What follows is the result of seven years’ independent research on the Battle of Hastings. I have visited the Tapestry Museum in Bayeux to view the Tapestry up close and personal. I am not a trained historian and I do not claim any special insight into any of the actors of the age. I have not colluded with any other person. All the views expressed in this document are my own.
Contrary to popular belief, I believe there were two engagements followed by an “incident in the woods” between the troops of King Harold II of England and William, Duke of Normandy’s on the 14th October 1066. One occurred in or around the modern-day town of Battle. The other, in my opinion, on the boundary of Ashes Wood and Netherfield Hill Farm (to the north-west of the town)with the English formed up for battle just inside Ashes Wood. The Malfosse incident then occurs deeper into the Wood. This is based on my interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry and other facts that can be deduced from the many written records and explains why the battle lasted nine hours rather than the usual two to three that was common at those times.
Normally, the written evidence and the archaeological evidence would be married together to form a complete story but in this instance we have only the written evidence to go on. My aim here is to convince you, the reader, that archaeological evidence could be on, what is now in 2020, Forestry Commission property known as Ashes Wood and adjacent to Ashes Wood on Netherfield Hill Farm, using the written evidence.
I will use https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry_tituli as the source for the Bayeux Tapestry illustrations so as to create a common point of reference. I will use scene numbers from the reference given above to refer the reader to the exact point on the Tapestry where I would like to direct their attention. However, I will be referring to “frames” and “cameos” on the Tapestry. Frames, which are more suggestive of movement in a cartoon, are individual pictures on the Tapestry that can be viewed in isolation. For instance, one such frame on the Tapestry starts at the left-hand side of Scene 52b and finishes just to the left of centre in Scene 53 (black horse and rider facing left). However, a frame can have one or more “cameos” depicting events that happened contemporaneously.
Below is an extract from the Ordinance Survey Explorer Map 124 showing Ashes Wood in context, the English defensive line in blue and two possible sites for the Malfosse in orange.
Current Archaeological Evidence
There is scant archaeological evidence for the battle at any of the 9 sites proposed. Sites include:
Official English Heritage site under the town of Battle
Caldbec Hill (John Grehan)
Crowhurst (Nick Austin)
Mini-roundabout site adjacent to Battle Abbey (Time Team)
Beech Farm (Simon Coleman)
3 miles or so eastward of Battle Abbey (page ix of Kathleen Tyson’s translation of the Carmen)
Near the Junction of the A271 and B2096 or B2096 and Netherfield Hill Road (Simon Mansfield)
The roundabout at the top of Battle High Street (first encounter) and Ashes Wood (second encounter) (myself)
There have been “finds” associated with only two locations. An axe head dating to maybe the 15th century or earlier at the Time Team site and a coin (from the reign of Edward the Confessor) plus a late Saxon stirrup from the Beech Farm proposed battle site. The axe head can be seen in the local Battle Museum in the High Street, while the whereabouts of the coin and stirrup is unknown (the items were dug up by metal detectorists without adequate documentation for them to be considered evidence).
I seem to be the only person suggesting two separate engagements.
The Bayeux Tapestry (BT)
This embroidery, to give its proper English name, is reputed to have been made in the south of England prior to 1080 which makes it one of the earliest records of the events surrounding the battle and of the battle itself. If it was true that it was commissioned in England, then this makes it the most complete account from the English side.
According to Wikipedia, the most favoured view of the BT is that it was commissioned for Odo, William’s half-brother to hang in Odo’s palace in Bayeux and that it was bequeathed to the cathedral subsequently.
Since my interest lies with the Battle itself, my study of the Tapestry starts at Scene 48 and goes through to the end (Scene 58). When I have the time to expand my studies from the Battle itself to the beginning of Duke William’s journey from Caen I will look more closely at the BT from Scene 38.
Since the BT has been restored over the 900 odd years of its existence, perhaps many times, it is probable that it contains features that were not there when it was originally completed. The obverse is probably true too. As with all documents from an earlier epoch the reader has to tread lightly to distinguish original from an addition.
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My Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry
Scene 48 to Scene 49
This shows the Norman knights traversing flat terrain finishing with a knight pointing, with raised arm, to the English. Notice however, that the terrain that the Normans cross is relatively flat. This does not match the terrain between the coastal fort and the location of the muster point.
