THE battle of Hatfield took place in the year AD 633. Many changes
had taken place in Britain in the previous two hundred or so years
and we must look at those changes for the cause of the battle.
The final departure of the Romans from Britain had taken place
about AD 410 and their occupation of the country is well recorded.
However, there are very few detailed records of the next 200
years, which were known as the Dark Ages.
It is known that several different tribes from
the east had over-run the Continent and probably the most important
of these were the Angles and the Saxons. Some of these had crossed
the North Sea, even before the Romans had left, and had begun
to settle in Britain. It was not a military invasion as such,
but they came over in small groups with their women and children,
taking over land from the Britons and building villages where
they settled. As more Anglo-Saxons arrived, most of the Britons
in the south of the country were driven into the mountains in
the west, where they became known as the Welsh. The Picts and
Scots, had taken advantage of the Romans leaving to cross the
border, ravaging North Britain, and they were driven back into
Scotland by the Anglo-Saxons. But this was a gradual invasion
and took over 200 years. The few Britons who remained eventually
merged with the Anglo-Saxons. Britain then became known as the
land of the Angles, or Angle-land, later known as England.
of Anglo-Saxons in Britain fought among themselves for supremacy
and as a result, the larger groups formed themselves into Kingdoms,
each with its own King. Some of the smaller Kingdoms were taken
over by their stronger neighbours and soon there were only a few
very powerful Kingdoms, the most important being Northumbria,
Mercia and Essex. The Kingdoms occasionally went to war against
each other in a power struggle.
reason for going to war was Religion. The Anglo-Saxons were heathens
and worshipped heathen Gods, but towards the end of the sixth
century, some of the Kingdoms turned to Christianity.
Augustine landed in Kent where King Ethelbert ruled. Although
Ethelbert was a. heathen he had married Bertha, daughter of a
Christian King who ruled over part of Gaul on the Continent. King
Ethelbert allowed Augustine to preach the Christian gospel and
he was converted to the Christian faith. Augustine settled in
Canterbury where he became the first Archbishop.
next Kingdom to be converted to Christianity was Northumbria where
King Edwin ruled. Northumbria had been formed in the year 617
from the two Kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Edwin was a heathen
but he had married Ethelburger, the Christian daughter of King
Elthelbert and Queen Bertha of Kent. Edwin allowed a Christian
priest named Paulinus to reside at hiss roan to teach the Christian
faith. Eventually Edwin too became a Christian and he was baptised
in a little wooden church at York, on Easter Day, in the year
who was King of the nearby Kingdom of Mercia, was an enemy of
Edwin and was envious of the success of Edwin in uniting Northumbria.
Penda was a heathen and was opposed to the spread of Christianity.
He decided to challenge Edwin's rule and sought the help of Cadwallader,
King of. North Wales. The battle took place at Hatfield.
King then addressed his troops, warning them they must stand and
fight as they would be unable to retreat because of the waters
to the northeast and south, whilst the enemy approached from the
west. The King then placed his archers in the woods and clumps
of trees which stretched almost into Doncaster. By the 3rd October
the enemy had reached Doncaster where they stayed overnight. Many
of the Doncastrians had fled towards the King's camp at Hatfield
and those who remained were killed. Reinforcements were on the
way to Edwin from the north and they marched part of the night,
crossing the ford at Stainforth, to reach Hatfield in the morning.
Edwin's army was commanded by himself, his young son Prince Osfrid
and several experienced lords and nobles. The enemy's army was
commanded by the two Kings Penda and Cadwallader with their Captains.
enemy forces began their attack on the morning of the 4th, their
soldiers stretching from one side of the Heath to the other. They
drove back Edwin's archers as they advanced. The two armies were
in sight of each other by midday and the trumpeters sounded the
charge. The archers on both sides fired their arrows but it was
soon fierce hand to hand combat with axes and other weapons. One
of the first casualties was King Edwin's son, Prince Osfrid, who
was fatally wounded. Several of Edwin's nobles and courtiers were
also killed. The fierce fighting continued until almost sunset
when King Edwin's army was overpowered and he was surrounded by
the enemy. Despite putting up a fierce struggle he too was slain.
won victory on the field of battle, the enemy then turned their
attention to the village, murdering everyone they could find.
