Battle of Hereford Part II: The Battle

hereford1055

What happened on October 24th 1055 would most likely have stuck in the minds of many of the people who lived in Herefordshire for many years to come. I’m sure the names of Gruffudd and Alfgar would invoke terrible memories of burning buildings and blood strewn streets for a long time after that fateful date. As for the Welsh people, the Cymry, they would remember it as one of their great successes, a victory over the Saes invaders who had stolen their land. These days, the ravaging of Hereford is little known.  It certainly wasn’t a fight on the scale that the Battle of Hastings was eleven years on, and it wasn’t a hard won victory for the vanquishers; but it was a devastating blow to the Franco-Norman Earl of Hereford, who, in his effort to pre-empt the Welsh King Gruffudd and the outlawed English Earl Alfgar from sacking his burgh, lost both his reputation and his standing in English affairs, when overwhelmed by the sight of the enemy, he and his Norman contingent left the field and many of his mounted men to die.

Al Camacho (1)Len howell
An accurate portrayal of a mounted Norman knight of the mid 11thc – photo c/o Len Howell and Al Camacho as the Norman

Gruffudd, self-proclaimed King of Wales, became so after he had won his bid to become supreme leader over the other British kingdoms of Wales. He had become King of Gwynedd and Powys after he fought  against a Mercian army c 1040, killing Edwin, who was the paternal uncle of his later ally, Alfgar.  Gruffudd soon began harbouring ambitions of uniting Wales against her enemies and so set about ridding himself of any impediments to realising his goal. One of these impediments was Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, ruler of South Wales. This he did, with the aid of Alfgar of Mercia in a sort of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours type arrangement.

After being exiled from England for uttering treason against the king, Earl Alfgar washed up on the shores of  Rhuddlan, Gruffudd’s northern stronghold looking for an ally.  With him he’d brought a fleet of mercenaries from Dublin. It would be the second time that Gruffudd had used a renegade outlaw exiled from England to assist him. The first was Swegn Godwinson, the scandalous older son of Godwin, outlawed for bad behaviour.  Gruffudd was not above taking advantage of the discord that often went on at the English court. He was an astute and ruthless ruler, and to the Welsh, he was the Shield of the Britons. Unfortunately for him, he was to be betrayed by his own people some years later when murdered, they sent his head to Harold, Earl of Wessex.

Alfgar, Earl of East Anglia, was the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and the legendary Godiva of the naked horse-ride fame.  An unruly, truculent man, Alfgar was simply envious of the success the Godwins were having, and who could blame him, with the king based mostly in the south (he never seemed to go further than Gloucester) he was surrounded by Godwins all clamouring for power. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles don’t go into a lot of detail but he was banished from England after an angry outburst, the words, said to have been treasonous, seemed to have left his mouth without thinking. One might wonder just what those words were. Something, no doubt, very insulting about the king’s relationships with the Godwinson brothers.  He was stripped of all his wealth and lands. Like the Godwinsons before him, he was determined to return and first went to Ireland to gather a force of Hiberno Norse, before approaching Gruffudd, his family’s natural enemy.

The King’s nephew Ralph was made Earl of Hereford around 1052. Ralph was the son of Edward’s sister Goda and her deceased husband Drogo de Mantes who had been the Count of Valois, the Vexin and Amiens. His older brother Walter, became the Count after Drogo and appears to have died along with his wife in tragic circumstances. Ralph may have been raised at the court of Normandy and travelled to England either with Edward or perhaps arriving shortly afterwards. He was most likely to have been in his mid to late twenties at the time of the battle. Ralph wanted to introduce Norman style tactics into English warfare and although it was  not unheard of for English troops to fight on horseback, it was not the usual preferred method.

The mounted warrior would have looked very different to previous warriors who fought on foot. The mail that was being worn by this time was becoming longer than the usual byrnie that had formerly graced the bodies of 11thc warriors. The byrnie (or haubergeon) was more of a mail ‘shirt’ where as the hauberk covered the thighs and groin areas. Kite shields were also becoming popular as we see in the Bayeux Tapestry and they were more practical for using on horseback as the kite shield gave greater coverage to the unprotected side of the warrior’s body. He could hack or spear with his weapon-hand which would defend his other side from his shoulder down to his foot whilst he was horsed. He would also wear a conical shaped helmet like this spangenhelm wearing warrior. This chap is also wearing a mail coif under the helm to further protect his head, neck, and chest. The nose piece was a must to deflect sharp tips but would not necessarily prevent injury to eyes.

