SWORD-FLASH 1066 - 3: HARDRADI'S HAMMER STRIKES - Victory and Defeat in the North for Norse giant Harald Sigurdsson

He had ranged far and wide since being wounded beside Olaf Haraldsson at Stiklestad, thirty-six years earlier

Harald Sigurdsson as he would have been when he first landed at Riccall, where the Derwent  meets the Ouse
Harald Sigurdsson as he would have been when he first landed at Riccall, where the Derwent meets the Ouse | Source
Hrafnsmerki or Landoda, Harald's raven banner that ended as a scrap of material at Dunvegan Castle on Skye, 'the faerie flag'
Hrafnsmerki or Landoda, Harald's raven banner that ended as a scrap of material at Dunvegan Castle on Skye, 'the faerie flag' | Source

Tostig's raids along the south and east coasts were beaten off with heavy losses to Tostig. A new threat to Harold's reign would come from a new quarter.

Tostig made overtures to Harald Sigurdsson through a messenger before setting out from Flanders with his fleet in the summer. What he raised with the 'Hardradi' - the Hard Ruler - was the matter of an agreement made between Harald's nephew Magnus and Harthaknut, son of Knut 'the Great'. The 'carrot' was dangled before the still war-eager West Norse king.

[The agreement was that whichever of the pair survived the other, he or his heirs should lay claim to the throne of England. Harthaknut died in AD1042, Magnus in 1047].

Harald Sigurdsson's initially boundless revenues revenues were never enough to maintain his warring. Since he was unable to wrest Denmark from King Svein the lure of ruling at least the northern half of England would be too much to ignore. With the death of Knut 'the Great' in AD1035, and those of his sons Svein, Harold and Harthaknut by AD1042, Eadward's succession to sole rule was assured. With his coronation at Easter AD1043 came the resumption of the Cerdicingas' rule in England, interrupted in AD1016 after the death of both Aethelred II and his eldest son Eadmund 'Ironside'.

Magnus Olafsson returned to his homeland from exile in Holmgard (Novgorod) and Danish rule ended in Norway with the hunting down and killing of Svein Knutsson, Knut's son and regent. Magnus then began to chase down Svein Estrithsson throughout the Danish isles. Although Magnus presented an indirect threat to his rule in AD1043, Eadward refused to help Svein Estrithsson despite repeated pleas from Earl Godwin (Svein's kinsman by marriage). And then Harald Sigurdsson stepped onto the stage in AD1045.

After a career with the Varangian Guard in Byzantium, Harald wished to see what he could achieve at home. As Magnus' uncle he hoped for a better reception than the hostility that first greeted him. So he took sides with Svein Estrithsson, raiding Norway until finally Magnus relented and offered a half share in the kingdom. An uneasy quiet fell on Scandinavia until Magnus' death in AD1047, when Harald took to raiding Denmark with a view to adding it to his kingdom.

Svein was once more chased around the Danish isles and Harald won most of the battles, burning Hedeby in AD1050 along with the churches of Aarhus in northern Jutland and Slesvig in Angeln. He failed in his attempt to corner Svein, however. With the need for weapons and men and the drain on his resources (untold treasures brought back from his time in Byzantium) his riches dwindled and the taxes on his West Norse subjects did not stretch to the demands made on them. Compared to the fine Byzantine-styled coins he had minted at the beginning of his sole reign over Norway and part of Denmark , his later coinage was much cruder and more easily debased. His long campaign against Svein Estrithsson ended in deadlock in AD1064.

Thus Tostig's reminder about the agreement came at the right time. Harald had no kinship whatsoever with Tostig's brother and would think nothing of raiding, despoiling and killing in England. He was after all doing himself a huge favour, as well as restoring a possible puppet to his earldom. That 'puppet', Tostig spent the summer of AD1066 at the court of the Scots' king, still fuming at the desertions that forced him to withdraw from northern Lincolnshire. Maelcolm 'Canmore' was still trying to strengthen his hold on Scotland, thus unable to give more help to his erstwhile neighbour.

Svein was also approached but politely rebuffed his kinsman, telling him he was in no position to launch an invasion on England. He would have pointed out that they were kinsmen after all, he Tostig and Harold. Further, he would have put to Tostig that Harald Sigurdsson was more likely to launch such an expedition. This was an ingenious move on Svein's part, as it took away the threat of further attacks on Denmark.

West Norse fighting forces were battle-hardened and in the process of restoring their numbers to war strength. Morale was at an all-time high, despite their setbacks in Denmark against Svein. One source puts Tostig's aide Copsig in the Orkneys, recruiting on behalf of Tostig and he may have been a go-between for Tostig with Harald. both John of Worcester and the scribe of Chronicle 'C' agree there was a link-up between Tostig and the West Norse king that summer. A theory was put forrward that one of Harald's long-term plans was an invasion of England to pursue his 'inheritance', that Tostig knew of this and merely 'lit the fuse' to bring it forward.

