The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Even though King Harold Godwinson and his men marched 50 miles a day for four days straight, York still surrendered to the Viking King Harald Hardrada before they could arrive. Hardrada, his army still disorganized from the Battle of Fulford, didn’t sack the city but demanded supplies and hostages lest he would burn it to the ground. The supplies and hostages were to be delivered to the bridge over the River Derwent at Stamford on 25 September 1066. That morning, Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, Harold’s exiled brother, took about two thirds of the Viking army to the bridge to help carry the supplies and escort the hostages. Most didn’t wear armor as they weren’t expecting resistance, and well, it was hot and armor is heavy. While they waited many Vikings lounged on the river banks or sunbathed in warm September sun.

Around mid-morning the English arrived, but cresting over the small rise into the valley weren’t supplies and hostages. The glint of the sun was first seen off of thousands of spear points, then the steel caps, and finally the metal kite shields of Harold Godwinson’s huscarls and fyrdmen in battle formation. The Norse Sagas record the moment as,”Their shining arms were to the sight like glancing ice”. The surprise was complete. Tostig attempted to stall the English and negotiate with his brother, whom offered him his earldom back if Tostig switched sides. Tostig counteroffered and asked what Harold would offer Hardrada. Harold replied, “Seven feet of good English soil, as he is taller than normal men”. The Vikings on west side of the Derwent were quickly overwhelmed and crushed, and Tostig fled.

Hardrada needed more time to form a shieldwall on the eastern end of the bridge, and it was given by a single Viking berserker. This lone greataxe wielding wildman prevented Godwinson’s entire army from crossing the bridge until an enterprising young fyrdman found a boat, rowed it underneath the bridge, and stabbed the berserker in the groin through a gap in the planks.

Godwinson’s men rushed across the bridge and crashed into the half formed Viking shield wall on the other end. The Viking’s lack of armor was balanced by the English exhaustion of having marched in full kit 220 miles in the last five days, and twelve to this battlefield. Nonetheless, weight of armor and numbers told, and Tostig and Hardrada’s army were slowly wrapped and massacred. The king was killed by an arrow to the throat during a savage charge in a desperate attempt to breakout. For a brief moment near the end, the Viking’s fortunes changed when Eystein Orre, Hardrada’s son in law, led a furious assault into the flank of the English army by the fully armored Vikings just arrived to the battle from guarding the ships. But “Orre’s Storm” was too little too late, and they too were crushed.

Godwinson chased the remaining Vikings back to their ships where he accepted a truce from the survivors to never set foot on English soil again. Hardrada’s original army arrived on 336 longships, just 24 returned to Norway. The Vikings would never again raid or try to conquer England. The Viking Age was over.

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