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1066: A Year to Conquer England? (Part 2)

Updated on July 18, 2017

The Buildup

Harold Godwinson

So sure was he that an invasion was to come from William of Normandy first that he stationed his entire army, more or less, along the south coast. By the end of Summer William had still not tried to invade and Harold, whom's army mostly consisted of common farmers who needed to go home to harvest, had to stand his army down in September.

Harald Hardrada and Tostig

It took 300 ships to bring their invasion force from Scandinavia, down the coast of Scotland and eventually into England. When there they burnt Scarborough then met the army of Earl Morcar at Fulford.

The Battle of Fulford- 20th September 1066

English

The Northern English infantry army, commanded by Earls Morcar and Edwin, stood against the might of the Vikings at a ford near to Fulford. They lined up in their typical shield wall fashion and waited for the tide to go out.

Vikings

The Viking army consisted of mainly infantry, as did the English, with some archers. They were split into 2 separate forces, the ones that faced the English head on and the ones that Hardrada cunningly hid behind a slight hill.

Battle

The battle began with the vikings driving hard into the English shield wall. As expected this had little effect. Both sides hacked at one another until the tide went out. Upon this, Hardrada sent his second force to flank the Saxon forces to devastating effect. Surrounded with nowhere to go, the Saxons were decimated. Edwin and Morcar managed to escape back to York but the Vikings soon arrived and took the city without much fight. They then drank and celebrated their great victory near to the city, awaiting the return of Viking prisoners from the Saxons. They left most of their heavy armour and weapons on their boats as they didn't expect to need them.

An explanation of what happened at Fulford in 1066
An explanation of what happened at Fulford in 1066

Battle of Fulford

"I will give him just six feet of English soil; or, since they say he is a tall man, I will give him seven feet!"

— Harold Godwinson upon hearing that Hardrada had landed in England and intended to conquer

Before the Battle

English

Having heard of Harald's victory at Fulford Godwinson raced north to meet him covering around 210 miles in just 5 days gathering a new army of fyrd and housecarls as he went. His force is said to have been around 15,000 strong and ready for combat from the time they arrived.

Vikings

The vikings were waiting near to the city of York for the return of some prisoners when the English army met them. Their overall force consisted of around 9000 men, although at this point 3000 of them were still at the ships, and 300 ships. By the time the battle started they had none of their armour and few had their weapons as they weren't expecting to be attacked so soon.


Battle of Stamford Bridge- 25th September 1066

After their quick march north in only 5 days, the English were ready to attack the Vikings at their camp near York and that's exactly what they did. It is said that the vikings saw the glistens of English helmets and swords in the distance but didn't realize they were under attack until too late. Crucially, the viking force was split into 2 camps, one either side of the River Derwent, and so couldn't form a strong defence together. The English swept across the Scandinavian camp slaughtering all the vikings who were either poorly armoured and equipped or still putting on their armour.

The main resistance, according to legend, came from a lone Viking berserker who stood upon Stamford Bridge and slew any Englishman who tried to pass. The solution? An Englishman was sent down the River Derwent in a barrel and, upon reaching the bottom of the bridge, stabbed the viking from below with a spear.

The English poured across the bridge continuing their rampage until 3,000 more vikings arrived from their ships. Properly armed and equipped these soldiers held out against the English for some time in a shield wall formation but before long Hardrada took an arrow to the neck and Tostig was slain, apparently by his own brother King Harold. Following this the remaining soldiers either died or surrendered and it was said that of the 300 ships that brought the Vikings to England only 24 were needed to take survivors away. The English achieved a decisive victory, losing only 5,000 men to the Vikings 6,000 losses.

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Did Hardrada Underestimate Godwinson or was Godwinson's Action Completely Unforseeable?

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