It’s the first major historical topic on the syllabus for most year 7 pupils in the country, and it continues to be revisited in instructive ways. In a sense ‘the Battle of Hastings’ has long been a misnomer, as the site of the battlefield has traditionally been identified with the town of Battle, Sussex. As reported in this article, a new book argues that the Battle of Hastings, 14th October 1066, occurred not at Battle, Sussex, but at the relatively nearby village of Crowhurst. As the article points out, the site of the Battle of ‘Hastings’ is only the latest in a series of historical battle sites to be subject to critical scrutiny, most notably the location of the Battle of Bosworth (1485) that ushered in the Tudor dynasty.
The re-opening and debate of such issues as this serve as a useful reminder about a key task undertaken by historians, and especially so by historians of the ancient and medieval worlds: the triangulation of disparate, often fragmentary scraps of evidence from a range of sources of differing types in order to establish and substantiate an argument about what is most likely. For those who prefer the security of certainties, only modern history will (mostly) do. It’s worth reflecting too on the fact that what is more important than the pinpointing of a battlefield is the legacy of the event; in this case, the Norman Conquest of England as a process, only begun by William the Conqueror on a Sussex field in October 1066, taking decades to complete and with a legacy spanning centuries.