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Short URL
gohist.co/s/319667
Names
1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield Battle Abbey The Ruins of Battle Abbey
Address
High Street BattleTN33
Location
Battle  locality
East Sussex  county
England  country
United Kingdom  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
1070-94
Tags
(#1352861; Aug 03, 1961)
Coordinates
50.914293° N, 0.487154° E
OS Grid Reference
TQ 75006 15727
Opening hours
Apr-Sep: daily 10am-6pm
Oct-Nov 3: daily 10am-5pm
Nov 4-Feb 16, Feb 22-Mar 31: Sat-Sun 10am-4pm
Feb 17-21: Mon-Fri 10am-4pm
Closed Dec 24-26, Dec 31, Jan 1
Admission
£7.80 adults; £4.70 children; £7 concession
Phone
01424 775705 / 01424 776787

Historical Timeline of Battle Abbey

Description of Battle Abbey

Entrance to the site is through the towering medieval gatehouse on the High Street of the small town of Battle, which is beautifully lit up at night. Considered one of the finest examples in England, it looks like a miniature castle: it has four round towers with cross-shaped arrow slits, and is battlemented on all sides. Corbel heads decorate the exterior and the passageway; those in the latter include the heads of King Harold and King William.

Today, the gatehouse contains a Museum of Abbey Life, with exhibitions illustrating the lives of the monks at Battle Abbey. The east wing dates from the 16th century and contains the ticket desk and gift shop. Modern buildings to the right (west) of the gatehouse contain a cafe and an exhibition on the Battle of Hastings.

From the gatehouse, visitors first pass Battle Abbey School on the left, which is housed in the former abbot's quarters (remodeled in the 16th century). The school is off-limits to the public.

The path continues south to the Monks' Terrace, a peaceful dirt path overlooking a large meadow - the 1066 Battlefield where thousands of Normans and Saxons died on October 14, 1066. Illustrated signs along the path bring that fateful day to life.

Also along the Monks' Terrace, opposite the battlefield, is the guest range. The guest quarters do not survive, but a tall round tower still stands, as do the 13th-century cellars, used to store food and drink.

The visitor path then leads to the abbey itself, of which sadly little survives today. The great abbey church, the first Norman church built in England, is entirely gone, but its floor plan is marked in the grass. The church had an ambulatory with three radiating chapels, a transept with apsidal chapels, and a nave with seven bays. It is thought to be the first church with radiating chapels to be built in England. East of the high altar area, the radiating chapels of the 13th-century crypt still stand a few feet high.

A modern plaque marks the site of Harold's death. It reads: "THE TRADITIONAL SITE OF THE HIGH ALTAR OF BATTLE ABBEY FOUNDED TO COMMEMORATE THE VICTORY OF DUKE WILLIAM ON 14 OCTOBER 1066. THE HIGH ALTAR WAS PLACED TO MARK THE SPOT WHERE KING HAROLD DIED."

The cloister is also outlined in the grass, just south of the church. Traceried windows from the cloister's west range have been preserved in the wall of the abbot's house. The two bays on the left are the earliest, dating from the late 13th century. The remaining bays date from the 15th century.

The only abbey structure that has survived mostly intact is the monks' dormitory and reredorter (latrines). Built in the early 12th century by the first abbot, this is where the monks slept in a very austere fashion. The dormitory is the larger building, stretching north to south. Its grand proportions and lancet windows give it the appearance of a grand church.

The undercroft of the dormitory is a beautiful rib-vaulted area dating from the 13th century. Probably used originally as a novices' room and common room, a hooded fireplace indicates it may have been later used as a warming house.

Extending east from the dormitory is the reredorter, consisting of seats with holes leading into drains in the vaulted arches below. East of the reredorter was the infirmary, which no longer stands.

Holly Hayes
October 27, 2011

Listed Building Description

TQ 7415-7515 BATTLE HIGH STREET (south west side)

41/1 The Ruins of Battle Abbey 3.8.61 (formerly listed as Battle Abbey) GV I

Of the portions of the abbey above ground the principal buildings dated from C13. These are:- (a) the Dormitory. This was on the first floor with three vaulted rooms below it. Stone rubble. Lancet windows. Buttresses. (b) the Guest house to the south west. Eight barrel-vaulted chambers with buttresses on the south side along the terrace, with rooms over. Stone rubble. Lancet windows. At the west end are two tall octagonal turrets which were built by Sir Anthony Browne in the C16 after the dissolution, when, as Guardian of the Princess Elizabeth he was preparing a lodging for her at the Abbey, though she never came. The Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror in 1087 on the site of the battle of Hastings. The high altar of the abbey church was erected on the spot where King Harold fell. Of the abbey church there are practically no remains above ground, but the founda- tions have been excavated and those at the east end are marked out. Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Listing NGR: TQ7500715726

Source: The National Heritage List for England. Reprinted under license.

