The Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066) and the life of Haraldr Sigurðarson, according to Theodoricus Monachus

Theodoricus MonachusTheodricus Monachus’s De antiquitate regum Norwagiensium is one of the oldest historical works of Norwegian history. It is a Latin account of the kings of Norway from Hardaldr harfaagri (around the ninth century), to Sigurð Magnusson, who died in 1130. The author was probably a Benedictine monk who penned this work in the latter half of the twelfth century. In the following section, he relates how King Haraldr Sigurðarson invaded England in 1066, only to be defeated and killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Chapter 28: How King Haraldr led an expedition against England, was defeated in battle and died

After him Haraldr, the brother of the blessed Óláfr, reigned for twenty years. He ruled nineteen years on his own, and one year with his nephew Magnus. Haraldr was a vigorous man, far-sighted in his decision-making, quick to take up arms, jealous of what was his and covetous of what was another’s; and so he waged many war against Sveinn, in the hope of wresting from him the kingdom of Denmark. But when he met with little success, he prepared an expedition against England, urged on by Tostig, the brother of King Harold of England.1 Tostig promised Haraldr half the kingdom if he drove out his brother, for by hereditary right Tostig was no less entitled to the throne.

When Haraldr arrived in England together with the aforementioned Tostig, they made the territory of Northumbria subject to their rule. King Harold of England had at that time gone to Normandy;2 but when he heard of the arrival of enemies, he made speedy return to England, assembled a huge army and took the invaders unawares. When Harold drew near, most of the Norwegian forces, laden with booty, made for their ships. The remainder, though few, with steadfast courage prepared for battle. ‘But what can a few brave men do against so many thousands.’ And as King Haraldr himself, mounted on horseback, endeavoured to draw up his battle line, his horse stumbled and he was thrown to the ground; whereupon he is reported to have said: “Seldom is a sign of this sort an omen of victory.”3 Nor was he mistaken in this unlucky omen, for he fell in that same battle. Tostig, the brother of King Harold of England, who had lured Haraldr there, was also killed, and almost all their army was annihilated. This battle took place in the year 1066 after the birth of Christ. For several days a comet appeared with a glowing red tail; and this prefigured the defeat of the English, which followed immediately afterwards.4

This Haraldr had performed many bold deeds in his youth, overthrowing many heathen cities and carrying off great riches in Russia and in Ethiopia (which we call Blaland in our mother tongue). From there he traveled to Jerusalem and was everywhere greatly renowned and victorious. After he had traveled through Sicily and taken much wealth by force there, he came to Constantinople. And there he was arraigned before the emperor; but he inflicted an amply shameful disgrace upon that same emperor and, making an unexpected escape, he slipped away.

Notes

1. Tostig, the brother of Harold, son of Earl Godwine of Wessex, had been made earl of Northumbria in 1055, but was deposed and driven out of England after a popular revolt against him in 1065.

2. Theodoricus may have falsely assumed that Harold, like William the Conqueror and his successors, ruled over Normandy as well as England. On the other hand, Theodoricus may have in mind the episode where Harold sailed to Normandy, only to be held hostage by Guy de Ponthieu and swore allegiance to William after he was freed. This took place around 1064.

3. This is a quote from Ovid.

4. He refers to the Battle of Hastings, fought about three weeks later.

This translation is from Theodoricus Monachus, The Ancient History of the Norwegian Kings, translated and Annotated by David and Ian McDougall with an Introduction by Peter Foote. (London: Viking Society 1998).. We thank the Viking Society for Northern Research and David and Ian McDougall for their permission to republish this section. 

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