Explaining why Anglo-Saxon England was facing two invasions in 1066 is briefly explored here to put the battle into its historical context although this has minimal direct relevance to the search for the battle site. It is a complex tale which is open to different interpretations then, as now. The central narrative surrounds the events that promoted Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex to the throne of England in 1066. This point is important because the legitimacy of Harold’s claim was central to the case made by William when soliciting support for his invasion from the church and other Frankish leaders. While the motives of Duke William are clearly documented, those of King Harald of Norway for his northern invasion are not explored here because there is scant, hard evidence.
This prelude introduces some of the combatants and explains: • Why a battle took place at Fulford,
Harold’s accession King Harold’s path to the throne was unique. No other commoner has previously assumed the throne without shedding the blood of their countrymen. The very special circumstances that brought this about are rooted in the traditions of the Anglo-Saxons. Tacitus, writing during the first century in his book Germania, recorded some observations of ‘the barbarian tribes’ that were threatening the European dominance of the Roman Empire. He sets out how the leaders were chosen: “They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary.
As for the leaders, it is their example rather than their authority that wins them special admiration - for their energy, their distinction, or their presence in the van of fight. Chiefs are courted by embassies and complimented by gifts, and they often virtually decide wars by the mere weight of their reputation.” The Anglo-Saxon royal line, stretching back to the time of Alfred, had produced nine kings. There were still some genetically qualified candidates for kingship although their numbers were small and they were all young.
The late King Edward’s queen, Edith, was raising the leading survivor of the bloodline of Alfred, the son of Edward The Exile, who was just 13 but a strong, future candidate to whom the country would turn after the loss of so many leaders at Hastings. Edgar the Aethling1 would briefly occupy the throne of England during 1066. England’s succession had been achieved by selecting suitable kings from among those qualified by birth before the rights of the eldest son2 emerged as the formula for regal succession. However, events can be an unkind critic of fixed formats and the ‘ruler by right’ did not always deliver.
The accession of the boy king, Aethelred, for a reign that would cover almost 40 years, would expose the weakness of the heredity principle (even when some degree of ‘selection’ was invoked by his murderous mother). This memory, plus the complex pattern of succession after Cnut, might have led those with power and influence to adopt a more flexible approach to the appointment of kings, not unlike the model noted by Tacitus. The Danish invasions of the 10th century had produced two generations of instability during the long reign of Ethelred. It was the powerful earls, promoted by the King Cnut when he displaced Ethelred, that restored stability.
Earl Godwin of Wessex, Harold’s father, was one of those promoted by Cnut. The old English word cyning, from which our term king derives, means ‘of the kin’. King Edward had been married to Harold’s sister. Harold’s mother had King Cnut as a brother-in-law. We don’t know if such semantics were discussed by the powerful people in England as they attended the court of the dying King Edward at Westminster for Christmas 1065.
His supporters could have noted that Harold had some close kinship with recent rulers from the Danish and English rulers. Harold could certainly fulfil most of the other criteria listed by Tacitus. He had leadership qualities and had demonstrated his valour not only when fighting but also in his preparedness to confront difficult political problems. All he lacked was a royal parent. We know almost nothing about the operation of the Witangemot apart from some of its decisions. This was not consensual government but it gave the powerful factions in the land a meaningful voice.
The Witan had backed the exile of several earls so it is evident that they had some power and also exercised a degree of independence. Harold was their choice as the king for England in 1066. Harold was the inheritor of a legacy whose faltering development had nevertheless provided the foundations of a sound national military, administrative and legal system in England. Edward’s death The royal court at Westminster attracted the powerful people of the land at Christmas 1065.
The dedication of Edward’s Minster provided a special context for the gathering but there are many pointers to indicate that these gatherings at the King’s Court were routine. King Edward was absent when his West Minster was dedicated on 28 December, so he was evidently a very sick man but he would last for another week. The last words of Edward are reported. “May God be gracious to this my wife for the zealous solicitude of her service for certainly she has served me devotedly and always stood close by my side like a beloved daughter. May the forgiving God grant her the reward of eternal happiness.’
