File No.:

Title: Location of the Battle of Hastings in 1066
Investigation made at
: Hastings Battlefield, Battle Abbey, Battle, district of Rother, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
(50°54'44.0"N 0°29'19.6"E)
Period Covered
: 14OCT1066
: 6SEP2023
Case Classification: Location of Historic Events
Status of Case: Open Case

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Path at Battle Abbey on Senlac Hill following the Anglo-Saxon shield wall with the center of the battlefield in center background

The Battle of the Hastings in 1066 is one of the best known battles in Western Europe.


The motivation for the battle was in fact a succession dispute in England after King Edward's death on 5JAN1066. The king left no clear heir and the Englishman Harold Godwinson and the Norman William the Conqueror laid claim to the throne of England.
Harold Godwinson was the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats and son of Godwin, King Edward's earlier opponent. Harold was elected king by the Witenagemot council of England and crowned by the Archbishop of York.
William on the other hand claimed that he had been promised the throne by King Edward and that Harold had sworn agreement to this.

Date and time of the battle
Some of the few undisputed facts about the Battle of Hastings are that it took place on Saturday 14OCT1066, that fighting began at 0900 and that the battle lasted until dusk. The sun rose at 0648 that morning and the sun set at 1654, with the battlefield mostly dark by 1754 and in full darkness by 1824. Moonrise that night was not until 2312, so once the sun set there was hardly any light on the battlefield.

Tactics and dispositions
Harold's forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of a steep slope with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them. The English formed a shield wall, with the front ranks holding their shields close together or even overlapping to provide protection from attack.
Sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on: some sources state the site of the abbey, but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill.
The Norman deployment is better known. Duke William appears to have arranged his forces in three groups, or "battles", which roughly corresponded to their origins. The left units were the Bretons, along with those from Anjou, Poitou and Maine. The center was held by the Normans under Duke William. The final division, on the right, consisted of the Frenchmen, along with some men from Picardy, Boulogne, and Flanders.
The front lines were made up of archers, with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind. The cavalry was held in reserve and a small group of clergymen and servants situated at the base of Telham Hill was not expected to take part in the fighting.

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The "classic" order of battle and dispositions of the Norman and English armies.

William's disposition of his forces suggests that he planned to open the battle with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry who would engage in close combat. The infantry would create openings in the English lines that could be exploited with cavalry charges breaking through the English forces and pursue the retreating soldiers.
The Normans made use of a tactic named "feigned retreat", a strategy which tricked the English troops into breaking down their protective formation and heading after the "retreating" soldiers. Having opened themselves to attack, they were then cut down.
Death of King Harold
As the picture on Battle Detective Tom's t-shirt shows, popular believe is that King Harold died from an arrow in his eye. The first mention of an arrow in his eye was by a monk, Amatus of Montecassino, who in Italy in the 1080’s wrote a history of the Normans. Historians today believe he probably made it up. None of those who fought on the actual battlefield made mention of it.
Even the Bayeux Tapestry originally did not depict an arrow in Harold’s eye. Contemporary evidence shows that this was added in a 19th Century restoration.

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The myth of a Norman arrow as cause of death for King Harold
Note Battle Detective Tom in center image assuming the posture of the soldier in the
Bayeux Tapestry who presumably was about to throw a javelin in the original  embroidery.

Location of the Battle of Hastings
The battle took place in a field 7 miles northwest of the city Hastings. That spot grew, after being founded as the commemorative Battle Abbey in 1095, into the appropriately name town of Battle between two hills – Caldbec Hill to the north and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded, with a marsh nearby.
The name traditionally given to the battle is unusual – there were several settlements much closer to the battlefield than Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle "at the hoary apple tree". Within 40 years, the battle was described by the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis as "Senlac", a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word "Sandlacu", which means "sandy water".

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Marshy wetlands ("sandy water / Senlac") in the south-western area of the battlefield.
Photo taken on 6SEP2023 when the weather had been dry for some time in England.

