The Battle of Stamford Bridge was fought on 25th September, 1066. Harold Godwinson’s Saxon army fought the invading army of Harold Hardrada. The result was a decisive victory for the Saxon army. Harold Hardrada was killed and few of his ships returned home. The victory was the result of rapid maneuvering by the Saxons and a surprise attack that caught the Viking invaders totally unprepared for battle.
Harold Hardrada and Earl Tostig had defeated Saxon forces under Earls Edwin and Morcar on 20th September at the Battle of Fulford. Both sides had fought hard. Men had been lost, prisoners had been taken. Hardrada arranged for an exchange of the prisoners to take place on 25th September. This would happen at Stamford Bridge, near York. Having crushed the Saxon army and received the surrender of York, Hardrada and his men would have been in high spirits and relaxed. They were about to be surprised.
Harold Godwinson arrives in the North
News of the Viking landing had reached Harold Godwinson on the South Coast. Most of the Saxon army was stationed there, waiting for the expected invasion from Normandy. When he heard of the Viking landing, Godwinson had to decide whether to stay in the South to face an enemy that might, or might not, set sail, or to engage the invader that had landed. With Hardrada’s forces already in York the situation dictated to Godwinson that he should deal with that problem first, after all, there was no telling when the Normans would land.
Godwinson marched his army from their bases in the south of England to York in just four days. None of the Vikings knew about his arrival. None of them had expected a challenge so soon. At Stamford Bridge the Vikings were therefore shocked to see a full Saxon army heading towards them. Most of the Vikings and Tostig’s rebels were wearing no armour. They were not ready for battle.
Battle of Stamford Bridge
Godwinson’s men swept down the hill onto the bridge. Legend has it that one firesome Viking held the bridge alone for some time. True or not, the bridge fell and the Saxon army moved over it, and through fords, onto the Viking camp.
Though unready for battle the Vikings did put up a fight. They were able to rally and defend themselves. The size of the Saxon army was too powerful though. Hardrada was killed. Victory for the Saxons was obvious.
A truce was offered by the Saxons. Tostig would receive an amnesty. Hardrada, legend has it, was to receive no more than “Seven feet of English soil for he is a tall man”. The truce was rejected, the Vikings used the time to bring forward men who had been guarding their ships.
With the rejection of the truce, fighting resumed. Many of the Viking army was killed. Finally, fighting ended. Many of the Viking lords and nobles were dead. Hardrada’s son remained alive. He was told he had free passage to sail with his men back to Norway, on the condition that he promise to never return to England: he never did, though other viking nobles did land in the years to come.
The Battle for Stamford Bridge eliminated the threat from Norway and quashed the hopes of Tostig’s rebels. The North of the Country was secured for Harold. In that respect, it was a great victory. However, other events soon followed that put the Vikings very firmly out of the minds of King Harold. Just 3 days after this great victory, William of Normandy’s fleet landed on the South Coast. The Norman Invasion had started.
Historic UK – Article about the Battle
Battlefields of Britain – a look at the course of the Battle
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