The Battle of Fulford
In January of 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England after the death of Edward the Confessor. His exiled older brother Tostig Godwinson (he was such a bad ruler of Northumbria that Edward threw him out) felt that he had a better claim than Harold and began looking for allies. The King of Norway, Harold Hardrada, also had a claim, and accepted Tostig’s offer of help in overthrowing Harold Godwinson. Tostig and Hardrada, with a large Viking army, landed in Yorkshire in the north of England in early September 1066. Harold Godwinson’s spies knew they were coming, and his fully mobilized armies of his Earls Edwin of Mercia and Mocar Northumbria met them at the town of Fulford.
The first English charge almost broke the Vikings but Harold and Tostig managed to form a shield wall which held until men still disembarking from the ships could reach them. The battle then devolved into two rival shield walls attempting break each other. This lasted for several hours(!) but eventually the English sobered up and the arriving Viking numbers were still boozed up enough to continue to push. (Just about every source on fighting in a shield wall at this time mentions that one had to be drunk to get up enough courage to attack a shield wall or defend in one against a determined charge.) The English broke, and due to the swampy terrain were trapped and annihilated.
King Harold Godwinson was in the south preparing for the inevitable invasion by another claimant to the English thrown, Duke William of Normandy. When he heard that his armies in the north were destroyed, Godwinson hurried north with his household guard, the Huscarls, and every Anglo Saxon thegn enroute. Godwinson needed to protect the largest city of the north, York, and the only defensible terrain between it and Fulford was the bridge at Stamford on the River Derwent. For a week he marched night and day – he had to arrive before the Vikings reorganized.
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