The Battle of Hastings was to shape the future of Medieval England. However, the battle took place about seven miles from Hastings – so in many respects it is misnamed. Why, then was the Battle of Hastings so-called? In 1066, Battle was an important area. Even in the Domesday Book, this part of Sussex was valued at £48 before the battle and £30 in 1066 itself. Compared to other parts of Sussex, Battle was wealthy. However, the title Battle of Battle would not have worked, and for convenience sake, the nearest large town was selected – Hastings. The battle itself was fought by the current Battle Abbey – however, the main thrust of the battle concerned Harold’s position on Senlac Hill, a short distance from the current abbey.
Why was Battle so important? In the 11th Century, the coastline of Sussex was different to that of today. The coast was nearer to Battle than it is today and the only major ‘road’ that linked Hastings to London went through Battle. If Harold held out at Battle, William would have had great difficulties sustaining his campaign. If William won, he would have control of the only proper ‘road’ to London – the heart of England.
Scenes from the battlefield:
Harold’s view from the top of Senlac Hill:
The view from Harold’s position
Harold would have had a major advantage by placing his shield wall here. William and the Normans would have had to attack Harold up this hill. William’s men gathered in what appears to be a second field behind the single tree line (just above the central line). Also, Harold knew roughly the route that the Normans would have to take. The single tree line that runs just above the centre of the photo is wet and boggy from water that flows down the hill. William would not have been able to move his cavalry through this area as the horses would have been bogged down. In October, this section would probably have been very boggy. If the current geography is similar to that of 1066, William would have attacked from the left of the photo.
William’s view from the bottom of Senlac Hill:
The view the Normans had of Harold’s position
Harold’s shield wall would have been roughly where the remains of the abbey can be seen, running along the top of Senlac Hill. The climb for William’s soldiers – in their heavy chain mail armour – would have been difficult even if the Saxons had not been trying to kill them! The Bayeaux Tapestry shows that the Saxons rained down arrows on the advancing Normans – so the advance up the hill would have been very dangerous for men and horses.
William would have avoided the bog by the central tree line. His troops would have attacked via the gap to the central left in the photo.
Though the photo seemingly shows a relatively flat piece of land, the incline from the bottom of the hill to the top is reasonably steep. Though Norman soldiers of the time would have been fit and strong, the climb would still have been tiring in the best of circumstances – in a battle, it would have been a lot worse.