Where did the Battle of Hatfield really take place?
I have been reading about this battle for some time now and all I find is exaggerations, guess-work, and claims without very little evidence, if none at all. People are shouting, it took place here or it took place there and yet nobody really knows for definite. I personally cannot accept either of these sites being the location of the Battle of Hatfield until a full excavation is carried out at Cuckney and Doncaster.
I find it hard to understand that no archaeological excavations have taken place at either site, although the second site produced a selection of skeletons to support their claim which I will cover in more detail later.
We must keep an open mind and understand that without an excavation, we just don’t know, hence, we must accept that these two locations who are both claiming the same, may well be looking at two separate battles, and this could be quite feasible.
From the 16th / 17th Century, the location of this Battle was placed just 6 miles north-east of Doncaster and we have to ask the question – on what evidence supports this location and this theory.
I believe the answer appears to be none other than the very well-known historian and antiquarian William Camden (1551-1623) said it took place near Doncaster on a whim yet he produced no evidence at all to support his statement and because he stated this site, all others have followed his words and it is now accepted to be fact. I believe he made a dreadful mistake in his location of the battle; it becomes quite simple to understand.
It is quite possible that William Camden mistook Bede’s works and knowing that the village of Hatfield near Doncaster existed he assumed this was the place where the Bede was referring to and that the battle was fought here; not taking into account of the vast region also named Hatfield. He should have realised that the name Hatfield was a very common name in England as it still is now.
I also believe that he wrongly pinpointed the site thinking it would have been a logical crossing of the two armies and because there was a village with the name Hatfield he wrongly assumed it had to be the place of the battle and because he took a guess at the location there is no evidence to support his claim.
He possibly misread the works of the Venerable Bede (673-735) who quoted that the battle took place on the plain of Hatfield and here is were I believe the mistake may have been made.
Camden being the highly respected antiquarian and historian that he was in the 17th century must have read the works of the Venerable Bede.
Mistakes are very easy to make but an antiquarian and historian of William Camden’s pedigree should not have made this mistake and assume the battle took place at the village of Hatfield.
If there is a mistake, it clearly did disfigure the facts and credibility of English History.
When looking at the Cuckney area, we have the River Poulter running through the village with the Church on the southern side of the river.
After looking at the probabilities we assume that the battle took place on the south side of Cuckney and perhaps between Warsop and Cuckney.
The reason could be that the burials are on the south side of the river, is where they died so if they died on the north side of the river who and why would want to bury the dead by wading the river?
Remember, Most of the time “history is an historian’s opinion.”
Let us look at some of the possibilities and probabilities;
1. William Camden some 900 years after the battle comes to the conclusion that the Battle took place near Doncaster, why?
Possibly because Hatfield near Doncaster was Royal Ground and people would have taken Camden’s word and just assumed that the Battle of Hatfield took place there.
Yes there was a Roman road heading south to Doncaster (Danum) but that can’t be the only reason one would suggest that the battle took place near Doncaster. If we look at Hatfield near Doncaster, there is a large hill called Sley-Burr Hill where the dead were supposedly buried. It also goes by the name Hadham Field yet no evidence comes to light only words and if it is a burial mound from what period and from what battle assuming it is from a battle.
2. Staying with the burial site, records show that the field in question indicates a large mound in the centre of this field and although the field as been worked for approximately 1300 years and the mound is now nearly at the same level as the rest of the field yet no bones have been recorded or found.
3. I would like to know when the name Sley-Burr Hill was first used. If we knew that, we would get near enough to a date whether it is a battle site or burial site or not. It would be a big piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
4. Doncaster Council Online on 10th December 2012 states
Edwin, first Christian King of Northumbria, is said to have built a palace where Manor House now stands. Edwin was defeated and killed in 633 at the battle of Hatfield by Penda, pagan King of Mercia.
At this time Hatfield was the name of a region extending towards Nottingham. Although tradition has it that the battle took place near Hatfield village, evidence suggests it was actually fought near Edwinstowe.
- Let us assume that the Mercian army marched from their headquarters at Tamworth. They would have come up the Roman road of Ryknield Street through Derby and towards Mansfield. (3) If the Roman road was in a poor state of disrepair they would have used it to quite simply guide them to their destination. From Mansfield it is a short journey north to Cuckney.
Now let us look at Edwin, he certainly would have scouts ahead of his main army and would know from which direction the Pagans would be travelling. The crossing point where both armies met could have quite easily been the Cuckney area.
2. There stands a steel cross in the forest at Birklands (just east of Warsop) about 4 miles south of Cuckney village and it is said that Edwin’s body was rested (4) there after the battle, although he was dead. The cross denotes an Hermitage /Chapel stood there with the name of St. Edwin’s Chapel. The Chapel of St Edwin is well documented during the time of the Plantagenet’s.
