Follow in the footsteps of the Last Anglo-Saxon King of England, Harold Godwinson, as he fights to defend his fledgling kingdom. Visit the battlefields near York at Fulford and Stanford Bridge; before travelling south to Pevensey on the East Sussex coast where William Duke of Normandy came ashore. Explore the battlefield at Battle near Hastings where the fate of the English crown was to be decided.
Join one of our Expert guides on a tour of the 1066 Battlefields, follow the battles and see how they developed.
On 5th January 1066, King Edward the Confessor died following a coma without a bloodline heir. Before passing away, however, he briefly regained consciousness and placed his widow and the kingdom into Harold's "protection". When the Witenagemot, a meeting of the nobles of England, convened the next day they selected Harold as Edward's successor and he was crowned the following day. Harold Godwinson was not the only claimant to the English throne, his most notable rivals were Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and William, Duke of Normandy. In response to Harold Godwinson's coronation his two main rivals began gethering their forces.
King Harold Godwinson perceiving the threat to be greatest from Normandy, assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight ready to face an invasion across the English Channel. William's fleet, however, remained in port for almost seven months and on 8th September 1066, with provisions running low, King Harold disbanded his army and returned to London. That very same day, Harold Hardrada joined Harold Godwinson's brother Tostig and invaded; landing with his fleet at the mouth of the River Tyne. Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls, Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20th September 1066 and laid seige to the Northern city. York surrendered to their forces on 24th September and it was agreed that Hardrada and Tostig would meet with the represenatives at York at Stamford bridge the next day to decide the city's fate.
On 24th September 1066 King Harold, having led his army north on a forced march from London in just four days, arrived at Tadcaster, just seven miles from the anchored Norwegian fleet which was at Riccall. The next day he marched his army through York and out to the east of the city towards Stamford Bridge. Hardrada and Tostig, expecting to receive the citizens of York had left their base that morning clad only in light armour. As they waited they saw the glint of helmets approaching and soon realised that King Harold Godwinson with his heavily armoured host was descending upon them. Legend has it that the bridge at Stamford was held by a single Norseman giving time for Hardrada and Tostig to regroup their small force into a shield-wall formation. King Harold's Englishmen, however, crossed by a nearby ford and soon battle was joined. Hardrada's army was defeated; the King of Norway being struck in the throat by an arrow and killed early in the battle.
Whilst King Harold Godwinson wa occupied in the north, William's fleet had set sail from Dives-sur-Mer; several ships sank in storms and the fleet was forced to take shelter at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to wait for a more favourable wind. On 27th September 1066 the Norman fleet finally set sail for England and landed the following day at Pevensey on the coast of East Sussex. King Harold's victory at Stamford Bridge was thus was short-lived and he had to turn his army around and march 241 miles (386 kilometres) to intercept William. Harold's army built an earthworks near Hastings barring William's direct route to London Harold had the advantage, all he had to do was wait for reinforcements to arrive and then push William back into the sea. William knew this and had to act, so he brought his forces closer to Harold's. The two armies clashed at Senlac Hill (near the present town of Battle) not far from Hastings on 14th October 1066, where after nine hours of hard fighting, Harold was killed and his forces routed.
Harold's forced march to fight Hardrada and Tostig at Stamford Bridge and then move at utmost speed south to meet the Norman invasion, all in less than three weeks, is widely seen as a primary factor in William's victory at Hastings. Indeed, William's victory was a tight run thing as he was close to defeat when Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings.