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Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Sat Oct 20, 2018 9:09 pm
by Richard
Shield walls are vulnerable to several tactics:
A commonly quoted crucial reason for Harold's eventual defeat on the battlefield was the idea that the Normans simply fell back in a false retreat, under attack from aggressive Anglo-Saxon foot-soldiers, as a wily ruse to trick the defenders into charging like an unruly mob and so rendering themselves vulnerable to a rapid and planned counter-attack by the Norman Infantry.
There is another plausible suggestion that, despite holding the high-ground, the Anglo-Saxon defenders were more effectively decimated by an assault on two fronts:

When the Norman Archers eventually changed to firing high up into the air to rain death down on the Anglo-Saxons the latter were vulnerable to charges by both the Norman Infantry and their cavalry crashing through the weakest point of the shield wall, thereby causing panic among the Anglo-Saxons. It was during this phase in the fighting that Harold was probably killed and the battle won.
You can't both hold your shields up high to deflect the near-vertical rain of arrows and still repulse the attacking infantry of the enemy.

The Saxons were not as articulate, mostly choosing to stand still, at least during the early phases, believing that the Northern army promised by Earl Morkere and Earl Edwin would arrive during the battle. A few more thousand men would have changed the outcome of the battle, but as we now know, it never arrived and the Anglo-Saxons were eventually broken, with the loss of their leader Harold almost certainly demoralising the defenders with natural consequences.

Perhaps a mixture of both tactics took place, for all we know, but our battle was eventually found wanting and this weakness was exploited effectively by the Normans perhaps fearing the arrival of Anglo-Saxon reinforcements.
Plus, of course, William knew Harold of old and would have been aware of both his army and his tactics.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Sun Oct 21, 2018 1:58 pm
by seahermit
I am afraid this is all so much waffle! If you properly understood military tactics, you would know that the shield wall was actually extremely difficult to break through - it was an old tactic, used notably by tbe Romans (they called it a "tortoise"), and it is most unlikely that the Saxons were unaware of the trick of putting shields overhead in order to defend against enemy spears and arrows. The front row of troops would of course hold their shields vertically to close the gaps and protect against missiles from a forward direction.

Your comment about Norman cavalry crashing through a weak point in the shield wall doesn't hold water. It has long been established that the Norman cavalry were not effective for a large part of the battle because of the boggy nature of the low ground and the uphill attack against an entrenched Saxon defence. It is very likely that, when the Saxons were induced downhill and also later when they were fleeing across open country, that the cavalry were able to operate more freely, catching up with stragglers etc. I think there is mention of this in the accounts of the latter stages of the battle.

There was, I recollect, a point in the battle when the Norman soldiers were actually withdrawing/giving way before a rallying took place - like numerous battles in history, the probable outcome was far from clear-cut and it could have gone either way. Luck, weather, sheer determination, deceit all play a part.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Sun Oct 21, 2018 5:00 pm
by Richard
No reason to dismiss discussion of possible tactics as waffle, seahermit.
And you properly understand military tactics as they changed on a battlefield nearly 1000 years ago? How arrogant!
Nobody knows for certain exactly what happened and so it might be prudent to look at all possibilities with an open mind until further research.
There are several schools of thought and only a few facts, woven together with uncertain threads...

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:47 am
by seahermit
I am sorry if I came over as arrogant. Somewhat indignant yes! I don't claim to be an expert on all this, even so I have for long studied and been fascinated by ancient history and probably know quite a lot about military tactics even from two thousand years ago.

There is of course room (and a need) for people to come up with new theories about the past, challenging accepted views. But the statements you made about the Battle of Hastings were factually incorrect, taking into account what is already known and backed up by available evidence, literary and otherwise. Certainly there is doubt about some issues like the origins of the dispute between William and Harold, precise location of the battle etc. But so far as I know the actual course of the battle is fairly well documented and some of the things you were suggesting, Norman knights charging uphill into a weak point in the shield wall, could not possibly have happened! Nobody fought like that.

I am sorry to sound a little dismissive but every historian I have ever known has had a very sharp analytical approach - and relied heavily on actual evidence and precise knowledge of the historical time in question.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:45 am
by Cynric the cynical
What does the Tapestry show in my opinion?

a) The first encounter shows the Norman knights attacking a shieldwall held together by Huscarls alone. The terrain underfoot is shown as broken ground but flat. What does this tell us? It tells us that the knights had the height advantage - things didn't all go the Norman way, we see horses losing their heads etc but towards the end of this encounter......
b) The next scene shows us the Norman knights dispatching the last remaining Huscarls and proudly proclaiming that the brothers of Harold were killed. This then shows the Huscarls being defeated. Here endeth the first encounter.
c) The following scene shows the Norman knights attacking the lesser able troops ( the Fyrd or levies) but coming a cropper, then routing before being rallied by William. ( No Malfosse or temporary defended hillock here). The Fyrd are defending a ridge of high ground - THEY have the height advantage in this scene!

