Sunday 20 May 2018

Norman conquest brought to life as 'King Harold's march' reaches London

Battle of Hastings re-enactors pass a pub in London on their 300-mile march to Hastings from Clifford's Tower in York (English Heritage/PA)
Battle of Hastings re-enactors pass a pub in London on their 300-mile march to Hastings from Clifford's Tower in York (English Heritage/PA)
Battle of Hastings re-enactors pose for a selfie in central London (English Heritage/PA)

Armed troops loyal to the realm marched into the heart of London on Saturday - as part of a historical re-enactment marking 950 years since the Norman conquest.

Equipped with spears, shields and medieval helmets, historical actors invaded Hyde Park as the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings approaches.

Not shying away from the weight of historical authenticity, the force has spent weeks re-creating King Harold's march from Clifford's Tower in York to Battle, East Sussex, where they will arrive next week.

A "Saxon" encampment, organised by English Heritage, was installed in the central London park boasting weapons, food and pottery demonstrations among a host of other activities.

A makeshift battlefield will be created in Hastings on October 15 and 16 so that warfare can be staged between 1,066 Norman and Saxon troops.

In 1066, Harold's Saxon army had marched north to Yorkshire, where he defeated an invading Norwegian army led by Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire on September 25.

However, while they were in the north William's Norman army landed on the south coast, forcing Harold's battle-weary troops to march south to fight for a second time near Hastings.

Speaking at the encampment in London on Saturday, one of the Saxon warriors was brimming with confidence ahead of the expected encounter.

He told in Press Association: "We've just beaten the most fearsome Viking general the world has ever seen.

"Once he was the commander of the Varangian guard, an elite body of troops, and we've just soundly beaten them - so yes, we're feeling confident."

Unfortunately, history had a different plan for the defending army - who were defeated on October 14 1066.

The battle - the bloodshed of which was later immortalised in the Bayeux Tapestry - saw King Harold slain on the field of conflict, reputedly by an arrow through the eye. His demise and the subsequent installation of William the Conqueror helped reshape the course of British history.

Nigel Amos, 50, is one of the men leading the march down to East Sussex and has been involved in re-enactments around the period for more than two decades.

He said: "This march has been done before, several people have done this, 10 years ago some guys marched down on foot, but what interested me when English Heritage asked me about this was the possibility of doing it as Harold would have done, with troops on foot and on horseback."

He added: "As we've been travelling down the country we've been seeing the evidence, as the names of the towns turn from Viking names to Saxon names and then you see the Norman influence.

"You really do see that actually we were then, and continue to be so, a melting pot of people and that's what keeps us vibrant."

Press Association

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