William's Battle Force.
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he men, arms and armaments available to William to fight the Battle of Hastings. The problem of crossing the English Channel.

 
William's Forces




here as we know very little about the central characters of Harold's army at the Battle of Hastings. This is not the case when it comes to the Normans. With careful research, a long list of eminent men come to light as the architects of the invasion force and their contribution as far as manpower and hardware is concerned. The Bayeux Tapestry is useful in this respect as a number of them are depicted on it. The named people involved are listed below.

Duke William

Who became known as William the Conqueror or William I after the battle and of whom, much more is said in other sections.
 

Odo

William's half brother and Bishop of Bayeux was thought responsible for the commissioning of the Bayeux Tapestry and possibly the inclusion of epic deeds that he was not responsible for, but took the credit. ( more will be said about Odo when the tapestry is analysed in more detail ).
 

Hugh de Grandsmesnil

A politician of some note in Normandy before the battle and was recorded as taking part in the battle.
 

Eustace, Count of Boulogne

Son of Count Guy of Ponthieu, who himself was famous for capturing William on the beach following his mission in 1064. Eustace was thought to have been responsible for the Papal banner, but was injured in the battle. He was also thought to have been one of those inflicting the final death blows to Harold II.
 

Robert, Count of Mortain

Brother of Odo and stepbrother of William. A confidant in the initial stages of William's plan to invade England.
 

Ralf de Tosny

Half brother of William, Count of Evreux and involved in battle and was rewarded, as most were, with large estates in England afterwards.
 

William, Count of Evreux

Second cousin of William and Half bother of Ralf de Tosny. Accepted as being involved in the conflict.
 

Robert, Count of Mortain

Another who was involved in the early stages of planning of the invasion. He was Odo's brother and William's half brother.
 

Hugh de Montfort

Another name who was possibly involved in the death of Harold II.
 

Robert de Vitot

Killed in the battle. His attendance is chronicled by Ordericus the monk, who gained an endowment of land for the monastery of St Evroul. It is not certain if he died immediately or returned to Normandy before this grant was awarded.
 

Turstin.

He was the son of the famous Rollo. He was allegedly given the honour of carrying the Norman banner. Fate unknown.
 

Aimeri, Vicomte de Thouars

Another who was possible trusted by William with his initial ideas of an invasion.
 

Robert fitzErneis

Killed in the battle.
 

William fitzOsbern

Inspiration to William in his plans. His support for the invasion in the early stages was rewarded with the title of the Earl of Hereford after the battle.
 

William de Warrene

Distant cousin of William, who was later made the Earl of Surrey for his loyalty and deeds in the battle.
 

Robert or ( Roger ) of Beaumont.

Accepted as being involved in the battle. He was one of the only accounts of bravery that have been chronicled. He was made Earl of Leicester for his loyalty.
 

Walter Giffard

Another who was present and involved in the slaying of King Harold II.
 

Taileffer

He was a minstrel and psychiatric case brought over by William. He was said to have advanced in front of the Norman formation and encouraged them on. His solo suicidal attack on the English line instigated the start of the battle. He was the first casualty of the conflict.

There were others involved but those above are some of the main characters.
 


Ships and More Ships




o mount an operation in another country is difficult enough. To invade a country that has the luxury of being surrounded by the sea, adds a further difficulty. The first thing William had to do, after managing to persuade the aristocracy that such an exploit was feasible, was to have boats built or requisitioned that were seaworthy enough to make the English Channel crossing. To this end , he made it known that the main characters above would be expected to supply them, as well as the manpower for such an expedition. William was a wily character, and the promise of fortune and power far in excess of what they already had must have won the day. He also reminded them of their duties under the feudal tenure system. As mentioned earlier, he had an uphill battle to persuade them that this exercise was feasible. The support of Rome and the Papal banner eventually won them over. The "crusade was on ".The ships made, were based on the Viking designs, ( see the Vikings ),which would be understandable considering Normandy was ceded to Rollo and his invaders many years earlier. The number of boats is not known, but has been calculated from a number of chroniclers to give a figure that was broadly accurate. Another approach was to calculate the number from the army William had available and work backwards. How many ships would he require to ferry that many men, weapons, horses, food and basically everything he would need for a successful mission? The number varies between 500 and 776. The lesser figure is more likely to have been closer to the actual number in the time available. To be able to construct this number is a great achievement from the time of Harold being made king and setting sail. A matter of only 9 months. How these boats were loaded is not really known, apart from what we learn from the Bayeux Tapestry. It is also unclear if the boat crews were involved in the conflict and how many crew were required to navigate across the English Channel or what happened to the boats after disembarkation. One must assume, some were used to build fortifications whilst the rest returned home for re-supplies. William knew that for him, this was going to be a one way, winner takes all trip. As mentioned earlier, under the feudal system, a subordinate owed allegiance to his lord. Below is a list of what was supplied by William's subordinates and compiled around 1070. If you subtract about a third from this figure, you would be closer to the actual number.
 
 

Name
Ships Supplied
Count Robert of Mortain
120
Bishop Odo of Bayeux
100
Count William of Evreux
80 
Robert ( Roger ) of Beaumont
60
Roger of Montgomery
60
Count Robert of Eu
60 
William fitzOsbern
60
Hugh of Avranches
60
Hugh of Montfort 
50
Gerold the Seneschal 
40
Fulk d'Aunou
40 
Walter Giffard 
30
Nicholas, Abbot of St Ouen

 

Manpower




hese men were not only responsible for supplying the ships but also the manpower for the battle. Again the numbers involved are as speculative as the number of ships. It is thought however, that the number of combatants who actually fought on each side were roughly similar and would indicate about 7500. As with the Saxon army whose numbers were made up with Anglo Danes, William had the support of the Flemish and Bretons. Below is a breakdown of possible numbers of each army. I have given a maximum and minimum figure for each, as there may have been more, for instance, Archers than foot soldiers. The figure varies widely.
 

