The Chronicle of Battle Abbey

A document of national significance

Dated 14th July 2016


The Chronicle of Battle Abbey, edited and translated by Eleanor Searle[1] consists of two document bound together to describe the circumstances of the formation of the Abbey in Battle in order to avoid taxes claimed to be due to the King around 1180AD. The first document covered the initial period of the invasion and battle up to the building of the abbey foundations(folios 1-21). The second author writes the book concerning the site of the church at Battle and possessions given to it by William. The two were bound into one and became the Chronicle of Battle Abbey and the founding authorisation of the abbey. Without it no authority for the abbey or the battlefield existed.

Close to 1067AD and certainly before 1071AD the monks started to lay the foundations of a new abbey in Crowhurst because a battlefield oath was taken in William’s camp at Hedgeland Hill (now called Redgeland Wood) at the old port of Hasting on the 14th October 1066AD. The oath confirms the building of a monastery on ‘this battlefield’.  It was the area of land between Wilting Manor, and Telham Hill on the west side of the Ridge at Crowhurst. ‘This battlefield’ was the area of land that could be seen between the camp of William and the camp of Harold which covered the Crowhurst Valley to the port of Hastings. After the battle a monk named Smith came from Marmourtier in France and stopped the building work as the monks had started to build the foundations next to a low wall in the place named Herste (now Crowhurst) because this was where Harold’s standard had been seen to fall on the true battlefield. There lest they were seen to be doing nothing (whilst Smith went to see the king to ask for the abbey to be built elsewhere in a more suitable place) they built some huts or dwellings at the true battlefield site. The reason given to move the abbey was because the abbey site on the battlefield was not suitable for such a fine building. At length the foundations were laid for this so called ‘fine building’ and the Chronicle ends its detail of the building work.

The monks laid the foundations of the original abbey in Crowhurst in the five year after the battle and when reading the Chronicle it is important to understand the abbey being referred to in the first 21folios is not the same abbey as being discussed by the second author who wrote the main body of text much later probably after 1150AD. (from folio22). The story of William instructing the monks to move the abbey back after he is told it is not in a suitable place cannot be true, because in the chronology of the Chronicle it has not been moved at that point in the text. The paragraph detailing this event is a forgery and out of chronological order of the first hand witness account of the first author. It was a forgery designed to avoid taxes along with a claim that the abbey be entitled to ‘water and wine more abundant than any other abbey’. This claim was rejected by King Henry since no king would make such a claim on the battlefield before a battle and include rights in perpetuity for free wine.

None the less we have inherited the Battle abbey site with a tradition written into its original documents, which also carried the invaluable information as to where the original Battle of Hastings can be found, because in order to claim the free wine and taxes the monks needed to bind the original document into their claim in order to explain why the abbey was not started immediately. The abbey was in possession of a document that proved it was started immediately and this was why it was used as evidence.  The battlefield and a monument to the battle, in the form of a low wall, confirmed in the Chronicle, are found on the site of the original battlefield as described in those original first 21 folios now residing in the British Library. The foundations of the original abbey can be found at the Crowhurst Manor site, which according to the resistivity survey of 2012 conducted by the Crowhurst battlefield Group, is hidden under a false hill at the site of Court Lodge[2] in Crowhurst next to a low wall that dates back at least to the Norman Invasion and may be several thousand years old because it forms part of an enclosure where men met to do business long before the Normans arrived.



According to the Chronicle of Battle Abbey it is the place where Harold’s standard was seen to fall. The reader assumes the front section of the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is about Battle abbey. It is not. The first 13 folios relates to the period up to the point where the foundations of the Crowhurst abbey were laid. The monks moved the abbey ‘from the battlefield’ after this point and just adopted the documents they have received about the original building to justify their claims. These original documents contained authentic information that proved the veracity and chronology of their claims. As a result they simply recopied the original document with two extra paragraphs to support their claims and then bound them together without any reference to further building work. They did not include any documentation about the building of the Battle abbey in the Chronicle and consequently it is our mistake to attribute those first folios to be about the abbey in Battle. The original documents that were bound into the Chronicle were about the Crowhurst abbey that only ever got to the foundations stage and then was removed. At the Battle abbey site it is claimed Harold fell on the top of a hill. There is nothing in any of the documents to support this claim or any other and is a completely false claim invented recently. Indeed the Crowhurst abbey was built at the bottom of the hill. The monks did not make any further alterations or additions to the bound Chronicle other than the identifiable ‘tradition’ paragraphs because they probably did not need to have any other original documents for their case at that time (1180AD).

The document lets the reader assume the building is the one at Battle and almost certainly the abbey at Battle was eventually built where Smith considered it suitable to be settled (built). William never revisited the site of the abbey or the battlefield and by the time he died the tradition incorporated into the Chronicle of Battle Abbey was sacrosanct, because it started so early in the abbey building process before the foundations were finalised in 1071AD.

Analysis of the Domesday Book values of wasted manors confirms Wilting is the second most wasted manor in the country[3] and Crowhurst Manor was the most wasted.


