- Battle of Hastings Battlefield and Abbey Undergo Major
Re-Presentation to Mark 950th Anniversary
- Stone Marking Spot Where King Harold Died Relocated
- Rooftop of Battle Abbey Gatehouse Opens to Public for First Time
A major re-presentation of the Battle of Hastings battlefield and abbey has been revealed by English Heritage, in this the 950th anniversary year of the most famous and arguably the most important battle in English history.
A new exhibition, two previously unseen areas, and a new location for the memorial stone that marks the spot where King Harold fell in battle, opened to the public on Friday.
For the first time, visitors will be able to stand on the roof of Battle Abbey’s Great Gatehouse – founded by William the Conqueror on the site of battlefield – and get a whole new, 360-degree perspective on the surrounding landscape where fierce fighting raged on 14 October 1066.
Also for the first time, visitors can access – through the original 13th century doorway – the abbey’s huge dormitory where the Benedictine monks once slept.
The stone memorial marking the spot where according to tradition King Harold fell, has been moved by English Heritage to a new location following a new study of the 1066 battlefield and abbey. New advances in our understanding of the layout of the abbey’s church reveal that the site of this altar was further east than previously thought.
From at least the early 12th century the site of the high altar at Battle Abbey was identified as the spot where King Harold’s body was discovered after the Battle of Hastings In his Deeds of the Kings of England, William of Malmesbury wrote that the abbey’s church was built “on the very spot where according to tradition, among the piled heaps of corpses Harold was found”, with the high altar located – according to the Chronicle of John of Worcester – “where the body of Harold (slain for the love of his country) was found.”
The location of the high altar was lost when the abbey church was demolished after the suppression of the abbey in 1538 and the ground on which it stood cultivated as a garden. In 1817, an excavation revealed a crypt which marked the east end of the church and, mindful of the link between the high altar and the location of Harold’s death, contemporaries regarded this newly discovered feature as marking the place where Harold fell. They were unaware that the abbey church had been extended in the mid-13th century and that the exposed crypt stood about 25 metres to the east of the end of the church founded by William the Conqueror, now King William I. Until the rediscovery of the east end of the Norman church in 1929 the accepted site of Harold’s death was therefore some distance away from the location marked by William’s church.
As part of the re-presentation of the abbey in the early 1980s the plan of the Norman church was laid out and a marker stone placed at the east end to show the general location of the high altar. English Heritage has moved this stone approximately 6 metres further to the east to more accurately mark the location of the high altar. This reflects our understanding that within Romanesque great churches the high altar was placed on the chord of the apse, in other words on the line where the semi-circular end of the church began to curve.
A new exhibition inside the Great Gatehouse gives a blow-by-blow account of the battle, from the very different preparations of the opposing forces the night before to the final outcome. Beautifully carved oak figures – including a Norman knight on horseback and an Anglo-Saxon shield wall – are installed across the battlefield, evoking the two armies and the drama of the battle.
Visitors to the 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield will also meet interpreters playing the part of a Norman knight and Saxon lady at weekends throughout the summer and discover updated exhibits in the visitor centre.
As part of its 1066: Year of the Normans programme, English Heritage is marking the 950th anniversary of 1066 with events across the country this summer, including a re-enactment of King Harold’s march from York to Battle in autumn, culminating in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on 15-16 October at the battlefield site.
For more information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/1066
English Heritage cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites – from world famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of empire to Cold War bunkers. Through these, they bring the story of England to life for over 10 million visitors each year. www.english-heritage.org.uk.
Battle Abbey is on the site of the Battle of Hastings, which took place on 14 October 1066, and was the most famous battle fought on English soil and resulted in the last wholly successful hostile invasion of this country.
The triumph of Duke William of Normandy over King Harold marked the end of Anglo-Saxon England, the replacement of its Scandinavian links by new ties with western Europe, and the imposition of a new and more cohesive ruling class. Society became bound by ties of feudal loyalty, leading to a greater concentration of power in royal hands, while the beginnings of the development of common law had consequences that still affect our lives today after nearly 1,000 years.
King William I marked his victory by establishing the great Benedictine abbey of Battle on the northern part of the battlefield. As a result of the king’s generous endowments, it became one of the richest monastic houses in England.
The abbey flourished for over 400 years until King Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries and disbanded religious communities in the 1530s. Henry gave Battle Abbey to his friend Sir Anthony Browne who demolished many of the monastic buildings, including the church. He turned the abbot’s lodging into a substantial private house, at the centre of an estate created from the former battlefield and abbey land.