It’s the date every English schoolboy remembers – 1066, when the Normans defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings. Battle Abbey was built by William the Conqueror in the following years as a memorial to those that died on this site as well as a symbol of his triumph over King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.
A visit to Battle Abbey and its Visitor Centre covers the story of the great battle and paints a picture of the years that led to the final conflict on 14 October, 1066, with a short film, narrated by the historian David Starkey, highlighting the great drama of the unfolding story.
The audio tour of the battlefield itself brings the momentous day to life. You can explore the atmospheric abbey ruins and stand on the very spot where King Harold is said to have fallen. Early on in the battle, the Norman army retreated but William rallied his soldiers and the resulting counter attack proved so successful that he used several “pretend retreats” as a ploy afterwards. The English would break ranks in pursuit and be lured into fatal traps. After ten hours of fighting, the Normans launched an assault which finally broke the English “shield wall”. This was the legendary moment when King Harold is supposed to have been struck in the eye by an arrow (as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry).
Little of Battle Abbey’s original Norman structure survives – the best preserved part is the Great Gatehouse – but you can still see many later monastic buildings including a beautiful, fine-vaulted dormitory.
Battle Abbey, High Street, Battle, East Sussex, TN33 0AD.
Words: Vicky Sartain