The next passage, which we take to be addressed to Harold, goes on ‘I commend this woman with all the kingdom to your protection. Serve and honour her with faithful obedience as your lady and sister, which she is, and do not despoil her as long as she lives of any of the honour got from me.” This record of Edward’s last will was written down under the instructions of the Dowager Queen, Edith. The words are tantalisingly ambiguous if this is an accurate report.
There would have been numerous witnesses who could have challenged inaccuracies, so it is probably close to what was said. It is hardly a clear expression, passing the crown to Harold. It is plausible that Edward was expressing a wish that Queen Edith should maintain the rule in his kingdom. She was still young and had at Court an Atheling, Edgar, who might one day continue the royal line of Alfred. Each generation since Alfred had produced at least one powerful lady who often acted as regent in all but name.
The mother of Ethelred, Elfrida, had guided the country during his youth. Emma, wife to two kings had played an active role in their fate, if not the governance of the country. King Alfred’s daughter Aelfaeda, widowed early, had come close to re-uniting all of the Danelaw under Mercian control. Handing the country to the care of his wife, would seem to have been a viable option, with established precedent. In the days that King Edward lay dying there was plenty of time for consultation among those who had gathered at the Court. They probably all had a number of audiences with the dying King for a proper leave-taking. A regency, under queen Edith, does not appear to be an option subsequently considered.
Neither the regency, nor the claim of Edgar Atheling, is mentioned in any of the sources surrounding the death or succession. Some other sources indicate that the words quoted above were not his last. Others report some ill omens that would follow the appointment of Harold. The dying words of a person were accorded considerable authority, especially by the church and there were traditionally many on hand to witness what was said. Consequently, there can be little doubt that the dying King did nominate Harold, although it still leaves open the possibility that he envisaged Harold’s role as one of ‘queen’s champion’.
There is also the matter of the oaths that Harold is alleged to have sworn to support Duke William and these are tacitly acknowledged in several documents that are generally favourable to Harold. And William must have been able to convince those who would eventually join his invasion that Harold was an oath-breaker. So there was some sort of oath swearing administered when Harold was in Normandy. Any ambiguity about the succession should have been removed when the Witan offered the crown to Harold but this institution is not mentioned, or recognised, by subsequent Norman chroniclers. Because no dissent is recorded from the Witan, and none is evident in the events of 1066, it is reasonable to say that there was no opposition party to the selection of Harold as King.
The marriage of Harold to the sister of the brother-earls, Edwin and Morcar, took place in York at Easter time 1066. This created a bond of kinship and offered the prospect that the houses of Wessex and Mercia would establish a new royal dynasty. Like any good political solution, it seemed to offer all those in power a prize, although it isolated the lineage of Alfred The Great.3 Edward died on 4th or 5th January 1066 of what we believe was a stroke, possibly brought on by a diabetic condition. He was buried by the high alter of his new church on the feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 1066. The same day, Harold was consecrated by one, or both, of the Archbishops from Canterbury and York.
This was not indecent haste but a practical solution before the Court dispersed after the Christmas gathering. Earl Tostig It is hard to weave a credible narrative of the events of 1066 without some discussion of the exiled brother of King Harold, Tostig Godwinson. Tostig was perhaps the most significant choreographer of the events of 1066. However, written record only allows us to guess at his strategy so there must be much conjecture about Tostig’s motives. Tostig was the third son of Earl Godwin and his Danish wife Gytha. His name honours the Danish family connection and Godwin’s overlord and patron, Cnut, who was king of Denmark and Norway as well as England at the time of Tostig’s birth.
