Edward the Confessor died in January 1066 without leaving an heir to the throne of England. Many thought they had the right to the throne, but it was Harold Godwinson who was crowned king.
Both King Harald Hardrada of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy believed they had rightful claim to the throne, and both decided to try and claim it.
Harald Hardrada, his forces strengthened by Tostig, brother of Harold Godwinson, landed with his army of around 11,000 men on the English coast in September 1066.
They first defeated an army led by Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar, Earl of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford on 20 September. Following this victory, Hardrada seized the city of York.
Harold Godwinson was unsure what to do. Should he travel north and confront Hardrada or stay south waiting for the invasion from William, Duke of Normandy?
With the seizure of York, the decision was made, Godwinson must travel north and he did so at great speed. He marched his army from London to Yorkshire, over 190 miles (305 km) in only four days.
Godwinson became aware that Northumbria were handing over hostages to Hardrada at Stamford Bridge and so marched his army there.
Hardrada, not realising that Godwinson had travelled north, was taken completely by surprise on 25 September.
On this date the Battle of Stamford Bridge took place, although the exact location is debated.
Hardrada’s army were relaxing in the hot sun. Some had removed their mail shirts, and others laid about without their weapons. They had no idea what was about to happen.
As the battle commenced, many of Hardrada’s men were without their armour, weapons and helmets, having left them behind at their base camp in the village of Riccall; they had nothing to protect them. Their army were split in two, but they tried to join and form a defensive circle, however without basic protection they were sitting targets.
The small Norwegian contingent holding the approach to the bridge were quickly killed. Fierce fighting commenced that went way past the bridge. The English army attacked at force downhill and the result was all but secured. The Norwegian army were massacred.
Both Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold Godwinson, agreed a truce with the remaining leaders, allowing them to limp home to Norway on the understanding that they didn’t invade England again.
Harold Godwinson had been victorious at the first claim to his throne, but his success was not to last long. Less than three weeks later he was to meet William, Duke of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.