Grand 1066 Pageant to Commemorate the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings
Place: Fields to the south of the B2095, Powdermill Lane (Battle) (Battle, Sussex, England)
Number of performances: 1
15 October 1966 from 10.30am, with the pageant starting at 2.30pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Commentator: Raymond Brooks-Ward
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: N.P. Lester
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers400
Between 400 and 500.
Object of any funds raised
Proceeds to local Sussex charities plus War on Want and Mental Care.
Linked occasion900th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 24000
The local press gave this figure.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- 10.30am. Commencement of all-day Anglo-French International Archery Tournament—25 English versus 25 French longbowmen.
- 12.30pm. Finalising of the 1966 Heinz National Soup Battle of Hastings Competition; firing of 1066 arrows.
- 3.30pm. Flying Display by RAF Whirlwind Helicopter from Search and Rescue Operation of Coastal Command.
- 4.30pm. Authentic Medieval Jousting Display in Six Spectacular Tournaments.
- 5.00pm. Police Dogs Display by the RAF Police Dog Demonstration Team.
- 5.40pm. Pipkin Contest: Sussex University Challenges Kent University to a Pipkin Drinking Contest.
- 6.00pm. Presentation of Prizes by Miss World (Lesley Langley).
- 7.30pm. Grand Firework Display.
- 8.00pm. Finale.
- There was a service of celebration the following day at Battle Abbey, held by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
King Harold establishes a defensive position on Hillock surrounded by the Housecarls and flanked by local levies known as the Fyrd.
The Norman army arrives at the scene of the forthcoming battle and William deploys his forces into three sections. On the right flank, Roger Montgomery leads the French and other mercenaries; on the left flank are the Bretons under the leadership of Count Alan Fergant and centrally the Normans under his personal command and that of his half-brothers, Bishop Odo of Bayeux and Count Robert of Mortain.
Trumpet blasts from the opposing armies herald the commencement of the battle.
Norman bowmen release a volley of arrows on to the Saxon stronghold.
The Norman Infantry advances and is met by a hail of missiles from the Saxon Fyrd.
The Norman attack relents, and the left flank retreats in confusion.
The right flank of the Saxon defence breaks rank and pursues the retreating Normans, but many are cut down by the Norman cavalry in a charge led by William.
The Norman cavalry mount a further attack after a pause, and this again fails and they fall back while their right flank feigns retreat. The Saxons again break rank in pursuit.
The Norman ranks close around the pursuing Saxons, annihilating them.
As the Saxon defence reassembles, the Norman archers shoot high and a volley of arrows hail down on their upturned shields.
The Norman cavalry make a vicious onslaught and Harold, already wounded, is cut down with many of his knights.
The Saxons are routed, and those able to escape flee the battlefield to the cheers of the victorious army, surrounding their conquering leader.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Harold II [Harold Godwineson] (1022/3?–1066) king of England
- Robert, count of Mortain (d. 1095) magnate
- Odo, earl of Kent (d. 1097) bishop of Bayeux and magnate
- William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Grand 1066 Pageant to Commemorate the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Souvenir Programme. Np, 1966.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- West Sussex Archives, Chichester: Copy of programme and newspaper cuttings. MP 7460.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Grand 1066 Pageant to Commemorate the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings was a pageant almost entirely in name only, which shows how wider national commemoration had shifted away from pageantry during the 1950s and 1960s while retaining many of its trappings (in this case the name). The idea of holding a pageant for the centenary of the Battle of Hastings as part of a wider year-long celebration of the event had been brought up in Parliament as early as 1962 when Sir Neil Cooper-Key, MP for Hastings, highlighted early-stage plans by the ‘local committee’, made up of eleven local authorities on the South Coast; these plans included ‘a re-enactment of the battle in the form of a pageant on the battlefield. They considered also a tattoo, a sea invasion, a march from York, and a son et lumière at Hastings Castle.’2 Cooper-Key stressed that ‘it would be boorish to allow an occasion of this kind to pass without adequate recognition’, stressing the financial benefits of tourism and asking for a special grant from the Board of Trade. Cooper-Key was responding to the Board’s prior statement that ‘The benefit of a Battle of Hastings commemoration would not be sufficiently widespread to justify the Government seeking Parliamentary approval for a special grant from public funds.’3 The Minister, Alan Green, outlined his reasons for this decision:
Some years ago, historical opinion might have been divided as to whether the event to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings refers was a matter for celebration or the reverse. Although one of the genuinely decisive battles of the world, Hastings was, after all, one of the very few occasions on which an English army was overcome on English soil by a foreign invader. I am told that certain French authorities might be interested in contributing to the proposed celebrations, and I find this quite understandable. Our own interest may be less obvious.4
Despite this objection, however, the government did ultimately contribute some financial assistance, but the ‘niggardly grant’ of £12000 that did eventually materialise was considered ungenerous by the organizers, who presented such parsimony as a reason for cancelling the Son et Lumière as well as for a dramatic scaling back of the planned commemorative events.5
The commemoration came at a distinctly awkward time in Anglo-French relations which put at risk the celebration of what was in any case a French (or rather Norman) victory over the English (or rather Saxons). The French president, Charles de Gaulle, had in 1963 vetoed Britain’s attempt to join the European Economic Community—a diplomatic attempt to further marginalise Britain’s decidedly post-imperial position.6 A subsequently-released Foreign Office memorandum shows that the government had chosen to snub de Gaulle by not inviting him to the celebrations, choosing instead a junior French foreign minister, the Prince de Broglie, noting that ‘he is a Norman anyway’.7 The events held in Battle and Hastings in April were decidedly low key and, like the pageant, sought to make up for the lack of public money through advertising and commercial sponsors. Events included film showings of the Bayeux Tapestry, a street decoration, costume fairs, art shows, historical lectures, an opera, a play and services of commemoration conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Chichester. The Guardian newspaper was unimpressed by much of this and confused as to whether one should be celebrating or merely commemorating the event, noting that much larger (state-funded) events were being held across France and particularly in Normandy.8 Across the commemorations there was a palpable sense of Britain’s diminished greatness, which was somewhat lifted by the year proving to be an annus mirabilis for English association football.
