Cemented in the school curriculum, 1066 is a date that is sure to be familiar to most of us. In fact, due to the significance and impact of the Battle of Hastings, 1066 is arguably one of the most famous dates in British history. But how much do we actually know, or remember, about 1066 and the Battle of Hastings? With the 950th anniversary being marked this year and over five million Battle of Hastings 50p pieces expected to enter circulation, it’s sure to beg the question. So, on the eve on the anniversary, we’ve put the spotlight on ‘the date that made history‘.
Following the death of King Edward the confessor on 5 January 1066 a real life ‘game of thrones’ ensued in England. It was Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold, who immediately assumed the crown, however it wasn’t long before this was contested. William, Duke of Normandy, was among those to lay claim to the English throne and on 28 September 1066 William led his army of Normans to English shores to stake his claim. Harold, having already defended England from a Norwegian invasion at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, marched his army south to confront William in what would become the Battle of Hastings.
By some accounts they were evenly matched, by others, a vastly larger Norman force faced a weary English army. Around 6,000 men are thought to have lost their lives on Saturday 14 October 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, one of which was King Harold. William the Conqueror and his army of Normans defeated England’s last Anglo-Saxon King and the remainder Harold’s army fled the battlefield. William had led his Norman army to a decisive victory and was free to claim his English crown. In many ways, the Norman conquest that followed has shaped the Britain that we know today.
While the story is well known, many of the finer details about the Battle of Hastings remain ambiguous. With few English survivors and a Norman victor, the story of the Battle of Hastings – still taught in schools today – relies on Norman accounts of the battle. The Bayeux Tapestry, thought to have been commissioned by the half-brother of the new King William, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, is perhaps the most famous Norman account and depiction of the Battle of Hastings. Perhaps the most famous scene among its many seams, appears to show Harold plucking an arrow from his eye. However, the tapestry also shows a man thought to be Harold felled by a French knight.
The coinage of King Harold II and King William I
Having made coins for British monarchs for over 1,000 years, The Royal Mint would certainly have made the coins of both Harold II and William I. Some of Harold’s coinage may well have made its way onto the battlefield at the Battle of Hastings.
Although Harold was on the throne for a relatively short amount of time, his coinage is found in larger quantities than you would expect for a reign of its length. The need to finance his military campaigns would provide an explanation for this anomaly. Interestingly, many of Harold’s pennies have the inscription PAX (peace) on the reverse which is ironic given the nature of his short reign. Following his invasion, William left the coinage structure largely as he found it, mainly because it was so well run.
The 2016 Battle of Hastings 50p
The 2016 50p coin which marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings features a reverse design by renowned sculptor John Bergdahl. Its inspiration? The Bayeux tapestry. The design depicting that famous scene that is believed by many to be the famous fate of King Harold.
John Bergdahl said: “The Bayeux Tapestry formed the inspiration for my design, as it is the only real visual record of the battle. The figure I have used in the composition is based on images thought to be King Harold, with the famous arrow to the eye.”
Around five million 2016 Battle of Hastings 50p pieces will be making their way into the nation’s change over the next few weeks, while the commemorative editions are available now from www.royalmint.com.