The annual re-enactment of the 1066 Battle of Hastings occurred on the weekend of the 15th and 16th October 2011. With over 200 living history (LH) structures in the Saxon and Norman encampments, plus over 700 warriors, including a dozen cavalry and 20 archers on the field, the battle itself was a spectacular event on both days.
The Fighting Man Banner of King Harold Godwinson
Just so you know, I’m not going to comment upon the history of this battle, just about the fun weekend I had. I’m sure that everybody knows about what happened in 1066, and I don’t need to regurgitate it here.
So, Herlid (the Cumbria group of The Vikings!) travelled from the West Coast of Cumbria to Battle, near Hastings: a 10hr trip in the minibus. On the way, as it was my minibus and I was driving, we listened to the Beetles and Pink Floyd, a bit of AC/DC, and hours and hours of podcasts of In Our Time from Radio 4, covering everything from the Origins of Infectious Disease to, of course, The Battle of Stamford Bridge. I’m sure everyone was so glad they could improve their minds to such an extent on the way down to the South Coast.
We arrived about 8pm, just in time to put our 27ft Battle Tent up in the dark. Once that was done, everything was unpacked, and I had disposed of the minibus, and got lost finding my way back with Sean, we all decided it was beer o’clock.
The night was freezing, with frost on the ground. I just had a cloak to sleep under but, being a bit of a radiator, I’m not that bothered by the cold. The next day dawned clear and hot. The temperature went from perishing cold to blazing hot, seemingly in a matter of minutes. Cloaks were shed. After a tasty breakfast of eggy mess, we got ready for the first skirmish of the day. The view of the living history encampment was amazing.
There were a lot of traders at the event, selling to both re-enactors and the public. I was very good and only bought myself a flint and steel to use in the Living History (LH) encampment. During the course of the day there were plenty of events for the crowd to watch, including a cavalry display by the Normans, displays of Falconry, a Viking Longship by Russell Scott from Traders, Raiders & Invaders, and a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry. Apart from interacting with the public, doing stuff like putting chainmail on small children and posing for photographs, my first involvement of the day was in the skirmish.
The skirmish involved a weapons display, showing how each type of weapon was used, a circle of treachery, where the winner is the last warrior standing, and some shieldwall combat. I did OK in these, being on the winning side once, and acquitting myself well in the individual weapon displays, i.e. I managed to finish off two or three opponents before losing.The main event of the day was the actual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. Before we start, I have to say that this battle is a fix. We have been re-enacting this particular battle for many years. In all that time, despite the full knowledge of the mistakes made during the real battle, we always make the same mistakes and the Anglo-Saxons always lose. And I always play on the Saxon side, as I will never, ever be a Norman. You would think we would have learned by now.
The Saxon Daneaxe Men Stand in Front of the Shieldwall, Taunting the Normans.
The fighting itself was excellent. Standing at the top of the hill and watching the Normans slog their way up, only to be pushed back down again, was a real joy. That’s one reason I never play a Norman. The fighting was tough. I usually fight with a sword and shield, but this year I used my long spear. If shots were being taken, we would have wiped the Normans from the battlefield in a matter of minutes. We had a lot of spears on the Saxon side, and the Normans were really feeling the heat. As we weren’t taking shots I was able to ignore the odd shot on me. I think the rough final tally at the end of the first day was me: 24, frog-eating smelly Normans: 4.
The end of the battle was fantastic. Obviously the Saxons were all killed to a man, but I must observe that at the end of the battle there were not that many Normans left to savour their victory. I ended up in the last few where, due to the crush, my long spear was a bit of a liability. I ended up launching myself at the enemy, who cut me down, but not before I took another one with me.
Once the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings is over, we then spare a thought for the dead. All re-enactors are very aware that our hobby is based upon the violent death and suffering of those who have gone before. We do not aim to glorify war and battle but, whilst entertaining the public, to show something of how battles were fought during the Dark Ages, bringing a very bloody part of our history to life. Once the dead had arisen and reformed their lines, Saxon and Norman maintained a one minute silence in memory of the brave warriors who fought and died on that very field almost 1000 years ago. At the end of the silence, the banners were lowered and a tribute to Frania Juchnowicz, a much beloved and respected member of the worldwide Viking community, recently lost to Motor Neurone Disease, rang out from all the warriors. We then all marched off through each others ranks, saluting each other.
That night, after a meal of pork stew, cooked by me and very tasty, it was time to party and drink beer until the small hours. Interestingly, we used a clay pot to cook the stew in over the open campfire, and it did exceedingly well.
The Norman and Saxon Shieldwalls Clash
The second day of the Battle of Hastings proceeded in much the same way as the first. The Saxons, stupidly, lost again. My bodycount was even higher this time, although I was got a few more times as well. I had great fun skewering a friend of mine from Ousekjarr, the Cambridge branch of The Vikings! Again, I was one of the last few Saxons standing against the filthy Normans at the end. It turned out I was against the main part of the Ousekjarr shieldwall and I got my friend again just before I was cut down in revenge by her husband. It was brilliant.
Unfortunately, the main battle on the second day had to be cut short due to an accident. One of the Saxons in King Harold’s Housecarles was knocked over and trampled by one of the Norman cavalry. Luckily he was just winded and bruised, and spent the evening boasting about his wounds.
We stayed overnight, as it’s a very long way from Battle to Cumbria. That evening I made venison stew in the clay pot, and it was wonderful. The next morning we had breakfast, packed up, and were off just after 10am. On the journey back I once again educated and entertained my passengers with back to back podcasts of The Infinite Monkey Cage. By the time everyone was dropped off and the van unpacked it was getting on for 10pm by the time I got home. I had a cup of tea and went to bed.
Please enjoy this gallery of pictures from the Battle of Hastings.