Monday, 19 September 2016

1066 And All That: Wargaming the 950th anniversary

September and October 2016 see the 950th anniversary of two of the most famous battles ever to be fought on British soil… and a mostly-forgotten prelude. 

Today, I’m posting the first part of a short series about the campaign and will post about each of the three battles on the relevant days… and yes, I have a new book out on this very subject in 2017!

I'm also going to add details for refighting the battles using my Scottorum Malleus IV rules, although that will happen after the final battle's anniversary (mid October), so please be patient!

Ready? Here goes...

1066 is one of those dates ingrained on British- and perhaps all English-speaking – minds. The end of the ‘Dark Ages’; the coming of the Normans; Harold; William; an arrow in the eye; a very lengthy piece of cross-stitch. Most people, whether interested in history or not, know the outcome…

The Norman Conquest was a Good Thing, as from this time onwards England stopped being conquered and thus was able to become a top nation.
(WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, 1066 And All That, 1931)

There is a tendency to focus on Hastings, the third of the battles; but Fulford and Stamford Bridge are equally important to the eventual outcome: if the English did not win at Stamford Bridge, who knows what force would have met William’s Normans weeks later? And if the Norse did not beat the English at Fulford before Stamford Bridge, would the English king have marched north or remained in the south to counter the Normans sooner? Choice, choices!

In a nutshell, King Edward (the Confessor) died in January 1066 and was immediately succeeded by the English earl Harold Godwinson. In the spring, William of Normandy – who felt he had a good claim to the English throne – began to assemble an army of invasion; in April, Haley’s Comet was seen over the British Isles and considered an omen of bad tidings. This proved a shrewd bet… in the summer Harold’s exiled brother Tostig raided along the south coast with an army of Flemish troops, and then combined forces with Harald Hardrada of Norway (another fellow who felt he had a good claim on the English throne).

By the late summer, Harald and Tostig were poised to make a ship-borne landing in northern England with various Scottish, Flemish, and Scandinavian allies, opposed by the English earl Morcar of Northumbria and his brother Edwin (Tostig had previously been ousted by these siblings); William was poised to invade in another ship-borne landing, somewhere along the south coast, and Harold had called out his levy of fyrdmen to watch the coast. Tension rose, the weather cleared making sea travel more likely, and the armies gathered their strength.

Something had to give…