This is because Wilting was where the Norman army camped and Crowhurst was where the Battle of Hastings took place. Professor Marjorie Chibnall who examined the Domesday data when first published in 1997 recognised this as my most important work at that time. Now with the discovery of the original Crowhurst abbey foundations site we understand why the data shows Crowhurst as the most wasted manor in the country in the Domesday Book. No historian has provided a repudiation of this evidence and the Domesday data provides undeniable confirmation of the real site of the battlefield in Crowhurst that cannot be explained any other way, because the Domesday data cannot be manipulated. The Domesday data effectively names Crowhurst as the site of the Battle of Hastings because it is the most wasted -  site reserved for the battlefield and finding the abbey foundations on that site now confirms it to be true. No-one knew about the initial building foundations which lay on the other side of the hill from Battle abbey low down on the west side of the ridge and so the authority for the battlefield was believed to be in Battle, whilst the evidence revealing the truth  lay underground in Crowhurst to be found 950 years after the battle. This year is the 950th year anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and no amount of invention by tv archaeologists or history spin doctors can deny the abbey foundations are in Crowhurst and the Chronicle of Battle Abbey, supported by the Domesday Book data, tell us why and now where.



It is important to understand the significance of the Chronicle of Battle Abbey in relation to understanding the true location of the Battle of Hastings. New evaluation of that document is required because the issue of where the Battle of Hastings was fought is now an issue of contention. Recent excavations at the Battle Abbey site undertaken by English Heritage using experts such as Dr. Glenn Foard from Durham University[4], specialists in battlefield archaeology, have failed to produce any archaeological evidence from the Battle Abbey registered and protected site connected to the Battle of Hastings. In addition a recent television archaeological programme conducted by the Time Team concluded on national television that the registered site was incapable of supporting the traditional story. The new evidence provided by that programme showed that a new LIDAR study of the battlefield concluded it would have been too wet to support cavalry. The programme makers hypothesised, without any archaeological or other evidence, that the Battle of Hastings must therefore have taken place at the roundabout adjacent to the site based upon landscape evidence, despite the fact that the whole area has been built upon and dug for road and building works with no evidence connected to the Battle of Hastings having ever been found[5].  English Heritage admits Landscape evidence of this type does not prove where the Battle of Hastings took place[6]. Since I am unable to find any eminent historian prepared to go on the record to support this most recent claim being promoted by English Heritage (other than those employed by that organisation) it is important for historians who have studied this subject to look at the evidence that exists again in the light of very recent discoveries, some of which they are probably not aware because they have not been published. Historical evaluation of documents must take into account the known context of the events. When the known context changes it is even more relevant to re-evaluate what was written by witnesses at the time.

I propose to look again at the Chronicle of Battle Abbey using the Latin source translation by Dr Eleanor Searle (1980 Clarendon Press) because I believe it is the most scholarly analysis available in terms of understanding the context of that document and upon the face of it there appears to be nothing proposed in that book that could not be accepted as valid by those who know and study the subject of the Battle of Hastings or the Battle abbey history.  The Latin translation was assisted by Dr. Michael Winterbottom[7] who reviewed the entire Latin text and is considered by many people as the most eminent Latinist in the country. I have been asked whether it is as a result of the translation that I come to the conclusion that the Battle of Hastings could not have been fought at Battle Abbey. My answer is I have no problems either with the translation or the analysis provided by Dr. Searle or Dr. Winterbottom and that is why I have chosen them. The issue is with the understanding of the context something that neither of these eminent scholars could have known at that time or anyone else. The additional knowledge we now have must be taken into account and force us to accept the facts because the conclusions cannot be avoided no matter how unexpected or at first difficult to accommodate. There are many examples of where historians have misplaced battles in the past, not least the recent events at Bosworth field. It is not impossible for such discrepancies to occur again and the nature of the search for historical truth requires those with an inquiring mind to ensure historical truth prevails. That can only be achieved by examining all evidence available.

Dr. Searle’s analysis in the Introduction to her work explains why the Chronicle was written and how it came into existence and may I believe be briefly summarised as follows:

The Chronicle came into existence because the monks at Battle Abbey ‘claimed unusually great privileges that would require vigorous defence and convincing evidence, precisely because they were great’.  The abbey had claimed ‘exemptions from harassment of governmental officials and generously endowed with estates and jurisdictional privileges’. Dr. Searle continues ‘The author incorporates into the text the written evidence of the endowment and privileges, the charters from William I and his successors’ confirmations.’. but recognises that ‘there was a difficulty that however genuine the oral tradition of the Conqueror’s gift of immunities the abbey’s written tradition had been forged in the 1150s’. [8]

We are told ‘Like many such monastic histories, a central theme of our author’s chronicle is the preservation of oral tradition, one of inadequately conveyed rights faithfully defended.’ The author ‘neither lies, nor tells the plain truth, about an action that was both a serious crime and a useful bit of work for the abbey’. Two chronicles form the document as we know it today. They ‘were bound together probably because each included valuable information not found in the other’. We know that both these chronicles were written ‘after 1155, for both use a forged foundation charter shown for the first time and very likely forged in that year’.[9]

