All lay fallen
In the swampy water
Gashed by weapons
And the hardy
Men of Norway
Could cross the marsh
On a causeway of corpses.”
- King Harald Hardrada of Norway on the Battle of Fulford, 1066
1066 was a record-breaking year of amazing feats. In England, Harold mobilized the local militia, known as the fyrd, throughout the southeastern coast in anticipation of William's visit. He kept the fyrds mobilized for over four months something which had never been done before and speaks to Harold's administrative qualities.
Across the channel, William was also showing his abilities in assembling and maintaining an army of vassals, allies, and mercenaries. The winds were against him throughout the summer when campaigning would have been ideal. Keeping that motley horde under control through those longs weeks of peace was a feat in itself. During these idle months of waiting, he was able to secure papal support through adroit politic maneuvers. With papal support, William's cause suddenly took on a holy crusade-like air that brought in more allies but more importantly made the whole endeavor more legitimate.
The stage was set for these two titans to fight it out but the winds that kept William in Normandy sent a dark horse contender to England's northern shores. Literally out of the blue and sailing on the thinnest of claims to the English throne came King Harald Hardrada of Norway along with thousands of lusty plunder-seeking Norse adventurers. They came in longboats much like their heathen Viking ancestors of previous centuries did when they came to raid England.
At this point, history students might shake their heads in disbelief. 1066 was all about Harold and William: Anglo-Saxons and Normans, right? What the hell were Vikings doing in 1066? No doubt Harold was wondering the same thing as he scrambled to deal with this unforeseen threat. Thus began a dramatic episode that is often left out in the brief accounts of 1066.
In hindsight, one wonders why Harold bothered with a bunch of neo-Vikings in the North when the obvious threat was from William in the South. In those days however, William and Harold were really just big fish in small ponds. Harald Hardrada in contrast was the rockstar of his day. Throughout much of the medieval world, tales of his brave exploits were told and sung. Hardrada had fought for years for the Byzantine Empire and won great renown. He was clever and cruel -- a true beserker. When Hardrada arrived unexpectedly in late September, Harold wasted no time marching north to deal with this most famous warrior of their day.
What brought Hardrada to England's shore in the first place is another bit of the year's complexity -- Harold's embittered estranged brother, Tostig. A favorite of the old king and former Earl of Northumbria in Northern England, Tostig was a minor player in the scheme of things yet his actions had serious impact on the upcoming Battle of Hastings.
Tostig hated his brother because he believed Harold had betrayed him. Two years earlier, Tostig's subjects rebelled against him. Although the old king was willing to ravage the area for Tostig's sake, Harold made peace with the rebels for the good of the realm. Tostig never forgave him. In May of 1066, Tostig set off the chain of events leading to the Battle of Hastings by attacking southern England with 60 ships. They were minor affairs but it made Harold call out the fyrd earlier than he would have. He thought William would soon follow in force but in actuality William was still making preparations. Keeping the fyrd mobilized for four months eventually taxed Harold's resources and he disbanded it in early September, less than two weeks before Hardrada's army landed.
Tostig had been chased off but the hatred of his brother drove him on so off he went to the court of the great Harald Hardrada. He promised the king support of the English nobles. He was bluffing but Hardrada was seriously out-of-touch with current events and it might have been that he wouldn't have cared anyway. Hardrada was fifty at the time so his gambit might have been one last great jaunt before retirement. Hardrada's thin claim rested with a promise from one of the earlier Danish Kings of England some decades ago that had been made to Hardrada's predecessor. Again, the whole affair smacks more of daring-do and just for the hell of it rather than a righteous struggle for the throne.
In yet another of the amazing feats of the year, Hardrada raised an impressive force of over 10,000 warriors in short time and sailed a large fleet to the British Isles. He burned the town of Scarborough in northern England to the ground mainly just for the fun of it. Then on September 20, Hardrada completely smashed an English army at the Battle of Fulford near the city of York. His victory, however, would later prove his undoing.
The city of York submitted and its leaders promised to meet him with 500 hostages at nearby Stamford Bridge five days later. Hardrada was pleased as he could be. He had had a great time of it burning, looting, and fighting. The northern area was defenseless and Harold was far south. It seemed now a simple matter to hole up in York and fight Harold for the crown -- but at a later time. Now was a time for feasting and celebrating.
The morning of the 25th probably found a number of Norse soldiers at Stamford Bridge more than a little hung-over. Many of them were unarmored since they were only going as a show of force. Soon their bloodshot eyes spied in the distance the dust kicked up by the approaching hostages.
It was an awful lot of dust.
Weren't hostages supposed to be unarmed?
Suddenly it dawned on them that what was approaching was a heavily-armed hostile army!
In complete disbelief, the Norsemen watched in mounting horror and growing sobriety as an army led by King Harold Godwinson, who should have still been far south mustering troops, came bearing right down on top of them. It was going to be a long day.
‘the army grew greater the nearer it came, and it looked like a sheet of ice when the weapons glittered.’
- Snorri Sturlasson, Heimkringla ("Saga of Hardrada"), 13th Century.
Another record had been broken that year in 1066. If Hardrada had surprised Harold, Harold more than returned the favor by defying military logistics of the day in marching an army from London to York, a distance of 190 miles, in just four days - a thing unheard of at that time. On the evening of the 24th, the surprised citizens of York greeted him as a liberating hero. This was Harold's finest hour. On the next morning he rode out to fight a living legend.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge has been called by some medieval scholars the last great battle of the Dark Ages. It was long, brutal, and bloody. Both sides fought mostly on foot and hacked at each other with axes and swords just as their ancestors had done for centuries since the time of Beowulf.
Although the Norsemen were taken by surprise and many of them were without armor, they fought hard and killed many of Harold's men before they themselves fell. Hardrada, the veteran of countless battles since he was 15, died a Viking death in battle; his throat pierced by an arrow.
Reinforcements from the Norse fleet eventually arrived but many were so exhausted from the effort of getting there that they collapsed. The English pushed the remaining Norsemen back to their fleet.
Against Harold's wishes, Tostig was killed during the latter part of the battle. The Battle of Stamford Bridge raged from morning till night. By the end the Norsemen were utterly defeated and the few survivors sued for peace. Harold granted them safe passage and they sailed away on only 24 ships having originally come in 300.
Harold had lost a brother but he had gained a great victory which if hadn't been for that “other" battle would probably still be praised to this today. He spent a week in York probably convinced William would not set out until next spring if his army had not fallen apart before then. Amidst a victory feast in the days that followed the battle, a breathless messenger arrived at the king's table. The news that Harold had dreaded to hear ever since he took the crown had at last arrived -- William had finally come to England.
Next: The Battle of Hastings
2007/10/26 오전 4:18
© 2019 Ohmynews
|◀ Return to Article|