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Looking north to the Abbey from the valley bottom, showinghte shallow lower slope of Senlac Hill up which the Norman army advanced into the attack.
The Battle

Harold's army reached their rendezvous, possibly on Caldbec hill to the north of Battle, on the evening of the 13th October. The next morning the army deployed on Senlac hill, where the Abbey and town of Battle now stands. Thus they controlled the only major route out of the enemy base at Hastings, which was encompassed on east and west by inlets of hte sea which have long since been abandonned and drained.

But William's army had already marched north to engage the English forces and it is said that he attacked before Harold's troops had fully deployed. Yet the ground Harold had chosen was ideal for a defensive battle, fought on foot in the traditional English manner. It is claimed that the fighting continued for most of the day, but if it did then intensive action could only have been sustained for short periods through this time.

It was a close fought action and could have gone either way, for though William could engage with cavalry as well as inifantry, something the English rarely if ever did, the English shield wall when deployed in a good defensive location was a formidable barrier. Harold's army was well trained and equipped, and at its core were the Houscarls, one the best 'professional' military forces in Europe.

But finally, after reversals on both sides, the Norman attacks breached the shield wall. The collapse of the English defence may have been as a direct result of Harold himself being killed, for medieval armies so often lost their resolve once their leader was dead. As with any early army, once their carefully organised formation was broken they were vulnerable, particularly to cavalry attack. Despite some attempt to hold the Norman pursuit at the 'Malfosse', the English forces were routed, fleeing northward towards the woods of the Weald, back the way they had approached the battlefield. Though other English forces remained undefeated across the country, having lost their leader and most of the housecarls, over the coming days they never mounted a serious challenge.

1066 is the best known date in English History. The battlefield also has, arguably, the most impressive of all battlefield monuments: Battle Abbey, which was built by the Conqueror in recognition of his victory and of those who had fallen in battle. Despite the foundation, soon after the battle, of the Abbey and the town on Senlac hill, and various subsequent developments including the modern expansion of the town of Battle, much of the battlefield remains undeveloped. A visit can be a pleasant and rewarding experience, which has been improved by the opening of a visitor centre and the provision of an excellent audio tour.


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