Readers Letters
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Letter 25

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Jacqueline

The common thought is the Britons retreated back down the slope. I am not sure I would have followed them under those circumstances - at least not as far as the river. Even Saxons knew that horses can run faster than men. Consider the right of the Saxon line and look about 45 Degrees to the right about 150 yards if memory serves. There is broken ground and rock out cropppings. If the cavalry had turned to their left to escape and fled  into that ground - the temptation to follow would have been overwhelming. It may not even been a full retreat. The Normans were performing the equivalent of the caricole (Spelling?) the 16th century attack with pistols were the rider gets as close as they can fires the pistol (chucks the spear) and wheels to the left or right. In one reference I read the preferred direction was the left wheel and a note was made that it has important not to turn 180 degrees both as to not impede the riders following and because it takes much more control and time to reverse directions than to ride off at right angles. Also noted was that the moment of wheeling was the most dangerous as at that moment of minimum distance, disciplined infantry could attack. This was from a book referencing a 17th century Polish/Hungarian cavalry manual. The main point is cavalry trapped in the rocks and broken ground would be dead meat to infantry. This also suggests the reason the Norman attack on the advancing Saxons was so devastating. The attack would have been from the rear not the flank.

I was involved in a medieval recreation group for some 20 years in the west coast of US/Canada. (the Society for Creative Anachronisms - Kingdom of the West and then Antir) As part of this group we do large scale battles (100 to 1000 a side) but unlike the recreation groups you have, our armor is much more protective and the weapons are made of rattan. This allows us use full force blows that would lead to murder charges if the weapons were real. The premise is closer to a team martial arts tourney rather than an attempt to recreate a particular battle.

As a result of this experience I have executed, and had to deal with both
Flank and Rear attacks. The attack on a flank is nasty but an organized
force can deal with it. A rear attack is devastating. You are being cut
down with no warning and worse - it is almost impossible to regroup to
fight in two directions. I would probably have pursued the Bretons.

If there were 11 sub commanders (notables fighting under Harold) and therewere 8000 troops it suggests that there may have been a structure of about 700 to a unit. (Yes this is a pounds worth of speculation on a penny's worth of facts) if one unit on the right advanced on the bretons and was in turn attacked by a much smaller Norman force, I can see a second Saxon force advancing to cover and in turn being attacked by additional Normans. In my experience such events have turned the battle and I admire the Saxons being able to return to good order.

As to how the Normans could simulate retreat - a simple strategy Advancethe infantry up the hill with a few Cavalry in advance ant the critical moment (Probably in the last 50 feet as the final charge is starting) The Cavalry breaks back through the infantry disrupting the formation. Who needs simulation when the real thing is available. Besides they are just infantry. In case you are wondering - something like this did happen to me in a large battle in Pennsylvania. My own side destroyed the right flank.

Finally I am not sure the slope has changed that much. I have fought on
lesser slopes the confered a 3 to one advantage to the uphill side. (All
foot of course). I also marshalled (Refereed) a battle in which 40
fighters on a four foot rise with a shallow creek at the base held off 200+ fighters for over 3 hours.

At any rate I enjoyed your site very much. It is a time and place near to my heart, as in the SCA I have a personna of a Kievan Rus that fought with the Hardmaster at York and Stamford Bridge.

Bjorn Master of the House of Havok known in the mundane world as Chris Lee.
"Tecnology is just Magic you don't understand"

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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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