The Buildup To The Battle
New Page 1




his part concerns itself with the preparations that both sides made before the famous engagement. I will spend a little time on the logistics and planning of Harold II and William and the psychological make up of them as leaders.


more in depth study of the logistics and weaponry of Harold and William will be discussed in the sections entitled, William's and Harold's battle forces. This section covers the chronological detail to the build-up of the conflict.

Which Way Should I Turn?

arold now king of England, was about to meet a challenge from invaders from across the North Sea and the English Channel in the coming months. Tostig, as mentioned earlier, was declared an exile and had departed, only to return some time later, undertaking attacks on the English coastline. He invaded the Isle of Wight in May 1066 and continued ravaging other locations along the south. With his mercenary force he was limited in his success, partly due to the Earls Morcar and Edwin. He found an ally in Malcolm, king of the Scots. With his assistance, Tostig raided the Northern kingdoms. To Harold II, the exploits of his renegade brother must have caused him some concern. Although Tostig became a thorn in the side of Harold, he would not have seen him as a threat to the kingdom. Harold was probably more concerned with the activity that was taking place in Scandinavia.

A Giant Of A Man

arald Hardrada, the king of Norway was a giant of a man in stature as well as deed. His very name meant hard council. His exploits were legendary. He was ruthless and mercenary, his blood lust knew no bounds. He was the epitome of the murderous Viking. Stories abound about this man. Probably the most famous was when he was laying siege to a city, he conceived a plan to enter it by fooling the priesthood that he was dying and that he wished for a Christian burial. Overjoyed at the thought that this barbarian was at last seeing the error of his ways, the people and priests opened the doors of the city to them. Hardrada was placed in a coffin and escorted into the city with Viking bearers. As the priests who now welcomed Hardrada with open arms reached the entourage, Hardrada rose from the dead. The priests now fled for their lives. It was too late, Hardrada and his men had succeeded in fooling them into opening the gates. A massacre ensued. The city was ransacked and all valuables taken. This was a Trojan horse exercise which paid off for Hardrada.

No One Is Safe

ardrada had been a seafarer from an early age. Captured in Byzantium, he managed to escape from the Empress who had imprisoned him. In revenge, he blinded her husband and abducted her niece. He married a Russian princess and had made plans to invade Denmark. Even though we tend to think of Vikings as a single race originating from Scandinavia, they spent a considerable amount of time fighting amongst themselves. Hardrada fought under a banner of a black raven on a white background. Unfortunately his plans to invade Denmark came to nothing because his reputation had preceded him. The Danes made preparations to combat his invasion. Seeing that this was a hopeless ambition, he turned his sights elsewhere. Those sites were on England.

Pirate Or Madman?

ll through the early months of 1066, Hardrada prepared his invasion force. His justification for this exploit was the agreement between Hardicanute and his father, Magnus of Norway. Not that this would probably have made any difference to him. Hardrada knew that England had a large population of Scandinavian settlers from past campaigns, who he hoped would give him their allegiance. This was no ordinary campaign for Hardrada, he obviously knew of the fate of previous expeditions to England but his arrogance, blood lust and piratical mentality overcame any caution he may have had. It was in 1066 that there was a visitation by Haley's comet which had not gone unnoticed by them. A comet was considered to be an omen of bad luck. Even so, Hardrada set sail.

Across The Channel

cross the English Channel, another claimant to the English thrown was making preparations to collect his prize. William Duke of Normandy, in his eyes the only true claimant of the thrown of England after the promise made to him by Edward the Confessor and the pledge of allegiance made by Harold under duress. Hardrada and William were not the only ones who could make a claim to the English throne.

Don't Forget My Claim To The Throne

weyn Estridson, king of Denmark could also have made a claim to the throne. Being a nephew of Hardicanute and grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard, would have been a serious candidate. His major concern was with Harold Hardrada and his aborted plans to invade Denmark. To this end, he threw his support behind William. One more candidate, Edgar Aetheling, the son of Edmund Ironside who had retreated to Hungary was discounted due to the fact that he was only about 12 years old. Emma would not have allowed the young Edgar to be involved in the politics, knowing that his future would be in serious danger of being cut short.

