Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey


Location: High St., Battle Map

Found: 1070

Dedicated to: St. Martin

Tel. 01424 775705

Open: Easter- Sep: 10am- 6pm daily

Oct- Easter: 10am- 4pm daily

Closed: 1 Jan, 24- 26 Dec

Official site

Reenactment sites:

Site 1

Site 2


History of Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey (full name: St. Martin's Abbey of the Place of Battle) is a now partly ruined former monastic site in the small town of Battle in East Sussex, England, about 8 km from Hastings. The monastery was built on the site of the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 by order of William the Conqueror (1027/28-1087) to commemorate those who lost their lives in battle. The small town of Battle gradually grew up around the monastery.

Parts of the former abbey building have housed a school since 1922. The former monastery church is completely destroyed; only the foundation walls of the apse can be seen in the ground. The site now serves as an (open-air) museum for the Battle of Hastings. Every year on the anniversary of the battle, reenactment groups from all over Europe reenact the battle. 2016 marks the year of the Norman conquest of England in particular on this square. The Battle Abbey and battlefield facilities are now managed by English Heritage. The exhibition in the information center, together with the audio commentary and information boards on the site, provides extensive information about the battle and the 950-year history of the area. It is designed in such a way that all three mediums work together and complement each other. Admission is charged for the visit. English Heritage members (including temporary members) receive free access and audio guide.



In 1070, Pope Alexander II asked the Normans to do penance for the large number of people they had killed in the conquest of England. King William the Conqueror then ordered an abbey to be built on the site of the Battle of Hastings to commemorate its victims. The altar was to stand on the spot where King Harald II fell. Construction began in 1070 but was not completed until long after Wilhelm's death.

Founding legend
However, according to legend, Wilhelm is said to have vowed on the eve of the battle to found a monastery in the event of victory. A monk named William the Smith from the Benedictine monastery of Marmoutier near Tours is said to have heard this and reminded William of it after his coronation in Westminster. Wilhelm stood by his vow and commissioned the monk to carry it out. He traveled to Marmoutier, returned with four friars, and planned a building a little to the west of the site he had been assigned, since there was no water at the site of the battle. Wilhelm was indignant about this and ordered construction to be carried out on the designated spot; he would, with God's help, take care of his monastery so that there would be more wine there than water in the other monasteries in England. To the objection that there were no suitable building blocks there, he replied that he would have stone brought from Caen. It didn't come to that because a quarry was found nearby.



The abbey was richly endowed with lands and goods and exempted from the supervision of bishops and royal officials (exemption). However, it was not until 1076 that construction had progressed far enough for an abbot to be appointed. Robert Blancard, one of the four monks chosen by William the Smith, was designated but died before he could get to Battle. Thereupon Gauzbert was sent to England by Marmoutier and ordained the first abbot of "St. Martin's of the place of Battle".

The monastery church was completed under Abbot Gauzbert and consecrated in 1094, during the reign of Wilhelm's son Wilhelm Rufus, by St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of the king. Gauzbert also had the dormitories built. Gauzbert's successor, Abbot Henry, built the stone gate tower which later became part of the gatehouse complex built for better protection during the Hundred Years' War. Under the fourth abbot, Walter de Luci, the cloister was renovated, of which only the remains remain today. The first attempt to lift the exemption also fell during his tenure: the bishop of Chichester appealed to the pope, the abbot to King Stephen, but the dispute was only decided in favor of the abbey under Stephen's successor, Henry II.

Battle Abbey lost much of its royal patronage during the reign of Henry's son John, who allowed the abbey to choose its abbot for a substantial fee. As early as 1233 there was a renewed challenge to the monastic exemption when Bishop Ralph de Neville of Chichester spoke to Pope Gregory IX. laid claim to the supervision of the abbey. Once again managed to preserve independence. The 13th century saw extensive renovations and extensions, including the abbot's new residence, in the so-called Early English Gothic style.

In the 14th century the abbey was threatened by repeated incursions by French armies into Sussex and Kent during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). Therefore, in 1338-1339, the mighty gatehouse with its battlements and battlements was built. The heads of Wilhelm, smiling happily, and Harald, anxiously looking out for reinforcements, are depicted in the gateway. The Abbey also organized the defense of the Pevensey and Romney area and led a military contingent to repel French marauders at Winchelsea. The plague that swept England in 1348-1350 also ravaged Battle Abbey, and the number of monks thereafter never returned to the level of the early 14th century.

Decline and destruction
The monastery, then still one of the wealthiest in England with an annual income of £800, was dissolved and largely destroyed in 1538 during the Dissolution of English Monasteries (1538-1541) in the reign of Henry VIII. Henry gave it and his estate to Sir Anthony Browne. He had the church, the chapter house and the cloister demolished or used as a quarry and the abbot's house converted into a country residence.

Later use
Sir Thomas Webster (1677-1751) bought the estate in 1715 and it remained in the possession of his descendants until 1858. It was then sold to Lord Harry Vane, later Duke of Cleveland. After the death of his widow in 1901, it was in turn acquired by the Webster family. In 1922 the facility was converted into a private boarding school for girls, the Battle Abbey School, which temporarily housed Canadian troops during World War II. The heirs of the last Baronet Webster sold Battle Abbey to the British government in 1976, which received a generous donation from American patrons. The site is now under the administration of the State Commission English Heritage but continues to be used by the school which has been run on a co-educational basis since merging with Glengorse and Hydneye School in 1989. In 1995 it merged with Charters Ancaster School. Visitors are not normally allowed. During the summer holidays you can visit parts of the former Abresidenz, in which (for an appropriate fee) weddings can also be celebrated.

Today's condition
Only the remains of the foundation wall of the abbey church remain in the ground. The spot where the altar once stood, marking the spot where King Harald fell, is marked by a commemorative plaque on the floor. The ruin and the surrounding battlefield are a popular destination for visitors.

The annual highlight is the weekend closest to October 14th, when a re-enactment of the battle is performed. In 2006, about 2,000 amateur actors took part, cheered on by 25,000 paying spectators.