In 1051 Tostig married Judith, half-sister of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. In the year of his marriage he shared the short exile with the rest of the Godwinson family that would last under a year. Judith was born in 1030, the daughter of Baldwin IV. Her connections were impressive. Through her mother, Eleanor of Normandy, she was a cousin once removed, of both King Edward of England and Duke William of Normandy. This was a good match for a third son of an earl who, as yet, held only minor lands around England.
The bride was probably 20, about the same age as the groom, at the time of the marriage which was at the time rather old for a woman to be marrying and might account for Judith’s marrying a little below her status. The Vita Edward reports that the union produced children although there is no record of the number, their gender or their fate. The Norse sagas suggest that Tostig had two sons who were old enough to accompany him in 1066, although apparently too young to fight. Judith’s half-brother, Baldwin, was emerging as a key player in the struggles for supremacy that would, over the next century, draw the borders of France.
Tostig also became, through marriage, a ‘brother-in-law’ to Duke William as the latter had married Matilda, the daughter of Baldwin V and was therefore Judith’s niece; although aunt and niece were of similar ages and, we believe, close friends. In 1055 Tostig was made the Earl of Northumbria by King Edward and there is much to suggest that Tostig had become a close companion of the King in the years following his marriage. But a decade later, the people of Northumbria staged a coup against their earl during one of his many documented absences.
English chronicles strongly suggest that King Edward, who did not possess an army of his own, wanted his leading Earl, Harold Godwinson, to enforce the restoration of his own brother, Tostig. But, at a meeting held in Oxford on 28th October 1065, the King and his counsel yielded to the rebel’s demands which Harold presented on their behalf having met the rebels who had advanced south, doing much damage and slaughter through Earl Tostig’s other lands. Tostig was banished and went abroad within the time allowed. There was little opportunity for the brothers to meet and discuss the events. “Then Earl Tostig and his wife, and all they who acted with him, went south over sea with him to Earl Baldwin who received them all: and they were there all the winter at St. Omer’s.
In late 1065, the power in England was dramatically rebalanced. Before the coup, the Godwinsons held two of the three earldoms. Now the brothers Edwin and Morcar, sons of the Earls of Mercia, governed the northern half of the kingdom. King Edward would be dead within eight weeks of Tostig’s exile. One chronicler talks about the King’s mind being affected. There have been suggestions, which are supportable by the evidence, that Tostig was well favoured by the King and his Queen, Tostig’s sister. The King had, after all, wanted Harold to suppress the rebels to restore Tostig’s position.
Tostig doubtless felt betrayed by his brother. Before his resentment had a chance to subside he would have discovered that he was not to be restored to a position of power now his brother had become King in the opening week of 1066. The return of Tostig would have tested the loyalty of the northern earls who had rebelled to expel him from the north. If he was to be allowed back, perhaps as Earl of Wessex, King Harold’s plan for the unity of the land would be in jeopardy. Harold had transferred extensive parts of his own land holding to his brothers Gyrth and Loefwine, ignoring Tostig.
Most of Tostig’s hearth troops had been killed during the coup in York so he was in a weak military position. But it is not clear why a suitable position was not found for Tostig to keep him on side as Harold was evidently a good negotiator. Perhaps Harold felt he could ignore his brother for now. Perhaps we are also dealing with the unfathomable complexities of family relationships.
One chronicle claims that it was Tostig who refused to return: ‘Earl Tostig ... would not submit to be his own brother’s serving man’ which suggests that Tostig had decided to become an instigator of events, rather than reacting to them. The decisive and speedy course of action that appears to have been followed by Tostig in early 1066 supports the notion that he was already making plans for his comeback. The reconstructed chronology set out below suggests that he was a man in a hurry. He was probably the choreographer of the sequence of events in 1066 that would bring to an end to Anglo-Saxon England. Plots and plans Tostig’s first recourse would have been to turn to his father-in-law, Baldwin V.