Spangenhelm warrior

The mounted warrior Norman style, would go into battle with a few javelins to project at the enemy, or a spear to skewer them with. His sword or hand axe would be for closer hand to hand fighting when proximity to his opponent made the longer arms too difficult to use. If he was able to afford them, he would no doubt be wearing some mail chausses on his legs to protect them whilst he was in the saddle, though this does not seem to be reflected in the Bayeux Tapestry but hey, the its the Tapestry, right? Therefore it must be true!

 Ralph had been working on his Norman style defences, too, building wooden structures with palisades, the pre-runner to castles. These would have consisted of a motte, a mound of earth with a towered structure within an inner bailey. The wooden fencing would have contained ramparts and lookouts. These were posted around the marcher borders and in Hereford itself. Ralph was obviously out to impress his uncle the king and may have considered himself worthy of being his successor, although there is no evidence to believe that he ever did, apart from the fact he was of the Royal bloodline through his mother. This might have been one reason why he was never declared an aetheling; he came from the distaff side of the House of Wessex. A great resounding defeat against the Welsh might have brought him the adulation and respect that he desired. Perhaps it would have gained him the title aetheling. Unfortunately for Ralph, it was not to be.

On October the 24th, the two armies faced each other across the plain. Here is what the D version of the AS Chronicle said about it

“…And soon after that, Earl Alfgar, son of Earl Leofric, 
was outlawed well-nigh without fault; but he turned to
Ireland and Wales and there got himself a great band, 
and travelled thus to Hereford; but there Earl Ralph came
against him with a great raiding party, and with a little 
struggle they were brought to flight, and many people
killed in that flight, and then turned into Hereford market
town and raided it, burned down the famous minster which 
Bishop Athelstan built, and killed the priests inside the min-
-ster, and many others as well, seized all the treasures in 
there and led them away with them. And then when they had 
done most harm, it was decided to reinstate Earl Alfgar, and 
give him back his earldom and all that was taken away from 
him. This raid was made on October the 24th…..”

Why the date of the 24th was chosen is not known. The initial battle was said to have taken place 2 miles outside of Hereford’s walls where Ralf and his men had gone to meet with the enemy. They must have had prior intelligence of the coming army, spies most likely had been seeking out intel on Alfgar’s whereabouts and doings, but this is not known.

The Abingon Manuscript elaborates a little more on the precipitating events of the battle and states that after Alfgar was outlawed, he went to Ireland and raised an army and then sought asylum with King Gruffudd of Wales. The allied forces then go into Hereford and Earl Ralph comes against him with a ‘great army’. “But before a spear could be thrown, the English people fled because they were on horse; and great slaughter was made”. The Manuscript also states about 400-500 English were slaughtered and the enemy lost none. It has  also been suggested that Ralph and his men left the field leaving the English to die. Hence he is later known as Ralph the Timid. As there is little evidence of a full eyewitness account of what happened that day, one has to imagine how this might have occurred. Whatever happened, the day belonged to the victorious duo, Gruffudd and Alfgar. Alfgar, we see was reinstated and Gruffudd most likely given Lordship over the lands around Archenfield. Harold Godwinson  later followed with a great army to chase the Welsh and their allies back into the mountains but there was no return match and Gruffudd’s Welshmen and Alfgar’s Hiberno-Norse made away with slaves, livestock and treasures from the church they had sacked.

The people of Hereford were left to lick their wounds and Harold rebuilt the defences that seemed to have been neglected by Ralph. The fact that Alfgar was never called to account for this outrage shows how brutal and non-consequential life could be in these days. The fact that he got away with it shows how little regard there was for the ordinary people concerned. The razing and ravaging of lands was often a punishment levelled at the nobility but although it is an absurd notion for us to protest the irony of it with our 21st century outlook, the lower echelons of life in medieval times mattered only to their immediate lords for what they were worth in economical terms. A simple local thegn may have been devastated at the loss of his ‘people’ but for the major nobility it was more of a financial disaster than an emotional one. As for Ralph, it seemed he may not have ever got over the disgrace and he disappears from the pages of history until he dies in 1057. The Earldom of Hereford later passed to his son Harold, after the Conquest.

References

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US. 

Stenton F (1971) Anglo Saxon England (3rd Ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, London.