It Was Bound To Happen

arold knew that when he became king he would have to make preparations for battle. There were too many heir apparents for their to be peace for any length of time. He was not to be disappointed. His spies would have informed him of the build-up from beyond the North Sea and across the English Channel in Normandy. To this end, he made his plans to counteract any invasion force that might threaten his kingship. Harold had spent most of his life in the southern part of England and apart from his exploits abroad in Normandy had not had great dealings with affairs in the North. It was important to him to unify the country to combat the imminent danger. He travelled north to pacify Edwin and Morcar, who had bad memories of Harold's brother Tostig and his draconian measures in Northumbria. To cement the alliance he married Edith, the sister of Edwin and Morcar. Remember he already had a common law wife by the name of Edith Swan Neck. How she must have felt when she heard this news is obvious. This was a political marriage for the sake of the kingdom.

Who First?

arold was in a difficult position. He knew he was going to be invaded on two fronts, but who would be first? It would seem that his plans were more biased towards an invasion by William than Hardrada. The alliance with Edwin and Morcar allowed some semblance of security North of the Wash, which would be the invasion destination of Hardrada. Hardrada would seek the assistance of the naturalized Nordics. This was strange because Hardrada was Norwegian and many of the settlers in Danelaw were Danish. Considering the animosity that was taking place between Norway and Denmark, his perception that he would receive immediate support on landing seemed somewhat arrogant.

My Brother Tostig

t was bad enough to know how to plan a defence of his kingdom with two possible invasion forces ready to strike. He had not even managed to stop his own brother Tostig from raiding the English shores. Tostig on his own was no threat. Unfortunately circumstances were to change. Tostig forged an alliance with Hardrada. It is first thought that Tostig tried to make an alliance with William especially as he had been exiled to Flanders and was the husband of Judith, the daughter of Count Balduin of Flanders. He had an affinity with William. It seems however, that the attempt failed. His only other option was Hardrada. How this liaison was formed is unclear but was probably the friendship he had with Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. This occurred following his raids on the southern coastline of England. Tostig arrived with about 60 ships and men and managed to recruit others from England, mostly from the town of Sandwich, which he occupied. He continued around the Eastern coast of England and headed north. Here he came across the resistance of Edwin and Morcar. The promise of wealth and fortune soon turned sour for the volunteers. Many boats mutinied, were lost or just gave up. By the late summer of 1065, Tostig reached the haven of Malcolm Canmore. Here he rested over Winter. It is thought that he forged his alliance with Hardrada over this period.

Wessex, Then England?

o counteract the raids of Tostig and to prepare for the invasion of William, Harold mobilized his fyrd and fleet and stationed them in Sandwich and off the Isle of Wight respectively. Harold obviously cared more about his beloved Wessex than what was occurring in the north. His political marriage was a small price to pay for the alliance of Edwin and Morcar. The logistics of keeping a large army in battle readiness in those days was itself a major achievement. The system used was very similar to that devised by Alfred the Great two hundred years before. It basically consisted of a rota system where men were expected to serve the country for at least two months per year. (More will be said about this system in another section). Eventually when no invasion happened, Harold disbanded the fyrd and brought his ships to port to await further developments. To keep them active any longer became expensive to the Crown, for reasons that will be explained later. It was not Harold's intention at this stage to disband his army, but by the 8th September there was no more food left to feed such a large force. Another more mundane reason for the disbandment, was the fact that it was harvest time. To try and keep the fyrd on active duty when their crops were due to be harvested, whatever the threat to the country, the land came first. Harold must also have calculated that it was becoming increasingly unlikely that William would attempt an invasion this late in the season. How wrong he would be.

