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.

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