The pageant, held the day after the anniversary on 15 October, was a decidedly English affair: ‘no one pretended it was a solemn occasion’, with proceedings eschewing the seriousness of the earlier events.9 In fact, the battling armies were portrayed by the newly established local universities, with the Saxons from Kent University and the Normans from Sussex University (referred to as Balliol-by-the-Sea); it concluded with a drinking contest between the two rivals adjudicated by a figure from a different sort of pageant, Lesley Langer, the incumbent Miss World. The morning’s archery contest, which did pit English against French longbowmen, was sponsored by Heinz Soup. The pageant commentator Raymond Brooks-Ward was famous for his show-jumping commentary.10
Unfortunately, the organisers had failed to make proper accommodation for people getting to the pageant ground, with the Guardian noting: ‘It was as if they were holding the Cup Final in some obscure village. Cars crawled, cars were abandoned, roads were choked. Those coming from London and amiable enough to follow police directions found themselves stuck a good two miles from the field of the second Battle of Senlac [Hastings]’11 The Evening Argus deemed the event fine for foot soldiers and cavalry but ‘murder by car’, calling the pageant ‘a battle of the roads’ with a three-and-a-half-mile tailback.12 In fact, the Mayor of Hastings, the guest of honour, gave up trying to reach the field, and the Battle Rural Council Chairman was an hour late in opening the ceremony!13 Furthermore, the re-enactment of the actual battle itself was disrupted when a train from Charing Cross to Hastings thundered through a cutting near the battlefield, startling horses and participants.14 The Guardian deemed the proceedings of the day ‘distant and a bit tame’, while noting that ‘it was all mud and muddle, and no doubt was authentic.’15 The reporter was particularly struck by the jousting and noted favourably that the crowds must have eclipsed the actual numbers who fought in the battle. The Observer commented favourably on the decision to situate the pageant on the actual site of the battle: ‘still a solemn, gloomy place. It was a good place for a battle and eminently suited for death. It is quite unspoiled and it needs only a little knowledge to re-create the battle that changed the history of that part of the world.’16
Despite the element of farce in the celebrations, the event made a distinct impression on the locality, with one nine-year old spectator later recalling ‘this amazing centenary spectacle’:
The sights of knights in armour clashing, spears and arrows flying, men shouting, attacking, retreating and dying was simply awesome to a bright-eyed child. All day I pushed through the crowds to see the action and get my first real taste of history. I have been captured by this special place ever since.17
While pageants themselves seemed increasingly to be a thing of the past, historical re-enactments were beginning to become major ways of commemorating events and participating in history. Requiring less organisation, less constrained by the social hierarchies that usually determined pageants, and, perhaps most importantly, providing a more visceral and bloodthirsty spectacle, re-enactments show that dressing up in the past as a means of re-staging it remains an important element of cultural life. The Battle of Hastings has been re-enacted (with a few gaps) every year since 1966, with major battles held every five years or so, and has thus become an important part of the Sussex events calendar. A big re-enactment was held to commemorate the 950th anniversary in October 2016.18
- Evening Argus, 16 October 1966, np.
- House of Commons Debate, 20 September 1962, Hansard, volume 669, cc1595–602, accessed 5 May 2016, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1962/dec/20/battle-of-hastings-ninth-centenary; The Times, 8 December 1962, 6.
- Guardian, 11 May 1966, 18.
- Kathryn Hadley, ‘Back When Britain Was Banging on Europe’s Door’, Guardian, 13 October 2012, accessed 5 May 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/13/britain-europe-david-cameron-eu. For the high politics of the British application, see Anne Deighton and N. Piers Ludlow, ‘A Conditional Application: British Management of the First Attempt to Seek Membership of the EEC, 1961-3, in Anne Deighton (ed.), Building Post-war Europe: National Decision-Makers and European Institutions, 1948-63 (Basingstoke, 1995).
- Independent, 29 November 2001, 15.
- ‘Doing Battle with Hastings’, Guardian, 12 October 1965, 9.
- ‘English Archers Win 900 Years Late’, Observer, 16 October 1966, 1.
- Tim Fitzgeorge-Parker, ‘Obituary: Raymond Brooks-Ward’, Independent, 23 August 1992, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-raymond-brooks-ward-1542136.html
- ‘Saxons Suffer Badly Again Near Hastings’, Guardian, 17 October 1966, 5.
- Evening Argus, 16 October 1966, np, cutting in West Sussex Archives, Chichester. MP 7460.
- ‘Saxons Suffer Badly Again Near Hastings’, 5.
- ‘English Archers Win 900 Years Late’, 1.
- Anonymous, quoted in Alex Askaroff, Sussex Born and Bred: Tales from the Coast (Tucson AZ, 2010), 93.
- ‘Battle of Hastings Re-Enactment to be Staged After Absence’, BBC News, 1 October 2014, accessed 5 May 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-29442839.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Grand 1066 Pageant to Commemorate the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/987/