Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Stamford Bridge: The battle that ended an era: The Conclusion


The Norwegians have landed and have defeated the northern earls, brothers Morcar and Edwin, at Gate Fulford. Harold has marched north, gathering an army as he goes, to face his brother Tostig and King Harald of Norway as they unwittingly waited at Stamford Bridge for hostages and  supplies to arrive from York.

Stamford Bridge crossed the River Derwent a few miles south of York and was far enough away from York to be of little further threat to the city and half way between York and where the Norwegians had left their ships at Riccall. Harald, the  King of Norway, commonly known later as Hardraada, with the somewhat inimitable reputation and King Harold of England's implacable brother, Tostig, had brokered a deal with the defeated leaders of York that they would meet them here at this little settlement with the agreed 150 hostages and provisions that were promised. On Monday, September the 25th, their men were camped on both sides of the river Derwent. It was a warm sunny day and they were enjoying the warm weather. Then came the storm in a form of a dust cloud. The marching feet of thousands of infantry and horsemen could be seen, their glittering weapons and steel tipped spears sparkling like shards of broken ice. Harold Godwinson and his army were about to fall upon them in a surprise assault.  

The battle as drawn by
Tony Wait
 There are a variety of versions of the prelude to the battle, having done my best to piece the known evidence together, I have consolidated them into what seems the most feasible interpretation. What seems to be pretty conclusive is that unfortunately for  the Norsemen, they had gone to Stamford Bridge to meet the English hostages without their maille, the very thing necessary for survival in a battle. They did however, carrry their helmets, shields and weapons. The chronicles all agree that this was due to the warm and sunny weather and having defeated the Northern armies quite decisively at Gate Fulford, they were  certainly not expecting to have to use them so soon after their victory in York. Half of Hardrada's forces were back at Riccall with the fleet, led by his son Olaf and the Earl of Orkney. Some of his men had been out rounding up cattle (Rex 2011) and were on the open ground on the west bank of the river when the scouts spotted Harold's army approaching them. Marren (2004), in his book about the battles of 1066, describes the bridge by 11thc reckoning as being wide enough for the roads which reached the bridge, to go through it. This seems a reasonable reckoning seeing as the roads continue out to the battle flats and beyond.

According to Snorri Sturluson, Harold wanted to parley first, offering his brother peace and his former earldom back, plus more. Other sources state that Harold came upon them on horseback and swooped down on the Vikings on the open ground of the west bank, catching them unawares. They cut them down, slashing and spearing them.  The Norwegians fought to create a circular shieldwall as the horses ride round them. In the meantime, Hardrada rallies his men over from the east bank to cross the bridge in a boar-snout, Svinfylking,  to come to their aid as he sees the English ride them down. Despite losing many men, Harald of Norway manages to form a circular shieldwall and with his famous Landwaster banner flapping in the wind, get his men back to the bridge and across the otherside as the English are recoiling from this ferocious attack. 

Many of the sagas report the English use of cavalry, although there is some discrepency from historians as to the validity of it. The English were generally thought to favour fighting on foot as infantry, however this battle would not have been the first  that had seen the English fight on horseback as they did at The Battle of Hereford. It seems reasonable enough to believe that if Harold and his huscarles had journeyed on horse along that road from York,  seeing the Norwegians camped by the river, Harold may have felt that to stage a mounted surprise attack  would have given them the edge, rather than wasting time dismounting.

Once over the bridge, Hardrada was able to take in the gravity of the situation. There he was with just half his of his  lightly armed warriors, facing the hordes of English soldiers with only the bridge and the river between them. Both sides would have paused to regroup and marshall their troops ready for the next clash. At some point King Harald was said to have sent 3 riders to summon the rest of his forces back at Riccall to re-inforce his outnumbered army.

This would have been a good time to parley and if Snorri's version is to be believed, it was Harold who wanted to parley. Both kings are said to have ridden up to their respective riverbanks on their horses. Tostig was with Hardrada, perhaps to translate. Harold adressed his brother and offered him terms, saying that he would give him a third of his kingdom in return for abandoning the invasion.

Tostig is said to have answered with this: "This is very different to the hostility and humiliation offered to me last winter.If this offer had been made then, many a man who is dead now would still be alive and England would be in a better state. But if I accept this offer now, what will you offer
King Harald Siggurdsson for all his effort?"
Harold was alleged to have replied, "7ft of ground as he is much taller than other men."
Tostig rejects his offer and  tells Harold to make ready for battle.

