The Shock of the New

The Battle of Hastings, decisive in itself and one of the best documented in medieval history, was also a conflict between opposing methods of warfare.

Since antiquity, the main cavalry weapon, the lance, had either been used for stabbing or thrusting at an enemy, or had been hurled like a javelin. These traditional techniques, and their limitations, had been clearly demonstrated at Hastings, where repeated cavalry charges by the Normans against the 'shield-wall', or 'war-hedge', of the English infantry on Senlac Hill had proved ineffective through most of the day.

According to the evidence of the Bayeux Tapestry, the Normans had a preference at Hastings for hurling their lances. However, there are also depictions in a couple of panels of an entirely new technique: a minority of knights are seen to charge with a heavier type of lance which is gripped under the armpit and aimed across the horse's head. Associated technical advances, such as the raising of the saddle fore and aft so that the knight was not unseated on impact, are also illustrated in the Tapestry, which provides the earliest iconographic evidence of these innovations.

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