Hastings 1066

This is a topic that has kept cropping up in my readings for some time. Back in 2000 I wrote two articles on the period for the sadly defunct gaming magazine Kriegspieler. The first covered the battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge while the second looked at Hastings. At that stage I included how to play these battles in DBM. Looking back at both articles they are flawed and and in great need of revision.

However, in the past couple of years Hastings has had a resurgence. In 2013 there was a Time Team episode that looked at the battle and arguments over its location. In the Time Team episode one of the arguments covered was that the battle was actually 3 miles away at Crowhurst. Presented by Nick Austin the Crowhurst theory is argued in his book Secrets of the Norman Invasion. There is also an accompanying website, blog and Facebook page (closed group, which is odd if he is eager to spread his message but then again he doesn't seem to like nay sayers so it’s probably to keep them out of the loop)


While he presents his arguments well, many are based on supposition, rather selective reading of historical sources as well as questionable archaeological techniques and interpretations. Austin is on much safer ground with his thoughts on the landing site,  but  this has been looked at before and the archaeological evidence is less disputed.

One argument Nick presents is that no archaeological evidence has been found at the traditional site. Given the dramatic changes to the battle site with the construction of the abbey and the town around the abbey I am not surprised especially when the majority of the battle was fought on the top of the hill where the abbey now stands.  This is also consistent with other battle sites in Britain which have been destroyed but latter construction that leads to a loss of archaeological evidence. A prime example is the battle of Falkirk in 1298, not a single archaeological artifact has been recovered from either the traditional site or the Callendar Wood site. To draw a Hastings parallel both sites have also been altered due to building and other developments.   Also significant battle archaeology has yet to be demonstrated on battlefields in Britain before the late medieval period.

Aerial view of the Hastings battle site. Note that most of the fighting occurred in the area now built over by the abbey and town of Battle.

The other issue I have is that his archaeological methods leave much to be desired. The evidence of Nick and his groups archaeological methods can be found on YouTube. There is no consideration for the context of the site which refers to not just where an artefact is found but also the soil, the site type, the layer the artefact came from, what else was in that layer. Also there is no consideration in protecting other finds which maybe nearby all it is is metal detectors and shovels. If the group wants to be taken seriously then they need to seriously look at how they carry out their archaeological investigations. An example of their archaeology techniques can be found here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0bxv5R0IyU especially at 1:58.

It should be pointed out that no archaeological evidence has been found at his Crowhurst site either. The alleged "helmet rings" with "clip on" nasal pieces have been determined to be too thin in structure to be military helmets and the concept of a "clip on" nasal piece does not take in to consideration the construction of surviving period helmets.  Any other finds have been dated to much later than 1066. Also his site has gone quiet on the heralded magnetometry survey in April (2015). The plots (see below) published lack scale and direction arrows which makes them pretty meaningless.

Examples of Norman helmet types. No "clip ons" here

No scale, no direction, no meaning.

Nick uses the Chronicle of Battle Abbey to push his Crowhurst theory. It seems to be mainly based on the comment by the chronicler:-

William Coche, Robert of Bolonia, and Robert Blancard.
These personages having viewed the scene of the battle,
judged it an unsuitable site for so noble a building, but
thought a lower place on the western side of the hill more
eligible ; and there, not to seem remiss in their undertaking,
they built some little dwellings. The place is to this day
called Herste and a certain thorn-tree growing there is a
memorial of this circumstance.

Using the above, Austin claims that the term herste (hurst) in the Abbey Chronicle was used by the Normans to mean Crowhurst. Sadly this ignores the large number of other sites that also end in "hurst" that exist in the area for example, Ewhurst. Second the word hurst come from the Saxon word hyrst which means wood and there were plenty of those in that area. Finally the Abbey Chronicle refers to both Herste and Crowhurst separately. Lowers earlier interpretation of the chronicle suggests that this location cannot be identified, however, according to Searle’s (1980) interpretation of the original text Herste is identified as being North-West of the abbey site, while  Crowhurst is south of the abbey site and according to the Chronicle of Battle Abbey; Crowhurst forms the Southern boundary of the Abbey lands.  Also discussed is a tree at Herste this is a thorn tree at Crowhurst it is a yew.

Austin also argues that the building on the western side of the hill at Crowhurst is the original abbey. Sadly the building he refers to has been dated from around 1250 and is a manor house, not an abbey. This was confirmed in an archaeological report on the area by Worrall in 2005 who commented that  it is similar to other medieval halls. The argument that there is Caen limestone at Crowhurst manor is also presented as proof of the manor house being the abbey. This is taken from Alan Gillet and his 1989 book Battle and Robertsbridge Old Photos.  However, Caen limestone was a common building material in abbeys and castles during and after the Norman period. There is evidence of Caen limestone used in in the construction of places such as Battle Abbey, Rochester Castle and even Buckingham Palace. In addition Worrall (2005) states the building is constructed of Horsham stone not Caen limestone.

Remains or Crowhurst Manor

There is also consistent reference to Battle as being the place of the battle by the main sources. The importance of these following sources is that they are written after the abbey construction and make the clear link between the reason for the abbeys existence and its location. The link being in all the sources that the abbey is on Senlac Hill and it is there, because the battle of Hastings was fought there.

Each of the following four monastic historians maintained that the abbey was built on the site of the battle: Henry of Huntingdon, William of Malmesbury, Orderic Vitalis and John of Worcester.

John of Worcester maintained the abbey at Battle was founded and erected on the site of the battle with the altar placed where the body of Harold was found.  He clearly identifies the abbey not just with the battlefield itself but with Harold’s position at the centre.

William of Malmesbury noted that the abbey was called Battle Abbey because it is on the place where traditionally Harold was found.

Orderic Vitalis declares that the site where the battle took place is called Battle and that on the site William founded a monastery to enable them to pray for the dead. Elsewhere, he wrote that William built the abbey at Senlac, the site of the battle

Henry of Huntingdon recorded in his Historia Anglorum the place where William built an abbey was called Battle because that is where the battle was fought.

In addition

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that William caused a great abbey to be built at the place now called Battle.

The Chronicle of Battle Abbey continually reinforces its identification of the abbey site as being on the battlefield at Battle stating the battle was on the hill where the abbey now stands. It may also be argued that because the chronicle is written by two sets of authors that there are issues of reliability.

As stated before Nick Austins thoughts and ideas on Hastings as a landing place are well supported both by written and sound archaeological evidence. The same cannot be said for his arguments about the Battle of Hastings being at Crowhurst. The evidence for Crowhurst is based on flimsy historical evidence from a highly questionable source and highly suspect archaeological evidence. His dismissal of those who question his arguments and theories is understandable given his passion for the project. However, he could be a bit more tactful, thoughtful and dignified in his approach rather than dismissing them out of hand. One of his main tactics is to suggest that those who question lack "due diligence" in their approach. I think he needs to look in the mirror on that one.


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