Tuesday 16 October 2007

All day long they stood there and we could not move them

1066. Life was fragile in those dark days and could be easily snuffed out like a candle flame - if you survived infancy, you were lucky to make old bones. On October 14th of that year, many certainly did not. No precise figures are available, but it is thought that each opposing side had between 5,000 and 7,000 men – in those days no mean number - and no records exist on the exact numbers killed.

Upon Senlac Hill, recorded at sometime between 9 and 10 am, began the battle that would change the history of England. The shield wall stood its ground, so tightly packed that it was reported that ‘the dead could scarcely fall and the wounded could not remove themselves from the action’. No matter what your thoughts may be as to whom had the rightful succession to the English throne at that time in history, you cannot but applaud Harold’s efforts. After taking his army up north to Stamford Bridge and defeating King Harald Hardrada, and Harold’s own brother Tostig, and then having to march back down to the south coast to meet this new, somewhat unexpected, threat took a great determination. I say unexpected – Harold had been waiting for an invasion, but had thought that as the autumn gales had begun, making sea journeys unfavourable, it would not arrive until the spring.

It would seem that he was, quite simply, caught out by the weather – something, of course, that still plagues all of us who live in this green and pleasant land to this day. However, the lazy Sunday afternoon cricket match, summer fete or wash day does not quite compare to that ill-fated day in October nearly 950 years ago!

This past weekend saw the annual two-day re-enactment of King Harold’s brave effort to thwart the taking of the English throne by William, Duke of Normandy. Jon and I travelled down to East Sussex on Friday in order that we could witness this major event in the calendar for ourselves on Saturday. It is something I have wanted to experience for many years and the event did not disappoint. It is one of those dates that are drummed into you at primary school, and to stand upon that field is humbling – even emotional. I have great respect for those ‘English’ men who fought and died upon that bloodied field 941 years ago.

Apart from the excitement of the ‘battle’ itself, the day was educational for those watching – there were talks about the falconry of the day, demonstrations of hand to hand fighting, horsemanship and archery. The sheer weight of armour and weaponry is one of those things not easily imagined. My battle-axe and broadsword are pretty hefty, but when I picked up a pair of chainmail gauntlets at one of the encampment market tents, I was astounded as to quite how heavy they were – add to that a helm and shield, and then fight in them for hours! Respect indeed.

I was itching to join the melee - I just wish I had taken my bow, battle-axe and sword with me! Mind you, I am not as fit as I should be, so I would probably have just collapsed under the weight of it all …

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