1066 and the Great Invasion in the North

The “North”? Yes, perhaps the greatest invasion of England ever, took place not at Hastings, but in Yorkshire.

1066 is one of the most famous years in history because it was the year when King Harold of England was killed at the Battle of Hastings and the Norman leader, Duke William, took his crown. But the army which landed in the North was twice the size of the invading Norman army.

In mid- September 1066, the Norwegian King Harald, arrived at the River Humber with 300 ships and 15,000 men and made his way up the River Ouse. His intention: to seize the English throne from his near namesake, King Harold. The Norwegian commander, also known as Harald Hardrader, (Harald hard ruler), was an accomplished commander who had learnt his military skills as a mercenary, a Varangian, in the service of the Empress of Turkey. He used the vast fortune he earned in her service to fund his takeover of the Norwegian throne.

The Northern English Earls attempted to stop the advance of the Norwegians, but were soundly defeated, leaving the road to London open to the invaders.

The English King was aware that the Normans would make an effort to invade his country and all summer he had his army on alert along the south coast. When news came that there had instead been an invasion in Yorkshire, the King mobilised such forces as he had and rushed north recruiting more troops as he travelled. The forced march to York led to one of the most remarkable incidents in English history. The one hundred and eighty five mile route was covered in four days and the English force completely surprised the superior force of Norwegians. The battle which ensued is called the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The English victory was so complete, that only 24 ships were needed to transport the Norwegian survivors back to their own country.

It is intriguing to consider what would have happened if King Harold had not been victorious at Stamford. It might well have been a Norwegian army which met Duke William at Hastings, and since this army was twice the size of that of the Normans, perhaps we would have had a Norwegian on the English throne and not a Norman!

“Three Kings –3 kings book cover One Throne”, is a novel which tells the story of an officer in the English Army and his part in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. A second protagonist in the novel, a Danish mercenary, is in the employ of Duke William of Normandy. The climax of the book tells what happened when the English officer and the Dane met.

Left to right: The Papal banner flown by Duke William at the Battle of Hastings, the raven banner flown by Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the “Fighting Man” banner of King Harold of England.

1 reply
  1. Carol McGrath
    Carol McGrath says:

    I write about it in my fiction The Handfasted Wife and the later harrowing in The Swan-Daughter to be published this summer. These are the Royal women of Hastings but I found out that Elizaveta Hardrada’s wife remarried after his defeat- to the king of Denmark Swegne Erithson. I find this interesting. And that he probably brokered the marriage of Harold Godwin’s eldest daughter Gytha to Vladimer of a Kiev, her nephew.

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