On 14th October 1066 Harold II, King of England, was hacked down by a mounted Norman knight. Thirty minutes away from victory and with time on their side, Harold fell and the English were beaten. On 25th December the victorious William, the 'Conqueror', was crowned William I in Westminster Abbey.
The chain of events that led to Hastings began 10 months earlier with the death of King Edward the Confessor. For 15 years William, duke of Normandy had been heir presumptive. On his deathbed, however, Edward named his successor Earl Harold of Wessex, his wife's brother and commander of the army. Thus, it was to sieze what William saw as his that led to the invasion of England. The battlefield, about 5 miles (8km) inland from Hastings, remains much as it was. The main difference is that the English position, along the crest of a shallow valley, is occupied by Battle Abbey, founded by William to commemorate his victory and to honour the dead caused by his invasion and occupation. The small town of Battle gradually grew around the Abbey.
11 Oct 2008 - Battle (Battle of Hastings), EnglandThe Battle of Hastings was fought on the morning of Saturday, 14th October 1066 and resulted in Norman control of England. The victory and subsequent Norman Conquest was pivotal for several reasons. It largely removed the native ruling class, replacing it with a foreign, French-speaking monarchy and aristocracy and transformed English language and culture.
Subjugation under rulers originating in France linked England closely with Europe and lessened Scandinavian influence. Thus the stage was set for a rivalry with France that would continue for more than eight centuries.
Almost 942 years later to the day, the battlefield again rang to the clash of metal on metal as this most of important of battles was re-enacted. The site of the battlefield can be explored and remains much as it was. The main difference is that the English position, along the crest of a shallow valley, is occupied by Battle Abbey.
Battle - Banner of King Harold, The Fighting Man
Harold II of England otherwise known as just King Harold, Harold Earl of Wessex or by his full name, Harold Godwinson is represented by his banner - The Fighting Man. Opposite the brave, freedom fighting English, are the dispicable Norman invaders of William, Duke of Normandy, more commonly known as William the Conqueror, but to some of his contempories, William the Bastard.
Battle - Norman soldiers receiving God's blessing
Before the battle, soldiers on both sides received the blessing of holy men. The real battle lasted all day as the Saxon line, positioned on the ridge of Senlac Hill, proved impossible to penetrate.
Battle - The Normans advance on King Harold's troops
After volleys of Norman arrows to try and soften the Saxons, the Norman and allied infantry advance to tackle the Saxon shield wall. In 1066, Harold reigned for 9 months and 9 days. During that time he had to contend with a series of attacks from his brother and two full scale invasions 190 miles apart. Harold overcame all but the last. Two major invasions in the space of one month, he completely defeated Harald Hadrada of Norway and was within an ace of defeating William of Normandy.
Battle - Heavy hand to hand combat
Many of Harold's best troops lay dead in his victory over Harold Hadradra only weeks earlier and had to force march his troops south to counter William. Harold's strategy was defensive and if he could make it to nightfall he would have faced the weakened Norman forces the next day with an army reinforced over night. If he achieved this, the Battle of Hastings may well have ended differently. However, perhaps he should have followed his brother's advice and waited in London and gathered a bigger army.
Battle - King Harold is dead and the Saxons flee the field
Retreats and feints by the Normans and their allies led to groups of Saxons leaving the ridge and the shield wall to pursue the Normans. However, on the open ground the Saxons were cut down and gradually the shield wall thinned out and shortened. For some reason, the undisciplined Anglo Saxons could not be controlled. Blood lust and the scent of victory probably contributed towards their lack of control. Though maybe an all out attack would have swept the already panicked Normans from the field?
Battle - View across the valley to Senlac Hill
In this re-enactment, the 'battle' is across the battlefield for the benefit of spectators rather than up the hill as happened. The abbey is where the Saxons were originally positioned and in 1066 the ridge was higher than it is now. The ridge was eventually levelled to allow for the construction of the Abbey. In 1070 Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans to do penance for killing so many people during their conquest of England. William the Conqueror built the abbey where the Battle of Hastings had taken place, with the high altar of its church on the spot where King Harold fell.
Battle - Site of King Harolds death
This is the spot where King Harold died. Flowers and cards are still left in memory to the fallen English King whose defeat led to England becoming a conquered nation. Harold was Royalty and as often happens in elite society, intermarriage with other royal houses occurs. Harold's descendents eventually merged with Williams blood line in the form of Edward III (1312-1377) and through him, today's Royal Familiy can be traced back to Harold Godwinson. Harold, who many regard as being the last true English king, still lives!
Battle - Ruins of Battle Abbey
All that is left of the original Abbey church itself today is its outline on the ground, but parts of some of the abbey's buildings are still standing: those built between the 13th and 16th century. Some are still in use as the independent school, Battle Abbey School. The church's high altar allegedly stood on the spot where Harold died. This is now marked by a plaque on the ground.
Battle - The Novices room in the ruins of Battle Abbey
The Novices Chamber, a lofty, vaulted room, is one of the finest medieval chambers in the abbey. A single row of marble columns carries the vaults and divides the room into two bays in width. The ceiling is fairly typical of the Norman style.