The literary sources for Fulford

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Precedence among the sources must go to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC). Six major manuscripts and two fragments make up what we recognise collectively as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. (One of the manuscripts was severely damaged but happily not until some scholars had examined it.)

The provenance of the component parts of the ASC has some relevance to how their information should be interpreted. The chronicle contains manuscripts that are known by letters of the alphabet:

A. (The Parker MS aka ‘C.C.C. Cant173’ because of its location at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) It may have been written at Winchester where it was stored until the mid 11th century when it was moved to Christ Church, Canterbury. It is written by one hand until 891 and extends to 1093 but with no substantive entries after 1002. Later alterations and additions were made in the same hand as the F manuscript.

(B. Ends in 977.)

C. (The Cotton Tiberius Bi) The MS extends to 1066 and has been mutilated, suggesting some crude form of censorship.

Versions B and C survive as copies of lost documents which include the ‘Mercian Register’ covering the years 902 to 924.

D. (The Cotton Tiberius Biv) The text from the Mercian Register is also incorporated into this manuscript rather than keeping it as a separate narrative (as in B and C). D records more events that are relevant to northern England.

E. (The Laud Misc. 636) The manuscript from Peterborough is copied in one hand until 1121; the originals probably decayed and are lost. It has several additions of local events and was updated until 1154, making it the last of the surviving chronicles to be maintained. It is now located at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and is also known as the Abingdon Chronicle.

Versions D and E are often known as the "northern recession" because they incorporate more material of northern English history.

F. (The Cotton Domitian Aviii) An abridgement of Version E plus some material from Version A. Probably prepared in the late 11th or early 12th century.

G. (The Cotton Otho Bxi) It appears to be a copy of Version A and is a transcript made in the 15th/16th Century. It was almost destroyed by fire in 1731.

H. (Cotton Domitian) A fragment which covers the years 1113 and 1114.

Scholarship continues to shed light on the copying and provenance of the various copies. Each version tells the story in a different way so they are recognised as the work of independent scribes. They include events and material which are relevant to, and known, at the place where they were prepared. The regional nature of the way the chronicles were kept was possibly designed to ensure ‘national coverage’.

It was normal to make copies of the manuscripts when the original materials deteriorated. But scholars believe these were copies and not rewrites or indeed edits of the original. The original content is believed to be a near contemporaneous record of the limited range of events that were deemed relevant by the scribe and their master. The ASC is, without question, an invaluable historic record but it is, for the most part, a dull read.

The A and B Chronicles were either not maintained until 1066 or these sections have been lost. Consequently they have nothing to say about 1066 or the battle at Fulford. It is the chronicles written in the north that provide the story of 1066.


" . . and when his [Harold’s] fleet was gathered together, then went he into the Isle of Wight, and there lay all the summer and the harvest; and a land-force was kept everywhere by the sea, though in the end it was of no benefit. When it was the Nativity of St. Mary [8th September], then were the men’s provisions gone, and no man could any longer keep them there. Then were the men allowed to go home, and the king rode up, and the ships were dispatched to London; and many perished before they came thither. When the ships had reached home, then came King Harald from Norway, north into Tyne, and unawares, with a very large ship-force - no small one; it might be [text is corrupt but John of Worcester who copied this passage inserts the number 500], or more. And Tosty the earl came to him with all that he had gotten, all as they had before agreed; and then they went both, with all the fleet, along the Ouse, up towards York. Then was it made known to King Harold in the south, as he was come from on ship-board, that Harald King of Norway and Tosty the Earl were landed near York. Then went he [King Harold of England] northward, day and night, as quickly as he could gather his forces. Then, before that King Harold could come thither, then gathered Edwin the Earl and Morcar the Earl from their earldom as great a force as they could get together; and they fought against the army, and made great slaughter: And there was much of the English people slain, and drowned, and driven away in flight; and the Northmen had possession of the place of carnage. And this fight was on the vigil of St. Matthew the apostle, and it was Wednesday [20th September]. And then, after the fight, went Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl, into York, with as many people as seemed meet to them. And they delivered hostages to them from the city, and also assisted them with provisions; and so they went thence to their ships, and they agreed upon a full peace, so that they should all go with him south, and subdue this land. Then, during this, came Harold, King of the Angles, with all his forces, on the Sunday, to Tadcaster, and there drew up his force, and went then on Monday throughout York; and Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl, and their forces, were gone from their ships beyond York to Stamfordbridge, because it had been promised them for a certainty, that there, from all the shire, hostages should be brought to meet them. Then came Harold, King of the English, against them, unawares, beyond the bridge, and they there joined battle, and very strenuously, for a long time of the day, continued fighting: and there was Harald, King of Norway, and Tosty the Earl slain, and numberless of the people with them, as well of the Northmen as of the English: and the Northmen fled from the English. Then was there one of the Norwegians who withstood the English people, so that they might not pass over the bridge, nor obtain the victory. Then an Englishman aimed at him with a javelin, but availed nothing; and then came another under the bridge, and pierced him terribly inwards under the coat of mail. Then came Harold, king of the English, over the bridge, and his forces onward with him, and there made great slaughter, as well of Norwegians as of Flemings. And the King’s son, Hetmundus [Olaf], Harold let go home to Norway, with all the ships."

This translation retains the note-taking, almost breathless, style of the original. Modern translations are easier to read because they adjust the word order to suit the way English is written and spoken today. But a part of the exercise, which is not documented here, was to compare available versions as the sense can be changed when the language is modernised.


"And the while, came Tosty the earl into Humber with sixty ships. Edwin the earl came with a land-force and drove him out; and the boatmen deserted him. And he went to Scotland with twelve small vessels; and Harald, the King of Norway, met him with three hundred ships, and Tosty submitted to him; and they both went into Humber, until they came to York. And Morcar the earl, and Edwin the earl, fought against them; and the king of the Norwegians had the victory. And it was made known to King Harold how it there was done, and had happened; and it happened on the Vigil of St Matthew [20th September]:"


"[Tosty] went to Scotland with twelve small vessels and Harald, the Norse king, met him with three hundred ships, and Tosty submitted to him; and both went up the Humber until they reached York. And Earl Morcar and Earl Edwin fought against them and the king of Norway had the victory."

The absence of any mention of the battle at Fulford in the southern chronicles, as opposed to the northern chronicles, might indicate that the southerners were either unaware of the northern events or did not feel it was part of their mandate to record both battles ‘up north’. Both D & E relate versions of the Stamford Bridge battle. Perhaps the northern events were not seen as relevant, given what followed at Hastings. It might represent an act of censorship but there is no evidence at all for this.

We know nothing about whatever ‘civil service’ existed at the time. So we cannot know for sure if the remit of the scribes was to record regal and regional events or if their local emphasis was because they were only aware of regional news. If the former assumption is correct, then there is nothing sinister in the failure of the A version to mention the first of the battles of 1066. Indeed it would make them paradigms as chroniclers if they were not recording hearsay, but only events of which they, or their masters, had personal knowledge.

The ASC is not a daily diary. The events of a single year are normally compacted into a few words and many years have no entry. Version A has a single line for 1043, another for 1050. There appears to be nothing for these chroniclers to report in 1060 or 1064. What was recorded for the year 1066 is wordy by the frugal standards of these chroniclers. Fortunately, they provided a framework for subsequent historians who expanded the chronicles in later work. Happily, the style changed after 1066 and they become more informative.

The work of Ian Howard and others has shown that care must be exercised when assessing some dates as some of the early annalists took September as the start of the year. News of the northern events could have reached them before they made their record. He has also highlighted the geographical bias and some instances of what we would now recognise as political spin within the ASC.

Naming the battle

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle provides names for York (C, D, E), Stamford Bridge (C, E) and Hastings (D) as sites of battles. The naming of the latter two places might account for their adoption as the popular names for the battles of 1066. But if one follows this hypothesis, the first battle of 1066 should be called the battle of York.

The authority of the ASC does not explain why York was omitted from the popular memory as the first name for this trilogy of battles since York is mentioned by three chroniclers. We must look for another explanation to explain why York is not recognised as the name of the first battle of 1066.

Stamford Bridge was, according to one chronicler(C), a battle of several parts with Stamford Bridge providing the location of the opening stage. References to Battle Bridge are common in the later literature and there is still much work to be done in order to localise the fight that followed Fulford. Norse chronicles, for example, call Fulford the ‘battle at the Humber’.

Hastings is recognised as the operating base for the Normans and historians all agree that the battle took place some 10 km away on Senlac ridge, which is now know as Battle, and is the site of William’s Abbey. But historians were already referring to the battle of Hastings in the century after the battle and that has been the name accepted ever since.

