The 1066 Norwegian Invasion of England in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The 1066 Norwegian Invasion of England in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

By Megan Arnott

Paper given at the 49th International Congress of Medieval Studies (2014)

Battle of Stamford Bridge. From 13th century Anglo-Norman manuscript.

Introduction: Few events loom as large in the public consciousness as the Norman Conquest of 1066, used as it has been as a starting point, a before and after for English history. Taking a back seat to Hastings and the Conquest were the earlier events of 1066, which comprised the Norwegian Invasion of England. Historiographically speaking, the events at Stamford Bridge are always mentioned as a prelude to the Conquest because it is significant that Harold Godwinson, last king of the Anglo-Saxons, fought two pitched battles on either side of the country in less than a month, and that the English at York fought two battles against the Norwegians in September, cutting down their military capabilities before the Normans arrived in October.

The Norwegians their English allies,, under King Haraldr Harðráði, and the exiled Earl Tostig Godwinson (Harold Godwinson’s brother) won the battle at Fulford Gate, but they lost the one at Stamford Bridge five days later. Kelly De Vries, writing exclusively about the Norwegian invasion of England in 1066, lists three categories of sources for the invasion,

those which were written in England close to the time of the events which they discuss; those written (or, in the case of the Bayeux Tapestry, embroidered) in England or Normandy after the conquest of William the Conqueror but before the turn of the twelfth century; and those written in England or Normandy during the early part of the twelfth century by historically astute writers compiling their histories from other earlier sources and eye-witnesses.

There are only two sources in the first category: the Vita Ædwardi regis, which is not investigated here, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The goal of this paper is to understand how the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle portrays the Norwegian Invasion of 1066 and how they characterize the Norwegians, particularly the figure of Haraldr Harðráði. What it will show is that the entry for 1066 represents all the intricacies of the Chronicle as a genre, and that three manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle give their readers three distinctly different, yet all distinctly English, perspectives on the events of 1066: C posits an Anglo-centric conflict, with the English causing the conflicts as much as responding to them, D posits a “patriotic” version of events with the Anglo-Saxons as a whole, and E is less interested in the causes of the conflict and more interested in local participation in those same events.

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See also Megan Arnott’s website The Modern Historian, the Canadian Medievalist, and other such Oxymorons

Megan Arnott also appears in a special issue of Medieval Warfare magazine: 1066: The Battle of Hastings. Click here to order it.




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