Saturday 25 November 2017

Court fight over battle location

Archaeologists believe they may have found the skeleton of an Irish Viking king
Archaeologists believe they may have found the skeleton of an Irish Viking king

A High Court fight has broken out over the location of "the first battle of 1066".

Archaeologist Charles "Chas" Jones is challenging a refusal by English Heritage to register Germany Beck at York as the site of the Battle of Fulford.

The "forgotten" battle is of historical significance because it was part of a real-life Game of Thrones which culminated in the eventual defeat of Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson by William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.

Mr Jones has carried out extensive research since 2000 and published "Finding Fulford - The search for the first battle of 1066."

He argues Germany Beck was the most probable site. It is also where Persimmon Homes has roused opposition by proposing to build 655 homes.

English Heritage, which protects and promotes historical sites round the country, took advice from a Battlefield Advisory Panel and refused in November 2012 to designate the Fulford site on an official Battlefield Register. The decision was upheld on review in July 2013.

English Heritage experts concluded that even though it was "probable" Germany Beck was the battlefield site the evidence was "insufficiently conclusive" to "securely identify" it for registration.

Ian Dove QC, for Mr Jones, argued at London's High Court today that the decision cannot stand because the decision makers failed to apply the correct "location" test.

That involved consideration of whether there was evidence that a battle had occurred in a particular location "with a fair degree of probability".

The QC told Mr Justice Lindblom the test was contained in the Battlefield Designation Selection Guide: the only up-to-date statement of English Heritage's designation policy.

Mr Dove said it was uncontroversial that "absolute proof for the boundaries of a battle" was rarely possible.

Referring to English Heritage, he said: "If they did not apply the 'fair degree of probability' test to the question of location then unarguably they erred in law in the decision they reached."

Historians say the Battle of Fulford was the first of three battles which decided whether a Viking, Anglo-Saxon or Norman sat on the English throne and was a watershed in modern British history.

At the Fulford battle, a Viking army defeated an Anglo-Saxon force led by northern earls Edwin and Morcar.

The defeat forced Saxon king Harold, who was already facing a threat from William of Normandy, to march his army north and he defeated the Viking invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later.

After his victory, Harold had to march his tired and battered army swiftly south again to take on William, who had launched his invasion.

Three weeks later Harold was defeated at the Battle of Hastings, resulting in 1066 being one history date generations of schoolchildren could remember.

Emma Dring, for English Heritage, argued it would be contrary to the aims of the Battlefield Register to designate sites "in the absence of a high degree of confidence that the correct location has been securely identified".

Designation of "unsecure sites" could damage the credibility of the register as a whole, she stated.

Consequences for landowners, particularly their ability to develop land if a battlefield site was designated, also pointed to there having to be a relatively high standard that the correct location was identified.

Ms Dring contended that Mr Jones was wrong to suggest the "fair degree of probability" test was the correct test to be applied "when identifying the general location of the battle".

That particular test was "a secondary test" related to the boundary of the area "where fighting took place, or where the troops drew up, deployed and fought".

Ms Dring said English Heritage had concluded that the general location of the Battle of Fulford had not been securely identified.

That made it unnecessary to apply the secondary test and decide, on the basis of a fair degree of probability, the specific topographical location of the battlefield area.

Ms Dring told the judge: "English Heritage was the body charged with making this decision and it was entitled to take the view that it did on the material before it."

She also rejected the argument that Germany Beck was "the only horse in the race" for the site of the battle.

She said: "It is not even a race because this is not an exercise at looking at a number of possible alternatives and then coming to a comparative judgment about which of them wins.

"This claim must fail, based on the evidence."

Reserving judgment, the judge said he would take time to consider his decision.

Press Association

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