Harold and his Saxons see off the Norsemen at major battle

Following the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 the English crown was claimed by the dead king’s right-hand man, who had charge of the royal bodyguard. His claim that Edward named him as successor was approved by the Witan (a sort of Privy Council as it was called in latter days) who unanimously voted to give Harold the crown.

Not that he was the only claimant, as we well know.

First there was Duke William of Normandy, just across the channel, the descendant of Rollo, a Viking or Norseman granted land by the French king. The Duke was also known as William the Bastard as his mother was not married to his father.

He had a double claim. First he claimed Edward had named him his successor when the king was in exile in Normandy. His second claim was based on Harold having sworn an oath, having been shipwrecked and rescued by William, to support William’s claim.

William raised an invasion fleet but could not set sail because the wind was in the wrong quarter and remained so for months.

Meanwhile Harold kept his army on standby ready to repel any invaders.

The wait lasted through the summer at which time the fyrd {the major part of the army called on when necessary as the rest of the time they had land to be farmed and raise crops to feed the country) was eventually disbanded to go back to their land.

This was when the third claimant to the throne, the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, stuck a spanner in the works when he led an invasion fleet of 300 ships to attack in the North of England. His claim was based on his descent from King Cnut, a Dane who ruled England peacefully for many years.

He was supported by Harold Godwinson’s younger brother Tostig who brought mercenary troops from Flanders and joined Harald’s invasion force at Stamford Bridge, near York, in September 1066.

When King Harold received the news that Harald’s invasion was boosted by his own brother Tostig he set off with the core of his army to face the usurper, picking up members of the fyrd as they headed North.

Meanwhile Hardrada’s force had attacked York having defeated the Earl of Mercia’s army. They then retired to Stamford Bridge having ordered the defeated earl to send more hostages and supplies to their camp.

What he didn’t know was that King Harold had made a forced march north with his expanding army and went round the city of York to take on the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge.

Having taken only four days to get there they caught the invaders by surprise on 25 September, 1066, and after a long and bloody battle, most of the blood being Norwegian, Harold won the battle and the remnants of the enemy sailed away in just 30 ships – there weren’t enough men left out of the approximately 8,000 force to man any more ships.

The invasion had been launched because the wind that kept Duke William bottled up in Normandy had favoured the Norwegians.

Then the wind changed, speeding the defeated Norwegians back to their homeland but now blowing favourably for the Norman invaders.

Harold and his men rested up following their forced march and the bloody battle, but just a few days after the battle riders came from the South and met Harold as he was heading home to tell him that him that William and his Normans had landed at Pevensey, East Sussex, on 28 September and appeared to be making camp there while they unloaded the men, horses and equipment.

Harold knew his men were worn out from battle and he took them to London were they stayed for at least a week, gathering strength and replacing supplies.

Surprisingly the Normans remained in their camp all this time.

On 13 October Harold took his army of 8 to 10,000 men to Caldbeck Hill above a valley which lay on the road to Hastings. They took their positions that night on a hilltop ridge about 800 yards wide and with sharp inclines on either side.

Guards were placed and the men took what rest they could, but ready at a moment’s notice to defend their king and country.

COMING SOON: Harold prepares to send the Normans packing.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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