Discovering the Battle of Hastings
I love history and most of my regular followers will know this but it has only been recently that I have been discovering more historical places on my home island of Great Britain. One of those places was on the outskirts of the town of Battle in East Sussex to see the battlefield where ‘the Battle of Hastings’ took place. I am still getting my head around how the Royal Families of England and France intertwined with each other, which sometimes come into a heated argument and before you know it, they were sending armies out to each other’s country for a good old fight. Well, only once in the Kingdom of England (since the Roman Empire) that they have been conquered in their own backyard and that’s when William the Conqueror (also known as William the Bastard) from Normandy came over and defeated ‘le anglais’.
The background – why was there a Battle of Hastings?
The battle took place on a pleasant day, known as 14th October 1066 and is still the famous battle to take place on the islands until this very day. It’s not even in Hastings but several miles north of the south coast seaside resort. However the background to this started earlier in the year when King Edward the Confessor of England died and he had no children to pass on the royal crown. There were several claimants to the throne but Harold Godwinson (known as Harold II) got his hands on the role. However in his short time he had to fight off invasions by William the Conqueror, King Harald Hardraga (who was known as Harold III and was the King of Norway) and even his own brother Tostig. Well, Tostig and Harald Hardraga joined forces and gave Harold a good battle at the Battle of Fulford (near York) on the 20th September 1066. They were defeated and Harold had no time to celebrate as the Tostig and Harald Hardraga quickly got another army together and had another battle with Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later. Well, it didn’t bode too well for Tostig and Harald as they were killed. Harold celebrated (whilst recovering) but then got word that William the Conqueror was sailing up from France with an army to take over England and claim the throne.
Quickly Harold walked his army all the way from Yorkshire to the south coast. He needed to give William a good ass-licking as he was the last serious opponent left who could take the throne from him. William arrived with his forces at Pevensey (not too far away from Hastings) on the 28th September 1066. Harold arrived soon afterwards, tired, but managed to gain some more people for his army and ready to fight.
Olga and I stood in the field. To the northern side of the field is a steep slope (known as Senlac Hill). This is where Harold’s forces came to do battle and you would think the English would have full advantage as they could see where the Normans were coming from all directions. There were arrows being fired from the Normans but the English returned by throwing spears and axes at them (as they didn’t have many archers). It got messy, a big fight involved. During this there were rumours that the Duke of Normandy had been killed, so the English got wind of this, started to retreat thinking that they had won the battle. But the Duke came running up the hill with his army, yelling, ‘I am alive’ and the battle kicked off again. It got messy and then alors! King Harold is dead! Accounts show different variations of his death, however most of them involve his eye being missing. Some said he had an arrow shot into his eye socket, another said he got attacked by a knight and somehow got his sword in his eye socket, or maybe a horse licked it out. Who knows. But with King Harold dying, there was only one thing for it, a French celebration on English soil.
After the battle
So, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, which also meant he was the first Norman king to rule the land of England.. He also remained the Duke of Normandy till his death in 1087. He struggled to rule England and keep hold of his lands together but that’s another story. For now, this was the only time the French had defeated the English on the island.
However, battles always have an aftermath. King Harold. Where did his body go? Nobody knows. Maybe his body was taken to Waltham Abbey (just north of London) which was found by Harold and was secretly buried there. Then there is the story of Harold’s mother, Gytha, offered William the Conqueror lots of gold so she could take the body to be buried. He refused. Another one is that William ordered the body to be thrown in La Manche but again, not sure if that took place. Last of all, there is a rumour he survived the battle and ran up to Chester and became a hermit (basically locked himself away and didn’t speak to anyone until his death).
There is an abbey which was built and founded on the grounds where the Battle of Hastings took place. This is because William the Conqueror really wound up the English by celebrating his victory like crazy. He ordered an abbey to be built in penance for the blood shed during the battle and to commemorate a massive victory for the French. Where the abbey is built (or near enough) is where King Harold was defeated.
I have to admit that before I came here, I knew very little about the battle, why it took place and the background. I came away with a fountain of knowledge. It was weird that I stood in the middle of the battlefield, looking up the hill, picturing the English army at the top waiting for the Normans. Then standing at the top of the slope where the English arrived, looking down the slope and picturing the Normans ready to come up and give the hosts a good thrashing. I took my time here, thinking about the battle and the fact around 7,000 people died in this field in one day.
I recommend that after taking in the field and the abbey to walk out of the grounds to the high street of the town of Battle (only a couple of minutes walk) and take in the beautiful buildings and have lunch here. It is such a quaint and beautiful town to have a stroll around. Also check out the side streets away from the high street and there are beautiful timbered buildings with pretty gardens to check out. You won’t regret it.
How to get to the Battle of Hastings site and the town of Battle plus other useful information
Of course I drove it. I love driving around the English countryside and the county of East Sussex is a charming place to do a road trip (as well as train rides and hiking trails). Battle high street has parking nearby but it costs, however there is a large car park near the main entrance (again there is a charge) which is probably a better place to park. If doing the site as a day trip from London, there are train services to Battle from London Bridge and Charing Cross and is only a ten minute walk from the train station. Information about tickets and facilities can be found here as the site is managed by English Heritage.