Saturday, 21 May 2011

battle of stamford bridge

The death of King Edward the Confessor of England in January 1066 had triggered a succession struggle in which a variety of contenders from across north-western Europe fought for the English throne. These claimants included the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, who assembled a fleet of 300 ships, probably carrying about 15,000 troops, to invade England. Arriving off the English coast in September he was joined by further forces recruited in Flanders and Scotland by Tostig Godwinson.Tostig was at odds with his elder brother Harold (who had been elected king), having been ousted from his position as Earl of Northumbria and exiled in 1065, and had mounted a series of abortive attacks on England in the spring of 1066. In the late summer of 1066, the invaders sailed up the Humber and burned Scarborough before advancing on York. Outside the city they defeated a northern English army led by Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar, Earl of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford on 20 September. Following this victory they received the surrender of York. Having briefly occupied the city and taken hostages and supplies from the city they returned to their ships at Riccall. They offered peace to the Northumbrians in exchange for their support for Harald's bid for the throne, and demanded further hostages from the whole of Yorkshire.
At this time King Harold was in southern England, anticipating an invasion from France by William, Duke of Normandy, another contender for the English throne. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he headed north at great speed with his huscarls and as many thegns as he could gather, travelling day and night.
 He made the journey from London to Yorkshire, a distance of about 185 miles, in only four days, enabling him to take the Norwegians completely by surprise. Having learned that Northumbrians had been ordered to send the additional hostages and supplies to the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge, Harold hurried on through York to attack them at this rendezvous on 25 September.
 Until the English army came into view the invaders remained unaware of the presence of a hostile army anywhere in the vicinity.
In his saga Heimskringla about Harald III of Norway, which was written around 1225, Snorri Sturluson described the disposition of the Norwegian troops. Snorri also claimed that the Norwegians had left their mail coats at the ships and thus had to fight with only shield, spear and helmets.[5] The sagas, however, are historical fiction which Snorri admits in his Prologue, "although we do not know the truth of these, we know, however, of occasions when wise old men have reckoned such things as true
But did William the Conqueror and Harald Hardrada have an agreement to attack England jointly.  This could after all explain certain curious behaviors by both William and Harald.  The Duke delayed his departure to England claiming a lack of favorable winds- was he instead waiting for Hardrada’s attack to draw away King Harold’s forces?  Along the same vein, did the Norse invader lower his defenses after Stamford Bridge because he was expecting Harold to be tied up at Hastings?  The Normans and Vikings had deep ties and a shared cultural background and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that they would act together.
It’s an intriguing idea, but ultimately, I think unlikely.  While the close timing of the invasions was certainly mutually beneficial and Hardrada almost certainly knew of William’s plans (he hardly bothered to keep them secret), neither man’s personality was given to sharing.
 William genuinely believed that he had the best right to the entire kingdom, and while his delay in crossing the Channel proved fortuitous it would be giving him too much credit to say that it was a calculated strategy.  Every day that passed with his army still in Normandy cost him in money, food and reputation, and he was as anxious as Harold to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
 The more opportunistic Hardrada may indeed have taken advantage of William’s threat, but he was no more likely to share authority than his Norman opponent.  He had just finished a fifteen-year war with the legitimate king of Sweden, fought for no other reason than a blatant power grab.  This was a man who clearly didn’t tolerate rivals.
If indeed there was an agreement- something like the partition of England that Cnut and Ironside had concluded a generation earlier- it’s interesting to speculate what would have happened.  It would clearly have been a partnership headed for disaster, as neither man would have trusted the other an inch.  Only a matter of time and they would be at each other’s throats

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