Surveying a Field Where a Nation Was Forged in Battle, England
Standing in the silence of a ruined abbey and peering down on a rutted English meadow, home to a handful of dozy sheep, this seems an improbable setting for an cataclysmic upheaval in European history. But there is a spine-tingling thrill in knowing that here on Senlac (“Bloodlake”) Hill, in 1066, the armies of William, Duke of Normandy and Harold II, King of England squared up in the Battle of Hastings, one of those rare, savage events where history abruptly remakes the world. The invading Normans’ defeat of the Anglo-Saxons turned England’s orientation from Scandinavia to western Europe, transforming England into a major power whose military, cultural and linguistic influence would spread around the globe. The power of human imagination means that the vicious brutality of the battle hangs heavily over this tranquil rural scene, and visitors remain transfixed for a lengthy time, compelled to picture the bloody fighting in the mind's eye, and perhaps to ponder how a 1000 years ago, if a few hundred hot-headed Anglo-Saxons hadn’t been duped into descending the hill to fight a battle on flatter ground—where they were massacred—what a different place the world could now be.