Hastings, Battle of, one of the most fateful military engagements in English history, fought on October 14, 1066, between a national army led by Harold II, Saxon king of England, and an invasion force led by William, Duke of Normandy, afterward William I (the Conqueror). William claimed the English throne had been promised to him by his cousin, Edward the Confessor, king of England between 1042 and 1066. William challenged the election of Harold as king upon Edward's death and, with the blessing of Pope Alexander II (reigned 1061-1073), prepared to invade England. Harold’s brother, Tostig, earl of Northumbria, supported William’s claim, and at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25 in Yorkshire, was slain by Harold. The English army of about 7000 soldiers then marched from Yorkshire and occupied a height (later called Senlac Hill) on the Hastings-London highway about 10.5 km (about 6.5 mi) northwest of Hastings. The royal force was composed exclusively of infantry, armed with spears, swords, and battle-axes. Meanwhile, William’s seaborne forces, which included infantry armed with crossbows and contingents of heavily armed cavalry, landed on the English coast near Hastings on September 28, 1066.
The initial Norman attack, launched in the morning of October 14, failed to dislodge the English, who met the barrage of enemy arrows with interlocked shields. The English axmen turned back a Norman cavalry charge, whereupon a section of the Norman infantry turned and fled. At this juncture, several units of the English army broke ranks, contrary to Harold's orders, and pursued the retreating Normans. Other Norman troops quickly surrounded and annihilated these units. Taking advantage of the lack of discipline among the English soldiers, William ordered a feigned retreat. The stratagem led to the entrapment of another large body of English troops. Severely weakened by these reverses and demoralized by the mortal wounding of Harold by an arrow, the English were forced to abandon their strategic position on the crest of Senlac Hill. Only small remnants of the defending army survived the subsequent onslaughts of the Norman cavalry. William's victory at Hastings paved the way for Norman subjugation of all England.