William the Conqueror claimed victory at The Battle of Hastings in 1066, overthrowing the Saxon kingdom of England. Norman rule in Medieval England transformed the country’s architecture, customs and language. Today we can discover the history of England through the objects and architecture left behind. From cooking equipment to weapons and armour, English Heritage’s collection tells the story of England.

As Collections Curator at English Heritage, I am responsible for the collections of Battle Abbey and Battlefield, the very site where the decisive struggle was fought and England’s future decided. Ask me Anything!

English Heritage is a charity that cares for over 400 historic places in England including prehistoric sites, medieval castles, Roman forts and country houses.

Verification: https://twitter.com/EnglishHeritage/status/1253710496101957633

Comments: 765 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

BusyChipmunk277 karma

Hi! What remained of Saxon culture after the Normans took over? And does anything of that culture remain strong today (say, in holiday practices, laws, or whatnot)? Thank you. And you have the best job ever!

AskEnglishHeritage363 karma

I agree, I definitely have the best job ever!

Saxon culture remained strong after the Norman Conquest outside of the new upper class that were brought from France. As such we can see it especially in our language, since a large proportion of modern English is still based on Saxon English rather than Norman French. William did not want to be seen as an invader, he claimed that he was the rightful heir and was simply claiming what was his. As such he was keen to emphasise continuity. As you suggest, many traditional laws continued to have an influence and the old system for organising land into hides, hundreds and shires remained even as the most important landowners were changed and some of our modern holidays, such as Easter, retain elements of the earlier celebrations. Looking to intellectual culture, some Anglo-Saxon texts continued to be copied out in monasteries and one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicleextended as late as 1154.

Eyiolf_the_Foul152 karma

What’s your personal favorite item in the collection, and why? Thanks!

AskEnglishHeritage277 karma

There is a set of Anglo-Saxon Garnet brooches in the store that were found in Faversham which I absolutely love. They are incredibly intricate and beautiful. Unfortunately, I have nowhere they can be displayed at the moment which is a pity. On a very different scale is a small Crest lamp from Pevensey Castle. William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey and this lamp came from Normandy in the 11th century, I like to think it was one of the first things to be brought to the country. 

Clissk103 karma

Do you sometimes fantasize about living during that era?

AskEnglishHeritage312 karma

Definitely! But since I'm female I'd want to be reasonably well off and either a nun or a widow.

GDJT84 karma

What's the least accurate interpretation of the Battle of Hastings or it's time period that you've seen in fiction?

AskEnglishHeritage107 karma

Not quite the Battle of Hastings but I have a personal love for Frankie Howerd’s 1971 Up the Chastity Belt which is a very irreverent and inappropriate look at Richard I and the Third Crusade. Watching it is a brilliant game of ‘ooh, I think there might be something sort of accurate in that bit’. Don’t show it to children though.

cocaineforlions78 karma

Do you think that the battle would have had the same outcome if the Battle of Stamford Bridge had not occurred just 3 weeks prior? Were the Normans just superior warriors?

AskEnglishHeritage75 karma

I think that the Battle of Stamford Bridge had a massive impact but couldn’t say in what way things would have been different without it. There was so much going on within a very short amount of time so the variables are vast. For example, if Stamford Bridge had not been fought at that time and Harald Hardrada was still a threat, could Harold have fielded so many men at Hastings or would he have had to split his army? If there had never been a Danish threat and Harold had only ever faced William he would have been in a much stronger position in England and William may never have made the attempt.

EarthboundSkies76 karma

What is missing from the material culture collection or what do you wish you had that just hasn't been discovered? Are there holes you wish you could fill given material evidence?

AskEnglishHeritage98 karma

I wish we could find some nice Saxon and Norman military objects in the field at Battle Abbey. The fact none have been found there to date is not at all surprising to archaeologists who are familiar with medieval battle fields and the way that metal corrodes in the soil in that area, but it would help counter the sceptics who use the lack of archaeology to argue we have the wrong location.

nrdcoyne54 karma

What is the rarest/most impressive/best preserved/your personal favourite (feel free to just pick one of the above) item in the collection?