This leads me to one of two conclusions. Either the Tapestry is wrong, or William travelled to the area from a place other than Hastings. Assuming the Tapestry iscorrect, where else could William have been? It turns out that the Abbey at Fécamp (where Edward the Confessor spent time whilst exiled, allegedly), had a manor in the vicinity of Guestling and Kathleen Tyson asserts in her translation of the Carmen that William was there just prior to the battle. It seems to me therefore that the Tapestry could be showing the correct terrain.
Frame “Lauds ” (Dawn or about 07:00a.m)
This frame incorporates Scene 49 and Scene 50, which depicts the Normans gathering at the muster point at Telham and pointing out the English, while on the English side it depicts the Normans being spotted by the English and Harold being informed.
The first cameo shows two Norman knights on the top of the hill between present day Battle and Hastings. It omits the hilltop fort which, according to experts the Normans always built on their campaigns in France but if we are to match the terrain from the Tapestry to the modern landscape, then what we are looking at in the cameo is a cross section of the ridge that runs from the turning for Battle Station to the Castle at Hastings (called “The Ridge”). Given in the previous section the knights where moving along flat ground then I’m assuming that the footpath from Kent Street to Telham by the Black Horse pub was the route used.
The next cameo highlights the English response. The usual explanation of this cameo is that this is the English “scouts” on Caldbec Hill spotting the Normans to the south, who then rush off to tell Harold.
Both Englishmen are depicted as Huscarls dressed in armour – hardly suitable attire for “scouts”. The designs on each of the shields are different indicating that these are different people.
The location of the English Army is thought by many to be encamped on Caldbec Hill but this is problematic. If the Huscarls were camped on Caldbec Hill the Normans on the hill opposite would have no reason to use an alternative path off the Hastings peninsula and should have continued along the main London to Hastings route and the first encounter would have taken place at the roundabout at the top of Battle High Street but then there would be no need for the Huscarls to mount their horses in order to ride the 700 metres to the encounter as per Orderic Vitalis‘s account.
If the Huscarls were located at Beechdown Wood, then two possibilities exist for the site of the first encounter.
1. Roundabout at the top of Battle High Street.
The Normans, knowing Harold was in the vicinity of Netherfield, struck out along the modern A2100. The Huscarls then rode to the roundabout from their overnight camp and gave battle.
2. Area of flat ground to the NE of Catsfield.
The Normans, seeing the Huscarls, struck out along the alternative route towards Catsfield. The Huscarls then rode to meet the Normans at what they thought was “a good spot” in a meadow called “Scan- leag”.
There is also a timing issue. The sun would not be behind the Normans until after 08:00 if the Huscarls were situated on Caldbec Hill but from Beechdown Wood the sun would be behind the Normans between 06:45 and 07:15 and low down necessitating the shielding of the eyes.
Event Bearing Sun Elevation Time
Sunrise 106° 0° 06:26 GMT
Norman Muster point – 10° 127° 14° 08:13 GMT
Norman Muster Point 137° 19° 08:58 GMT
Norman Muster Point + 10° 147° 23° 09:38 GMT
Sunrise 106° 0° 06:26 GMT
Norman Muster Point approx. 111° 4° 06:57 GMT
Norman Muster Point + 10° approx.121° 10° 07:43 GMT
* Data taken from https://www.timeanddate.com/ for Hastings UK 21 October 2019 (equates to 14 October 1066 Julian Calendar) and Google Earth. The first engagement starts at approx. 09:00 GMT (Tierce).
Thus, in my opinion, the narrative becomes “…. Lead elements of King Harold’s Army had camped in Beechdown Wood on the evening of the 13th and on the morning of the 14th October 1066 spotted the Norman Army on the hill to the south east …”
Key: Green shading English Camps
Above in Sketch 2 is my idea of how the English troops were arranged in the early morning of the 14th October 1066.
Frame “Tierce” (about 9 a.m.)
This includes Scenes 51, 51b and 52a
We are now shown the Normans charging the English shield wall on Scenes 51 and 51b. On Scene 52a we see the English drawn up behind their shields forming their famous shield wall. This frame continues on scene 52a where we see the Normans attacking from the opposite direction. I interpret this as saying that the Normans advanced until they made contact with the English and subsequently surrounded them. Notice that all bar one person is wearing armour- the mark of a Huscarl, the other person is depicted as being an archer. So, the narrative here, in my opinion, is “The Normans attacked the Huscarls from all sides …” I estimate that Harold sent about 2500 Huscarls forward to delay the Norman approach long enough to allow the Fyrd to dig in and to allow late coming Huscarls time to catch their breath. There is another body of men missing from this frame, namely the Norman infantry. I think there are two reasons for this.
