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Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Battle of Hastings 950th Anniversary

Every year, English Heritage hosts a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings at Battle Abbey, which is near Hastings. This year, being the closest thing to a proper round number we're likely to get (I'll be elderly, and properly so, if I'm still alive in 2066), we bought tickets.
Now, we bought our tickets a few weeks in advance, and we're glad that we did, because they sold out. Absolutely no on the day tickets for the Saturday or the Sunday.

Sadly, because work (who pay us so we can buy tickets and such-like), we couldn't go and watch the march past on Friday 14th, which was the actual anniversary of the battle proper.

Because we only had the weekend (and other commitments already booked in) we couldn't spend any time exploring the rest of the area, which we will probably do another time, when it's a bit quieter, and less, round-number-y.

We were later getting there than originally planned (we had to use the M25) we were never going to get a good view of the battle in the afternoon, people had been claiming their places for some time before we'd arrived and eaten our picnic lunch!

However, we did find a little spot, with a view of the battlefield, from the other side of a pond/lake/marsh thing (we didn't get too close) where there were a few people (and the traders and merchants) and we had space to sit in our camping chairs... we could see what was going on, just about make out the commentary and weren't stood in a crowd. We also had a mighty fine view of the Abbey too.

We had a lovely day, bought a few things from the traders, and enjoyed the display, we'll definitely go again, even if it is an awfully long way.

Interestingly, after having been a bright and sunny day, all day, it began to rain as King Harold died on the battlefield on Saturday. 

I have a few photos of the battle; and a brief summary of the run up to the original battle at the very end:
The Battle Field (and Abbey) from our view point
The English Fyrd Arriving

King Harold Godwinson (at the front)
Duke William of Normandy (in the red cloak)
Norman cavalry and infantry lining up

The Battle Commences. Apparently, the first casualty of the Battle was Duke William's jester who had been riding alongside him to keep up the Norman army's spirits, and who was apparently juggling swords!



The English aid their countryman...
... pull the Norman from his horse and keep the horse...
The Norman archers advance
you may need to look closely at the next few, but I was trying to get the arrows in flight...


The Norman infantry advance... the English are currently behind a tree, but I moved a few minutes after this one for a better view... 

The tree tries to become a focal point
The Norman cavalry watch

I moved... the two armies clash, and the Normans feint a retreat trying to force the English shield wall to break - they did this a few times. The chap doing commentary said they did this a few times on the day, it's not just for showmanship in the reenactment.



The Norman cavalry, lead by Duke William, (red cloak, grey horse) advance

You can just make out the heels of the Norman archers in the background, as a re-enactor tries to find a vantage point and walks past the battle. I like the idea of someone having done this on the day "If I keep my head down, they won't notice" kind of thing, but it's unlikely.

Last Photo - I like this one showing the priest, apparently Duke William sought Papal approval for his invasion, which was granted, and a sighting of Halley's comet earlier in the year had been taken as a favourable omen. As you can probably tell by the change in colour and light tones as the photographs progress, the weather turned and I didn't catch the end of the battle, I put my camera away when it started raining (don't want to test how waterproof my EOS is). However, they didn't change the end of the battle, and King Harold Godwinson perished (probably by taking an arrow to the eye), and Duke William was victorious.

Autumn Voices' Summary of the events of 1066:

For those of you who are not au fait with English History, here's my very brief, non-historian, rundown of the events of 1066, which lead to the Battle of Hastings on 14th October.

1. The English King, Edward the Confessor, died on the 5th of January. For reasons I'm not going into, Edward had apparently promised the English throne/crown/kingdom, to Duke William of Normandy.

2. However, he apparently, on his deathbed, woke from a coma, entrusted his widow and his kingdom to Harold Godwinson, and then passed away.

3. The Witan or Witenagemot (council of 'wise' or 'important' men - read rich landowners and high ranking church officials) convened on the day after King Edward's death and appointed Harold Godwinson as his successor.

4. Alas, King Harold had a brother, Tostig who spent the summer of 1066 (whilst brother to the King) basically in exile in Scotland, staying with King Malcolm III, and whilst there decided to invite the Norwegian King Harald Hadrada (properly Sigurdsson, but everyone refers to hims as Hadrada [lit. hard ruler] now) to invade and take over. Please note that you still get the odd Harold being named today, no-one still calls their kids Tostig! Coincidence?

5. Duke William is, lets go with "not happy". Now when William isn't happy, he's not always the nicest of fellas. His maternal grandfather was a tanner (made leather) and on one occasion some townsfolk hung up some dead animals to remind him of his ancestry, which he took as an insult against his Mum, which really upset him, so he apparently had their hands chopped off... such a nice guy! So, he's getting up an invasion force over in Normandy. He doesn't have any ships and there won't be a ferry service (or channel tunnel) for a few years yet, so it takes him about nine months... 

6. In the meantime, Harald Hadrada handily already had ships, so after receiving an invitation from Tostig, he took 200 boats full of Norwegian Vikings, and rocked up the river Ouse, where some Northumbrian Lords tried to stop his advance on York, and didn't do so well. At some point (not sure when) he meets up with Tostig, who has brought extra fighting men from Flanders, and also Scotland. Harold Godwinson, at this point, is more worried about William of Normandy and is on the south coast trying to prevent invasion, but that's been delayed, so he and his fyrd (sort of army, but not like today, where they're all professional soldiers, just sort of everyone who wasn't a slave and could wield an axe, sword, or bow & arrow) head north.

7. On 25th September, near the River Derwent at a place which has since become known as Stamford Bridge because that's what the location of the battle was described as, the two forces met, and apparently it was such a rout that Hadrada's forces, which had needed more than 200 ships to bring them, went home in just two dozen. Hadrada was dead. Incidentally, his head was returned to Norway about a year later and interred in St Mary's Church in Trondheim, where my friend Somewhere Slowly is from!

8. On 28th September, William finally rocked up at Pevensey on the south coast, and from there he went on to build a wooden fort at Hastings, where he based himself while his men ravaged the local countryside.

9. King Harold, made haste back down south, and on 14th October 1066, from around 9am until around dusk, the two armies fought at a place now known as Battle. By dusk, King Harold had taken an arrow to the eye (note: sources debate whether this is how he actually died, but it's what they said at the reenactment, what we were taught at school and I'm sticking with it for now), and William had won. He marched on London (before the M25 was built, probably took him less time than it took us!) and the citizens of London accepted him as the King of the whole country. Which is rather cheeky considering Winchester was the capital back then, and they didn't ask anyone else!

10. On Christmas Day of 1066, William, Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England, and one of his descendants still holds the crown to this day.

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