How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror Click here to purchase from Barnes & Noble. Click here to purchase from

Why William the Conqueror Won at Hastings

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, page 158

When William, duke of Normandy, decided to conquer England in 1066, he employed the knight on horseback and the bow and arrow, and therefore possessed weapons superior to those of the English. William combined these weapons with excellent generalship, but he prevailed primarily because the English failed to keep pace with developments in warfare on the Continent.

The English system of war had progressed little from that practiced by the old Teutonic tribes who had crossed the North Sea long before. Though the English wore some armor, their main defense was an iron-rimmed shield 36 by 15 inches made of linden wood, and their main weapon was a six-foot iron-tipped wooden spear, though some also carried a short sword or dagger. For battle one side climbed on a hill, lined up in a tight formation, a “shield wall,” with the king in the center, and waited to be attacked. Then the two sides would hack and hew at each other till one side gave way.

The English later employed some housecarles, or paid professional men-at-arms, to stiffen the ranks of the national militia, called the fyrd, and adopted the Danish battleaxe and javelins. But they continued to disregard the bow and arrow. They also built only the most elementary fortifications. The art of castle-building with stone was far advanced in France, but most English castles in the eleventh century were wooden stockades set up on mounds.

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