Reason 1: The Norman infantry did not acquit themselves well in the first engagement. Each year there is a re-enactment on the “Official” battlefield and each year the public outcome is the same. However, in the evening after the public have gone home the re-enactors have a “private” battle in which the superior strength and tactics of the Huscarls always win out.
Reason 2: The Tapestry was produced as a piece of propaganda to show the inhabitants of Normandy the prowess of their leaders. Rather like a politically biased newspaper of modern times, the Bayeux Tapestry only tells the story that the “owners” want to be told.
That brings me to the question of where this engagement took place. The Bayeux Tapestry offers no clues as to where because this was not the main event. It could be that the Huscarls formed up at the roundabout at the top of Battle High Street or to the northeast of Catsfield, we may never know for certain. Orderic Vitalis, a 12th cent. chronicler, calls the place where this engagement took place “Senlac”. It has been suggested that this name comes from the Saxon “Scen-leag” meaning “beautiful meadow” (Charnock S).
Frame “Sext” (about 12:00 noon)
This runs from Scene 52b until the black horse facing left in Scene 53 and depicts the “mopping up” operations after the shield wall collapses.
The Tapestry makes a point in saying the kin of Harold – Gyrth and Leofwine, are killed during this engagement as if to make the point there was no one left to “inherit” the throne of England.
Frame “None” (about 3 p.m.)
This runs from beneath the black horse facing left in Scene 53 to the person pointing out William in Scene 55 (Scene 56a seems to be identical). This frame depicts, in my opinion, the initial assault on the English Fyrd line, the subsequent rout of the knights and the following rallying of said knights by William.
My view of this frame is that it represents a new attack on troops that had been given time to prepare stout defences against the Norman knights. We know from earlier in the Bayeux Tapestry that Harold had spent time as William’s “guest” in Normandy and so Harold would have been familiar with the tactics of the Norman knights. Harold, earlier in the day had sacrificed about 2500 Huscarls in order to give himself time to prepare the defences to protect his lesser able troops and late arriving Huscarls. And it very nearly worked.
Frame “Vespers” (about 6 p.m.)
This runs from Scene 56 to just left of the centre of Scene 58. This frame shows the English line being overrun, death of King Harold and the subsequent death of the remaining Huscarls.
This is, maybe, the penultimate frame on the Tapestry depending on the interpretation of the final cameo. The narrative has a gap from the previous frame where the Norman knights are being rallied to essentially the extermination of the English Army. There is nothing controversial in this frame other than the “arrow in the eye” incident. It looks like King Harold is trying to pull the arrow out but is not shown to be in distress. The next cameo shows King Harold being slain by a knight. I think the arrow in the eye is very much a disabling injury and not a fatal one as evidenced by two members of the rapidly departing Fyrd in Scene 58 with the same injury.
One may notice Huscarls being amongst the combatants in this frame and start to wonder why they hadn’t joined their fellows in the first engagement in the morning. The reason could be one of two. Firstly, these are late arriving Huscarls who arrived after the lead elements had set off to halt the Normans. Secondly, these Huscarls depicted could be the personal bodyguard of King Harold II.
Frame “Compline”? (about 9 p.m.?)
Again, this runs from a black horse just to the left of centre in Scene 58 to the end. This frame could just be part of the previous frame showing how the different parts of the English Army dealt with defeat (Huscarls fought to the last man while the Fyrd ran) or it could be portraying the early stages of the Malfosse incident as a separate frame.
Conclusion of my Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry
Although I have drawn different conclusions on 10 scenes ( or 4 or 5 frames)of the Bayeux Tapestry, I think that I have a more coherent explanation of how the battle unfolded and why it is reputed to have lasted 9 hours instead of the usual 2 to 3 hours.
Using the current view (http://historylearning.com/medieval-england/bayeux-tapestry/bayeux-tapestry-scene-by-scene/) of the Bayeux Tapestry from Scene 48 to Scene 58 gives:-
1. The Normans ride into battle.
2. William leads the Army.
3. Harold prepares for battle.
4. The Normans attack.
5. The English are attacked on all sides.
6. The Battle continues.
7. The slaughter continues.
8. William’s horse falls.
9. Harold is shot in the eye.
10. The Normans are victorious.
N.B Each statement is supported by one or more sentences on the website
Using my interpretation of the Tapestry (from Scene 49 to Scene 58) gives:
1. The Normans spot the English
2. The lead elements of the English army spot the Normans and rush to inform King Harold.
3. The Normans set off to meet the English.
4. The Huscarls have managed to form their shield wall but the Normans attack from all sides.
5. The Normans prove too strong for the Huscarls but the Huscarls fight and die to the last man as they are trained to do.