Flanders could afford little more than support for a raiding fleet. Baldwin’s ‘son-in-law’, Duke William of Normandy was a different proposition as he was already staking his claim to the throne of England and sending ambassadors to Harold. There are suggestions of a meeting between Tostig and William but, mindful of Harold’s visit a few years before when he had been ‘detained’, Tostig might have felt that a personal visit was ill-advised. It would be simple to exchange emissaries, perhaps using the close family relationship that existed between their wives. Norse sources report that Tostig headed north to Denmark and to his cousin, King Svein.
“The earl now asked King Svein for support and help of men; and King Svein invited him to stay, with the promise that he should get so large an earldom in Denmark that he would be an important chief.”
Tostig suggested that Svein should use his energy and influence to repeat the feats of his illustrious ancestor Cnut. But King Svein was not provoked by such flattering comparison. He was a realist and modestly confessed he had difficulty securing his own domain against the threats. “I am so much smaller a man than Cnut the Great, that I can with difficulty defend my own Danish dominions against the Northmen.
King Cnut, on the other hand, got the Danish kingdom in heritage, took England by slash and blow, and sometimes was near losing his life in the contest; and Norway he took without slash or blow. Now it suits me much better to be guided by my own slender ability than to imitate my relation, King Cnut.”
Tostig was disappointed. But undeterred, he headed north to King Harald of Norway who had moved to his new harbour-town, near modern Oslo. Here ‘the earl explained his errand to the king. He told him all his proceedings since he left England, and asked his aid to recover his dominions in England.’ The initial response of King Harald was also disappointing. Tostig possibly reminded Harald of the claim that his predecessor King Magnus had over England and apparently deployed similar undiplomatic, but provocative, arguments that he had used unsuccessfully in Denmark.
The debate went on for some days and they talked ‘long and frequently together.’ At last Harald ‘took the resolution to proceed in summer to England, and conquer the country.’ So King Harald issued the call-up and ‘sent a message-token through all Norway and ordered out a levy of one-half of all the men in Norway able to carry arms.’
The Danish chronicler, Saxo Gramaticus, tells us that the war-token was an arrow painted to look like iron. Half the army would be left with his son Magnus who would be handed the whole crown before the flotilla sailed. One chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, suggests that the Norwegian preparations took six months. In order to be ready to sail before the winds of winter began to threaten, the summons needed to go out before the end of March.
A Norse chronicler concludes by telling us that Tostig ‘sailed in spring west to Flanders, to meet the people who had left England with him...’ If Tostig was heading back to Flanders in the spring, he must have set out for Denmark in late February. This should have put him back in Flanders in early April, about the time that Harold was returning from his northern nuptials.
If this timetable is accurate it is possible to construe Harold’s marriage, and the alliance with the northern earls, as a response to the threat being assembled by his brother. His Danish family connection would have been quick to inform Harold of Tostig’s visit and his next destination. But the marriage might well have been agreed as part of the pact to support Harold’s accession at Christmas.
Some historians suggest that this trip is a fiction because of the limited literary corroboration. But such a trip, and the reported negotiations, is not in conflict with the few known facts. It is difficult to explain the events that unfolded during 1066, and their coordinated timing, without the role of a travelling Tostig as their author. Before the start of May 1066 Tostig landed in the Isle of Wight according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC).
The Domesday survey lists the various estates that he held at the southeast corner and eastern shore of the island. His departure in late October 1065 had been hasty, as well as unplanned. He would still have had some money, supplies, weapons and manpower available to him on his estates. We are able to fix the time of Tostig’s return to the Isle of Wight as it was just before the appearance of Halley’s Comet. On the old calendar the comet appeared for the first time on 24 April 1066.
The attack on the Isle of Wight can be interpreted in the context of later events as fitting a military plan. It is possible that Tostig might even have intended to hold this as a staging post for a Norman invasion but a logistics raid also makes military sense. King Harold would himself occupy the Isle of Wight beaches as he prepared to meet William’s invasion from Normandy. The attack on the Isle of Wight fits in well with the strategy that Tostig would extend through the summer of stretching the defenders by attacking along the coast of England.