AskEnglishHeritage114 karma

The collection at Rangers House just outside London is incredible! It contains several medieval pieces but my favourite is the memento mori pendant (you an see a 3D image of it here https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/memento-mori-pendant-fd4c33e8bd524bb7a21fa61367918f9c)

ismokedwithyourmom33 karma

The 3d model is such a fun way to learn about historical artefacts - you can see so much more than in a museum even! Do you have more of these somewhere? I'd love to spend my quarantine time exploring a virtual museum.

AskEnglishHeritage55 karma

You can explore lots of our sites virtually on Google arts - great for lockdown time! https://artsandculture.google.com/project/english-heritage

ismokedwithyourmom46 karma

How do we know precisely where the battle of hastings took place? I remember visiting it on a school trip and being disappointed to see it's just a normal looking hill. The teachers pointed out spots where specific events of the battle took place; how can we know this with such accuracy?

I'm assuming the site was excavated at some point to find evidence of the battle - if it was, do you know when and what they found? It seems like an area that has been inhabited ever since so things would have been moved around in the 1000-ish years since the battle.

AskEnglishHeritage36 karma

We can use a combination of the descriptions of the battle and the Beaux Tapestry to put together a good idea of the battle and map it to the landscape. Although you are right and the landscape has changed, features like hillocks and damp areas are still identifiable.

Durir27 karma

On the main battle site, is it thought there is more artefacts to be found? Also as Hastings was a main staging point for a long time after the battle, do you think there still other sites that have not been found yet?

AskEnglishHeritage24 karma

Yes, I expect there is more that could be found at Battle; only a very small proportion of the site has been fully excavated. I expect that most of what is there relates to the Abbey and it’s later history as a manor house and it would be fascinating to find out more. Finding artefacts from the battle itself would be amazing but unexpected. Very little was left behind after a medieval battle and the whole shape of the hill has been changed as a result of the building of the Abbey, so anything left has probably been moved around a lot and is probably under the old guest wing. The soil at Battle is also not particularly good for metals and iron tends to corrode badly in it.

Durir2 karma

Thank you for the reply. Would not English Heritage not fund for the area around Abbey? There is still so much of what went on just after the fight that is still not known or little is known. I know that it would cost a lot and take a long time, but that area does hold a lot of keys to our country.

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

When you excavate, you destroy the archaeological evidence, so we generally don’t go rummaging about unless the site is under threat or if someone comes to us with a really good research proposal. Generally archaeologists assume that our equipment and methods in future will be much better so we leave the precious and fragile archaeology below ground for future archaeologists to investigate.

Kaiserhawk22 karma

What would you say would be the most surprising find recovered from the battlefield?

AskEnglishHeritage45 karma

For many people the fact that we have nothing from the battle itself is very surprising. One objects that was found there which you wouldn’t expect was a medieval brooch with the inscription ONNIA VINCIT AMO[…]VR, translated – Love Conquers All.

BFG_900021 karma

Is it true that it took place at a place called Battle, rather than at Hastings?

AskEnglishHeritage28 karma

Yes this is correct, Battle Abbey and Battlefield is located in the conveniently named town of 'Battle'.

BloomEPU21 karma

Did Harold Godwinson really get shot in the eye with an arrow?

AskEnglishHeritage17 karma

My suspicion is he didn’t but that version of his death appears from the 1080s onwards so it is possible. The accounts are varied and a lot of the earliest do not say how he died specifically. Other versions suggest that he was cut to pieces or simply died in the press of battle without anyone knowing who did it.

RsTheHotOne18 karma

My younger sister wants to do what you do. She is graduating high school this year and will be going to college in September. What advice can you give her for the future?

Also, what is your favourite colour m&m?

AskEnglishHeritage22 karma

For m&m’s – all chocolate is good regardless of the colour!