With Norse trading links, they may have known about Tostig's rising unpopularity. He had local knowledge which made him useful, and he also had some regional support. The young Gospatric may have still been sympathetic towards him. Being sly, Harald would have been inclined to use Tostig as a figurehead against King Harold, hoping for support in southern England. Additionally Tostig may have rashly claimed influence over his younger brothers earls Gyrth and Leofwin. As far as Harald was concerned, Tostig would easily be discarded when the time came, or rewarded as the case may have proved. An alliance was forged, with Tostig very much the junior partner.

In the after-summer of AD1066 Harald Sigurdsson gathered his hersir and his levies - having put out the call to all his dominions, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, the Western Isles off Scotland, as well as Orkney, Shetland, Man, Cathness and Sutherland and the Hiberno-norse outposts. Three hundred or so ships put in at and around Kirkwall to set down his common-law wife Thora before sailing on down the east coast of Scotland towards Saint Abb's Head at the southern edge of the Firth of Forth. Here his gigantic fleet met up with Tostig's diminished fleet, and together their ships ploughed through the freshening seas towards Northumbria, past Tynemouth and in to the Tees Bay. 'Blooding' raids were.made near the mouth of the Tees and at Skarthiburh (Scarborough) to give the younger men in the fleet a taste of 'action'. The raid on Scarborough is mentioned in detail in Snorri Sturlusson's 'King Harald's Saga'. On they sailed, southward along Holderness, raiding again and into the wide mouth of the Humber past Spurn Head.

Harald led his men straight into the outskirts of York from where the ships were pulled up ashore by the banks of the Derwent at Richale (Riccall). On September 20th Harald's force met the combined Northumbrian and Mercian fyrd at Gata Fulford (Gate Fulford), east of the River Ouse, forcing a defeat on the earls and the surrender of the 'burh' of Eoferwic/Jorvik itself a day later. The Norse king and Tostig withdrew to the banks of the Derwent at Staenfordes Brycg (Stamford Bridge) to await hostages and gold.

The following morning, Monday September 25th, the Norsemen and their allies were sleeping off the previous night's drinking when someone saw a dust-cloud in the direction of York. At first Tostig and Harald this must be the hostages and gold... Until the dust cloud grew, and grew. They knew this was more than a few riders with wagons and their suspicions were realised when King Harold's army appeared at the top of the ridge west of the Derwent, 'Like a field of broken ice' in the bright sun.

The day after most of Harald Sigurdsson's ships and precious few of Tostig's were needed to take the survivors home. Harold buried his errant brother at York in secret at the church of Saint Mary Bishophill Junior (south of Micklegate). Agreement was reached with Harald's sons Olaf and Magnus that they would never again set foot in anger on these shores, before they were allowed to leave. A mere two-score ships left the Humber, with the corpse of the 'Hard Ruler' for Orkney. The last true Viking invasion of England had come to catastrophic grief.

Within ten days King Harold was back in London after word reached him of Duke William's landing on the south coast. The Normans were sacking the areas around Hastings, Pevensey and Dover, and William knew Harold would not stand for it. Despite pleas from those around him, including his mother Gytha, Harold pressed on without waiting for the men he had sent for. He had defeated Harald Sigurdsson, had he not? He could take Duke William off-guard as well! At very least his men would join him on Caldbec Hill in the Andreds Weald above Hastings once he got there, after first meeting at the Hoar Apple Tree...

The rest is history, as they say - covered in another Hub. See also the RAVENFEAST page for more information on the first two books in the series, "RAVENFEAST - Farewell to Legend" and "OVERTHROWN - The Dream Fades".

Not a lot of people know this. Thrown out of his earldom in 1065 (ten years after he was given the earldom on the recommendations of brother Earl Harold and sister Queen Eadgytha) as a result of siding with the wrong Northumbrian clan, Tostig Godwinson brought Harald Sigurdsson, 'Hardradi', to win back his earldom and claim the throne of England.


The lone, axe-wielding giant who lay about him on the bridge before he was brought low by cunning

The giant on the bridge - he probably wouldn't have been bare-chested, but it would have been a wooden bridge. One of King Harold's men went under the bridge on a small boat and thrust his spear upward into the  warrior's private parts -
The giant on the bridge - he probably wouldn't have been bare-chested, but it would have been a wooden bridge. One of King Harold's men went under the bridge on a small boat and thrust his spear upward into the warrior's private parts - | Source

See also the RAVENFEAST SAGA SERIES page on this site

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Comments 2 comments

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old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Absolutely first class. Your insight and knowledge along with meticulous research, makes this hub a pleasure to read. Voted up, awesome, SHARED.

Graham.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Thanks again, Graham. Check out the "RAVENFEAST - Farewell to Legend" page. The book is currently available on the Amazon site. There are a few chapters that cover Harald Sigurdsson's last day and a few more about the conflict near Hastings

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