Chapter Ten: The Golden Warrior

Earl Harold was now consecrated king and met little quiet as long as he ruled the realm.” – The Anglo Saxon Chronicle

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Harold Hunting in Normandy -The Bayeux Tapestry

Post Stamford Bridge, Harold dealt fairly with the remnants of the surviving Norwegians after chasing them all the way to Riccall. All their leaders were dead, but among them was Harald Hardrada’s son, Olaf, whom he allowed to go home, peacefully, after he had sworn an oath to forever remain there and to not come invade England again. There were so few of the Norse army left that out of 300 ships, Olaf needed only 24 to take them home. Olaf was as good as his word, and this was passed down through his successors, for the Norse would never again blight England’s shores in this manner. This act of compassion by Harold G, might seem to some contemporaries as weakness, but there were other examples where he showed tolerance and fairness, where others would not have. Harold showed time after time that he preferred diplomacy over aggression, and  favoured peace over killing. Only when pushed beyond the limits of what might be considered reasonable, did Harold take the heavy handed approach and when he made his mind up to put an end to something, he did not balk to use his military might, as the Welsh king, Gruffudd, Tostig and Hardrada were to find out. Harold was, indeed, the ultimate Golden Warrior.

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Anglo Saxon feast

Sometime around the 29th or 30th, Harold was still in Yorkshire, resting his army, tending his wounded, burying his brother, and celebrating his victory, when he heard that William had arrived and that he hadn’t come for a holiday, or to play chess. He was here for his crown, Harold’s crown. Harold had disbanded the fyrd in the south around about the 8th of September, believing that William was not crossing this year, and would not come now at least until next spring when the winds would be more favourable. Harold had marched north as soon as he could ready himself when he’d heard the terrible news from Yorkshire, that Edwin and Morcar, his young brother-in-laws, had been defeated at Gate Fulford, by Harald and Tostig. He must have been so confident in his belief that William would not come now, that he felt able to take the fighting men of Sussex with him. Seeing as there had been no opposition when William had arrived at Pevensey, its probably safe to assume Harold had marched off with them, no doubt leaving the coastal guard who had been able to send swift news of William’s landing.

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William lands at Pevensey

So, Harold, having allowed some of the fyrd to go home, had to summon another army for the fourth time. Of course the mainstay of his army, his huscarles, and I’m imagining that he now numbered his predecessor’s men amongst those of his own, were still assembled for this latest threat. Most likely he would have sent on some of his huscarles to call up the men who hadn’t been at Stamford Bridge. These counties they were pulled from, stretched from East Anglia and across to Hampshire and would most likely have joined with Harold on his way down to London. On the way there, he and a few of his companions took a detour to Waltham. Here is an illuminating account of what Harold did there, and what happened, according to the Waltham Chronicle, showing how medieval churchmen viewed life through superstitious eyes:

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Having arrived in Waltham, Harold went straight into the church, and placed gifts and the relics he had taken with him on his journey north, on the altar. He prostrated himself in front of the altar and prayed that if God was to grant him victory, he would release more land to the church.  According to the sacristan, Thurkill, who was putting away the gifts the king had brought in, the head of the Christ on the crucifix, bowed, as if in sorrow, a portent of what was to come. The king did not see it, as he was still prostrate on the floor. This worried the canons and two of their seniors, Osgood Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, were dispatched to accompany the king’s retinue to learn of the outcome of the battle. They were charged with bringing back the body of Harold, should the omen proove to be damming.

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Image of the king on Waltham Abbey

So what happened in York whilst all this was going on? Where were Edwin and Morcar and their armies? Why were they not accompanying Harold south? One of the things that Harold had done before he moved south was to appoint Marleswein of Lincoln as sheriff of York. Perhaps this was to support Morcar, who was after all, only young and inexperienced, well, perhaps a bit more experienced, now. The Battle of Gate Fulford had also damaged his and Edwin’s military forces quite badly, and they would have needed time to recover and recoup their losses in terms of military power. The boys may also have been injured themselves, and needed time to repair their wounds, but whatever the cause, it seemed that they would follow when they had readied themselves, for they were in London soon after the Battle of Hastings. The sons of Alfgar needed Harold to win, they had a lot riding on Harold, their king, for he was their brother-in-law, married to their sister Aldith. Some said that there was animosity between the Mercian boys and Harold, for the way the Godwinsons had treated their father, however, all that was now water under the bridge with Harold’s marriage to their sister, and she was now heavily pregnant with the king’s child.

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Aldith – an interpretation

The Waltham Chronicle also tells us that Harold was impetuous, ignoring the advice of those around him who encouraged him to wait until the whole fyrd was gathered. He was said to have been over confident, trusting too much in his own courage, believing that the invaders were like the Norwegians, unprepared and weak, but he wanted to destroy them before William’s reinforcements could join him from Normandy.

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William and Harold as they once were, friends.

