Part Five

If you are looking for the 2016 document about the Abbey battlefield click here

This manuscript (36) is an account of the affairs of the famous Abbey, said to be built upon William's personal instructions, on the actual site of the Battle of Hastings. It is written in two different sections featuring over 100 pages of invaluable detail of events of the time. The first 14 pages, written in one hand, cover the period which we are interested in and lays out the background to the story of the founding of the Abbey, whilst the main text continued in a new hand relating to the events of the day. Although the holy scribe devoted less than a page to the actual landing, in so doing he made a significant statement, that now has new and great importance.

In this instance we are told that

"At length he (William) landed safely near the town called Pevensey ......the army extensively along an area of shore....."

The text at this point has been copied in the past and a number of key words are missing. However it continues in the next paragraph

" So with things going as he wished, the Duke spent no long time there, but made his way with his men to a near-by port called Hastings. There he found a suitable place, and with foresight he quickly built a wooden fort."

Upon first inspection we appear to be given the same story as that in the Poitiers and Jumieges manuscripts. However, like those that we have previously examined, there is no claim that William landed at Pevensey. The manuscript states that it was specifically near Pevensey. This is further enlarged upon by confirming that they moved to the port of Hastings and built a wooden fort there. Notable as a wooden fort rather than a castle. No time scale is mentioned and since all these events are drawn in the same sentence, it is reasonable to assume, although by no means certain, that these matters probably occurred simultaneously.

The same paragraph continues

"Arriving at the hill called Hedgeland, which lies towards Hastings, while they were hurriedly getting one another into armour, a hauberk (37) was held up to the Duke to get into, and unaccountably it was offered the wrong way round."

This was taken to be a bad omen by those in attendance, but William makes the point that he does not believe in omens, otherwise he would not go into battle that day.

The implication of this paragraph are not obvious unless taken in conjunction with the text of Robert Wace in his work entitled Roman de Rue.(38) This ancient manuscript was until the mid 19th century accepted by most historians as the authoritative detailed account of the landing and events of the battle itself. By way of example it is the only English or French text that I know of from the period to suggest Harold was hit with an arrow in the eye, yet colloquial history still accepts this version of events today. It was discredited (39)in the United Kingdom , for reasons which now appear to be unsound, yet is still held as the leading authority by scholars in France (40). The consequence of this literary attack being the virtual removal from the library and British academic scene.

In Wace's version we have exactly the same story about the Hauberk, but this time it recounts the event taking place in William's camp, prior to leaving for the battle, in an ordered chronological sequence. In the Chronicle of Battle Abbey the text infers that the Hauberk was offered the wrong way round whilst on the way to the battle site. The evidence of two independent texts, detailing the same events, indicates the high probability that these matters actually occurred, but only one of them is correct as to the location. Since the Battle Abbey Chronicle was written in an ambiguous way I conclude that Wace probably presents the authentic story, because it was not logical for William to put his battle dress on after leaving his camp to engage in battle. In consequence William's camp was according to the Chronicle at a place called Hedgeland.

This in itself may not appear to have any great implication, except for the fact that the Battle Abbey monks named the Hedgeland site on the road between the Abbey and the far hill. It has always been assumed that this was where Hedgeland was located, so no-one to my knowledge has ever looked anywhere else for such a place name. I believe that like the charters that the same monks forged in the 1150's (41) , to attempt to prove their claim to the site, Hedgeland was a convenient invention. The ridge road, leading from the Abbey to Hastings, was the only place that could have been Hedgeland, if the Battle Chronicle version was correct in stating that William put on his armour on the way to the battle site. The monks had no choice but to identify the site on the ridge as Hedgeland, or else take the risk of undermining the authority of the Abbey itself. That authority was based upon the report in this Chronicle that William made a battlefield oath to build an Abbey on the spot where Harold fell. Since no other manuscript made this claim the absence of Hedgeland from the vicinity of the Abbey would have totally undermined that authority.

It is only in this Chronicle that we have the events of William's camp and those of the battlefield mixed. The same paragraph continues

"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.."

