This week in Medieval History


No battle at Battle? New site suggested for the Battle of Hastings

This week a new site for the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was put forward by amateur historian and archaeologist Nick Austin. The new site, which lies on the western side of the ridge that surrounds Hastings, is around three miles from the invasion camp of William the Conqueror and two miles nearer Hastings than previously thought. The site is confirmed by the discovery of a crossbow where Harold is thought to have made this last stand.

Austin has spent the last twelve years researching where the battle took place, until now thought to be located at Battle – the town named after the most famous early medieval battle in history. Does Austin’s theory carry any weight?

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Austin has consulted the Chronicle of Battle Abbey, the document that asserts the Abbey was built on the battle site. Austin believes that this document was created to support a fake charter prepared by the monks around a hundred years after the Battle of Hastings. The monks lied in their Charter about the place where the battle was fought in order to avoid paying taxes. Can it really be as simple as all that? The discussion of where the battle took place was discussed at length in 2002 by M.K Lawson in his volume on the Battle of Hastings. Lawson’s more traditional approach argues for the foundation of the abbey on the battle site  using a combination textual sources and landscape history. Twelfth century historian William of Malmesbury recorded that the altar of Battle abbey was placed where Harold died whilst the Battle Abbey Chronicle reports that this was the place that the standard fell. Lawson believes that these sources refer to the same place and that William did order an abbey to be built in such a way. The Chronicle also adds that the monks from Marmoutier, on the Loire, did not want the abbey to placed on a hilltop location because of the lack of water. Despite this, William was quite persistent in that the abbey should be laid  upon the relics of the battle. This difficult location led those who were erecting the monument to make substantial changes to the ground level. Because of such alterations, the slope today bears little resemblance to the steeper site from where the Normans would have charged. Lawson combines this textual base with a detailed study of the landscape in the area around Battle and Hastings leaving little to suggest that the battle site could be elsewhere.

According to Austin however, “An irreconcilable issue that has haunted historians for two hundred years has now been laid to rest.” I’m not sure it is that simple. At a recent meeting of Anglo-Normanists discussion of Austin’s theory inevitably arose. None of those present were convinced, and as already mentioned, the traditional theory does not rely solely on the Battle Chronicle, as Austin suggests. The finding of the crossbow remains need not be indicative of the battle site. The traditional theory seems, at least for now, to be holding firm.

And finally, anyone interested in constructing their own view of the Battle of Hastings can do so here with much amusement

Victoria & Albert museum London open new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries

On Wednesday this week the Victoria & Albert Museum London opened the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Spanning the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, the ten galleries occupy almost an entire wing of the Museum, and look set to be a stunning collection of treasures from the period. This project has been the largest undertaken by the V&A since 2001 and has cost an estimated £30m.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I was recently in London and visited the V&A before the exhibition was open. Amidst a flurry of activity in preparation, one could sneak a glance behind the temporary exhibition walls where sculptures and tapestries were being delicately moved into place. The galleries will house treasures such as the Santa Chiara chapel (1494-1500) from Florence, pieces of stained glass from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and a collection of Italian renaissance sculpture including some important works by Donatello.

I am particularly keen to explore the gallery themed Devotion and Display which looks at how religion affected daily life. This, however, must wait for my next trip to London. I’m keen to hear from those who have been lucky enough to have already visited. For those planning to visit, the V&A’s medieval and renaissance blog is well worth a read.

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2 Responses to “This week in Medieval History”

  1. James Hill Says:

    A great new blog that doesn’t scrimp on historical detail!

  2. steve Says:

    Thanks found this in my google search and was exactly what I was looking for.

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