1066 Battle of Hastings

This weekend marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which took place on 14th October 1066. This important battle changed the course of English history paving the way for the Norman transformation of England, and was the culmination of fierce disputes and intrigue, with brother fighting brother in a bid for the Crown.

In early 1066, the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor sparked a succession crisis and a battle for the crown of England. Harold was the elected successor, and crowned King sparking an immediate wave of challenges. There were four main claimants, and a series of battles resulted, culminating in the Battle of Hastings 9 months after Harold was crowned.

The Battle of Hastings was a particularly bloody and drawn out encounter, in an age where most battles were fought and won in hours this lasted a full day. Battling a series of contenders, King Harold had just won a hard-fought battle at Stamford Bridge on 25th September, defeating his own brother and King Harold III of Norway who had formed an alliance. Receiving news of an invasion by the Norman army, led by Duke William of Normandy, he gathered his remaining battle-weary troops and rushed south to meet the challenge of the invader, his last serious opponent to the crown.

The battle is most reliably documented by the chronicler William of Poitiers who documented his account in 1071 from first-hand sources. The famous Bayeux Tapestry is another record, which is deemed to have been made by William’s half-brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

According to these sources, it would appear that at first sight, the English had the upper hand despite their depleted cavalry, as the Normans had to make the approach uphill to engage Harold’s army. However William was arguably the better strategist, and by feigning a series of retreats they succeeded in drawing the English down in pursuit, thereby weakening the defenders and slaying them in large numbers.

The famous account of Harold being killed by an arrow in his eye, as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry, is now believed to be false, with early sources graphically describing him being hacked to death by four Norman knights, leaving his body so mutilated it was barely identifiable, found in a deep pile of English dead. With Harold killed, William ‘the Conqueror’ assumed the throne of England.

English Heritage is marking the anniversary of this great battle with a year of events and activities at historic Norman sites around the country. This weekend around the 14th October anniversary, will see a series of events at Battle Abbey near Hastings, including a recreation of the atmosphere with a re-enactment of the battle, a kids battle, falconry, archery and many other events.

Other events at Battle Abbey include the Haunted Abbey and the Abbey After Dark tour, in the lead up to Halloween.

There is also a selection of Norman walks exploring Norman sites across the country such as Pevensea Castle, site of the Roman Fort where William the Conquerer first landed, and a Norman castle was subsequently built. Or Dover Castle with its impressive 12th century architecture, all within easy reach of Flackley Ash Hotel here in Rye.

And of course Battle Abbey and the surrounding area itself. You can stand on the roof of the Great Gatehouse of the Abbey which was founded by King William 1 allegedly on the spot where King Harold died (although this is disputed – another fascinating story of intrigue and finagling by the monks of the Abbey!). Although little remains of the Abbey itself, several magnificent later monastic buildings survive and the Battlefield has been preserved as attractive Parkland.

For more details, visit English Heritage .

Come and stay at Flackley Ash, our charming Georgian Country House Hotel, less than half an hour from Battle Abbey, and explore the Norman heritage around this historic region.