Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Battle of Gate Fulford Part Two

In Part One, we saw that Harald Hardrada beat Edwin of Mercia's right flank with a lightening charge accompanied by warhorns that heralded his victory. Edwin's huscarles broke and died where they stood and the levies panicked and fled back toward York.  Having overwhelmed Edwin's men, Hardrada now closed in to support Tostig on his right flank and Morcar's men were trapped in the swamp. Many met their deaths there in those murky muddy waters, sucking their bodies into its ravenous depths. Florence of Worcester claims that there were less men killed on the battlefield that drowned than in the river.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the day saw great slaughter on both sides but the Norsemen took possession of the field and the glory was theirs. Many corpses were bogged down in the river and the 'causeway of corpses' was to be remembered long after the battle. Those that managed to flee, escaped to the relative safety of York with both the Earls and their surviving men. The young brothers were inexperienced and could have only have been aged between 17-19 at the time. They were the sons of Alfgar of Mercia, the rogue Earl who had allied himself on more than one occasion with  the Welsh to oppose Harold Godwinson and King Edward. Alfgar had died around 1062 and Mercia had passed into his son Edwin's hands. Later, younger brother Morcar had been elected Earl by the Northumbrians in a unprecedented move to oust Tostig Godwinson as their earl. Tostig had been Earl of Northumbria since 1055 but his harsh rule had made him unpopular and the men of the North revolted in 1065, demanding that they would have none other than Morcar as their leader,  threatening to blaze a trail through the country if their demands were not met.

The devastating defeat must have been harrowing for the brothers in their first real engagement. They appear to have fought bravely and the battle may have gone either way. The Battle of Fulford Trust believe that the Vikings outnumbered the English and this may have contributed to Hardrada's forces being able to roll up round them and crush them as re-inforcements arrived. Peter Marren (2004) states in his book 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge and Hastings that he does not necessary agree with this theory that the English were out numbered and that the armies were comparable in size.

The lie of the land meant that Edwin and Morcar's troops would have had difficulty in keeping track of each other. According to the Battle of Fulford Trust, if either of the English flanks gave way, the other side would not have known and this would have made them extremely vulnerable as they were to find out when Hardrada made his charge. Hardrada also had a much better view of the battle from some higher ground on the approach. From a higher vantage point, he would have been able to command his troops more effectively.

Considering the lack of experience and their youth, the young English brothers made a brave attempt to hold off the invaders and defend their city. They had obviously picked their spot with great care and thought, but their rawness in the field may have led to them disregarding such an important point as the lay of the land. Once their lines were broken, the Norwegians were able to break through and push them sideways without their respective flanks being able to pull backround together. Those that fled the onslaught made their way back to York, those that didn't were slaughtered where they fought.

During the 1990's excavations of bones thought to be those of Edwin's and Morcar's men were found with unhealed sword cuts to legs and arms, cracked or decapitated skulls and the typical injuries that are caused by arrows and other sharply tipped weapons such as spears. Many injuries were in the back and at least one had multiple deep cuts.

As violent and brutal as this battle was, it was just the first that the warriors of England were to endure that year. Edwin and Morcar and his surviving troops didn't make it to Hastings. But there was another northern battle yet to come before Hastings took place. The Battle of Stamford Bridge takes place 5 days later. In that battle, the victorious Vikings were to meet a new enemy, the army of Harold, the King of England.

References and further reading
Marren P (2004) 1066 The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings Pen and Sword books Ltd, Yorkshire.
Swanton M (1996) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, London.

If you enjoy reading about the events of this period you may enjoy my novel Sons of the Wolf  available also on Amazon and all good leading bookstores. Visit my website for more about the author

Coming up soon the Battle of Stamford Bridge

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