Throughout history, warfare and weapons used are constantly advancing – even when the conflict only lasted one day!
What was clear from the Battle of Hastings was the difference in the two armies – one traditional and the other utilising a kind of warfare in which cavalry had become important. But you must remember that William’s army consisted mainly of infantry as well. The Bayeux Tapestry misleads us on this!
The Anglo-Saxons were defending their land and country – they took the more traditional approach to fighting.
The English stood shoulder to shoulder overlapping their shields to form a wall. Many of them would have been holding Battle Axes – a Viking Weapon and one that could a lot of damage to both the soldiers and their horses.
However, the rival army, the attacking side, adopted a much more different style of warfare. The Normans were drawn up in three lines.
Firstly, there were the Archers, then the Infantry and then mounted Knights. Many the Norman soldiers depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry were Archers (estimated about 1000!). The Archers had a bow and arrow – a weapon that could go over the ‘Shield Wall’ and attack the Anglos without having to go anywhere near their axes.
Although not shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, it is believed that the very new invented crossbow was also used in this battle – although much slower to shoot and reload, it was a weapon that could penetrate through the shields – again doing some serious damage to the men behind them!
There were a number of different weapons used during this conflict - and indeed the medieval era! See below for some more information about some of the weapons used…
Battle Axe: Primarily used by the Anglo-Saxon – although incredibly powerful and dangerous it also had to be light enough to be held with one hand so the soldier could also hold their shield.
The Spear: The weapon was used by both the Anglos and the Normans – this iron-headed weapon could be used to stab or be thrown at the enemy like a javelin.
Shield: There were a number of different Shields depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Some long ‘kite-shaped’ shield – there were designed to protect the whole body but also to be light and manoeuvrable. They could also be thrown over their shoulders to ensure the infantry could have full control of their horse. Shields often used by the Anglos were stronger and heavier – in order to defend themselves with a Shield Wall. Round shields are depicted – these were not only a form of defending oneself but they were also a deadly weapon – as they had spiked metal ‘bosses’ on them – meaning they could also use the shield to attack their enemy!
Sword: Both the Normans and the Anglos would use swords, often passed down from families and some even had their own names! Swords would vary in quality, some could cut through a shield and even armour!
Lance: The Lance was used by the Norman Knights - similar to the Spear, it was a weapon that could be thrown at the enemy, or be used to stab through the Saxon shield wall.
Mace or Club: To ensure everyone could fight there needed to be a weapon that everyone could afford. Wooden clubs, sometimes studded with iron nails, could be used to hit the opposition or simply be thrown at them.