6. The Normans dispatch the last of the Huscarls.
7. Norman knights take casualties due to unseen defences at the new battle line. A few knights manage to launch their spears / light lances, but the defences hold.
8. Eventually the knights panic and rout due to the number of casualties.
9. William rallies his knights by showing his face.
10. The English position is overrun, and King Harold II killed.
11. The remaining Huscarls carry on fighting Norman knights regardless of the situation they found themselves in.
12. Some members of the Fyrd escape into the woods.
If King Harold II is killed at around Vespers, then my interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry would make the second engagement the main engagement and the engagement with the Huscarls just a preliminary.
Clues from Documentary Sources
Even though the early sources were written in Latin no translation is going to be 100% perfect. I know from my own study of the modern Norwegian language there is never a simple one to one relationship between one language and another. This makes it difficult for modern translators to pick exactly the right word for a given item in a certain context.
We also must consider the audience. Considering many Kings of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries were enamoured with King William it would hardly be diplomatic to cast the despicable Saxon English in anything other than a bad light or the ancient Normans as anything other than saints doing the work of God.
So, any translation of medieval text must be treated with caution because someone has interposed themselves between the writer and the translated text on the page. However, the Bayeux Tapestry, hopefully being pictorial, can speak directly to the researcher with no middleman.
The written sources I shall consider are
Carmen de Triumpho Normannico Guy d’Amien Kathleen Tyson translation
Gesta Guillelmi William of Poitiers Chibnall and Davis translation
Gesta Normannorum Ducum William of Jumièges E.M.C. Van Houts translation
Chronicle of the Kings of England William of Malmesbury Internet
Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon Henry of Huntingdon T. Forester translation (1853)
Chronicle of Battle Abbey Extracted from “The Battle of Hastings1066: The Uncomfortable Truth” Grehan and Mace (2012)
It is worthwhile, at this point, to note that none of the chroniclers were at the Battle of Hastings. So, the four 11th cent. chroniclers mentioned in the table below relied on accounts from the battle.
Carmen de Triumpho Normannico
According to the translation of the Carmen (Tyson, 2014) by Kathleen Tyson we have this
Line 341 Ordine post peditessperatstabilirequirtes
Line 342 Occursu belli set sibi non licuit
Line 343 Haut procul hostiles cuneosnamcernitadesse
Line 344 Et pleniumtelisirradiarenemu
Which according to Tyson translates to:
He intended to station his lancers behind his infantry
But encountering battle he was not allowed
For he saw the approach of enemy columns not far off
And the woods full of gleaming weapons.
That, to me, speaks of William being involved with one engagement but seeing more troops not far away unengaged. This indicates to me that there were two engagements.
Also, we have the lines 363 and 364
Line 363 Ex inprovisodiffudit silva cohorts
Line 364 Et nemorislatebrisagminaprosiliunt
Suddenly, a company [of English] emerged from the forest
And the column rushed from wooded cover.
The “Carmen” then describes where the King was –
Line 365 Mons sylvae vicinuserat•vicinaquevallis•
Line 366 Et non cultus ager asperitate sui
Nearby was a wooded hill, neighbouring the valley,
Its terrain was rugged and uncultivated.
Line 373 Ascenditmontem rex bellaturus in hostem
Line 374 Nobilibusquevirismunitutrumque latus
Line 375 In summon montis vexillum vertice fixit
Line 376 Affigiquejubetcaetera signa sibi
The King ascended the summit that he might wage war in the midst of his army,
And the nobleman flanked him either side.
At the summit of the hill a streaming banner was planted.
[King Harold] ordered the other battle standards planted by it.
Unless the English were daft enough to attack uphill a superior force, the “hill” that Battle Abbey sits on cannot be the hill mentioned in Line 365 as the Normans mustered in the area of their upper fort.
