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The Battle of Fulford Gate took place on the morning of Wednesday. 20th September, 1066. It is often referred to as the ‘forgotten battle’ because in many accounts of 1066 it hardly ever features and when it does it is little more than a footnote. This is to do the battle and the men who fought in it a disservice.

The brothers Eorl Morcar of Northumbria and Eorl Edwin of Mercia happened to be in York when King Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson invaded the north of England. They were young men eager for glory and although their army was not at full strength it was still formidable at some 4,500. It is probable that with it being the harvest time many of the fyrd had been allowed to return home to help. The harvest was a very important time of year as the crops taken in would be the food to see the people through the winter.

The ground of Fulford Gate did offer a good site for a defending force, however. With their Saxons drawn up in a long shield-wall along the northern bank of Germany Beck Edwin and Morcar presented King Hardrada with a difficult obstacle.

King Hardrada did have several advantages over the noble brothers, however. First, he was much more experienced having fought throughout most of the known world. Second, his troops numbered easily 7,000 with a reserve of another 3,000 left at Riccall to guard the fleet.

In one crucial respect Hardrada was out-manoeuvred, however, and that was in the choice of the battle site. He was quick to realise that the River Ouse to the west and the marshland to the east effectively protected the Saxon’s flanks making a direct assault over soft ground and through a beck his only real option; this offered only hard fighting. Also, he had expected the eorls to have manned the walls of York and locked the gates; he had no reason to expect a pitched battle. It did not help that his army was strung out down the narrow road to Riccall and would take some time to arrive.

King Hardrada was the War Wolf, however, and he knew that if he could tempt Morcar to leave his strong position then he had a chance to divide the two factions of the Saxon army; to this end he offered a weak force of adventurers on his right flank, under the command of Tostig Godwinson, up as bait in a trap.

Tostig was an experienced commander too and he quickly realised how he was being used but by then there was nothing he could do but hope that the rest of the army could hurry up the Riccall Road in time to get into position before the battle began, which it did at 10a.m. when the battle horns sounded.

A full account of the Battle of Fulford Gate can be found in The War Wolf. Coenred, as can be seen in the map of the troop dispositions, held a reserve position, hoping to stop any tricks by Hardrada from robbing the Anglo Saxons of victory!

Disposition of forces at the beginning of the Battle of Fulford Gate at 10.00am on the morning of 20th September 1066.

The Sorrow Song Trilogy © 2013 Peter C. Whitaker. All Rights Reserved.