This Battle features in my novel  Sons of the Wolf and was part of the research I did for it.

Writers of Anglo Saxon Literature: Judith Arnopp

I’d like to welcome Judith Arnopp, to the blog who has written many a grand story about Medieval          women. Here she talks about what drew her to her  characters.           

The Women in my Fiction

I started writing Peaceweaver about fifteen years ago, at a time when strong female leads were few and far between in the historical fiction genre. The motivation to write both Peaceweaver and The Forest Dwellers was to illustrate historical events from a woman’s perspective, something that continues to inspire my writing today.

Eadgyth is barely mentioned on the historical record but we know she was queen to both Gruffydd ap Llewelyn of Wales and Harold II of England. It is likely she played a traditional domestic female role. Although some women in history led men into battle, few actually fought, most remained at home, ‘holding the fort’ so to speak. There are even instances where a queen stepped in as regent and governed the country in the king’s absence. Unfortunately, even when women assumed a greater role they were often side-lined by chroniclers, even those like Aethelflaed who defended her lands during the Viking incursions and influenced the shaping the country.

In the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings, Eadgyth played a key part in events, both marriages sealing a political treaty between her father, Earl Aelfgar of Mercia and Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, and later between her brothers, Morcar and Edwin, and Harold Godwinson. She could easily be written off as a pawn but I think to do so would denigrate the female role, which although different to that of her male counterpart, was equally vital.

Endurance requires a great deal of courage. To travel as a child into a foreign land where few people speak your language also requires courage. To bind yourself in marriage to a man you’ve been raised to despise, to share his bed and bear his children is little short of valiant. Medieval childbirth in itself was as risky as riding into battle yet women are given little credit for it. Then, as now, children of the period were loved and valued; think of the angst we experience when our teenagers leave home for university, and then imagine the terror of negotiating them through pestilence, war and politics (unfortunately, thinking about it, many people still know that pain today). The majority of our children reach adulthood but in the 11th century child mortality was unimaginably high and death is never easier because it is commonplace

In Peaceweaver, Eadgyth begins her journey as a spoilt twelve year old sent into the wilds of Wales (and it was pretty wild then) to marry her father’s former enemy, Gruffydd ap Llewellyn who was then the leader of all Wales. She is head strong and unlikeable but as the story unfolds she matures into a brave and intelligent woman. She ends the story as a twenty four year old mother to five children, widow of the recently defeated King of England, Harold II. Defeated, dispossessed and desperate to escape the clutches of the Norman king she goes into hiding but she doesn’t give up. She has sons to defend, boys to shape into warriors who will continue the fight in their father(s) names. I see nothing of the pawn in Eadgyth at all.

This theme of resilience persists through all my books. The Forest Dwellers follows several women through the minefield of early Norman rule; Aelf utilises the skill of the bow while Alys employs different, more feminine means but both require intelligence and subtlety. Often, my protagonists find themselves disempowered but they all endure, and ultimately all wield real power, utilising diplomacy and stealth rather than a sword. Before her fall, Anne Boleyn employs her sharp wit and intelligence to manipulate Henry VIII; Katheryn Parr withstands the last years of Henry’s reign, like her predecessor Catherine of Aragon, standing regent over England and running the country efficiently while he embarks on an expensive and misguided war with France. After the defeat of her house, Elizabeth of York puts aside inbred prejudice to blend her blood with that of Tudor to create the new dynasty. And you can be sure Margaret Beaufort never picked up a sword in her life but I’d defy anyone to stand before her and denigrate her influence on English history.

The male role is not and has never been superior to the female. Deny it all they like, masculine strength and valour depended on the foundation of strength and resilience provided by their wives and mothers.

Author Bio

Judith as a Tudor Lady

When Judith Arnopp began to write professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.

Sisters of Arden

The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver.

Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines.

For more information:

Webpage: http://www.judithmarnopp.com

Author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks

Blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/

Chapter Seven: Stamford Bridge -The Prelude

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.

jorvikvikingtown
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
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

dane-ax
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

facts_harald_hardrada_last_great_viking_5

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

bridge

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!

hardrada-charging

 

Next see what happens in the battle of Stamford Bridge.

References

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.

