THE BAT­TLE OF HAST­INGS

This England - - The Battle of Hastings -

Ask any­one about English his­tory and the one date which ap­pears imprinted on ev­ery­body’s mind is 1066. The Bat­tle of Hast­ings was a ma­jor his­tor­i­cal event and its re­ver­ber­a­tions are still felt to­day. Con­corde 1066 is part of a pro­gramme of events tak­ing place in Bat­tle dur­ing 2016 to com­mem­o­rate this con­flict which took place 950 years ago. Si­mon Alexan­der, Chair­man of the Con­corde 1066 Com­mit­tee says: “The Bat­tle of Hast­ings was a hugely sig­nif­i­cant af­fair and its reper­cus­sions have echoed down the cen­turies. Here in Bat­tle we tend to take it all for granted but we feel Bat­tle it­self is ‘a child of con­quest’. Every trip down Bat­tle High Street re­minds us what hap­pened here in 1066.”

Var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the bat­tle may be dis­puted by his­to­ri­ans but it is known that Duke Wil­liam of Nor­mandy led an in­vad­ing army of Nor­mans, Bre­tons and French/flem­ish against King Harold. The de­fend­ing Saxon army took up a po­si­tion in three sec­tions on Sen­lac Ridge and formed a shield wall. Harold had maybe 7,000 weary men aligned against a Nor­man force com­pris­ing an equiv­a­lent num­ber, but of very dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion: not just in­fantry, but also archers and cav­alry.

Dur­ing the bat­tle Wil­liam made nu­mer­ous at­tacks against the Sax­ons but failed to break their de­fen­sive line. The bat­tle was pro­tracted, last­ing all day, which was un­usual for those times. At one pe­riod it even seemed as if the Sax­ons would be vic­to­ri­ous when the Bre­tons on the left flank re­treated. Even­tu­ally Wil­liam de­cided to have his archers shoot high so that the ar­rows rained down on those be­hind the shields. King Harold was killed.

The ear­li­est de­scrip­tion of Harold’s death oc­curs in the Gesta Nor­man­no­rum Du­cum by Wil­liam of Ju­mièges, writ­ten in, or about, the year 1070, which says “Harold him­self...fell cov­ered with deadly wounds.” His death sig­ni­fied the end. The lead­er­less Saxon line broke, leav­ing most of its no­bil­ity

slain, and so marked a mo­men­tous turn­ing point in our is­land’s his­tory.

Not only did the bat­tle change the di­rec­tion of English his­tory from Scan­di­na­vian/saxon to Nor­man/french but its out­come also had ma­jor con­se­quences in the en­su­ing cen­turies in shap­ing a new English iden­tity. In some cases the Nor­mans oblit­er­ated the old or­der, but in other ways they fused two dis­tinc­tive cul­tures into a new na­tional iden­tity.

The change was rapid. Within two gen­er­a­tions the Nor­man in­flu­ence was firmly stamped on the land­scape. Wil­liam over­saw the build­ing of 86 royal cas­tles with up to 500 cas­tles built by other Nor­mans. Nor­man churches with their dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture soon re­placed the Saxon equiv­a­lent which were of­ten de­mol­ished. A rigid feu­dal sys­tem of land­based obli­ga­tion arose be­tween nobles, knights and villeins and placed power in the new rul­ing elite and the King which con­tin­ued well into the Mid­dle Ages. A mano­rial field sys­tem with Nor­man hedgerows be­came a fea­ture of the coun­try­side, with its im­print still recog­nis­able to­day.

Ma­jor land­hold­ings were now in the hands of the Nor­man no­bil­ity, the King and the Church, with the vir­tual ab­sence now of an An­glo-saxon elite. Wil­liam re­tained an es­tab­lished sys­tem for levy­ing taxes which was sim­i­lar to the An­glo Saxon wite­naġemöt (Wi­tan) and some be­lieve the in­for­ma­tion for the Domes­day Book was col­lected by a net­work of lo­cal of­fi­cials which was im­ple­mented first by the Sax­ons. Again Wil­liam was prag­matic in re­tain­ing much of the for­mer laws but clar­i­fied the re­spec­tive roles of the ec­cle­si­as­tic and civil courts. Just as the Sax­ons pro­vided fyrd troops to the Saxon King, so Wil­liam em­ployed this for­mer sys­tem through his Nor­man lords to do the same and levy troops.

Lan­guage de­fines a na­tion and its her­itage. From the out­set the Nor­mans re­quired all of­fi­cial doc­u­ments to be in French or Latin. For over 300 years French re­mained the lan­guage of power, spo­ken by roy­alty, aris­to­crats and of­fi­cials. Grad­u­ally Nor­man and An­glo-saxon fam­i­lies in­ter­mar­ried and cul­tures started to blend. English con­tin­ued as an oral lan­guage which

grad­u­ally be­came in­fused with Nor­man French words, giv­ing root in part to the rich lan­guage of Chaucer and Shake­speare.

