Battle of Hastings location dispute 'a conspiracy theory'

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Norman historian Marc Morris has challenged a new claim that the Battle of Hastings took place a few miles away from where Battle Abbey now stands.

Dr Morris has disputed the suggestion, put forward by amateur historian Nick Austen, that the original Battle Abbey was built in Crowhurst, and was later substituted by monks.

Nick Austen, who has for 27 years been exploring the history of the 1066 battle, said: “The Chronicle of Battle Abbey says that ‘the building was substituted’ - presumably meaning replaced at the new location, going on to say ‘And so at length the foundations were laid of what was in those days thought an outstanding building’ - referring to the traditional site at the abbey we know today.”

Austen also says primary sources match more closely to the Crowhurst site than Battle.

But his claims have been called into question by historian and broadcaster Marc Morris, who told historyextra.com: “It’s a conspiracy theory.

“The academic world has ignored Austen’s theory, and with good reason. If he could get one person who teaches this period at a higher educational level to endorse it – to put their professional reputation on the line – it would merit the word ‘debate’.

“But he won’t get anyone, because it’s not a credible argument.”

Discussing generally the suggestion the location of the battle is incorrect, Dr Morris said: “The problem is theorists take as their starting point the Chronicle of Battle Abbey – which was written over a century after 1066 and can be proved on occasion to distort the truth.

“They claim that this is the only source for the story that the abbey was built on the spot where King Harold fell. But this is simply not true. There are at least half a dozen earlier sources which say exactly the same thing.

“When the theory that the battle location may be incorrect was first put forward 30 years ago, it was plain ignorance. But more recently, it seems to me that people are just cherry-picking the evidence and ignoring the bits that disprove their pet theory.

“Take, for example, the E version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It has an obituary of William the Conqueror, written by an author who tells us he lived at king’s court.

“It was demonstrably written before 1100. It says that the abbey was built ‘on the very spot’ where God granted William the conquest of England.

“This is devastating – it’s contemporary evidence, and an English voice. You would have to dismiss this, and several other similarly credible sources [to conclude the battle took place elsewhere].

“Secondly, there’s the abbey itself – it was built in a really stupid place. It’s on a hillside with very poor water supply.

“This accords very well with the tradition that the monks began to build in a more suitable location, but that William found out and commanded them to build on the precise spot where Harold fell.

“So the abbey and the chronicle tradition fit together perfectly, and the people behind these theories are having to rubbish or ignore all of this.”

Dr Morris added: “It’s very difficult to gainsay this with archaeology. In the case of Hastings they have found nothing, but an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

But Nick Austen defended his position: “There is no evidence it was at Battle at all,” he said.

“Monks started to build the abbey at a ridge at Hurst and six years later moved it to Battle. In May we did a community dig into the foundations of the manor house, and underneath it was a huge building. It has to be the foundations of Battle Abbey.

“This site is going to be proven to be the site of the Battle of Hastings, and we want to get that done as soon as possible.”

Nick Austen and Dr Morris will be discussing the location of the Battle of Hastings on You & Yours, BBC Radio 4, tomorrow at 12.30pm. 

 

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