As said before, Snorri is not a reliable source so we dont know if this particular conversation happened. However, although these were violent times, men would have wanted to avoid dying in battle of they could without compromising their honour. It is doubtful however that Harold would have agreed to give Tostig his earldom back and more, without incurring the wrath of the northerners who had fought hard to get rid of Harold's brother. They may have been disillusioned by the brothers Morcar and Edwin who failed to avert the disaster at Gate Fulford but I doubt they would have been happy to have Tostig back in the seat of his earldom. Additionally, Harold would have wanted to keep the young earls on side as they were his brother-in-laws. English sources state nothing of the initial parley and terms offered by Harold and rejected by Tostig and Hardrada. The version they offer state that Harold surprised them unawares beyond the bridge and they 'fought sternly' into the afternoon, whatever their idea of 'sternly' was. 

The warrior on the bridge
drawn by Gayle Copper

The most singular feature of this battle is the story that the bridge was held for sometime against the English by a somewhat fearsome Viking with an axe who prevented them from crossing, killing any man who attempted to attack him. He was wearing a maille shirt, obviously one of the few who had decided to bring his. Aforethought is forewarned perhaps; it's a shame that none of the others did. However though, after holding them back for sometime, a quickthinking Englishman waded under the bridge and spears him up through his under carriage and the English are free to cross the bridge.This story is the stuff of legend and is added to Chronicle C in the 12thc and it is also repeated by several other writers so there maybe some credence to it.

Once the great warrior is out of the way, the English storm across the bridge and the Norwegians form their shieldwall. According to the sagas, the English repeatedly charge on horse at them. This was probably not an pre-meditated attempt at an organised cavalry charge, more likely it was intended to catch men who had been caught out in the open on foot. The fighting was hard and went on into the late afternoon. Hardrada ordered for his banner, the black raven, 'Landwaster' to be brought forward and he ran out ahead of his men in a mad charge like the one he had led at Fulford, hoping to repeat his victory as he had done then. But his huge torso was unprotected and he was hit by an arrow in the throat, though not before he had hewn and sliced many men with his terrible two handed Dane Axe. Those that had followed his charge died with him and there came a pause in the fighting. The great Norwegian King had choked on his blood and died. As everyone took time to take it all in and perhaps remove Harald's body to a place of safety, the English Harold offered quarter to his brother and the beleaguered Norwegian troops.
Vikings hurrying to the battle from Riccall

Tostig now was in charge, however the death of Harald Hardrada must have had a devastating effect on morale. It was he they had come to fight for, not Tostig, but the younger Godwinson was all that they had left. Suddenly though, at this point, they were soon to have another commander, Eystein Orri, as the re-inforcements came pouring in from Riccall, exhausted from running several miles and dusty and sweating from the heat and their heavy mail. This last phase of the battle was to become known as 'Orri's storm'. Thus the Norwegians spurned the offer of quarter and they made one final devastaing charge at the English, many of whom were  been killed in the fresh enslaught. Such was the rage that the Norwegians felt at having ran for miles to find that their leader was dead. Such was their desire for revenge that they fought valiantly, some having to throw off their maille because they were so exhausted. But the Vikings were unable to maintain the momentum. Orri fought to the death as did Tostig. Some collapsed, fatigued by the stress of the battle and the harrowing journey on foot from Riccall.

The Norse poet Arnor later tells us:

It was an evil moment
When norway's king lay fallen;

Gold inlaid weapons                                                      
Brought death to Norway's leader.

All King Harald's warriors
Preferred to die beside him,
Sharing their brave king's fate,
Rather than beg for mercy.     

Some of the enemy survivors made their escape and were pursued by the English and given no quarter when it had been already twice refused. No prisoners were taken. The fleeing Norwegians, and we must not forget the Flemmings that had come with Tostig, were chased back to the fleet where, as darkness fell the English 'fiercely attack them from behind until some of them came to ship, some drowned, and also some burnt, and thus variously perished, so that there were few survivors, and the English had possession of the place of slaughter' (Anglo Saxon Chronicle D). The author of the chronicle then went on to say that Harold rounded up the survivors and offered them safe conduct if they would swear oaths before him to leave this land and keep the peace of these islands. Amongst these was King Harald's son, Olaf, who did as he was bid, promising never to return with hostility to these lands. He and their Bishop and  Earl Paul of Orkney were sent home with only 24 of the 300 odd ships they had sailed with. Such was their loss of men that only 24 were needed to carry them home. It must have been a traumatic turn around of events for the survivors that they should come so far for a great victory at Fulford, only to have their hopes of invading dashed within a few days.The great God of War, Hardrada, had proved himself to be destructable after all. The big man's luck had run out at last.