History

On 14 October 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England at the battle of Hastings. Arguably it was the most decisive, and certainly the most famous, battle ever fought on English soil. William's triumph, and his subsequent coronation as King William I (1066-87), marked the end of Anglo-Saxon England, the creation of new ties with Western Europe, and the imposition of a new and more cohesive ruling class.

Society became bound by ties of feudal loyalty, leading to a greater concentration of power in royal hands, while the development of common law had consequences that still affect our lives today, after nearly 1,000 years. Hastings was fought here, on the edge of the town which it ultimately spawned, and whose name has long served as a reminder of that momentous day of conflict - Battle.

The death and violence of 1066 have left no visible trace in the landscape, nor have any relics of the battle ever been found. Nevertheless, the site has remained remarkably intact and covers around 100 acres (40ha). The topography can be explored on foot, and by following the paths it is at least possible to envisage the broad course of events.

The English, under King Harold, had taken position on the ridge-top, where the later buildings lie. At first they watched the Normans advance towards them from below, holding fast behind a wall of shields. Early in the battle, part of the Norman army panicked and retreated, but Duke William rallied his soldiers and successfully counter-attacked. Several 'pretended retreats' followed, in which the English were lured into breaking ranks in pursuit, only to be cut down. After some ten hours of fighting, the Normans launched an assault which finally broke the fatally weakened English shield wall. At this stage King Harold was killed, perhaps struck in the eye by an arrow as depicted in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. By nightfall the Norman victory was complete.

No later than 1070, King William 'the Conqueror', as he now was, marked his victory by establishing a great Benedictine abbey at Battle. On the one hand, this important religious foundation would serve as a memorial to the dead, and could be seen as a public act of atonement by the king for the bloodshed caused. Even the abbey's own chronicler was to later write that the fields had been 'covered in corpses, and all around the only colour to meet the gaze was blood-red'. But there was another purpose to the foundation, one reflecting the more calculating side of William's nature: it would stand as a symbol of the Norman triumph. Indeed, the abbey chronicler reports the king's insistence that the high altar in the abbey church was to stand on the very spot that Harold fell.

William envisaged an initial community of 60 monks at Battle Abbey, rising to an eventual total of 140. Building works began almost immediately, and by 1076 the eastern arm of the church was ready for occupation. However, not until 1094, during the reign of William II (1087-1100), was the completed church consecrated. The ceremony was performed by the archbishop of Canterbury, along with seven other bishops, and in the presence of the king and a host of his nobles and courtiers. Meanwhile, as a result of the Conqueror's generous endowments, Battle was on the way to becoming one of the richest monastic houses of medieval England. It was to flourish for over 400 years until religious life at the abbey was brought to an end in 1538, during the suppression of the monasteries under King Henry VIII (1509-47).

Today, only the outline of the Norman abbey church survives, together with the more extensive remains of a 13th-century extension to the eastern arm. The monks' dormitory range, also dating from the 13th century, survives rather better and features several superb rib-vaulted chambers at lower level. On the west side of the cloister stood the abbot's lodging and nearby was the guest range, of which a series of undercroft rooms may still be seen. Best preserved, and most impressive of all, is the abbey's great gatehouse, rebuilt from 1338 to replace an earlier structure. It stands as one of the finest monastic gatehouses in Britain. On the first floor there is an exhibition, with an extensive collection of artefacts found during excavations on the abbey site.

Following its suppression, King Henry gave Battle Abbey to his friend Sir Anthony Browne (d. 1548) who demolished many of the monastic buildings, including the church. Browne converted the abbot's lodging into a substantial private house, at the centre of an estate created from the former battlefield and abbey land.

In 1721, the estate passed to the Webster family, and it remained with that family for the following 250 years. During this time, large portions of estate land were sold off, and many of the medieval buildings fell into further ruin. After the First World War, the house was leased to Battle Abbey School, and the school continues to occupy it today. When the Webster trustees finally put the estate up for sale in 1976, the battlefield and all the remaining monastic structures were bought by the government on behalf of the nation.

Source: 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield. Reprinted under license.

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