A Bad Move

ow much Harold knew about the alliance between Hardrada and Tostig is unknown. It seems however a counter productive step to bring his ships home to port in London when a serious threat such as this looms large. Harold had spent some time in London and allegedly fell ill, possibly with a recurrence of the paralysis he had suffered when younger. He departed for Waltham Abbey, that he had founded and which would later be his resting place. Here he prayed with the Abbott. He made a full recovery. Around about the 15th or 16th of September 1066, Harold must have been informed of the exploits of Hardrada and Tostig down the north eastern coast of England. Joining forces, Tostig from Scotland and Hardrada from Norway, they met at the mouth of the River Tyne. Together they sailed south and sacked Scarborough and Cleveland. From here they boarded their longboat and continued south and into the Humber estuary. They continued up the estuary until they came to a place known as Ricall where the River Ouse meets the River Wharfe which eventually leads to Tadcaster. The invading force of Hardrada and Tostig would have consisted of three hundred ships at a minimum and five hundred at maximum and possibly five to six thousand men of different affiliations. These would have been Flemish, Scottish and various get rich quick Englishmen, along with Hardrada's men.

Edwin And Morcar

ware of the atrocities at Scarborough and other locations on their way to Ricall, Edwin and Morcar rallied the fyrd. They marched to Tadcaster to engage Hardrada and Tostig. A battle ensued on the Northern bank of the Ouse. It raged all day. Heavy casualties were sustained by both sides but at the end of the day, Hardrada was victorious. Today this conflict is known as the Battle of Fulford, fought on the 20th September 1066. This victory for Hardrada seriously weakened Harold's options. He relied on Edwin and Morcar to deal with the threat. He now had two fronts to worry about. Fulford was only a short march north. The inhabitants immediately surrendered to him and offered hostages, which was normal in those days. Harold could not allow Hardrada and Tostig to continue terrorizing the north, he immediately marched north.


e quickly assembled his housecarls and fyrd and in a legendary march of nearly 200 miles, covered in five days he made camp about 20 km south west of York around or in Tadcaster. Resting his men for the night, he assembled them and marched towards and possibly straight through York with little or no resistance. Hardrada and Tostig and their men were now encamped about 12 km east, awaiting the delivery of hostages from York. Harold was now very close. Hardrada must have been unaware of the danger his men were in. Much of their armour and weapons were left at Ricall with his ships. He probably thought that Harold would not dare come north after the heavy defeat of Edwin and Morcar. Not only that, how could he possibly be here, only five days after the Battle of Fulford?

The Glint Of Armour

he first Hardrada new of the arrival of Harold was the sight of the dust and glint of armour. Hardrada immediately sent word on horseback to his ships and remaining men at Ricall. Hardrada was camped on the East bank of the Derwent river and therefore had a natural barrier to aid his defence. This river would have to be breached if a battle was to take place. The only crossing was a wooden footbridge that could be defended by a single individual. Some of Hardrada's men were unfortunately trapped on the western bank of the river. Their fate was quickly sealed. Harold's men quickly advanced to the western bank and taunted the enemy. A lone soldier, single handed, protected the bridge and the English onslaught until one of Harold's men managed to slip underneath and spear him from below.


ne story concerning this battle is worth recounting. It concerns the action of Harold before the main battle occurred. A meeting was arranged between the leaders of both sides, under a flag of truce. Harold himself, possibly dressed not to be recognized met Hardrada and Tostig. He offered Tostig Northumbria and a third of his kingdom if he submitted to him. This must have been very tempting to Tostig. He asked what he was prepared to give Hardrada. Harold replied "The only thing I am prepared to give him is seven feet of English soil, or as much more as he may be taller than other men". Following this response, any treaty or hope of peace disappeared. Each side were committed. Hardrada asked Tostig "Who was that man who spoke so well"? When Tostig informed Hardrada that it was his brother Harold, Hardrada replied that if he had known that, he would never have been allowed to ride away. This story should be taken with a pinch of salt, as it comes from a Norwegian source written 200 years later. .