The Tapestry is now silent for a few hours as the next scene shows the death of Harold that happened at Vespers and the subsequent mopping up operations. Remember, if the King didn't leave the battlefield neither did the Huscarls.

So in the grand scheme of things there are a number of holes in the story told by the Tapestry in which historians and military tacticians can conjecture to their hearts content with no fear of contradicting the main thrust of the story, namely the Normans won the battles of Hastings.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:51 am
by Cynric the cynical
Oooooh! I forgot to add......

Before firing off a rebuttal to my observations in a knee jerk reaction, please take time to quietly reflect and have a look at the Tapestry again and see what IS there and don't rely on what you have been told is there.

Many thanks to all who are taking part in this discussion.


Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:06 am
by seahermit
It has indeed been a very interesting discussion and I appreciate the time taken by people to contribute. Fired my interest enough that, if we get a wet winter, I will do some proper research and go into all the available accounts!

It is true of course that the tapestry was what would nowadays be regarded as official/spin, propaganda - the battle as recounted by the victors. Which is why historians are still arguing about what actually happened ..

How far do the literary sources, Norman or Saxon, bear out the story as told in the tapestry? Big question. And probably the literary sources are regarded as biased as well!

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:13 pm
by Richard
Strategy is the (invisible/intellectual) plan of action whereas Tactics are the (visible/physical) means used to achieve it on the battlefield.

There would have been more than one strategy on both sides during 1066 and therefore a multiplicity of tactics. Success or failure of the tactics used would have affected the strategies subsequently deployed.
Surprise has often been used through Military history as a valuable tool in gaining advantage, messengers would offer advice on readiness for battle against the opponents team:
In previous campaigns Harold had used the element of surprise as an opening move, offering tactical advantage, but this time his men were pinned down by the Normans, from the kickoff they were walled up into a defense of the ridge of high (and dry) ground, seemingly unable to dictate the course of the battle.

The element of surprise by the Norman Army (this time) was a very important one as it prevented Harold from finding a winning strategy whatever tactics he employed. This all sounds fairly reasonable to my mind but others are free to disagree.

Harold's men had no choice but to defend the high ground as they were under attack.
The Normans had spent all day trying to budge the Anglo-Saxons, with a variety of tactics aimed at breaking down the shield wall (as part of their strategy) and had to use more imaginative tactics in the end, possibly fearing the imminent arrival of Harold's reinforcements which, however, never materialised.
I hope that this summary does not tread on anyone's toes but please do remember that all is conjecture and only the outcome was certain.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:24 am
by Cynric the cynical
@ Seahermit
Orderic Vitalis in his account of the battle recounts that the Huscarls rode up to the place of a battle, got off their horses and formed their shield wall. Well, if the Fyrd were already there why not say the Huscarls joined with the Fyrd to strengthen the shield wall?

If someone could post some of what the two Williams say it could be helpful as that would round out the 11th century sources.

The 12th century sources are much more vague in their description of the battle since they were that much further from the battles in time. I can remember someone writing that one of the 12th century sources wrote that Harold "was killed [by tradition] at the place where the High Altar stood".

Let's face it, our predecessors had a very flimsy grasp of time and space yet we expect to be able to pin down the time and place of everything that happened on that fateful day, nearly a 1000 years later. It's not gonna to happen.

Re: Bayeux Tapestry

Posted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 1:10 pm
by seahermit
There are clearly far more literary sources about the battle than I realised and I can't contribute much without a proper read of some of the original material! Definitely something I will go into later.

With respect, I would however dispute your assertion that we cannot, a thousand years afterwards, pin down time and place for past events. Modern scholarship has become very sophisticated aided by an array of scientific techniques - archaeology has embraced "geophysics" (study of the geology, disturbance to the landscape etc.), chemical and biological analysis, DNA testing even on very ancient human remains .. Add to all that comparison of different, often contradictory written texts to identify mistakes, discrepancies, political bias, personal prejudices .. Numerous historical and biblical "legends" have been modified or even debunked by modern research.

It is no accident that archaeology has forsaken its image (in my youth!) of craggy old professors digging up bits of pottery and become a fascinating and wildly popular subject for TV producers to build programmes around. This is why I am surprised that no in-depth scientific study of the Battle of Hastings seems to have taken place - probably because of cost and also the dangerous assault on long-cherished traditions and legends.