Monument record MYO4526 - Representative record for an unknown number of Harald Hardrada's ships

Summary

Summary description ? Representative record for an unknown number of Harald Hardrada's ships at Fulford, possibly destroyed by Harold Godwinson's troops following the Battle of Stamford Bridge (59538). All versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are careful to stress the size of Harald Hardrada's shipborne force in the Ouse and the English victory in the battle. The D manuscript describes the English pursuit of Harald Hardrada's fleeing forces: some reaching the ships, some drowning, some burnt, and others 'destroyed in various ways'. The 'burning' suggests that at least some of the ships were set on fire and would be consistent with the statement later on in that manuscript that the remains of Harald Hardrada's forces were sent home on 24 ships, i.e. that the fleet had been partially destroyed. However, the C manuscript suggests that they went home on 'all the ships'. This is therefore a conjectural record for a potential naval outcome of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The exact location is unknown and may have been either in York, whither Harald Hardrada had sailed from Fulford following his victory there (1350158), or at Fulford itself. The latter location has been preferred, but it should be noted that this is for representative purposes, and is not intended to be definitive or conclusive. The ships have been recorded as constructed of wood and powered by both sail and oar, consistent with Norse warships at that period. Their nationality has been recorded as Norwegian.

Location

Grid reference SE 6044 4921 (point)
Map sheet SE64NW
Civil Parish Fulford, City of York, North Yorkshire
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire

Map

Type and Period (1)

Full Description

NMR Information:

Primary Sources:

D Manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

'Then Harold our king came upon the Norwegians by surprise and met them beyond York at Stamford Bridge with a large force of the English people; and that day there was a very fierce fight on both sides. There was killed Harold Fairhair and Earl Tosti, and the Norwegians who survived took to flight; and the English attacked them fiercely as they pursued them until some got to the ships. Some were drowned, and some were burned, and some destroyed in various ways so that few survived and the English remained in command of the field. The king gave quarter to Olaf, son of the Norse king, and their bishop and the earl of Orkney and all those who survived on the ships, and they went up to our king and swore oaths . . . and the king let them go home with twenty-four ships.' (1)

Interpretation of the naval element at Stamford Bridge:

According to (2) Harold used English ships which had retreated up the Wharfe from, presumably, the Ouse, although the source of this statement is not known, since the C manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle merely mentions Tadcaster itself (cited in (1), see record of battle at 59538 for full citation). According to the C manuscript in the account of the Battle of Fulford (1350158), Harald Hardrada and Tostig 'both went with all the fleet up the Ouse towards York', where they were 'come ashore'; according to the D and E manuscripts they 'went up the Humber until they reached York'. After the battle they went, according to the C manuscript, into York, where they went on board ship to make a pact.

Many of the English army were drowned at Fulford, according to C, suggesting that the battle took place near the river. If (2) is true, then the battle location at Fulford may have influenced Harold Godwinson's route in terms of crossing the Wharfe rather than the Ouse en route for York, since the ships at Fulford would have made the English forces vulnerable while crossing the Ouse. Yet after the battle the C manuscript indicates that some at least of the Norsemen, and certainly their leaders, made their way into York by ship, effectively capturing the city. Whether this was a token force or something stronger is not known; possibly the former, since it seems unlikely Harold would have marched through a city with a significant number of enemy ships moored within the river.

After the victory at Stamford Bridge the English pursued the Norsemen until 'some got to the ships. Some were drowned, and some burned, and some destroyed in various ways so that few survived', according to the D manuscript, which is careful to note that Harold Godwinson allowed the survivors to depart with 24 ships, as against the 300 ships, which both D and E state Harald Hardrada and Tostig had at the beginning. Clearly some may not have been able to navigate upriver as far as Fulford/York, but it was evidently a significant force.

What happened to the remainder? Given the obvious dangers of fire, it is difficult to see how the English would have killed the fleeing Norsemen by fire, except by firing buildings in which they were hiding, or by setting some of the ships on fire. This would be a plausible scenario and suggest that some of the ships were lost thereby, so that the numbers of Norwegian ships remaining after the battle were no more than 24.

If so, where were they lost? Possibly some were as close as the River Derwent at Stamford Bridge, but certainly no further away than the Ouse at Fulford, since otherwise the pursuit would have detracted from the return march southwards which the victorious Harold Godwinson was then forced to make. The possibility exists that some of the ships were at York, but it is not known how many. It seems more likely that the retreating forces made for the bulk of their fleet at Fulford where they had a greater chance of escape, and in this narrow stretch of river with several bends, their moored ships would easily have been at risk of fire from pursuing forces.

Thus the location for any ships lost as a result of the battle of Stamford Bridge has been cited as an arbitrary point in the middle of the river at Fulford, but this is for representational purposes only and is not intended to be definitive. (3)

Date of Loss Qualifier: Actual date of loss

1 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 142-4 translated and collated by Anne Savage
2 The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain, Volume I, 660-1649 32 N A M Rodger
3 Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments Compiler's comments: 07-APR-2014
4 Historic England Wreck of the Week blog https://thewreckoftheweek.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/1066-and-all-that-11th-century-wrecks/ accessed 04-JUN-2018

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Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

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Record last edited

Aug 5 2019 2:02PM

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