Stamford Bridge

Stamford Bridge. You can just see the line of the River Derwent in front of the trees.



onsidering the importance of this battle to English history, very little is known about it. Most comes from a Norwegian source, a man named Snorri Sturlasson. Once the bridge had been breached the battle commenced. As with many battles of that time, it was fought in traditional style. This would mean a swords and battleaxes which belies the origins of the combatants. It is also thought that specialist archers were utilized by Harold and it was one of these arrows that eventually pierced the throat of Harald Hardrada. The rest of Hardrada's men had arrived from Ricall and fought beserker style - like men possessed. The blood lust of the Norse men nearly inflicted a defeat on Harold. He managed to rally his men onwards. The Vikings had marched in full armour for a number of kilometres and were soon tiring under the English onslaught. Discarding their armour they became easy targets during the hand to hand phase that it inevitably came down to in the end. By early evening the battle was over. Harold was victorious. To consolidate his victory, he could so easily have marched to Ricall and destroyed what was left of the invaders. He however, allowed Hardrada's son Olaf to round up the injured and defeated and sail back to Norway. Of the hundreds of ships Hardrada had arrived with, Olaf required only 24 to return home. This gives some idea of the casualties they must have suffered. Hardrada and Harold's brother Tostig now lay dead. Never again would England suffer the threat of a massive invasion by Vikings. The threat of invasion from the Norse men may have been removed for good but an even more powerful force had set sail for England's shores. .


A rare and valuable skull of this period showing what damage a sword or Danish battle axe can inflict.

It Makes Me Mad

he news of the coronation of Harold a few months earlier must have infuriated William. After Harold's oath of 1064 and the promise made to him by Edward the Confessor, he must have considered all his options until he was left with only one. To this end, he prepared himself for invasion. Duke William would have discussed this plan with his half brothers Odo and Robert to see if it was viable. With their support he called a council of war. This would be made up of his immediate family, vassals and advisers. The council of war took place at Lillebonne and included eminent members such as William of Poitiers, Robert de Mortain, Richard Count of Evreux, Roger of Beaumont and various others. It was from these powerful men that owed fealty to their Lord, an army would be raised. Under the feudal system it would be expected that these men would supply the means to invade England. Not only would they be expected to supply the manpower but the ships required to traverse the English Channel and all other requirements that may be needed for Williams invasion plan. This was the penalty of their position. When Williams plan was put before the council, it was met with derision. Even though understood their commitment, their was no provision for fighting overseas. As hard as William tried to persuade them, the council eventually broke up in disarray. This made William very angry. William being William however, did not give up. He was determined and resolute enough to get his way. If he could not persuade them at the council, he would try on a one to one basis. He would remind them of their duty and what riches awaited those who accompanied him. Eventually he gained support from his vassals. William realised that he would have to turn this trip into a crusade. To do this he would need the blessing of the Pope. He managed this by persuading the Pope of Harold's promise and treachery. At first the Pope refused on political grounds because of the implications to the Church. Pope Alexander II was a pupil of Lanfranc who was now a trusted adviser to William. It was this fact that his blessing was eventually given. William now had the papal banner on his side. This made it much easier to rally his men to arms.

Papal Blessing, So God Is On Our Side

ow that William had the blessing of Rome, he wasted no time in his preparations. This impending conflict was now being seen as William had hoped, a crusade rather than what it really was, a personal vendetta. He was now able to gain support not only in Normandy but from surrounding provinces and he even managed to be given verbal, if not physical support from Germany and Denmark.

To Build A Fleet

he logistics of invading another country are enormous. It is well understood that you must have more men, weapons and food than your opponents. By the time William had managed to persuade his countryman of the viability of the expedition, he was in no position to carry it out. Simply because he had very few ships for an operation such as this. His first task was to commission the building of a fleet large enough to convey his force and provisions across the English Channel. These boats were based on the Viking longboats. Some 500 plus were built or requisitioned in very short time.

