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The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place at the village of Stamford Bridge, East Riding of Yorkshiremarker in Englandmarker on 25 September 1066, between an English army under King Harold Godwinson and an invading Norwegianmarker force led by King Harald Hardradda of Norway (Old Norse: Haraldr harðráði) and the English king's brother Tostig Godwinson. After a stubborn battle, King Harald Hardradda along with the majority of the Norwegians were killed as was Harold's brother Tostig. Although Harold repelled the Norwegian invaders, his victory was short-lived: he was defeated and killed at Hastingsmarker less than three weeks later. The battle has traditionally been presented as symbolising the end of the Viking Age, although in fact major Scandinavian campaigns in the British Islesmarker occurred in the following decades, notably those of King Sweyn Estrithson of Denmark in 1069-70 and King Magnus Barefoot of Norway in 1098 and 1102-3.


The death of King Edward the Confessor of England in January 1066 had triggered a succession struggle in which a variety of contenders from across north-western Europe fought for the English throne. These claimants included the King of Norway Harald Hardrada, who assembled a fleet of 300 ships, probably carrying about 15,000 troops, to invade England. Arriving off the English coast in September he was joined by further forces recruited in Flanders and Scotlandmarker by Tostig Godwinson. Tostig was at odds with his elder brother Harold, having been ousted from his position as Earl of Northumbria and exiled in 1065, and had mounted a series of abortive attacks on England in the spring of 1066. The invaders sailed up the Humbermarker and burned Scarboroughmarker before advancing on Yorkmarker. Outside the city they defeated a northern English army led by Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar, Earl of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulfordmarker on 20 September. Following this victory they received the surrender of York. Having briefly occupied the city and taken hostages and supplies from the city they returned to their ships at Riccallmarker. They offered peace to the Northumbrians in exchange for their support for Harald's bid for the throne, and demanded further hostages from the whole of Yorkshiremarker.

At this time King Harold was in southern England, anticipating an invasion from Francemarker by William, Duke of Normandy, another contender for the English throne. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he headed north at great speed with his huscarls and as many thegns as he could gather, travelling day and night. He made the journey from Londonmarker to Yorkshire, a distance of about 185 miles, in only four days, enabling him to take the Norwegians completely by surprise. Having learned that Northumbrians had been ordered to send the additional hostages and supplies to the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge, Harold hurried on through York to attack them at this rendezvous on 25 September. Until the English army came into view the invaders remained unaware of the presence of a hostile army anywhere in the vicinity.

In his saga Heimskringla about Harald III of Norway, which was written around 1225, Snorri Sturluson described the disposition of the Norwegian troops. Snorri also claimed that the Norwegians had left their mail coats at the ships and thus had to fight with only shield, spear and helmets. The sagas, however, are historical fiction which Snorri admits in his Prologue, "although we do not know the truth of these, we know, however, of occasions when wise old men have reckoned such things as true."

The battle

The Vikings could not have been in a worse position. Their army was divided in two; with some of their troops on the west side of the River Derwent and the bulk of their army on the east side. Their armour had not been brought with them, they had left them on the ships as they had not expected the English army to arrive so quickly. The English force arrived, and annihilated the Vikings who fought a futile defence on the west side of the river. By the time the bulk of the English army had arrived, the Vikings on the west side were either dead or fleeing across the bridge. The English advance was then delayed by the need to pass through the choke-point presented by the bridge. A later folk story has it that a giant Norseman armed with an axe blocked the narrow crossing, and single handedly held up the entire Saxon army. He was only killed when an Englishman floated under the bridge in a barrel, and thrust his spear through the laths in the bridge, killing him.

Whatever the delay, this had allowed the bulk of the Norse army to form a shieldwall to face the English attack. Harold's army poured across the bridge, forming a line just short of the Norse army, locked shields and charged. Though the battle raged for hours, the Norse army's decision to leave their armour behind on the ships began to show; without their armour they were exposed to Saxon steel. Eventually, the Norse army began to fragment and fracture, allowing the English troops to force their way in and break up the Norwegian shield wall. Completely outflanked, and their leaders, Tostig and Hardrada killed, the Norwegian army completely disintegrated and was almost annihilated.

In the later stages of the battle, the Norwegians were reinforced by troops who had been left behind to guard the ships at Ricall, led by Eystein Orri, Hardrada's daughter's fiancé. Some of his men were said to have collapsed and died due to exhaustion upon reaching the battlefield. Their counter-attack, described in the Norwegian tradition as "Orri's Storm", briefly checked the English attack, but was soon overwhelmed, wiped out and Orri himself killed. The Norwegian army routed, pursued by the English army, some of the routers drowned in the rivers.

So many died in such a small area that the field was said to have been still whitened with bleached bones 50 years after the battle.


Harald Hardråde struck in the throat by an arrow at Stamford Bridge, by Wilhelm Wetlesen.
King Harold accepted a truce with the surviving Norwegians, including Harald's son Olaf and Paul Thorfinnsson, Earl of Orkney. They were allowed to leave after giving pledges not to attack England again. The losses the Norwegians had suffered were so horrific that only 24 ships from the fleet of over 300 were needed carry the survivors away. They withdrew to Orkneymarker, where they spent the winter, and in the spring Olaf returned to Norway. The kingdom was then divided between him and his brother Magnus, whom Harald had left behind to govern in his absence.

Three days later, on September 28, the Normans under William the Conqueror landed on the south coast of England. King Harold had to rush his battered, weary army south to meet the new invasion. Less than three weeks after Stamford Bridge, on October 14, Harold was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastingsmarker, beginning the Norman Conquest of England, and ending the Anglo-Saxon era.


In the village of Stamford Bridge a monument to the battle has been erected. The monument's inscription reads:

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

King Harold of England defeated his brother Tostig and Harald Hardraada of Norway here on 25 September 1066"


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