The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Eoin Purcell

A re-enactment of The Battle of Stamford Bridge

A re-enactment of The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Complex stories
One of the battles that has most fascinated me over the years has been King Harold Godwinson of England’s victory over the forces Norwegian force of King Harald Hardrada and Earl Tostig Godwinson (that’s right, Harold’s brother) at Stamford Bridge (that link will take you to Wikipedia, but this one for the UK Battlefield Resource Centre is excellent as well). The battle did not go well for the Norwegians. Google Books has a great account of the battle here in The history of England from the earliest times to the Norman conquest by Thomas Hodgkin.

What has always amazed me about that battle and the characters involved is that in Harold Godwinson we have on the one hand the known villain of subsequent (and of the contemporary) propaganda especially the amazingly effective Bayeux Tapestry (a quite incredible piece of public propaganda which is well worth visiting). Harold has come down by the victor of the Battle of Hastings word as an oath breaker.

Because of that twist of faith, we don’t remember Harold’s own victory at Stamford or the fact that he was seen by many Saxons as England’s bulwark against Norman influence. What’s more because of Hastings, we don’t hear the story of the brother’s Godwinson or indeed of Harald Hardrada who as the link above makes clear had a fascinating life himself.

All told, Stamford Bridge and the ignored heroism or at the very least success if you will of Harold reinforces for me the sense that very often history recalls not the reality of a persons life but only the most resonate aspect of it, that events which have relevance are often overshadowed by subsequent less important but better recorded happenings.

Enjoy the weekend!
Eoin

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