England became a prize for the taking when Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066 England. The man on the scene, Harold Godwinson lost no time staking his claim but his brother Tostig, furious not to be reinstated to the Earldom of Northumbria attempted to take the throne for himself. First he crossed the channel with a fleet of sixty ships from Flanders. He initiated his attempted invasion by attacking Harold’s lands on the south coast.
Harold proved equal to the occasion when Tostig finally fled he had only twelve vessels remaining. Harold 1: Tostig 0.
Tostig fled via Scotland to Denmark and then on to Norway where he and King Harold Hardrada – the Hard Rider- prepared another invasion. In September 1066, when the wind stood against William of Normandy’s invasion fleet, a Scandinavian armada of some three hundred and thirty ships sailed first for Scotland and then down the east coast towards the Humber Estuary pausing only to do nasty things to Scarborough.
On the 20th September 1066 having sailed up the Humber and making anchor at Riccall, Hardrada advanced on York.
The Earls of Northumbria and Mercia (Morcar and Edwin) met the Scandinavians in battle just outside York. The Battle of Fulford Bridge saw an English defeat. The earls were lucky to escape with their lives. The best primary account of the battle can be found in the Heimskringla Saga.
It also offers the best account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge which is sometimes described as Harold’s Saga. Harold hearing of the invasion made a forced march north and caught Hardrada and his brother by surprise and proceeded to beat them – having first of all overcome a beserker who occupied the bridge at Stamford Bridge until one of Harold’s men crept under the bridge and speared him from below (nasty but typical of sagas). Harold 2: Tostig 0.
Having said all that the words of the saga weren’t committed to paper – or parchment- until 1225 by Snori Sturlson, a story teller and historian in the the Scandinavian skaldic tradition, who wrote a chronicle of the Kings of Norway. As A L Binns comments:
The earliest survIving Norse account of the events of 1066 is
probably the brief passage from Grkneyinga saga. The four long
Old Norse accounts of Stemford Bridge here compared for the first
time in English are by no means independent either of each other,
or of English sources. So one should not think of a single account
(usually Heimskringla, of which many translations already exist) as
‘the saga account’; and one should not regard them as contemporary
sources, but rather the work of historians who had very definite
views on the characters and motives ofthe participants and selected
their material in order to express them.
Binns, A.L. (1966). East Yorkshire in the Sagas. Hull: East Yorkshire Local History Society p.5
The full text including the sagas can be accessed by clicking on the image at the start of this post. I’ll be using this image in future to sign post links to a range of texts – and indeed any other images of folks reading that I come across.