Heritage - 37: October 14th, 1066 a Day to Think Back, 953 Years on We Still Mark Harold's Stand on Caldbec Hill
Tickets were sold out well before the two-day event in October, 2016
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!
A splash of colour on a day that began grey
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.
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. Mr Marren poses some interesting questions, such as the story of the Saracen woman who rescued and nursed Harold after the battle, and the concept of him wandering off to become a hermit monk in Chester is out of character with a gregarious man who rewarded loyalty well. He would not have left his huscarls to face the enemy without him. Possibly blind-sided by dressing on a facial wound caused by a stray arrow, he was beset by three of William's knights. One of these, King Eadward's brother-in-law Count Eustace of Boulogne held a grudge against him and his father Earl Godwin after events in 1051 at Dover. Another desecrated his corpse and was sent home in disgrace by William.
My copy is well-thumbed, having been in my collection since I bought it about eight years ago.
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