It will be argued later that the place we know as Fulford evolved after the battle and refers to an extensive area; so little significance can be attributed to the omission of the name of Fulford from the ASC. There is also much fascinating, cultural archaeology to be done to explain why and when battles adopted their popular names. It must also be the work of others to explain why popular history has generally overlooked the first of the battles of 1066.

The Chronicle provides a good starting point because it give us the name for the participants, a date and name, York, as the general location for the battle. Part of the value of these chronicles is the use that was made of them by the later historians who were sometimes able to add information. Martin Brett and Ann Williams have documented the research and intellectual exchange taking place before and after 1066 and suggest ‘..the circulation of draft annals..’ between Canterbury and Worcester.

Symeon of Durham

Symeon, writing at the end of the 11th century, mentions the name Fulford. He is one of only two among the ancient chroniclers to name the battlesite as Fulford. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the region, Durham is the nearest Episcopal See north of York. So Symeon could be said to be a ‘local boy’. This could explain why he was able to add some details to the earlier accounts. This also supports the earlier suggestion that the chroniclers, and the subsequent historians of the 11th century events, have left us accounts which have a parochial bias. There is nothing to link him with the work in the southern monasteries.

"Earl Tosti with his fleet ….and with a quick voyage they entered the mouth of the river Humber and so sailing up the Ouse they landed at a place called Richale, and took York after a hard struggle. The Brother earls Edwin and Morkar with a large army, joined battle with the Norwegians at Fulford, near York, on the northern bank of the river Ouse and at the first onset of the fight they overthrew many; but after a long continuance of the contest, the Angles, unable to resist the force of the Norwegians, turned their backs not without some loss of their men and many more of them were drowned in the river than fell in the field. The Norwegians were masters of the field of slaughter…"

The Latin words translated as ‘joined battle with the Norwegians at Fulford, near York, on the northern bank of the river Ouse’ is expressed as:

‘in boreali ripa usae fluminis juxta Eboracum apud Fuleford cum Norreganis praelium…’

The word apud is translated as meaning ‘with, at or near’. However, it might be safer to say that apud expresses the idea of ‘nearness’ to Fulford. Juxta translates easily as ‘close to’, so Symeon was relating that the battle with the Norwegian took place close to York and near Fulford and on the north bank of the river Ouse.

While it is convenient to translate this sentence as the first record of Fulford as the place of the battle we know little about the settlement or place called Fulford before 1066 (The location of the place we know as Fulford is explored in chapter 3). The name that Symeon identifies as the location of the battle is extensive but there is little evidence that the landscsape had changed much by the time he was writing his Historia about 50 years after the battle.

Mention of the ‘northern bank of the river Ouse’ is ambiguous. South of York there is no northern bank of the Ouse. The Ouse runs roughly north-south below York until it is deflected by the moraine at Fulford towards the west. The river then follows the underlying geology of the moraine until it reaches Riccall when the north-south route is resumed. It is therefore impossible to place a battle south of York and also on the north bank of the Ouse. This assertion is fully discussed in the chapter looking at alternative locations for the battle.

Germany Beck, on the other hand, runs east to west so this reference could refer to the English army on the north bank of the Beck. A feasible interpretation of ‘the northern bank’ is that the Beck could have been seen as a tributary of the Ouse. A visitor might easily interpret the Beck at Fulford as a watershed with the Ouse. While this is wrong, since Germany Beck is a tributary that flows into the Ouse, with the benefit of OS mapping and compasses, I respectfully suggest that the ancient chroniclers made a technical error in naming the location as the northern bank of the river Ouse.

Geoffrey Gaimar

Three of the surviving four manuscripts of Gaimar’s history were lodged in Durham, Lincoln and Peterborough. These locations might be significant because the texts add local information to some parts of our story and these details are not related elsewhere.

Gaimar follows the C version of the ASC but adds that the Norse fleet consisted of 460 or 470 vessels depending upon the copy consulted. He also mentions a landing at St Wilfrid’s, presumably when the tide turned as the Norse invasion fleet made its way up the river Humber. He also goes on to name Fuleford as the place of the battle.

The place name of Fuleford matches the name used in the Domesday survey although spelling consistency was not an issue until recent centuries. Gaimar refers to the English as Engeleis, Engelis and Engeles in his Norman-French history.

Lines 5199 to 5222 from L’Estoire des Engles.

"Tant ont parlé, il e Tosti, Chescon à l’altre ad sa fei plevi, De quanque ensemble conquerant, Tut hovelement le partirunt. Ore volent primes par lur guerre Entr’els partir tut Engletere. II dui eurent navire grant, Quatre cent nefs, setante avant. Tant ont nagé, e tant siglé, K’el flum de Humbre sunt entré, De Humbre eu Use en sunt venuz, A saint Wlfrei des nefs eissuz. Lendemain vindrent dreit siglant A Everwich à l’avesprant. Mais les dous contes asemblerent ; De seit contez la gent menerent ; A Fuleford se combatirent, Norreis idonc le champ ienquircnt ; Mais d’ambes parz out grant occise. Puis ont Norreis la terre prise; Tut cel pais vont purpcrnant, E les preies mult deschascant. Ki ço ne seit, isci s’en remembre, Duszejurs fu dedenz Septembre."

Pending a good translation of Gaimar, this is a crude attempt which makes no effort to follow the original metrical format, but only to capture the historical content of his History of the English.

"Earl Edwin with a great army came quickly into Lindsay and afterwards defended this place from them but they had already done much damage in it. Earl Morcar on the other side [of the Humber] defended his land. Tostig was upon the Humber near the sea on which Morcar had forbidden the arrival of the Flemish.

"When they saw him [Morcar] they stole away and failed to fight. They returned to their own country laden with the plunder of the unfortunate English. Tostig turned from those who went away. Afterwards he went to Scotland to Malcolm who received him. Malcolm presented him with fine gifts.

"The King of Norway arrived with a great fleet and Tostig allied himself with Harald ‘Halflage’ [Fairhair] which was the name of the Dane and joined him. They had spoken so much together that each pledged to the other that whatever they conquered they would divide all equally. They wished by their attack to divide all England between them. The two had a great fleet of 400 ships and sailed forward.

"They steered and sailed a great way until they entered the river Humber. From the Humber they went to the Ouse and disembarked at St Wilfrid’s. On the morrow they set sail for York and arrived there in the evening. But the two earls met with all the people of six ‘counties’ at Fulford. The Norwegians were masters of the field but on both sides there were many killed.

"Afterwards the Norwegians took the land. They desolated all the territory and seized many spoils. Whoever does not know, let him remember that it was 12 days within September."

Gaimar’s chronicle continues:

"Five days later, King Harold came. He fought with the Norwegians. This was Harold the son of Godwin who gave a beating to the Norwegians. This was at Battlebridge where he caught the Norwegians carrying off cattle. King Harold pursued them; he fought fiercely and the other Harald he killed in the field, also Tostig. He had the victory over the Danes and the people of the South seemed to glory.

"But one could not count half of those killed in the field. All their ships and their goods King Harold caused to be seized. The son of this Norwegian king was found there and was brought to King Harold. He begged for mercy and promised tribute. Harold received his submission and he took goods and valued hostages then let them depart. With ships they sailed [?] until they arrived at the sea.

"Five days later, the French arrived with at least 11,000 ships at Hastings. They build a castle beside the sea. When King Harold heard of it he entrusted the Archbishop Eldred with the great treasure and goods that he had conquered from the Norwegians. He then left there and went to levy his force in the South.

"He assembled them in five days. But he could not collect many because of the great number of people who were killed when God did justice to the Norwegians. He went to Sussex and brought what people he could with him. His two brothers assembled their followers. They went with him to give battle to the people from beyond the sea. One was Gyrth and the other Leofwine."

His history was written in rhyming couplets about 1140. Gaimar’s origins are a matter of speculation. His name is Germanic but scholars say the style of his language suggests a Provencal connection. Gaimar was a writer and translator, rather than a historian, but his willingness to include older oral sources should not lead us to dismiss the detailed story that he tells us about Fulford.

Some of the stories he includes are of Norse origin. His familiarity with these stories has led scholars to speculate about his background and might explain why he was a linguist. He was employed to translate the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the benefit of Normans, which accounts for his access to these documents that we believe were maintained in monastic buildings.

His translations were probably done after all of the sources quoted below so it is very doubtful if any of his work could have influenced them, especially providing the location. However, the early decades of the 12th century produced a remarkable number of historians.

John of Worcester aka Florence of Worcester

John was a monk based in Worcester who died circa 1140 when his chronicle also ends. John is now accepted as the author of the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ or Universal Chronicle. The work was formerly attributed to a monk who was known as ‘Florence of Worcester’. But Orderic Vitalis records ‘John’ as the scribe when he visited Worcester circa 1124. This does not prove that others did not work in compiling the chronicle but modern scholarship favours John as the primary author.