This was the last time that Scandinavian forces would attempt an invasion on such a massive scale. This was the end of the Viking threat to England, but their bones would lay scattered over fields in Yorkshire, visible to the travellers eye, for some years to come after this year of 1066.

Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.
Morris M (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.
Rex P (2011) 1066 A New History of the Norman Conquest Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
Swanton M (200) The Anglo-Saxon Chronichles (rev. ed) Phoenix Press, London.

To read the first episodes in the series click here for part one and here and to read more about these times check out Sons of the Wolf

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Excerpt Three of Sons of the Wolf

Ralph’s forces had ridden out two miles north of Hereford when they came across the amassing forces of Gruffydd and Alfgar. The Earl sensed the unease that was spreading throughout his men as the realisation that they were facing a far greater force than they had expected began to unsettle them. The horses felt it too; their ears were splayed back and they were baring their yellowed teeth. Their riders’ anxiety fizzled down through their trunks and their legs so that it seeped into the horse’s spine and nervous system. Fear filled the air with its unmistakeable tension and aroma.

“My Lord,” William said to Ralph apprehensively. “There must be four thousand of them.”

“But the scout said that there was half that number,” Ralph replied incredulously. “How can he have got it so wrong?”

“The sly vipers split up so that we would not know there was so many of them,” Malet replied. “Who would have thought that Alfgar could be so cunning?”

“Not Alfgar; Gruffydd more like. Alfgar would not be so clever. Gruffydd is the brains behind this.” Ralph shifted uneasily in his saddle. The enemy army was fast approaching. “We must send for reinforcements!”

William looked at him aghast. It was an absurd comment. “How can we? There’s no time. They’re bloody well upon us!”

Fitzscrob, captain of the middle-guard, rode over to them. “My Lord, the enemy are advancing. What should we do? We are overwhelmingly outnumbered!”

“What of it? We have the advantage. We have more cavalry than they. A man on a horse is worth two on foot. We can cut them down if we use the double circular formation and feigned retreat to break their lines,” Ralph replied. He knew that he was asking a lot from his inexperienced troops who were used to fighting in a shieldwall, but he had to save face...somehow. He looked out across the plain and saw the enemy vanguard advancing toward them, their pace quickening now as they got closer. The noise was thunderous. Trumpets were blaring and men were screaming obscenities at the “Saes bastards!” as they loomed toward them.

“My Lord, we will be cut to pieces! The men are untried and full of fear!” Fitzscrob shouted. “We must retreat and defend the town. It’s our only hope!”

Defend Hereford? This mob would overrun it in seconds, Ralph thought, his bravado beginning to wane. The enemy were thundering toward them now. Ralph’s fear began to overwhelm him. He lost all control of his bladder and his bowels as he sat quaking in his saddle. The ‘great’ army he had raised did not seem so great now.

Excerpt Two From Sons of the Wolf

Now, at the head of his unit, Wulfhere was staring at the large volume of men as they spewed over the crest of the hill, gradually making their way down into the valley below. They were a formidable sight, Gruffydd’s army, as they formed their lines, some two thousand and more warriors ten or so men deep. Hwitegaast snorted and slammed his right hoof into the ground, scuffing the dirt to show his discontent. Wulfhere gave him a reassuring pat on his withers and sighed deeply.

Scitte!” cried Esegar, mounted next to him. “There are so many of them.”

Wulfhere puffed out his cheeks and wondered how six hundred mounted men supported by one hundred or so bowmen and no more than three hundred and fifty infantry men were going to triumph over Gruffydd’s vastly larger host.

“Aye, there are indeed,” he agreed with a shudder, hoping that their cavalry would compensate for their lack of numbers.

“Lord, look to the left flank.” Esegar’s voice was shaking.

Wulfhere looked to where Esegar had indicated. “Hell has arrived,” he muttered under his breath.

