From Heimskringla Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #15b

Originally written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. English translation by Samuel Laing (London, 1844).

The versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chrinicles

The 4 entries covering 1066

 

Author's comment

87. King Harald now went on the land, and drew up his men. The one arm of this line stood at the outer edge of the river, the other turned up towards the land along a ditch; and there was also a morass, deep, broad, and full of water.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle conflated by Anne Savage (PaperMac)

King Harold met him (Tostig) there (Scotland) with 300 ships, and Tostig bowed to him and became his man. They both went up into the Humber until they came to York, and fought with them there, eorl Edwin and eorl Moekere his brother; but the Norwegians had the victory

 

The river Ouse was one flank and there was a marshy on the other with a ditch or dyke dividing the forces

The earls let their army proceed slowly down along the ditch, with all their troops in line. The king's banner was next the river, where the line was thickest. It was thinnest at the ditch, where also the weakest of the men were.

   

Morcar and Edwin's troops line out along their bank of the ditch. The line was thin as there was little firm ground. The ground on the other bank was marshy and did not provide a suitable place to attack so the best troops were not deployed here.

When the earls advanced downwards along the ditch, the arm of the Northmen's line which was at the ditch gave way; and the Englishmen followed, thinking the Northmen would fly. The banner of Earl Morukare advanced then bravely.

Karl G. Johansson, who has made the most recent translation of Snorre's Heimskringla, says that Snorre used the word dki which has the equivalents of both Swedish dike (ditch; dike) and Swedish krr; sumpmark (marsh; swamp; fen).  

Morcar makes progress near the ford. One translation indicates that he thought they were fleeing - a theme repeated at Stamford Bridge and Hastings.

88. When King Harald saw that the English array had come to the ditch against him, he ordered the charge to be sounded, and urged on his men. He ordered the banner which was called the Land-Ravager to be carried before him, and made so severe an assault that all had to give way before it;

Unknown translation of Snorri Sturluson's saga quoted in MAP desk study on Battle of Fulford (P 17)

..but when Harald saw his men retreating along the ditch, he ordered a war-blast to be blown and urged them on. He had the standard 'Landwaster' carried forward and made so hard an attack that all were driven back. Morcar's brother had had his standard brought along the river, downwards against the army of Harald, but when the King hardened his attack, the Jarl and his men fled along the river.

 

This looks like a planned counter attack against Edwin's force alongside the river Ouse.

and there was a great loss among the men of the earls, and they soon broke into flight, some running up the river, some down, and the most leaping into the ditch, which was so filled with dead that the Norsemen could go dry-foot over the fen. There Earl Morukare fell.

This song was composed by Stein Herdison about Olaf, son of King Harald

"The gallant Harald drove along,

Flying but fighting, the whole throng.

At last, confused, they could not fight,

And the whole body took to flight.

Up from the river's silent stream

At once rose desperate splash and scream;

But they who stood like men this fray

Round Morukare's body lay."

 

Earl Morcar was probably not killed as Simeon of Durham records him as a fellow resistance leader working with Hereward to resist the Normans.

From Heimskringla Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #15b

Originally written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. English translation by Samuel Laing (London, 1844).

 

From Symeon of Durham quoted in 'Sources of York History to D 1100 Vol 1' by D W Rollason, published by York Archeological Trust.

Author's comment based on the suggested site of the battle along Germany Beck.

87. King Harald now went on the land, and drew up his men. The one arm of this line stood at the outer edge of the river, the other turned up towards the land along a ditch; and there was also a morass, deep, broad, and full of water.

   

At Germany Beck , the river Ouse was on one flank and there is a marsh area on the other . The Beck itself provides a ditch or dyke dividing the forces. All these features were very similar 1000 years ago.