Tostig understood the resources that England could deploy. To improve the chances of success for the invasions, Tostig needed to force the available troops to be spread along the coast ready to react to his raids. This would have the effect of limiting the size of the main army. Tostig also knew that the period of service was limited to about 40 days. He probably wanted to force Harold to call out his army as soon as possible, especially if he knew that the main attacks would not come until late in the year.
After leaving the Isle of Wight, he raided along the Sussex and Kent coast, past Dover and landed in Sandwich Bay. There he met Cospig who, like Tostig, was an exile. The former had spent the winter in the Orkneys. The sea route back from Norway might well have taken Tostig via Cospig’s winter quarters. The fact that they were able to fix this rendezvous is another pointer to the travels and plan that Tostig had for 1066. The two exiles appear to have spent some time in Sandwich trying to provoke a response from the English.
Once news reached them that Harold and his army were on their way, the two retreated and began their raiding up the east coast. The chronicler also notes that Tostig ‘took some of the boatmen with him, willing and unwilling, and went north into the Humber with sixty ships; whence he plundered in Lindsey, and there slew many good men.’ The English version talks of the Earls Edwin and Morcar driving the raiders back to their boats. From Tostig’s point of view, the raids were achieving their objective of drawing the army to remote parts of the coast.
Tostig and Cospig are next reported as being in Scotland for the summer. The chroniclers also report that the ‘boatmen forsook’ Tostig. The accounts are consistent in suggesting that when Tostig reached Scotland he had perhaps as few as a dozen ships. Some translations suggest that his vessels were not even proper longships but trading vessels. Perhaps the butscarls he had impressed at Sandwich took the best and fastest longships with them, leaving Tostig with the broad-beamed traders. The fugitive sailors would take the fast ships and leave only the slow boats for their potential pursuers. But this could all be anti-Tostig propaganda.
Tostig must have been grateful that he had parted with King Malcolm on such good terms after organising the royal visit to King Edward’s Court. The Scots ‘entertained him, and aided him with provisions; and he stayed there all the summer.’ Tostig’s strategy, if that is what it was, had worked well. The English armies had mobilised early in July and were now at either end of the country. There was also anxiety in coastal places about more raids and the strain of waiting would be much harder on the defenders than the invaders, who would choose the time of their coming.
The role played by Tostig in the drama of 1066 has been underestimated. Perhaps only he understood that it would take the combined might of Norway and Normandy to defeat King Harold as there were enough armies available to England to defeat William’s planned invasion. In the words of the Godwinson, family chronicler “Both brothers 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.” These are perspicacious comments by somebody who knew both Harold and Tostig. Vigour and ambition had temporarily lost out to the virtues prudence and happiness.
Figure 1.1 This sketch shows the key places mentioned in the story of 1066. The approximate boundaries between the key earldoms are marked along with distances that the invading fleets would have to travel.
The impending invasions posed a defensive problem for the English. So, as King Harold II prepared to dismiss the southern army in September, he recognised that he was the leader of a land that was enjoying the benefits of national unity. The young earls who held the northern lands of Mercia and Northumbria stood ready to confront the expected northern attack. Harold might have hoped that the danger of invasion had receded for that year. The gamble was with the weather and an understanding of his adversary, Duke William. William still had not sailed.
Chroniclers would later record that the failure of the prevailing westerly winds had kept William’s fleet in port through July and August and into September even though August is the month chosen for the great sailing festival in that part of the Channel, at Cowes. Perhaps William was just extremely unlucky. None of the chronicles suggests that Duke William was playing a waiting game but the risks, as well as the resources required to keep an army assembled, were enormous. Perhaps William was aware of the trap that the English had prepared for the invaders.
