View Full Version : The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Sunday, July 24th, 2005, 02:20 PM
Few people in England have heard of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, even though it was the last Viking battle on English soil and ended the Viking era of English history.

The reason is that the Battle of Stamford Bridge is overshadowed in English history by the Battle of Hastings which occurred just three weeks later. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is the one historical event that everyone in England knows.


The main people involved in the Battle of Stamford Bridge are:

* King Harold Godwinsson - Previously an Earl, he seized the crown and became the English King. Died at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
* King Harald Sigurdsson - The Viking King. His nickname was ‘Hardradi’, meaning ‘the Ruthless’. Died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, 1066.
* Earl Tostig - Brother of Harold Godwinsson, the English King. Fought with the Viking King Harald, against his own brother
* Eystein Orri - The leader in charge of the Viking re-inforcements at Riccall.
* Duke William the Conqueror - the Duke of Normandy who attacked England. Was the leader of the Norman army at Hastings and became King of England.

The Norman Invasion

After the death of the English king, Edward the Confessor, a dispute began about who was the rightful heir. Both Earl Harold Godwinsson and Duke William of Normandy wanted to be king, but Harold Godwinsson seized the English crown and proclaimed himself king.

Duke William decided to fight for the crown and built an invasion fleet to cross the English Channel. Throughout the summer the English army waited on the south coast for the fleet to cross the English Channel. But as the summer drew on, and no invasion had occurred, the English King Harold, called off the alert, the militia was disbanded, and the English fleet was moved to London from the Isle of Wight, only to be hit by a severe storm on the way.

The Vikings Invasion

To Harold’s surprise, it was in the north that the first invasion took place - by the Vikings and their English allies. The Norwegian king, Harald Hardradi, had the support of Earl Tostig, (the English King Harold’s brother), and Scottish re-inforcements. The fleet reputedly consisted of 300 ships and 9000 men. The fleet sailed up the River Humber to a small village just south of York at Riccall. The army was landed there.


York was the capital city of the North and a prize jewel for the Vikings to capture.

Harald’s march into the city was blocked by a smaller English army, and a battle took place just outside the city at a small village called Gate Fulford. The battle was unexpectedly hard, but the Viking invaders eventually won and marched into the city. Harald now controlled York, the main city of the north. He was so confident that he left York almost immediately, without even a garrison of soldiers to defend it. It is possible that he left York because some of the most important citizens agreed to be hostages to save a massacre.

Harald marched his army to Stamford Bridge - a point 12 miles east from York and 19 miles from his fleet in Riccall.

Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire

Quite why King Harald marched his army to Stamford Bridge is a mystery. It was on a good communication route with a bridge over the River Derwent, but was completely undefended. It maybe that he had arranged to meet hostages there. Positioning his army at Stamford Bridge proved to be a dreadful tactical mistake.

King Harold of England was caught by surprise at the invasion in the north. He marched from the south of England at amazing speed and reached Stamford Bridge in only 5 days.

The Viking army was caught completely off-guard. It was a warm, sunny autumnal day, and the Viking troops where relaxing by the banks of the River Derwent. The bridge was unguarded.

Suddenly on the horizon a dust-cloud could be seen:

‘And the closer the army came, the greater it grew, and their glittering weapons sparkled like a field of broken ice’

The English army marched towards the bridge. The Viking army needed time to arm themselves and prepare for battle. For a time a single Viking held the bridge, killing all who approached. The English army could not get past, until one of the English soldiers got under the bridge and thrust upwards with a spear, killing the Viking. The English army was now free to cross.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

The Saga account gives a description of the battle in some detail.

1. The English attacked the Vikings by a ‘hot assault’. The Northmen resisted it bravely.
2. The Vikings kept their own battle order and the English forces could make little headway.
3. Suddenly the Vikings attacked by breaking out of their battle order, seeking to drive the English from the battlefield.
4. The English attacked the Vikings from all sides, and threw arrows and spears at the Vikings
5. The Viking King, King Harald Sigurdsson, was enraged and went into the battle and ran out infront of his men ‘hewing with both hands. Neither helmet or armour could withstand him, and everyone in his path gave way before him’. It looked then as if the English were on the point of being routed.
6. ‘But now King Harald Sigurdsson was struck in the throat by an arrow, and that was his death wound’.
7. The Vikings retreated with their battle banner.
8. Tostig, Harold’s brother, then took up the banner.
9. Both armies then re-organised themselves and there was a long pause in the battle.
10. Harold Godwinsson offered his brother Tostig and the Vikings peace, but they refused and said they would ‘rather fall, one across the other, than accept quarter from the Englishmen’.
11. The Vikings set up a war shout and the battle began again
12. Reinforcements all clad in armour then arrived from the ships at Riccall, led by Eystein Orri.
13. Eystein then took charge of the banner, Land-Ravager.
14. The battle was again fierce, and was known as Orri’s storm
15. The men were so exhausted by their journey from their ships, that many fell from weariness. The English forces easily defeated them.

When the slaughter was over, Harold gave quarter to the defeated, and the Viking survivors went home in 24 ships. They had arrived in 300 ships.

The Battle Banner

Banners were an important part of a battle. The most important people were grouped round it and the banner was a rallying point for the troops. The Vikings had names for their banners. The Viking banner at Stamford Bridge was called ‘Land-Ravager’.

After Stamford Bridge

The Battle of Stamford Bridge was very important in English history for two main reasons:

1. It was the last Viking invasion and battle on English soil. After the Norman Conquest there were many invasion threats by the Vikings, but no invasion happened. Stamford Bridge was the last.
2. The Viking invasion and the Battle of Stamford Bridge forced the English army to march north, leaving Duke William of Normandy to land his army without opposition.

When King Harold arrived, after a forced march from Yorkshire, the Normans had marched inland to good defensive positions.

At the Battle of Hastings the course of English history changed. Without the Battle of Stamford Bridge the course of English history may have been very different

Sunday, July 24th, 2005, 09:37 PM
There have been a lot of other battles in Stamford Brigde :laugh:

(Sorry for that but I couldn´t resist)

Sunday, July 24th, 2005, 09:47 PM
Don't tell me you're a Chelski fan please.

Sunday, July 24th, 2005, 09:52 PM
:O CHelski? No I think I´ve pointed out that I´m not the greatest London fan...
@Blutwölfin: sorry again for the off topic football discussions

Sunday, July 24th, 2005, 09:54 PM
:O CHelski? No I think I´ve pointed out that I´m not the greatest London fan...

phew, glad to hear

Monday, July 25th, 2005, 04:27 AM
I seem to remember reading that King Harold Godwinsson, King Harald Sigurdsson, and Duke William the Conqueror were all grandsons of Englands only Viking king, Knute the Great. Perhaps a member with a better knowledge of history could confirm that if true.

Monday, July 25th, 2005, 09:21 AM
Few people in England have heard of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, even though it was the last Viking battle on English soil and ended the Viking era of English history.
Few people in England have any idea who or what the Anglo-Saxons were. It was a pity that these Germanic brothers had to fight, it weakened both sides. The Norsemen entered a slow decline from their glory and the free Anglo-Saxons fell under the Norman yoke.

Just one more reason I'm a Pan-Germanist. United we are strong, divided we are prey for our enemies.