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Jan 22, 2013

Did the Battle of Hastings really happen where we're told it did?

The Battle of Hastings is perhaps the most famous fight in medieval history. When King Harold died with an arrow through the eye (the most popular theory, there are others) and William got his new nickname "the Conqueror" on that day in 1066, the history of England and Western Europe changed.

For centuries we've been told that the battle happened on Senlac Hill near the town of Hastings. Indeed, Battle Abbey, commissioned by WIlliam himself, stands atop it.

But now some historians doubt that story, and they have two different candidates for the battle site. One suggests that the battle happened a mile north on Caldbec Hill, while the other says it happened two miles south of town at Crowhurst.

The Caldbec Hill site is the most intriguing. It's a steeper hill than the gently sloping Senlac Hill, and contemporary accounts said the hill atop which Harold and his Saxons stood was as steep one. On the other hand, a thousand years of weathering could have mellowed out Senlac hill. More telling is the fact that no weapons or bones have ever been found on Senlac Hill and that it was cultivated at the time, while accounts of the battle said it happened on unploughed land.

Also, the Normans erected a cairn of stones called a "Mount-joie" on the battlefield to celebrate their victory. The summit of Caldbec Hill is still known as Mountjoy. There's also the account of John of Worcester who that the battle was fought nine miles from Hastings, the same distance as Caldbec Hill.

The Crowhurst site is supported by a historian who has made a close study of medieval documents and looked at the landscape shown on the Bayeaux Tapestry and said that Crowhurst is the best candidate.

The Battlefields Trust, which manages the site, says in a press release says that they still think the traditional place is the correct one. They stated there's insufficient evidence for the Crowhurst site to be considered, and that they're still analyzing the argument for Caldbec Hill.

I'll have more on this as this story develops. Stay tuned!
Top photo by Antonio Borillo. Bottom photo from Wikipedia.


  1. I would think if they can't find traces of bodies or weapons, that would rule out the site. Something would've been left behind.