Harold caught up with the rest of his army in London around about the 8th of October. He stayed there until the 11th. During Harold’s march south, William took the opportunity of his absence to cause havoc, raiding homesteads that were Harold’s family lands, mainly because he wanted more supplies. This is normal when an army goes on campaign, they live off the land which means taking food, livestock and provisions from the inhabitants. But with this kind of acquisition of supplies, there usually comes violence and their homes would have been fired to the ground, should they have tried to resist the Normans. Quite probably William knew these were Harold’s lands, and that he wanted to goad him into coming to meet him in battle, and this may have some truth, but it was normal practice, nonetheless.

During Harold’s stay in London, various messages were going back and forth. There are various versions of these and written by various writers, some contemporary and some not. But, as Howarth (1977) states, they all added up to the same thing. Give me back my crown and Get off of my land! And each man claimed that they believed that they had the right of it. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, written by Bishop Guy of Amiens and thought to be the earliest account of the events around the Battle of Hastings, seems to know a lot of information about what Harold had said, how he said it and what he looked like when he said it! Due to the fact that it would have been impossible for the Bishop to have been in Harold’s presence when he reports what he has said and the descriptions of how it all went, it seems unlikely that we can put our faith in what he describes as words coming out of Harold’s mouth, and perhaps too, the duke, but is more likely to be true for William than for Harold.

The Carmen tells us  that a chaplain was sent with a message for William, which went like this, “King Harold recalls that King Edward first appointed you as his heir, and he recalls that he, himself, was sent to Normandy to assure you of the succession. But he also knows that the same king, his lord, bestowed upon him the kingdom of England when he was dying. Ever since the time that the blessed Augustine came to these shores, it has been the unbroken custom of the English to treat a deathbed request as inviolable. With justice, he bids you go back to your country with your followers. Otherwise, he will break the pact of friendship he made with you in Normandy. And he leaves the choice to you.”

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The Normans burning Sussex villages

The Carmen goes on to tell us that the reply that William’s chaplain sends back on his behalf repeats the same claim he made before. William’s hereditary right given to him by Edward, and Harold’s oath. He states, “I am ready to submit my case against Harold’s for judgement either by Norman law or English law, whichever he choose.”  Then if Harold was to refuse, he offered trial by single combat between the two of them.

We have to remember that the Carmen is a romantic piece of literature, written as poetry. And is essentially a ‘song’ hence the name ‘Carmen’. It is however, ludicrous to think that the ruler of a kingdom could be decided by single combat. That was not the way things were done. Once the parleying was over, then came the battle. And that was what Harold, apparently, had decided. If William was not going to go peaceably, Harold  would destroy him in battle. This was what William had wanted Harold to do, all along.

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William the Conqueror

Primary Sources

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle

Carmen de Hastingae Proelio 

References

Gravett C  (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publsihing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.

Mason E (2004) The House of Godwine the History of a Dynasty Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster.

Walker I. W. (1997) Harold The LAst Anglo-Saxon King Sutton Publishing, Stroud.

Chapter Eight: Valour and Blood and the Fight for England

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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 wait at Stamford Bridge for hostages and supplies to arrive from York.

Stamford Bridge crosses the River Derwent a few miles north of York and was far enough away from York to be of little further threat to the city. Harald, the King of Norway, with the somewhat inimitable reputation of being ‘hard to counsel’ and King Harold of England’s implacable brother, Tostig, had brokered a deal with the defeated leaders of York, that they would meet them 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 sunny day and they were enjoying the warm weather. But the promised supplies and hostages had not arrived, so Harald decided that he and his men would march to York to find out what had happened. They had just crossed the bridge when 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 approaching them along the road from York, about to fall upon them in a surprise assault.

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English huscarles and thegns on horses

There are a variety of versions of the prelude to the battle, 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 mail, the very thing necessary for survival in a battle. The chronicles all agree that this was due to the warm and sunny weather and having defeated the Northern armies at Gate Fulford, they were certainly not expecting to have need of their armour so soon after their victory. Half of Hardrada’s forces were back at Riccall with the fleet, led by his son Olaf and Paul, 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. However, the initial phase of the battle was fought on the Western side of the river and not on the Battle Flats as previous historians have agreed. Blundell (2012), in his The Battle of Stamford 1066 AD: An Alternative Interpretation paper, postulates, convincingly, that the Norwegians were not lazing on the grass, enjoying the sunshine of that day, but actually on the march to York to see why the hostages had not turned up at the agreed place and time. Harald, fed up with waiting, had decided to take most of his army to York with him to find out what was going on, leaving a smaller unit rounding up cattle further out on the west side of the river.

Looking at the maps on Blundell’s website, you can see both armies as they come across one another. The larger English contingent (in red) are on their way to confront the invading army (in blue). The map that is called Map 6 but is actually map 4, gives a good indication of how the two armies would have come across one another. Imagine Harald’s surprise and confusion. Tostig had assured him it would take longer than days for Harold Godwinson to arrive with his army.

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The Norwegian king must have been furious with Tostig and greatly shocked, for the Englishman had assured him that Harold’s army would take weeks to get there and not days. But Harold’s army is kicking up the dust on the road, less than a mile away as they crest the higher ground from Gate Helmsley. However, Harald has time to work out a battle plan. Tostig, however, pragmatically urges that they should run back to the ships, but Harald knows that they would be slain by the obviously overwhelming English numbers and his best tactic would be to stay and fight until the rest of his army arrive. He quickly despatches the best of his riders to hurry back to Riccall, which was roughly 16 miles away, and lines up his men in a circular shieldwall, having seen the mounted unit of huscarles in the vanguard.