Like all historians, the chroniclers of the time were relying on other sources including perhaps a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other documents. We suspect this because William of Malmesbury includes some similar material for which the source cannot be identified. Some of the leaves were removed from ASC D and remained at Worcester but were later restored; scholars believe that this was a source for some of John’s writing.

If something is not mentioned by near-contemporary chroniclers, the challenge for scholars is to investigate the possible explanation for the omission. Equally, if one writer introduces a story, which later historians have repeated, we should recognise the possibility that the story is hearsay or fiction. This uncharitable view is not taken here. The chroniclers might be accused of occasionally providing some favourable spin, especially on ecclesiastical matters, but the evidence is that they were slaves to the available written records. Therefore John’s record of the battle should be taken seriously.

"1066. …. On Thursday the eve of our Lord’s Epiphany, in the Fourth Indiction, the pride of the English, the pacific king, Edward, son of King Ethelred, died at London, having reigned over the English twenty-three years six months and seven days. The next day he was buried in kingly style amid the bitter lamentations of all present. After his burial the under-king, Harold, son of Earl Godwine, whom the king had nominated as his successor, was chosen king by the chief magnates of all England; and on the same day Harold was crowned with great ceremony by Aldred, archbishop of York.

"On taking the helm of the kingdom Harold immediately began to abolish unjust laws and to make good ones; to patronize churches and monasteries; to pay particular reverence to bishops, abbots, monks and clerks; and to show himself pious, humble and affable to all good men. But he treated malefactors with great severity, and gave general orders to his earls, ealdormen, sheriffs and thegns to imprison all thieves, robbers and disturbers of the kingdom. He laboured in his own person by sea and by land for the protection of the kingdom. On 24 April in this year a comet was seen not only in England but, it is said, all over the world, and it shone for seven days with an exceeding brightness.

"Shortly afterwards Earl Tosti returned from Flanders and landed in the Isle of Wight, after making the islanders pay tribute he departed and went pillaging along the sea-coast until he came to Sandwich. As soon as King Harold who was then at London heard this, he assembled a large fleet and a contingent of horsemen, and prepared himself to go to Sandwich. Tosti, learning of this, took some of the shipmen of that place (whether willing or unwilling) and set his course towards Lindsey [North Lincolnshire], where he burnt many villages and put many men to death.

"Thereupon, Edwin, earl of the Mercians, and Morcar, earl of the Northumbrians, hastened up with an army and expelled them from that part of the country. Afterwards he [Tosti] went to Malcolm, king of Scots, and remained with him during the whole of the summer. Meanwhile, King Harold arrived at Sandwich and waited there for his fleet. When it was assembled, he crossed over with it to the Isle of Wight, and, inasmuch as William, count of the Normans, was preparing to invade England with an army, he watched all the summer and autumn for his coming. In addition he distributed a land-force at suitable points along the sea-coast. But about the Feast of the Nativity of St. Mary [8 September in 1066] provisions fell short so that the naval and land forces returned home. After this Harold Fairhair [Hardrada], king of the Norwegians and [half] brother of St. Olaf, the king, arrived unexpectedly at the mouth of the river Tyne with an extremely powerful fleet of more than five hundred great ships.

"Earl Tosti, according to previous arrangement, joined him with his fleet and, on a swift course, they entered the mouth of the river Humber and sailing up the Ouse against the stream landed at Richale. On hearing of this, King Harold marched with speed towards Northumbria. But before his arrival the two brother-earls, Edwin and Morcar, at the head of a large army fought a battle with the Norwegians on the northern bank of the river Ouse near York [in boreali ripa Vse fluminin juxta Eboracum] which was the vigil of the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle on [Wednesday 20 September in 1066] and fighting manfully at the start that many enemy were overthrown. After a long contest the English were unable to withstand the attacks of the Norwegians and not without some small loss they turned to flee and many more were drowned in the river than fell in battle. The Norwegians remained masters of the place of carnage, and having taken one hundred and fifty hostages from York and left there the same number of their own men as hostages and returned to their ships."

This is the second mention of the ‘northern bank of the river Ouse’ in the surviving histories and follows Symeon’s information, although John does not record the source of this information. Worcester was, in 11th century terms, a long way from York. But there were ecclesiastical connections which might explain why the two authors record that Riccall was the landing place for the invading fleet and also place the battle on the northern bank. Conversely, John does not follow Symeon in naming Fulford.

Symeon was writing at least a decade before John took up his quill in the more distant Worcester, so John could have copied some information from Symeon. John’s Chronicle also has Harold arriving ‘with many thousands of well armed men’ in York on Monday en route to Stamford Bridge which matches Symeon.

Orderic Vitalis

Orderic was born near Shrewsbury in 1075 of Anglo-Norman parents. He was sent at the age of 10 to the monastery of St Evroul. "So, weeping, he gave me, a weeping child, into the care of the monk Reginald, and sent me away into exile for love of thee, and never saw me again."

Orderic had the benefit of seeing many of the writings such as those at Worcester and was already writing by 1109 Indeed Orderic praises the work of John of Worcester in book III of his own history. Orderic died in 1142. Since the narrative of the Conquest is set down in book three of his Ecclesiastical History, by looking at his lifelong corpus, we can estimate that he was writing within 50 years about the events of 1066 making him one of the first historian-chroniclers of the events of 1066.

Orderic visited Worcester in 1137 by which time he had probably recorded the events of 1066. His visit would have provided a limited opportunity to pick up gossip and Orderic was a shrewd commentator on the events of his own time which covered the rise to supremacy of the Normans in all parts of his native land which, as a patriot, he does not always review with favour.

There is no indication that Orderic Vitalis was aware of the battle at Fulford. The battle at Fulford is not mentioned in any of his writings. However he does mention of the bones that marked the site of the Stamford Bridge battle. This suggests that he was willing to rely on the reports of others because he never journeyed north.

Orderic records the Norse invasion in another of his later works so the omission of any mention of Fulford is puzzling. It fits the pattern of chroniclers recording events where they could have some local knowledge although we have observed that he also included hearsay. The omission might be taken to suggest that 80 years after the battle, Fulford was already a marginal memory.

There are also some inconsistencies in his recording of the northern events. He repeats the identity of the king of Norway as ‘Fairhair’. Perhaps he did not expect his patrons or superiors to study this portion of his work with great care so he simply copied what other texts had reported.

This is what Orderic writes about 1066:

"In the month of August, Harald, king of Norway, and Tostig, with a powerful fleet set sail over the wide sea, and, steering for England with a favourable aparctic [north] wind, landed in Yorkshire, which was the first object of their invasion. Meanwhile, Harold of England, having intelligence of the descent of the Norwegians, withdrew his ships and troops from Hastings and Pevensey, and the other seaports on the coast lying opposite to Neustria [Normandy], which he had carefully guarded with a powerful armament during the whole of the year, and threw himself unexpectedly, with a strong force by hasty marches on his enemies from the north. A hard-fought battle ensued, in which there was great effusion of blood on both sides, vast numbers being slain with brutal rage. At last the furious attacks of the English secured them the victory, and the king of Norway as well as Tostig, with their whole army, were slain. The field of battle may be easily discovered by travellers, as great heaps of the bones of the slain lie there to this day, memorials of the prodigious numbers which fell on both sides."

The term ‘aparctic’ derives from Byzantine references to the north and more specifically the islands at the northern extremity of the British Isles.

In the autumn, clear, cold arctic air does often bring clear weather to northern England. Such a wind would have favoured the journey south and made the departure point of The Solunds a sensible one. This pattern of the weather for early autumn persists in Yorkshire and has been noted by several farmers who have joined the walks around the battlesite in recent years.

From Gesta Normanorum Ducum:

"32 Furthermore, the duke sent earl Tostig to England, but Harold’s fleet forcefully drove him away, so Tostig, prevented from entering England safely or returning to Normandy because of contrary wind, went instead to king Harold Fairhair of Norway and begged him for support as a suppliant. The king granted Tostig’s request with pleasure….

"34 …Harold was involved in a war against his brother Tostig in which he slew his own brother as well as king Harald of Norway who had come in support of Tostig."

This passage has Duke William as the commander and suggests that Tostig planned to return to his master in Normandy but ended up in Norway because of the winds. In practical terms, such a gross failure of navigation is not credible. Attributing Tostig’s actions to the wind might be interpreted as a part of some divine plan and maintains the Dukes of Normandy as the prime mover of the events of 1066.

