The Castle Mound in Barnstaple, just outside our window, is a reminder of an event which took place 950 years ago in the modern day fields of Sussex. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last time Britain was successfully invaded and is a key turning point in British history.
The circumstances which led to this important event are too well known to need repeating here : suffice it therefore to observe, that on the 14th of October, 1066 after an engagement, which lasted from morning till sun-set, and which seemed worthy, by the valour displayed by both armies and both commanders, to decide the fate of a mighty kingdom, William obtained a complete victory with the loss of near 15,000 men. The slaughter of the English was far more considerable : their slain, if we may believe the accounts of some of our historians, amounted to 60,000; but it seems more probable that this may have been the total number of those who fell on this occasion.
[Frederic Shoberl: The Beauties of England and Wales – Vol XIV:J. Harris (London, 1813) 914.2/ENG/BEA/xiv]
However, our shelves have several accounts of the event leading up to the battle and it’s aftermath including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which describes how William of Normandy came to invade Britain and assert his rule on the Anglo-Saxon population.
There are also items covering the greatest battles in history including Sir Edward Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo. His account of the events leading up to the battle and beyond are taken from both English and French Histories.
You can find items about the areas where the events took place and what life was like during the Saxon and Norman periods.
Places like Battle Abbey where the actual battle is supposed to have taken place and where King Harold fell. Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire, where William the Conqueror accepted the official surrender of the Saxons before being crowned in London can all be found on our shelves.
The events of 950 years can still be seen in the landscape today in the castles built by William to keep control of the land he conquered and in the early documents which survive like the Domesday Book which told William how much tax he could expect from his new Kingdom.
Barnstaple still has the remnants of its Norman castle and on the shelves in the modern building next to it we hold copies of the Domesday Book which has become an invaluable source to historians throughout the centuries since it was written.