Battle of Stamford Bridge
A mere five days after the defeat of the northern English forces at Fulford Gate near York, Harald Hardrada and the traitor Tostig, King Harold Godwineson of England’s own brother, had to fight a second battle. King Harold and his army had amazingly covered something like 180 miles in just four days, winning them the priceless element of surprise.
Hardrada had left York to rally at Stamford Bridge, a crossing point of the Derwent, and had sent 1,000 of his men back to Ricall to secure the fleet. On the day of the battle the weather was warm, and the Vikings were resting without armour when the English army arrived.
A furious defence of the crossing over the Derwent held the estimated 8,000 English at bay while the outnumbered Vikings dressed for battle in confusion, many failing to find their armour and helmets. Legend has a giant Norse axe-man holding the bridge like a berserker Horatio, until he was speared from beneath.
The Vikings formed a shield-wall, some sources say in a circle, others in a pointed formation. Before battle was joined Harold Godwineson rode between the armies, calling for his brother Tostig to come over to him, and be given his old lands back. Tostig declined.
Hardrada fought in the front ranks, paying for his bravery with a fatal arrow through his throat. Tostig was again begged to return to the fold. Again he declined. He rallied the invaders, but was killed before the arrival of reinforcements from Riccal whose counter-attack came too late and too lightly armed, many of the soldiers having jettisoned heavier equipment in the dash from Riccal under a hot sun.
The counter-attack degenerated into a rout as the remaining Vikings ran for their ships at Riccal.
A multitude of Viking warrior-chiefs died in the battle and its aftermath, and Hardrada’s son Olaf was forced to accept a truce on the 26th, swearing never to attack England again before being allowed to sail back to Norway. This time though it is said the Vikings, who had arrived in 200 or possibly up to 300 ships only needed a tenth of the number to return the survivors. Ignominiously Hardrada’s body was left in England.
King Harold Godwineson had ended one threat to England, but another and better organised one was about to land on the south coast as the wind, real and metaphorical, was changing.
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From Carmen on 27th November 2012
How many miles did Harold's troops have to march? How many days did it take for Harold and his men to march south from Stamford Bridge?