Part i: The Last Viking
Harald Sigurdsson was, at one time or another, the claimant to the thrones of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and England. His power was never realized completely but he was a figure of great influence throughout his life. He was the younger half-brother of King Oalf II and claimed his own descent through Harald Fairhair, king of Norway. When Olaf fell at the battle of Stiklestad (later to be canonized Saint Olaf), Harald was wounded and fled Norway in exile after the fall of the king. Harald would end up in Russia, fighting as a mercenary for the Kievan Rus. There, he gained allies and prestige. From there he went to Constantinople. There he made himself a leader of the Varangian Guard, named Spatharokandidatos and became engaged to the granddaughter of the king of the Swedes. In the turmoil of Byzantine politics Harald became wealthy. Through pillage, theft and graft Harald built a fortune, and used it to return to Norway. His glory and power proceeded him, and his nephew Magnus (natural son of Olaf II) agreed to share power. Less than a year later, Magnus was dead and Harald was king undisputed.
(The meeting of Magnus the Good and Hathacnut)
But the death of Magnus was important to Harald for more than one reason. Not only did it secure Harald sole control of Norway, but it also gave him a dubious claim on the throne of England. Hathacnut, King of England, died and was succeeded by Edward (The Confessor). However Harald, and others, claimed that Hathacnut had promised his realm to Magnus (and vice versa) should either die. It was feeble, perhaps no more so than William of Normandy's, but it was enough to encourage a war. Harald received his ticket into the fight with the arrival of Tostig Godwinson, brother and bitter enemy to the new king of England. Tostig was Earl of Northumbria, and wildly unpopular. His cruel approach to his enemies and distant from his subjects led his Earldom to revolt. With his lands in revolt and his brother leading the court of Edward against him, Tostig found himself exiled. Eventually that exile brought him to the court of Harald of Norway.
(Tostig, in the court of Harald III of Norway)
With Tostig in tow, and his personal armies mobilized, Harald made ready for invasion. And now he received an added boon. Not all of Saxon England supported Harold Godwinson's rise to power. While the Witan had overwhelmingly supported Harold, other nobles were not so eager. Among them was a rather influential Saxon nobleman from the north named Eanfirth, who claimed to be a descendant of the ancient Northumbrian kings. He, and his allies, were effectively mercenaries trading their arms to Harald for money and land. It made no difference to Harald where his armies came from and so he welcomed the new arrivals as he did with Tostig. This new Norse-Saxon army set sail for Northern England, Harald and his army first, with Eanfirth and his Saxon Band coming in reserve. Harald arried and scattered the first army to stand in his way at the Battle of Fulford. It seemed to Harald that the war was already won, before even his Saxon mercenaries had landed. He allowed Tostig and his vassals to begin collecting tribute from the local earls.
Then, in one of those moments of historic irony, a curse became a blessing. While collecting tribute, one of Harald's raiding parties came back with more than gold, it came back with disease. The idea of watching an illness tear apart his army was less than thrilling, and so Harald reorganized his forces and marched north, leaving the diseased behind in York. Harald was persuaded by Tostig to march into Durham, where nobles loyal to Tostig were ready to flock to the Norse banner. No loyal troops were there to greet Harald, and for his troubles Tostig found himself earning the enmity of yet another king. However, the march did have one reward. Harold Godwinson, who was by all accounts too far away to be of any real danger, had rushed his army north hoping to catch the invaders at a bridge called Stamford. Now, in Durham with the Saxon mercenaries arriving in due order, Harald was able to turn and face the English army. With Harold Godwinson hot on their heels, the Norse invaders made their stand at the Ford of Saint Cuthbert, the battle which would decide the fate of England.