The first chronicle occupies folio 1-21 with the main text in the different hand in folios 22-130. The first chronicler ‘begins with a well-known account of the invasion of England by Duke then records, somewhat haphazardly, a number of documents concerning the abbey’s banlieu. There is no reason to believe the author intended to do more than this. None of the documents he copied have survived elsewhere, but they can be compared with similar documents of a slightly later period in the region, and with the later documents of Battle abbey. They appear to be accurate, and they are revealing about the settlement of the Weald in the Anglo Norman period[10]’. Here I would intercede and make the point that Dr. Searle is not telling us that this first part of the Chronicle covering the period of the Invasion, up to when William leaves Hastings to go to London, is a lie or unreliable. What we know is that where other documents exist the first Chronicler recorded the information accurately and provided revealing information. I take the same view and have seen no evidence elsewhere that shows the first chronicler to be unreliable in any way. I have however seen many documents written within the last 100years that make broad statements that the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is unreliable without any qualification. It is my contention that this is incorrect and the facts regarding unreliable elements do not relate to the author’s use of information provided by others or the names of the land holdings provided within the document. The use of the expression ‘unreliable’ comes because there are elements within the description of the battle scenes that do not fit the traditional Battle abbey site. This must be recognised because we are reading the document in the belief that we have identified the correct site of the battlefield at the traditional Battle abbey and the account being provided is therefore incorrect, or if you prefer unreliable, because it does not fit that location. When presented with the alternative understanding of what is written it is no longer acceptable to use such a qualification because the evidence shows the source is correct and the site associated with it is wrong. I agree with Searle that the Chronicler of the first 21 folios provides correct information and more importantly had no reason to provide any that was false. The whole object of the creation of the document was to make the case for the monks at the Abbey who were making it to their king for their rights. This had to be legally watertight, because if anything was invented that could not be proven it would put that purpose at risk, hence the false claims that are added to the original source are drafted as ‘tradition ’in order that no individual was accountable for the claim.

Dr. Searle writes her analysis of the text like all others written at that time with the understanding that the battlefield described in the text was at the site of the abbey at Battle. She has no evidence to contradict this because at that time it was known there was no archaeology to confirm the site and it was known with some certainty that the tradition of the battlefield oath originated early in the very early history of the abbey. Thus the only evidence of the Battle of Hastings site was the fact the monks built the abbey where it now stands and the first Chronicler’s account of the events that led to the building being created there. Anyone who claims otherwise is not an expert on these matters, since all experts agree on this.

Dr. Searle recognises the first chronicler produces information that is unique to that text most probably ‘because each included information not found in the other’[11]. She says ‘In two details our first author is alone and gives what was probably local tradition. He names the spot Telham Hill where William’s men first saw the English: it was Hedgeland, he says, locating it as a tenant-holding of the late twelfth- century, just outside Hedgeland wood.’[12] The second item ‘He claims to identify the ravine or ditch where, in nearly all sources of the invasion, a number of Norman horsemen are said to have come to a grisly death when their galloping horses pitched over an unseen edge. He describes the ravine and says that it is still called Malfosse.’ In the same paragraph Dr. Searle identifies that both the Telham Hill location known as Hedgeland is a tenant holding that of the late twelfth century.’ And ‘the Malfosse at Battle abbey is found ‘Eventually there was a real Malfosse at Battle, whether or not the fateful ditch’. She continues ‘Charters of the early thirteenth century refer to it as a large field with interior closes held by Battle Burgesses. It lay roughly (a mile and a half) to the north and west of the abbey grounds’.[13] Searle does not claim either of these sites are the places referred to in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey. However what is known and is not stated directly is both these locations came into existence exactly at the same time the Chronicle of Battle Abbey was being used to make its false claims with the king[14]. The monks could not present the Chronicle as evidence without the places named in that chronicle being located within their own lands. What the Chronicle of Battle Abbey tells us, which is not written anywhere else, is the forged document was extended by creating the documents to support it through the grant of lands in the corresponding titles. Everywhere named by the first chronicler is created within the lands of the abbey at the same time as the forged version of the Chronicle is being used to fight the legal case.

What the monks did not know was where these lands really were, as they were not in any other written record in their possession. However an inescapable problem arises for historians from the fact the Chronicle tells us the events at Hedgeland took place at William’s camp at ‘a near-by port called Hastings[15] and confirmed to be the place where William puts his armour on. Telham is no-where near the sea or any port[16] and provides a fatal flaw when cross-checking the information provided.  Similarly the Malfosse incident where many Normans die occurs at the end of the battle sequence and the monks named it on their northern boundary close to the then London Road a long way north of the Battle abbey site north of the current town, oblivious to the fact that other chroniclers such as Poitiers identifies the same incident near the start of the battle. No-one who has studied this believes that somehow the Normans managed to get behind the Saxon lines near the start of the battle and consequently we can see both the Malfosse and Hedgeland site within the abbey grounds are clear inventions designed to assist authenticate the abbey in the eyes of the King in 1180.

The Malfosse incident is an important event in the Battle of Hastings because it is recorded in almost all chronicle literature. The absence of a Malfosse on the abbey battlefield effectively eliminates the Battle abbey site from any possibility of being the true site of the Battle of Hastings. However it endorses the alternative site at Crowhurst because examination of the topography of the correct battlefield shows how it can be passed at the beginning of the battle according to Poitiers[17] yet is a death trap at the end according to the Chronicle. One massive ditch which confines the field on the east stops any circumvention of the Saxon lines and also traps the Normans on the then peninsular at the site of a giant hill bigger than any other in the area.

Since Dr. Searle published her book[18] and as a result of my own work[19] the identification of the correct site for the old Port of Hastings is now another subject for critical analysis. The historian John Grehan[20] who specialises in military history accepts my case for the Norman landing site being located at the old port of Hastings in the Crowhurst valley as described in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey and other historians are now in agreement that the battle could not have taken place at Battle abbey[21]. It is a conclusion that is being backed by archaeology as it becomes available. Most recently LIDAR has revealed a probable location of William’s camp and it is exactly where the Chronicle of Battle Abbey says it is in Redgeland Wood at the port of Hastings[22]. It is therefore impossible to fault the text in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey when the true location of the battlefield and port is known.

