How to relive the Battle of Hastings

22 September 2016

By Pan Macmillan

On the 950th anniversary of 1066, the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest, Joanna Courtney, author of The Chosen Queen and The Constant Queen, explains how you can experience the battle for yourself this Autumn. 

This year, 2016, marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the most known date in English history and one well worth reliving – and here’s how.

On Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th of October, Battle Abbey will be transported back 950 years (albeit with better toilets and coffee…) as it hosts a huge re-enactment of the famous Battle of Hastings. This is a fantastic regular event but 2016 will be the big one and well worth a trip.

You will be able to visit the Saxon or Norman camps and learn more about their lives. There will be a literary tent where authors (myself included, talking about the much-neglected queens of 1066) will be giving talks and readings and signing books. There will be plays and songs and even a chance to try your hand at firing a fateful arrow yourself. And at the culmination of the day you can buy your flag – Saxon or Norman – stand on the sidelines and watch one of the greatest battles in English history play out before your very eyes.

And what a battle it was. On the one side: Harold of Wessex, king of England for just nine months and a man on the edge. In the last month he’d marched his army south from York where they’d brilliantly defeated the renowned Viking, Harald Hardrada.

With no time for rest, he’d carried on past London and all the way down to the south coast to meet, on the other side, the invading upstart Duke William ‘the bastard’ of Normandy. And there, on October 14th, in the dying light of one of the longest battles of the period, Harold was killed, possibly from an arrow in his eye (though that could just as easily be a slip of a stitch in the Bayeux tapestry). The ‘last Saxon king’ was gone, William was the victor and in that one moment the course of English history changed forever.

On paper Harold should not have lost. He was a hugely experience war leader, backed by a well-organised defending army, operating on his own soil (Hastings was in his core family lands) against a man who had been struggling for the last twenty years to hold onto his dukedom let alone to claim a kingdom. Was he worn out from his march north? Did he make a rare tactical mistake in rushing to meet William, his personal nemesis? Or did the Norman cavalry just prove too much for the brave English foot soldiers? We will never know the exact reasons for what happened on Hastings field 950 years ago but it is an event well worth celebrating and, indeed, reliving.

Time travel has sadly not yet been perfected but Battle Abbey this October might be the closest you can get.

See you there….

The Battle of Hastings anniversary event will take place on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th October 2016 at 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex.

Information and tickets


Books one and two in Joanna Courtney's Queens of the Conquest trilogy The Chosen Queen and The Constant Queen are out now. 

Start reading The Chosen Queen

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