From Orderic we also get the story of King Harold’s decision to go to confront William:

"Harold soon forgot the joy of his fatal victory in the face of grave danger, and had only a little space to feel proud and safe after his fratricide; for a messenger came bearing the news of the Norman landing. As soon as he learned that the Normans had invaded England he made haste to prepare himself for a fight to the death. For he was a brave and valiant man, strong and handsome, pleasant in speech and a good friend to his own followers.

"However, his mother Gytha, already filled with mourning at the death of her son Tostig and other good friends of his, tried to dissuade him from war; and Earl Gyrth his brother spoke these words,

" ‘My dearest brother and lord, you should let discretion temper your valour. You have just returned worn out after the war against the Norwegians; are you now hastening to fight once more against the Normans? Rest I beg you. You ought to give careful thought to the oath you have taken to the duke of Normandy. Take care that you do not commit perjury, and by this crime destroy the flower of our people with yourself and bring the shame on all our posterity. I have taken no oath and owe nothing to Count William; therefore I can boldly join combat with him for my native soil. But you, my brother, should wait peacefully wherever you like for the outcome of this war, lest the fair freedom of the English should perish through your destruction.’

"On hearing these words Harold flew into a violent rage. He rejected the counsel that seemed wise to his friends, answered his brother who was advising him for the best with reproofs, and when his mother clung to him to hold him back, insolently spurned her with his foot. Then for six days he sent far and wide to summon the populace to war, gathering a huge multitude of Englishmen around him, and hastened to battle against the enemy."

He gives us the name Senlac (Sandlacu - Sand stream) as the place of the subsequent battle. In 1068 he reports Edwin and Morcar submitting to William as the latter extended his castle building north.

William of Malmesbury

William was born about the year 1090(±5) in Wiltshire. Like Orderic Vitalis, his father was Norman and his mother English. He spent his whole life in England with his most productive working years as a monk at Malmesbury Abbey. He is a southern chronicler and died about 1143, among the last of the ‘conquest’ historians whose works have survived for us to study.

He records that ‘Edwin and Morcar, two brothers who used their power as one...’ and vigorously drove Tostig out in the summer of 1066. But deals with Fulford with the words, ‘they [the joint armies of Harald and Tostig] attacked, defeated and besieged in York’.

William of Malmesbury is keen to record how good his library of material is. In his prologue to Gesta Regum Angulorum he discusses his education:

"… in particular I studied history which adds flavour to moral instruction by imparting a pleasurable knowledge of past events, spurring the reader by the accumulation of examples to follow the good and shun the bad".

The task of recording events was taken seriously. So once an error, such as the identification of the Norwegian king as Harald Fairhair, had been recorded, it was probably reiterated by other historians. Harald Fairhair [Harfagri] ruled Norway from 880 to 930 and was unknown to English history having only ventured once to the Orkney Islands, while the Harald who we know as Hardrada should be recognised as the king of Norway throughout this narrative. As we shall see later, Harald Hardrada has only a walk-on part in the bigger story of the English. His invasion lasted just one week. But the confusion over the nicknames applied to Norse kings has no definitive explanation.

I take two lessons from this. The first is that the writers had faith in the accuracy of their sources. My second conclusion is that these errors enhance the credibility of the sources since the historians had evidently set out to make an accurate record of the recorded ‘facts’ and did not seek to amend them without offering some explanation.

So when the historian, William, includes material that is not part of the recognised texts, I assume that he is clear about its provenance and so does not deny us access to knowledge gained or the received wisdom of the generation that followed the conquest. Speaking of the capture and blinding of Alfred, Edward ‘The Confessor’s’ brother:

"…nine-tenths of his companions having been beheaded, for the lot saved every tenth man from death. This I have not omitted, because it is a well-known story; but, since the Chronicle is silent, I do not affirm it as certain."

William was not a story-teller but was a good political commentator. His views were those of the Church, the establishment and the English. He is harsh in his views about all matters ‘Danish’ and sees the judgment of the divine in all failed enterprises and he is my favourite recorder of the medieval history, although he did have some near-contemporary detractors of his habit of expressing some personal views.

In his work on the English bishops, William of Malmesbury displays a fluency in capturing the machinations and personalities of that era. He provides a wonderful insight into the people as well as the events. We hear how Archbishop Anselm;

"…could not hold to the direct route home’ after a Papal Council because ‘Wibert had sent an artist to Rome to paint a picture of him [which was then used by those searching in order to detain Anselm] so that however he disguised himself he could not hope to avoid detection."

Is this the earliest recorded use of a ‘Wanted’ poster?

Henry of Huntingdon

The Historia Angulorum (History of the English) was written between 1133 and 1154. Henry lived to be 80 years and was about 40 before he began his history. This makes him probably the last of the recognised historians of 1066. Henry has earned a reputation as a good historian.

The one short note that Henry makes about Fulford suggests that he had passed through the site of the battle: ‘The site of the battle is still pointed out on the south side of the city.’

His note confirms that the location of the battle to the south of York was known and his use of the word ‘still’ suggests that this was topical when the words were written perhaps 80 years after the battle.

This also suggests that he could have passed through the site, perhaps on a journey from Lincoln sometime between 1095 and 1110. Ermine Street links Huntingdon to Lincoln and on to the south bank of the Humber. The roads south of York have not been determined. Some of the potential routes would require a short detour to pass though Fulford but when Henry VIII entered York via Fulford, the York burghers made their obeisance to him at Fulford Cross so it was obviously an established route from the south by then. So do the words, ‘pointed out’ imply that this was known to him because it was an early visitor attraction?

He does not say that he visited the site and it is unlikely that he would have seen any physical evidence since he could not have passed through the site until at least 30 years had elapsed since the battle. Roman historians tell us that just 6 years after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, with a similar climatic regime, little remained of the 3 legions that had been slaughtered there.

There is an interesting contrast with the record made by Orderic Vitalis where he records that the site of Stamford Bridge was ‘easily discovered by travellers, as great heaps of the bones of the slain lie there to this day...’

There is no suggestion that Orderic ever travelled north but, unlike Henry, Orderic could have been writing when there was still a living memory of the battle. So both Henry and Orderic might have been reporting what they had been told by people they took to be credible witnesses even though their claims fail the ‘eye-witness test’.

Abandoning the bodies to wildlife and the elements was not unknown, as William of Poitiers suggests after Hastings, although Duke William arranged an ‘honourable interment’ for his own men:

"It would have been just if wolves and vultures had devoured the flesh of these English who had rightly incurred their doom, and if the fields had received their unburied bones. But such a fate seemed cruel to the Duke and he allowed all who wished to do so to collect the bodies for burial."

There is a further discussion of the survival of mortal remains in a later chapter and other evidence suggests that the Stamford Bridge site was cleared in the years after the battle.


The work of Eadmer is included, although he does not mention Fulford, because he was arguably the first English historian since Bede and was writing before any of those quoted above, except the ASC. Canterbury was his base although he is also know to be closely linked to the religious house at Worcester and was possibly inspired by the fiery Bishop Wulfstan to write his history.

Eadmer might deserve the title of historian, rather than biographer or commentator, because of the preface to his history where he writes:

"What an inestimable benefit have they conferred on posterity who with an eye to the good of future generations have committed to writing a record of events of their own times. This is the conclusion which seems to be borne in upon me when I note how men of the present day under stress of difficulties of one kind or another search labouriously into the doings of their predecessors, anxious to find there a source of comfort and strength and yet, because of the scarcity of written documents which has resulted in the events being all too quickly buried in oblivion, they cannot for all their pains succeed in doing so as they would wish.

"I cannot doubt that those who have composed such records, provided they have laboured with a good motive, will receive from God a good reward.

"Accordingly, having this consideration in mind I have determined, while aiming at brevity, to set down in writing the things which I have seen with my own eyes and myself heard. This I do both to comply with the wishes of my friends who strongly urge me to do so and at the same time to render some slight service to the researchers of those who come after me if they should chance to find themselves involved in any crisis in which the events which I record can in any respect afford a helpful precedent."

This passage provides a manifesto for all historians who advocate the role of the written record as a guide for future actions is expounded. However, it should be noted that Eadmer talks about writing ‘with a good motive’ rather than a strict adherence to the facts. Eadmer had a political agenda so we cannot regard him as a good historian. However, he makes some interesting contributions to our understanding of the events of 1066.

He was an Englishman, born a few years before 1066. He probably joined the monastic community of Christ Church at Canterbury while still a child so his reports from before the Conquest come from others. He remembered the church burning in 1067 and was an adolescent when Archbishop Lanfranc began to impose a more rigorous discipline on the community after 1070.