Dr. Searle who probably knew more about this document than anyone else concludes ‘In actuality, of course, no source outside of Battle Abbey mentions such a vow and the story never took any intelligent contemporaries, for it did not enter the chronicle literature[23]’. None the less the vow story flourished in Battle where the abbey was built and in regards to the first chronicler ‘By the time he wrote, in the 1180s, the foundation story of the vow upon the field of Hastings had been, for some thirty years, incorporated into a confirmed charter; and the monks adopted and improved upon it, as our first chronicler shows, lavishing upon it the awe and ingenuity of tales of the founding saint at more conventionally established abbeys. It had become the ‘natural’ commencement of their own story, and a tradition that even the most fastidious main chronicler was willing to foist upon his successors as truth: a lie, as he must have known, but one that would be harmless to their interests in years to come’.[24]

Continuing to the main body of the text of the Chronicle it is essential to understand what is written and where those places are in order to understand the implications and context. The heart of the issue is the emotive issue of the battlefield oath. The abbey built at the Battle town site relies upon tradition which the monks documented to ensure their legal case was watertight. They created the places known to be included in the first 21 folios of the Chronicle, because they had to include the information that they knew was correct and had been handed down to them from an unknown person who appeared to have seen the events of the invasion and battle. The battlefield oath was a confirmation that the Battle of Hastings was fought at Battle because that is where the abbey was built. No-one, myself included, ever considered the possibility that the abbey might have been built elsewhere until you delve into the Latin translation of the Chronicle and understand what is being written in the context of the topography and chronology.

The Chronicle tells us that William is getting into his armour prior to the battle in his camp at the port of Hastings at the place called Hedgeland[25]. This clearly does not fit the topography of the conventional battlefield because of the wrong identification of Hedgeland[26].   At this point the oath is made after a hauberk[27] is handed to William the wrong way round[28]. The oath is recorded as the following words ‘And to strengthen the hands and hearts of you who are about to fight for me, I make a vow that on this very battlefield I shall found a monastery for the salvation of all, and especially for those who fall here, to honour God and of all his saints, where servants of God may be supported: a fitting monastery, with a worthy liberty. Let it be an atonement: a haven for all, as free as the one I conquer for myself’.[29]

This is a significant event that is taking place in William’s camp prior to the battle and not on what most people would consider the battlefield, since few people assume the camp at the port is on the battlefield. The text does not confirm directly that the port camp is on the battlefield but there is an unsaid assumption that Hedgeland is the port camp because William is getting into his armour and that would have happened at that camp. Unlike the identifiable forged elements that appear to have been added there is no reference to ‘tradition’ in the claim that the oath took place at this point in the day, yet the oath defines the place as the battlefield. The paragraph with the dubious origins starts with the claim of tradition’  in order to distance the writer from blame in the event of discovery. Yet this is not present in the one item that might be considered most likely to be a tradition and this is telling us something that historians should take on board.

This battlefield oath is probably the most important statement in any text concerning the location of the Hastings battlefield because without it being authentic the reason for believing the abbey was built on the battlefield dissolves into thin air. Historians have astutely taken on board the fact that the oath is valid despite there being an issue of unreliability because the oath is not recorded anywhere else.  How can a logical argument be made that we should consider the Chronicle unreliable and at the same time cherry pick the oath as legitimate when there is no other record of this event ever having taken place?

It may seem strange to the critical eye that I too accept the oath as valid, even if not recorded on the battlefield or in any other text of the time. It is one of those unexplainable events in English history where the establishment have got together to agree amongst themselves what is mostly illogical but at the same time undeniable. It is simply because in the absence of any other evidence it cannot be denied the abbey is where it is. My reason for believing the oath taking on the battlefield is true is not because I believe the Battle of Hastings was fought at Battle abbey. I take this view because of the vehemence of the defence made by the monks to their claim over a number of years[30] and the otherwise unnecessary creation of the forgeries identified by Dr. Searle. She finds no fault as to the factual content of the Chronicle and this is also significant because it means the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is a wholly reliable record of certain elements of the Battle of Hastings and invasion including the oath. Most important of all it does NOT state that the oath is a tradition and DOES affirm it took place. There is no document anywhere else to support this claim, so if you accept that the authority of the monks is in the tradition in regards to the battlefield oath you are clearly wrong – there is NO claim of tradition in regards to the oath and you must take this on board in assimilating your understanding of what we are being told. The tradition is NOT in the oath but only in events described in the forged elements of the Chronicle. This is where Harold’s banner fell and the promise of free taxes and wine as abundant as water in any other abbey.

What this is telling us is the battlefield oath did actually happen and if not why would the abbey be there in Battle or anywhere else if not? That is a wholly understandable logic but it is not proof that the battle took place at the Battle abbey site. The author of the Chronicle is deliberately avoiding distancing himself from the source regarding the oath and from this we must conclude contrary to all expectations that the story of the oath on the battlefield in the camp is true, even if not recorded in any other document. The fact Wace and Poitiers also record the event with the hauberk the wrong way round at the camp and neither mention the oath would support the view that the oath may not  have taken place in William’s camp. Dr. Searle hypothesises that it might be likely that the battlefield oath did not take place and perhaps in 1070AD, when William was recrowned by Papal legates, his act of penance in commissioning the abbey may then have taken place[31].  Historians usually are very unlikely to accept one lone reference as an authentic reason to accept what they are told, but in this case over nearly a thousand years illogically the view has received total acceptance because the abbey is built there. The proof that we have to accept is that the abbey is built on this site and scrupulous examination of the document shows clearly that we do not depend upon tradition to accept the authority for the site being claimed to be the site of the Battle of Hastings so it is time to completely disregard the false claims of tradition .