The whole paragraph is highly suspect and open to interpretation, since it appears to have been written long after the actual events(42) , and the only one to mention the battlefield vow. It continues

"..Harold, the usurper of the realm, speedily collected an army, and fearlessly, but rashly, hurried to the place which is now called Battle,.."

The text starts in Hastings, continues through to the camp at Hedgeland and ends with the battlefield oath naming Battle in one long confused paragraph which leaves too much open to interpretation

This would probably have suited the monks of the day who did not require justification for their privileges, in days when the written word was not required. However, as time passed and the written word gained in importance, every piece of collaboratory evidence took on new significance, no matter how slight. By the time this manuscript was written Battle was well developed as an historical site, making it even more necessary for documentary evidence to justify the claim for the Abbey and leading to the invention of the forged documents.

In conclusion little new emerges from the Battle Chronicle text, except further confirmation that William camped at the port of Hastings. He built a wooden fort there and this was near the town of Pevensey, with the army along a large area of shore. However a significant new factor is added, as a result of new examination of the Wace chronicle. This establishes that the events with the Hauberk were at William's camp and we have there the only example where the site is named - Hedgeland. If such a site was not where the monks of the day marked it, half way between Telham ridge and the battle site, then a record of Hedgeland would provide conclusive proof of the correct site. Not only is the site named, but it is called a hill, something that the monks seemed to have overlooked in their attempt to identify a suitable place.

The ridge site cannot be satisfactorily described as a hill unless approached from the east or west - something that was probably impossible because of the wooded nature of the terrain. As far as I can establish there are no written descriptions of Hedgeland as a hill, apart from the Battle Chronicle. This is not surprising, as it is an integral part of the ridge between Hastings and Battle. The fact that the ridge rises from North to South does not justify the monk's claim that Hedgeland on the ridge was a hill. Looking at the issue from a critical perspective, rather than seeking proof of the site, there are strong grounds for doubt when a visual inspection finds no hill and no recognisable summit. This inconvenience adds to the inconsistencies we have referred to earlier but would only be noticeable if the authenticity of that site were challenged. How many historians from the past have actually been to examine the Hedgeland site? Why should they? The matter had no relevance unless the authenticity of that site were to be challenged.

The fact that the authorities at Battle Abbey, at the time that the Chronicle was written, were prepared to forge documents to authenticate their claims and privileges does not bode well for the reliability of any of the historical background in this document. However, it must be pointed out that nothing was to be gained by naming the site Hedgeland and then falsely inventing its position, unless the local understanding was already established in the minds of the people familiar with the story, from whom the scribe drew knowledge. I therefore believe that far from being an invention of the time, logic dictates that the name had a firm foundation in the true name of the original site of William's camp and landing. The name appears to have passed into the record correctly, most probably from the first scribe, whilst the details of exactly where it was did not. The solution of the day was to invent a site, in the same way they invented the forged Charters, to justify other missing evidence. The correct identification of the Duke's camp at Hedgeland, as a hill and the name of the same camp at the port of Hastings, is crucial new evidence that has been misinterpreted in the past to mean different places, even though the manuscripts themselves refer to one Norman camp at Hastings. When the texts are taken as a whole, rather than on a paragraph by paragraph basis there is only one conclusion. Which is that the camp at Hedgeland and the camp at the port of Hastings are one and the same. Only with this conclusion are both Wace and the Chronicle of Battle Abbey in agreement. Only in this context does the chronology of the paragraph in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey make full sense. The words "arriving at a hill called Hedgeland" refer to the previous sentence "He found a suitable place" (to camp). Seeking to match the text to the ridge site, which had been invented, is an error that has passed from generation to generation until now. Those who drew up the Chronicle could not know the error, but like generations before them interpreted the text to mean that Hedgeland was within sight of the Abbey. It appeared to readers of the Chronicle that this must be the case, as the reference to Hedgeland appears in the same paragraph as the battlefield oath (which was probably an invention). Hedgeland could only be situated on the ridge if these events took place on the battle field. That was why they invented it, in order to protect the interests of the Abbey by substantiating the written evidence of the Chronicle.

If this interpretation of the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is correct the Normans built their first camp and fort at a place called Hedgeland. This was not upon the ridge, within the possible boundary of the battle field, but at a place called Hedgeland at the port of Hastings.