I suggest that she gets as much voluntary experience as she can because that counts at least as much as qualifications when it comes to getting a job. This is a very competitive field so she shouldn’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out at first, keep trying.

The_Ottoman_Empire16 karma

What was the artifact or event that got you into your field?

AskEnglishHeritage17 karma

Probably reading Katherine by Anya Seaton about John of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine Swynford.

CraigPodevin15 karma

What is your favourite thing to come from the Normans? As a member of English Heritage I love visiting Norman castles (since we have so many!) The keep at Dover and the Tower of London are so impressive, but even a privately owned Hedingham is brilliant. Their architecture really impresses me.

AskEnglishHeritage18 karma

The Norman Cathedral in Durham is lovely!

LegendaryCichlid12 karma

Have you ever read Millward’s History of the English Language? That book really taught me quite a bit.

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

No I'm afraid not, I'll have to look out for it.

mom_with_an_attitude11 karma

Are you a medieval scholar in general? Any favorite books you'd like to recommend that illuminate that era for the modern reader? I am particularly interested in the Inquisition.

AskEnglishHeritage19 karma

I specialise in the intellectual and cultural history of the latter middle ages but in my current role I cover the whole period and beyond. I really like to read literature from the period as I think it gives you a good idea of the way that people thought at the time rather than just what happened, so I’d recommend Two Medieval Outlaws: Eustace the Monk and Fouke Fitz Waryn by Glyn Burgess as the stories are really good fun and there is a detailed introduction that gives you the factual background. If you are interested in the inquisition and religious persecution have you read The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars by Stephen O’Shea.

badwhiskey6311 karma

What was the Norman impact on architecture in England?

AskEnglishHeritage18 karma

For more than a century after the Battle of Hastings, all substantial stone buildings in England were built in the Romanesque style. Norman architecture was of the ‘Romanesque’ style which is particularly characterised by arches with a semi-circular shape. These arches, decorated will rows of chevron and zigzag moulding supported on relatively plain columns, are found in most surviving Norman structures. The below article gives a more detailed account of how the architecture in England changed though!

IQuoteWikipedia8 karma

From watching documentaries I've realized that sometimes things that are trivial now were actually quite exciting and interesting back then.

What is the most interesting thing that gets overlooked the most?

AskEnglishHeritage24 karma

The loss of Normandy in 1205. It is hardly mentioned today but to people at the time it had nearly as dramatic an impact as the Norman Conquest. It completely changed how the country interacted with its neighbours and saw the beginnings of an idea of nationalism, and even xenophobia, that would not have been possible before.

sno_boarder8 karma

If Harold knew that William was amassing an army, do we have any idea why Harold didn't strike preemptively in the summer of 1066 when he had greater numbers at his disposal rather than wait for William to attack first?

AskEnglishHeritage23 karma

I’m sure he will have had several reasons for his actions at that time but one to consider would be the political impact if he had done as you suggest. Harold claimed to be the rightful king of England and as such had every right to defend his claim from attack, but a pre-emptive strike would be much harder to justify. He would effectively be invading France by bringing a military force into a territory that he had no claim on. William, as Duke of Normandy, could then turn to the King of France and/or other continental allies and demand support against this unprovoked attack.

nickjhowe7 karma

The Battle is arguably the most famous English battle in history but wasn’t it really a fight between the Danes and the French?

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

Ooh, you have gone straight to the question of nationality in this period. It is a very good question and one to which I don’t think there is really an easy answer. Who were the ‘English’ in 1066 after years of Vikings, Angles, Saxons, etc settling in parts of the country and decades of Danish rule? Is it the nationality of the soldiers or the leaders that matters? How many generations does a family have to be in a country for a person to have that nationality? How would they identify themselves? For that matter, to what extent would the Normans have considered themselves ‘French’?

Linking a group of people into an identity based on location or nationality is always difficult because most people could, and probably do, identify in more than one way. It’s a bit like the question of who considers themselves to be ‘British’ today, as opposed to English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Londoner etc. The whole thing is made more difficult in the past by the fact that borders have changed and modern nationality descriptions don’t always apply in any sensible way.

