Senlac Hill

Coordinates: 50°54′43″N 0°29′15″E / 50.91194°N 0.48750°E / 50.91194; 0.48750
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Senlac)

The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 at this location. The Saxon position was on top of the hill in which the Abbey later stood, and the Norman position was approximately where the photographer is standing.

Senlac Hill or Senlac Ridge is generally accepted as the location in which Harold Godwinson deployed his army for the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. It is located near what is now the town of Battle, East Sussex. The name Senlac was popularised by the Victorian historian E. A. Freeman, based solely on a description of the battle by the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis. Freeman went on to suggest that the Normans nicknamed the area Blood lake as a pun on the English Sand lake.

It is probable that Orderic would have known the English name for Senlac, as he spent his early life in England since he had been born to an English mother. His education, towards the end of his time in England, was from an English monk. However, Freeman's hypothesis has been criticised by other historians since it relies purely on the evidence from Orderic Vitalis. Orderic was born nine years after the Battle of Hastings, and earlier chroniclers did not use the name Senlac.


The name Senlac was introduced into English history by the Victorian historian E.A. Freeman, whose only source for it was the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis.[1][2][3][4] Freeman suggested that Senlac was the correct name of the Battle of Hastings site since the name of the hill was Senlac and was near a stream that was called Santlache.[1] Orderic described Harold's forces as assembling for the battle ad locum, qui Senlac antiquitus vocabatur[a] and the battle itself as being fought in campo Senlac.[b][2]

Blood lake[edit]

Orderic was born in Atcham, Shropshire, England, the eldest son of a French priest, Odeler of Orléans and an English mother. When Orderic was five, his parents sent him to an English monk with the name of Siward, who kept a school in the Abbey of SS Peter and Paul, at Shrewsbury.[2]

Although Orderic moved to a monastery in Normandy at the age of ten, he seems to have maintained his links with England.[2] Freeman concluded that it was perfectly possible for Orderic to have known the English name of the ridge.[2] The Chronicle of Battle Abbey described what it called Malfosse, a large ditch that opened up during the course of the battle (some sources say after the battle[c]) in which many soldiers of both sides fell and were trampled to death, the result being "rivulets of blood as far as one could see".[5][c] In fact, there was a local legend that was maintained for centuries after the battle that the soil in the area turned red after a heavy rainfall.[7][8][d]

.."Asten[e] once distained with native English blood;
Whose soil, when yet but wet with any little rain,
Doth blush, as put in mind of those there sadly slain,
When Hastings' harbour gave unto the Norman powers.
Whose name and honours now are denizened for ours.
That boding, ominous brook !"
From Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion 1612[7][10]

Freeman suggested that Senlac meant Sand Lake in Old English, with the Norman conquerors calling it in French Sanguelac. Freeman regarded that use as a pun because the English translation of Sanguelac is "Blood Lake".[1][d]

The name "Senlac"[edit]

The River Asten near Sheepwash Bridge, Bulverhythe.[e]

Several historians disagreed with the Freeman analysis. John Horace Round published his "Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries" in 1895 in which he strongly criticised the Freeman view.[f] He pointed out that Senlac was not an English word and was simply a fad, if not an invention of Orderic Vitalis.[12][f]

The Norman chroniclers William of Jumièges and William of Poitiers, who were contemporary with the battle, did not record the site of the battle as Senlac, and the Chronicle of Battle Abbey simply recorded the location in Latin as Bellum (Battle).[2][13]

Later documents, however, indicate that the abbey had a tract of land known as Santlache (Sandlake) with the name Sandlake continuing for several centuries as a tithing in Battle.[4][14][15][16]


Freeman considered what Orderic Vitalis called the battlefield, Senlac, may have been a corruption of the original Anglo-Saxon name. Other scholars have suggested that the Anglo-Saxon form would have been scen-leag meaning "beautiful meadow".[1][17] A further possibility of Senlac comes from the iron rich sandstone deposits within the local area and the local Wealden iron industry that started before the Roman invasion and carried until the late 1700s.[18] Some[g] have posited that the original Saxon name could also have been Isen-Lacu, which means "iron pond".[h] It is possible that the meaning was changed when translated into Latin. The argument goes that if the original name was Iron Pond, then the accepted location for Senlac Hill is wrong.[h][21]


