Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Battling On in Battle

 My photo of the day is of myself standing in front of Senlac Hill upon which is what appears to be a very flash private school which backs on to the ruins of a medieval abbey.

 Over the hill is the town of Battle, the second stopover on our tour of the United Kingdom last October.

 Given the name of the town I would think that most people would conclude that something of note occurred here and you would be right.

 It may appear that my postings are a little militaristic but you can hardly tour Europe and the UK without stumbling over a battlefield or the site of a slaughter or massacre or siege or general skirmish. Those people loved to fight in the old days!

 This particular spot is a little more significant than most. The history of the world changed direction on Senlac Hill. A way of life was destroyed forever. A new dynasty was founded. An English King died gallantly and a new monarch was crowned. So I thought a picture of Senlac Hill was worth posting.

 On October 14, 1066, Senlac Hill was lined by a shield wall of English Knights called Housecarls, defending the crown of their noble Lord, Harold II. They were Anglo-Saxons, descendants of the tribesmen who had overrun Britain six centuries before and eventually established, despite much bloodshed, a united English kingdom.

 Their opponents that day, surging forward from where I am standing and swarming up Senlac Hill in a desperate bid to dislodge King Harold, were Knights and Nobles loyal to William of Normandy, the most powerful military leader in western Europe at the time, commanding what was probably the best army on the continent.

 Yes, the Battle of Hastings was fought on this site, one of the most significant and decisive engagements in the history of the western world.And it was quite surreal to stand on a spot were such an action was fought.

 It is hard to believe that up to 20 000 men struggled here that day, in close combat, eyeball to eyeball and many were maimed or hacked to death by every weapon of war available at that time. Amazing.

 This is the view King Harold's army would have had of the approaching Normans. The ground today is lush and green and whether or not there was as much foliage to the front in 1066 as there is now is anyone's guess. But it was the last view King Harold ever saw.

 The town of Hastings is actually seven miles from Battle and William landed near the town and marched inland where he was intercepted by the English army.

Harold was one of the more unlucky Kings in history. A few weeks before he had been forced to deal with another invasion, this time from the Norwegian King Harald III accompanied by one of the English King's traitorous brothers. The Norwegians had been seen off at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in the north of the country and no sooner had the dust settled than Harold was informed that William had landed in the south.

 Harold marched his army the length of England but was forced to leave stragglers and late comers behind. A good military commander is always decisive when facing imminent danger.

 Taking up position on Senlac Hill, his Housecarls saw off the Norman Knights for close to nine hours until finally, late in the day, King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England was struck in the eye by an arrow and his army disintegrated as a result. He was probably half an hour from victory.

 William, Duke of Normandy, "The Conqueror" , became King of England and despite some opposition in the years which followed, established his dynasty on the throne. Anglo-Saxon culture was destroyed and the feudal system of Europe took it's place. The rest is history.

 Of course the town of Battle didn't exist in 1066. An Abbey was constructed on Senlac Hill to honour William's victory and it is said the high altar was placed on the spot where Harold raised his standard. The ruins of the Abbey still stand. The town of Battle grew up in the centuries after despite the engagement being known, now and forever as the Battle of Hastings.

 There is a saying in Battle that "without the battle there would be no Battle!"

 So, as you sign off today, have a think  for a moment about King Harold II of England, his brothers and kinsmen who died with him that day and his people who suffered degradation as a result. He was a brave man and an able soldier who died gallantly defending his crown, his land and his subjects.

 Have a great day.
The spot where King Harold fell at Hastings.

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