With the English army and ships assembled on the Isle of Wight, they could have confronted William’s army within a day of landing. There would be very little time for the invaders to even construct the bailey they had brought with them as a fortified foothold. Perhaps William really was aware that Harold would soon have to fight in the north. King Harold’s troops were conveyed back to the mainland, starting on the 8 September. Having deposited the army, the English fleet set sail for its base in Sandwich on the 12th according to the dates calculated from the southern Anglo Saxon Chronicles.
That same day, the 12th, William’s fleet left the mouth of the river Dives heading for England but the weather, a planned repositioning of the Norman invasion, or the threat of the English Navy saw William enter the river Seine, opposite Hastings. About the same time, King Harald Hardrada was meeting Earl Tostig on the banks of the River Forth. King Harold was spared the knowledge of the events that would unfold during the next five weeks. Three great battles would be fought, with each protagonist winning just one of these clashes.
Turning to the northern invasion, King Harald did not depart until late August or early September. The departure time was probably not set by the time taken to gather his force: His army seems to have been mobilised quicker on other occasions. It might have been the complex domestic agenda of securing the succession of his son, Magnus, that detained him. Arriving late in the campaigning season meant they could over-winter in the north of England after the barns and granaries had been restocked with the 1066 harvest.
Harald could conduct the conquest in two phases. Northumbria was inaccessible once the autumn rains swelled the many rivers that provided the territory’s border with Mercia and the fleet could guard against any sea borne winter campaign, such as the one conducted by Cnut in 1014. The mariners might also have advised that the late summer often provided a favourable north wind that allowed for a quick crossing. However, it is also possible that this was the schedule agreed with Tostig during their lengthy discussions in the spring.
It might have been that they were working to an agreed date: the fleet would arrive when the first moon of autumn was full and there were ‘spring’ tides which could work to the advantage of experienced seamen. It will never be possible to know if this was all part of Tostig’s strategic plan but the case has been argued that simultaneous invasions offered not only the best prospect of a military victory by splitting the defenders but also the winter months could be used to negotiate from a position of strength, whatever happened to the southern invasion. We have some dates for the latter part of King Harald’s journey.
Working backwards, a departure from Solunds at the start of September is proposed. There are four phases to the journey culminating in the battle at Fulford: crossing the North Sea, sailing down the Scottish and northern English coastlines, raiding down the Northumbrian coast and finally the journey inland. Each stage would have called for different seamanship skills. To cross the North Sea, sail power would have sufficed.
The swell that often stirs the water surface north of Scotland makes it difficult for any rowers to pull on their oar. The competing high and low atmospheric pressures, arriving from the Arctic and the Atlantic, set these giant ripples in motion across the surface of the sea. A longship would flex to conform to these rolling waves.
The prevailing wind across the British islands blows from a westerly direction. In winter, a north or north-easterly flow of dense cold air can bring bitter weather to the north of England and Scotland. However, in the autumn, this same weather pattern can provide some excellent late harvest weather. The cold, dry arctic air pouring from the cloudless stratosphere creates a high pressure area that can survive for a week or more. The September sun reaches the ground in the north-east to provide temperatures reminiscent of summer.
Like all English weather, it cannot be relied upon but this ‘Indian summer’ is a frequent and very welcome part of our patchwork of weather that passes for an English climate. We have two reasons to suppose that this was the weather pattern in September 1066. The Norse sagas record that when the army rushed from their ships at Riccall to the aid of King Harald at Stamford Bridge, as many died of exhaustion because of the heat as were killed by the English. We also know from Norman and English sources that a strong northerly blew William’s expedition back onto the French coast and becalmed it for 16 days. Without the intervention of this weather pattern, the simultaneous invasions feared by King Harold, and perhaps scheduled by Tostig, might have materialised.
Figure 2. In the 11th century the territory controlled by the kings of Norway extended down to modern Gothenberg. King Harald had moved the centre of power, that we might recognise as a capital, from Trondheim to the Viken and he is recognised of the founding father of Oslo.
Support for this weather pattern is also found in Orderic Vitalis: “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, or north wind, landed in Yorkshire, which was the first object of their invasion.” A more precise travelogue for the first phase of the journey is described in the Norse sagas. “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.”