There were at least eighteen hundred more men, Wykinga, coming round the side of the mound in the valley pass to join the main army as they marched toward them. Their steel helmets flashed as the mist cleared. Sharpened speartips bristled as they augmented the lines of Gruffydd’s men, shouting “Odin! Odin!” The noise was thunderous as they invoked their deity to make them triumphant, whilst the Welsh called out “Llaith at y Saeson!” “Death to the Englisc!”

Wulfhere felt his stomach bubbling. He heard Esegar’s sharp intake of breath.

“Lord, we were greatly outnumbered. Now we are severely outnumbered,” his fyrdsman said with a sardonic grimace.

As Wulfhere’s eyes squinted out over the daunting scene of so many armoured men stamping their way across the green fields toward them, he felt his face prickle with fear and, despite the cold, started to sweat. He breathed deeply, trying not to remember the horrors of Dunsinane.

Gruffydd himself had a smaller mounted force, his teulu, but the amount of heavily armoured Norse foot soldiers alone far outnumbered the entirety of Ralph’s force. He gulped his nausea down into his gullet. They needed to charge soon, for if they didn’t the whole purpose of them as a mounted force would be pointless. Horses are rendered useless in a defensive stance.

Oh my God, he thought to himself, there is going to be slaughter unless we charge now!

Excerpt One from Sons of the Wolf

Chapter Nineteen

The Battle of Hereford

Hereford, October 24th 1055

Ralph walked along the rampart of his palisaded defences as the chilled late autumn morning swathed the burgh in a cloak of mist. He was proud of his strong timber and earth castle that he had built inside the burgh of Hereford not long after his uncle King Edward had invested him with the office of earl four years ago. If he looked out over the parapet on a clear day, to the north of the burgh, he would be sure to see any sign of the enemy coming.

This morning would be like any of the other mornings that had passed since, upon hearing Burghred’s news, he had wasted no time in gathering his huscarles and racing across the ancient tracks to the West Country, sending out summonses to all the mounted men that Edward had commended to him. Looking out over the fog-laden hills, he contemplated another morning of watching and waiting. Down in the courtyard, his men would be on standby. He was proud of his accomplishments in Hereford and fiercely proud of the mounted cavalry he had trained. Some of the Englisc looked upon his ideas with derision, but he would show them just what his mounted army could achieve. He had stubbornly refused Harold’s offer to rally the Wessex fyrd to aid him, convincing everyone, except for Harold, that he had no need of them. This was not, he had said, a matter of national emergency. His mounted soldiers would be match enough for Alfgar and Gruffydd, he had guaranteed them.

“Another morning and still they do not come,” muttered William Malet, joining him in leaning against the wooden barrier. Dressed and ready for battle, the men wore their armour of little metal links skilfully chained together to form the hauberk, the tunic of maille that protected the length of their torso, arms and upper legs. Under them they wore a padded jerkin which would stop the metal from chafing them, adding to the protection that their maille already afforded them. “I am beginning to think that they never will.”

“Oh, they will come alright; your cousin Burghred was sure of it. It seems your uncle has been collecting his forces all summer.” Ralph looked sideways at Malet. “And when they do, Will, we shall be ready for them. Ha, we will soon have our chance to prove to Godwinson that we are quite capable of sorting out our own defences!”

“In hindsight, do you think it was wise not to accept his offer to call out the Wessex fyrd?” Malet asked retrospectively.

“What? And have nice, golden, shiny Harold take all the glory? No, my friend, this one is for us. Besides, it would be a great waste of manpower. Costly too. Our combination of cavalry, light infantry and bowmen is the right formula needed to win the battle against the W√©alas.”

Malet looked a little sceptical and Ralph looked at him scornfully. “You do not doubt that the victory will be ours, William?”

“No, Ralph, I do not. It is just that—”

“I know that perhaps it is hard for you to go to war against your uncle,” Ralph suggested sympathetically.

Will shook his head and replied firmly, “You know how I feel about that brainless idiot! He has the intellect of a newt, uncle or not.”

“Then why do you have that doubtful expression on your face?”

“I just thought that perhaps it would have been advantageous to have the Wessex fyrd here, just in case. After all, Harold is—”

“Harold is not here!” Ralph responded angrily. “And what’s more, we do not need him!”

“But the men are untried and inexperienced, Lord,” Malet gently argued.

“Are you doubting me, Will?” Ralph thrust a disturbed look in his friend’s direction.

