How a Clean Shave changed the History of Europe in 1066

Early fall of the year 1066, along England’s southeast coast, scattered forests intermixed with lakes of meadows and paddocks. A monastery, Battle Abbey, stands as site of remembrance, overlooking the peaceful, yet once bloody plains of England countryside.

(William the Conqueror)                            (Harold II)

The site of one of the most influential battles in European history, the battle of Hastings. But what is worth noting isn’t so much the historic taking place, but the small detail that became a pivotal key to victory for William the Conqueror (c.1028-87) over King Harold II (c.1022-66). This wasn’t so much his extra aid from rebelling English forces nor Norwegian forces in Fulford. This detail is simply a clean shave, yep I said it. A clean shave essentially helped William of Normandy invade England to overcome Harold the Saxon of Hastings in one of the most influential conflicts in European history.

 

The conflict originated as a confusion following the death of King Edward (the childless king) on January 5th, 1066. The king, pulling a Robert Baratheon, did a poor job of establishing who would take the throne, originally promising the throne to William, the duke of Normandy two weeks prior, only to spend his final bedside days naming King Harold II his successor. This misunderstanding eventually imploded into a full-fledged battle between the two parties: William, the duke of Normandy, and Harold Godwine, head of the central controlling Anglo-Saxon family in England, over who deserved the crown as rightful heir.

 

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Days before the fight, Harold sent out spies to examine the size and strength of the Norman army. The spies were spotted by William and treated as guests, dining and sent back to their lord unharmed. When the spies returned, they quickly expressed their astonishment of the unequal ratio of more priests in William’s camp than there were fighting men in the English army! It was customary in England (based on some war treaty made by Caesar back in the day) that only priests had short receding hairstyles and shaven faces. Though Harold would correct them on their naïve-assessments, word had spread of the thin Norman lines with mere priests as their primary forces.

 

Harold’s spies would later scout before the attack and came back reporting a large group of priests seen nearby but no enemy, failing to raise suspicions among several officers, which would eventually play into their downfall. The priests, in fact, were William’s army, spies planning an ambush who the English scouts mistook due to their clean-shaven appearance.

On October 14, 1066, the Battle of Hastings would end around dusk, with Norman forces flanking English lines in addition to its superior forces on the front. Harold, sporting an arrow through his left eye, would be noted as the obvious loser, his forces immediately retreating after his death. William would be crowned King on Christmas Day, 1066, bringing an end to the Anglo-Saxon rule in England, and forever changing the course of world history, and all it took were fine-tuned tactics and a clean shave. So the next time you put off an appointment with your razor, just know, a smooth face can go a long way, hell if can determine the fate of a continent, so stop being lazy, we both know you’re not going through with the beard idea.

4 Comments

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