Norman Army controlled by William
Number
Cavalry
800 to 1200
Archers
500 to 800 
Foot Soldiers 
2000 to 2500

 
 
Flemish controlled by Eustace of Boulogne and William fitzOsbern
Number
Cavalry 
300 to 400
Archers
350 to 450 
Foot Soldiers
700 to 900

 
 
Bretons controlled by Alan Fergant
Number 
Cavalry 
500 to 600 
Archers
300 to 450
Foot Soldiers 
800 to 1100

 

Protection

The Cavalry
 
 

he cavalry were made up of the better bred. Usually had a title or were knights. In fact a quarter of William's force was mounted. For William to persuade so many top people to get involved indicates what a good job he did in acquiring Papal support. For without it, it is unlikely the invasion would ever have got off the ground. These elite troops were the best protected of all. Like the English housecarl, they would wear a haurberk made of chain mail over a leather undergarment. Usually split from the Waste to below the knee for easy mounting and dismounting. It sometimes would be extended to cover the neck and head on which would be placed a conical metal helmet with a nasal guard. A slit would be cut in the left side to hold the sword scabbard a baldrick may have been used. His shield would have been circular but more commonly kite shaped and held behind him on a leather thong when riding. It would be made of wood with reinforcing pieces of metal around the perimeter to absorb blows. It was almost certainly have had his coat of arms on it. The horses were thought to be only stallions but were not large. Protection of the horse does not seem to have been of prime importance. The riding stile was of an upright nature with straight legs slightly angled forward to avoid being thrown off in a charge. Each Knight would have his own stable boy or helper who would care for his mount. These were probably a proportion of the foot soldier makeup. Unlike the Saxon force who did not rely on horses to do battle, they were an integral part of Norman and general French strategy.

Archers




rchers wore no armour. Their function was to soften up the enemy before engagement by killing as many opponents as possible beforehand. It appears that archers were not expected to get involved in the hand to hand fighting that eventually ensued. Another reason is that to fire a bow wearing full armour must have been almost impossible. The life span of an archer must have been very short if the main battle line was ever broken through. In the Bayeux Tapestry on the other hand, there is an indication that some archers did wear armour. This would have been the exception rather than the rule.

Foot Soldiers




rdinary foot soldiers would be protected by the use of the shield as used by the cavalry. More likely round than kite shaped although the kite shape is depicted more in the Bayeux Tapestry. Chain mail is depicted on foot soldiers but it hard to believe that this would have been used to any great extent because of the enormous cost of one of these outfits. It is possible that certain favourites may have been attired by their lords but unlikely to have been used universally. Protection would be afforded by the use of hide or leather. Metal helmets would have been used.
 
 



14 gauge chain mail. This piece is 15cm X 10cm  ( 6 inches X 4 inches ).
Even this small example weighs 170 gms ( 6 ozs ) and contains about 190 rings.
This may possibly be a little heavier than that worn by the Normans in 1066. It does give you some idea of the weight and protection that this type of armour could afford. It must also be evident that this type of armour was expensive to produce. Only those who were financially secure or had backers could afford such a luxury. See the section on the cavalry for more information .
See also the section on the Bayeux Tapestry that shows the loading of the suits of armour onto the ships prior to setting sail to England.
 


I would like to thank ROGER MARTIN of Montgomery AL  ( USA ) who constructed this section and sent it to me at his own expense.
 
 


Weapons




selection of weapons were used by the Normans which were not dissimilar to those used by the English. The sword carried by foot soldier and knight were personal and of great significance and would be considered an appendage during battle. The construction was reasonably similar to the English sword as most of the techniques for making them had come from the Vikings. The process of making steel and hardening and tempering was known if the science behind it was not. Swords usually had a hollow ridge down them to avoid suction effects when thrust into the human body. These large swords were used mainly for slicing rather than thrusting. and were particularly useful at decapitating heads and legs and splitting skulls, Kept in a oiled fur lined scabbard to avoid rust they would be honed prior to battle. The cavalry would have long spears which would be held over their shoulders when charging. Unlike the jousting events in latter times, they were one of devices that were usually released in the initial charge. The archers used bows which were between 150 to 180 cm long and had a killing range of about 100 metres. The judicial choice of arrow would be effective against certain types of chain mail. Archers did not carry swords but small knives or daggers if the worst came to the worst. Axes were used, but not like the English as a weapon of choice. Maces were used especially by the battling ecclesiastical contingent. It was considered acceptable to batter some ones head in as long as you did not draw blood. Odo as Bishop of Bayeux, would have used a mace rather than a sword. Crossbows were available for use by the Normans but there is no indication on the Bayeux Tapestry that they were present at the battle. Having a range in excess of 300 metres, this weapon could have made a substantial difference to the battle. its biggest downfall was the strength required to load it and the slow fire rate. It would have been more of a sniping weapon if used at all.

Bayeux Tapestry
 

he Bayeux Tapestry gives a good insight to certain aspects of weaponry and will be further expanded there.
 

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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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