“No, Lord. No…”

“You know how I have been waiting for this chance to ingratiate the Witan, Will? And why should I not? I have royal blood coursing through my veins. I am throneworthy! An atheling!” He thumped the edge of the wooden strakes in earnest. “Why should I work so hard all these years only to have Harold Godwinson come along at the last minute and interfere in my command? This victory will gain me the accolade that I deserve and put an end to the threat that comes swamping over the marcher borders!”

“My Lord, you are indeed throneworthy!” Malet said supportively. He frowned slightly, changing his cynical expression to one of fervent loyalty.

“If only the Witan would recognise me as so,” Ralph said regretfully. “Mon Dieu! They send out to lands afar, searching for long-lost Englisc princes, doing deals with that bastard in Normandy, dropping hints at Swein of Denmark  and, all the time, here I am, a prince with the blood of Alfred, right under their snotty noses! So what if I was born on the distaff side of the royal line? I am just as much a contender, if not more. The King, my uncle, loves me, does he not? And yet still I have to prove myself...and prove myself I will!”

“My Lord, we will win this. If they come today, I swear we will win this!” Malet replied with genuine sincerity.

He was standing in front of Ralph as the earl leaned with his back against the parapet, the wind blowing his short dark hair forward. The Earl put a grateful hand on Malet’s shoulder. “Thank you, Will. When I finally sit on the throne of this damned kingdom, I will see that you are rewarded for your loyal service.”

“Good God!” Malet interrupted. “Look, my Lord!”


Ralph saw that Malet was surveying the valley behind him intently. He swung round and faced the view over the hills. He felt his stomach tighten as he realised what his friend had been staring at: the fast moving shadow of a lone horseman, galloping amidst the thick morning haze that drifted toward them across the plain.

“It’s one of your scouts, my Lord. Look, he holds your banner aloft. That means they are coming…At last they are coming...”

 “Then we must see that the men are ready. Fitzscrob!” Ralph yelled loudly for his captain. He grabbed his helmet and shoved it onto his head.

“Yes, my Lord?” A small, lithe Norman dressed in maille came running up the wooden rungs of the rampart to join them.

“See that the men are armoured and the horses ready,” Ralph ordered. “Alfgar and Gruffydd are on their way. We will ride out to engage them.” He felt a ripple of excitement in his veins and a fluttering in his stomach. “Maintenant! Now, Fitzscrob! Que vous attendez? What are you waiting for? Allez, allez!

“Yes, my Lord,” replied the little man dutifully as he turned and ran quickly down from the parapet.

Ralph breathed in deeply as he secured the chinstrap of his helm. He had been waiting for this moment and now it had arrived. At last he could show the world his worth and that Edward and his Englisc subjects need not look to that far-off place, Hungary, for their next king. He pictured himself sitting on the throne in Edward’s Palace of Westminster with his wife Gytha by his side. Yes, now his chance had come…

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Stamford Bridge- The battle that ended an era. Part Two

Part Two: The 3 Main Protagonists

In the first part of this series, we talked about the background to this famous 1066 battle. In this episode, King Harold has recieved word of Hardrada's landing in Yorkshire in mid September, King Harold assembles his men and begins the march northwards. We see the events leading up to the battle through the eyes of each main player.  

How the King manages to gather a large enough force in such a short time has been speculated by many historians, but it seems that he most likely starts out with the core of his army, his body guard and perhaps his brother Gyrth and his huscarles, sending messengers to call out the southern fyrds  to meet him along the road. As they travel, riding on horseback along the old Roman road,  Ermine Street, they raise the fyrd of each shire they travel through, picking them up at arranged meeting points. These are the men of Herts, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire It's hard to say how many of them would have been mounted but in looking at the heriot of a thegn, it involved between 2-4 horses depending on their status. Thegns may have brought  a servant or two with them and that is why perhaps they had to provide 3 or 4 horses.   
At some point along the way, Harold learns of the Gate Fulford disaster by an exhausted messenger who has ridden without stopping to meet the King on his journey north so he might urge him to march more earnestly. Harold wonders momentarily why the young brothers, Earls Edwin and Morcar have not waited for him to arrive, but he probably didnt ponder for long, for their was a job to do and he knows the Earls had their reasons, good or bad. So he ploughs on with his men, determined to reach Yorkshire in time to surprise Hardrada and his own brother Tostig, to deal with them before they can strenghthen their hold in Yorkshire.  He marshalls his forces at Tadcaster, we are told, also being joined there by some of the survivors of Fulford who would have informed him of the whereabouts of the Norsemen.  At dawn, on Monday 25th September, Harold and his army crosses the River Wharfe and reaches York via the  Ebor Way within a few hours. York welcomes him, perhaps surprised that he had come so quickly. He stops for ashort while to refresh his army and hears about the deals that have been done with the Norse. He sympathises with the people of York and their young leaders Morcar and Edwin, who are most likely still teenagers at this stage. They had to come to terms with the Norse or their city would have been over run, knowing that if they can convince Hardrada of complete compliance, they would withdraw from the city and hopefully this would stall them long enough for Harold to get there with his army. Of course they might have been hedging their bets but Harold most likely doesn't want to get into that right now. The young Earls are his new brother-in-laws and he likes to think they are loyal.

