Are 10,000 lost warriors from Battle of Hastings buried in this field?
|The North side of Caldbec Hill, identifiable by the white windmill, seen center top of the image. The line of trees at the bottom is the site of a hudge ditch where 10,000 warriors are believed to be buried [Credit: BNPS/Telegraph]|
But although some 10,000 men are believed to have been killed in the historic conflict, no human remains or artefects from the battle have ever been found at the location.
This has given rise to several historians to examine alternative sites for the battle that was a decisive victory for William the Conqueror and saw the death of King Harold.
Now historian and author John Grehan believes he has finally found the actual location - on a steep hill one mile north west of Battle.
It is documented that Harold assembled his English army on Caldbec Hill before advancing on Senlac Hill (Battle Hill) a mile away to meet the invading Normans.
But Mr Grehan believes his research shows Harold never left his defensive hilltop position and the Normans took the battle to the English.
He has studied contemporaneous documents in the national archives and built up a dossier of circumstantial evidence that, when put together, make a more than convincing argument in his favour.
Witness accounts from 1066 state the battle was fought on steep and unploughed terrain, consistent with Caldbec Hill. Senlac Hill was cultivated and had gentle slopes.
The Normans erected a cairn of stones on the battle site to commemorate their victory, known as a Mount-joie in French. The summit of Caldbec Hill is still today called Mountjoy.
One English source from the time, John of Worcester, stated the battle was fought nine miles from Hastings, the same distance as Caldbec Hill. Senlac Hill is eight miles away.
Harold is supposed to have abandoned his high position to meet William on lower ground, a tactical move that makes no sense at all as he would have been moving away from his reinforcements.
Furthermore, Mr Grehan believes he has identified the site of a mass grave where the fallen soldiers were buried after the battle at a ditch at the foot of Caldbec Hill.
He is now calling for an archaeological dig to take place there straight away.
If he is proven right, the history books published over the last millennium may have to be re-written.
Mr Grehan, a 61-year-old historian from Shoreham, West Sussex, has made his arguments in a new book about to be published called 'The Battle of Hastings - The Uncomfortable Truth'.
He said: "I assumed everything was known about the Battle of Hastings but I found that almost nothing is known by way of fact.
"The evidence pointing towards Caldbec Hill as the scene of the battle is, at present, circumstantial, but it is still more than exists for the current Battle Abbey site.
"Excavations have been carried out at Battle Abbey and remnants pre-dating the battle were found but nothing relating to the conquest.
"The Battle of Lewis took place 200 years later 20 miles down the road and they dig up bodies by the cart load there.
"Some 10,000 men died at the Battle of Hastings; there has to be a mass grave somewhere.
"You would have also expected to find considerable pieces of battle material like shields, helmets, swords, axes, bits of armour.
"Having carried out the research, there are 11 main points which suggest the battle was fought in the wrong place.
"Harold is supposed to have abandoned his assembly point on Caldbec Hill to take up a position on the lower ridge of Battle Hill even though many of his men had still not arrived.
"This means that even though he could see the Normans approaching he moved further away from his incoming reinforcements. This makes no sense at all.
"The primary sources state Harold was taken by surprise.
"This means he could not have been advancing to meet the Normans as his troops would have been in some kind of formation.
"The only possible interpretation of this can be that Harold was not expecting to fight at that time and was taken unawares at the concentration point with his army unformed.
"This must mean that the battle was fought at the English army's assembly point."
Mr Grehan said he believes the human remains from the battle were hastily rolled down the hill and buried in an open ditch by the victorious Normans.
He said: "Two days after the battle the Normans moved on towards Winchester. They had two days to get rid of the thousands of bodies. You can't dig that many graves in such a short space of time.
"At the bottom of Caldbec Hill is Malfose ditch, I believe the bodies were rolled down the hill and dumped in this ditch which was filled in.
"A proper archaeological dig of that ditch now needs to happen.
"Whatever the outcome, it doesn't make a difference which hill the battle was fought on.
"But history books may need to be re-written if I am proved right."
Roy Porter, the regional curator for English Heritage which owns Battle Abbey, said they were obliged to look into alternative theories for the battle site.
But he said the spot the abbey is built on was not the most obvious at the time as it required major work to dig into the hill.
He said: "Archaeological evidence shows that the abbey's impractical location required extensive alterations to the hill on which it sits.
"Any suggestion that the battle occurred elsewhere needs to explain why this difficult location for the abbey was chosen instead.
"The tradition that the abbey was founded on the site of the Battle of Hastings is based on a number of historical sources, including William of Malmesbury and is documented before 1120.
"It would be premature to comment on Mr Grehan's thesis until the book is published.
"The interpretation of our sites is subject to periodic revision and this process involves our historians reassessing the available evidence and considering new theories.
"Battle Abbey will be the subject of this work in due course but at the present time there is little reason to discount the scholarly consensus regarding the site."
Source: The Telegraph [October 25, 2012]