On many occasions, the future of English history has turned on the result of a medieval battle: this was very much the case, nearly 1000 years ago, when an Anglo-Saxon force engaged in the bloody slaughter of Norwegian invaders at a crossing of the River Derwent in Yorkshire.

On 25th September 1066, Harold Godwinson {King Harold II} of England attacked a force of Norwegians led by King Harald Hardrada, who were intent on taking the English throne.  The invaders had been joined by the English king’s disaffected brother, Tostig Godwinson.

It seems that the Norwegians were taken completely by surprise and massacred in what has become known as the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’: the English killed approximately 8000 men including Tostig.  The exact location of the decisive conflict has not been established: indeed it remains the subject of much debate.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported that 300 ships had brought the foreigners to England but only 24 were required to carry the survivors home.  This battle was hugely significant because it detained King Harold in the north of England, which enabled Duke William of Normandy to land unopposed on the south coast at Pevensey Bay in Sussex.

It is worth noting that the Norwegian’s King Hardrada, was perhaps the most infamous and feared warrior of his day: the Anglo-Saxons’ victory says much about their ferocity and capabilities.  The Battle of Hastings followed just over 2 weeks later, after the Anglo-Saxons had completed a remarkable forced march over 200 miles to confront the Norman invasion force; one wonders how things might have turned out if they had been fresh, when they faced Duke William ‘The Conqueror’….

The Yorkshire monument to the Battle of Stamford Bridge

The Yorkshire monument to the Battle of Stamford Bridge