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Posted on Nov 18, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Battlefield Tour – Hastings

Armchair General

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A photo taken with telephoto lens gives a good close-up of the West Range. And next to it, a shot looking West from the Southern edge of the battlefield.

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After an hour or so of heavy fighting, the Norman attack began to flounder and William’s Cavalry began to break and retreat. This caused panic amongst the rest of his forces and it prompted a general withdrawal from combat. Some of the English on Senlac Hill pursued the fleeing Normans, and experts speculate that if Harold had chosen this moment to seize the initiative and order a general pursuit of the fleeing Normans, he could have won the day, but perhaps his lack of Cavalry persuaded him not to do so. Instead, William turned his fleeing men, garnishing them into action with a rousing speech, and displaying his face for all to see to reassure those who thought he had been killed. His men then surrounded the English soldiers who had broken the line and massacred them all.

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There I am, stood on the Battlefield itself. If I’m truthful, it wasn’t until I set foot on the very soil that I got a real sense of the history permeating the place. I’m stood where the Norman Army would have faced up to Harold’s shield wall on the ridgeline behind me.

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William had saved his invasion from becoming a rout, but the English shield wall was still a formidable obstacle and close-range engagements were inflicting heavy losses amongst his own men. It seemed to be a stalemate. Then, perhaps having observed that some of Harold’s men, in having broken ranks, were ill-disciplined, he decided on a new strategy of trick tactics, sending sections of his Cavalry to mount a series of attacks on the enemy shield wall, before then withdrawing and pretending to retreat. Time after time, some English soldiers would break the line and pursue the Normans who would then turn and destroy them. Here are two views from roughly the centre of the slope leading to the top of Senlac Hill where these types of engagements would have taken place.

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And some equivalent views looking the other way, towards the South.

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Heading now up the Eastern edge of the battlefield, it became apparent that the slope was not so gentle as it first appeared. Certainly a Norman Knight wearing heavy armour carrying his weapons would not have found it easy to clamber up that muddy hill.

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These two views demonstrate the gradient nicely. Remember that the top of Senlac Hill was levelled to build the Abbey, but along that ridgeline would have been several thousand angry Englishmen throwing spears at the Normans, not a pretty sight.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice work, Andrew. I appreciate the photos of the battlefield. I am a public historian (M.A. plus public history training and work experience) and I would give anything to come over give tours of that special place. Thank you for the photo tour. I enjoyed it. Best, Jim

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