The Battle of Fulford in 1066

The Battle of Fulford was a decisive battle fought near York on 20th September 1066 with the combined English armies of Earl Edwin of Mercia and Earl Morcar of Northumbria against the Viking invaders of the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada III and his ally Tostig with rebel English forces. The English armies were defeated on that day and their subsequent losses and great loss of life contributed to the much reduced show of strength by the English and their defeat at Hastings later on 14 October 1066. Fulford was then a small village just outside York on the east bank of the River Ouse.

The Vikings under the Norwegian King Harald III sailed across the North Sea from Norway in late summer 1066 and then sailed up the River Humber to the River Ouse. At the village of Riccall King Harald left his 300 ships under a strong Viking guard and then marched north towards York. The English armies of Edwin and Morcar had been repelling a smaller Viking army who landed at Scarborough and were rampaging on their way south. Having done this, Edwin and Morcar marched their forces south to meet King Harald's Viking army and block the route to York.

The English and Viking armies met at the [then] village of Fulford just outside York. Edwin and Morcar managed to choose the best high ground by the river leaving the wet marshland on the other side to the Norwegians. The English armies, with about 5,000 men including about 1,000 men forming a shield wall, readily prepared to face the Viking army of about 6,000 men. The fighting was fierce and savage with the Vikings beginning by crossing the river and assulting the shield wall continually in many places. During the battle the English advanced on the main Viking army by crossing the river to meet them. Having done this they were soon outflanked by the Norwegian King Harald III who ordered a sizeable Viking force to attack the English exposed flank. The English armies under Earl Edwin of Mercia and Earl Morcar of Northumbria now found themselves fighting on three sides. Because of this the shield wall could not be adequately supported and it began to collapse as the men were forced to defend the rear. The battle of Fulford went on for most of the day then it soon became obvious that the English were clearly losing the fight.

It was now time for the English to retreat as best they could and save as much of the army as possible. Edwin took his army north back to York and Morcar moved his depleted force to the east. King Harald III of Norway and Tostig entered York but did not permit the Viking army to sack or loot the city. It was the Norwegian King's intention simply to conquer the city and not destroy it.

The Vikings were eventually defeated five days later at the battle of Stamford Bridge after the English King's army had arrived from the south with superior forces - it had been forced-marched to support the northern forces as soon as King Harold (Godwineson) had become aware of the main Viking invasion.