HERITAGE - 37: DAY TO THINK BACK, 950 Years On We Still Mark Harold's Last Fight
Tickets were sold out this year, the event well patronised...
The re-enactors came from around Europe and further afield 'across the Pond' both as Harold's warriors and William's allies.
In the Dormitory range to the east of the main building I spoke to Bretons, Italians, Germans, I heard Canadians and Americans and had a long conversation with a Danish visitor about Ivar and his place in the scheme of things.
On making my circuit of the site to find vacant facilities, I took in all the colours of the rainbow in costumes, although leather and chain mail predominated. Near the Author Area was a musician and his wife, not far beyond a drama unfolded where people took the roles of Harold and his sister Queen Eadgytha laying into one another verbally - over Harold's lack of support for Tostig the year before no doubt - and people wandered about looking at everyone else in their costumes.
I wandered about taking pictures, close-ups where possible. To my mind the best images of people or people on horseback are close-ups. Photographers often say "Fill the frame! - it doesn't help to be shy, go for it!"
The weekend develops...
So here are some 'frame-fillers'. The musician and his wife take the lead...
Below them two shots take in a pair of 'sentries' at the mercenaries camp These two were from western Germany, from around the Rhine/Ruhr. Whilst we chatted - the one in the first picture and I - another pair joined them. I learned there was a large contingent of Germans and others. This would have been true at the time, when along with others taken in by William's claim that he was to come here on a 'crusade' the Emperor Heinrich sent armed men.
The fourth picture was taken beside the Dormitory Range, of one of Harold's men. The weight of the shields these men carried about with them, let alone their chain mail and weaponry would test many a fit man today. They needed their big dinners with lots of meat to build the body and fight weariness!
The Battle of Hastings
An authoritative work on the battle that changed the nature of the kingdom - for better or worse. I have four books on the theme, two are out of print. More than one book is needed to achieve a 'rounded' picture of the event that cost Harold and his younger brothers Gyrth and Leofwin their lives. A salutary lesson on strategy and intentions with site views, diagrams and maps.
Was it really Harold's folly, or was there a calculated risk that paid off against Harald Sigurdsson - 'Haradradi' - weeks earlier in the North? .
A touch of colour on a day that began grey
Was this Father Christmas in fancy dress?
I think the fellow with him (first picture) was meant to be a Flemish archer, although I wasn't so sure of the outfit - despite being a bit on the dark side for Lincoln Green, it might have passed for Robin Hood's. The old boy was a character who filled the room by himself, whether about a century out or not. Below them is a fellow who seemed ready to pose for passing cameras, so I obliged and we were both happy. Next, the man in blue kept up an interesting patter about his ancestry which - in common with 'Who Do You Think You Are' candidates Alexander Armstrong and Matthew Pinsent - included William fitzRobert, the Tanner's Grandson. (Herleva was a busy Lizzie). We chatted on a bit longer, about his other forbears and a Huguenot link in his blood-line. He gave me his card, I gave him mine. Which reminds me, I should e-mail him the image. Might come in use for him.
1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings
Although a relatively short book, 170 pages plus references and index, Peter Marren's work is thorough, amply illustrated with views of the sites. York, or rather Gate Fulford was only a short ride from the city walls. Stamford Bridge was a few miles to the east. Hastings occupies a larger proportion of the narrative, with a list of higher-born participants. Descriptions of the fighting forces and the hazards they faced are interspersed with diagrams of the sites. My copy is well-thumbed, having been in my collection since I bought it about eight years ago.
Gathering for the shield wall...
And then there was this lot, gathering to be shepherded into line by their chief barker...
I managed to capture some of the atmosphere with these shots (above), of men standing, waiting, biding their time before being ushered into place for the forthcoming clash. As with the real thing, some think, some chat with their fellows, others take in their surroundings. The young fellow gave me a passable glare on request, to make the portraiture a bit less 'posed'. Others seemed unaware of my being there.
The call came, Caldbec Hill came to life and everyone stood in line to join the shield wall, whacking their shields with their swords, Dane-axes or spears as they would have done 950 years ago. The noise echoed around the deep valley, bounced back by the wooded Telham Hill where the Normans and their allies assembled.
Here's the king. Harold, astride his handsome mount
Three riders sat astride their mounts on one side of Harold's host as it gathered on the hill
Well, it's not written anywhere that they didn't, although I think Harold already had his mount taken to the safety of the woodland behind.
He would have walked clear of the thickly forested Andred's Weald after a possibly sleepless night, his thoughts banishing sleep, to the crest of the hill with his brothers, his huscarls and nobles to their command posts. They had a tiring fortnight behind them, a long ride from London through the wooded hills of Kent and Sussex, and the prospect of a hard fight ahead. It would be a long day, he knew. He hoped for a victory, as did William. A lot rode on it!
Ansgar, his 'stallari' (field marshal) and shire reeve of Middlesex was with him, as were many nobles, land holders, even clergymen or canons summoned as part of their duties to 'do their bit' from as far away as Hampshire and Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire (beyond Middlesex). His brothers, Gyrth Earl of East Anglia and Leofwin, Earl of Essex and part of North Kent, would have their huscarls (household warriors) with them and fyrdmen (militia in modern terms) would have come on foot from the nearest shires, West Kent, eastern Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex.
We live in hope - and hope to live without flinching from our duty to uphold the king, defend the kingdom - through the hard fight ahead
More by this Author
Count Alan 'Rufus' came to these shores with Duke William fitzRobert. For his part in the fighting on Caldbec Hill against Harold he was awarded with land overlooking the River Swale in Yorkshire...
A brief history of Man, its Celtic and Norse crosses and an array of kings from the 9th-12th Centuries (some of which are shrouded in mystery).
Appearances are deceptive. Those who take part in costume share their love of York's Viking Age, welcome all comers to learn of the crafts and skills involved. Moreover, they want you to enjoy it!