Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Battle of Senlac Hill

Best guess arrangement of opposing troops
The Battle of Hastings gets remembered on 14 October; that's when the forces of William of Normandy defeated the (already exhausted) forces of Harold Godwinsson at Hastings. Except it isn't...at Hastings, that is. It was fought at Senlac Hill, or Senlac Ridge, several miles from the town of Hastings. The name is the shortened form of the Norman Sanguelac ["Blood Lake"], which was their post-Conquest pun on the original name of Sandlacu ["sandy lake"]; there is a stream that crosses the fields below the hill. In fact, the site now has a town called (almost predictably) Battle, and Battle Abbey, which was built to commemorate the Norman victory. The Domesday Book commissioned in 1085 referred to it as bellum Hasestingas ["Battle of Hastings"], and yet the battle was being referred to as Senlac in other chronicles.

Harold managed to reach Senlac and array his troops on the high ground, giving them a tactical advantage over the Normans below. William's forces, however, fought bravely—first with archers, then with spears—and then an accidental retreat drew the English off the high ground in pursuit, whereupon the Normans turned around and continued the fight.

There were not many details written down about the battle, but we can make some assumptions. Fighting would have to take place in daylight, so a charge could not start much earlier than the 6:48am sunrise would allow. Also, sunset was at 4:54pm, and it would have been fully dark on the battlefield by 5:54pm. The moon did not rise until hours later, and so principal fighting would not have extended much past sunset. It only needed a day, however, to change the course of English history.

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