Monday, September 25, 2017

Sep. 25: The Battle of Stamford Bridge

The Battle of Stamford Bridgeby Peter Nicolai Arbo (1870)

Dynastic struggles, one might say, are a bitch. So when Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England, died in January 1066, all hell broke loose.

For a time it seemed the likely victor would be Harold Godwinson (literally--his father was named "Godwin") who was Edward's brother-in-law, as his sister Edith had married Edward. To be clear, that was Edith of Wessex. Edith Swannesha (called "Edith the Fair") was Harold's own first wife by common law; his second was Edith (sometimes "Ealdgyth"), the daughter of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia. For those keeping count, that was two wives and a sister named Edith.

Anyway, Harold's chances were looking good, but he had ticked off his brother Tostig (another Godwinson) by siding with Edward in a dispute and messing with Tostig's power base. Payback being what it is, Tostig teamed up with a Viking named Harald III Hardrada, King of Norway (Hardrada means "Hard Ruler," always a bad sign).

But Harold seemed up to the task--briefly. On this day in 1066, Harold's forces beat Harald (spelling counts, kids!) and Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which effectively ended any Viking invasions with any chance of success, although there were a few faltering incursions later.

1066? Hmmm... Why does that sound familiar?

Well, remember when I said Edward was the "penultimate" Anglo-Saxon king? Harold was the ultimate (and not in a good way). Just three weeks later, a French guy named William, since then nicknamed "the Conqueror," snatched Harold's victory from his jaws at a place called Hastings--yes, and all that.

Classics connection? Classics writer Snorri Sturluson recorded the whole thing in "King Harald's Saga," part of the Heimskringla, a collection of sagas about Norwegian kings from legendary times to 1177.

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