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Battle Abbey and Battlefield

Battle Abbey and Battlefield is the site of the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066. This is where William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II and changed the course of English history. The abbey and adjacent battlefield are located in the town of Battle, East Sussex, about 50 miles southeast of London. Visitors can get there by car, train, or bus. The nearest train station is Battle, which is a 15-minute walk from the site. The photographs on this webpage were taken during a visit here in April 2023.

Battle Abbey’s monastic great gatehouse and town courthouse (from outside the abbey)

The abbey is a partially ruined Benedictine monastery that was built by William as a penance for the bloodshed of the famous battle of 1066. Visitors here can explore the abbey ruins and see for themselves the spot where Harold II is said to have fallen.

Monastic great gatehouse (from inside the walls of the abbey)

The battlefield is a large open field where condition-permitting, visitors can walk in the footsteps of the Norman and Saxon armies. A memorial stone marks the place where the battle took place, and here, visitors can learn more about the events and tactics of the battle from the audio guide and the exhibition; throughout the site, there are also informative information boards. Battle Abbey and Battlefield is managed by English Heritage, a charity that preserves and protects historic sites in England. Tickets are available online or at the site, and this includes free parking, a gift shop, a cafe, and a playground for children.

Battle Abbey and Battlefield is a fascinating place to visit for anyone who loves history and wants to learn more about one of the most important battles in English history. Some more photos follow, finishing with a brief description of the Battle of Hastings itself, for the reader who may be interested to learn more (of course, there are countless other web resources and books on the subject to be found elsewhere!):

Above: Facing eastwards, the southern side of Battle Abbey is on the left and the 1066 Battlefield is on the right.

13th century monastic guest range

A room inside the 13th Century monastic guest range

Above: Overlooking the battlefield, where the infamous Battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066

The south end of the monastic east range. The east range contained a huge dormitory and associated latrines, largely dating from a major rebuilding campaign that took place in the 13th century. When the monastic community improved its living quarters.

Novice monks’ chamber, on the lower floor of the monastic east range.

The common room, or warming house, (on the lower floor of the monastic east range) which the monks would use for periods of recreation or work in cold weather.

The dormitory of the east range occupied the entire upper floor of the monastic east range

View of the latrines from the dormitory of the east range

View of the battlefield from the dormitory of the east range

Site of the Chapter House, second only to the church as a focal point of monastic life.

Above: The cloister (site of, lower-right) and the west range (as seen from the east. The west range, situated between the outer court and the cloister, was rebuilt in the 13th century as accommodation for the Abbot’s guests and enlarged during the 14th and 15th centuries. It is the only part of the abbey that has survived as habitable buildings. The range has been incorporated into the buildings now used by Battle Abbey School which includes the abbot’s house, the remains of the outer parlour, abbot’s chapel and 15th century abbot’s great hall. The west range also includes a 19th century library wing.

The western side of the west range (described above), as seen after passing through the monastic great gatehouse after entering the abbey main visitors’ entrance.

19th century dairy and ice house

The walled garden. It was used by the Duke and Duchess of Cleveland, who bought Battle Abbey in the mid-19th century.

Site of the 11th century abbots church. When William the Conqueror founded Battle Abbey, he ordered that the church’s high altar should be placed on the spot where Harold II had fallen.

Sandstone plaque on the ground marking the spot where the high altar of the abbey church was placed – over the scene of the fiercest fighting of the Battle of Hastings, and on the spot where Harold II was killed in the early evening of 14th October, 1066.

French Monument to King Harold II

View from the abbey grounds towards the parish church of St Mary which is in the town of Battle itself. The church is a Grade I listed building and is known for its architecture and historical significance. Nearly 1000 years old, it is a place of regular worship and community involvement.

The precinct wall on the north side of the abbey, with its wall walk.

Upon entering Battle Abbey, a short walk to the right leads down to the visitor’s centre which has a lovely café and toilets.

Inside the entrance/exit (through the great gatehouse) there is the obligatory shop, selling a good range of souvenirs and the like.

The Battle of Hastings (in Brief)

The Battle of Hastings was a decisive event in English history that took place on October 14, 1066. It was fought between the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror) and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson (King Harold II), who had been crowned king of England just nine months earlier. The battle was the result of a long-standing rivalry between the two leaders, who both claimed the right to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066 and represents what was to be the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England.

The battle lasted for most of the day, and was marked by several shifts in momentum and tactics. The Normans used a combination of cavalry, infantry and archers, whilst the Anglo-Saxons relied mainly on their infantry, who formed a defensive shield wall on a hilltop. The Normans tried to break the shield wall by feigning retreats and charging again, but the Anglo-Saxons held their ground. However, a rumour spread amongst the Anglo-Saxons that Harold had been killed by an arrow in his eye, and some of them broke ranks to pursue the fleeing Normans. This created gaps in the shield wall that the Normans exploited, and eventually overwhelmed the Anglo-Saxon army (the common belief that Harold II died by an arrow to the eye is a subject of much scholarly debate).

The Battle of Hastings was a decisive victory for William, who became known as William the Conqueror. He was crowned king of England on Christmas Day 1066, and began a process of “Normanisation” that transformed the culture, language and institutions of England. The battle also had a lasting impact on English history, as it ended the Anglo-Saxon era and ushered in a new feudal system. The battle is commemorated in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to and during the battle in vivid detail (The Bayeux Tapestry can be seen in the town of Bayeux in Normandy, France. It is on permanent public display at the William the Conqueror Centre of Bayeux and well worth a visit if taking a trip to Normandy).


References and Further Information

1. In situ information notice boards
2. Brown, R.A. (1995) Normans. Woodbridge: Boydell.
3. Coad, Jonathan (2017) Guidebook: Battle Abbey. English Heritage

Note: Extract of Bayeux Tapestry taken from Creative Commons licenced photo

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