The War Wolf – Let’s Read and Discuss 03

In 1066, King Harold of England faced two enemies, Duke Guillaume of Normandy and King Hardrada of Norway. Both had only weak claims to the English crown but it appears that Harold underestimated Hardrada and, coincidentally, the thirst for vengeance of his own brother, Tostig Godwinson. King Harold spent the summer watching the movements of Guillaume and fully expected an invasion before the year was out. He was correct in his assumption but wrong in where the attack would come. His enemies landed in the north of the kingdom and marched under both Viking and Saxon banners.

This chapter sets out to explore the politics behind the motives of both King Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson. Of the two the latter might be seen as the more villainous. Tostig was a traitor to his own brother and, as was seen in the prologue, had openly attacked Saxon settlements. This is an historical fact. Harald Hardrada was probably the most famous Viking of his day, and certainly one of the largest. A giant of a man about whom many tall tales were told. Tostig had visited the court of King Hardrada in search of a powerful ally. He had previously been to Normandy, but Duke Guillaume, although he had entertained Tostig, decided against supporting him. For his own part Hardrada was finding the life of a king more difficult than he had probably imagined it to be. His long war with Denmark had ended in a mutual peace agreement, a far from glorious conclusion to an expensive undertaking. People were beginning to openly question his rule. Hardrada needed a victory and he needed money. The army he brought to England was large, estimated at some 10,000 warriors, but he had used promises of wealth and land in the Saxon kingdom to win men to his banner. His force was quite mercenary in composition, including Saxons still loyal to Tostig, tired Norwegians willing to make one last throw of the dice of conquest, and even Danes who had recently been their enemies.

For his part Tostig blamed his brother Harold for the loss of his eorldom of Northumbria. The people there had risen up against his misrule, which had included the murder of theigns with whom he had problems. Mildryth’s dead husband had been a supporter of one of these, hence his fate. Tostig was visiting his friend, the then King of Scotland, when the people revolted against him, killing many of his followers. King Edward ordered the second most powerful man in the kingdom, Eorl Harold of Wessex, to intercede and calm matters. The King then convened a hearing at which the grievances of the people were put forth. When asked his opinion for achieving a peaceful settlement, Harold supported the motion to exile Tostig and appoint Morcar of Mercia to the eorldom. Morcar’s brother, Edwin, was then the Eorl of Mercia and Coenred was in his service. Harold might well have been playing a longer political game himself. After he became king he would separate from his common-law wife of many years so as to be able to marry Edwin and Morcar’s sister, an act that he appeared would bring Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria closer and increase his power-base.

The attack on Skaroaborg, today known as Scarborough in North Yorkshire, results mostly from the Viking fleet’s need to anchor from the storm that was following them down from the north. It was little more than a distraction for the warriors, but it served as a useful scene for me to explore the dynamics of the relationship between King Hardrada and Tostig.

Below is a PDF file of the chapter under discussion. Please, click on the link and enjoy.

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