We Asked a Load of Devoted Battle Re-enactors Why They Do It

This weekend was the big one: the 950th anniversary of the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

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17 October 2016, 9:37am

As you've no doubt known for months, this past weekend was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. England! But also: France! Yes, on the 14th of October all those years ago – as accepted history goes – King Harold was killed after he'd done a bang-up job of beating a Viking army in Yorkshire.

When Duke William – i.e. William the Bastard, or William the Conquerer – took over he brought in changes that have somehow led to the England we know today. The one where thousands of people, in 2016, pull on their chain link and mount their horses to reenact a really old battle.

After a group of re-enactors followed in King Harold's hoofsteps from Yorkshire to East Sussex, Battle Abbey became home to loads of men and women facing off again on both Saturday and Sunday. We sent photographer Chris Bethell down to chat to some of the people there about just why they like getting all dressed up and play-fighting with massive swords.

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"Today I'm a poor Saxon warrior with leather clothing and a leather helmet. I've been involved in re-enactments for four years now. The scale of this is amazing, especially to have horses involved – the ground starts to shake when they're all running near you."
Arno, 31, environmental engineer from France. Saxon.

"I’m new at this, you see? We did choose a name; I think it was Torvin. I do it because I like the outside – I don't like living in a concrete building, so this is ideal for me. This is home."
Carol, 59, sales assistant from Swindon. Saxon.

"Today I’m a middle-class lady helping with the cooking. I made pancakes for everyone for breakfast this morning. I originally joined because I enjoy sword fighting, but I'm not doing any of that on this occasion. We have very strict safety standards and I didn't have the time to train."
Eleanor, 27, boom operator from London. Norman.

"I play King Harold Godwinson, the second King Harold. He famously died at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th of October, 1066, by an arrow to the eye, so I foresee an arrow coming my way in the near future. I got involved in re-enactment as a guy in my office was doing it. I didn't even know it was a thing at the time. He took me along to training and I loved it, so I just carried on."
Kendal, 47, science teacher from Staffordshire. Saxon.

"Nowadays when I come onto sites like this I struggle to do the silver work because I can't wear glasses. They're too modern for Viking times. I’ve always been a fairly crafty person, and when I was first brought to one of these events I realised everyone was living in a handmade world."
Gary, 55, history teacher, from Manchester. Saxon.

"I'm middle class and I've come to fight. In France I've been involved with Viking reconstructions of the 10th century – and off the back of that I had the opportunity to come here and try out the Hastings battle. I love diving into the history of it all."
Marie, 32, microbiologist technician, from Lille, France. Saxon.

"I'm the quartermaster. I'm wearing clothing of someone from a higher rank, silk and blue-coloured material. I was so touched by my first experience of this re-enactment that I have come back every year since."
Gerald, 52, chemist from Bavaria, Germany. Norman.

"My character's name is Freydis – she's a bit of a hothead. I get a big kick out of it! I get to kill people! And sometimes my husband, too. Sometimes he's a monk, which makes it even more fun. I just really enjoy getting out there, being among the other warriors in the shield wall; shields clashed together, everyone together, fighting."
Faith, 46, Grad school manager from Leeds. Saxon.

"I won't be battling today – I'm just a crafts man. I'm here to help and support everyone else. This is my first time here in Hastings. I came here with the Norman group who have been coming here for 16 years."
Vincent, 39, blacksmith from Normandy, France. Norman.

"I'm classed as what they call a thrawl, so I'm pretty near the bottom of the social ladder. A lot of the reason I love it is for the social aspect of it, but also because it's my heritage and culture."
Mark, 42, Driver from Swindon. Saxon.

"I don't have a persona as such, but we've come here as Saxons. My husband started up our local re-enactment group 30-odd years ago and then I met him through that. Instead of me being a soccer mum, I’m a Viking mum."
Gnor, 49, medical scientist from Perth, Australia. Saxon.

"Today I am Steinmeer. I'm more of a Saxon farmer, but I’m here today for a fight and hopefully some loot. It's just a lot of good fun. You really immerse yourself in the world – you have a good drink, a good laugh and then a good scrap on the field."
Severin, 29, videographer from Stoke-on-Trent. Saxon.

"I'm supporting William, the Duke of Normandy, to conquer his rightful place in history, which is the throne in England. I'm going to be fighting the frontline. I’ve always wanted to be a knight – a dream I share with most boys as they're growing up. This was the obvious next step on from just role-playing as a kid."
Marco, 45, account manager from Germany. Norman.

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