 So he studies at a map of the area, the lie of the land and its geographical significance and plans his next move with his generals, Gyrth and Marleswein the Shire-reeve. They set out again on the last leg of their journey. Stamford Bridge.  As the men march toward their next destination, none of them, least of all Harold would have known that they were about to participate in one of the most decisive battles of the era. The Viking Age was about to go down pretty definitively.

Roman road near Manchester
Harald Hardrada is a man with, as his name suggests, a tough reputation. He is a man whose whole attitude to life seems to  be little about planning and thought, and more about getting whatever he wants at any cost. He learned as a younger man than in 1066, that to get what he desires,  he needs to have power and to have power, he needs gold. And to get gold he needs followers to help him get it. And to get followers, he needs to have the gift of the gab and personal strength. Eventually, he manages to acquire all those things, mostly because he has the last two qualities in the first place.
Great Danish War Axe
 Born in Ringerike in the Upplands of Norway, he was the son of a petty chieftain, Sigurd. He becomes King of Norway from 1046 until his death in 1066 and after unsuccessfully claiming Denmark, he turns his attentions to England after a proposition from the exiled Tostig Godwinson.  Harald's birth year is probably somewhere between 1014-16 so he is aged around 50 at this time. Harald's claim is pretty weak, but he doesn't really care. Always on the lookout for more power, he doesn't  need an excuse to claim anything for himself. He is used to violence and has led a colourful and brutal life. He spent some of his youth in the Varangian Guard. His reputation goes before him and he relies on it to intimidate his opponents. He certainly isn't coming to England on a jolly day trip. After his glorious victory over Edwin and Morcar's forces at Fulford, he and his comrade in arms, Tostig Godwinson, withdraw to the assigned meeting place by the Bridge at Stamford, where they are due to collect the hostages promised them in the treaty.

Tostig Godwinson had been Earl of Northumbria for around 10 years. It is quite surprising that he lasted that long, for he had been unpopular throughout. He is the third born son of Godwin and his Danish wife Gytha. Interestingly he is related to William of Normandy through marriage. His wife Judith is  half sister to the Duke's wife, Matilda's father. Tostig's rule of Northumbria is with a heavy hand and this, coupled by the fact that he is a southerner and a Godwin,  makes him unpopular with the Northumbrian ruling families. The Godwins have always been seen as a threat to the balance of power in the 11thc as there are so many of them. When Alfgar of Mercia is sidelined to give Northumbria to Tostig, the rest of the noblemen see a takeover happening, with two more brothers waiting for offices.
Finally things come to a head after some internal political disasters, the Northerners want him out and so they rebel, killing a large number of his officials. Then they march down south to protest their case with the King. Harold persuades Edward, whom it is said is against Tostig's dethronement, to avoid a civil war and give into the North's demands to have Morcar, brother of Edwin of Mercia as their Earl.
 Betrayed by his own brother, Tostig flees abroad in exile. He finally winds up with Hardrada on this date, 25th September 1066, on a warm sunny midday, basking a  field of sunshine with the Norwegian forces, minus their armour and lightly armed. Relaxing and recooperating after their hard won victory, dining on the provisions given to them by the people of York as required and probably getting drunk on the finest supplies of mead, they were waiting for the hostages to arrive. The Norwegians are camped on both east and west sides of the river and their laughter and merry making could be heard in the little settlement of Stamford as they enjoy their day of leisure. Suddenly a scout rides into camp and tells Hardrada that he has seen a cloud of dust coming southwards along the road from York. They believe it must be the hostages and their escort coming as promised.
As they wait, the cloud gets closer and they begin to glimpse the 'glittering of weapons that sparkle like a field of broken ice'. At first Harald suspects that some of the northern fyrd have come to join them but when they see the Golden man standard flowing in the breeze whipped up by the storm of marching feet, they know what it is that is upon them. Tostig cannot believe his brother has got here so quick. He groans in dismay. Hardrada throws him an accusing look that says you told me it would take him weeks to get here not days! but he brushes him aside for there is no time to argue with the English idiot. He has only some of his force here the rest are back with the fleet at Riccall....and their maille. He needs to get his men that are camped on the otherside of the river back across to the safer eastern side before the English armny get there. He calls for his strongest riders to hasten back  to Riccall for his boatmen to come to reinforce their numbers.
So here he is, the famous Hardrada, wearing only a blue tunic, a helmet and with only his weapon to protect him. Without maille, the men would be vulnerable. But he was Hardrada and Odin and Thor would not let him down. I am Hardrada the Invincible and victory will be mine!
Next see what happens in the battle of Stamford Bridge.
Walker I.W. (2004) The Last Anglo-Saxon King (Pb ed) Sutton Publishing Ltd, Great Britain.
Swanton M (200) The Anglo-Saxon Chronichles (rev. ed) Phoenix Press, London. Marren P (2004)
Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Stamford Bridge - The battle that ended an era. Part One

