Edward the Confessor, who had died childless in January 1066, had become King in 1042 following the death of Harthacnut, son of Cnut who had ruled from 1016 – 1035. Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, claimed that Harthacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus of Norway. Magnus was an old King and had chosen not fight Edward the Confessor for the throne. Harald Hardrada succeeded King Magnus to the throne of Norway and when Edward the Confessor died and was succeeded by nobleman, Harold Godwinson, he decided to take the English throne for himself and began planning an invasion.
On 20th September Harald Hardrada, with a fleet of more than 300 ships, and the support of Harold Godwinson’s exiled brother, Tostig, sailed up the river Humber and landed just south of York. Two powerful Earls in the north, Edwin and Morcar, hurriedly mustered an army but they were easily defeated by the invaders at the Battle of Fulford.
On hearing of the defeat of Edwin and Morcar Godwinson decided to march north and fight off the Norwegians. He knew that William of Normandy was planning an invasion from France but he believed that he could reach the north, defeat the Norwegians and return back south before the wind changed.
After a rapid march north, Godwinson’s army caught the Norwegians by surprise at Stamford Bridge. The result was a firm victory for the English. Both Harald and Godwinson’s brother, Tostig were dead as were hundreds of Norwegian soldiers. Godwinson ordered a huge banquet to be held at York to celebrate the victory. However, the celebrations were cut short when news reached Godwinson that William of Normandy had landed on the South Coast.