English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites which bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year.

One of the sites we look after is Battle Abbey in East Sussex, built by William the Conqueror on the site of his most famous victory as a penance. This year, we’ve been remembering 1066 in many different ways; by marching over 300 miles, rebuilding Norman castles in Minecraft and even tweeting the entire events of the year from eight different fictional Twitter accounts. This weekend, we'll be re-enacting the Battle of Hastings with the help of 1,066 Saxon and Norman re-enactors.

1066 is arguably the most important year in English history but there are many myths and misconceptions about it. We’re here today with Properties Curator Samantha Stones to answer any questions you might have.

Verification: https://twitter.com/EnglishHeritage/status/781825447231455232

EDIT: 17:00 BST (12:00 EST) Thank you for your questions. We need to shoot off now but do keep them coming in and we’ll try to answer them all when we get back into wifi range!

EDIT 2: It turns out travelling on a train through the English countryside isn't the best way to get a secure 4G signal! Thanks for your patience!

EDIT 3: We’re going to sign off now Reddit. Thanks for taking part – we’ve always wanted to hold our own AMA. If you have any additional questions or if there’s anything we didn’t see thanks to our patchy wifi, we’re always happy to talk on Twitter at @EnglishHeritage.

Comments: 73 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

TheGoodConsumer38 karma

Whats is one really interesting fact about the infamous battle that not enough people know?

AskEnglishHeritage92 karma

We’re back in wifi range for now!

People may not be aware that William started to put his hauberk (body armour) on backwards before the battle started! Perhaps the nerves were getting to him. That must have made the Saxons laugh.

Another fun story is that of Taillefer. He was a jester type figure who allegedly drew first blood in the battle. He stood in front of both armies alone, singing songs mocking the Saxons. A single Saxon warrior couldn’t take this and challenged Taillefer to one-on-one combat. Taillefer accepted and – perhaps surprisingly – won. The Normans cheered in appreciation and Taillefer, perhaps caught up in the moment, ran towards the Saxon line alone and… well, you can guess the rest.

You might think the Normans would be bothered by such an unnecessary death. On the contrary, it seems like they found the whole thing quite hilarious, and entered battle themselves feeling quite amused.

This story may well be fiction, but we like to think it’s true!

Whom_Are_You27 karma

In the re-enactment, will Harold be killed by an arrow to the eye?

AskEnglishHeritage47 karma

We did expect that question… No, no one dies at our re-enactment! Truth be told, no one knows for sure how Harold died. The arrow featured on the Bayeux Tapestry may have been added in the 19th century – there are a lot of conflicting accounts of Harold’s final moments in primary sources.

What we can be sure about is that Harold was terribly mutilated – it wasn’t a clean death. Supposedly, his body was only identified by his mistress Edith the Fair, by a mark that only a lover would know. There’s also evidence to suggest that William himself might have led the final charge on Harold’s position. If William was directly responsible for Harold’s death and mutilation, this would not paint him as a pious ruler. Perhaps the “arrow in the eye” was a story put about by William’s “PR men” to absolve him of the blame?

groucho_sparx27 karma

Why is there so little written record of the Battle of Stamford Bridge? It was shortly before, but the volume of info feels sparse compared to Hastings.

AskEnglishHeritage30 karma

There could be some truth to the saying “history is written by the victors”; Norman authors writing after 1066 would (perhaps understandably) be more concerned with Hastings than the events before. However, versions ‘C’ and ‘E’ of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are more concerned with the northern battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge (although details are still limited).

Statcoman18 karma

Do you ever wish that you could go back in time and be in the real event instead of reenacting the parts that would get you arrested?

AskEnglishHeritage62 karma

We’re lovers of history – it would be tempting to know for sure what exactly happened at major events. But medieval battles were terribly gruesome affairs – we probably wouldn’t want to witness the real Hastings.

Now, England vs West Germany in 1966 on the other hand…

garyomario17 karma

Who is your favorite person in the battle or the lead up to it?

AskEnglishHeritage44 karma

Matilda of Flanders is pretty interesting. She was William’s wife and a very powerful, rich woman in her own right. William married her for political reasons, like many people at the time, but they would appear to have had quite a happy marriage.

She was so influential that William left her in charge of Normandy during his invasion of England. Not many women in the 11th century would have enjoyed such independence.

We blogged about some other powerful women in the 1066 story here: http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/1066-women-behind-game-thrones/

hedfunk15 karma

Obviously just prior to Hastings there was a Viking invasion that was put down by Harold, was there a significant threat of another invasion in the years and decades after the Norman conquest and if so how concerned were the Normans about this?

Secondly - the Norman conquest was swift and complete, why didn't they also invade Cumbria and Scotland?

Thanks !

AskEnglishHeritage21 karma

You may have heard of the ‘Harrying of the North’. This was a particularly bloody period of the Norman Conquest. In the winter of 1069/1070, local rebellions in the north of England promoted William to adopt a scorched-earth policy that possibly resulted in the deaths (due to famine) of tens of thousands of people.

William was no stranger to rebellion, so why did he react so harshly in 1069? It seems like the local rebels might have been working with sympathetic Scandinavians. William feared an invasion like that seen in 1066 by Hardrada. You have to remember, the north of England had strong Viking links. The city of York – a major place in 11th century England – might have even opened their doors to Hardrada willingly in 1066, preferring him to Harold or William.

William would have known this to be true, and the last thing he wanted was a new Viking army running around the country with local sympathisers. As a result, he punished the people hard and created new castles in the area to house loyal men as a deterrent

William did try to take Scotland. The king there was housing exiled Saxons. Perhaps he simply overstretched himself; towards the latter half of his reign, William had to manage affairs on the Continent and his own son even started to rebel against him in his lifetime.