According to Snorri Sturluson, Harold wanted to parley, offering his brother peace and his former earldom back, but Tostig refuses when he only offers Hardrada this witty comment, ‘7ft of ground for he is taller than most other men’. 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 in their circular shieldwall.

Many of the sagas report the English use of cavalry, although there is some discrepancy by historians as to the validity of it. The English were generally thought to favour fighting on foot as infantry, riding to battle and then dismounting. However, this battle would not have been the first time the English had fought on horseback as they did, somewhat disastrously at the battle of Hereford. It seems reasonable to believe that if Harold and his huscarles were journeying on horse, and saw the Norwegians before them, he would order a cavalry-type charge at them successfully. After all, he had learned about cavalry warfare during his time in Normandy as a guest of Duke William.

In Map 7 which is actually map 5, we see how the English forces are able to wrap the Vikings up and the men out rustling the cattle are cut down, as a unit is deployed to go after them. The shieldwall is broken but Harald and his Norwegians are are stalwart and storm to reform it to fight on.

Snorri Sturlusson’s Heimskringla is a very detailed account of the battle, however, being written down some 160 years after events happened, some historians are sceptical, but Blundell’s exploration of the topography of the battlefield and in depth study of the sources gives credence to the Sagas. However, it seems unlikely that Harold would have made his offer of Northumbria to Tostig, knowing that if Tostig accepted, Harold would incur the wrath of his new brothers-in-law and the men of the north, who had fought hard to get rid of Tostig. They may have been disillusioned by the brothers Morcar and Edwin who failed to avert the disaster at Gate Fulford, but doubtless they would not have been happy to have Tostig back in the seat of his earldom, either. Harold may have offered him part of Wessex, which I would think was more likely. Whatever was offered, if indeed there was an offer, it wasn’t what Tostig wanted.

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The death of Hardrada comes after he had bravely fought to reform his men into the shieldwall. They are still on the West side of the river and both sides are taking great casualties. They were pushed right back by the English along the river just by the bridge and the river is right behind them. 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, wearing only his blue tunic, and he was hit by an arrow in the throat, though not before he had hewn and sliced many men with his 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, but they refused. It must have been devastating to Harold to know that he was about to lose his brother definitively.

Buoyed by the death of the Viking king, the English are fierce and brutal in their subsequent attack. In Map 8, (map 6)  we see how the English army have now pushed the Norwegians back over the bridge. They bring Hardrada’s body with them and Tostig is said to take up the command, and Harald’s flag. They have taken a lot of casualties.

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The most singular feature of this battle is the story that the bridge was held for some time against the English by a somewhat fearsome Viking with an axe who prevented them from crossing, killing any man who attempted to attack him. According to one source he kills 40 Englishmen singlehandedly. He was wearing a mail shirt, obviously one of the few who had decided to bring his. However though, after holding them back heroically, preventing thousands of the English from getting across the bridge, a quick-thinking 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, interesting ly enough, and it is also repeated by several other writers. However, looking at it logically, one man on a bridge as wide as the road? Seriously, I would have shot him with an arrow within seconds, never mind trying to get a spear upwards and into his gizzards from underneath a bridge! And was this spearman really quick-thinking? Took him long enough, they lost 40 men before they decided to decimate him. Anyway, following the death of the lone axeman on the bridge, the English then went quickly over the bridge, to fight the Norwegian army. I really don’t give this story credence and feel that it is the object of a romantic, vivid imagination and none of the Sagas mention this. If it really did happen, I believe there would be some mention of it. It makes for a great story, though, the crazed, battle maddened Norwegian berserker! But no, he would have easily been taken down on that bridge.

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The berserker guarding the bridge, having removed his mail due to the heat, just before he kills his 39th victim

Tostig is now 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 exiled Godwinson was all that they had left. But Tostig dies and his body fell near the Landwaster. At this point, they were soon to have another commander, Eystein Orri, as the reinforcements 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’ They may have seen them coming and perhaps this was why they refused quarter, and they made one final devastating charge at the English, many of whom were killed in the fresh onslaught. 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 mail because they were so exhausted. But the Vikings were unable to maintain the momentum. Orri fought to the death as had Tostig. Some collapsed, fatigued by the stress of the battle and the harrowing journey on foot from Riccall.

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Hardrada’s banner with image of the Raven that feeds on the dead after a battle

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.

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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 Flemings 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 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 turnaround of events for the survivors that they should come so far for a great victory at Fulford, only to have their hopes of success dashed within a few days. The great God of War, Hardrada, had proved himself to be destructible after all. The big man’s luck had run out at last. Thus the Lightning Bolt was never to light up the sky again.

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The Vikings running to join their comrad Bridgees at Stamford

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.

References
Blundell, Michael C. 2012. The Battle of Stamford Bridge 1066 A.D.: An Alternative Interpretation. URL http://www.stamford-bridge.dk
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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.