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William the Conqueror and Battle Abbey

William's persistent determination to build an abbey on the exact site of his victory at Hastings underlines its importance as a symbol of the Norman Conquest.

And in order to strengthen their hearts, he made, before them and with the approval of all, a vow to God, that if the divine mercy granted him victory over his enemies, he would offer up that place to God, as wholly free and quit as he might be able to conquer it for himself. And there he would build a monastery, where servants of God might be brought together for the salvation of all, and especially of those who should fall in that battle. It would be a place of sanctuary and help to all, paying back for the bloodshed there by an unending chain of good works. His speech made the men more courageous; they entered the fight determinedly, and at last, as God had planned, on 14 October, they won the victory: the duke's enemy lay fallen and his army fled.

Thus a monk of battle in the late twelfth century explained the foundation of his abbey. Nowhere was the impact of the Norman Conquest more dramatic than on the open countryside of the battlefield of Hastings. Here William the Conqueror founded a great monastery and subsequently outside its gates emerged a new town whose name still keeps alive these warlike origins. The story of William's vow before the battle is not known from any earlier source, and may be a product of the monks' development of an historical tradition that linked God, the Conqueror, the abbey and the success of the Conquest in one organic whole. Thus the monks frequently appealed for support to such a tradition in the twelfth century during the long struggle to maintain their independence from the episcopal control of the bishop of Chichester.

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