Of vital importance to the monks was the fact that the oath was not a tradition, because if it were only tradition the legitimate claim would fail because the documents would prove to be invalid – an outcome that Dr. Searle confirms when she says ‘a new bishop reopened the case in the early thirteenth century’…’His oblique warning had, of course, been right. In January, 1234, the forgeries were again brought forward as evidence against the bishop, and Battle’s case collapsed for ever.[32] The king rejected the case put by the monks because it was false and we should do the same.

Step one in understanding the veracity of the Chronicle and also to understand why the abbey was built where it is requires the separation of what is tradition from what is not. My attempt here is to unravel that in the context of the new evidence. However before looking at that let us understand what the function of the Chronicle was? We have seen from Dr. Searle’s analysis that the document ‘appears to be accurate’ in respect of the detail and given the presentation in the first hand by the author the forged paragraphs is relatively easy for someone familiar with historical documents of the time to identify. Whilst drafted carefully it is claiming in the first part to be documented at the time of the invasion and battle. As a consequence of that a tradition could not have arisen until later. Whilst distancing the author it created a fundamental flaw in the logic of the document which ultimately caused the monks to lose their case with the King because the tradition claim identified those later additions, thus undermining the authenticity of the cliam.

Continuing over the page from the oath on folio 9/10 the first forged paragraph is added to the version of the Chronicle which we have today. No other copies exist. The forged paragraph says:

How great would you estimate the slaughter of the defeated there, when tradition has it that that of the conquerors exceeded ten thousand at the lowest count? Oh what bloodshed, where the wretches were not only felled but slaughtered as well! What a crashing of weapons, what a whistling of strokes, what shrieks of the dying, what grief, what sighs! How many groans, how many dreadful voices calling out in their last suffering – who will do justice to them? Truly pitiful condition of human wretchedness is shown us that we be struck aghast and weep. In imagining these things then, our pen begins to waver. Yet it must be added that when the battle was at last over, England yielded to the Normans with the victory. Accordingly, the spot was marked where the standard of the enemy’s rash usurpation fell, and the duke marched swiftly on, hurrying to bring under his authority all the areas he could reach.[33]

The inclusion of the words confirming it is as‘tradition that the spot where the standard fell was marked and there were ten thousand slaughtered by the Normans are details that have been added later by virtue of the literary device used. The document also indirectly confirms this information has been added later using the words ‘In imagining these things then, our pen begins to waver.’ It is impossible not to admire the skill of the draftsman who put this together since he has distanced the author from the deceit by claiming it is tradition and at the same time admitted indirectly it is his own view that he is giving the reader without needing to accept responsibility if he is wrong.

Dr.Searle notes ‘One of the problems for the Battle chronicler is accounting for the long delay between the ‘vow’ of 1066 and the actual summoning of the monks from Marmourtier. The reason it had importance at the time was because without an explanation of what had been happening at the Abbey site on the battlefield the obvious conclusion for the Revenue men would be that the battlefield oath had not taken place and was an invention. As a result the document details everything they can that happened in the period up to the point the foundations were laid. It is a critical and important issue because this evidence in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is the authentic confirmation of what happened at and after the Battle of Hastings. It is the only document to describe the events between 1066AD and the founding of the abbey in 1071AD. It is my contention that the elements that we have looked at all took place before 1071AD when the foundations were laid at Battle abbey.

The point where it tells us the foundations were laid has to be some time before 1071AD because it follows the location of the stone for the building and the last details of the abbey building project in the first author’s hand is before Gausbert the abbot was appointed in 1076AD. The statement that follows at this point is as follows:

And so at length, the foundations were laid of what was in those days thought to be an outstanding building, and they prudently erected the high altar as the king had commanded, on the very place where Harold’s emblem, which they called a ‘standard’ was seen to have fallen’[34].  There is no claim of tradition here either and is a statement of fact that on the face of it seems completely contrary to my claim that the battlefield is not at Battle abbey. How can this possibly be correct when I understand it to be correct in that it confirms ‘the foundations were laid where Harold fell’.

It is because folio 11 and 12 tells the story of what happens from 1067AD to 1071AD (before Battle abbey was started) and follows on in precise chronological order. The sequence ends on folio13 with the statement that the foundations were laid[35]. In the opening paragraph to the sequence after the date 1067AD is identified in folio11 it starts ‘When this was over he (William) was preoccupied with many, indeed countless matters…’ and then describes the arrival of a monk named ‘the smith’ whereThey studied the battlefield and decided that it seemed hardly suitable for so outstanding a building. There they chose a fit place for settling, a site located not far off, but somewhat lower down, towards the western slope of the ridge. There lest they seemed to be doing nothing, they built themselves some little huts. This place still called Herste[36], has a low wall as a mark of this.’ The translation is Dr. Searle/Winterbourne’s and I have accepted this to date and will come back to the translation shortly.

In my book Secrets of the Norman Invasion I claim that the subject of this clause is the battlefield which is moved and that this paragraph shows conclusively the battlefield was in Crowhurst because of the name Herste and the location next to a low wall which is in Crowhurst next to the ruins of an eleventh century ruin towards the west of the slope.

