Tostig

Early Life:

Tostig was the third son of Godwin (d. 1053), Earl of Wessex and Kent, and Gytha, daughter of Thorgils Sprakaleg. In 1051, he married Judith, the daughter of Count Baldwin IV of Flanders, half-sister of Baldwin V of Flanders, and aunt of Matilda of Flanders, who married William the Conqueror. The Domesday Book recorded twenty-six vills or townships as being held by Earl Tostig forming the Manor of Hougun.

Death:

Hardrada’s army invaded York, taking hostages after a peaceful surrender, and likely agreed with the local inhabitants to gather commandeered supplies at Stamford Bridge, near York, a conveniently central spot, well-fed by streams and roads. King Harold Godwinson raced northward with an English army from London and, on 25 September 1066, surprised Tostig and about 6,000 of his men, basking in the sun and awaiting supplies. The Norwegians and the Flemish mercenaries hired by Tostig were largely without armour and carried only personal weapons. The day was very hot and no resistance was expected. The remainder of the 11,000 man force remained guarding the Norse ships, beached miles away at Riccall.

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Additional reading:

The Battle of Stamford Bridge Society

Each year, the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society holds a big two day re-enactment event surrounding the battle that occurred on September 25th, 1066. This years event will be held on September 22nd/23rd. It attracts around 300-400 Saxon and Viking warriors. These folks set up living history tents and then re-enact various aspects of the battle. The tents depict what life was like for these people during the 11th century. Visitors can also listen to skalds telling sagas and watch court being held.

Kingdom of Northumbria

The kingdom of Northumbria originally consisted of the two independent kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Bede writes that Ida was the earliest king of Bernicia. In the early seventh century, Ethelfrith expelled the heir to Deira and ruled over both Bernicia and Deira for the first time, forming Northumbria. A few decades later, Oswald expanded the kingdom considerably west and north, covering the south-east portion of modern day Scotland. Oswald re-introduced Christianity to his people and appointed St. Aidan to establish the monastery of Lindisfarne.

After Oswald’s death, Oswiu gained control of Mercia, making him the most powerful king in England. In the 650s, however, Northumbria lost control of Mercia once again. The kingdom was still extremely powerful until it suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Picts at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685.  From this point, the power of Northumbria seemed to gradually decline.

Fast forward two centuries to the Danish invasion of England. In 867, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless conquered Northumbria and installed a puppet king, Ecgberht, on the throne. For about 100 years, the kingdom passed between English and Danish rulers until Eadred finally took over after the death of the kingdom’s last independent monarch. Northumbria was now part of the greater English kingdom.

Additional reading:

Anglo-Saxon burial site discovered by modern day soldiers

Soldiers recovering from injuries in Afghanistan are serving as volunteer archaeologists on a project in England known as Operation Nightingale. Led by the Defense Infrastructure Organisation and the Army, the soldiers discovered the remains of an Anglo-Saxon warrior, buried with a spear and a wooden drinking cup overlaid with bronze bands. The site of the dig around Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain is believed to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery alongside an ancient burial burrow dating back to 2000 B.C.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

The Huscarls

The huscarls were the household troops of the English king. The traditional meaning of the term in Old Norse meant simply a household servant. The term later evolved to reference the personal bodyguard of the king. It is believed the huscarls were firmly established in England under the reign of Cnut in the early 11th century. This institution of household troops had existed in Scandinavia before this time, and it is thought that Cnut adopted this same practice in his English kingdom. When Edward the Confessor became king three reigns after Cnut, he still kept the huscarls intact and even gave some of them land, though most of them lived and served at the king’s court.

The huscarls equipped themselves with the best arms and armor: a sword, mail-shirt, helmet, shield, spear, and the two-handed war axe. They also rode horses into battle but dismounted to fight, as evidenced at the Battle of Hastings.

Fighting for the king, however, was not the only duty of the huscarls. They also collected taxes, witnessed royal charters, donated lands, and received land grants.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the organization of the huscarls seemingly disappeared. It is thought those huscarls who survived the battle migrated to the European continent and became mercenaries.

Main source:

Regia Anglorum: Who were the Huscarls?

Additional Reading:

English Logistics and military administration

English Logistics and military administration, 871-1066: The Impact of the Viking Wars
By Richard Abels
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King Harold Godwineson is remembered as one of the great `losers’ in history, the man who provided William the Bastard with the opportunity to earn a more flattering sobriquet. Harold’s defeat at Hastings has obscured not only the very real military talents that earned him victories over formidable Welsh and Viking opponents but, more importantly, the sophistication of the military organization he and other late Anglo-Saxon kings possessed. Scholars have not sufficiently appreciated Harold’s logistical accomplishments in the summer and autumn of 1066. Learning of William’s invasion plans. Harold summoned in May a massive naval and land force, characterized in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as “larger than any king had assembled before in this country.” He billeted his troops along the southern coast of England and harbored his fleet throughout the summer and early autumn on the Isle of Wight, awaiting William’s move. Finally, on 8 September, at least two months after the army and fleet had been assembled, provisions finally ran out and the troops returned home. Almost immediately thereafter Harold learned of the invasion of Harald Hardrada, hurriedly assembled a new army and forced marched it some 200 miles along the Great North Road to Stamford Bridge, then, after a hard fought and bloody victory, he forced marched the survivors south to confront William at Hastings.

Read the full article.

The Viking Invasion of England: Lindisfarne Abbey

The sack of Lindisfarne Abbey is considered by many historians to begin the period of the Viking invasions of England. It is mentioned briefly in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as such:

This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.

While this was not the first time the Vikings came to England, it is certainly the most memorable. This invasion would spark a series of subsequent invasions that lasted for the next few centuries as the Norsemen attempted to conquer the entirety of England.

Additional Reading:

Cross and bed found in Anglo-Saxon grave

From The Guardian:

The dead are often described as sleeping, but archaeologists in Cambridgeshire have uncovered a bed on which the body of a young Anglo-Saxon woman has lain for more than 1,300 years, a regal gold and garnet cross on her breast.

Three more graves, of two younger women and an older person whose sex has not yet been identified, were found nearby.

Forensic work on the first woman’s bones suggests she was about 16, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.

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Harold II Godwinson

King Harold II Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England (c 1022 – 14 October 1066)

Harold was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and was killed by William, Duke of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.

Harold was born in the early 1020s, the son of Godwine, Earl of Wessex. He succeeded to his father’s titles in 1053, becoming the second most powerful man in England after the monarch. He was also a focus for opposition to the growing Norman influence in England encouraged by the king, Edward (known as ‘the Confessor’ for his piety).

Read Harold’s brief biography at the BBC.

Additional reading:

Historic Figures: Alfred the Great

Article from the BBC:

King of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex and one of the outstanding figures of English history, as much for his social and educational reforms as for his military successes against the Danes. He is the only English monarch known as ‘the Great’.

Alfred was born at Wantage in Oxfordshire in 849, fourth or fifth son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. Following the wishes of their father, the sons succeeded to the kingship in turn. At a time when the country was under threat from Danish raids, this was aimed at preventing a child inheriting the throne with the related weaknesses in leadership. In 870 AD the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces were commanded by Alfred’s older brother, King Aethelred, and Alfred himself.

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