The Church, the Palace and all the houses were looted, after which
they were set on fire and burnt down. The only thing remaining
was the stone altar of the Church.
and Cadwallader marched away the following day to consolidate
their victory elsewhere. The survivors who had fled to neighbouring
villages returned. They found more than 10,000 dead bodies, including
that of King Edwin and Prince Osfrid. The King's head was cut
off and sent to York for burial in Saint Peter's Church.
de la Pryme has this to say at the end of his account. "As
for his body, and that of his son Osfrid, and the rest of his
nobles, they were cast in a great hole altogether and a Huge Hill
of Earth thrown over them, which hill remains to this day in Hadham
field, near ye Lings - called now Slay-Burr-Hill, that is ye Hill
where the slayn were bury'd. The field having now been plow'd
for many hundreds of years, he caused that the aforesaid hill
is not now so conspicuous as it has been; yet it is higher now
than any other part of ye field, and everyone knows it."
The widowed Queen, with her young son and daughter, were taken
to safety by St. Paulinus and one of Edwin's commanders. They
travelled by boat to Kent, where the Queen had lived before her
marriage. A new royal palace was built at Leeds, which took the
place of the former palace at Hatfield. It took many years for
Hatfield to recover.
is the story of the battle of Hatfield, roughly as told by Abraham
de la Pryme. However many historians cast doubt on much of de
la Pryme's writings and have often been able to prove him wrong.
In recent years mass burials have been discovered at Cuckney Church
near Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire. The reason for these burials
is not known but it has been suggested by David Hey in his book
`The Making of South Yorkshire' (1979) that the battle of Hatfield
may have taken place there. Edwinstowe suggests a link with King
Edwin and it is thought that when the Venerable, Bede wrote of
the battle' which took place in Hatfield, he may have been referring
not to the village, but to the greater administrative area of
Hatfield which extended into Nottinghamshire.
of the things I find hard to accept in Pryme's account is the
part about the burial mound and the ten thousand bodies. To collect
and bury 10,000 bodies spread around a battlefield which must
have stretched from Edenthorpe to Tudworth would have been a formidable
task. And the burial mound would have to be not just twice the
size but perhaps twenty or more times the size.
Lunn, Bishop of Sheffield, in his book `Kings, Canals and Coal'
(1993), included Pryme's account of the battle in an appendix
to his book. Referring to this the Bishop says "The numbers
engaged in the battle have steadily increased and there are believed
to be `thousands of bodies in a burial mound close to where the
Lings now is'. The battle gives De la Pryme an excuse for one
of his most splendid extravaganzas..." I wondered if perhaps
only the bodies of the King, Prince Osfrid and the nobles were
buried there. It is significant that some 70 years after the battle,
Edwin's headless body was recovered from the burial mound, apparently
without difficulty, so that his remains could be taken to Whitby
and buried in the Church of St. Peter. There is another suggestion
that the burial mound may not be a burial mound at all, but the
foundations of a windmill, built on a mound to give it height.
Again, very difficult to prove.
thing which surprises me is that Slay Pits, which, because of
its name, is traditionally the scene of a battle, is not mentioned
by Pryme. If his account is accepted, the battle would not have
been confined to the Lings and the remnants of Edwin's army may
well have been driven back to Slay Pits, which after all is quite
near across the fields. It is unlikely they could have been driven
further eastwards because of the tracts of water to the south
and north-east that time.
are many questions which remain unanswered about the battle which
took place over 1,300 years ago, questions which are likely to
remain unanswered. I know that many people in Hatfield will be
happy to accept Abraham de la Pryme's account, even though there
may be some doubts about it. They can walk along the Lings and
see the burial mound in the field near the confluence of Lings
Lane with the A18. They can even look westwards from Lings Lane
and see clumps of trees (although obviously not the same trees),
and imagine King Edwin's archers waiting for the enemy. Or they
can look across the fields at Slay Pits where King Edwin, knowing
his young son was killed and his army routed, still fought on
until he too was slain. There is perhaps something to be said
for clinging to old traditions and for living in a village which
purports to be the site of an ancient battle.
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