Following on from the Battle of Gate Fulford on the 20th September, Harald Hardrada's victory just outside of York saw him and 'as great a force as seemed necessary' (AS chronicle C) march into the city and the people surrendered to him, most likely to prevent a full scale sacking of the city. Whether or not the defeated brothers Edwin and Morcar were part of this process, it is not known but they had certainly survived the battle and may have holed themselves up inside the walls, perhaps wounded, with their remaining men,  ready to negotiate peace with the Norwegian king. Harald Hardrada's saga believed that Morcar had been killed, but Morcar lived through the battle but may have been severely wounded and that was why they thought he had been killed in battle. It is quite possible that the brothers were injured so as not to be able to attend the Battle of Hastings.

The exiled brother of King Harold Godwinson,Tostig, was also amongst the victors at Gate Fulford. He had arrived with Harald to fight for his old Earldom, Northumbria and would have known many of the men of Yorkshire personally. He would have been able to vouch that the hostages offered were  sons of leading men.  These hostages were to be handed over at Stamford Bridge, 8 miles or so north of York which was roughly halfway between York and where Hardrada had left his fleet at Riccall. According to the chronicler Florence, 150 hostages were given on both sides and part of the treaty with the men of York included the supply of provisions. Additionally, they were to march south with him and join his attempt at the conquest of all England.

King Harold Godwinson heard the news of Harald Hardrada's landing probably soon after or before Hardrada and the northern Earls gave battle at Gate Fulford. Hardrada's maneuvers around the coast probably gave Edwin and Morcar time to gather their armies and send messengers south to Harold. The young earls, sons of the deceased recalcitrant Alfgar of Mercia, could have holed themselves up in the city of York and waited for Harold to come with re-inforcements, however for whatever reason, they decided they had sufficient men to meet them outside the the walls at Gate Fulford.The AS Chronicle C states that Gate Fulford battle happened on Wednesday the 20th of September. Harold had been in the south with his southern fyrd watching for William to come and had disbanded his men on the 8th when there seemed no sign of the Duke appearing from Normandy at any time soon. As soon as he heard of the landing, he marched up north with his army and the local levies were called out as he passed through the shires on his way up the old Roman road of Watling Street. This was not the first time he had performed a lightning raid on an enemy. The first was in Wales sometime in December '62 or January '63 when he stormed into Wales with a mounted force and destroyed Rhuddlan, Gruffydd's fortress. Fortunately for Gruffydd he was warned at the last minute with time to escape by sea,leaving the rest of his fleet to be burned by Harold's men. This was a man determined to deal with a problem once and for all. And that is exactly what he does

This was to be the battle that would see the end of any significant Scandinavian attempt at conquest. Read about the battle itself in the next Part of this post.

Walker I.W. (2004) The Last Anglo-Saxon King  (Pb ed) Sutton Publishing Ltd, Great Britain.
Swanton M  (200) The Anglo-Saxon Chronichles (rev. ed) Phoenix Press, London. Marren P (2004)
Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.