Factors beyond human control helped to shape a kingdom's future forever.
Almost one millennium ago, a ferocious and brutal invasion changed the course of British history. It led to years of barbarous subjugation and colonization that some have likened to an "apocalypse." William, Duke of Normandy, believed he had a right to the English throne, and in trying to secure that throne caused "the opening of a massive fault-line in the continuity of our history," writes historian Simon Schama in his book A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3000 BC-AD 1603 (p. 66).
Schama also states, "English history in particular seems the work of a temperate community, seldom shaken by convulsions. But there are moments when history is unsubtle; when change arrives in a violent rush, decisive, bloody, and traumatic; as a truck load of trouble, wiping out everything that gives a culture its bearings – custom, language, law, loyalty. 1066 was one of those moments" (Schama, p. 66).
If we look at the background of the Battle of Hastings, can we recognise just how significant this fault-line was and just who, ultimately, was actually responsible for it?
Approaching the end of the first millennium ad, Britain's peoples were an admixture of various bloodlines—the inevitable result of foreign invasions. To the ancient Celtic stock had been added Anglo-Saxon blood and culture. Danish Vikings dwelt in a large region of eastern England known as the Danelaw. Norwegian Vikings were in the Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebrides and in northwest England. The Anglo-Saxons were in central and southern England with the Celts in southwest England, Wales and Scotland.
By the time we come to the imminent death of Edward I with no heir in place, there are several contenders for the English throne: Harold Hardrada, King of Norway; William, Duke of Normandy; and Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex.
Edward died on January 5, 1066 and Harold Godwinson, as "the man on the spot," was rapidly crowned as his successor. William of Normandy believed that the new King Harold had previously promised the English throne to him by oath, and, after Harold's coronation, wasted no time in assembling an invasion fleet of over 400 ships and convincing the feudal barons in his territories in Normandy to support his attempt to gain the throne. He cleverly sought a blessing from the Catholic Church in Rome for his crusade against Harold, who, in the Pope's eyes, ruled over a country of barbarians and quasi-pagans. The fleet was ready to sail by August 10.
On the other side of the English Channel, King Harold had amassed 3,000 trained soldiers and 10,000 fyrd, or part-time troops, who were obliged to serve the king for 40 days each year. However, the southerly wind that William needed to traverse the Channel never came, and on September 8, Harold demobilised the fyrd. Four days later, William set sail from Normandy, but a sudden gale pushed the fleet eastward, preventing their crossing.
Events soon took another twist. Harold's banished brother Tostig invaded England with an ally, the Norwegian King, Harold Hardrada. On September 19, a fleet of 300 ships and 10,000 men in northeast England defeated the locals near York. King Harold headed north, mustering his forces en route, marching 190 miles in five days. On September 25, he successfully defeated his brother and the Norwegian king at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
The very next day, Harold got word that William had sailed from France, landing on the south coast at Pevensey. As there was no organised English army waiting to oppose them, Harold marched back south again. He could have stopped south of London and perhaps maintained the advantage, suppressing William's advances northward from the coast, but he did not.
The Battle of Hastings took place on Saturday, October 14, 1066 between evenly matched Norman and Anglo-Saxon forces, lasting most of the day. At a key point in the battle the Normans feigned retreat, allowing the Saxon "shield wall" to be broken when they pursued them, opening up weak points in the Saxon defensive line. Harold's brothers were both killed, and Harold, himself, was fatally struck by an arrow in his eye.
William the Conqueror, as he became known, was crowned in Westminster Abbey on December 25, 1066. The Anglo-Saxon ruling class was replaced by Norman, French-speaking conquerors, which left a lasting impact on Britain. In 1085, William commissioned a complete inventory of the kingdom, shire by shire. This inventory—the infamous Domesday Book—provided him with information to coerce, fine and confiscate as he pleased. This knowledge was truly powerful. Norman rule meant that all the land belonged to William, who controlled it and gave it as gifts to whom he chose. The ruling classes were required to pay homage to William with an oath of allegiance and loyalty. William died shortly afterwards whilst fighting the French on the continent, but the English nation was changed forever.
Regular readers of Tomorrow's World will remember that the birthright promises of national greatness were given to the descendants of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1-2; Genesis 49:22–26). His younger son, Ephraim, was to become a great company of nations (Genesis 35:10-11), and the modern nation of Britain fulfills this promise. Britain—corresponding to the ancient Israelite tribe of Ephraim—came to greatness as a national power, together with her empire nations, starting in about 1800. Of crucial importance is that these promises were not given to other modern nations such as Denmark, Norway or France, which are descended from other tribes of ancient Israel. The historical events of the Battle of Hastings would prove an essential step in reconfiguring the nation, its culture, and its laws in preparation for its eventual prophetic role, centuries later, as a unified power in world affairs. (Request our booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy for more details about Britain's place in biblical prophecy.)
Critical to the outcome of the Battle of Hastings was the timing of events. If we recognise that "God rules in the kingdoms of men" (Daniel 4:17; 5:21) and that He controls history, we can appreciate His hand in the timing as He directed the outcome, through elements beyond human control. God, as the creator of the earth, controls the weather, for example (Isaiah 29:6; 2 Chronicles 6:26, 27). And the weather played a key part in delaying the invasion fleet of King William until Harold's forces were exhausted by the rapid march north to Stamford Bridge and then south again to fight William. Events would have been vastly different if William had arrived in England two months earlier. (Our booklet Who Controls the Weather? explains in more detail how and why God uses natural weather events to His great purpose.)
The "Norman Apocalypse" resulting from the Battle of Hastings was an important moment directing history towards God's purpose, the fulfilment of prophecy and His national promises to Abraham.