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The Norman Conquest: Events leading to the Battle

Edward died childless early in the year 1066. Right before his death, he named Harold, Earl of Wessex as his successor to the throne. Harold was the son of the King’s counselor, and had conquered Wales for England in 1063. He was loved and supported by all of England.

William the Bastard of Normandy, a distant cousin to Edward, claimed that Edward had named him as the successor. In 1051, William declared, Edward had promised to bequeath him the throne in return for the 30 years Edward had spent in Normandy. Even though this claim was very likely true, it held no influence, as it had not been approved by the Witan (literally, “wise man”, councilor, council of an Anglo-Saxon King). William stated his right to the crown with support from the Pope. Pope Alexander II condemned and excommunicated Harold from the Vatican in Italy, and named William as the “true” successor. The Pope blessed William and sent him a consecrated banner and a ring containing a hair of St. Peter’s head within a diamond.

To confuse matters even more, William said that Harold had accepted knighthood from him some years before, and promised to uphold William’s claim to the throne. Under the feudal law, Harold owed William submission. Harold did not deny this, but asserted that this also had not been approved by the Witan, and therefore held no ground. Harold was ready to defend Edward’s final wishes, and the whole of England accepted him as their King. On January 6, 1066, Harold was elected King by the Witnagemot (literally, “assembly of the wise men”).

Harold’s brother, Tostig, who had been exiled from England for unrecorded reasons, was not called back at Harold’s claims to the throne. This made Tostig so angry that he joined William’s cause, raised an army in North England, and, by promising him the English crown, persuaded King Hardraade of Norway to help him. Tostig and Hardraade invaded Northumberland in early September, 1066. The city of York surrendered, and there Hardraade was crowned King of England by his fellow invaders. The Norwegians continued ravaging the land until they were cut off by Harold’s army at Stamford Bridge. Both Tostig and Hardraade were killed on September 25.

The Cause The Battle

History of England