Finally, the Carmen makes mention of Gyrth, brother of Harold, unhorsing William in lines 471 through to and including 475. According to the Carmen, this comes after the rally of the knights at the second encounter and before William unseats a friendly (?) knight and steals his horse. However, according to the Bayeux Tapestry, Gyrth is killed during the mopping up operations at the end of the first encounter. Which is right?
William of Poitiers (WP) confirms the battle started at the third hour and continued until sunset. WP also confirms the “Malfosse” incident.
“16. … The land of the Danes (who were allied by blood) also sent copious forces. However, not daring to fight with William on equal terms, for they thought him more formidable than the King of the Norwegians, they took their stand on higher ground, on a hill near to the wood through which they had come. At once dismounting from their horses, [end of page 127] they lined up on foot in dense formation. Undeterred by the roughness of the ground, the duke with his men climbed slowly up the steep slope.
Could we be seeing here a misidentification of the Huscarls? So, the “their” in the penultimate sentence is referring to who the source saw as “Danes”.
Furthermore, notice they took “their” stand on higher ground in a shield wall and the Duke had to climb a slope to get to them not that the “Danes” occupied the ridge.
Paragraphs 17 and 18 details the to and fro of the encounter and paragraph 18 finishes with
” Full of zeal the Normans surrounded some thousands who had pursued them and destroyed them in a moment, so that not a single one survived”.
Paragraph 19 starts
” 19. Emboldened by this, they launched an attack with greater determination on the main body of the army, which in spite of the heavy losses it had suffered seemed not to be diminished”.
The killing of “thousands” cannot be accomplished in zero time and I can’t believe the Huscarls lacked the discipline to keep the shield wall intact as long as possible. Also, it seems that the “main body” had not shrunk in size despite the slaying of untold “thousands”. So, the two statements are contradicting each other. Which one is true or does the truth lay somewhere between?
In paragraph 20, we learn
“20. When the Normans and the troops allied to them saw that they could not conquer such a solidly massed enemy force without heavy loss, they wheeled round and deliberately feigned flight. They remembered how, a little while before, their flight had brought about the result they desired…”
So, WP’s source is saying that they used the tactic of feigned flight once which resulted in a great loss of life on the English side as to wipe out the entire body of men, so they used the tactic again on the main body. This resulted in a weakening of the main body defence.
“21. Having used this trick twice before with the same result, they attacked the remainder with greater determination…. The English grew weaker… The Normans shot arrows…. So fortune turned for William, hastening his triumph”
WP’s source now relates that the Normans used the tactic a third time and reduced the English so that the Normans were able to pierce the English defensive lines and obtain victory.
To complete the victory, WP’s source relates in paragraphs 23 and 24 the actions of the retreating English in the incident now known as the “Malfosse”
Gesta Normannorum Ducum
Using the translation of the Gesta Normannorum Ducum provided by E.M.C Van Houts, William of Jumièges (WJ) condenses the whole of the battle into one sentence.
“Battle was joined at the third hour and the slaughter on both sides continued until the late evening” (italics indicate an insertion by Orderic Vitalis)
WJ does, to be fair, add two sentences to describe events within the battle. The first to say that King Harold was slain in the first assault and the second refers to the reaction of the English troops when they found out about the death of Harold.
Also, given that one of the timestamps was “late Evening”, one can assume that WJ’s reported view of the Battle included the Malfosse incident. To reinforce the idea, WJ goes on to say at 16(37)
“The most valiant duke returned from the slaughter of his enemy to the battlefield at midnight”
Chronicle of the Kings of England
(Pages 277 and 278)
William of Malmesbury(WM) has not a lot to say about the Battle. He recounts that the battle lasted the greater part of the day and the tactic of “feigned retreat” as mentioned by WP. WM differs from the earlier 11th cent. reports by saying that some of the English “gained an eminence” from which they threw javelins and rolled stones down onto the attackers to great effect.
WM goeson to write about an incident that sounds like the Malfosse mentioning phrases like “deep ditch”, “trod underfoot such a multitude…. Made the hollow level with the plain”.
The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon (Forester, 1853)
Using T Foresters translation of Henry’s Chronicle, we get Henry describing Harold as “making a rampart” out his troop deployment on page 212 [ Book IV AD 1067-1071] and even describes the static defences in front of Harold’s troops. This description reminds me of Scene 54 of the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Chronicle of Battle Abbey
From “The Battle of Hastings 1066: The Uncomfortable Truth” (page 93)(Grehan, 2012)
The Chronicle was written in order to convince the Bishop of Chichester that William had ordered the building of the Abbey “in the exact spot where his enemy had fallen”. Unfortunately, the document is considered a forgery made by the Abbot to convince the Bishop of Chichester of the rightness of the Abbey to remain a “Royal Peculiar”. As with any skilled forgery, the document must have been a blend of truth and fiction. Over the years, most historians have come to accept as truththe part that I consider false whilst dismissing the other parts of the manuscript.
