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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
King Harold and William square up
By Stuart Richards
BBC News

William and Harold's men re-enacted the Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings is recreated annually on the site in Sussex where it actually took place in 1066, but its 940th anniversary promised the biggest ever re-enactment.

As many as 3,000 re-enactors from across the world have camped out at Battle Abbey for performances on Saturday and Sunday.

The main characters of William and Harold were supported on the battlefield by hundreds of mounted troops and foot soldiers.

Roger Barry, who faced inevitable defeat as King Harold II, said he had studied the Battle of Hastings for a long time.

I will clasp my eye with the arrow over it and fall gracefully
Roger Barry, who plays Harold

On acting out his character's death, the 49-year-old soldier from Salisbury in Wiltshire said: "I have down my person somewhere an arrow or part of an arrow.

"On cue, I will clasp my eye with the arrow over it and fall gracefully to the ground.

"It's a bit of bummer really, but sadly that's the way it is. It's fun, win or lose."

His opponent, Duke William of Normandy, is played by Alan Larsen, a 46-year-old event organiser with English Heritage, and also from Salisbury.

He said the best moment of the battle for him was "that awesome shout of 'Normandy' as 100 cavalrymen set spurs to their horses and barrel up the hill".

Performers preparing for the re-enactment
Three thousand performers and a 20,000-strong audience were there

"I can only admire the dedication and enthusiasm of all the re-enactors who have travelled from all over the world to be here," he added.

Tens of thousands of visitors had plenty more than the battle restaging to occupy themselves with.

The performers in their period encampments showed off their weapons skills and demonstrated other aspects of 11th Century lifestyle.

Market stalls, period music, and archery and falconry displays were also part of the entertainment.

Walking through the encampments and trading areas towards the large sloping battlefield with the abbey looking over it, the smell of food being cooked and the sound of battle cries filled the air.

Visitors and participants, young and old, joined in the spirit with period costumes and weaponry ranging from plastic shields to bows and arrows.

Opponent crowned

The re-enactment played out the events of 14 October 1066, the defining day in the struggle for power which followed the death of Edward the Confessor.

He chose Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex to succeed him on the English throne, but competition soon landed on the northern shores in the form of Harald Hardrada of Norway.

The new King Harold of England marched north to defeat the Norwegian invaders at Stamford Bridge, near York - he was on his way back south when news came that William had landed near Hastings.

The Norman and Saxon armies commenced battle at Senlac Hill - now the site of Battle Abbey - at 0900 BST on 14 October.

King Harold was killed by an arrow through the eye, and his opponent was crowned King William I two months later.

Members of a group called The Vikings, who call themselves Britain's largest Dark Age re-enactment society, preceded the battle by restaging Harold's dash back to Sussex.

They left York on 21 September in full period costume, passing through Nottingham, Leicester, Luton, London and Kent, before arriving in Battle on Friday.

The Vikings posing as Saxons were raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

Thousands re-enacting 1066 battle
14 Oct 06 |  Southern Counties
Re-enactment on 1066 battlefield
14 Aug 04 |  Southern Counties


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