  1. ^ qui Senlac antiquitus vocabatur [assembled] "at the place that was formerly called Senlac"
  2. ^ in campo Senlac "in the field at Senlac"
  3. ^ a b The Malfosse incident is regarded as semilegendary, but it is generally suggested that after the battle, a contingent of Norman cavalry chased some English fleeing the battleground. The cavalry fell into a hidden ditch on top of one another with a tragic loss of life. For an analysis of the subject, see "The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations: Edited by Stephen Morillo".[6]
  4. ^ a b A more likely explanation is that the large ironstone content in the soil would, during heavy rainfall, cause the local River Asten's water to turn red.[9]
  5. ^ a b In modern times the River Asten is more usually known as the Bulverhythe stream or Combe Haven.[11]
  6. ^ a b J H Round not only criticised Freeman for his use of the name Senlac but also disagreed with many of Freeman's points about the battle itself.
  7. ^ The "Saxon History" website provides an analysis of the name Senlac and a list of possible alternate locations for the battle.[19]
  8. ^ a b There is little evidence of iron working in the area during the Saxon period.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d Freeman. The History Of The Norman Conquest Of England Its Causes And Its Results.Retrieved 20 November 2014 pp. 743-751
  2. ^ a b c d e f Poole. The English Historical Review. pp. 292-293
  3. ^ Ordericus Vitalis. The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy.Retrieved 20 November 2014
  4. ^ a b The Historical Gazetteer of England's Place-Names Retrieved 20 November 2014 Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Searle. The Chronicle of Battle Abbey. pp. 38-41
  6. ^ Morillo. The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations. pp 215-217
  7. ^ a b Lower. The Rivers of Sussex. Part 1. pp.155-157.
  8. ^ Seward. Sussex. p. 6
  9. ^ Poole. The English Historical Review. p. 301
  10. ^ Drayton. Taken from the 17th Song of Poly-Olbion from the complete works. p. 229. Retrieved 24 November 2014
  11. ^ Hastings and St Leonards Observer. p. 5
  12. ^ Round. Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries pp. 333-340
  13. ^ Searle. The Chronicle of Battle Abbey. pp. 34-35
  14. ^ Harris. Battle: Historic Character Assessment Report. pp. 15-17
  15. ^ Lower. The Chronicle of Battel Abbey. pp. 23-24
  16. ^ Searle. The Chronicle of Battle Abbey. pp. 62-65
  17. ^ Stephen Charnock. On certain Geographical Names in the County of Sussex in Report of the forty second meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science. p. 177 Retrieved 23 November 2014
  18. ^ Hodgkinson. The Wealden Iron Industry. pp. 88-89
  19. ^ Simon 2023.
  20. ^ Hodgkinson. The Wealden Iron Industry. pp. 35-37
  21. ^ Simon. Senlac Hill where is it and what does it mean


  • Charnock, Stephen (1873). "On certain Geographical Names in the County of Sussex". Report of the forty second meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science. London: John Murray. OCLC 44938530.
  • Drayton, Michael (1876). The complete works of Michael Drayton now first collected. With introduction and notes by the Rev. Richard Hooper. Vol. 2. London: J.R.Smith. OCLC 181827997.
  • Freeman, Edward A. (1869). The History of the Norman Conquest of England its causes and results. Vol. III. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OCLC 864833958.
  • Gelling, Margaret (1985). Place-Names in the Landscape. London: Phoenix. ISBN 1-84212-264-9.
  • Harris, Roland B. (2009). "Battle: Historic Character Assessment Report" (PDF). West Sussex CC et al. Archived from the original on 20 October 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  • Hastings and St Leonards Observer (5 October 1935). "Blushing Soil". Hastings and St Leonards Observer. East Sussex. Retrieved 8 October 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  • Hodgkimson, Jeremy (2012). The Wealden Iron Industry. Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-4573-1.
  • Hodgkinson, Jeremy (2002). "The Wealden Iron Industry". The Wealden Iron Research Group. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  • Lower, Mark Anthony (1851). The Chronicle of Battel Abbey, from 1066 to 1176. London: John Russell Smith. OCLC 253714381.
  • Lower, Mark Anthony (1848). "The Rivers of Sussex. Part 1". Sussex Archaeological Collections. Lewes, Sussex: Sussex Archaeological Society. 15: 148–164. doi:10.5284/1085269.
  • Morillo, Stephen, ed. (1999). The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 0-8511-5619-3.
  • Round, John Horace (2010). Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-1080-1449-6.
  • Searle, Eleanor Tr, ed. (1980). The Chronicle of Battle Abbey. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-1982-2238-6.
  • Seward, Desmond (1995). Sussex. London: Random House. ISBN 0-7126-5133-0.
  • Simon, M (2023). "Senlac Hill where is it and what does it mean". Anglo-Saxon History. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  • Stevenson, W.H. (1913). "Senlac and the Malfossé". In Poole, Reginald L. (ed.). The English Historical Review. Vol. 28. London: Longman, Green and Co. OCLC 12919344.
  • Ordericus Vitalis (1853). Thomas Forester Tr. (ed.). The Ecclesiastical history of England and Normandy. Vol. i. London: Henry G. Bohn. OCLC 1347543.

External links[edit]

50°54′43″N 0°29′15″E / 50.91194°N 0.48750°E / 50.91194; 0.48750