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In 1066, King Edward the Confessor died, which opened up a chance for four individuals to take the throne of England. William of Normandy, Harold Godwinson, Harald Hadrada, and Edgar the Atheling. All knew that this was their one-time opportunity, seeing that Edward had no clear heir. William claimed that Harold had promised the throne to him, but Harold denied it, saying that, before Edward died, he had asked him to be king. Harald Hadrada’s claim was that he was a very powerful warlord and one of his ancestors was King Canute of England. Edgar the Atheling was the closest ancestor to Edward, but was still a boy.
The study of the period of 1066 has proved problematic for historians, due to the scarcity of contemporary sources. Although few, if any, historical sources are totally impartial, the surviving documents concerning the Battle of Hastings are particularly biased. This bias results, in no small part, from the attempt made by the Normans after the conquesjustify William’s actions. Therefore, much ofthe surviving material is No rman in focus and written some time after 1066.A second problem with the study of this period relates to the traditional ideas that are held by many concerning the Battle of Hastings. Perhaps most notably, the surviving assumption that Harold was shot in the eye. These pre-held misconceptions make many later sources fundamentally unreliable.
The circumstances which led to the Battle of Hastings are varied, yet all agree that Harold swore to support William’s claim to the throne of England. If this is true it offers William some justification for his assault, and does not lead to the necessary conclusion that he was simply a war-mongerer who was hungry for more power. However, contemporary historian Ian W. Walker, in his book ‘Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King of England’ notes that such an oath is unlikely. At the very least the oath must have been given under duress because in England at the time was the rightful heir Atheling Edgar, who had a much closer blood claim to the throne than William of Normandy. King Edward certainly either knew of no oath or did not regard it as binding for he named Harold as his successor (an event which even staunch Norman supporter such as William of Poitiers acknowledge to have occurred) in his recognition that England needed a man of strong military might to govern.
This faith that the King placed in Harold must not be disregarded when one considers whether Harold or William was the more skilful in battle.William was victorious at the Battle of Hastings due to his excellent leadership skills. William won the Battle of Hastings because of his superior strategy and tactics. William was able to defeat Harold and his army because Harold made some mistakes. William was helped to victory by Harold being unlucky on a number of occasions. It is very hard to say if he would have won if Harold did not bad luck, but in my personal opinion I do believe that his victory was mainly luck.
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