1066: The return of Earl Tostig

In my previous post about 11th century Yorkshire, Northern Powerhouse of 1065, I wrote about how northeners, fed up with mis-governenance under Earl Tostig, made a stand.

Tostig was exiled, and the Northerners thought they’d done with him.

Unfortunately, he decided he wasn’t done with them.

An 11th century army

Initially, he cleared off to Flanders, where his wife was half-sister of its ruler, Count Baldwin V.  Baldwin gave them a house and a living in St Omer.  But Tostig was not satisfied.

It’s not easy to divine what a man felt at this distance.  But I would say that the evidence shows that Tostig was immensely resentful of being exiled from England.  So resentful, that I suspect he believed that HE should have become its king, rather than his brother Harold.  Because, in Tostig’s absence, King Edward had died, and Tostig’s brother Harold had become king.

The choice of Harold looks like a reasonable succession.  At that time, the succession didn’t automatically go to the King’s eldest son. A new king was chosen by the Witan – the group of ‘wise men’ whose job was to advise the king.   A new king could be selected from an array of possible relatives – usually sons, nephews, or even brothers, if the sons were deemed too young.  King Edward had no children.  His brothers were dead.  He had a great-nephew at court, but the boy was only about twelve years old.  Harold, the brother-in-law of the king, had, in effect, been running the country for years.  He looked like a safe pair of hands.

Tostig, however, clearly did not agree. He went on tour, attempting to drum up support for an armed invasion to restore his position as earl – and, probably, depose his brother, King Harold.

I would love to know exactly where Tostig went.  It seems agreed that he began in Flanders, and ended up in Norway.  His movements in between are hazy.  Some sources say he stopped off in Frisia and Denmark on his way.  None mention him going to Normandy – despite the fact that it was close to Flanders and its Countess, Matilda, was daughter of his host, Count Baldwin, and hence, Tostig’s wife’s niece.

Sources do agree, however, that Tostig ended up in Norway, where he forged an alliance with its King, Harald ‘Hardrada’.  Hardrada translates, roughly, as hard, or tough, rule, or counsel. 

Hardrada had a colourful history.  Forced by civil war to flee his country as a teenager, he became  a mercenary for the Byzantine Empire.  Quickly rising through the ranks, he amassed a fortune, married the daughter of the Prince of Kiev, and staged a military invasion to win the crown of Norway.  He was one of the most famed – and feared – warriors of Europe.

Tostig persuaded this Hardrada to invade England.  In 1066, they set sail. 

The fleet, of over 300 warships, hit the east coast of England.  They terrorised Scarborough by raining fire upon them from the cliff above.  The town burned down.  Anyone who survived the raid was forced to surrender, and hand over their wealth.

The fleet turned into the River Humber and sailed towards York, capital city of the North.

It was the job of the two Northern Earls, Edwin and Morcar, to defend the city.  They were young and untested in battle.  Morcar was likely still a teenager.

They tried their best.  They sent word to King Harold, requesting help.  They summoned local troops, and Edwin stationed a fleet of ships in the River Wharfe, ready to sail forth and block the way to York.

But Hardrada dodged Edwin’s fleet, by landing at Riccall, eight miles south of the city.  From here, he marched his army towards York.

Hardrada, the most feared warrior in Europe, was marching on York. 

Worse, much worse, he had with him the much-hated Earl Tostig.

There was no sign of reinforcements from King Harold.  Tostig and Hardrada drew near.  Five miles.  Four miles.  Three.  Two.  Two miles from York, the most populous city in the country bar London.

What were two young Earls to do?

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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