Battle Abbey
At the site of the battle, Battle Abbey was founded by William. According to 12th-century sources, William made a vow to construct the abbey, and the high altar of the church was placed at the site where Harold had died.
The topography of the battlefield has been changed by construction work for the abbey and the slope defended by the English today is less steep than it was at the time of the battle.

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The abbey on the location where King Harold was killed.

Roudabout at Marley Lane
An episode of the Time Team program claims, in short, that aerial technology called LIDAR to map the terrain proves that the traditional battlefield would have been too boggy for William's Norman cavalry. The program makers had military analysts study the data to see where Harold, a skilled commander, would most likely have mounted his defense against William's invading army.
They identify the only ideal battlefield. It seems Harold's fearsome Saxon shield wall straddled a narrow strategic pass that is on today's A2100.

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The roundabout on Marley Lane and Upper Lake (which turns into High Street in the town of Battle)
and Lower Lake (the A2100 coming in from the south).
Behind a wooden gate on the north side of the traffic circle a footpath leads to the alternative site of the battle.

This agency does not doubt this location as the site of the battle because of the unfavorable site for construction of an abbey. There is no water source nearby and there would be sites for construction of structure of this size in the vicinity that are much more suitable. It shows that the abbey had to be constructed, taking obstructing aspects of the site for granted, where it is today.
Also take into consideration that where fourteen thousand men clash, it cannot be ruled out that the battlefield was a bit larger than the lawn below the abbey today. Sporadic  skirmishes may have  also taken place in the general area of the Marley Lane roundabout.

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No doubt.

Visiting the battlefield
This agency visited the location of the Battle of Hasting on 6SEP2023.

Interestingly the tour guide of the English Heritage charity which owns the Hastings battlefield, explained us that contrary to older believes it is now accepted that the main Norman assault direction was a more south-east to north-west approach. This way the Norman cavalry avoided the marshy south-western section of the battlefield.

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1) Location where King Harold fell according to William who had the alter placed on that spot
2) Direction of Norman assault now accepted by English Heritage
3) The battlefield according the Time Team program

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On the road from Pevensy to Battle.
Entering the town of Battle.
Path south of Battle Abbey where the shield wall of the Anglo-Saxons was.
West flank of the battlefield looking in eastern direction.
Wooden statues giving an impression of what the uphill battle for the Norman infantry would have looked like.
Marshy ponds on the south-western edge of the battlefield.
Wooden statue showing a Norman cavalry knight.
Center of the battlefield; view of the Anglo-Saxons looking in southern direction.
Center of the battlefield; view of the Normans looking in northern direction.
Wooden statue showing the Norman use of flags called "gonfanons" to signal maneuvers on the battlefield.
Eastern flank of the battlefield.
Wooden statue showing a Norman archer.
Battle Abbey.
Visited the Battle Museum of Local History as well.
Where Battle Detectives work.

The course of the battle and its outcome were determined by superior tactics and leadership on the part of the attacking invaders and opportunities missed by the defenders. To sum these factors up:

William's leadership and tactics
•  William chose to delay his invasion, which demoralized Harold’s soldiers.
• William obtained a Papal Banner which led his soldiers to believe that they had God’s blessing to fight which boosted morale.
• William chose the location of the battle.
• William took his time invading and ensured that he had made all the necessary preparations.
• William’s troops were highly organized into divisions with a system of communication.
• William rode on horses (he lost three during the battle) and hence had more control of his troops and could be more responsive.

Harold’s Failures
• King Harold hurried to face William. He could have waited for between twenty to thirty thousand extra troops from the South-West, but he chose to go straight to Hastings.
• Harold fought alongside the Normans in 1064, and was aware of their tactics but still used the old Anglo-Saxon techniques of the shield wall.
• Harold chose to fight on foot rather than horseback, so it was difficult for him to communication with his troops or give
orders in the battle.

Photos taken on 6SEP2023

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Left: In the center of the Hastings battlefield;
Center: Wearing a replica helmet of the time. Note contemporatry nose too large for 'nasal';
Right: On the west flank of the battlefield.


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