Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Stamford Bridge - The battle that ended an era. Part One

Following on from the Battle of Gate Fulford on the 20th September, Harald Hardrada's victory just outside of York saw him and 'as great a force as seemed necessary' (AS chronicle C) march into the city and the people surrendered to him, most likely to prevent a full scale sacking of the city. Whether or not the defeated brothers Edwin and Morcar were part of this process, it is not known but they had certainly survived the battle and may have holed themselves up inside the walls, perhaps wounded, with their remaining men,  ready to negotiate peace with the Norwegian king. Harald Hardrada's saga believed that Morcar had been killed, but Morcar lived through the battle but may have been severely wounded and that was why they thought he had been killed in battle. It is quite possible that the brothers were injured so as not to be able to attend the Battle of Hastings.

The exiled brother of King Harold Godwinson,Tostig, was also amongst the victors at Gate Fulford. He had arrived with Harald to fight for his old Earldom, Northumbria and 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.  These hostages were to be handed over at Stamford Bridge, 8 miles or so north of York which was roughly halfway between York and where Hardrada had left his fleet at Riccall. According to the chronicler Florence, 150 hostages were given on both sides and part of the treaty with the men of York included the supply of provisions. Additionally, they were to march south with him and join his attempt at the conquest of all England.

King Harold Godwinson heard the news of Harald Hardrada's landing probably soon after or before Hardrada and the northern Earls gave battle at Gate Fulford. Hardrada's maneuvers around the coast probably gave Edwin and Morcar time to gather their armies and send messengers south to Harold. The young earls, sons of the deceased recalcitrant Alfgar of Mercia, could have holed themselves up in the city of York and waited for Harold to come with re-inforcements, however for whatever reason, they decided they had sufficient men to meet them outside the the walls at Gate Fulford.The AS Chronicle C states that Gate Fulford battle happened on Wednesday the 20th of September. Harold had been in the south with his southern fyrd watching for William to come and had disbanded his men on the 8th when there seemed no sign of the Duke appearing from Normandy at any time soon. As soon as he heard of the landing, he marched up north with his army and the local levies were called out as he passed through the shires on his way up the old Roman road of Watling Street. This was not the first time he had performed a lightning raid on an enemy. The first was in Wales sometime in December '62 or January '63 when he stormed into Wales with a mounted force and destroyed Rhuddlan, Gruffydd's fortress. Fortunately for Gruffydd he was warned at the last minute with time to escape by sea,leaving the rest of his fleet to be burned by Harold's men. This was a man determined to deal with a problem once and for all. And that is exactly what he does

This was to be the battle that would see the end of any significant Scandinavian attempt at conquest. Read about the battle itself in the next Part of this post.

Walker I.W. (2004) The Last Anglo-Saxon King  (Pb ed) Sutton Publishing Ltd, Great Britain.
Swanton M  (200) The Anglo-Saxon Chronichles (rev. ed) Phoenix Press, London. Marren P (2004)
Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.

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