The English influence and language diminished in importance under Archbishop Lanfranc and Eadmer does not disguise the resentment he felt for the contempt that was shown towards the English religious traditions. During the time of Lanfranc, he felt it wise not to set down these observations until he attained the age and status of grumpy old man.

Eadmer wrote two works. One was his vivid ‘History of England’. The other was the ‘Life of Anselm’ where the developing conflict between the clerical and secular powers in England, that would culminate in the murder of Thomas á Becket a century after the Conquest, is catalogued.

Eadmer is also a partisan reporter of the dispute for primacy between Canterbury over the See of York. Eadmer was not the most accurate observer but was fiercely patriotic towards his England and loyal to Canterbury.

The arrival of Anselm from Bec in 1079 as his new abbot, when Eadmer was about 19, brought a liberal academic to Canterbury. Despite the disparity of age, Eadmer became a companion and eventually biographer of Archbishop Anselm, which put him close to one of the formative thinkers of the 11th century. When Anselm became Archbishop in 1093, Eadmer began his history. He attended Anselm until his mentor’s death in 1109. So Eadmer had access to the leaders of the land who had lived through the events of 1066 and is an invaluable commentator on the politics of post-conquest England.

In his History of recent events in England the Canterbury scribe records the following as a prelude to the events of 1066.

"Shortly after this Edward died and as he had before his death provided. Harold succeeded him to the throne. Thereupon there arrived in England a messenger from William asking for Harold’s sister in accordance with the agreement which had been made between them. He also reproached him for not having kept other promises in violation of his oath. To this Harald is said to have made the following reply, ‘My sister, whom according to a pact you ask for, is dead. If the Duke wishes to have her body, such as it is now is, I will send it that it may not be held to have violated my oath. As for the stronghold Dover and the well of water in it, I have completed that according to agreement although for whose use I cannot say. As for the kingdom which then was not yet mine, by what right could I give or promise it? It is about his daughter that he is concerned whom I ought, as he asserts, to take to be my wife, he must know I have no right to set any foreign woman upon the throne of England without having first consent of the Princes. Indeed I could not do so without committing a great wrong.’

"So the messenger returned home and reported these answers to his master. He, on hearing this reply sent a second time and, in all friendliness urged Harold, if he let the rest go, at any rate to keep his promise so far as to marry the Duke’s daughter and, if not, he could rest assured that the Duke would make good by force of arms his succession to the throne which had been promised him. Harold’s answer was that he would not do the one and did not fear the other."

Eadmar is also our source for the information that Wulfnoth, the youngest brother of Harold Godwinson, and Hakon, the son of Swein Godwinson, were delivered as hostages to live in Normandy with Duke William as their guardian. The giving of hostages was one of the conditions for the good conduct of the Godwinson family when they forced King Edward to accept their return in 1051. He also provides the narrative for Harold’s trip to Normandy in 1064 when it appears Harold went in spite of a warning from Edward who knew that William would try to entrap Harold with promises of power and position plus the marriage to one of his daughters. King Edward was evidently aware that William already had ambitions to take over England, perhaps because the former had earlier encouraged such thoughts in the mind of the latter.

Eadmer makes no mention of the northern campaign. This suggests, yet again, that the northern events were not a part of the oral history for those who lived in the south and the histories mentioned earlier had yet to be written. He was not a military historian and says little about the battle of Hastings. Eadmer was reporting events he thought relevant to the political struggle, especially between the secular powers and the churches in England and Rome, and deserves to become essential reading for aspiring European politicians.

The Life of King Edward (Vita Edwardi Regis)

This work is attributed to a monk of the Saint Bertin house in St Omar with Queen Edith Godwinson as the sponsor. The work is thought to have been written between 1065 and 1067 as a work of homage to the late King and the Godwinson family. It reads more like a diary than a work of history and says nothing directly about Fulford. One poetic section muses about the ‘River Ouse with corpses choked’ and a later passage implies knowledge of the battle we know as Stamford Bridge.

"And who will write that Humber, vast and swollen

With raging seas, where namesake kings had fought,

Has dyed the ocean waves for miles around

With Viking gore, while Heaven mourns the crime?"

Relevant passages are set in a context where sympathy is being expressed for Edith whose brothers, Harold and Tostig, were on opposite sides. With two of her brothers fighting each other, Queen Edith’s scribe decided to say nothing partisan. Sadly this potential source provides us no relevant, factual information about either northern battle.

However their sister does provide us with her assessment of the contrasting characters of Harold and Tostig. Since they are two of our key players, it is worth reporting here.

"And since the occasion offers, we wish, to the best of our small powers, to inform posterity about the life, character, and deeds of these two brothers. And we do not think our wish to do this unreasonable, both on account of the plan of the work, and also so that their posterity shall have models for imitation. Both had the advantage of distinctly handsome and graceful persons, similar in strength, as we gather; and both were equally brave.

"But the elder, Harold, was the taller, well practised in endless fatigues and doing without sleep and food, and endowed with mildness of temper and a more ready understanding. He could bear contradiction well, not readily revealing or retaliating ever, I think, on a fellow citizen or compatriot. With anyone he thought loyal he would sometimes share the plan of his project, sometimes defer this so long, some would judge - if one ought to say this - as to be hardly to his advantage. Indeed, the fault of rashness or levity is not one that anybody could charge against him, or Tostig, or any son born of Godwin, or anyone brought up under his rule or instruction.

"And Earl Tostig himself was endowed with very great and prudent restraint - although occasionally he was a little over-zealous in attacking evil - and with bold and inflexible constancy of mind. He would first ponder much and by himself the plans in his mind, and when he had ascertained by an appreciation of the matter the final issue, he would set them in order; and these he would not readily share with anyone. Also, sometimes he was so cautiously active that his action seemed to come before his planning; and this often enough was advantageous to him in the theatre of the world. When he gave, he was lavish with liberal bounty, and, urged by his religious wife, it was done more frequently in honour of Christ than for any fickle favour of men. In his word, deed, or promise he was distinguished by adamantine steadfastness. He renounced desire for all women except his wife of royal stock, and chastely, with restraint, and wisely he governed the use of his body and tongue. Both persevered with what they had begun; but Tostig vigorously, Harold prudently; the one in action aimed at success, the other also at happiness. Both at times so cleverly disguised their intentions that one who did not know them was in doubt what to think. And to sum up their characters for our readers, no age and no province has reared two mortals of such worth at the same time. The king appreciated this, and with them thus stationed in his kingdom, he lived all his life free from care on either flank, for the one drove back the foe from the south and the other scared them off from the north."

Anonymous sources

Three Lives of the last Englishmen contains a fantasy about Harold surviving the battle at Hastings and then going about doing good deeds.

The pious scribe of the tract about Wulfstan of Worcester seems to support the views expressed about the characters of Queen Edith’s brothers. But buried in the poor prose is also the Bishop’s tirade against long hair.

"Five years after the episcopacy had been conferred on Wulfstan, King Edward met his end, leaving England a monstrous seed-bed of discord, for on the one hand Harold, and on the other Duke William of Normandy, claimed it as of right. And then whether by good will or taken by force, Harold gained the crown and virtually the whole kingdom. Only the great and turbulent people of Northumbria were not prepared for the time being to submit. They declared that it wasn’t right for the bold north to submit to the soft south. Their desire for strong rule and their great courage were roused by the king’s own brother Tostig, a man of no ignoble spirit; he had chosen to apply his great ardour to the pursuit of peace. He was subsequently killed in that same province, together with Harold King of Norway whom he had brought in to help him and who suffered the penalty of his rashness. But this was later. At that time in fact Harold travelled there determined not to break their stubbornness with arms, but hoping that he might settle it by gentler remedies, bringing the saintly man with him. For the fame of his [Wulfstan’s] holiness had penetrated to even the most remote people, and it was believed that there was no arrogance he could not soften. Nor, in the event, was the opinion disappointed.

"For on account of the reverence in which the bishop was held, that race who could never be broken by force of arms, and so great-hearted from the time of their forefathers, readily conceded an oath of allegiance to Harold. And they would have maintained it, if Tostig, as I have said, had not turned them aside from it. Well, the bishop, good, mild and gentle though he was, did not indulge the sinners with soft words, however, but accused them of vices, grinding his teeth with threatening words. By way of prophecy, he announced to them frankly, if it carried on they would pay the penalty in suffering. Nor did his human wisdom or his gift for prophecy ever easily deceive him. Both on that journey and repeatedly on other occasions, he had foreknowledge of and gave forewarning of many things. He even openly called to Harold’s attention the calamity which would befall him and England, unless they took care to correct their evil ways. For almost everywhere in England at that time people lived an abandoned way of life and, with peace and abundance of pleasures, debauchery flourished. He attacked all who were depraved, especially those who let their hair grow long. If any of these yielded him his head, he would cut away the unrestrained locks with his own hand. For this purpose he had a little knife, with which he used to scrape muck from his nails or dirt off of books. Having thus culled the first-fruits of their locks, he would charge them of their obedience to even up the remainder of their tresses to match. If anyone thought to refuse he would openly accuse him of softness, openly warn him of misfortune. It would come to pass that those who were ashamed to be what they were born and imitated the flowing tresses of women, would prove no better than women in the defence of their homeland against foreigners. As much became evident with the coming of the Normans that same year. Who can deny it?