When it is understood that the chronology of the Chronicle of Battle Abbey describes the so called battlefield oath taking place where William camped at Hedgeland Hill it can be seen that the hill is now where Wilting Manor House stands. The topography therefor means the document is confirming that the battlefield is defined as the land between Redgeland and Telham[37]. Those unfamiliar with the layout of the land will find this is south of the traditional site at Battle abbey. The Battle abbey site is at the bottom end of what is known locally as The Ridge which rises to 120m between Battle and the coast.

Following the London to Hastings road in 1066 the old road did not follow the ridge line because it was too high and too difficult for carts until the coach road was developed in 1740. The old London Road is still visible on ordnance survey maps as well as Google maps[38] and shows it went directly to Crowhurst and on to Wilting. Consequently it is possible to see that the ridge in this area would be seen as the last hill between London and Hastings because William’s camp at Redgeland wood was the site of the port of Hastings.

According to the folio 12 of Chronicle of Battle Abbey the monk Smith came from Marmoutier in France and with others decided the battlefield site was ‘not suitable for so outstanding a building’. But they did not do anything because they built some huts at Herste is how I had read it. However upon revisiting the text this year I can see certain difficulties that Dr. Searle was faced with when dealing with that translation. The Chronicle clearly tells the story that Smith chose a site that was NOT on the battlefield. It was described as ‘not far off’.

Then the Chronicle follows the statement about the tradition of water and wine and the details about finding stone with which to build. In the water and wine statement it is claimed the King was angry and he ordered the foundations to be built upon the very spot where his enemy had fallen.’ If this was on the battlefield at Crowhurst according to the Chronicle of Battle Abbey the abbey foundations would have been laid there. This was conceptually inconceivable in the time when Searle and Winterbourne did their translation of the Latin, because all historians agreed for the reasons stated above the abbey was built on the battlefield and assumed to be at Battle abbey.

I therefore decided to look again at the Latin of folio 12. At that time (2010) I had asked Dr N Wright in Cambridge to kindly translate the key paragraph in order that I could be absolutely sure nothing was being missed. The translation kindly provided by Dr. Wright identified a difficult word in the text as ‘spinam’. Until this month I had taken the view that there was no significant difference between the Dr. Searle/Winterbourne version and Dr Wright’s which reads:

Qui memoratum belli locum considerates cum ad tam insignem fabricum minus idoneum, ut uidebatur, arbitrarentur in humiliori non procul loco, uersus eiusdem collis occidentalem plagam, aptus habitandi locum eligentes ibidem ne nil operis agree uiderentur mansiunculas quasdam fabricauerunt. Qui locus, hucusque Herste cognominatus, quondam habet spinam in huius rei monimentum’.

‘The monks, inspecting the said battlefield judged it unsuitable, as it seemed, for so important a structure and chose a suitable [read aptum here] living site on [or towards] the western side of the same hill; and, lest they seemed to be making no progress, built small dwellings there. This place, still called Herste, has a column [?] as a memorial of this’ 24th August 2010.

Having now conducted a resistivity survey where the Chronicle of Battle Abbey states the foundations of Battle Abbey were started and having found the remains of a substantial ruined building that has a layout similar to that which was later built at Battle abbey I must conclude that the Chronicle is correct in naming Herste as the site where the battle took place. However re-examining the Latinfrom Dr. Wright makes the confirmation greater because a number of words in the translation in the Dr. Searle/Winterbourne version have variable meanings. Both Dr Winterbottom and Dr. Searle agreed to use the word Ridge ‘down towards the western slope of the ridge’ whereas a more precise translation is clearly probable as ‘western side of the same hill’. The reference to ridge is made upon the basis of the knowledge of the Battle abbey site because it is on the ridge and the word ‘ridge’ is open to question. However if the intention was to mean ‘same hill’ then only Crowhurst identifies the site. It further is understandable why this choice of wording would have been chosen in 2010 because no alternative building of place on the same hill was known. Now it is the issue needs re-assessment.

The story changes slightly in trying to identify the word ‘spinam’ because one version might mean there is ‘a low wall as a mark of this’ or the other has ‘a column as a memorial of this.’ Here I see a major problem for the Dr. Searle version because there is no low wall, column or memorial at the Battle abbey site. At the same time as far as Dr. Searle and Dr. Winterbottom were concerned this was a description of the site at Battle abbey. They had no information about any other site and everyone for nearly a thousand years had assumed the story given by the monks as a local tradition was correct.

The only way to accommodate this in the scope of the Latin was to translate the word hill as ridge and the word for monument to mark. The word monimentum is not a mark by most people’s understanding. When translated outside of the context of Battle it would mean a monument or possible gravestone. A monument or gravestone (the usual use of the word ‘monimentum) would be raised where people had died or some great event taken place and consequently the inclusion of ‘monimentum’ directly confirms the battlefield presence is not at Battle abbey because the monimentuum is at Herste. A monument is raised where the true battlefield is found and that is what the document is telling us. It isn’t telling us precisely where it was, but it is confirming that there is something at Herste that acts as a monument and it confirms the battlefield is there and not where the abbey is when the monks sought to move it.

Similarly when it is known that an alternative location for the abbey exists on the other side of the same hill then the alternative translation is far more relevant and actually tells us the relevance of the low wall present on the Crowhurst battlefield site.

