© Photo: LanceB (Hastings Old Town)
People often come to Hastings for the same reason I came here as a child; it’s a decent-sized town that has a beach; a place to spend long summer afternoons building sandcastles, dipping in and out of the sea, strolling the narrow medieval streets of the old town and taking slow walks up and down the Victorian pier. There is however, a story behind this seaside town that changed England forever, and in some ways changed the history of the world; the day the Normans invaded Anglo-Saxon England.
© Photo: hija (Hastings beach and town)
Just the other night at a bar in Spain, a song by the Clash was playing and someone said to me ”listen man, the best music in the world comes from the Anglo-Saxons.” People use the term ‘Anglo-Saxons’ loosely these days. It often simply means ‘people from English speaking countries’. The current meaning may be unclear but the original is not. The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes, primarily from Angles and Saxony, who invaded Celtic Britain when Roman rule came to an end in 410 AD. The Anglo-Saxons formed England while the remaining Celts formed Wales, Scotland and Cornwall. But Anglo-Saxon rule of England would come to an end on October 14th 1066, in the town of Hastings, when the Normans invaded.
© Photo: Chrisds (Hastings Pier)
Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor did not get married nor have children. This led to a succession crisis when he died in 1066. He had spent earlier years in exile in Normandy (Northern France), getting to know the Normans, who were descendants of the Vikings. During that time, Edward allegedly promised the English throne to William of Normandy. It was also alleged that on his deathbed, he promised the throne to his brother-in-law Harold, an Anglo-Saxon favourite. When King Edward died however, Harold became King of England, infuriating William and prompting a Norman invasion.
© Photo: mg7 (Hastings Castle)
The Normans arrived in ships on England’s South Coast and immediately built Hastings Castle, which still stands today in ruins. The new King Harold was forced to travel with his army down to Hastings to defend England even though he had only very recently fought off a Viking invasion in the North of England. Just 7 miles north of Hastings, the two armies met on a hill and the battle of Hastings began. Initially, Harold and the Anglo-Saxons were winning the battle, defending from the top of the hill firing arrows down below. However, when the Normans tried to flee, Harold’s army gave up their defensive position to chase them and were slaughtered, bit by bit, by cavalry men. King Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow then killed on the same hill. William of Normandy became King of England. The Normans then built Battle Abbey on the hill where Harold died. It can still be visited today in the nearby town now known as 'Battle'.
© Photo: chrisdorney (The Hill of the Battle of Hastings)
The Normans did not speak the language of the English people they ruled over. This had two huge effects on history; firstly it meant that their language would merge with Anglo-Saxon to create the English language spoken by millions today; secondly that their disconnect from the people they ruled over led to the creation of an extremely aristocratic class in England that can still be felt to this day.
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