"In due course Duke William of Normandy came to England, and meeting with Harold in battle, killed him, slaughtering the English and laying claim to sovereignty in the kingdom for himself. At this the truth of the prophet’s words was evident, for the wretched people of the province were so helpless that after the first fight they never joined together en masse."

French Sources

French sources are silent about Fulford. William of Poitiers in his Gesta Guillelmi notes:

"In fact Harold had gone away to Yorkshire to fight against his brother Tostig and Harald, king of the Norwegians."

There is no further discussion of the Norwegian battles in this encomiast for Duke William.

No surviving French source would have had access to the Latin texts written by the English historians because these were all written after the recognised Norman Conquest histories.

Guy Bishop of Amiens wrote his Carmen de Hastingae Proelio before May 1068 and there is some evidence that it was performed to King William in 1067 after his coronation. Ironically, the manuscript was lost within a generation and only rediscovered in 1826. As a result, most Anglo-Norman accounts follow the version given by William of Poitiers when they only discuss the events down south, following Fulford.

Norse Sources

The passages from Vita Edwardi Regis quoted earlier, introduces a different style of recording history. The narrative of Vita Edwardi Regis is similar to that adopted in the Norse histories. There is much more flesh on the skeletal framework of fact that is the style adopted by the clerks in holy orders on whose works we often have to rely.

There are some practical reasons why the different traditions were adopted. Although Christianity had been adopted, or imposed, on the Norse lands they were not well served with monasteries until a century after the battle. There was no group of clerks who could record, and read, documents until around 1000 and it would be three centuries before the explosion of written narrative began, almost two centuries later than the English sources.

Therefore the Norse tradition remained an oral one. It is then an easy step to portray these sagas as stories that were embellished and that were made more memorable to hold the attention of an audience around the fire during the long, northern winters. The use of verse was not confined to the Norse lands. Perhaps the most famous record of the battle at Hastings was written, it is believed, by Guy Bishop of Amiens before May 1068. In his prologue he also recognises the merits of the poetic form.

"Idly wishing to avoid undue taxing of intellect and talent, I have applied myself – since songs please the multitude – to putting the Norman campaign into verse."


But this is to neglect the esteemed role of the skalds who competed to have their verses accepted as the record of events. Their verses were populated with recognisable actors and were written in a poetic style that required the listener to have a knowledge of the genre. It was when this traditional training was declining that historians began to transpose the complex symbolism of skaldic verse into accessible prose to create the sagas.

The Norse began the task of compiling written histories almost a century later than the Anglo-Normans. So it was not until the 12th century that we have evidence that people began to record Norse history in prose writing. Arguably the most famous of these derivative texts that is relevant to Fulford, is the Heimskringla. This was written down in Old Norse between 1230 and 1241 by the poet, politician, historian and lawspeaker (perhaps similar to a modern chief justice) Snorri Sturluson.

The Heimskringla

The Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson is a collection of the narratives concerning the various rulers of Norway, from about 850 CE to the year 1177 CE. There are 16 Sagas known to have provided sources in this work.

Snorri provides us with an edited edition of the existing sagas according to the academic traditions of scholarship and record-keeping that were emerging at the time.

Some misinformed criticism is aimed at the Snorri’s history which suggests that they were composed using fire-side stories, several centuries after the event. The implication is that they are unreliable. Snorri Sturluson had a legal brain, was a poet and historian who had access to many sources, most of them already written down and some of which survive. He worked in the same way as the various English clerics who have been quoted above. He was not, as some have suggested, a collector of folk stories.

To address this charge, a short biography of Snorri has been included below. This explains how he was transcribing the Norse history that had until then been recorded in skaldic verse. Snorri, an aspiring skald himself, recognised that the stories would become inaccessible as the style of recording events changed with the spread of literacy and skaldic comprehension declined.

Snorri opens his chronicle of the kings with the following observation on his own methodology.

"In this book I let be written old narratives about rulers …which I have heard from well-informed men, also certain histories of previous generations as they were taught to me."

Snorri also encapsulates the dilemma of every historian when he recognizes the need to exercise his judgment.

"And although we do not know the truth of these, we know that old, learned men judged such to be true."

But, referring to the many tales surrounding King Harald of Norway, Snorri notes;

"these came not as history and these were not included, because we will not put unsubstantiated stories into this book."

Happily he felt some were well attested and could be included to give us our portrait of a remarkable warrior.

The important point is that those recording the sagas are open about the approach they are adopting. This allows the reader to assess the credibility. Nevertheless, the written sagas have some severe critics. "..- it is sad that we cannot trust for a moment the noble narrative of the Heimskringla, the grandest battle tale among all the Sagas. So many of its statements are utterly incorrect that we cannot accept the rest"

This reflects one academic view from 1910 which is still held by those who have not revised their opinion now that the provenance of the stories is better studied and understood. Errors are found in all of the sources and are discussed later as they provide an indication of the independence of the various strands of literature we must now use when we want to reconstruct some past event.

Modern scholarship accepts the Norse sources as a valued record of events. Prof Kelly DeVries published the most recent and authoritative assessment of the literature in his book about 1066. So it is to the Norse sources that we turn for a detailed description of the battle.


When King Harald was clear for sea, and the wind became favourable, he sailed out into the ocean; and he himself landed in Shetland, but a part of his fleet in the Orkney Islands. King Harald stopped but a short time in Shetland before sailing to Orkney, from whence he took with him a great armed force, and the earls Paul and Erlend, the sons of Earl Thorfin; but he left behind him here the Queen Ellisif, and her daughters Maria and Ingegerd. Then he sailed, leaving Scotland and England westward of him, and landed at a place called Klifland. There he went on shore and plundered, and brought the country in subjection to him without opposition. Then he brought up at Skardaburg [Scarborough], and fought with the people of the place. He went up a hill which is there, and made a great pile upon it, which he set on fire; and when the pile was in clear flame, his men took large forks and pitched the burning wood down into the town, so that one house caught fire after the other, and the town surrendered. The Northmen killed many people there and took all the booty they could lay hold of. There was nothing left for the Englishmen now, if they would preserve their lives, but to submit to King Harald; and thus he subdued the country wherever he came. Then the king proceeded south along the land, and brought up at Hellornes [Holderness], where there came a force that had been assembled to oppose him, with which he had a battle, and gained the victory.


"Thereafter the king sailed to the Humber, and up along the river, and then he landed. Up in Jorvik were two earls, Earl Morukare, and his brother, Earl Valthiof, and they had an immense army. While the army of the earls was coming down from the upper part of the country, King Harald lay in the Usa [river Ouse]. 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. The earls let their army proceed slowly down along the river, with all their troops in line. The king’s banner was next to the river, where the line was thickest. It was thinnest at the ditch, where also the weakest of the men were. 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.


"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; 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. So says Stein Herdisason:

This song was composed by Stein Herdison about Olaf, son of King Harald; and he speaks of Olaf being in this battle with King Harald, his father.These things are also spoken of in the song called Harald’s Stave:

Earl Valthiof, 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’ day (A.D. 1066).


"Earl Toste had come from Flanders to King Harald as soon as he arrived in England, and the earl was present at all these battles. It happened, as he had foretold the king at their first meeting, that in England many people would flock to them, as being friends and relations of Earl Toste, and thus the king’s forces were much strengthened. After the battle now told of, all people in the nearest districts submitted to Harald, but some fled. Then the king advanced to take the castle [York], and laid his army at [Stafnfurdubryggja] Stamford Bridge; and as King Harald had gained so great a victory against so great chiefs and so great an army, the people were dismayed, and doubted if they could make any opposition. The men of the castle therefore determined, in a council, to send a message to King Harald, and deliver up the castle into his power. All this was soon settled; so that on Sunday the king proceeded with the whole army to the castle, and appointed a Thing of the people without the castle, at which the people of the castle were to be present. At this Thing all the people accepted the condition of submitting to Harald, and gave him, as hostages, the children of the most considerable persons; for Earl Toste was well acquainted with all the people of that town. In the evening the king returned down to his ships, after this victory achieved with his own force, and was very merry."