Chapter Six: Death and Victory at Gate Fulford.

hastings
Morcar and Edwin’s forces wait for the Vikings

The year of 1066 saw three major battles focusing on the struggle between the major contenders for the throne of England. The first and often forgotten battle was Gate Fulford, where brothers Morcar and Edwin, Earls of Northumbria and Mercia respectively, failed to hold off an invasion by the Norwegian Harald Hardrada and the disaffected Tostig Godwinson. How Tostig and Harald Sigurdsson, who earned himself the wonderful sobriquet The Hard to Counsel, ‘Hardrada’, got together has been the subject of speculation by most historians. But it seems that Tostig, having tried unsuccessfully to join in with William of Normandy’s plans, gathered a fleet of men whilst in Flanders, aided by his wife’s relation, Count Baldwin. We saw previously, that he had failed to invade England, and so he went north after being chased by brother Harold’s bigger fleet from Sandwich. He summered with his sworn blood brother, Malcolm, King of the Scots and from there he most likely made contact with, The Lightning Bolt of the North (he was also referred to in the sagas) Harald Sigurdsson.

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Norse Warrior

Harald’s fleet set sail during the summer and first arrived in Orkney to gather the local Viking forces of jarls, Paul, and Erland. He then travelled southwards to meet with Tostig and his smaller fleet; poor Tostig, always smaller, poorer, and unfulfilled in whatever it was he was trying to achieve. So Harald, his large fleet and great army, and Tostig’s – eh-hem – smaller gathering, ravaged the Yorkshire coast, destroying the town of Scarborough by throwing burning embers from a bonfire onto the thatched roofs of the houses. Not a nice way to win friends and influence people – especially if you’re reputation there had a zilch rating.

The next town to be met by their ‘warm’ arrival was Holderness whose citizens attempted to put up a resistance but were pretty much swatted like flies. From there, the combined forces of Harald and Tostig sailed into the Humber. They moored their ships, at least 300 for Harald, in the Ouse at Riccall and marched on to York, a major strategic stronghold and if Harald could take it, he would be in a strong position to conquer the north, piecemeal, using York as his base. It stands to reason that Tostig was looking for revenge against the citizens of York who’d given their support to the brothers Morcar and Edwin, ousting him from the earldom. Not sure there were many in York, who, when they learned what was coming, were looking forward to the party.

How Tostig persuaded Harald Sigurdsson to undertake this invasion is a matter for exploration. Harald and Swein of Denmark had ended their long war in 1064, and it’s possible that Tostig had gone to his cousin, Swein, before he had gone to Harald for help. If he did, as the later Harald Saga suggests, its most likely that Swein was loathe to leave his kingdom for fear of resumed Norwegian attacks from Harald. So that then left Tostig with only Harald Sigurdsson to turn to.

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If we are to understand what may have prompted Harald to invade England, we should look back further to eight years ago. The sources’ evidence for 1058, especially the Welsh and Irish Annales, are decidedly insistent that a Norwegian fleet ravaged the English kingdoms citing that their leader was Magnus, son of Harald, King of Norway. Later Domesday evidence shows that the west coast of Tostig’s Northumbrian lands were left wasted which could support evidence of a Viking harrying in that year as the annales claim. According to M & S Davies in their book about Gruffudd, Magnus’ presence amongst the allied forces of King Gruffudd and Alfgar of Mercia in 1058, would have meant something major was going down. The Irish Annales claim that Magnus was after the kingdom for himself and this cannot be ruled out, however his ambitions did not come to fruition but there is no evidence as to what happened that year other than that there seems to have been a major incident which the English, perhaps too embarrassed to admit, wanted to keep quiet about, in which there was most likely a huge pay off.

Tostig, would have been aware of the involvement of Magnus  in the ‘incident’ of 1058,  and may have viewed this as the prince acting on behalf of his father Harald, who was, at the time, battling with Swein over Denmark in an effort to expand his empire further. It would not be unreasonable to conject that Harald had lent his support to Magnus joining Gruffudd and Alfgar in the invasion of England. The agreement may have been that should they be successful, Harald would be invited to be king. So was MAgnus acting on Harald’s behalf? As things happened, the Norwegians accepted the money in exchange for leaving, which might have been what caused the embarrassed silence of the English chroniclers. So, if we follow this line of evidence, Tostig, knowing that Harald had once been interested in the English crown, turned his attention to the Norwegian king and the Thunderbolt jumped at the opportunity. How the magic duo were going to divide the kingdom up between them is not really known. However, conceivably, Harald would be king and Tostig probably dux Anglorum in his old lands in the north.

