What Happened After Fulford

Following on from the  Battle of Gate Fulford on the 20th September, Harald Sigurdsson’s victory just outside of York saw him and ‘as great a force as seemed necessary’ (AS chronicle C) march into the city. Realising their numbers were up, the people of York surrendered. Whether or not the defeated brothers Edwin and Morcar were part of this process, is not known, but they certainly survived the battle and may have holed themselves up inside the walls, perhaps wounded, with their remaining men, ready to negotiate with the Norwegian king, or they may have retreated somewhere to the lands of their followers to recover and recoup. Harald’s saga tells us that Morcar had been killed at Fulford, but we know for certain that Morcar lived through the battle. He may have been severely wounded, perhaps close to death, leading people to believe that he had died. It has been thought that both the brothers may have been badly injured, giving rise to the fact that they do not appear to have attended the battle of Hastings. They were, however,  able to submit to William sometime after the Norman duke’s decisive victory.

We do not know who the men were that were involved in brokering the deal that was said to have been made with the Norwegian victors, however, the citizens of York were offered a peaceful solution as long as they provided provisions and hostages, and agreed to provide men for the Norwegian king, to help him win the crown of England, (Abingdon Chronicle). Tostig Godwinson, who was amongst those who had fought with Harald at Fulford, 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. Tostig, it seemed, was at last useful for something after all.

Artist’s idea of Jorvik

The hostages were to be brought by the leading men of the city and handed over at Stamford Bridge, 8 miles north of York. According to the chronicler, Florence of Worcester, 150 hostages were to be given on both sides and part of the treaty with the men of York included the supply of provisions. It is doubtful that hostages would have been handed over by the victors, so it seems that this must be an error on Florence’s part.

The other King Harold, the Godwinson version, heard the news of Sigurdsson’s landing, probably soon after or just before the Norwgian king and the northern earls gave battle at Gate Fulford. The invader’s maneuvers around the coast probably gave Edwin and Morcar time to gather their armies and send messengers south to Harold. The English king had been in the south with his southern fyrd watching for William to come and had disbanded his men on the 8th of September when there seemed no sign of the duke appearing from Normandy at any time soon. Some of the men would have been concerned about the harvest, and Harold had kept them longer than the 2 months they were expected to do their service. It seemed that for now, William was not coming and there was a more imminent threat to national security coming from the north that needed dealing with. It seems logical that Harold would have left the local militias in charge of coastal defences, but how this might have looked is not entirely certain, for when William did land sometime during September, there seemed to be very little opposition.

Roman road

As soon as he heard of The Norwegian king’s landing, King Harold began the journey north, calling out local levies on the way as he passed through the shires that surrounded the old Roman road of Ermine Street. This was not the first time he had performed a lightning raid on an enemy. The first was in Wales sometime in the winter of ’62 / ’63 when he stormed over the border with a mounted force and destroyed Rhuddlan, Gruffudd’s fortress in Wales. Fortunately for Gruffudd he was warned at the last minute with time to escape by ship, leaving the rest of his fleet to be burned by Harold’s men. If Harold had been able to catch Gruffudd, its probable that it would have been the last time he looked upon the Welsh king’s face, for he had been a thorn in the side of the English for long enough. Harold’s diplomacy had wrought him nought, for Gruffudd had turned out to be a veritable boil on the arse! But Harold was to get his satisfaction in the next year when, wanting to avoid more devastating punishments from Edward’s hammer of the Welsh, some of Gruffudd’s men had him killed and his head was brought to Harold, who then presented it to Edward, hopefully not at supper time, on a platter. Harold had dealt gently with Gruffudd for some years despite the Welsh king’s incursions into England along the marcher borders, but Harold had lost patience and thrown off the kid gloves. This sudden reprisal, and the way he dealt later with Stamford Bridge, shows that once his mind was made up, he was resolute and determined. This was a man, (Harold), determined to deal with a problem once and for all.

The 3 Main Protagonists

Harold Godwinson, King of England

An English huscarle

How Harold managed 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, Leofwin, along with his own huscarles, sending messengers to call out the local fyrds to meet him along the road. Although no known source mentions that Harold was accompanied by either of his brothers, it’s quite reasonable to expect that Gyrth may have joined him on the way, as his earldom is close by the route they are passing. Undoubtedly those who were able to ride, did so, and those who couldn’t, marched on foot. Its most likely they travelled out of London along the old Roman road, Ermine Street, as far as York, the most direct route. Along the way they raised the fyrd of each shire they travel through, picking them up at arranged meeting points. These are the men of Hertfordshire, 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 to provide non-combatant duties and that is why, perhaps, they had to provide 3 or 4 horses as part of their dues.

