Rob Dyer ’13 – William the Conqueror (who then was known by the slightly less-prestigious appellation “the Bastard”) made landfall at Hastings several weeks later than he anticipated, which most historians attribute to unfavorable winds. It was fitting that our arrival was delayed as well, first by a series of mishaps on our train ride from London and then by a bungled bus commute from the station, which together consumed almost half of our first full day in the United Kingdom. The long hours spent on immobile vehicles, however, no longer mattered once we set foot on the location where, on 14 October 1066, William and his Norman subjects defeated King Harold Godwinson of England in one of history’s decisive battles.
We received a guided tour of the battlefield, which lies about six miles northwest of Hastings in a town aptly named “Battle.” One of our professors for the class, Dr. Morillo, is one of the world’s experts on the Battle of Hastings. While at Wabash we are accustomed to student discussions, we relished the opportunity to listen to a lecture from someone truly passionate about the events that happened on Senlac Hill (“bloody” hill in the Norman language), where we occupied the position once defended by the English, copses of trees fortifying our flanks as they had done in the battle.
The battle more-or-less secured the English crown for William, whom the Pope had blessed to claim the throne instead of Harold. As penance for the soldiers killed at the battle, the Pope ordered William to construct an Abbey on the site, which now sits mostly in ruin. The main altar, while it stood, marked the location where Harold was believed to be killed atop Senlac Hill. There is now a limestone memorial in the ground, where, on the anniversary of the battle, the English leave flowers and a pint of beer in memory of the fallen king.
When William ascended the throne, he retained most of the English legal system, despite replacing the ruling class with his own Norman nobles. It was at this point in history that we began our study of the common law in our classroom and set off our immersion experience in England. As the week progresses, we will continue forward through history in the courts and halls which housed the evolution of the common law, thankful at every step for the immersion experience Wabash has provided us.