There is only one detailed source for this battle, Snorri Sturluson’s Saga of King Harald. It may not be 100% reliable, but its the best one. What we can be sure of is that, leaving their ships in Riccall, Harald and Tostig marched on York. Meanwhile, the young earls Edwin and Morcar, assembled their troops at Gate Fulford by the bank of the River Ouse. This was 2 miles from the city walls. They would have had plenty of time to gather intelligence about the movements of the Norse and send messages south to King Harold to ask for assistance. The Norwegians were a vast army and this was going to be no minor skirmish. This was obviously a serious attempt to invade and conquer.

But if there had been plenty of time to send word to Harold to come to their aid, why didn’t the northern earls wait before going out to engage the invaders? There may have been many reasons. Perhaps time, or maybe they were too young and impetuous, and felt a battle fought on the defensive would be doable. They may have wanted to assert their independence and strength, feeling that they were equipped to handle such an invasion. They were able to call on a large body of men who owed military service from their earldoms. There was also possibility that they may have been paranoid that Harold would strike a bargain with his brother Tostig and restore him to his former earldom which was now Morcar’s. If I had been in their shoes, I might have felt this way too, because Harold had a reputation for talking, rather than fighting. Despite the union between their sister Aldith and the king, the young earls may still have harboured suspicions toward Harold. It was because of Tostig that Alfgar, their father had been overlooked for the earldom of Northumbria and when Harold had returned from exile in 1052, Alfgar had been made to give back the Earldom of East Anglia to Harold. Then later, when Alfgar’s father, Earl Leofric, died, part of the lands of his earldom had been carved up and given to the Godwinsons. One can see why when over the years the Godwinsons had cultivated the notion that they were greedy, power hungry and self-serving. Bringing Tostig back into the fold would benefit Harold greatly to have him back ruling the north.

But whatever the reasons to not await Harold’s arrival, Morcar and Edwin failed to keep York from falling into the hands of the enemy, despite fighting bravely and putting up a great resistance. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that the earls’ army was as large a force as they could muster. Snorri Sturluson insists it was an ‘immense’ army. Most likely it was at least 5,000 men plus. York, itself, could muster 1,000 men alone. Then there would have been the armies of the surrounding shires from Cheshire to the Scottish borders. The earls would have had their own huscarles, personal body guards numbering around 300 men or so each. This would have taken some mobilising and it shows how relaxed the attitude of the Vikings were, that allowed them the time to do it, and that was eventually to be their downfall. As they approached Gate Fulford, Harald’s scouts saw the formidable army lining up against them. ‘Gate’ is actually meant to mean a road through a ‘foul’ (muddy/swampy) ford.

King Harald’s Saga informs us that the Norse king’s standard, The Raven, was placed near the river at the back of his army which then stretched all the way up ‘where there was a deep and wide swamp, full of water’ no doubt the ‘foul’ or full ford. Moving toward the Norse army and using the stream that ran across the approaching road to strengthen their front, they manoeuvred in close formation as a shieldwall. Morcar led the vanguard and faced Tostig’s troops on the opposite side of the stream and Edwin’s men faced Hardrada nearer the Ouse.

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According to the Worcester Chronicle the English fought bravely at the onset, and that Tostig’s Norwegians were pushed back. Tostig’s troops were heavily engaged by Morcar’s men and hard-pressed. It was then that Hardrada lead his famous devastating charge to cut them down. With a blast of horns and war trumpets ringing through the air, Edwin’s huscarles are slaughtered and the English began to break up. Seeing that defeat was imminent, the levies broke and fled back to York. Having overwhelmed Edwin’s men, Hardrada now closed in to support Tostig on his right flank and Morcar’s men were trapped in the swamp. Many met their deaths there in those murky muddy waters, sucking their bodies into its ravenous depths. Florence of Worcester claims that there were less men killed on the battlefield that drowned than in the river.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the day saw great slaughter on both sides but the Norsemen took possession of the field and the glory was theirs. Many corpses were bogged down in the river and the ’causeway of corpses’ was to be remembered long after the battle as men recalled using the them to clamber over to the other side of the stream and flee. Those that managed to flee, escaped to the relative safety of York with both the earls and their surviving men.

