an opportunity. They were fierce men, who’d been fighting in the shield wall all day and now they saw their chance.

William then brought his archers up, ordered them to fire in the air so that the arrows rained down upon Harold’s men to weaken them.

With the Anglo-Saxon battle line shortened because of their comrades pursuit of the Normans, the latter had little difficulty in ascending the hill up to the English lines on their right flank, while Count Eustace did the same on the left flank. From there, they simply rolled up the English lines.

Harold, although wounded by an arrow, wasn’t dead at this stage, and his huscarls fought magnificently to the last man in his defense.

In later years, the feigned retreat was often used. Indeed, Bohemond of Taranto used it with deadly effect against the Muslims. It was always forgotten just how much these knights trained together. A gesture, even a look from their commander could have sent them off in the form of manoeuvre which was desired.

There’s no question that the English fought quite magnificently on that day, particularly if it’s remembered that they had come straight from their defeat of the Danes at Stamford Bridge.

But as at the end of all battles, the if’s, but’s, maybe’s and perhaps’s are finally outweighed by the final result


Source by Mike Bond

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