In short I think your question is a very good way to think about the Battle and the motivations of the people involved but I can’t actually answer it.

ShawnGipson7 karma

A lot of heritage websites that tells you where your last name comes from contributes the Battle of Hastings as where "Last Names" come from. Is there any truth to this?

AskEnglishHeritage16 karma

Yes! One of the most obvious changes to English culture after 1066 occurs in the names people called themselves and for the first time, surnames start to appear. This blog is a great read in relation to this http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/norman-saxon-surname/?_ga=2.48267174.1637712512.1587978985-13220505.1571933568

CaseyJones76 karma

What aspect of the medieval era would you like to see happen again today?

AskEnglishHeritage13 karma

If all books looked like illuminated manuscripts that would be good!

agent_raconteur5 karma

The Battle of Stamford Bridge is one of my favorite little stories from history; I love a good over- the- top action sequence. How accurate do you think the account of a single man holding off the whole army really is?

My fiance and I are touring the UK in September (fingers crossed there aren't all the restrictions we have now) and we want to learn more about British history. There are SO MANY MUSEUMS to choose from, do you have any favorites or recommendations that might get overlooked?

AskEnglishHeritage11 karma

There are so many places to chose from. If I were you I would chose a few big museums like the British Museum or places that have a particular exhibition you want to see and then focus your attention on visiting sites (and I’m not just saying that because I work for English Heritage). Go to the places where the history happened. Places you might miss but I think are definitely worth a visit are Lindisfarne in Northumberland and Dover Castle in Kent.

Cacafuego4 karma

I've heard that the first thing William did when he came ashore in England is build a fort. Is there anything left of that site? Is it worth a visit?

AskEnglishHeritage10 karma

He landed at Pevensey and built defences within the walls of the old Roman shore fort which were later adapted into a Norman keep. Pevensey Castle is owned by English Heritage. It is a ruin today but worth a visit still. It is 20 minutes from Battle so you can go to both sites together as a day trip.

Lord_Xp4 karma

I have an old English last name. Does this mean I have a claim to the throne? How do I submit this claim? Do I have to challenge the queen to a sword duel?

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

If this means you have a claim to the throne there will be a lot of us in line that you'll have to duel first!

Onepopcornman3 karma

Having to know the historical accurate knowledge of Medieval England, what is your biggest pet peeve in how media commonly portrays events based on/inspired by this era of history? What do they get wrong?

AskEnglishHeritage6 karma

I get annoyed by the tendency to portray legends about the past as if they were facts. Great shock that new evidence is overturning stories that no one ever thought were true.

JustPassingShhh3 karma

Im obsessed with the Tudor period, reccomendations on an awesome place to visit once the world is better? I live in the UK too

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

Not in my area, but Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire is a wonderful place to visit! https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenilworth-castle/

Whimpy133 karma

Any big plans for 2066?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

Not yet... but we have plenty of years to plan ;)

dachsj3 karma

The battle of Hastings is noted as the birth of modern England, but what always confused me is that it put French in charge for hundreds of years.

Why is this this considered the birth of England when it was an English defeat and rule by Norman's?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

The Battle of Hastings and subsequently Norman rule had a huge impact on the culture, religion, laws, architecture and language of the country. Lots of these changes still shape our country today from the architecture left behind to many traditional laws that continue to have an influence.

The question of what is 'English' or 'French' is an interesting one and this question brings up an interesting question of nationality in this period. Who were the ‘English’ in 1066 after years of Vikings, Angles, Saxons, etc settling in parts of the country and decades of Danish rule? Is it the nationality of the soldiers or the leaders that matters? How many generations does a family have to be in a country for a person to have that nationality? How would they identify themselves? For that matter, to what extent would the Normans have considered themselves ‘French’?

