Those who support keeping the claim that Battle Abbey was built on the battlefield use this statement as support for their cause as taken from a review of John Grehan’s book at
What of the traditional site? The authors assert that the story of the abbey’s altar being erected on the spot where Harold raised his standard occurs only in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey, written a hundred years after the event. On the basis that the same chronicle contains other known distortions, they then rule its testimony out of court. But the Battle Chronicle is far from being the only source of the altar story. Half a century earlier the Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury said exactly the same thing. Even more compelling is the testimony of the ‘E version’ of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, recording William the Conqueror’s death in 1087: ‘On the very spot [On ðam ilcan steode] where God granted him the conquest of England he caused a great abbey to be built.’ Thus an English source, demonstrably written before 1100, confirms what is alleged here to have been a Norman conspiracy.
This has been wheeled out on a number of television shows as something that seems to speak the truth of the matter.
The very first thing to understand is that the Chronicle of battle Abbey was not written half a century after William of Malmesbury. William of Malmesbury was written after 1100 and the Chronicle of Battle Abbey was published to the King in 1180ish, but relied upon the source document written in the first 22 folios in the hand of a monk giving a first hand account of the events of the battle – that is the authority upon which the Abbey relied – so academic nonsense talking about William of Malmesbury being 50 years before since it is the source that matters.
Ok so let’s think about what we say happened. We say the Chronicle of Battle Abbey was correct and the Abbey was started in Crowhurst where the foundations can be found and was moved by the French monk six years after they started (and left the foundations there to build the manor house on for the Count of Eu).
Now those who wrote the Anglo Saxon Chronicles also reported that William landed at Hastings (along with William of Malmesbury) and we know this is correct and the statement that he built his abbey on the battlefield was also correct, because the foundations are in the right place. The words which are being relied upon are:
‘On the very spot [On ðam ilcan steode] where God granted him the conquest of England he caused a great abbey to be built.’
These words dont actually say anything that was not known by those who were sold the lie by the monks. The wording is indeed tenuous, because it could be a statement relating to when William made the oath on the so called battlefield, or actually at his camp at the port as recorded by the Chronicle of Battle Abbey alone. Indeed the Chronicle of Battle Abbey is somewhat suspect in this matter – meaning the whole story may well have solely arisen from “tradition” which was correct in that it was a word of mouth statement of fact that William made the oath (but omitting the crucial element that it was then moved). It is ironic that John is accused of the same heinous academic crime of leaving out all sources, yet here the whole story can only stand at Battle Abbey traditional site by leaving out what the Chronicle states as truth.
Eleanor Searle the foremost authority confirmed the lies that arose at the time by the monks, but failed to identify the abbey building where Harold fell statement as a lie, also listed as a tradition, because like all those who have gone before it could not be proven that the abbey was in the wrong place. So she was correct at the time to ignore the issue, now it cannot be ignored.
Identifying the foundations of where the abbey was started in Crowhurst damns the traditional site for ever and those statements made by people who never visited the site, or simply passed on what they had been told by the monks many years, and more than a lifetime later in those days after the events, cannot be a relied upon in any way as an authoritative statement of fact.
William of Malmesbury’s account of the Battle of Hastings is devoid of any substance in regards to the account of the battle and written with nothing to give it authority as a first hand source. It’s content for that reason is assumed to be totally taken from other sources. The fact he repeats what the monks tell him is not surprising. The actual words that he uses are:
“William built another monastery near Hastings, dedicated to St Martin, which was also called Battle, because the principle church stands on the very spot, where, as they report, Harold was found in the thickest of heaps slain”
It is a report from the monks and not an observation from the author. It is time to recognise what is written and realise it is not even a statement of fact, but a third party observation – suggesting that it probably is not correct (otherwise he would not have qualified the statement). This qualification is not present elsewhere in his book the Chronicle of the Kings of England and should not be quoted as confirming that William of Malmesbury says the site at Battle was where Harold fell – he did not – he says others reported that and the others were the monks in the abbey.
The Chronicle of Battle Abbey was presented to the King as the authority of the Abbot and there were no direct lies – tradition was the only lie, because it could not be a tradition at that point in the document. It was a first hand observation of events and the king identified that then, as we should easily understand now.Those who rely upon either William of Malmesbury or the Saxon Chronicles have failed to understand the chronology of the events they seek to rely upon. They are quoting documents that have been edited to support a case which when examined in detail are seen to be lacking. They do not support the traditional site at Battle Abbey. Any serious historian who understands the context of these document and how they came into being should recognise this.