I cannot blame Dr. Searle or Dr Winterbourne for their choice of words because as I had read it in 2010 the significance was not apparent. Now with the discovery of the earliest start to the abbey foundations in the Crowhurst valley exactly where the Chronicle describes it, next to the low wall, I must conclude the Chronicle is telling us the wall is also a memorial and not just a mark. What is next to it remains to be seen but what is certain is the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is wholly correct in naming the site and has an authentic pedigree once it is understood how it came into existence and why it contains the paragraphs about tradition. Those paragraphs about tradition do not, when understood, support the claim that Battle abbey was built on the spot where Harold fell. Careful analysis shows to the contrary they identify traditions put in place later after the abbey had been moved from Crowhurst. The discovery of the foundations in Crowhurst confirm both the correct site of the battlefield and also that Redgeland at the port of Hastings at Wilting Manor is the Hedgeland referred to in the Chronicle.

Indeed I think it is important to understand the significance of Searle’s work with Dr Winterbourne in that it is a work of great academic value covering a period in history that was closed until very recently. The significance of the monk Smith moving the battlefield would not have come to light without the translation provided, which does not hide the problems associated with it and as a result I believe we are all in debt and it should be recognised as a great work. My own investigation into what is written in the Chronicle confirms great accuracy and the breadth of work undertaken by Dr. Searle and Dr Winterbottom which should ensure that no-one in future claims the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is unreliable in any element, once the context is understood by those who read it.

It might be expected that a document such as The Chronicle of Battle Abbey may have had a lot of false statements added in order to obtain their privileges but this clearly is not the case. The use of the added text is exceedingly prudent. There are only two identifiable inserted paragraphs where the nub of the issue falls. The first is where the author claims the spot where Harold’s standard fell is marked and another which contains two claims of tradition in one paragraph which I include in full. It starts immediately after the story that a monk called William ‘the smith’ came over from Marmoutier in France to move the abbey from the battlefield before 1071AD. It says:

‘Accordingly, when the solicitous king inquired meanwhile about the progress of the building, it was intimated to him by these brethren that the place where it had been decided to have the church built was on a hill, and so dry of soil, and quite without springs, and that for so great a construction a more likely place nearby should be substituted, if it pleased him. When the king heard this he refused angrily and ordered them to lay the foundations of the church speedily and on the very spot where his enemy had fallen and the victory won. When, without presuming to oppose him they gave as a reason the lack of water, tradition has it that this noble king uttered a memorable saying: ‘If God willing I live’, he said, ‘I shall so endow that abbey that the supply of wine in it will be more abundant than that of water in any other great abbey.’ Again they complained of the unsuitability of the site, this time because for some distance round the ground was heavily wooded and therefore stone for building could not be found. The king promised expenses sufficient for everything out of his own treasure. He even sent his own ships to bring across an abundance of stone for the proposed work from the region of Caen. And tradition has it that when, following the kings orders, they had bought some part of it from Normandy, it was revealed to a pious lady that it they dug in a place shown in her vision, and they would find there an abundance of stone for the projected work. Accordingly they searched not far from the boundary that had been marked out for the church, and there they found such a supply of good stone that it was quite apparent that the Lord had laid up a hidden treasure of stone there from the beginning of time for the predestined work.[39]

This additional paragraph claims that the abbey is devoid of water and the purpose of its inclusion as an added paragraph is to create the claim that the monks are entitled to free wine in their dispute with the equivalent of the Inland Revenue of its time. The Chronicle has been structured carefully. Nothing is out of order except the sequence containing this paragraph relating to the claim of water and wine follows the story of William ‘the Smith’ choosing a new place to build the abbey. It is ill conceived to seek to use the statement that the abbey is without water as proof that the building at Battle was where the abbey was started because of lack of water. It must be recognised that the Chronicle is not discussing later buildings but has the specific discussion about where the abbey is to be built in the period before 1071AD. To assume that the text at this point refers to another later building in Battle is to misunderstand the chronology of the Chronicle and also to misunderstand why the monks needed to claim there was no water. If water was the issue the abbey would not have been built in Battle because water was available at that site.  The whole of this paragraph was forged as a means to falsify the claim and had nothing to do with water at the site. The key element was the wine which was compared to the water that was to be made available as abundant as water. It was not a justification for either building the abbey or moving it but part of the critical disputed tax claim.

At the point where the pious lady identifies the stone for building we are told ‘And so at length, the foundations were laid of what was in those days thought an outstanding building.[40]’ We know when this was and English Heritage acknowledge it was 1071AD.[41] It confirms that all the events up to this point happened before the foundations were laid at Battle abbey. However the real significance is in understanding that the above paragraph starting ‘Accordingly  and ending  ‘…predestined work ‘ shown in full above is a clear addition, identified by the fact that when removed from the text the subject matter of the preceding paragraph, which is the  location of the ‘outstanding building’, is continued to be discussed in the following paragraph, without interruption of the inserted clause. The previous paragraph is folio 12 and discusses what happens when the monk Smith comes over from Marmoutier. He studies the battlefield and we are told he ‘decided it seemed hardly suitable for so outstanding a building’. Once the forged paragraph is removed the continuity is returned it continues ‘And so at length, the foundations were laid of what was in those days thought an outstanding building’. It continues ‘and they prudently erected the high alter as the king had commanded, on the very place where Harold’s emblem, which they called a ‘standard’, was seen to have fallen.’[42]

There then follows an explanation of the monks being called from Marmoutier with Robert Blanchard chosen as the first abbot but being drowned at sea on the wa,y before Gausbert is appointed the first abbot in 1076AD. No further discussion takes place as regards to the abbey because the document used in the first folios of the Chronicle relates to the building foundations that were created in Crowhurst. No other documents exist that can be determined to relate to the abbey in Battle. Indeed once you are alerted to the fact the first Chronicle document is not written about Battle abbey it is clear that the only point where the place called Battle is named  is identified as a later addition because it is in the introduction to the battle. It says ‘Harold, the userper of the realm, speedily collected an army, and fearlessly, but rashly, hurried to the place which is now called Battle, to expel, or better, to exterminate him and his followers.[43]’ The inclusion of the word ‘now’ confirms the later addition of the paragraph. There is no attempt to distort the facts but simply stated the truth as believed by the author who wrote that copy as an aside to the main text.

