What the Normans did for us

Marc Morris explores how Duke William's defeat of Harold II at the battle of Hastings led to a seismic shift in English society, starting from the very top...

A section of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the battle of Hastings. Anglo-Saxon foot soldiers are seen defending themselves with a wall of shields against Norman cavalry. (Photo by Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the November 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine.

Even 950 years after the battle of Hastings, 1066 remains the most famous date in English history. It invariably marks the start or end of books about the Middle Ages, and even serves as a shorthand for English history as a whole, as in the parody book 1066 and All That. But why does this date enjoy such unrivalled celebrity? Hastings was certainly a decisive battle, and is imprinted firmly in our collective consciousness from an early age thanks to the miraculous survival of the Bayeux tapestry. Yet those who part with their money this year in exchange for a commemorative mug, tie or tea towel showing Norman knights charging into English soldiers, or Harold being struck in the eye with an arrow, may still be left wondering what all the fuss is about. It is, after all, just one medieval battle among many.

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now