Since no archaeological evidence has been found on the official battle site perhaps it is time to re-examine the Chronicle and re-evaluate it.
An extract from the “Chronicle of Battle Abbey” states:
“… They studied the battlefield and decided that it seemed hardly suitable for so outstanding a building. They therefore chose a fit place for settling, a site not far off, but somewhat lower down, towards the western slope of the ridge. There lest they be seen to be doing nothing, they built themselves some little huts. This place, still called Herste has a low wall as a mark of this.
So, the monks had a look at the battlefield and deemed it unsuitable for a magnificent Abbey. They chose a location that was both lower in elevation and closer to the ridge that runs from Battle to the other side of Hastings than the battlefield itself. The present-day location of the Abbey seems to fit in with the monks’ choice.
Also, it seems part of the battle was fought not on the pinnacle of a hill but rather in a dip on a raised plateau. This describes the fields between Wadhurst Lane and Ashes Wood. If this part of the text is true then the locations, Senlac Ridge, mini-roundabout and Caldbec Hill cannot be battle locations because the places are all rather prominent locations.
“… Accordingly, when the King enquired meanwhile about the progress of the building, it was intimated to him by these brethren that the place where he had decided to have the church built was on a hill, and so dry of soil and quite without springs and that for so great a construction a more likely place nearby should be substituted, if it pleased him. When the King heard this he refused angrily and ordered them to lay the foundations of the church speedily and on the very spot where his enemy had fallen and the victory won.”
So here the monks actually describe the real battlefield – it was on a hill with no nearby springs. Again, Battle Abbey fails the test as does the mini roundabout site because they are ridge sites. Caldbec Hill passes this test but fails the previous.
So that leaves the last sentence, which most historians believe to be true, in my opinion, to be false.
Location of the Main Engagement site.
Three of the four 11th century sources (WP, Carmen and Bayeux Tapestry) suggest some sort of skirmish between the English troops and the Normans that did not include King Harold II.
WP in his report of the battle does not give any clue as to where the “main body of the army” was located.
The Carmen gives some hints as how the main body was arrayed. The Carmen states that it was a wooded hill and that its sides were rugged and uncultivated. The Carmen the says that King Harold went to the summit of the hill and planted his standard, surrounded by his nobles and their standards.
The Bayeux Tapestry, I think, shows more detail. The relevant scenes are Scenes 53 through to Scene 55. As detailed above, these scenes show the start of the afternoon engagement.
On the face of it, the BT is no help as it just shows the English standing atop a ridge or hill getting the better of armoured knights. There are a couple of stray figures standing on the same level as the knights.
A detailed inspection of the scene reveals some aspects of the ground the English were stationed on. The three levees on the ridge in scene 54 are shown as being on the same level but the middle one and the one on the right have been “chopped off” at the knees by the terrain in front of them. This to me suggests that the ground is rising towards the viewer so that there are two gradients happening at the same time, one left/right and another back/forwards. The two figures shown at the same level as the knights therefore shows that the ground slopes down after reaching a peak between the figures drawn.
Additionally Scene 50 may help us. The accepted narration is that the English Army were bivoaced on Caldbec Hill with Harold. The scouts then saw the Normans at their muster point and then ran across “broken ground” to inform Harold, sat on his horse.
There are problems with this story. Firstly, as previously discussed, the scouts are both dressed as Huscarls. Secondly, going further than about 100 metres down the hill towards the Norman position means that the Norman muster point is lost to view. So the question arises as to why does the BT show one scout on one hilltop and another scout and Harold on another when all three were within 150 metres of each other?
So, if my interpretation of this scene is correct, Harold is sat on his horse at about the junction of Wadhurst Lane and Netherfield Hill Road. This works for the English if they were bivoaced on Caldbec Hill or Beechwood Down.
It then follows that the main engagement between the English and the Normans must be in the vicinity of the above meeting.
The ridge of Ashes Wood lays about 350 metres away.
The above graph shows the terrain between Wadhurst Lane (at 0 metres) and the top of the ridge in Ashes Wood (at 320 metres). Compare the terrain between 230 metres and 360 metres and the ridge as shown in Scene 54.
