Friday, September 26, 2014

Battle of Stamford Bridge, Part 2

The first part is here.

Death of Harald Hardrada, illustration from Matthew Paris
King Harold Godwinson of England, hearing that King Harald Hardrada of Norway had invaded the north of England and, with Harold's brother Tostig Godwinson, had captured York, marched quickly to meet him, covering over 180 miles in four days. On 25 September 1066, the two armies met at Stamford Bridge.

The presence of an actual Stamford Bridge has been disputed. Stamford does not appear in the Domesday Book, compiled 20 years later to tally all of the king's possessions in England. It is, however, mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. We just don't know where it was. The River Derwent (by which the battle took place) must have had a crossing, and there may have been a bridge then of which now we can find no trace, but there must have been something somewhere along the Derwent that allowed the English to cross it and engage the Norwegian army.

Hardrada's forces were completely unaware that the English army was so near. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that a single axe-man ran to the bridge to hold off the crossing English at a narrow point, killing two score English until one passed under the bridge in a boat and stabbed upward with a spear. The delay allowed the invaders to hastily pull themselves into a defensive circle and put up a shield wall—but not enough time to put on their armor. Harold was able to surround them and attack the shield wall in several places. The battle lasted hours, but the lack of preparation among the Norwegians wore them down. Despite the arrival of reinforcements who had been left guarding their ships, Tostig was slain, and an arrow to Hardrada's windpipe brought him down, putting his army into disarray. They were wiped out by the English. It is said that, 50 years later, the field was still littered with bleached bones of the slain.

Harold took pledges from Hardrada's son Olaf, that he would never attack England again. Of the 300 ships they brought to attack England, only 24 were needed to return the survivors. It was a definitive defeat that sent a signal to all the Scandinavian countries. Harold had a right to be proud.

Three days after the battle, on 28 September, William of Normandy arrived on the southern coast with an army from Normandy. But that story has been told before.

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