William ended up dying in France (he was apparently too fat to fit in his coffin). He probably never had the time to devote all of his attention to Scotland and other lands (although, as we know, his successors tried on more than one occasion).

hedfunk6 karma

Very interesting thanks! I'm from Carlisle (Where you run our great castle!) so I have some familiarity with the Harrying of the north, although I believe it didn't reach this far north.

I know the Normans also conquered much of Italy during this period and there were links with the Byzantine Empire - did Byzantine influence ever reach England? Would the byzantines have a representative in England for example?

AskEnglishHeritage10 karma

Lucky you, Carlisle Castle is stunning!

The Normans were active in Sicily and Southern Italy. They were usually opposed to the Byzantines (or 'Greeks' as much of the West would have called them at the time).

Those in England would certainly have been aware of the Byzantines, although both people had closer countries to consider themselves with. Many members of the Anglo-Saxon elite fled England after Hastings; more than a few would have found refuge in Constantinople. Apparently a few even set-up 'English' villages near the Black Sea. Interestingly, some of Harold's family found home in what we would now call Russia and Harold is now celebrated by those in the Orthodox community.

b_rodriguez12 karma

I live in Devon and am trying to decide between a family subscription to the National Trust or English Heritage (I can't afford both). Which would you recommend?

AskEnglishHeritage39 karma

English Heritage. Without a doubt. #NotBiased.

We’re good friends with the National Trust and you can’t go wrong with a membership with either of us. Maybe you should see which of our attractions exist locally to you before making a decision http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

(Decide ‘English Heritage’ :) )

pm-me-ur-window-view8 karma

Is there anything in the records to suggest that either side used beer or alcohol to bolster men with liquid courage? (Was anybody fighting while deliberately drunk?)

Will you be having any drinks after the re-enactment?

AskEnglishHeritage11 karma

Supposedly the Normans spent the night before Hastings in silent prayer whilst the Saxons got blind drunk. The source this comes from isn't what you call impartial, so it probably isn't true. A few men probably had a few drinks though the night before the battle - who could blame them!

We'll be working throughout both days of the re-enactment, so no drink for us!

medievalistsnet7 karma

What do you think are the most important questions historians need to ask and answer when it comes to the Norman Conquest?

AskEnglishHeritage13 karma

It’s accepted that the impact of the Norman Conquest was significant, but historians are continually debating whether that significance is in hindsight and whether any notable change was felt at the time. We know certain things changed immediately, such as the replacement of the Anglo-Saxon elite with Normans (in the Domesday Book of 1086, there are 500 ‘top’ names, only 13 are English). Perhaps what historians should be asking now is just how much changed for the common man of England. The Normans (over generations) ended the slave-trade , for example , which would have benefited such people massively.

HaAs_dEL_GoTTO916 karma

How much do you all practice for such an event like this?

AskEnglishHeritage14 karma

The re-enactors who take part will all come from different groups with different criteria, but it is not uncommon to find those with years - even decades - of experience. Obviously, they need to know what they're doing in order to do it safely. They're very committed and serious about their passion.

rembrandtpoolparty6 karma

Apologies if this question is a little too broad, but what kind of educational background do people who work in your properties have?

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

Very good question! People who work at our properties have a broad background; we’re an inclusive employer and with 400 properties across the country, we have quite a diverse workforce! If you’re interested in working for us, visit our website! http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/our-people/

Wicksy925 karma

Among those who wrote about the battle, was it a well fought close affair or did the invading Norman forces have an easy victory as it were? Seems the French had a lot more men and fought on several fronts against Harold's men

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

There a few things that the sources agree on:

  • The battle was fought all day (from dawn to dusk)
  • Both sides were evenly matched
  • Harold was killed

Medieval battles were surprisingly short – around an hour. For this to last all day, there couldn’t have been much in it. Both sides were tired as well; Harold and his housecarls would have marched down south from York and barely had time to prepare their new army. The Normans would have spent the best part of the preceding week on constant alert, fearing attack.

There were probably 5000 – 7000 men in each army. Primary sources tend to inflate figures to suit their agendas. Both sides wore similar armour; the rounded-shields used by the Saxons were falling out of favour and many of them had started to adopt the ‘kite shaped’ shield that the Normans are famous for.

The terrain favoured Harold more – his men were able to stand at the top of a hill, which would tire man and horse. They stood firm in their shield wall and the Normans could not break them; they shot wave after wave of arrows and threw their mailed men-at-arms but the Saxons held.

The sources do not quite agree as to how the stalemate was broken; it seems the left flank of William’s army fell back (once or possibly a few times). They might have thought that the Duke had died in the battle (he had to remove his helmet to prove he was still alive). They might have faked it. Either way, it seems the right flank of the Saxons broke rank to chase these “fleeing” men, who quickly turned around and killed their pursuers. This weakened the shield wall enough for a final attack, which took Harold’s life (how he died is another matter all together!)

pm-me-ur-window-view3 karma

How do you arm and provision your re-enactors? Do they bring their own kit?

What are you camera set ups?

Is a documentary or docudrama the final product of this? Where and when will you release it?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

All of the re-enactors take part voluntarily. Re-enacting is a big commitment and those who take part at our events do so as part of larger re-enacting groups who have different criteria. For many it is certainly a lifestyle.

Usually it's up to the individual to supply their own weapons and armour.

We are not making a documentary of this event but there will be a lot of media there recording it, so keep an eye out!

pm-me-ur-window-view3 karma

How many people are re-enacting the battle?

AskEnglishHeritage11 karma

1,066 this year!

Teslablade2 karma

Do you have any HEMA/WMA experience?

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

Not anybody at English Heritage that we’re aware of! However, our re-enactors come from all over the world and are dedicated to the eras they celebrate. It’s possible a few are trained!