The Battle of Hastings: Making England French in 1066

Up until 1066 most of England was Anglo-Saxon and proud of it. There had been a few decades of Danish rule on and off, but for the last 24 years the King of England had been Edward the Confessor, the son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, who had been given the throne after his maternal half brother Harthacnut died in 1042. Edward was the last king of the House of Wessex, and when he died childless there was a skirmish for the throne.

Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex, was theoretically Edward’s true heir and shortly after the king’s death in January 1066 the Witenagemot confirmed Harold as the new monarch, after which he was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Witan 11th century

However, several other men wanted to rule England, too, and they all claimed that Edward had either promised them the crown or that they were the rightful king through some other means. Thus, Harold had to defend his throne from his own brother Tostig, the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harold III of Norway), and William the Bastard from Normandy.

Harold defeated and the joint forces of Tostig and Hardrada at Battle of Stamford Bridge and killed his foes on 25 September 1066, but just three days later William landed with his forces at Pevensey. Harold and his exhausted army was had no choice but to march south as quickly as possible to meet the invader. Although Harold accrued additional forces as he headed south, William’s invasion fleet was larger. Not only were William’s troops well-fed and well-rested compared to Harold, he had significantly more cavalry and archers than the Anglo-Saxon king did.


The clash between Harold and William’s armies took place on 14 October 1066, in East Sussex a few miles northwest of the town of Hastings.


The English were holding their own until Harold was killed (probably via an arrow through the eye) late in battle.

death of Harold Godwinson

Without a leader, the English were unable to rally and William the Bastard became William the Conqueror when he was crowned a few months later on Christmas Day. William would have to fight various uprisings from the Anglo-Saxons in the north of England for the rest of his reign, but he was now nominally King of England.

William_the_Conqueror_1066 on coin

After the Battle of Hastings the cultural elite of England were Norman French and the entire country was subsequentaly strong-armed into adopting Francophile customs at the expense of the last Saxon holdouts. This legacy has stayed with England in odd ways. For one thing, we still get a double-dose of French/English terminology in law. It’s why you can “aid and abet” a criminal or be told to “cease and desist” from an activity to this day. Over time, French phrases became “good” and the Anglo-Saxon words for things became “bad” and a sign of vulgarity. That’s why you can put the words “defecate” and “urinate” in the newspaper but the words “shit” and “piss” have been verboten.

In contrast, the Germanic/Norwegian terms are still fine in their native countries. For example, in the Dutch-speaking country of Belgium, this little statue in Brussels is called the “Manneken Pis”:


And of course, there is the good Anglo-Saxon word for sex that comes from the term “fokken”, or “to beat against”. The term coitus is still thought of as a more elegant way to talk about rock-n-roll, even now, more than a 1000 years later.

Just think, if Harold Godwinson had won the Battle of Hastings then your grandma might drop what we now know as the F-bomb as a mild expletive whenever her pie crusts broke.


4 thoughts on “The Battle of Hastings: Making England French in 1066

  1. And force was how William the bastard became William the conqueror. Was William a bastard from having an unknown father? Was his Norman culture already making war on women and their power?

    1. No, the Duke of Normandy acknowledged paternity … but he wasn’t married to William’s mother.

      1. I just got my hands on a copy of Witches and Pagans. She also gave a slide presentation. I know you have been using some of that language, so I believe you are aware of the book. It really turns around the distorted mirror image of our suppressed history. And thank you for the info about that transition/invasion in 1066.

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