Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, like William of Normandy, believed that the English throne should be his, not Harold Godwineson’s.
Background to Hardrada’s claim:
Edward the Confessor, who had died childless in January 1066, had seized the English throne back from the Norwegian Harthacnut in 1042. Harthacnut was the son of the Viking King Cnut who had ruled England from 1016 – 1035.
Hardrada claimed that Harthacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus of Norway. Magnus was an old King and had chosen not fight Edward the Confessor for the throne.
Harald Hardrada succeeded King Magnus to the throne of Norway and when Edward the Confessor died he decided to take the English throne for himself.
Hardrada began planning his invasion.
September 20th 1066 – Battle of Fulford
Harald Hardrada, with a fleet of more than 300 ships, and the support of Harold Godwineson’s brother Tostig, sailed up the river Humber and landed just south of York.
Two powerful Earls in the north, Edwin and Morcar, hurriedly mustered an army.
They were heavily beaten by the invaders.
Harold Godwineson’s Problem
Harold Godwineson knew that if Hardrada were to be defeated he had to take his army north to fight him off.
However, Harold was also aware that William of Normandy’s invasion force was ready and would sail as soon as the wind changed. If he marched north he would have to leave the south coast unprotected and his army would be forced to march hundreds of miles north, fight a battle, then march back to the south coast and the possibility of another battle.
25th September 1066 – Battle of Stamford Bridge
Godwineson decided to march north and fight off the Norwegians. He believed that he could reach the north, defeat the Norwegians and return back south before the wind changed.
After a rapid march north, Godwineson’s army caught the Norwegians by surprise at Stamford Bridge. The result was a firm victory for the English.
Both Harald and Godwineson’s brother, Tostig were dead as were hundreds of Norwegian soldiers.
Godwineson ordered a huge banquet to be held at York to celebrate the victory.
However, the celebrations were cut short when news reached Godwineson that William of Normandy had landed on the South Coast.
This post is part of our larger educational resource on the Normans. Click here for our comprehensive post on the Normans and their history, culture, and biographies of monarchs.