The Battle

On September 20th, 1066, a fleet of 300 Viking ships sailed up the Humber, moored at Riccall, and marched on Fulford, just outside York. Although the forces of York fought bravely, they were quickly overcome. The Viking leader, Harald Hardrada (“stern advisor”), was now ruler of York.

When Harold Godwinson, the Saxon King of England, heard about the battle, he started north with his army, collecting more men along the way. He and his troops covered the 180 miles from London to Tadcaster in four days. On the evening of September 24th, Harold sneaked into York in disguise. He discovered that the Vikings would be at Stamford Bridge the following day, waiting for hostages to be delivered to them from York.

The morning of Monday, September 25th was warm and sunny. Some of the Viking army was resting at Stamford Bridge, cleaning their armour and weapons, and waiting for the hostages to arrive. These would be sent over to Norway, to ensure that the people of York didn't rebel against the Viking invaders.

From the direction of Gate Helmsley, the Vikings saw a cloud of dust approaching. They assumed at first that it was the hostages - but then they saw flashes from armour and weapons, and realised that the Saxons were attacking.

It was an enormous battle - estimates suggest there were 15,000 Saxons against 20,000 Vikings. So many men died that, fifty years later, the site was described as being “white with bones”. Harald Hardrada was killed, along with his second-in-command, Tostig, who was the renegade brother of Harold Godwinson. The Vikings, who had arrived in 300 ships, returned to Norway in 24. Almost an entire generation of their fighting men had been wiped out.

On September 28th, while Harold Godwinson and his Saxon troops were still resting and recovering from the battle, Norman invaders landed at Pevensey, in Sussex. When news of this reached York, Harold and his exhausted men set off at once to march south.

They had not had enough time to recover from the Battle of Stamford Bridge, or to mend their equipment. A seven-day march of 250 miles to Hastings made more demands on their stamina. It was hardly surprising that, on October 14th, the Saxon army lost - narrowly - to the Norman invaders, and Britain’s history was changed forever.

All three battles of 1066 combined to make it a crucial year for Britain. If not for the Battle of Stamford Bridge, would the Normans still have been victorious at Hastings?