The Bat­tle of Hast­ings took place, not in Hast­ings as some peo­ple sup­pose, but in the nearby town of Bat­tle in East Sus­sex. The town grew up as a sup­port sys­tem for the Abbey which was built by Wil­liam the Con­queror to atone for the blood­shed. The Abbey com­plex is a par­tial ruin to­day and stands at the cen­tre of the land­scape where Eng­land’s fu­ture was de­cided nearly a mil­len­nium ago.

Con­corde 1066 has de­signed a pro­gramme of events to com­mem­o­rate the 950th an­niver­sary; it is hoped that a mem­ber of the Royal Fam­ily will be present for the open­ing cer­e­mony. Other or­gan­i­sa­tions and groups are or­gan­is­ing 1066 events through­out 2016.

On Fri­day 14th Oc­to­ber 2016, the an­niver­sary of the bat­tle, a num­ber of con­nected events will take place or­gan­ised by the Con­corde 1066 com­mit­tee. Events will start with a lun­cheon for spe­cially in­vited guests, many of whom will be in­vited from Nor­mandy and fur­ther afield.

A com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice will then take place at St. Mary’s Church to re­mem­ber the fallen on both sides, fol­lowed by a smaller cer­e­mony in Bat­tle Abbey, near the site where King Harold was killed. A mil­i­tary Gurkha band will per­form in Mar­ket Square and pa­rade down the High Street ac­com­pa­nied by lo­cal peo­ple and school­child­ren. This will cul­mi­nate in the low­er­ing of the flags at sun­set. Trum­peters on the Abbey Gate­house will then sig­nal the end of the per­for­mance and an­nounce the Vin d’ Hon­neur: guests will de­part to the Ab­bot’s Hall for a re­cep­tion and speeches for the close of com­mem­o­ra­tions.

The Bat­tle and District His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety (BDHS) is pro­duc­ing a sou­venir book en­ti­tled 1066 and the Bat­tle of Hast­ings — Pre­ludes, Events and Postscripts, con­tain­ing a se­ries of ar­ti­cles, which are both his­tor­i­cal and re­flec­tive. The group will also host a se­ries of in­spir­ing lec­tures on his­tor­i­cal themes to co­in­cide with the an­niver­sary.

Mean­while Bat­tle Mu­seum of Lo­cal His­tory is or­gan­is­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion un­til the end of Novem­ber. The mu­seum has suc­cess­fully com­pleted a loan of the Alder­ney Ta­pes­try for Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2016.

It is a lit­tle-known fact that the Bayeux Ta­pes­try is in­com­plete. The fa­mous em­broi­dery por­trays 58 scenes lead­ing up to the Bat­tle of Hast­ings, but never high­lights its con­clu­sion: the coro­na­tion of Wil­liam the Con­queror in Lon­don on Christ­mas Day 1066. Most ex­perts now be­lieve that a piece be­tween 8-10 feet, de­pict­ing a scene of the coro­na­tion of Wil­liam I, would have been in­cluded in the orig­i­nal work. Now an em­broi­dered panel pro­duced on Alder­ney in the Chan­nel Is­lands has de­liv­ered what is the miss­ing chap­ter of this im­por­tant story.

Bat­tle’s com­mu­nity of em­broi­der­ers will be lead­ing the cre­ation dur­ing 2016 of the 10ft Bat­tle Com­mu­nity Ta­pes­try, which will de­scribe the be­gin­ning of the town in 1066.

As well as adding to ex­ist­ing dis­plays, a new case for the Bat­tle of Hast­ing axe and a replica axe will be on show along with newly gen­er­ated ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als.

Kate Ma­vor, English Her­itage’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, said: “English Her­itage will mark the 950th an­niver­sary of the Nor­man Con­quest with an ex­cit­ing pro­gramme of events and ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the year. Cen­tral to this will be our rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the most fa­mous bat­tle­field in Eng­land.”

This year’s re-en­act­ment of the Bat­tle of Hast­ings will take place on Satur­day 10th and Sun­day 11th Oc­to­ber. From 11am each day vis­i­tors can en­joy the at­mos­phere of Nor­man life by wan­der­ing through an au­then­tic mar­ket and see­ing liv­ing his­tory demon­stra­tions in­clud­ing chain mail and weaponry pro­duc­tion and me­dieval fal­conry. The bat­tle be­tween the Nor­mans and Sax­ons will take place in the af­ter­noon on

Re-en­act­ments of the bat­tle are al­ways noisy and colour­ful af­fairs. This year the armies will clash on 10th and 11th Oc­to­ber. HAST­INGS BOR­OUGH COUN­CIL Op­po­site page: The sec­tion of the Bayeux Ta­pes­try de­pict­ing the death of King Harold.

(con­tin­ued) Above: The Bat­tle of Hast­ings axe, which was found in 1951. Left: The view across the bat­tle­field to Bat­tle Abbey. Be­low: The site where King Harold died. NESTOR DAZA

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