Live Steel Reenactment:
the battle of Hastings event of 2006

"Now the times are ripe for war
To put again a man on the throne
As defender of fate, the Norman is
claiming the land" -- Thy Majestie

It is done: I went, I saw, I played, I left happy.

The preparation was all worth every bit of effort and expense. You can read my daily diary of our trip HERE

As the above pic shows, the crowd was enormous (this view is of the main spectating area at the foot of Telham hill). On Saturday c. 13,000 visitors attended. Some 1,300 estimated had "jumped the fence", so on Sunday (when this pic was taken), extra crowd control persons were employed. Total attendance for the two days was estimated at c. 25,000.

The reenactment of the battle, in October of 2006, put over 2,000 "fighters" on the ground. The "script" already worked out that Harold would die and the English would lose the battle: i.e. it was a pre-arranged historical outcome. While being intensely satisfying as an experience of the atmosphere of battle (albeit without the lethal bloodshed), the reenactment did not actually study any of the questions regarding why the Normans won and the English lost at Hastings. And in fact, being on the ground only underscored the difficulty any individual had at Hastings knowing what was going on. I was only aware of what occurred directly in front of my position and my immediate surroundings. During "lulls" in the combat I could look around. But my attention was still drawn mainly to the immediate situation of myself and neighbors, out to perhaps six feet in either direction: adjusting our ranks, and listening for commands, etc. I recall clearly the surprise that I felt at looking over the heads of the ranks in front of me (from the English center) and seeing the "bodies" carpetting the ground over by the Franco-Flemish right: the English left wing had already been annihilated, and I had missed the entire thing! I know this battle, knew with "foresight" that this was going to occur, yet it happened when I was busy and I missed it. This was very illustrative to me, of the keen difficulties any fighter had in being cognizant of the battlefield beyond his own place and position. And experiencing this blindness was the singlemost insightful benefit that I gained from the reenactment.

My wife enjoyed "kitting up" too, as an Anglo-Saxon thegn's wife. Here's a pic of the both of us after the event was over, posing at the gate to the abbey.

Company Three, of the Breton left, in the "pen" before the Sunday event. These guys in the foreground (Italians, I am told) surely figured that the woman with the camera was taking their picture; actually, Gwendolyn was shooting me, in the middle background. They posed nicely though, didn't they?

She shot several times and finally got me as the main subject.

This one missed almost entirely: only the tip of my helmet and the tip of my spear shows. But this is a really fine closeup of some good kit and helmets. These guys of Company Three are Danes from the LH groups "Run" and "Odd"

"Getting dressed for battle."

"To war!" Mugging for Gwendolyn.

Now we switch to the first day (Saturday the 14th). The English army begins to arrive on the field. (the best pics I have are from Saturday's event, and I will mainly illustrate the battle through them) These are the units of the left.

The English left is taking up their positions. You can see the third rank company still arriving in column of twos.

Here you can see clearly the depth of the English formation. Where I stood in the center, we had six to seven ranks. It all felt very convincingly real. That is a historical depth for medieval armies of any good size. But in fact the English army at the real Hastings was probably at least double that depth.

Here's the entire English army drawn up beneath Battle abbey (actually on the lower slopes of the hill Harold's army stood on: his position was much higher and the hill face steeper, than where the modern reenactments are staged).

The English center: huskarls are out in front showing off with their Dane axes. I stood to the viewer's left of "the Fighting Man", Harold's personal banner (and the same one loaned to us for our TFBO Hastings reenactment in Jeff city MO in 2005). The yellow arrow marks where I stood, and in fact that spear tip and helm could be mine.

I was surprised to find myself in the unit in front, second rank. Our unit was supposed to be "company three", i.e. in the rear. But getting formed up was somewhat of a muddle. Changing ranks to give everyone a chance to fight worked okay, and we only had to stand our ground. I think moving and maneuvering would have made a mess of everything. Comparatively, the next day when I was a "Breton", our mixed company of Brits, Yanks, Danes, Italians (even Russians &/or Poles?), was handled expertly by our commander (Bill Maskell of "Wryngwyrm"). Company Three was able to wheel, change from double to single ranks and back again, close left and right, withdraw in good order, alternate with companies Two and One, move in close order and charge, all without ever having trained together: and the difference, as far as I was concerned, was clear orders. Once the second rank even moved out to the left and prevented we of the first rank (already in combat) from being outflanked. The Danes (best guess, it was the folks of "Odd" and "Run"), all broke into song and serenaded our commander when he complimented them for saving the situation.