Snorri is believed to be the editor and transcriber of another history of these events which attaches the title ‘Tyrant’ to Harald. The Sagas of Olaf Tryggvason and of Harald the Tyrant is assumed to draw on some similar sources. The tale is similar but adds a little to our narrative of the battle.

"Now having come thus far on his journey King Harald fared south to the Humber and went up that river and lay in it beside the banks. At that time there were up in Jerirk [York] Earl Morcar and his brother Earl Waltheof and with them was a vast host. King Harald was lying in the Ouse when the host of the Earls swooped down against him.

"And King Harald went ashore and set to arraying his host, and one arm of the array was ranked on the banks of the river, whereas the other stretched up inland over towards a certain dyke, and a deep marsh was there, both broad, and full of water. The Earls bade the whole multitude of their array slink down alongside the river.

"Now the banner to the King was near the river and there the ranks were serried, but near the dyke were they more scattered, and the men thereof also the least trustworthy.

"The Earls then came down along by the dyke, and that arm of the battle-array of the Norwegians which faced the dyke gave way, and thereon the English pushed forward after them and as it seemed that the Norwegians would flee. Therefore did the banner of Morcar progress forward.

"But when King Harald saw that the array of the English had descended alongside the dyke and was coming right toward them, then commanded he the war-blast to be sounded, and eagerly encouraged his men, and let the banner ‘Land-waster’ be carried forward; and even so fierce was their advance on the English, that all were repulsed and there fell a many men in the host of the Earls.

"This host was even soon routed, and some fled up beside the river and some down, but the most of the folk ran right out into the dyke, and there the fallen lay so thick that the Norwegians could walk dry-shod across the marsh.

"The song that follows was wrought by Stein Herdason about Olaf the son to King Harald, and he said, by which we know that Olaf was in the battle with his father. This is told likewise in ‘Haraldsstikka:’

"Earl Walthiof and those men that contrived to make their escape from out the battle fled even up to the town of York, and there it was that the greatest slaughter took place. This battle was on the Wednesday or ever St. Matthew’s Day.

"Earl Tosti had come west from Flanders to King Harald, and being come to England joined himself with the Earl so that he had his part in all three [sic] battles. And now things came to pass even as he had told Harald at their meeting they would come to pass, that a number of men would flock to them in England, and these were both kinsmen and friends to Tosti; and their company added greatly to the strength of the King.

"After the battle whereof we have but now heard related, all the men of the countryside hailed King Harald, although some few fled. And now set King Harald forth to take the city, and placed he his host by Stanford Bridge, but for the reason that the King had won so fair a victory over great lords and overwhelming odds were the people dismayed and deemed it hopeless to withstand him. Then took the citizens council together and they were of one mind to send word to the King giving themselves and likewise the town into his power. This same was proffered even at such time that on the Sunday fared King Harald and his men to the city, and there they held a council of war without the walls, and the citizens came out and were present at the council.

"Then did all the folk promise obedience to King Harald; and gave him as hostages the sons of great men even according as Tosti chose, for the Earl knew all men in this town; and in the evening the King went to his ships elated with the victory he had won and was very joyful.

"It was furthermore covenanted there should be held a Thing in the city early on that Monday when would King Harald appoint governors and grant fiefs and rights. Now that self-same evening, after the sun had gone down, approached King Harald Godwinson with a vast host the city from the south, and rode he into the city by the will and consent of all the citizens."

The format of the battles described in the two preceding texts is very similar. It was not the job of the historian to homogenise them but instead Snorri passes on both versions. While the battles are the same, the prelude appears different. In one, the earls attack the Norse - The text can even be interpreted to suggest that the Norse army was still in their ships when the earls ‘swooped down’ on them.

Orkney Sagas

Because Harald’s fleet stopped at The Orkney Isles on its way to England, and the Earls from Orkney joined the invasion, we should expect to find that Fulford is recorded in their Sagas. It is our understanding that the Orkney Isles was the place where the Norse survivors after Stamford Bridge overwintered, so we might also expect their sagas to be well informed about the fate of the invasion, although the ‘stars’ in this version will be different as their tales will focus on Orkadians.

The Story of Heming, which forms a part of the Orkney Sagas, tells us.

"20. [The Norse Invaders] went on land, but some watch the ships. Those brothers Morcar and Earl Valtheof, and Aki their brother in law, gathered an army as soon as they hear of the Norwegian invasion. They met at that river which is the upper Ouse, and there the hardest fight arises, and is kept up till ‘nones’ [mid afternoon in this context]. Eystein had gone through the array of the English and killed Aki the tall. Then he sees that Morcar has got at the back of Tosti’s battle; and so he moves with his men to the back of Morcar’s battle. And when Earl Morcar sees that, he orders his men face about and defend themselves well and manfully. And at last, flight broke out among his men, and they fled out into the river and Earl Morcar is slain and the most part of his folk. Many too sunk beneath the stream."

This is close to the shape of battle set out earlier with Morcar advancing to outflank Tostig before Earl Eystein, rather then Harald himself, leads the outflanking move. Eystein was Harald’s top commander and scheduled to become his son-in-law so we know they were close. It is not yet possible to put a name to Aki as King Harold (of England) was the only known brother-in-law of Morcar and Edwin.

This saga provides another detail about the fate of Earl Edwin, if we accept that he is Earl Valtheof in this context. (The identification of Valtheof is discussed later.)

"By that time King Harald had taken Earl Valtheof prisoner. Then Tosti goes to the king and said, ‘Let those brothers both make the same journey.’ ‘You would kill,’ says the King, ‘those that you capture but I will have my way with him.’ Then the King said to Valtheof, ‘I will give thee peace if thou wilt swear never to fight against me, and to send me word the same day if you know that treachery is plotted against me.’ ‘I will not swear that’ says Valtheof; ‘to save my life but I will stand by my brother Harold, so long as I may; but I will send you word if I know that treachery is plotted against you, if that will save my life; but I will swear no oath; for it looks to me as though Tosti does not mean me to have much inheritance.’ The King left Valtheof quite free to go free. Tosti says, ‘A senseless deed to let that man loose who you think so good that he need to give you no oath!’ ‘I believe’ said the king, ‘that his word is better than your expressions.’ Tosti said, ‘Let us go with our army to London, and let us waste the land with fire and sword, and give no peace to any man, neither women nor children.’ And so it was done."

This supports the idea that Earl Edwin’s flank protection force was the one that faced Harald’s (or Eystein’s) out-flanking manoeuvre because they, rather than Tostig, capture Edwin. This is consistent with the interpretation that has emerged from the literature.

Surrender was not dishonourable and the text makes it clear that Edwin subsequently behaved well. He was not willing to betray is ‘brother’, Harold. However, it should be noted that the same set of saga’s also records that the Norse army. "… slew Morcar, Godwin’s son, but earl Gurth his brother fled out of the battle."

Morcar was not Godwin’s son, although the only contemporary ‘Earl Gurth’ was Harold’s brother. From the context, Gurth appears to be confused with Edwin.

This saga does appear to contain an unusual number of ‘errors’ which poses a problem if we want to pick and choose only those passages that fit our interpretation. The battle appears to be an original account that is not derived from other sagas. Nor does it appear to have been one of the accounts used when the 13th century compilations were made, but no scholarly study on this has been identified so far. They were set down at the very beginning of the 13th century so it predates Heimskringla. It would be interesting to know if Snorri rejected its contribution or was unaware of it as the Orkney’s links with Norway, and therefore Iceland, were weakened by this time.

The tension, and the lack of trust between Harold and Tostig, is evident and the saga goes on to make it clear the plan to set out for London was not followed, nor were the many other options Tostig proposed.

‘I think I have heard seven plans for what might happen, but now I seem to know no plan at all,’ commented King Harald to Thiodolf, his skald, the day after the battle. He then decides to take his army to York and demand their submission and cooperation. The Sagas of the Norwegian Kings also hints at tension between these key players so the description of the battle and even the submission of Earl Edwin do have a ring of authenticity and contribute to our understanding of events.


The term ‘Tyrant’ was employed in the translation quoted above to express the person we recognise as ‘Hardrada’, which has a literal transliteration of ‘hard ruler’. This illustrates an issue that arrives whenever dealing with text in translation. We would certainly recognise King Harald of Norway as a tyrant, in its modern sense, had he been around today but the term Hardrada is preferred here. There are almost three layers of interpretation when studying, first the translation of the word, then the meaning of the words in the context and finally one needs to be aware of the sense that the author is trying to convey.

Karl G. Johansson, Associate professor in Old Norse Philology at Oslo University, has made the most recent translation of Snorri’s Heimskringla. He says that Snorri used the word díki, which has the equivalents in Swedish of dike and this can be translated as ditch or dike. But the word díki can also be replaced by the words kärr and sumpmark and these can mean a marsh, swamp or fen.

