1066 was a tough year for Harold Godwinson, also known as Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. This had a lot to do with the two approaching forces who were trying to end his reign way earlier than he expected. One of them would be famously successful, and the other would get ended themselves. All Harold knew in September 1066 was that 300 Viking ships were on their way to England, and his good-for-nothing brother was floating along with them.
Tostig and Harold fighting at the court of Edward the Confessor. It seems rude to poke them with a giant stick while they're fighting.
Harold was ready for an invasion, just not a Viking invasion from the North. He was actually was waiting for William the Bastard, who was supposedly going to cross the English Channel. When the English King learned about his brother landing in England, Harold took his waiting Army north to meet him. The incoming Viking Army was already wreaking havoc on York and Northumbria and was waiting for the area to send more hostages to their camp at Stamford Bridge. That's where Harold rode, arriving in less than four days.
This move totally caught the Norwegians by surprise. The Vikings had no idea there was even an army in the area. When Harold II arrived, they were systematically cut down by the advancing Englishmen; the rest had to flee across the bridge. When the time came for the Anglo-Saxons to pursue, the bridge became a choke point the English just couldn't cross – because of one angry ax-wielding Viking who was cutting down Englishmen like it was his job.
Which it kind of was.
The Viking axeman held the English off for so long, the Vikings were able to form a shield wall on the other side of the river and prepare for whatever formation Harold was going to hurl at them. The sagas say he killed 40 people before being taken down and t was only when an English pikeman floated underneath the bridge and skewered the Viking like a Swedish meatball at Ikea that the standoff ended. The English eventually did cross the bridge and murder the Vikings to death. Harold allowed the rest of them to live as long as they pledged never to come back, making Stamford Bridge the historical end of the Viking Age.
It was also the beginning of the end for Harold. Three days later, the much-anticipated Norman Invasion of England finally arrived and the delay of Harold's army at Stamford Bridge allowed the Normans to land. Three weeks after that, Harold was killed fighting at the Battle of Hastings. William the Bastard took over England and became William the Conqueror.
The Norman conquest changed everything in England, from the cultural landscape to the way they talked – it even led to the formation of the British Empire, and later, the United States.
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- Battle of Stamford Bridge | Summary | Britannica ›
- Battle of Stamford Bridge - Ancient History Encyclopedia ›
- The Violent 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge | Smithsonian ›