The Battle of Hastings: France's Most Important Battle

Updated on February 7, 2018
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ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

Clovis I, One of the founders of France
Clovis I, One of the founders of France

French Roots of Conflict

It has been said that France was born at Vouillé. At the Battle of Vouillé the King of the Franks, Clovis, killed the king of the Visigoths, Alaric II, which allowed the Franks to take over what became southern France. Frankish kings spread their influence over Europe in the years that followed the Battle of Vouillé.

Another important battle in the history of France was the Battle of Tours. Tours stopped the Islamic invaders known as the Moors from moving north of the Iberian Peninsula. Victory at Tours allowed the Carolingians to take over the kingdom of the Franks, and created the Carolingian dynasty.

The Battle of Hastings on the other hand is seen as the battle that created the Kingdom of England out of Saxon holdings, but Hastings is just as important for French history as it is for English history. At the time France was a collection of territories under dukes and princes. There was very little land in France that the King of France directly owned, and his dukes were able to effectively rule their own duchies inside of the Kingdom of France.

The death of King Harold on the Bayeux tapestry
The death of King Harold on the Bayeux tapestry
Duke William of Normandy on the Bayeux tapestry
Duke William of Normandy on the Bayeux tapestry

Norman Conquest of England

Duke William defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and took the crown of England, but he was still a vassal of the King of France. William the Conqueror hastily took over England and revamped the tax system in England. This allowed William to quickly collect revenue from England.

William's goal in conquering England was to create a large tax farm to fuel his conflicts in France. After defeating King Harold, Duke William quickly moved through England placing his Norman allies in charge of English lands while building forts and castles to house his garrisons and treasure. After short visits to England the duke would return to Normandy with new soldiers and treasure to fight wars in France to expand his authority in France.

England was not the most important territory that William controlled, Normandy was. William was based in Normandy, he was buried there, and he gave it to his eldest son. England was merely a means to outdo his opponents on the continent.

Royal Arms of the House of Plantagenet
Royal Arms of the House of Plantagenet

The Angevin Empire and the Hundred Years War

The Norman conquest of England forced England to look south rather than east. Before the Normans invaded the English were more concerned with their Scandinavian neighbors and their old homeland in the Jutland. Danish kings constantly invaded England, and there was constant struggle between the established Saxons and the Danish invaders. William the Conqueror changed everything by making the king of England a vassal of the king of France.

Angevin kings took over the crown of England after a period of anarchy in England. Henry II was made heir to to crown of England, but he was also Duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine and Count of Anjou.These titles combined to create an Angevin Empire that controlled more of France than the kings of France did. Under the Angevins England became the central piece of the Angevin Empire, but their entire goal was still to take over the throne of France.

The Hundred Years war occurred as a result of the king of France finally being able to reclaim France from the Angevins. King John of England refused a request of the King of France, Philip II, which essentially broke their feudal relationship. Philip II was able to reclaim large portions of France, but this led to a series of conflicts between the two kingdoms now known as the Hundred Years War.

The Angevins attempt to control the crown of France was nearly successful when Henry V made the French king agree to make Henry V his heir at the Treaty of Troyes. Unfortunately for the English the war turned against them and the French nobility were able to hold out long enough for the English to run out of money and they were unable to enforce the claim. The French were able to beat back the English and retook most of the territory by 1453 with the last English stronghold, Calais , falling in 1557.

Legacy of Hastings

Duke William won the Battle of Hastings, and his successors fought with France for almost four hundred years because of it. French and English kings pushed back and forth over the French territory, with France almost completely in the English kings hands and then it went back to the French. William had hoped to use England to fund his French campaigns, but under the Angevins it slowly became the centerpiece of the Angevin Empire.

For France, the Norman conquest of England helped to centralize the French state. The kings of France were able to take over Angevin lands after John II failed to recognize his feudal responsibilities and the French added the Angevin territory to the crown. France became the most powerful kingdom in Europe because of the power of their monarchy by the end of the 16th century, and it dominated continental politics until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The story of England and France were woven together by the Battle of Hastings, and the outcome of this one battle helped to write the history of western Europe more than many others.

Sources

Davies, Norman. Vanished kingdoms: the rise and fall of states and nations. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Bradbury, Jim. The battle of Hastings. Stroud: Sutton publ., 1998.

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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi again :)

      Though I am English, I have never been to Hastings, but I have been to France ~ including Normandy ~ and have visited a few sites relating to William the Conqueror, including the place from where he set off, on his way to Battle.

    • ata1515 profile image
      Author

      ata1515 6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Rmcleve,

      Thanks for comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

      Trish_M,

      I have never visited England or France, but I do hope to do so at some time. Thanks for the comment!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I love history and I enjoyed that ~ a very interesting angle.

      I see that you live in the USA ~ have you visited France and England?

    • profile image

      rmcleve 6 years ago

      Oh, I love the Battle of Hastings! This hub explains the history very well and with a lot of insight. I always talk about the Battle of Hastings as the stepping stone to the creation of modern Europe.

    • ata1515 profile image
      Author

      ata1515 6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Carmen H,

      Thanks for the comment, I'm glad your stopped by!

    • Carmen H profile image

      Carmen Beth 6 years ago

      All I remembered from my history studies of the Battle of Hastings was William conquered England, so I thank you for offering me an excellent brief understanding to refresh my memories of an incredible and important piece of event.

    • ata1515 profile image
      Author

      ata1515 6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Just History,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for the comment! Modern academic historians often try to put historical events in a box and view their subjects separate from the rest of history probably as a result of over-specialization in a single field, but history should be viewed from all angles since historical events are deeply intertwined.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      I had never thought of William's victory at Hastings from this angle- thanks for the insight

    • ata1515 profile image
      Author

      ata1515 6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      UnnamedHarald,

      Thanks for the comment. There is an animated map of how the borders shifted in the Hundred Years. I wish I could upload animated pictures to Hubpages, but I added a link to the original picture if you wanted to see just how much of a disadvantage the king of France was at.

      FrogPrince,

      Thanks for the comment! There is a quote by George Santayana that epitomizes why history is so important. "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Our American history is a lesson that the current generation does not understand, and it will cost all Americans dearly.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 6 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Nice lesson in history ata. I wish more people would read history right now, especially American history.

      The Frog

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very interesting hub. By looking at the big picture, you get across a lot of information that ties hundreds of years of history together. I didn't realize that the King of France was at such a disadvantage regarding land controlled. Thanks for writing it. Voted up and interesting.

    • ata1515 profile image
      Author

      ata1515 6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Thanks for the comment. The longbow was one of the best missile weapons ever invented.

      Usually my hubs start out with a low score but it jumps up within 48 hours.

    • eaglecreek profile image

      Jason 6 years ago from Vilonia , Arkansas

      nice hub, i love the battle of hastings. it was the first major battle that we see the modern english longbow, which would change military support tactics for many years to come.

      this hub deserves a better score.

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