The young brothers were inexperienced and could have only have been aged between 17-19 at the time. They were the sons of Alfgar of Mercia, the rogue Earl who had allied himself on more than one occasion with the Welsh to oppose Harold Godwinson and King Edward. Alfgar had died around 1062 and Mercia had passed into his son, Edwin. Later, younger brother Morcar had been elected earl by the Northumbrians in an unprecedented move to oust Tostig Godwinson as their earl. Tostig had been Earl of Northumbria since 1055 but his harsh rule had made him unpopular and the men of the north revolted in 1065, demanding that they would have none other than Morcar as their leader, threatening to blaze a trail through the country if their demands were not met. This shows the respect that they must have had for Earl Leofric and Alfgar, that the men of Northumbria chose a son of Mercia to rule them.

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Morcar’s men try to get across the ford at Fulford

The devastating defeat must have been harrowing for the brothers in their first real engagement. They appear to have fought bravely and the battle might have gone either way. Harald Sigurdsson’s amazing, courageous charge brought the end to the battle. The Battle of Fulford Trust believe that the Vikings outnumbered the English and this may have contributed to Sigurdsson’s forces being able to roll up around them and crush them as reinforcements arrived. Peter Marren (2004) states in his book 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge and Hastings that he does not necessary agree with this theory that the English were outnumbered, and that the armies were comparable in size.

The lie of the land meant that Edwin and Morcar’s troops would have had difficulty in keeping track of each other. According to The Battle of Fulford Trust, if either of the English flanks gave way, the other side would not have known and this would have made them extremely vulnerable as they were to find out when Hardrada made his charge. Hardrada also had a much better view of the battle from some higher ground on the approach. From this higher vantage point, he would have been able to command his troops more effectively.

Considering the lack of experience and their youth, the young English brothers made a brave attempt to hold off the invaders and defend their city. They had obviously picked their spot with great care and thought, but their rawness in the field may have led to them disregarding such an important point as the lay of the land. Once their lines were broken, the Norwegians were able to break through and push them sideways without their respective flanks being able to pull back round together.
During the 1990’s excavations of bones thought to be those of Edwin’s and Morcar’s men were found with unhealed sword cuts to legs and arms, cracked or decapitated skulls and the typical injuries that are caused by arrows and other sharply tipped weapons such as spears. Many injuries were in the back and at least one had multiple deep cuts.
As violent and brutal as this battle was, it was just the first that the warriors of England were to endure that year. Edwin and Morcar and his surviving troops didn’t make it to Hastings. But there was another northern battle yet to come before Hastings took place. The Battle of Stamford Bridge. In that battle, the victorious Vikings were to meet a new foe, the army of Harold, the King of England, who was no untried boy.

Follow the battle lines below
http://www.battleoffulford.org.uk/battle_1.htm

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References and further reading
http://www.battleoffulford.org.uk/a_battle.htm

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.

Chapter Five: The Race For England is On!

By May, things were moving fast in England, just as they were in Normandy. King Harold must have known that his onetime friend, William of Normandy, would not take his oath breaking very lightly and would be making preparations to invade. One of the English spies sent over to Normandy, had been caught already, which proved that Harold was aware of William’s plans. He also knew that the northerners could be fickle toward the kings of Wessex, and with Tostig prowling around looking for support anywhere he could find it, and Harald Sigurdson, (Hardrada), King of Norway, ready to renew his claim to England, Harold knew he needed the north onside. Many of them were Anglo-Danish, and may have welcomed a Scandinavian ruler, as they had done in the earlier part of the 11thc, with Sweyn and Cnut. According to the Anglo Saxon chronicle, Harold returned to Westminster from York for Easter, April 16th. This means he was in the north sometime in February or March. Most historians believe that this was the time when he married Aldith (Ealdgyth/Eadgyth) of Mercia, sister of the northern earls, Morcar and Edwin, and onetime Queen of Wales. Legend has it that Harold ‘rescued’ her from Gruffudd’s clutches. Probably romantic nonsense, just like Edith Swanneck, as reported by one website about Harold, identifying his body by the words tattooed on his chest, ‘Edith and England’. I wonder what the new Mrs G must have made of that when she saw her new husband’s tats for the first time.