Ready To Sail

y the middle of August 1066, William was ready to set sail. Unfortunately, due to adverse weather conditions and unfavourable winds, the invasion was delayed. William decided that he should move his fleet closer to the English coast to ensure a safer crossing. On the 12th September 1066, he moved the fleet to St Valery sur Somme, as its name suggests, a port in the estuary of the river Somme. Moving the fleet here made the eventual crossing much shorter. St Valery was under the control of Count Guy of Ponthieu who was sympathetic to William's cause. Now that William had moved his ships from the mouth of the Dives in Normandy to St Valery, it was important that the crossing was made as soon as possible. Again the weather turned against him. He now had the problem of keeping a large force of men fed and ready for battle. By the 211th October 1066, the weather had become favourable. During the previous two weeks the morale of his men began to decrease. Without William's motivation and determination to claim the English throne which he rightfully thought belonged to him, the invasion may have floundered here. By dusk, the ships were fully loaded and ready to depart. It was his plan to sail through the night and to land the following morning as day broke. William's ship the Mora would have given the command to set sail, possibly by the use of a light on the mast or by horn. William's flag ship became separated from the main fleet by day break. Un-perturbed he cast out his anchor and had breakfast and waited for the rest to catch up. Around 6:30 a.m. they were spotted. The fleet re grouped and continued towards the English coast.

Pevensey Bay

illiam's ships landed at Pevensey Bay. In 1066 Pevensey was different to the way it is now. Then, the sea was un-retained and consisted of vast areas of marsh land which extended as far as Pevensey Castle, a monument that can still be viewed today. The Roman perimeter wall gives some idea of the extent of the problem William encountered by landing there, as it some distance from the actual sea. The whole area would have been subject to flooding during high tides even beyond the castle. In fact the whole area would have been a natural lagoon then.


y 8:30 a.m. the fleet had landed. The tally of ships lost amounted to only two. One of these boats contained William's soothsayer or astrologer. When William heard of his fate, he commented. "He could not have been very good if he could not have foretold his own demise". The fact was that these lost boats sailed into Old Romney where they were captured and all crew and soldiers were put to death. This action by the locals was to be severely punished later. When William stepped off his boat, he slipped and fell into the mud. Picking himself up he possibly smiled when a knight stated that the Duke had the earth of England in his hands. It was important that occurrences such as this were defused because they were seen as bad omens.

Waiting For Harold

n disembarking, William would have sent out scouts to survey the area for the English and for a route out of Pevensey Bay. It is likely the local population would have scattered by now, with the word of William's landing speeding on its way to Harold. The Norman scouts would also have reported that it would be very difficult to unload the ships there if they wished to move quickly inland. William must have heeded their advice because he made the decision to re-board his boats and sail along the coast to Hastings. He would have left a small force to make their way along the coastal route on foot. How much information William had received on the English position is unknown. He must have known that Harold had ordered the fleet back home. It is less certain that he knew of the Viking invasion of Harald Hardrada. Hastings was a good choice of base for William. The area along the South Downs between Hastings and Pevensey was difficult but had the advantage of security for William's troops. He knew he would not be invaded from the east coast side. William also knew that he was only a few tens of KM's from Dover where a Roman road stretches to London, his eventual goal. On arrival at Hastings, which probably by this time was virtually deserted, he unloaded his boats. He constructed a wooden fortress and waited for news of Harold. It would not be long.

The March South

he exact time that Harold heard of the landing of William is not known but was possibly on 30th September at the earliest assuming a rider immediately headed north to York as soon as the invasion fleet was observed. It would have been only five days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He knew William was coming, he never thought it would be this soon. He was now in a dilemma. He was three hundred miles from Hastings with a depleted if not defeated force. How was he too defend the country now? Whatever went through his mind, he decided by the 2nd October to march south again. In a historic march he arrived in London on the 6th October 1066. Harold stayed in London only until the 11th October 1066 before marching towards Hastings with his men. On the 13th October 1066 he camped on Caldbec Hill, 10 km north of Hastings. Here the most famous English battle would be fought.



copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014 - 2015