The Battle of Hastings: 945 years on

PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:03 20 February 2013

The Battle of Hastings: 945 years on

The Battle of Hastings: 945 years on

This month is the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings where England changed forever and almost certainly the single most significant event on the soil of Sussex. Here Judy Sharp takes a look back at all things 1066

The Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October 1066, changed English history. We all know that William, Duke of Normandy, landed at Pevensey and defeated the army of King Harold at Battle, where Battle Abbey now stands, right? Well, perhaps not.

In his book Secrets of the Norman Invasion, Nick Austin presents the results of 25 years of research. He believes the Normans landed at Upper Wilting Farm in the Domesday parish of Crowhurst on the outskirts of Hastings, and that the Battle of Hastings was fought in the Crowhurst Valley.

His sources include the Bayeux Tapestry, The Carmen of Hastingae, Wace, The Chronicle of Battle Abbey and other accounts written within 150 years of the invasion as well as the Domesday Book.

One argument is based upon the coastline map of the area, which has changed enormously since 1066. It simply would not have been possible for Williams soldiers to have marched from Pevensey to Battle because it was all under water. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy a challenging intellectual read!

English Heritages website Pastscape states: Although the battle has left no visible traces on the landscape nor have any remains been found, its location and the main events are known from a variety of historical sources.

Did William really clean the site of the battle so thoroughly afterwards?

However, lets move on with some more snippets about 1066 and all that, starting of course with

1066 and All That

The iconic book written by W C Sellar and R J Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds was published in 1930.

Its full title is 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.

Written with tongue very much in cheek, the two Genuine Dates are 1066 and 55BC.

The Bayeux Tapestry
Technically an embroidered cloth rather than a tapestry, it measures about metre deep by some 68 metres long (apparently originally it was more than 70 metres long). The exquisite embroidery, supported by Latin text, illustrates the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings although both pictures and words have been interpreted differently over the centuries.

French legend says it was commissioned by Williams wife Matilda and created by her ladies-in-waiting. More modern research says Williams half-brother Odo may have commissioned it: if so, it could well have been designed and embroidered in Kent.

The tapestry is exhibited at its own museum in Bayeux, in Normandy.

Halleys Comet
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the first recorded image of Halleys Comet. Shown at Harolds coronation, it is taken as a bad omen for Harold that was certainly shrewd star-gazing!

Englands Bayeux Tapestry
Englands own Bayeux Tapestry is housed in the Museum of Reading. The replica was created by Elizabeth Wardle and 35 members of the Leek Embroidery Society. Completed in just over a year, it was first exhibited in 1886. Alderman Arthur Hill purchased the embroidery when it was exhibited in Reading in 1895 and presented it to the town.

The Channel Islands who owns whom?
The Channel Islands became part of the very powerful Duchy of Normandy around 933. Some historians say that William the Conqueror sailed from France to the Channel Islands in 1066 and thence up the Channel to Pevensey or Upper Wilting Farm.

As the Channel Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy before William defeated Harold and became King of England, it has been argued that, technically, England belongs to the Channel Islands.

William in Westminster Abbey

William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, less than a year after Harold had been crowned there. In accordance with Saxon traditions, the ceremony included a loud acclamation.

Norman soldiers outside the church misunderstood the sudden shouting, and started to attack the waiting Saxon crowds. William ordered that the ceremony be rushed and his first task as King was to restore order.

The Domesday Book
William commissioned a full audit to give him an overview of his new kingdom but also, more importantly, to assess how much tax could be raised. The two volumes contain details of 13,418 settlements in England south of the Scottish border.

They are kept at the National Archives in London where official copies are still used as reference documents.

(How) did Harold die?
Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings - or was he? The Bayeux Tapestry has the words Harold Rex Interfectus Est (Harold the King is killed) next to a panel illustrating
several figures.

One appears to have an arrow in his eye, another is on the ground, apparently being mutilated.

The most common version of events is that the Kings mistress identified Harolds disfigured body whereupon it was taken, with Williams permission, to Waltham Abbey, where it was buried and there are indeed gravestones there bearing Harolds name. Nick Austins version is that William ordered
Harolds remains to be wrapped in purple linen and given the customary funeral rites.

Harolds mother offered William the weight of her sons body in gold in exchange for the body, but William refused and commanded that the body should be buried in the earth high on the cliff overlooking the sea, with a memorial stone.

This was a typical Viking burial, and only possible if the sea was close by.Yet another version, from the Vita Haroldi, says Harold escaped. The mutilated body brought to William was not Harolds.

Harold escaped to Europe to recover, then returned to England and lived
near Chester as a religious hermit, only revealing his true identity on his death-bed.

Williams Demise
William died in 1087, aged just 59. He fell off his horse, injuring his stomach on the pommel of his saddle. It is said that after just two days, his body putrified and his stomach burst open. Another version says that bishops were trying to force his bloated body into a sarcophagus when his abdominal wall burst. Either way, a messy end!

Norman the Whale
An enormous finback whale beached itself near Pevensey in 1865. The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, keen to cash in, christened the site Normans Bay and said that William the Conqueror landed there in 1066.

A new railway station was built to carry the curious visitors even closer.

Actually, had Norman the Whale been in Normans Bay in 1066 he would not have beached the whole area was under water!

1066 Commemoratives
Worcester Porcelain aimed to issue commemorative chinaware in 1866 to mark the 800th anniversary. Sadly, production was beset by technical problems and it appeared in 1868!

Wedgwood produced a Queens Ware mug featuring the Bayeux Tapestry with the date 1066 on the inside in 1964, two years ahead of the 900th anniversary!

Scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry have featured on postage stamps around the world, including the Netherlands Antilles, Denmark and North Korea. Great Britain issued a series of Bayeux Tapestry stamps in 1966 to mark the 900th anniversary.

And finally . . .

Australian cricketer and cartoonist Arthur Mailey took 10 wickets for 66 runs during the 1921 tour of England. His 1958 autobiography was entitled of course 10 for 66 and All That.

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