What were the causes and effects of the Battle of Hastings?

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The cause of the Battle of Hastings (1066) was a dispute over who should be the King of England. There were several contenders for the throne. Harold Godwinson claimed to be the rightful monarch and held the crown, but this was disputed by his brother, Tostig, who was allied to...

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The cause of the Battle of Hastings (1066) was a dispute over who should be the King of England. There were several contenders for the throne. Harold Godwinson claimed to be the rightful monarch and held the crown, but this was disputed by his brother, Tostig, who was allied to the King of Norway. Also, William of Normandy claimed that he had been promised the realm of England.

Harold Godwinson crushed an army of Norwegians at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Both Tostig and the King of Norway died in this battle. The few survivors got in their ships and sailed back to Norway after promising never to invade England again.

At the same time, William of Normandy landed in England. Harold Godwinson rushed his tired army south to meet him. After a hard battle, William won, and Harold died—possibly from an arrow in the eye. William became the first Norman king of England, and he is remembered as William the Conqueror.

The conquest changed the language, culture, and government of England. French became the language of government in England, and much of present-day English comes from French. Before 1066, England was thoroughly Germanic, so the conquest changed the nature of the country. Also, the history of England and France and their ruling families became intertwined. For centuries after 1066, English kings claimed to be the rightful rulers of France, too. These English claims were the justification for English invasions of France during the Hundred Years War (1337–1453).

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The causes of the Battle of Hastings were fairly complex. While William of Normandy and his court claimed that Edward the Confessor had sworn upon a chest of relics that William would be his heir, this claim was disputed. Edward and William were well known to each other, as Edward had spent much time in France, but Edward was also a friend of Harold Godwinson, who had the respect of the Witangemot in England. They claimed that Edward had pronounced Godwinson his heir upon death. Moreover, at this point in time, it was not necessarily up to the king to determine who his next heir should be. The Witangemot was powerful and, given that it offered its support to Harold Godwinson, most in England felt that this overruled any previous claim William of Normandy may have had to the throne. William, of course, disagreed.

There was a third claimant to the throne in the form of Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, who had been invited to claim the English throne by Edwin, brother of Harold Godwinson. Conflict with Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge greatly reduced the effectiveness of Harold Godwinson's army and meant that they were somewhat depleted when they arrived at Hastings to confront William of Normandy. Largely as a result of this, William was able to defeat Godwinson on the field.

The effects of the Battle of Hastings were far-reaching. The idea of Englishness in this period was very conflicted. The English were subjugated by the Norman invaders, particularly in the north, where William's Harrowing of the North caused poverty and deprivation for decades. The English language, which had begun to develop a standard under Alfred the Great and subsequently, was forced to go "underground" as Norman French became the language of court. English as we know it today is in large part a reflection of the Norman Conquest, which brought French into the common tongue.

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The Battle of Hastings was caused by a challenge to the throne of England. King Edward, who had no male heirs, had agreed that William of Normandy would be the next king of England. Before dying, however, Edward had a change of heart and named a powerful noble as the king. As you can imagine, this displeased William of Normandy. William successfully mobilized a Norman army and defeated the forces of Harold of Wessex, the man King Edward had appointed.

With the victory of William the Conquerer in 1066 and his ascendancy to the throne later in the year, the era of Anglo-Saxon England was over. French became the language of the court. Latin also grew in usage as the Roman church became more powerful. Those that spoke English were viewed as uneducated and backward. The combination of French, Latin, and the contemporary English would evolve to become Modern English. Another important development that occurred as a result of the Norman conquest of England was that feudalism became more deeply embedded in the society of England. This occurred because William granted land to the individuals that helped him to acquire the throne.

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