In 1066, Edward
the Confessor, king of England, died without heir, purportedly on his death
bed leaving the care of his kingdom to Harold, son of Earl Godwin of Wessex.
Across the channel, William, Duke of Normandy, held a claim to the throne tracing
back to the marriage of Ethelred the Unready to Emma, daughter of Duke RIchard
I of Normandy. As a twist, following a shipwreck on the Norman coast, Harold
Godwinson had spent time in the court of Duke William, and had sworn an oath
recognizing WIlliam's claim to England. To further complicate the matter, Norwegian
King Harald Hardrada decided to take this opportunity to make good his own claims
on the kingdom stretching back to pacts made during earlier Canute's reign in
Thus, when Harold came to power, he moved quickly to square away England's defenses for he knew that invasion was inevitable. The only question was whether it would come first from the North or from across the channel. Weather and logistics combined to delay William's plans for invasion, while Harald Hardrada moved his army to Scotland, where he was joined by Earl Tostig of Northumbria, the rebellious brother of Harold. In early September 1066, Hardrada and a fleet of 300 longships ranged first up the Tyne River and then up the Humber, creating a camp at Riccall. On September 20, Hardrada's army found its line of march blocked by Earl Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia at Gate Fulford, two miles south of York. In a sharp battle, the heavily out-numbered Saxon army was defeated, losing 1000 men.