Sources for Battle Abbey and Battlefield

The following lists provide a summary of the main sources for our knowledge and understanding of Battle Abbey. 

Engraving of Battle Abbey by samuel and Nathaniel Buck in 1737
Engraving of Battle Abbey by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck in 1737

Unpublished Primary Sources

The National Archives

  • E 315/18 [rentals etc of the abbey of Battle, about 1230, with some later entries]
  • E 315/56 [Court of Augmentations and predecessors and successors: miscellaneous books. Cartularies, rentals, etc. Monastic and lay. Battle Abbey, mid-15th century]
  • E 315/57 [Court of Augmentations and predecessors and successors: miscellaneous books. Cartularies, rentals, etc. Monastic and lay. Battle Abbey; date unknown]
  • SC 6 [records relating to the Suppression of the Monasteries and the appropriation and distribution of their lands].

British Library

A substantial number of medieval and later documents are held by the British Library. Among these are:

  • Lansdowne MS 229/85, fol 112b [foundation charter of Battle Abbey]
  • Add Ch 70980–70981 [two early royal charters to Battle Abbey, 12th century]
  • Add Ch 70980 [undated spurious grant of liberties to Battle Abbey by William I, written in a 12th-century hand]
  • Cotton MS Domitian A II, fols 8–130 [Battle Chronicle, fourth quarter of the 12th century to the second half of the 13th century]
  • Cotton MS Nero D II, fols 240-1 [Chronicle from the abbey; its focus is world events but it occasionally records events in the history of Battle Abbey between its foundation and the early 13th century]
  • RP 5668 [‘Roll of Battle Abbey and Chronicle of British history from Noah to Edward IV’, first half of the 16th century]
  • Add MS 57310, Fuller Collection, vol 2 [transcripts of Battle Abbey charters (confirmations, from the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV), with marginal notes by William Camden, late 16th century]
  • Add MS 33508 [‘letters to, and accompts of, Anthony Garnett, steward to Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu, chiefly connected with the supply of clothing-stuffs, groceries, and wine to Cowdray House and Battle Abbey, co. Sussex, and including curious particulars as to price, etc’, 1568–70].

East Sussex Record Office, Brighton

East Sussex Record Office holds a number of original documents relating to Battle Abbey and its later owners, including:

  • SAS/G [accounts of the almoners of Battle Abbey]
  • BAT/1–BAT/4971 [an important series of estate records, primarily of the Webster family, but also including a number of medieval charters. They span the period from the reign of Henry I to the 1920s].

It also holds microfilms of the Battle Abbey records in the Huntingdon Library in California. Papers in the East Sussex Record Office are listed in Brent, JA, A Catalogue of the Battle Abbey Estate Archives (Lewes, 1973).

Henry E Huntington Library, San Marino, California

The portion of the Battle Abbey Archives in the Henry E Huntington Library covering the time before 1538 consists of a complete monastic archive and includes original deeds, court rolls, account rolls, rentals, among other documents.

The remainder consists of two major sub-collections, corresponding to the Browne and Webster family papers, as well as those of the Cheke, Jorden and Whistler families (related by marriage). The bulk of this post-Suppression material pertains to the Webster family, and deals with legal, financial and estate matters.

Full summaries of the Battle Abbey archives are given in Robertson, M, Guide to British Historical Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino, 1982).

Trinity College, Cambridge

Published Primary Sources

Brent, JA, A Catalogue of the Battle Abbey Estate Archives (Lewes, 1973) [archives of the East Sussex County Council Record Office]

Davies, RHC and Chibnall, M (trans), The Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers (Oxford, 1998)

Garmonsway, GN (ed), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Letchworth, 1972)

Houts, E van (ed), ‘The Brevis Relatio de Guillelmo nobilissimo comite Normannorum, written by a monk of Battle Abbey’, in E van Houts, History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000–1200 (Aldershot, 1999)

Mynors, RAB, Thomson, RM and Winterbottom, M (eds), William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (The History of the English Kings), I (Oxford, 1998)

Searle, E (trans and ed), The Chronicle of Battle Abbey (Oxford, 1980) [an essential text for understanding the history of Battle Abbey]

Searle, E and Ross, B (eds), Accounts of the Cellarers of Battle Abbey, 1275–1513 (Sydney, 1967) [invaluable insight into the domestic running of the abbey during this period]

Southern, AC (ed), An Elizabethan Recusant House, comprising the Life of Lady Magdalen Viscountess Montague (1538–1608), translated into English from the Original Latin of Dr. Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, by Cuthbert Fursdon, OSB in the year 1627 (London, 1954) [invaluable description of Battle as a centre of Elizabethan and Jacobean recusancy]

William of Poitiers (Guillaume de Poitiers), Histoire de Guillaume le Conquérant, ed R Foreville (Paris, 1952)

'The Battle of Hastings' painting by Frank Wilkin, allegedly depicting Sir Godfrey Vassall Webster as William the Conqueror
The Battle of Hastings’ by Frank Wilkin (1791–1842). This enormous Victorian painting, which now hangs in the great hall at the abbey, depicts William the Conqueror finding the dead Harold on the battlefield. Wilkin allegedly modelled William on Sir Godfrey Vassall Webster, fifth baronet, the then owner of Battle Abbey © Historic England

Material Sources/Collections

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry, which is displayed at the Bayeux Museum, Bayeux, France, tells the story of events from 1064 to the end of the Battle of Hastings in a sequence of pictorial scenes. It is an embroidery in coloured wools on a linen strip, some 70 metres long by 50 centimetres high, and was probably made shortly after the Conquest. It is a unique visual document, providing information of a historical nature that no other source on the battle has provided.

English Heritage Collections

English Heritage retains all archaeological material excavated at Battle Abbey since 1976, including building materials and small finds. Some of this is illustrated in Hare, JN, Battle Abbey: The Eastern Range and Excavations of 1978–1980 (London, 1985).

Some of the artefacts from the collection, including stonework and medieval floor tiles, are displayed in the on-site museum.

English Heritage also holds the paper archive for the 1976 excavations and subsequent watching briefs (see Unpublished Reports below).

A collection of portraits of members of the Webster family now hangs in the great hall and library of the west range (now Battle Abbey School).

SEE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE COLLECTION

Other Collections

The Sword of Battle Abbey, with the arms of Battle Abbey and the initials of Thomas de Lodelowe (abbot 1417–34) on both sides of the pommel, is in the collections of the National Museums Scotland. A replica is displayed at Battle Abbey.

A fragment of a 12th-Century ivory cross, from the top of an ecclesiastical staff, found during excavations at Battle Abbey
A fragment of a 12th-century ivory cross, from the top of an ecclesiastical staff, found during excavations at Battle Abbey

Visual Sources

British Library

The British Library Burrell Collection has an important series of drawings and paintings of Battle Abbey, executed by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm between 1780 and 1791. These are catalogued in Add MS 5670 and include:

The collection also contains 19th-century drawings of the abbey ruins (Add MS 42018, vol 20, fols 6–7).

East Sussex Record Office, Brighton

The East Sussex Record Office has a number of photographs of the abbey ruins in the 1930s (PCA/236/18–77).

The collection also contains 19th-century drawings of the abbey ruins (Add MS 42018, vol 20, fols 6–7).

Other Visual Sources

Other early images of Battle Abbey include (in date order):

Plans, Drawings and Photographs in the Historic England Archives

Items in the Historic England Archives at Swindon relating to Battle Abbey and Battlefield include:

  • annotated copies of part of a survey plan showing Battle Abbey and surrounding land, with an inset perspective drawing of the abbey, 18th century (MP/BAT0465 and MP/BAT0466)
  • an annotated copy of a survey plan showing part of ‘Battell Manor’ belonging to Sir Thomas Webster, 1724 (MP/BAT0464)
  • a photograph showing the interior of the ‘parlour’, 1880–1920 (AL0252/035/02).

More details of these and many other items can be found in the Historic England Archives online catalogue. Some material is not yet listed in the online catalogue, including the large collection of aerial photography; for a full search, please contact the enquiry service.

Copies of images and documents can be ordered through the website or by contacting the archive. See the price list for details of current charges for these services. 

Published Secondary Sources

The Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies is an annual conference devoted to English and Norman medieval history and culture, and its proceedings, now called Anglo-Norman Studies, have been published since 1978. Until recently the conference was always held at Battle Abbey. Many of the secondary sources about Battle listed below are published in Anglo-Norman Studies.

Allen Brown, R, ‘The Battle of Hastings’, in Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1980, ed R Allen Brown and M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1981), 1–21 [classic account of the battle based on original sources; accessed 23 June 2014]

Austin, N, Secrets of the Norman Invasion (Crowhurst, 2010) [suggests an alternative location for the Battle of Hastings]

Bachrach, BS, ‘Some observations on the military administration of the Norman Conquest’, in Anglo-Norman Studies VIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1985, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1981), 1–26 [useful background material for a fuller understanding; accessed 23 June 2014]

Barber, R, ‘The Norman Conquest and the media’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXVI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, ed J Gillingham (Woodbridge, 2004), 1–20 [how the battle was seen by contemporaries and others]

Bates, D, ‘The Conqueror’s adolescence’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXV: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2002, ed J Gillingham (Woodbridge, 2003), 1–18 [helpful background to understanding William the Conqueror]

Bradbury, J, ‘Battles in England and Normandy, 1066–1154’, in Anglo-Norman Studies VI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1983, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1984), 1–12 [useful comparative study; accessed 23 June 2014]

Brakespear, Sir H, ‘The abbot's house at Battle’Archaeologia, 83 (1933) 139–66 [Sir Harold was responsible for rebuilding the west range of the abbey after a serious fire; this publication records his discoveries during the restoration work. Subscription required; accessed 2 June 2014]

Brandon, P, The Sussex Landscape (London, 1974) [part of The Making of the English Landscape series, this book contains invaluable background material on the settlement of the Battle area]

Brooks, NP, and Walker, HE, ‘The authority and interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry’, in Anglo-Norman Studies I: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1978, ed R Allen Brown and M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1979), 1–34 [scholarly analysis of a chief source of information on the battle]

Brown, G, et al, An Earthwork Survey and Investigation of the Parkland at Battle Abbey, East Sussex (Swindon, 2002) [useful topographical survey of the abbey’s park on the site of the battlefield]

Burton, J, Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain 1000–1300 (Cambridge, 1994) [for a discussion of the religious motives for the conquest]

Chibnall, M, ‘Military service in Normandy before 1066’, in Anglo-Norman Studies V: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1982, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1983), 65–78 [helpful background to understanding the Norman invasion army; accessed 23 June 2014]

Chibnall, M, Anglo-Norman England, 1066–1166 (Oxford, 1986) [classic account of the settlement of Anglo-Norman England]

Cleveland, CLW, Duchess of Cleveland, History of Battle Abbey (London, 1877) [the Duchess of Cleveland was one of the most enthusiastic owners of the site and this book is a valuable record of what she and the duke achieved here, including their works to the abbey buildings]

Coad, JG, Battle Abbey and Battlefield (English Heritage guidebook, London, 2007) [buy the guidebook]

Cowdrey, HEJ, ‘Bishop Ermenfrid of Sion and the penitential ordinances following the Battle of Hastings’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 20 (1969), 225–42 [subscription required; accessed 23 Dec 2015]

Cownie, E, ‘The Normans as patrons of English religious houses, 1066–1135’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XVIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1995, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1996), 47–63 [important article on the growth of English religious houses in the aftermath of the Conquest; accessed 2 June 2014]

Davis, RHC, ‘The warhorses of the Normans’, in Anglo-Norman Studies X: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1987, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1988), 67–82 [illuminating discussion on the abilities of contemporary cavalry horses]

Eden, FS, ‘The arms of Battle Abbey’, The Connoisseur, 86: 349 (1930), 174–5 [short article on the arms of Battle Abbey and a 14th-century heraldic stained glass panel from the abbey, now at the Burrell Collection, Glasgow]

Evans, A, ‘Battle Abbey at the dissolution: income; expenses’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 4 (1941), 393–442; 6 (1942), 53–101 [analysis of income and expenditure in the abbey's accounts in the 30 or so years before its Suppression]

Fernie, E, ‘The effect of the Conquest on Norman architectural patronage’, in Anglo-Norman Studies IX: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1986, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1987), 71–86 [important survey of the changes behind the transformation of architecture in England after the Conquest; accessed 23 June 2014]

Fernie, EC, ‘Saxons, Normans and their buildings’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1998, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1999), 1–9 [background on the Normans’ architecture; accessed 23 June 2014] 

Gillmor, CM, ‘Naval logistics of the cross-Channel operations, 1066’, in Anglo-Norman Studies VII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1984, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1985), 105–31 [important article on the naval side of the Norman invasion; accessed 23 June 2014]

Graham-Campbell, J, ‘Anglo-Scandinavian equestrian equipment in eleventh-century England’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XIV: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1991, ed M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1992), 77–89 [useful coverage of important elements of Anglo-Scandinavian military equipment and their impact on contemporary warfare; accessed 23 June 2014]

Green, J, ‘Kingship, lordship, and community in eleventh-century England’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXXI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2008, ed CP Lewis (Woodbridge, 2009), 1–16

Grehan, J and Mace, M, The Battle of Hastings 1066: The Uncomfortable Truth (Barnsley, 2012) [suggests alternative location for the battle]

Hare, JN, ‘The buildings of Battle Abbey: a preliminary survey’, in Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1980, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1981), 78–95 [accessed 23 June 2014]

Hare, JN, Battle Abbey: The Eastern Range and the Excavations of 1978–1980 (London, 1985) [valuable report on the only modern archaeological excavations on part of the monastic site; accessed 23 Dec 2015]

Higham, NJ, The Death of Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 1997) [excellent background survey of the last years of Anglo-Saxon England]

Hooper, N, ‘Anglo-Saxon warfare on the eve of the Conquest: a brief survey’, in Anglo-Norman Studies I: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1978, ed R Allen Brown and M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1979), 84–93 [survey of contemporary methods of warfare; accessed 23 June 2014]

Kerr, J, ‘Monastic hospitality: the Benedictines in England, c.1070–1245’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2000, ed J Gillingham (Woodbridge, 2001), 115–54 [background information on the early years of Benedictine monasticism in England]

Lewis, CP, ‘The invention of the manor in Norman England’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXXIV: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2011, ed D Bates (Woodbridge, 2012), 123–50 [important article on one of the major consequences of the Norman victory in 1066]

Luxford, J, The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries, 1300–1540: A Patronage History (Woodbridge, 2005)

Martin, D, and Martin, B, A Selection of Dated Houses in Eastern Sussex, 1400–1750: Historic Buildings in Eastern Sussex, 4: Robertsbridge, The Rape of Hastings Architectural Survey (1987) [the authors are the leading authorities on timber construction in this area]

Moore, JS, ‘Anglo-Norman garrisons’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1999, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 2000), 205–60 [helpful to an understanding of the mechanics of conquest and pacification; accessed 23 June 2014]

Mortimer, R, ‘Anglo-Norman lay charters, 1066–c 1100: a diplomatic approach’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXV: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2002, ed J Gillingham (Woodbridge, 2003), 152–75 [helpful for legal background]

Munby, J, ‘The Domesday boroughs revisited’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXXIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2010, ed CP Lewis (Woodbridge, 2011), 127–49 [useful survey of early boroughs]

Le Patourel, J, ‘The Norman Conquest, 1066, 1106, 1154?’, in Anglo-Norman Studies I: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1978, ed R Allen Brown and M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1979), 103–20 [important article on the Norman settlement of England]

Page, W (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, vol 2 (London, 1907; rev edn 1973) [although partly superseded by modern research, this has useful succinct histories of all the religious houses in Sussex; accessed 23 June 2014]

Peirce, I, ‘Arms, armour and warfare in the eleventh century’, in Anglo-Norman Studies X: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1987, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1988), 237–58 [good on the practical equipment and tactics of contemporary warfare; accessed 23 June 2014]

Porter, R, ‘“On the very spot”: in defence of Battle’, English Heritage Historical Review, 7 (2012), 4–17 [summary of the evidence for the actual location of the battle; subscription required; accessed 2 June 2014]

Porter, R, ‘A new site for the Battle of Hastings?’, Heritage Calling [English Heritage blog], 2 Dec 2013 

Pryce, R, Battle Abbey and the Websters: Two Hundred Years of Ambition, Profligacy and Misfortune (Heathfield, 2005) [entertaining history of the Websters, who owned the site of the abbey and battlefield for some 200 years until 1976]

Questier, M, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, c.1550–1640 (Cambridge, 2006) [excellent study of the post-Reformation Catholicism of the Browne family]

Searle, E, Lordship and Community: Battle Abbey and its Banlieu, 1066–1538 (Toronto, 1974) [the most complete history of the Benedictine abbey based on extensive work on the surviving records; the first chapter sets out clearly the evidence for the founding of the abbey on the site where Harold was killed]

Searle, E, ‘The abbey of the Conquerors: defensive enfeoffment and economic development in Anglo-Norman England’, in Anglo-Norman Studies II: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1979, ed R Allen Brown (Woodbridge, 1980), 154–64 [explains the early economic and strategic value of Battle Abbey]

Searle, E, ‘Inter amicos: the abbey, town and early charters of Battle’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, ed M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1991), 1–14 [classic account of the creation and establishment of the town of Battle; accessed 23 June 2014]

Short, I, ‘The language of the Bayeux Tapestry inscription’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2000, ed J Gillingham (Woodbridge, 2001), 267–80 [helpful for understanding the Bayeux Tapestry]

Strickland, M, ‘Military technology and conquest: the anomaly of Anglo-Saxon England’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XIX: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1996, ed C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1997), 353–82 [useful light on contemporary warfare; accessed 23 June 2014]

Swift, E, ‘Obedientary rolls of Battle Abbey’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 78 (1937), 37–62

Williams, A, ‘Some notes and considerations on problems connected with the English royal succession 860–1066’, in Anglo-Norman Studies I: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1978, ed R Allen Brown and M Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1979), 144–67 [background information on early royal succession]

Wilson, DM, and Le Carpentier, J, The Bayeux Tapestry (London, 2004) [combines excellent reproduction of the tapestry with scholarly comment by the authors]

Unpublished Reports

Arrow Geophysics, ‘High-resolution ground penetrating radar survey at Battle Abbey’ (2013) [eastern half of the monastic inner court]

Barber, L, ‘An archaeological watching brief of the replacement Transco gas pipeline at Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project no. 1313 (2001)

Brown, G, ‘An earthwork survey and investigation of the parkland at Battle Abbey, East Sussex’, English Heritage Archaeological Investigation Report Series 13/2002 (2002)

Greatorex, C, ‘An archaeological watching brief maintained on landscaping work undertaken at Battle Abbey, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project no. 1208 (2000)

James, R, ‘An archaeological watching brief at the walled garden, Battle Abbey, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project no. 912 (1998)

James, R, ‘An archaeological evaluation and watching brief at Battle Abbey School, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project nos 1831 and 1859 (2004)

Reilly, S, ‘Battle Abbey School, Battle, East Sussex: archaeological evaluation: preliminary impact assessment’, English Heritage Central Archaeology Service (1999)

Reilly, S, ‘Battle Abbey School, Battle, East Sussex: Battle Abbey stable yard: preliminary impact assessment’, English Heritage Central Archaeology Service (2000)

Riccoboni, P, ‘An archaeological watching brief at the site of a new visitor centre, Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project no. 2237 (2008)

Stevens, S, ‘Archaeological evaluation report: Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, project no. 5335 (2012) [walled garden and west precinct wall]

Stevens, S, ‘Archaeological report watching brief at Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, report no. 2013073 (2013) [walled garden]

Stevenson, P, ‘Archaeological watching brief report, Battle Abbey car park upgrade: Battle Abbey, High Street, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East, report no. 2014130 (2014)

Worrall, S, ‘An archaeological watching brief at Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex’, Archaeology South-East report, project no. 1912 (2004) [monastic outer court]

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