My knowledge of English history is seriously awful. I always found the long lists of Kings and Queens with random Roman numerals stuffed at the ends exhausting. However, when you have the opportunity to visit important buildings or sites from history, the people and stories begin to come to life in ways a textbook never can. The Battle of Hastings is arguably the most famous battle in all of English history. Before I visited the grounds where the battle once took place, the only smidgen of knowledge I had on the event was a brief recollection of this William the Conqueror dude. A Twitter follower had recommended I visit Hastings and Battle after reading about my visit to Rye in East Sussex. Not one to turn down a friendly suggestion, (I make a list of all the great places people tell me about!) I travelled to East Sussex once again for a very memorable experience.
First, I would like to clarify something. The Battle of Hastings was, in fact, not in the city of Hastings. The Battle of Hastings took place in a town called Battle, which is near Hastings. Really though, it took place in a field, because Battle did not yet exist. Got that? Good.
So, here is the general synopsis behind The Battle of Hastings for those who need to brush up on their English history as well. King Harold II is the monarch of England. William the Conqueror hails from Normandy, France but wants to invade England and take over as King. William the Conqueror crosses the English Channel with 10,000 men and meets up with King Harold and his 7000 men, in a field outside Hastings. The battle lasts around a day, ending around the time someone shoots an arrow through King Harold’s eye (this is still widely debated) and the English army retreats. William the Conqueror is crowned King of England a couple months later, securing his place in history as one of the most influential rulers to date.
The coolest part of visiting the Battlefield is that you are given a self-guided audio tour to take with you. As you walk around the picturesque countryside, the audio tour recreates the Battle of Hastings through sounds of approaching soldiers and dramatized storytelling. I would have been lost without it, and it manages to turn an empty field into a fascinating stage.
After William became King of England, he had an Abbey built on the site to commemorate the battle. The Battle of Abbey still stands today, and is truly magnificent. Actually, it may be my favorite place in England so far. Seriously. The Abbey was built so that the original high altar would be in the same spot where King Harold was killed. The Abbey was dedicated to Saint Martin, the patron saint of soldiers. It lasted around 500 years, until the 16th century when King Henry VIII closed all of England’s monasteries. After this, the property was handed from one rich family to the next, until it was sold to the British government in the 1970’s. Now owned by English Heritage, it is absolutely astounding that these beautiful ruins once served as a drawing room for some Duke or Duchess.
The Novices’ Chamber is the reason I fell in love with this site. Originally the ground floor rooms below the monk dormitories, these vaulted rooms give you a breathtaking glance at what the Abbey must have once looked like. The rooms have an incredible amount of natural light, and you can still see remains of a giant fireplace that once warmed the chamber.
The kid loved the chamber as well and was happily dancing around the columns. I took a picture of her in the moment and I loved it so much I had it printed onto plexiglass for our home.
My visit to Battle Abbey and the Battlefield was memorable to say the least. It really surpassed my expectations, and I learned a heck of a lot more about this country I call home. The Battle of Hastings is famous enough that everyone knows a song based on the event. It is really long to post but here is the juicy end.
The Normans turned round in a fury And gave back both parry and thrust Till t' fight were all over bar t' shouting And you couldn't see Saxons for dust And after the battle were over They found 'Arold so stately and grand Sitting there, with an eye-full of arrer On 'is 'orse with 'is 'awk in 'is 'and
If you would like to visit this English Heritage site, Hastings is easily reachable from London and other major cities. You can catch a bus that will drop you directly in front of Battle Abbey. Admission is £7.80, but as always, I recommend becoming a full-fledged English Heritage member -granting you free access to all of their properties.