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The Chronicles lack information regarding Harold’s union with Aldith, which seems to be par for the course with the monkish writers of the day. They were very sparing in their writings. Information Governance must have been very tight in those days; however, it is likely that Harold brought Aldith with him back to Westminster from York, to present to his council as his new queen. Chroniclers, William of Jumièges and Walter Map, both describe her as being very beautiful. Florence of Worcester confirms that she was wife on Harold II. At the time of Harold’s death, she was not known to possess much wealth and was recorded, as it is thought, having owned some land in Binley, Warwickshire. It is not known if she had land in Wales, having been the wife of Gruffudd, for there is no evidence to be found of this. After Harold’s death, she disappears from history, into the mists of time.

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Aldith and Gruffudd

There was never a coronation for Aldith, probably because Harold had his hands full, organising his defences. Soon after the hairy star had lit up the land like a massive boil on the sky’s face for a week, Tostig sailed to the Isle of Wight with his fleet from Flanders, and was given provisions and money by the leading men there. Tostig, having been exiled from England after not accepting his deposition as Earl of Northumbria in favour of Morcar, the son of Alfgar of Mercia, took some ships and fled with his family and some loyal thegns to his father-in-law in Flanders. It is said that he had tried to ally himself with William of Normandy, but evidence seems to be sketchy on this point. In any case it was his father-in-law, Count Baldwin who aided him with men and ships. He raided the ships along the English coast to Sandwich but when Harold mobilised his own great fleet, Tostig had to turn tail and row! He sailed further north and tried to entice his brother Gyrth to join him at a stop in East Anglia, but this was unsuccessful. so he raided Norfolk and Lincoln and went on to Scotland to stay with his great friend. King Malcolm.

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Tostig sails to the ISle of Wight

Harold set to gathering his own fleet, ‘a greater raiding ship army and also a greater raiding land army, the like of which no other king in the land, had done before’ according to the D Chronicle of the ASC. And this was because, Harold had heard that – never mind (to coin a phrase) that ‘Winter was Coming’, or Tostig even, in 1066 it was William who was coming.

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Its not hard to imagine some amongst Harold’s camp scoffing at the likelihood that William could undertake such a huge mission; to bring an army big enough to conquer and vanquish the English, creating a fleet big enough to carry an army of thousands. Its also not hard to visualise Harold turning to the doubting Thomases. and saying in a voice serious enough to make them believe,

“I have seen this duke in action. I have seen his warfare, his grit and his determination. That he has travailed throughout his life, and is still alive is a miracle in itself. He, and his army, will come, I doubt this not; aye, and he will bring his warhorses too. Such is his resolve and resilience.”

So what started all this? The prologue to my book Sons of the Wolf  gives us a bit if an insight:

In the autumn of 1052, two young boys were stolen away from all they had ever known and set on a journey to a place where they would remain hostage for many years. Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, the sons of Godwin and Swegn Godwinson, were not to see a familiar comforting face for many years. They were whisked away across the sea, to the court of Normandy, by Robert Champart, the former Archbishop of Cantwarabyrig. Fleeing the return of his nemesis, Godwin, as he stormed back from exile, Champart knew the part he had played in Godwin’s downfall, meant that his life was in danger. If he stayed, it would be at his peril, for Godwin’s revenge would be devastating. Some say the boys were meant as hostages for William, the bastard-born Duke of Normandy, sent with King Edward’s consent as surety that he would name William as his heir. Others say he took the boys out of hatred for Godwin, the powerful Earl of Wessex. And it was also said that by performing this cruel act, Champart was killing more than one bird with one stone. Whatever the motive, and Champart most likely had more than one, this ill-fated abduction was to be the start of a thread that would eventually spin the downfall of a powerful dynasty.
Onginnen þa spinnestran…
(Let the spinners begin…)

And what was to happen, years later, when, in the autumn of 1064, Harold  sailed to William’s court, was to be the catalyst that would propel England into war with the Normans and their French allies. And later, in 1065, the fates were forced to spin another thread when Harold, doing his best to mediate in a dispute between Tostig, the king and the northern thegns, was forced to support his brother’s exile. This latter event was to bring the mighty ‘Hardrada’ to England’s shores, thus adding another dimension to Harold’s eventual downfall, despite his victory over the Northmen at Stamford Bridge.

Primary sources

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle

The Bayeux Tapestry

William de Jumieges.

Walter Map

Florence of Worcester

Further Reading 

Bridgeford A. (2004) 1066: The Hidden history of the Bayeux Tapestry Harper Perennial, Suffolk.

Swanton M. (2000)  The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

Walker I (2004) Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King (paperback edition) Sutton Publishing LTD, Gloucs.