A group of intrepid re-enactors left York on Sunday 25 September on an epic journey inspired by the one taken by King Harold to the Battle of Hastings, 950 years ago. Organised by English Heritage as part of its programme marking the anniversary of the Norman Conquest, re-enactors on foot and horseback are travelling south over three weeks, arriving at the East Sussex battlefield on Friday 14 October, the exact date in 1066 when the forces of Harold and Duke William of Normandy met in arguably the most famous and important battle in English history.
Three weeks and three hundred miles after setting off, the re-enactors will arrive at Battle Abbey on the anniversary itself, in time to take part in the annual re-enactment event over the weekend of 15 and 16 October.
In 1066 there were 3 major battles fought in England, two of which were in Yorkshire. First was the Battle of Fulford Gate and then the Battle of Stamford Bridge, both had a direct and indirect impact on the Battle of Hastings.
Saxon king Harold was in the south of England expecting an invasion somewhere along the coast by Duke William of Normandy. He heard the news that Scarborough had been burnt to the ground by a Viking invasion fleet led by Harald Hardrada, King of Norway and King Harold’s own deceitful and traitorous brother Tostig. From Scarborough the Vikings made their way to York to capture the city. When they reached Fulford they were met by a northern army hastily formed to protect the city but they were no match for the Vikings. York surrendered on the condition that the Norwegians would not force their way into the city. Victorious Hardrada made demands, took hostages and camped at Stamford Bridge where he was set upon by King Harold who had marched 200 miles up the country to confront him. The Vikings were annihilated in the battle and Hardrada and Tostig were among the dead.
It was around this time that King Harold received word that Duke William and a large invasion force had landed on the southern coast so after burying the dead and a brief stay in York he had to march swiftly all the way back down the country to the most famous battle of our history – Hastings. Of course we all know that Duke William took the crown for himself in victory.
Our whole history from 1066 onwards would have been totally different if Hardrada had been defeated at Fulford or if Hardrada had killed King Harold at Stamford Bridge. The Saxon army would have been severely depleted due to the forced marches of around 500 miles in total, plus the toll of the Battle at Stamford Bridge itself. Like so many other pivotal events in history, it makes you wonder how things would be today if the outcome of the Battle of Hastings had been different.
For more information on the re-enactors march and other events to mark the Battle of Hastings, visit;
www.english-heritage.org.uk/1066

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