We must conclude from this information that the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is a true version of events in the chronology of the invasion and battle irrespective of the additions because they can be identified. The story as told confirms an oath was undertaken by William the Conqueror in his camp at the port of Hastings. The oath is not presented as a tradition but took place and this is why the Chronicle of Battle abbey was created and does not distance the author from the statement. It also confirms that the abbey should be built on the place where Harold fell but whether this is tradition or not cannot be at this stage confirmed. The Chronicle was written to prove written authority for a claim for free wine and to be free of taxes. In order to do that the charters and documents that previously existed were combined and re-written as two documents around 1150AD with the elements that were missing added as an additional paragraph detailed as ‘tradition’. The tradition sought to prove the entitlement to their benefits but not the location of the abbey, which was started in Crowhurst next to a low wall.  There was no need to deny this fact because at the time the Chronicle was created it was not an issue and the information about moving the abbey was part of the proof of their entitlement. The location and reason for the building being created was confirmed in that document. It is a first-hand authoritative confirmation that the Battle of Hastings was fought in the Crowhurst valley on the other side of the hill from where the abbey exists today. The wall was a monument to the fallen dead and is found where the church now stands next to the manor house. Whilst we know that a church existed in Crowhurst when Offa made his charter in 796 we do not know where it stood, because no evidence of its existence has ever been recorded. The Church we know today was built when the manor house was build two hundred years after the battle five hundred years after Offa’s charter. It is therefore not beyond the impossible that the mound upon which the church at Crowhurst Church now stands, incorporating its low wall, encloses the grave of the fallen at the Battle of Hastings explaining why no evidence of bodies have ever been found. Irrespective of any speculation what is clear is the Chronicle of Battle Abbey has an absolute authority as to the location of the true battlefield and that is now confirmed by geophysics as at the Crowhurst Manor House site. There is no other satisfactory explanation for the existence of this ruin. No explanation has ever been provided in the past and now the purpose of its creation is known.

Nick Austin

Note: If there is something here you are unhappy with or need a reference to or clarification please email me nick @ and I will be pleased to deal with it and change any element if found wanting.

[1] Edited and Translated by Eleanor Searle, The Chronicle of Battle Abbey (Oxford Medieval Texts, Clarendon Press 1980),

[2] Crowhurst Manor resistivity survey 2013

[3] Domesday data Crowhurst

[4] Dr Glenn Foard University of Huddersfield report confirming Dr Foard’s involvement

[5] By way of a side issue it has been argued recently that the existence of a wood cutters chopping axe with a blade less than 4inches in size found in Marley Lane off the main battlefield to the east and outside of the abbey grounds away from the claimed battle lines confirms the site as the battlefield.  I do not intend to use this article to discuss the merit or otherwise of that claim, but would only add that it was previously designated as a woodcutters chopping axe by the Museum in Battle prior to the archaeological investigation that rejected the main Battle Abbey site. Neither metal analysis nor carbon dating can confirm it’s origins.

[6] Time Team report by Roy Porter for English Heritage blog.

[7] Dr Michael Winterbottom

[8], Edited and Translated by Eleanor Searle, The Chronicle of Battle Abbey (Oxford Medieval Texts, Clarendon Press 1980), 1, 2.

[9] Ibid. 1, 6

[10] Ibid. 1,.7

[11] Ibid. 1..8

[12] Ibid 1..15

[13] Ibid 1..16

[14] Henry II

[15] Ibid 1..35-37

[16] Google maps Telham

[17] Map of Crowhurst battlefield detailing two Malfosses.

[18] 1980

[19] Secrets of the Norman Invasion Ogmium Press Nick Austin 2011

[20] The Uncomfortable Truth – John Grehan

[21] Kathleen Tyson

[22] Details regarding port site investigation ongoing

[23] Ibid 1..20

[24] Ibid 1..23

[25] Ibid 1..37

[26] Over three miles from the sea.

[27] Hauberk – a Norman tunic usually made from chain mail.

[28] The story of the hauberk is confirmed in Wace but not the battlefield oath.

[29] Ibid 1..37

[30] 1147 to 1234 (Searle p.2 and p.6)

[31] Ibid 1..20

[32] The Chronicle of Battle Abbey, Edited by Eleanor Searle, Oxford Medieval Texts Introduction p.6

[33] Ibid 1..39

[34] Ibid 1. 45

[35] Ibid 1..46

[36] The Old Saxon name for Crowhurst – Croghertse (where Crog not pronounced – ‘gh’ silent as in Burgh)

[37] Map of Telham to Redgeland

[38] Google maps London Road

[39] Ibid 1..43

[40] Ibid 1..45

[41] English Heritage web site

[42] Ibid 1..45

[43] Ibid 1. 35