The destination for history

Battle of Hastings history timeline


In 1066 the most significant battle on English soil took place. A king would die on the battlefield and a new dynasty would be established. The timeline below charts the key moments in the build up to the battle.

From Egbert to Alfred

802 — Egbert becomes King of Wessex, he goes on to conquer Mercia and Northumbria and becomes the very first ‘Bretwalda’ – ruler of all England.

839 — Egbert’s son Ethelwulf comes to the throne; his reign is plagued by Danish Viking raids and invasions. He defeats the Danes at the Battle of Ockley in Surrey in 851.

866 — The Danish ‘Great Army’ led by the legendary Lothbrokson brothers arrives in East Anglia intent on conquest and settlement and not just raiding. The Army captures York, the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

867 — Having lost York to the Northumbrians, the Danes attack the city again and destroy the Northumbrian Saxon army. York – Jorvik – becomes the capital of Viking England.

871 — Alfred comes to the throne of Wessex. He will become the only ever English king to be called ‘the Great’.

Alfred to Ethelred

878 — Alfred crushes Guthrum’s Danish army at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire.

899 — Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, comes to the throne and faces growing Danish pressure on his borders. He responds by re-conquering East Anglia and parts of Mercia.

924 — Athelstan, Edward’s son, succeeds to the throne and decisively defeats an army of Scots and Vikings at Brunanburh in Yorkshire in 937. Olaf Guthfrithson’s Vikings and their allies lose five kings and seven of Olaf’s earls killed on the battlefield, as well as the son of Constantine II of Scotland.

947 — Erik Bloodaxe, the Norwegian Viking leader, is crowned King of Northumbria in York.

954 — After having been deposed once and then reinstated, Erik Bloodaxe is finally thrown off the Northumbrian throne by the local citizenry. He will be the last King of Northumbria and York.

978 — Edward the Martyr is murdered in Corfe Castle, probably by his brother Ethelred.

Ethelred to Canute

991 — Ethelred earns the nickname of ‘the Unready’ meaning ‘badly advised’ as well as ‘ill-prepared’. He makes the disastrous decision to try and buy off the Viking invaders with huge sums of gold and silver, the so-called Danegeld.

1002 — Ethelred orders the wholesale massacre of Danish settlers in England on St Brice’s Day.

1013 — Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark, invades England. Ethelred and his family flee to Normandy.

1014 — Ethelred returns to England to reclaim his throne. An inconclusive war leads to the division of the country into the northern Danelaw and the English south after Ethelred’s death.

1016 — Ethelred’s son, Edmund II ‘Ironside’, dies the same year he is crowned. The throne passes to the Viking leader, Canute, the son of the Danish king, Svein. Canute brings peace and unites England with Denmark and then Norway into a vast Viking empire and marries Ethelred’s widow Emma. During his reign the Saxon-Scandinavian Godwin family from Wessex rises to pre-eminence, the patriarch Earl Godwin, becoming the most powerful man in the country behind the King.

Harthacanute to Edward

1035 — Harthacanute, Canute’s son, succeeds but is abroad in Denmark fighting Magnus to retain control of Norway. England splits between Harthacanute and his half-brother Harald Harefoot. William – the illegitimate son of Robert I – becomes Duke of Normandy at the age of seven.

1036 — Ethelred’s sons, Edward and Alfred, arrive in England where Alfred is murdered by the Danes and Edward forced to flee once more.

1037 — Harald Harefoot declared king as Harald I, but dies three years later.

1040 — Harthacanute succeeds once more, but his unpopular rule ends with his death in 1042.

1042 — Edward again returns from exile and restores the Saxon royal line of Cerdic to the English throne. A pious and scholarly king, Edward ‘the Confessor’ orders the building of Westminster Abbey.

1047 — The combined forces of William, Duke of Normandy and King Henry I of France win the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes against the forces of several rebel Norman barons, led by Gui of Brionne, the son of Reginald I, Count of Burgundy. As a result, William secures his control of the dukedom.

Married but with no male heir, the ageing Edward is undecided on the succession.

1066 and into battle

5 January — Edward I dies. The same day, the Witangemot, the council of the most powerful men in the land, elect Harold Godwinson as King Harold II.

April — Halley’s comet is visible in the English night sky. William of Poitiers in his History of William the Conquerer considered it ‘the presage of [Harold’s] doom’.  

20 September — The English earls and brothers, Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, are routed at the Battle of Fulford, near York, by the Norwegian king, Harald Sigurdsson ‘Hardrada’ – ‘hard ruler’, and his English ally Tostig Godwinson, King Harold’s own younger brother.

25 September — The Battle of Stamford Bridge. While relaxing in the sunshine around the River Derwent, the Vikings are caught by surprise by King Harold’s army and annihilated. Tostig and Hardrada are killed and the Viking threat to England destroyed.

28 September — William and his invasion fleet land at Pevensey beach in Sussex.

14 October — The Battle of Hastings. Fought from around 9am until late afternoon, the English are utterly destroyed. King Harold and his two brothers, Leofwine and Gyrth, are slain, along with large numbers of England’s Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and the majority of the country’s professional fighting men, the housecarles. 

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books