When people here the name Stamford Bridge they assume it was a bridge uniting two communities seperated by a river. There was, however, no community on either side of the bridge that crossed the Derwent River at the time of this monumental battle. Stamford bridge was simply a name given to a number of crossing points over this now historical river. The battle that took place at this lonely out of the way crossing is considered to be a pivotal point in history. Some even argue, the pivotal point in history. It marked the end of the Viking Age, and helped the Normans conquer Britain.
Stamford Bridge would probably never have had any historical significance if not for the death of the English King Edward the Confessor at the beginning of 1066 A.C.E. His death left a power vacuum that many leaders throughout Scandinavia and Europe hoped to fill. Harold Godwinson was chosen, as king of England, over his younger brother Tostig, who was exiled in 1065, which angered the younger brother. Tostig then threw his support behind Harald Hardrada of Norway.
Harald, with an invading army, marched into York, which he treated as a friendly town. He even offered them the chance to join him in his march south " to conquer the realm ". The fact that he had an Englishmen, Tosti, with him probably made recruiting Englishmen easier, though there is no account of English fighting on the Norwegians side. Harald marched south with the bulk of his army to Stamford Bridge on the Derwent River. Moving away from his ships, and his base, shows how over confident Harald was. What the Norwegian king did not know was that King Harald Godwinson was marching north with an army to meet him. When a foreign army marches through your land the word spreads quickly, and Harald Godwinson made the most of the information that he received.
The English king marched so rapidly through the familiar countryside that he came upon the unsuspecting Norwegians after a speedy seventeen mile march. The Norwegians were situated on the east bank of the Derwent River, and because of their over confidence did not guard the crossings as well as they should have. The better prepared English, supposedly the Norwegians left their heavier weapons back with the ships, fought it out all day with the Norwegians in a very hard fought, and bloody battle, that mostly consisted of hand to hand, one on one combat. Finally after both Tostig ,and Harald Hardrada, were killed the Norwegians were forced to flee back in the direction of their ships. Many Norwegians were cut down, even after the reinforcements came up from York. Harold Godwinson finally gave quarter to Olaf, Harald Hardrada's son, but only 24 long boats made it back to Norway. 300 ships had landed in England !
In the Anglo - Saxon Chronicles we are told the grand tale of a giant Norse Berserker, who armed with a huge axe, held up the English army for some time by blocking the way across the Stamford Bridge. The Chronicles say that he slew up to 40 Englishmen himself before he was slain by an English warrior who floated under the bridge in a barrel, and thrust a spear up through the bridge boards killing the mighty berserker. Factual or not, it is a wonderful story that points out the great bravery of these Viking warriors, who fought toe to toe with their English foes. Something that is seldom seen in todays long range, never see the enemy, warfare.
The Norwegians were finally reinforced by the fully armed troops who had stayed behind to guard the ships at Ricall. Their leader, Eystein Orri, rushed his men to the battlefield. Some it is said, died of exhaustion along the way in the hot weather, running in full battle gear. They attacked the English fiercely, and were able to slow down their advance, but could not stop them. The Norwegians were soon overwhelmed, and their leader, Eystein Orri, was killed.
We will never know what exactly happened on this great historical battlefield, but we do know that the fighting was long and fierce. It is written that 70 years after the battle ended, the combatants bones could still be found littering the field of battle. More importantly to history, this fierce battle depleted and exhausted the English army, and they were soon, ( just three weeks later ), defeated by the Viking descended Normans of France, under the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror. This even more famous battle, The Battle of Hastings, was fought on September 28th, 1066.
As mentioned earlier many historians feel that 1066 marked the end of the Viking Age, though Sweyn II of Denmark tried to enter England through York much the way Harald Hardrada had three years earlier. King Sweyn defeated the local Normans, and was able to get some of the local people to rise up against the Norman king. William the Conqueror, however, was a very strong king who eventually defeated the Danes and took vengeance against the local people who supported them.
Two side notes to this amazing historical battle are : 1. Olaf Kyrre, Harald Hardrada's brother ruled over Norway until 1093, and it is said that his reign was, "without strife or bloodshed ". 2. About a year after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harald Hardrada's body was brought back to Norway. He was / is buried in Nidaros, at St. Mary's church. " And thus ended the Viking Age " !
Go with Odin's wisdom, Freyja's love and Thor's protection !