The earls let their army proceed slowly down along the ditch, with all their troops in line. The king's banner was next the river, where the line was thickest. It was thinnest at the ditch, where also the weakest of the men were.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle conflated by Anne Savage (PaperMac)

King Harold met him (Tostig) there (Scotland) with 300 ships, and Tostig bowed to him and became his man. They both went up into the Humber until they came to York, and fought with them there, eorl Edwin and eorl Moekere his brother; but the Norwegians had the victory

 

Morcar and Edwin's troops would line along the York side of the ditch. The line was thin as there was little firm ground. The ground on the other bank also marshy and could not provide a suitable place to attack so the best troops were not deployed here. The modern ground confirms that both armies would have placed most troops on the flanks.

When the earls advanced downwards along the ditch, the arm of the Northmen's line which was at the ditch gave way; and the Englishmen followed, thinking the Northmen would fly. The banner of Earl Morukare advanced then bravely.

 

.

Morcar makes progress near the ford. This terrain has been altered with some infill so it is no longer waterlogged. One translation indicates that he thought the Vikings were fleeing - a theme repeated at both Stamford Bridge and Hastings - It appears to be a tactic at the time and would have served Hardrada well.

88. When King Harald saw that the English array had come to the ditch

against him, he ordered the charge to be sounded, and urged on

his men. He ordered the banner which was called the Land-ravager

to be carried before him, and made so severe an assault that all

had to give way before it;

Unknown translation of Snorri Sturluson's saga quoted in MAP desk study on Battle of Fulford (P 17)

.. but when Harald saw his men retreating along the ditch, he ordered a war-blast to be blown and urged them on. He had the standard 'Landwaster' carried forward and made so hard an attack that all were driven back. Morcar's brother had had his standard brought along the river, downwards against the army of Harald, but when the King hardened his attack, the Jarl and his men fled along the river.

Thursday 20 September 1066 The Norwegian leader broke through the English resistance at the Battle of Fulford and advanced on York, where he negotiated with the citizens

Once Morcar was committed to the low ground Hardrada, a very experienced commander, made his move. This looks like a planned counter attack against Edwin's force alongside the river Ouse. The Vikings had the advantage of high ground and could have seen any weak points in the line. Edwin evidently was ready to meet this charge. It might be deduced that he was able to organise an orderly retreat because Hardrada had to 'negotiate with the citizens'.

and there was a great loss among the men of the earls, and they soon broke into flight, some running

up the river, some down, and the most leaping into the ditch,

which was so filled with dead that the Norsemen could go dry-foot

over the fen. There Earl Morukare fell.

This song was composed by Stein Herdison about Olaf, son of King Harald

"The gallant Harald drove along,

Flying but fighting, the whole throng.

At last, confused, they could not fight,

And the whole body took to flight.

Up from the river's silent stream

At once rose desperate splash and scream;

But they who stood like men this fray

Round Morukare's body lay."

1068 Orderic Vitalis Eclesiastical History book 4. Reports Edwin and Morcar submitting to William as he extended his castle building north.

Whether this was a rout or an orderly retreat is unclear from the narratives. The topography could have split the battle into 3 parts, 2 on the retreating flanks and one along and around the Beck.

Earl Morcar was probably not killed as Symeon of Durham also records him as a fellow resistance leader working with Hereward to resist the Normans and in 1068 the earls submitting to William.

Earl Valthiof, (Edwin) and the people who escaped, fled up to the castle of York; and there the greatest loss of men had been. This battle took place upon the Wednesday next Mathias.

"Harald's Stave" is another song covering the battle

"Earl Valthiof's men (Edwin)

Lay in the fen,

By sword down hewed,

So thickly strewed,

That Norsemen say

They paved a way

Across the fen

For the brave Norsemen."

 

The land would have allowed a small, motivated force to retire in good order. Losses would have been substantial in an open, mobile fight. Any English wounded would have been lost as the Vikings advanced, accounting for the reported loss. The small sample of skeletons have injuries which suggest 'less formalised fighting' and that the 'victims lying on the ground'. (YAT St Andrew Fishergate burials). The fate of those trapped in the Beck can be imagined from the present landscape.