25 September 1066

The Viking invasions of England end with a loss in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.


In September 1066, while England warily watched its southern coast, anticipating the Norman invasion force forming up across the channel, a nasty surprise erupted at the other end of the country: A fleet of 300 dragon-headed Viking longships descended from the northeast, bearing some 9,000 armed, plunder-seeking warriors. The berserkers had returned.

As the village of Cleveland and then the city of Scarborough fell to Norse axes and fire, it became clear that several thousand mounted Normans were no longer England’s most immediate concern. After sacking Scarborough, the Viking force—which largely consisted of Norwegians, as well as Scots, Flemings and some Englishsailed up the Humber estuary as far as Riccall on the River Ouse. The invaders lined miles of riverfront with their ships, then disembarked and made for the city of York, just nine miles north of the Ouse.

The Viking commander alone was enough to strike terror in the hearts of English defenders: King Harald III Sigurdsson of Norway, aka Harald Hardrada was a career warlord, a broad-shouldered giant of a man who stood well over 6 feet and who had spent the preceding 35 years honing his martial skills in a variety of conflicts, taking him from the royal court in Kiev to the palaces of Byzantium. Soon after assuming the throne of Norway in 1047, Hardrada—who was flamboyant as he was fierce and a prolific composer of heroic sagas—launched into a protracted war with Denmark, not tasting victory until 1064. By 1066 the ever-ambitious warrior—who, like Duke William of Normandy, was a potential claimant to the English throne—hungered for a new conquest. At the urging of a future ally, Hardrada set his sights on England.