October 14, 1066: William the Conqueror defeats Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings.
The relatively short Norman conquest of England began in September of 1066, was (more or less) decided at Hastings, and ended in December of that same year, when William I, Duke of Normandy and descendant of Viking vassals to the king of France, was crowned king of England. The previous king of England (and last Anglo-Saxon king) Edward the Confessor was childless and heir-less upon his death; according to William, Edward had promised him the throne, but Edward’s brother-in-law Harold, son of the powerful earl Godwin of Wessex (hence “Godwinson”), took the throne instead, which he claimed had been promised to him by Edward on his deathbed.
The decisive Battle of Hastings was fought around 10 km from Hastings, atop Senlac Hill. Harold’s force, though claiming the higher ground, was made up mostly of infantry versus the Norman cavalry, archers, and crossbowmen. With the advantage of elevation, the English shield wall tactic proved fairly successful… at first; however, when the Normans fled and the English gave chase, the tides of battle began to turn. Seeing that the shield wall was broken, William had his archers fire again, and, according to the Bayeux Tapestry (pictured above), an arrow struck the Anglo-Saxon king through the eye. Harold was the first of three English kings to die in battle. The Battle of Hastings ended soon after - a decisive Norman victory, and essentially the beginning of Norman England.
With Harold dead, a new king was hastily proclaimed - Edgar the Ætheling, a Hungarian-born grandson of Edmund Ironside. Edgar was only fifteen and, having no significant military or leadership experience, was forced to submit to William’s forces as they advanced on London.