Germany Beck, Fulford

When King Edward the Confessor lay dying in 1066 four men claimed the throne of England. They were King Harald Hardrada of Norway, William, Duke of Normandy, and the two brothers of Edward’s wife, Queen Edith, who were Harold and Tostig Godwinson. These claims led to three significant battles in less than a month after which three of the four were dead and a new dynasty began to rule England.

 

Edward died in January and on the day of his funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey Harold had himself crowned there. That summer Tostig, who was in exile after being deposed as Earl of Northumbria, led a number of unsuccessful raids along the south coast and William of Normandy also probed in preparation for an invasion. In Norway Hardrada assembled a strong force in 300 ships and in September sailed to conquer England. He was joined by the Earl of Orkney and Tostig, and undertook a series of raids between the River Tyne and the Humber from where they sailed up the River Ouse towards York. The Vikings moored and disembarked at Riccall before advancing north with about 6,000 men towards York. In the meantime Morcar, the new Earl of Northumbria, and his brother Edwin, Earl of Mercia, gathered a force of up to 5,000 men and moved south to attack the invaders. They met at Fulford near the Ouse.

 

The area of the Vikings' positions south of the beck

Much research and work has been done by the Fulford Battlefield Society to analyse archaeological findings, reconcile different written accounts and to place the battlefield deployments within the context of the present topography. The site of the battlefield contains a cemetery and a sprawling housing estate whilst planning permission for a further estate on the battlefield is being hotly challenged.

There is a distinct bend in the tidal river at Fulford where a small stream, Germany Beck which drained the marshland to the east, flows into it. The tide flooded the beck before the battle and it appears the water meadows, or “ings”, and marshes were water-logged. Hardrada and his troops approached along the line of the Ouse from the south to where he found the two Saxon earls and their troops in position along the beck with their right on the bank of the Ouse. With Morcar on the left and Edwin on the right the position provided a choke point to the Viking’s advance.

Looking east upstream Germany Beck, Anglo-Saxons on the left, Vikings on the right

The belief is that Tostig’s less experienced men were on the Viking right and Hardrada’s men were on their left and keeping low. At one stage thinking they had the advantage when Tostig’s troops wavered, Morcar ordered his men forward into the ditch separating the two sides. As he did so the Vikings reinforced their left and Hardrada led an overwhelming charge against the Anglo-Saxons. Swinging right they now outflanked Edwin and Morcar, whose troops were down besides the beck, and were able to attack Morcar’s men from the rear. Morcar had been unable to see this development from his position along the beck and together with Edwin his men were put to flight.

Possible site of old ford where Morcar committed his troops

Area north of Anglo-Saxon start position where Hardrada's flanking attack took place

The memorial stone beside the A19 looking towards the cemetery and housing estate. The inscription on the tablet is almost indecipherable but reads: "THIS STONE IS TO COMMEMORATE THE BATTLE OF FULFORD FOUGHT IN THIS AREA BETWEEN HARDRADA AND MORKERE ON SEPTEMBER 20TH 1066".

Following the battle Hardrada was accepted as king by the city of York, which had surrendered to him, and held negotiations there. He arranged for hostages to be given and these would be handed over at Stamford Bridge, about 5 miles east of York. He kept his operating base at Riccall.

 

King Harold was now faced with a difficult decision. Should he march north, deal with Hardrada and then return south to prepare against the anticipated Norman invasion, or deal with the Normans first and these Vikings later?

 

Battle of Fulford 20th September 1066