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Resource Centre Home > Viking > The Norman Conquest > The Viking Invasion  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
Viking period ship depicted in ironwork on the 12th century church door at Stillingfleet, Yorkshire.
 
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Viking period ship depicted on the church door at Stillingfleet, Yorkshire
The Viking Invasion

The Viking fleet left Norway and sailed first to Orkney, still a Norse territory. There and as he sailed south, Harald Hardrada, the Norwegian king, recruited other forces. His first landfall was at the Tyne, where he met sea-borne forces of the ousted Earl Tostig. Together, they raided the Yorkshire coast, before sailing into the Humber estuary and up the tidal waters of the river Ouse towards York.

York was the greatest city in Northumbria and with it went control of the whole of the north. The city had been under Scandinavian control for much of the preceding two centuries and was in many respects still a Viking town. It was therefore the obvious first target for an invading Scandinavian army and would provide the ideal base for a campaign to secure the rest of the kingdom.

In the 11th century the river Ouse was navigable right up to the city of York, giving an invasion force unique access to the heart of the region. Hardrada's fleet was far to large for any English naval forces in the north to challenge and they must have fallen back. But the enemy fleet stopped short of York itself, establishing a base at Riccall, just 8 miles south of the city. Leaving sufficient men to secure the boats, the Viking army marched overland towards York.

On the 20th September 1066 at Gate Fulford, a mile and a half south of the city walls they defeated the English northern forces under Earls Edwin and Morcar. But despite this victory, although Hardrada took tribute and hostages from York, he did not occupy the city. Instead he fell back on his base at Riccall and then marched east to Stamford Bridge, a meeting place for the East Riding of Yorkshire, where he was to receive the submission of other lords in the region.

Harold was in the south expecting to meet an invasion force from across the Channel when news arrived in London that the Viking invasion was underway. He then marched north with his main army. Though they always fought on foot, the troops would ride to the battlefield, and so by the 24th September the English forces had already reached Tadcaster. There the great road from London to York made its last major river crossing before the approach to the city.

On the 25th they marched to York, presumably picking up the remaining English troops that had survived the battle at Fulford, and then on immediately to Stamford Bridge. The Viking army was caught completely by surprise, just as Harold intended. The invaders were defeated and both Harald Hardrada and Tostig killed. From Riccall just a remnant of the Viking army returned to Norway, leaving King Harold, for the moment, in complete control of England.

FURTHER READING

Not surprisingly, the northern campaign is far less well served by modern historical studies than the Hastings campaign, just as it is so poorly served by original accounts. However most of the studies of 1066 will provide a brief overview. The most valuable book by far is by De Vires:

  • DeVries, K. The Norwegian invasion of England in 1066, Warfare in History, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1999.

 

   
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