The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – a History of England written by English monks at the time.
The ‘Heimskringla Saga’ – a heroic poem written by the Icelander Snorri Sturlason, in about 1230.
Historia Ecclesiastica – a mainly religious work written by the monk Odericus Vitalis about 1140.
King Edward made Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig earl of Northumbria, but he was so unpopular that the Northumbrian thanes refused to serve him. He was driven out in 1065 and replaced by Morcar, helped by his brother Edwin, who was also a Northumbrian earl.
Tostig escaped first to Flanders (modern Belgium) which was the home of his wife’s family, and also friendly to Duke William. He then returned with a fleet to plunder along the south coast of England, but Harold’s army and navy were on alert, and chased him away. He sailed up the east coast, and tried plundering Northumbria, but was chased off again, this time by Edwin and Morcar, and fled to Scotland.
Tostig’s adventures failed, but Harold used up a lot of time and resources through the summer of 1066 dealing with him. He had to disband the fleet and send his part-time warriors – the ‘fyrd’ -home, as they had to bring in the harvest. The order went out on 8 September.
Within days, news reached Harold that Tostig was back yet again. This time, he had help from Scotland, and from the fearsome king of Norway, Harald Hardrada (‘Hard Ruler’). Together, they had sailed up the river Humber and were heading for York, plundering as they went. Tostig perhaps planned to get his earldom back, Hardrada either just to raid, or maybe to claim the crown of England.
Harold immediately set off from London with his Housecarles – his small, permanent professional army – and as many men as he could find who hadn’t yet gone home.
Earls Edwin and Morcar, meanwhile, gathered their own men together and confronted Tostig and Hardrada two miles outside York at Gate Fulford. In the battle that followed, on 20 September, the English were routed and the earls were forced to flee back to York, which was then taken. Four days later, while they were deciding the terms of peace, King Harold arrived like a bolt from the blue.
Hardrada’s Viking army, resting at Stamford Bridge on the River Derwent, was taken completely by surprise. A few of them hurried to defend the bridge, while the rest of the army on the other bank struggled into position. The bridge was stormed, and Harold’s men poured across. The Vikings defended themselves as well as they could – many hadn’t even had time to put on their mail shirts – but Hardrada and Tostig were killed, the Vikings routed, and the handful of survivors ran for their ships, pursued all the way.
Numbers of those involved in the two battles are a matter of guesswork, but probably no more than seven or eight thousand on each side.
Ordericus Vitalis writing over fifty years later, speaks of heaps of bones still littering the battlefield.…