In 1201, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Derby paid 20s to the chaplain of Clipstone for the upkeep of the Hermitage.
In 1212 King John started regular payments for ‘there ministering for the soul of King Henry’, his father. Similar payments by succeeding kings were paid until the time of Henry VIII.
3. Perhaps the most important find which I believe gives great credibility to the claim that the Battle of Hatfield took place in Cuckney was the excavation of St Mary’s Church Cuckney in 1951 which revealed some 200 adult male skeletons in a mass grave. (5)
4. The village of Edwinstowe lies a few miles south-east of Cuckney and it is said that Edwin‘s body was rested there before being carried northwards to York. The word Edwinstowe means Edwin’s Resting Place.
5. There is still to this day a large area adjacent to Cuckney with place names of; Hatfield Grange, Hatfield Plantation and High Hatfield etc.
Abraham de la Pryme (1671-1704) has this to say at the end of his account:-
“As for his body, (Edwin) 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, (6) 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.”
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. He also sates that he could not find from any books the precise location of the field of battle.
I strongly agree with the historians of the past who disagree with Abraham de la Pryme who I believe based his history on the word of Camden. The historians who cast doubt on much of de la Pryme’s writings 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 at Cuckney.
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.
Yet to the best of my knowledge this field named Hadham field (7) near Doncaster was never excavated and the mass grave at Cuckney was never fully excavated. (8)
Excavations at both sites would clearly reach a positive conclusion assuming it could define the period and forensic and pathology results regarding the bones. This would put an end to any guess work for once and for all.
From the Edwinstowe Parish Council
In 632 A.D. King Edwin marched south to fight King Penda of Mercia. Edwin was killed in the ensuing battle, which took place near Edwinstowe at a small hamlet called Cuckney (then known as Hatfield).
To prevent his body falling into enemy hands, King Edwin’s friends buried it secretly in a clearing in the forest, intending to return later to give him a proper burial.
When they eventually returned, his followers discovered that people were now calling him Saint Edwin, so they built a small wooden chapel on the spot and installed a priest. So began Edwinstowe – “the holy place of Edwin.”
In 1951, the National Coal Board called in a company (Eastwoods of Warsop) to excavate beneath St Mary’s Church Cuckney and due to the fact that they were opening a new seem and needed to be sure the Church would be stable, so it needed to be underpinned.
On digging down, they came across human bones, all male and all adult. Professor M. W. Barley puts the figure around 200 skeletons in a mass grave, and states a full excavation would possibly uncover around 800 skeletons. Due to the fact that they are all male adult (9), we can clearly assume that the grave is connected to a battle but this must be verified.
Where did the Battle of Heathfield / Hatfield take place? Well, we really don’t know until there is a full excavation at Cuckney, and it is probable that the two sites at Doncaster and Cuckney may be two separate battles altogether.
Regarding Cuckney, I would love to see a full excavation with geophysics, forensics and pathologists all involved but we have one major problem and that is that the site is on sacred ground.
We can only hope that in the near future a full excavation at Cuckney will take place and also at Hatfield near Doncaster.
Our quest is progressing nicely and at this moment we have a very prominent Archaeological Company (Mercian) guiding us towards our goal.
- I have been searching for some connection and evidence with Hatfield near Doncaster for the last 17 months and I have found none. Yes the connection is there but only in the form of words by people who pass the story on.
- It is important that The Bede’s exact quote should be remembered – “A great battle being fought in the plain that is called Haethfelth” – these words are important. There are many place names in England carrying the word Hatfield.
- It would be acceptable for any army of this period to use Roman roads where possible and in this case the strong possibility is that Penda’s Army would have taken Ryknield St.
- There are different theories regarding this site; history tells us that it is a place where his warriors camped overnight – and others suggest where Edwin’s body was buried and his warriors went back later, removed his body and took it to Whitby for burial.
- These 200 skeletons located beneath the nave of the church were stated as being all male yet nobody seems to have taken photos which would be a major move forward.
- Abraham de la Pryme quotes, that the field named Hadham is where the slaughtered lay from the Battle of Hatfield lay and he says that for hundreds of years the field was ploughed. Unquote. Yet no mention of skeletons or bones have been found.
- Hadham field is the area near Doncaster where vast amounts of victims from the battle where buried as we are led to believe.
- The excavation at Cuckney Church was for the NCB not excavated for the mass grave. These bones were uncovered by accident.
9 Although in 1951 all the skeletons were regarded as being male, with the technology of today we can define if they are male or female.