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Battle of Hastings 1066AD - Senlac Hill where is it?
and what does Senlac mean?

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Senlac Hill was there only one? and what does it mean? 
On this page I will try to put forward various comments on the origination of Senlac, and the possibility of a different location from where the monks of Battle Abbey claimed it was.

Current location of Senlac Hill
Senlac Hill its current location Senlac Hill is nowadays inside Battle Abbey in the small town of Battle in East Sussex and is shown by the red dot on the map below.

Senlac Hill from the Bayeux Tapestry
Senlac Hill in the Bayeux Tapestry The ground looks very broken, either from man made ditches (see our Malfosse page) or just implying broken ground.

Firstly what evidence is there that Senlac Hill was relevent to the Battle of Hastings?

By looking at the documents available from the time of the Battle, there is only one reference to Senlac which comes from Orderic Vitalis(Gesta Normannorum Ducum) the relevent passage reads
' On the other side, the English troops, assembled from all parts of the neighbourhood, took post at a place which was anciently called Senlac, many of them personally devoted to the cause of Harold, and all to that of their country, which they were resolved to defend against the foreigners.'

The Battle Abbey Chronicles make no mention of Senlac - that seems odd as its in the current Abbey Grounds, and if important would have had a mention in the text, the Chronicles refer to Hegeland as the hill.

The name Senlac was introduced into English history by the Victorian historian E.A. Freeman who suggested that Senlac meant Sand Lake in Old English with the Norman conquerors calling it (in French) Sanguelac('Blood lake').

OK so what does Senlac mean, there are a lot of possibilities some being decidedly unlikely.

If we look at Anglo Saxon words and not Norman ones as Vitalis claims that it was anciently called Senlac, what are the possibilities for Senlac Hill:-

lac appears to derive from lacu a pond or lake.

sen There are a number of possibilities as to the derivation of sen which is not a saxon word as it stands, so most likely has been shortened over time(a few hundred years from its early Saxon name), the monks who wrote the Chronicles of the time were mostly Norman and wrote in latin so they may have been trying to write the sound of the locations.

The nearest words that could have been shortened are:-

sand meaning sand hence sandlacu
  So this would mean sandy lake,

senn meaning to sin therefore sennlacu
  So this would translate to sinners lake, but as the area was supposed to be unoccupied before 1066 I have discounted this word.

isen meaning iron so isenlacu
  Translating to iron pond - interesting

aescen meaning ashen so aescenlacu
  This would translate to the ash tree pond - again interesting

So Senlac would seem to be a descriptive term, and we are now left with Ash Tree Pond/Lake, Iron Pond/Lake or Sandy Pond/Lake, so lets look at the landscape around Battle to see if we can find anything that might relate to the above translations, as it is possible that there were a number of Senlacs in the area.

The local landscape

To the north of modern Senlac Hill there is a very steep valley with a spring that flows down into the Brede valley, the nearest pond in that direction would have been towards Marley Lane a mile or so away but no reason to call it senlac as marley means marl island(marl meaning clay).

To the south east are a few small ponds, but just the clayey ponds that cover the area. Please be aware that a lot of ponds that are now in the area were caused by doodlebug explosions from World War 2 falling short of London or being turned over by typhoon fighters.

To the south there is now the pond created at Powdermills, but originally this may have been created by the Romans digging iron at Pepperingeye a few hundred metres to the south east.

To the west towards Ashburnham we have an area known for its ash trees, and near to Ashburnham(Meaning the Stream in the Ash trees) there are a number of lakes, probably formed again for iron working , so there may be a second Senlac hill. Please see the map below.

Finally to the North West of the abbey lies the hamlet of Beech(now Beech Farm) which was in the Domesday Book and was an iron working site that made cannons for the Royal Navy in the early 1700's.(please refer to the Wealden Iron Research Group's database )

Possible alternative locations 
Senlac and possible sites for the hill
The above map shows possible other Senlac Hills based on the local geography, please take a look at the above details and make your own judgement on the location of the real Senlac.

The larger circles with names show the Domesday settlements in the area, the red lines are ancient Celtic ridgeways that the Romans and Saxons used, the green shaded area shows the Forest of Andredsweald.

The shading of the settlements denotes the damage recorded in the Domesday Book, red denotes wasted, the yellow denotes damaged and green undamaged settlements.


If Senlac is derived from isenlacu then this would mean that the real Isenlac Hill would have been either at Netherfield, as this was the point where the main ancient ridgeways (taken over by the Romans) from Rye and Hastings to London joined or on the B2096 at Netherfield High Wood. These were both very close to the edge of the great Forest of Andredsweald, which is recorded in some of the chronicles. And finally the B2096 is also known as Kane Hythe Road(Cyne hyð rad) which can be translated from the Saxon as 'the starting point of the King'.

The location of Battle Abbey (St Martin of Tours)
Regarding the current placement of Battle Abbey, this was built 20 years after the Battle of Hastings (when the majority of the participants had died), on a position well suited to the monks as it was on a hill, it had nearby water and ponds for fish, and was built across the Hastings to London main road hence capturing all the traffic on that route. If the abbey was not the actual location for the Battle of Hastings then this legend could have been created as a counter to other monastries that had relics that pilgrims (tourists) would pay to see.

My personal belief is that if Senlac Hill is a valid reference to the Battle of Hastings then Isenlac was the iron pond near to modern Beech Farm, this was called Beech in the Domesday book.

If this is the case then there is a distinct possibility that the Abbey Battle site is not the real site of the Battle of Hastings, and that it is along Kane Hythe Road either at Netherfield High Wood, or at Netherfield itself.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:47:54
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