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Battle of Hastings 1066AD - The Hoar Apple tree

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Current understanding 
An old Apple tree The current understanding is that King Harold sent messages to the various Saxon regions to muster the forces at the hoar(old) apple tree which was on Senlac Hill in the town of Battle.

Please take look at the details below and see if the above sentence makes sense and what conclusions you come to, my comments are at the bottom.

Documentary Evidence 
The only document mentioning the tree is the Anglo Saxon Chronicles.

There are currently 6 different versions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, so lets see what each one says for AD1066.

'The Parker Chronicle' doesn't mention a tree

'Cotton Tiberius' has no entry for 1066

'Cotton Tiberius C.i' doesn't mention a tree

'Cotton Tiberius B.iv' in Anglo Saxon
Þis wearð þa Harolde cynge gecydd,
he gaderade þa mycelne here,
com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran,
Wyllelm him com ongean on unwær, ær þis folc gefylced wære.

This is the original translation by the Reverend James Ingram (London, 1823)
This was then told to King Harold;
and he gathered a large force,
and came to meet him at the estuary of Appledore.(this would read apuldre ora in Anglo Saxon)
William, however, came against him unawares, ere his army was collected;

The common translation of
'com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran'
is Harold ‘came to meet him [William] at the hoar (or grey) apple-tree.’

our translation of the same phrase using Bosworth Toller Anglo Saxon Dictionary.
came him together at there 'hare or hairy' apple trees
so rephrased to 'they met him at the orchard where the hares run' or ' they met him at the hairy orchard'

'Bodleian MS Laud 636' doesn't mention a tree

'Cotton Domitian A.ix' has no entry for 1066

Translation issues 
The confusion is around the translation of both haran and apuldran

'hara' in Anglo Saxon means hare as in the long eared rabbit.
'haran' doesn't exist by itself but is used to describe multiples, as in 'haran hige' meaning 'hares foot' the plant and in 'haran-wyrt' meaning 'hare wort'
'hǽren' in Anglo Saxon means 'made of hair' (possibly describing litchen)
'har' in Anglo Saxon means 'Hoar, hoary, grey'

There is a Anglo Saxon suffix –en which means people of or subjects of, and is used in Saxon village names.

So the various valid options are hare,hairy,hoar,hoary or grey

'apuldre' meaning apple tree, or possibly fruit tree
'apuldran' possibly meaning multiple trees as in an orchard

So the various valid options are apple tree, fruit tree or orchard
So this gives us the probably meanings of the 'old orchard', the 'hairy orchard' or the 'orchard where the hares are'.

So as you can see there are a number of possible translations

An Old Orchard  
An Apple orchard

If the place recorded as the 'Haran alpuldran' actually existed then:
  • The location must have been fairly well known to the Saxons so the Fyrð from all the counties could muster there.
  • It must have been at a point on a major route probably on an old Roman road at a major junction or in a large town or city.
  • It must also have been some way inland as most invasions would have come from the coast and having your troops meet up close to the enemy could be disastrous.
  • So this gives us the probable meanings of the 'the old orchard', the 'hairy orchard' or the one I believe is the most likely translation is the 'orchard where the hares live' or The people of the old orchard.

This would imply that the Saxons had a number of pre-set easy to find locations across the country where the individual Fyrð and the Huscarls and the King could join up. This would mean that the local Fyrð would go to their nearest town, then the town would go to the nearest main city, then they would march to a nearby point where they would finally muster.

There is only one reference to the 'Hoar Apple tree' and that exists only in one of the six versions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles so has limited documentary evidence. However the Fyrð would need to have locations to combine with the King's forces so this is likely to be a real place, but very unlikely to be in the current town of Battle as this would be too close to the coast and Battlefield for troops to muster in case of invasion.

In any case Battle is too near Hastings, because if the Fyrð arrived there to muster in small units, Williams troops could have easily seen them arrive and destroyed these individual units without needing to fight Harold's combined forces.

Another Interesting Article 
Regarding the possible location of the hoar apple tree the following link created by a collegue may be of interest Horeappletree and Horeappletree Common which gives an interesting idea for a location near Broad Oak(Heathfield), which I believe would be a logical muster site for Harold's troops.

This location would have been inside the Forest of Andredsweald but was most likely heathland so was open and suitable for camping, it was also on the Crowborough to Hastings ancient ridgeway which leads to Battle town, and was far enough away from the coast to allow small local units of Fyrð to meet up and join up to make an army, so a possibility for a muster point.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:45:14
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