Hastings must be one of the most known places in England. Known as the place that William the Conqueror in 1066 defeated Harold and the Normans took control of England. The history though of Hastings doesn’t start there. The Haestingas were one of the tribes that settled in the south eastern tip of England sometime before the end of the 8th Century. Not much is known about the tribe but let’s look at what is.
The foundation legend of South Saxons is given in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The Chronicle states that in the year 477 AD, Aella arrived at a place called Cymenshore in three ships with his three sons. Cymenshore traditionally is thought to be located around the Selsey area in the south west of Sussex. However archaeological evidence based on the number of Anglo Saxon cemeteries indicate that around the 5th Century the South Saxons mainly settled the lower Ouse and Cuckmere rivers in East Sussex.
To the east of Pevensey, beyond the Saxon Shore Fort of Anderitum on the other side of the estuary were a group of people that settled and were called the Haestingas. They gave their name to the town Hastings. They were believed to a separate group of people than the South Saxons, although there is no archaeological evidence to support the occupation of the area between the 5th and 8th Century AD. Medieval sources suggest with place name evidence that there were people living there by the late 8th Century AD.
Some of the Anglo Saxon charters from the Kingdom of Sussex do such that there may have been two separate dynasties and people. The charters of King Northelm who ruled in Sussex in the late 7th Century and early 8th Century AD mention a second King by the name of Watt (or Wattus). It is suggested that Watt could have been the ruler of the Haestingas. This is because around the Hastings area there are place names with Watt or What as part of them, but there are no places like this in West Sussex.
Simon of Durham who was a 11th Century monk, records the defeat of the gens Hestingorum (the people of Hastings) by Offa of Mercia in 771. Mercian overlordship was ended when they were defeated in 825 AD, by Egbert of Wessex at the Battle of Ellandum. Egbert annexed the territories of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. This suggests that by this time the Haestingas had fused together with the South Saxons of Sussex. Although in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it states that the Haestingas were harried by the Danes in 1011. This would mean that they would of maybe kept an unique identity within Sussex, then Wessex and in England as a whole.
The 19th Century AD writer Grant Allen, suggest that the Hastings area was separated to that of Sussex and Kent, only later to join Sussex. He stated that it was isolated separated from the rest of Sussex and England by the marshland of the Pevensey Levels lying to the west and the forest of Weald in the North. It was separated from Kent by the Romney Marsh in the east. He stated that the Kingdom of the Haestingas went on to join Sussex and to become one of traditional ‘rape’ sub-regions of the county.
The actual origin of the Haestingas people is also up for debate. It is suggested that they may be of Frankish origin and that Watt was a sub-king to the South Saxons. It may be that the name also gave name to Watten in north east France supporting this claim. However some say that they may have been of Jutish origin from Kent. Kent was one of the first places to be converted to Christianity at the beginning of the 7th Century AD, and the simple Christian burial was introduced. As there is little archaeological evidence of the Saxon Haestingas it could have been they were already converted to Christianity before they moved to the area around Hastings.
Whether they were Saxon or Jutes, it is clear that the people of Haesta (ingas being the Old English for people of) gave the name to Hastings and with that a significant name at a major turning point in England’s history that will be remembered for ever.