In the following chapters, the landscape of 1066 is explored and the word diki is probably being used to describe the ditch cut by glacial meltwater to act as a drain, which is now called Germany Beck. But the same word also describes the marsh, swamp and fenland that are all components of this varied terrain. So the translations that have the retreating English leaping into the ditch might be describing warriors seeking to make their escape through the fenland adjacent to the English left and right flanks.

Some latitude must be given to how all of the words that are quoted here are interpreted since they might lose just a little of their intended meaning in translation. So the approach adopted has been to respect what was written but accept that it can be subject to interpretation once the fuller context is provided.

The names that are used in this report are, in most cases, the way the translation that has been used has rendered the names. The name of Tostig is also rendered in many ways by the original scribes. Generally the places should not lead to any confusion in the present context but, as with the example above, there might be several stone fords providing bridges and we will explore the many locations of muddy fords in chapter 3.

‘Errors’ in the various texts

William of Malmesbury might write with great authority about the south and west of England as he was based near Bristol. When writing about the north he makes some mistakes. He writes of Hexham as a place 15 miles from York.

The distance is about 150km (93 miles). So it is worth bearing in mind the location of the writer when assessing some of the information they provide. Geographical proximity, as has been suggested earlier, seems to be a consideration in terms of the information that is recorded as well as the accuracy of what is said.

There are a few ‘errors’ in these accounts. The premature obituary for Earl Morcar appears in Snorri’s account but he is careful to provide the source, perhaps indicating that it was not information that he could corroborate. "There too fell Earl Morcar. Thus said Stein Herdisason".

Earl Waltheof or Valthieof was not Morcar’s brother as is stated in the Norse sources. Waltheof was a leader from Northumbria and the son of Earl Siward of Northumbria. He would be restored to that title by King William in 1072 in spite of the part he played in the northern risings. Waltheof followed the Norse tradition of family feuding and wreaked his vengeance on the family responsible for the murder of his great grandfather Uthred in 1016.

Earl ‘Valtheof’ is normally interpreted as a case of mistaken identity since English records have the defenders as Edwin and Morcar and we accept that as an accurate account. But it is possible that a young Waltheof was also present at Fulford, possibly leading the Bernician contingent. It is therefore possible that Snorri, and other historians misunderstood, or misinterpreted, some of the skaldic conventions. Wæltheow’s warriors are mentioned in Haraldsstikki and scholars, using this as a source for their writings, might have interpreted him as an earl and therefore deduced that he was Morcar’s brother as Edwin, as we shall discuss later, played a peripheral part, although the Orkney sagas suggest Edwin was captured and spoke with Harald.

But it is also probable that ‘Valtheof’ played a more significant part in the battle at the ford, because the Mercian army was not a major participant at Fulford, increasing the chance that subsequent skalds and scribes might have confused or conflated the two. Since those making the records were subsequently estranged from England, there would be few who would be able to spot and correct the mistake. However, none of these excuses is wholly convincing.

This apparent error has a parallel in the nickname applied to Harald by the Norman chroniclers who call him Harold ‘Fairhair’. This can also be excused since Harald ‘Fairhair’ was probably known to Norman sources through the oral tradition. It has been suggested that scribes might have understood this as a family name.

None of the sources quoted here would have heard the name ‘Hardrada’. The earliest surviving reference to ‘Hardrada’ is from the mid-12th century where it is initially applied to many warlords. It was a century later before Harald acquires the unique use of the sobriquet ‘Hardrada’ which contrasts with his contemporaries where the nickname can be found very soon after the death of the Norwegian king.

The Conquest represented a break with the Norse tradition. English history would now be recorded in Latin while the sagas would be set down in Old Norse. The language of scholarship for the writers about the Norman Conquest would be Latin. Norse writing would not be accessible to them.

None of the apparent errors noted in the literature are of great consequence to our investigation. Nor do they undermine the general credibility of any one of them – In fact they might allow us to say that there are several, independent strands of literature. Most of the mistakes can be understood and the cause for the errors can be identified. But this again illustrates the need to exercise discretion when interpreting all the written records. This can be achieved while remaining deferential to the authors and willing to examine all the details that they have left us.

Secondary sources

The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066’ is probably the best academic work on the battles of 1066 currently available. Kelly DeVries, the American historian, based himself in Yorkshire while he researched and wrote this excellent study of the available literature, even though it adopts a rather simplistic view of the battles themselves. The historian’s approach to battles is analogous to a football fan who describes a game in terms of the team-sheet and the score without any debate of the actions and events which actually dictate the outcome in the beautiful game. For a historian, the people and the result are the only matters at issue.

Guy Schofield in his article ‘The third battle of 1066’ takes the Beck as the location and calculates the Norse invasion force at 14,000. It was the size of this army, he suggests, that prompted Harold to rush north and ignore the smaller force mustered by William the Bastard.

Although musket balls of many calibres have been found during the metal detection of the site, there is no evidence of any action on this site relating to the Civil War. Peter Wenham writing in ‘The Siege of York’ does not put the main defences near Fulford.

"Meanwhile Fairfax’s foot moved up the east (left) bank of the Ouse from Selby, doubtless crossing the river at Cawood where there seems to have been another bridge of boats. Within the next few days the allied armies took up the positions which they were to maintain during the entire siege. ‘This year [1644] on 23 April, the Scots faced York at a distance, on the West bank of the River Ouse,’ their line extending from the right bank of the Ouse, from somewhere below Poppleton to the river near Fulford: Leven had his headquarters at Middlethorpe, presumably in the Manor there. Fairfax took the sector from Fulford on the left bank of the Ouse, by Fishergate Postern and Walmgate Bar, to the Red Tower situated alongside the marshy region of the King’s Pool, a backwater of the river Foss; his headquarters was presumably at Heslington Hall. Slingsby is explicit in stating that until the army of the Eastern Association arrived five weeks later, the city remained open on the north side."

So the literature does not lead us to expect any earthworks associated with the siege which could have transformed the local landscape. The southern side of the city was closely guarded by the forces of Lord Fairfax. A bridge of boats similar to the one captured by Prince Rupert before the battle on Marston Moor is know to have been built to link Fulford to Middlethorpe. This would have linked Fairfax forces with the Scottish army which surrounded the western part of the City. Wenham places the site of the bridge of boats as an extension of Heslington Lane.


The literature provides us with the exact date, introduces the place name of Fulford and the approximate location of the battle. It confirms the key participants, although Norse sources have Morcar as a casualty and his brother Edwin does not always feature; instead we have Earl Waltheof.

We can be certain that Fulford was the first of the three battles in the autumn of 1066 and that King Harold arrived to do battle five days after the defeat at Fulford. Just as happened at Hastings, it was the victors who provide us with the only narrative of the battle.

FM Stenton, in his classic work on Anglo-Saxon England, provides this summary of the story that the literature has left us:

"Of the two general engagements of September 1066 the battle of Stamfordbridge has always impressed historians. It ended more than two centuries of Anglo-Scandinavian conflict in a manner which brought great honour to the last Old English king.

"In comparison, the battle of Fulford has aroused little interest. Nevertheless, it deserves to be remembered in any attempt to get beneath the surface of events which followed it. It is clear, for one thing, that the losses which the Norwegian army suffered at Fulford must have lessened its power of resistance at Stamfordbridge. But it is equally clear that the far heavier English losses must have deprived Earls Edwin and Morcar of any chance of effective action during the critical weeks of early October."

To adjust an aphorism, ‘absence of proof is proof of absolutely nothing’. It is not possible to ascribe any relevance to the failure of a particular chronicler or historian to mention an event or person. This is intended as a rebuke to those who claim that Fulford is not important because it is not recorded by name in all the ancient sources. A few examples of such sophistry can be found in the later discussion of the planning process. We can only examine what the surviving literature has provided.

Literature enjoys a privileged position among historians. However, the written record requires exactly the same careful analysis and interpretation that is applied to other classes of evidence. I would like to leave the last words to Professor Fletcher. Richard Fletcher says this in his wonderful book ‘Bloodfeud’.

"Common sense is prone to assert that ‘the facts speak for themselves’. Historians know that this is just what they don’t do. Facts have to be coaxed and entreated into utterance. And if they are to speak, however hesitantly, however indistinctly, however obscurely, they have to be scrutinised against a background, a setting, a context."

Nothing can be taken at face value in the early writing so we will now examine the physical setting and landscape context. We must accept that an element of uncertainty, and therefore alternative explanations, will remain if we rely on the literature alone.

(The literature is examined again at the end of chapter 3 where the descriptions of the landscape, and the actions taken, are compared with the surface revealed by the research.)