Modern replica longships have achieved speeds of 20 knots under sail but more realistic experiments have been able to sustain a quarter of that speed in the open sea. The crossing of 500 kilometres of sea probably took three days if they had a wind blowing from the northeast. The second phase of the invasion journey for King Harald and his new allies from the islands also required a favourable wind.
It is unlikely that the experienced seamen would have chosen to go near the rocky and dangerous northern coast that has wrecked countless ships over the centuries. Their route would have taken them back out to sea and well away from the rocks and islands that surround northeast Scotland. Longships cannot sail very close to the wind. They sail best when the wind comes over the stern and fills their square sail. They would have been happy if the metrological conditions suggested by the limited evidence prevailed during their voyage.
These conditions, with the north wind at their back, would have allowed good progress to be made. The longships could expect to cover 100 – 200 kilometres on a day’s sailing in these conditions. The whole crossing to a safe harbour in the Firth of Forth probably took about 7 days. Landfall in lowland Scotland was possible because of the long sandy beaches fringing the land that sticks out into the North Sea.
The coast near St Andrew’s would be one possible place to beach. Another would have been on the outer reaches of the river Forth, near Dunbar. King Malcolm kept Court nearby so this place provided a possible rendezvous with Tostig and his disappointingly small fleet. There was time to gather information from Tostig and prepare the plan while their combined fleet of over 300 ships converged and any stragglers caught up. King Harald was used to moving large flotillas in over a decade of campaigning against the Danes.
With perhaps as many as 400 vessels of different designs, it would require a four kilometre stretch of beach to provide each war band with spaces for its own camp. The protocol for landing, who arrived first and who had the best spots, was well established and something that Harald had even been willing to fight with his own son when his royal precedence seemed to be challenged.
Figure 3 An aerial view of modern Fulford, which runs along the ridge. The image is adjusted for the contours. This view is from the west, so it is looking east. The modern ring road runs near the right side of the map. Germany Beck, the ditch that the research suggests separated the armies at the muddy ford, Fouleforde, or Fulford, divides the map. The Northumbrian army, which was blocking the route to York, was on the left (north) side of Germany Beck with the Norse army on the right. This map-image was created by Keith Challis.
After the Forth, the expedition would once again have moved east out into the sea and away from another hazardous stretch of the coast. They would be lucky if the wind was much more than a breeze by now. The swell that heralded the arrival of the stable high pressure weather system would have passed and left the surface of the sea calmer. So the oars might have been called into action during this phase. The men would have been at sea for perhaps a day and a night before they prepared to step ashore in England. They arrived in the territory of the English without any mishap. The fighting was about to begin. “Then [Harald] 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.” 5
Figure 4 This RAF image was taken in December 1946 shows the area of the battlefield research. The river Ouse loops along the left side with the Ings, which flood most years and formerly provided good summer pasture on either side of the river. Germany Beck runs into the Ouse near the bend in the lower half of this image. The ridging on several fields (top and centre) are the marks left by medieval ‘ridge and furrow’ ploughing.
Anybody who knows the Northumbrian coast will recognize that ‘Cliff Land’ is an appropriate name to apply to parts of the coast near the mouth of the river Tyne. Tostig announced his return to those who had ousted him from Northumbria the previous year with the destruction of Scarborough and a rampage through Holderness before re-boarding their longships to ride the tide along the Humber and Ouse to reach Riccall, 12km south of Fulford. Such is the historical context in which the battle at Fulford became the first of the three great battles that altered the governance of Britain. A detailed narrative of the battle at Fulford forms the latter part of chapter 5.
Figure 5 This is a copy of the first Ordnance Survey map of Fulford. The Beck and the river can be matched to the images on the air photo above. Note that there is no building along the Beck as this low-lying land floods. Note also the dual names used for the village – The complex story of names used around Fulford is discussed in chapter 3.