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, Edwin and Morcar, came out of York to fight Hardrada without waiting for him to arrive, but whatever concerns he may have had, their defeat may have spurred his determination to deal with Hardrada and Tostig decisively. So he ploughs on with his men, determined to reach Yorkshire in time to surprise the Norwegian king and his own brother, to deal with them before they can strengthen their hold in the north.

At Tadcaster, he marshals his forces, 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 cross the River Wharfe and reached York via the Ebor Way within a few hours. York welcomes him, perhaps surprised that he has come so quickly. He stops for a short while to refresh his army and hears about the deals that have been done with the Norse. We can imagine how it all went:

He sympathises with the people of York and their young leaders Morcar and Edwin. He does not take them to task about their defeat and nor does he criticise them for not waiting for him. He listens as they explain how they had to come to terms with Hardrada, or their city would have been overrun. Knowing that if they can convince Hardrada of complete compliance, he 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 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 Harold 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.

Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway


Mr Sigurdsson 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, that to get what one desires, one needs to have power and to have power, one needs to have gold. And to get gold one 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.

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 to the throne 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, 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. A renown warrior, Harald is confident that he can take the English crown for himself, especially having won a glorious victory at Fulford.

Tostig Godwinson, exiled Earl of Northumbria


He’d been Earl of Northumbria for around 10 years before he was ousted and forced into exileIt is quite surprising that he lasted that long, for he had been unpopular throughout. He is the third born son of Earl 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’s father, Count Baldwin. Tostig’s rule of Northumbria was carried out with a heavy hand and this, coupled by the fact that he is a southerner and a Godwinson, made him unpopular with the Northumbrian ruling families. The Godwins have always been seen as a threat to the balance of power in the 11thc, for there were so many of them. When Alfgar of Mercia is side-lined by the king who gives the Northumbrian earldom to Tostig, the rest of the noblemen see a Godwin takeover on the horizon, especially with two more brothers waiting for offices. Unfortunately, not everyone loves the Godwinsons as much as the southerners appear to do. Godwin himself was seen as illegally acquiring lands and wealth and with his sons attaining lands and earldoms of their own, the family’s power was increasing, thus the other nobles saw little opportunities for enterprises of their own. Not a great way to gain popularity amongst peers.

Finally, things come to a head after some internal political disasters, and the northerners want Tostig  out. They rebel, killing a large number of his officials. Then they march down south to protest their case with the king. Harold persuades Edward, who is against Tostig’s dethronement, to avoid a civil war and give into the northerner’s demands to have Morcar, brother of Edwin of Mercia as their earl. The king, with great reluctance, agrees.

Betrayed by his own brother, Tostig flees abroad in exile. He finally winds up with Harald Sigurdsson on this date, 25th September 1066, on a warm sunny afternoon, waiting in a field of sunshine with his loyal retainers and some of the Norwegian warriors. They were minus their armour and lightly armed, many of their men had been sent to guard their ships. They were not expecting any conflict, not now. They were, however, expecting hostages and provisions to be arriving any minute. But they had been waiting well over the agreed time and Tostig’s partner in crime was growing impatient. He rallies the men to prepare to march to York. This lateness will just not do! If they have to go and get the hostages for themselves, then that is what they will do, and probably a few other things too. Sigurdsson corals them over the bridge that crosses the River Derwent, to march the road to York, but just as they are filing onto the other side of the river, Harald calls a halt to the march. What do they see?

(For a map of what this phase would have looked like see http://www.stamford-bridge.dk/maps/ )

There is a cloud of dust approaching over the crest of the high ground in front of them. 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! He brushes aside the earl’s attempts to explain, 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… along with their mail. He calls for his strongest riders to hasten back to Riccall for his boatmen to come to reinforce their numbers. He stares at the army marching before him. He is the famous Hardrada, wearing only a blue tunic, a helmet and only his axe to protect him. Without mail, the men would be vulnerable. But he was Hardrada, the Hard to Counsel: The Lightning Bolt of the North. I am Hardrada the Invincible and victory will be mine!



Next see what happens in the battle of Stamford Bridge.


Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.

Swanton M (1996) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, London.

Davies M & S Davies The Last King of Wales The History Press, Stroud.

I.W. Walker (2004) Harold the Last Anglo Saxon King Sutton Publishing Ltd, Gloucs.


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