I am proposing that between 230 and 260 metres the English would have built their defences. It might be possible to locate the defences by normal archaeology as stains in the ground. If you are very lucky to gain legal access to the area, I ask that you avoid the dip in the landscape.
If we assume that the Carmen is correct in saying that King Harold IIpositioned himself at the top of the ridge and the Norman archers could be stationed at the 220 metres mark, this means that King Harold is outside the killing range of the archers. The graph also shows why Duke William ordered his archers to elevate their launching.
The Malfosse is perhaps not shown on the Bayeux Tapestry but we do have written accounts to look at.
In the Gesta Guillelmi, WP devotes two paragraphs to the incident (paras. 23 and 24) on pages 137 and 139.
In the Carmen, Guy has the following 5 lines about the incident: –
Line 559 Solum devictisnox et fugaprofuitAnglis•
Line 560 Densi per latebras et tegimen nemoris •
Only night and flight avail the defeated English,
Through cover and hiding places in the dense forest.
Line 563 PervigilHectorides sequitur cedendofugaces•
Line 564 Mars sibitelageritmorssociatafurit•
Line 565 Duxitadusque diem variocertaminenoctem•
Ever-vigilant Hector followed the fleeing fugitives,
Mars guided his weapons, Death raged alongside.
He led various skirmishes through night until daylight
There seems to be a consensus that the bloodlust of the Norman knights had not been quenched by the rigours of the day and that the knights went charging after the fleeing Fyrd, deeper into the wood. The knights were unfamiliar with the terrain and suddenly found themselves, cartoon like, up in the air with no ground beneath their horse’s hooves! The accounts state that a “good many knights” that had survived the battle[s] of the day succumbed to death at this location.
My idea of how the Tapestry might have shown the Malfosse.
Locations for the Malfosse
In the past there have been many sites chosen to be the site of the Malfosse. They include:
1.Beech or Reder Stream (Lower 1853)
2. Lake Field/Little Park Farm (Freeman 1869)
3. George Meadow (Ramsey 1898)
4. Mansers Shaw (Baring 1906)
5. Oakwood Gill (Chevallier 1963)
Today it is accepted that Oakenwood Gill is the site of the Malfosse. Time Team (mini roundabout), Grehan (Caldbec Hill) and English Heritage all agree on this location. There are one or two problems though.
Firstly, it is the distance. Caldbec Hill is 600 metres away from the Oakwood Gill. Not far to run granted but far enough for a man on horseback to have a good chance to catch up with you. The official site and the Time Team sites are even less credible being 1.4 km and 1.6 km from Oakenwood Gill. What are the odds of being able to outrun a horse over that distance?
Secondly, the terrain does not tally with contemporaneous reports. They all speak of the knights losing their footing due to the drop in the land surface. Google Earth and Ordinance Survey do not show such drops at right angles to the expected direction of travel i.e. from the top of the ridge to its bottom.
Thirdly, no archaeological evidence has been found to support the claims of any of these sites. Given the amount of death and destruction handed out, one would expect small metal items and horse bones to be in abundance at these sites even though the larger pieces of metal could have been recovered.
My choice for the Malfosse
My choice for the location of the Malfosse is tied very closely to my choice of the second battlefield.
After discovering the match for the ridge just inside Ashes Wood I was going to stop researching as I thought that an “incident in the woods” would be very hard to discover when all I had to go on was “the land dropped away from under the horses’ hooves”. However, I looked at Google Earth and saw this:
Google Earth (modified) 2
As before the blue ring represents the English defensive line. The red half ring represents the likely extent of the actual fighting while the light green highlights an area of the Wood that is formed into a cleft in the landscape.
The distance between the English position and the green cleft is less than 300 metres. If the tree cover was the same back in 1066 as is suggested in the reports, then this would slow down the charging knights or at least make them not take too much notice of where they were headed until it was too late.
The answer to the question as to why the Battle of Hastings lasted 3 times longer than any other medieval battle is that it was fought over possibly 3 battle sites. Possibly, it started in the late morning in the vicinity of, what is now, the market town of Battle and later moved to the border of Netherfield Hill Farm and Ashes Wood. It ended with a tussle in the undergrowth in a minor wood. How ironic that a truly historic event that then shaped not only English society, the language and everybody’s lives but that there is no hard archaeological evidence for it as yet.