Interestingly the English we speak today is the product of a lot of intermingling with French words. Poor, letter, age, and pork are all words with Norman-French origins, to name just a few. 950 years later, English reflects the result of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Tobikens3 karma

Is the Bayeux Tapestry an accurate portrayal of the battle? Since it was commissioned after the battle and I can imagine it took a while to complete, I’m sure some things were left out.

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

There are an unusually large number of near-contemporary sources giving us detailed information about the battle. But all accounts of it rely on two main sources: the Bayeux Tapestry and the chronicler William of Poitiers. Although both sources tell the story from the Norman viewpoint, justifying William’s claim to the English throne, they provide far more information than we have for any other medieval battle. The tapestry was probably made soon after the conquest for William’s half-brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who features prominently in it.

univoxs2 karma

Were the clergy of older, smaller Saxon churches treated poorly as the new larger churches were built by Normans? How did the Normans impact the rural clerical life?

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

William the Conqueror imposed a total reorganisation of the English Church after the conquest of 1066. He had secured the Pope’s blessing for his invasion by promising to reform the ‘irregularities’ of the Anglo-Saxon Church, which had developed its own distinctive customs.

Within a decade nearly all Anglo-Saxon bishops and abbots had lost their positions to Normans. Even native saints came under attack, as some churches were rededicated to Norman favourites – although certain saints, such as Cuthbert, Swithun and Etheldreda, were to some extent adopted by the invading force.

almighty_cthulu2 karma

This year of English history was one of the larger catalysts for my return to school in an attempt to become a historian. Your job is one that I've fantasized about having on numerous occasions. How did you get there? Do you have any advice for an aspiring historian?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

Amazing work, good luck! I suggest getting any voluntary experience you can as this counts at least as much as qualifications when it comes to getting a job. This is a very competitive field so don't be disappointed if it doesn’t work out at first, keep trying.

Lumisara2 karma

Is there anything that sparked the interest in medieval England?

Unrelated but Harald Hardrada should've won, he would've wiped the floor with William.

AskEnglishHeritage6 karma

Probably reading Katherine by Anya Seaton about John of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine Swynford.

lionbacker542 karma

Is it fair to think of the Normans as French, as the Saxons as Germans?

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

A very good question but one which is hard to answer! Linking a group of people into an identity based on location or nationality is always difficult because most people could, and still do even today, identify in more than one way. The whole thing is made more difficult in the past by the fact that borders have changed and modern nationality descriptions don’t always apply in any sensible way.

To what extent would the Normans have considered themselves ‘French’? Who were the ‘English’ in 1066 after years of Vikings, Angles, Saxons, etc settling in parts of the country and decades of Danish rule? Is it the nationality of the soldiers or the leaders that matters? How many generations does a family have to be in a country for a person to have that nationality? How would they identify themselves?

I realise I have answered your question with more questions ... but as you can see this is a question that perhaps poses more questions than lends itself to an answer!

icebox_Lew2 karma

Is it true the Batlle of Hastings didn't actually happen in Hastings but in Battle, a ways down the road? Was Battle called Battle before this and, if so, does it bear any weight on the term for the fight (i.e. is a fight called a battle because a big one happened in this place called Battle)?

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

Hastings was the significant place at the time so it gave it’s name to the battle. The Abbey was then built by William on the site of the Battle as both a commemoration and an act of repentance for the blood shed. The village of Battle grew up around the Abbey and took it’s name from the fact is was the battle site.

commander_tealc2 karma

Didn’t the battle happen in Battle?

AskEnglishHeritage6 karma

Hastings was the significant place at the time so it gave it’s name to the battle. The Abbey was then built by William on the site of the Battle as both a commemoration and an act of repentance for the blood shed. The village of Battle grew up around the Abbey and took it’s name from the fact is was the battle site.

Boring-Pudding2 karma

What's your favorite piece that isn't on display?

How often do new pieces come into the collection?

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

There is a set of Anglo-Saxon Garnet brooches in store that were found in Faversham which I absolutely love. They are incredibly intricate and beautiful. Unfortunately I have nowhere they can be displayed at the moment which is a pity.