The Northmen were being pushed back across Stamford bridge in disarray, the Saxon army ferociously pushing forward. The vikings were futilely attempting to reform on the opposite side but it was obvious they would not have time. Out of the chaos a hulking warrior pushes his way through his desperately fleeing countrymen. He is a large viking, covered from shoulders to knees in chain mail, a metal helmet with nose guard on his head, and in his hands a long Danish style battle axe. He steps out toward the middle of the bridge. The bridge's width is enough for perhaps three men to stand abreast. His countrymen safely behind him, and attempting to mobilize their shield wall defense, he bravely faces the oncoming stream of screaming Saxon warriors.
This is the famous Battle of Stamford Bridge, where King Harold Godwinson fought to protect England from the Norwegian King, Harald Hardrada and his invading Northmen. The English Saxon army had marched 180 miles in 4 days to face the vikings who were completely unprepared for the attack. The vikings had just spent days raiding English towns, burning Scarborough to the ground and sacking York. They had just defeated a combined Saxon force led by Earl Edwin and Earl Morcar, and lounged near Stamford Bridge resting and enjoying their spoils.
The King of England's brother, Earl Tostig was fighting with the vikings because he was angry his brother had exiled him from England. In fact, Earl Tostig was the reason King Harald Hardrada and his viking army were there, having convinced the Norwegian King to invade. Before the battle commenced, King Harold Godwinson of England asked his brother to surrender and he would be made Earl of Northumbria. The Earl asked his brother what the King of Norway would get for his trouble. King Harold Godwinson replied, "Seven feet of English soil, because he is known to be taller than other men." Earl Tostig refused surrender at that point and the King of England attacked.
During the battle King Harald Hardrada of Norway was said to fight like a man possessed. He was cutting down Saxons left and right. During the height of the battle a Saxon arrow took him right in the throat, and the great warrior fell like a giant tree. At that point the Northmen on the near bank began to run back across the bridge while Earl Tostig tried to rally them. The Earl was then cut down and the vikings ran headlong into flight across the bridge, and it seemed that all would be lost for the vikings as they would never be able to mount an adequate defense in time.
This is when the one solitary viking stepped up to the front and stood his ground. The viking chronicles and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles both tell the story of this nameless viking. It was said he stood on the bridge as the Saxons came upon him and swung his battle axe felling many, and shrugging aside arrows and all attempts to dislodge him from his defensive position. An enterprising Saxon soldier climbed into a big barrel and floated under the bridge with a long spear and stabbed the viking up through the wooden slats, finally ending his courageous stand. By this time the Anglo-Saxon chronicles state that the viking had killed at least 40 Saxon troops!
The Norwegian army would not surrender and was eventually defeated and sent back across the sea, losing so many troops they needed only 24 of the original 250-300 ships they came in.
The lone viking warrior however, will stand out forever in history. The pinnacle of the warrior-hero archetype which so many mythical heroes are supposed to be. To stand against such odds bravely, in the hopes that his death would save his brothers-in-arms, and then go unnamed in history seems a shame. This man, whoever he was, should have been known for the hero he became.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 25, 2019:
Snorri's account was written around two centuries or so after the event, as were a couple of Norman accounts of the battle on Caldbec Hill inland and uphill from Hastings. They both used accounts from those who took part, only Snorri Sturlusson's may be mixed with a Norman version. Things get distorted in the heat of a battle. He mistakenly wrote of English huscarls riding into battle. Like the Norsemen the English - and Anglo-Danes who fought beside Harold II as huscarls - fought on foot, and treasured their mounts as part of their 'estate'. The lone Norseman on the bridge IS an English account, raised in salute to the intrepid huscarl who took a punt (flat-bottomed boat) and speared the Norseman from below after several of his comrades were felled by this Norseman. The 'Bridge Inn' at Stamford Bridge, close to the River Derwent sports a picture of the gigantic Norseman, who may have been one of Harald's own household warriors. Several Norsemen went south with Harold after he learned of William's landing near the end of September at Pevensey (East Sussex, the Roman fort, 'Anderida' used by the Normans is free to access - a few miles west of Hastings). It may have been a telling by one of them that blurred or confused the issue.
Doro on November 18, 2019:
It's mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by English historians at the time, I can't remember if it's in Harald's Saga as well but I thought it was
Yomauser on September 28, 2019:
Snorri Sturluson. King Harald's Saga is the only viking version that tells what happened there, but I can't find a single mention of a lonely viking over the bridge or something similar. Can you tell in witch part is mentioned?
dan on October 07, 2017:
It wasnt exaggerated any of it because it was both in Anglo-saxon chronicles and the nors sagas. Very similar account with similar death tole. Rarely do you get corroboration from both sides in the same way. Usually one or the others historians would embellish to boast the accomplishments of their own side and diminish the others. So to actually have an equal and therefor honest depiction of events is extemely unique and shows the awe and honor given to the warrior by both sides.
ata1515 from Buffalo, New York. on December 09, 2016:
While the death totals may be exaggerated, this example points to the radical changes that have taken effect in warfare over the years. That one man could hold back an army at a choke-point is a lesson everyone should take in. Bravo on the article.
t on September 23, 2016:
this should be a movie!
Viking and ninja fan. on July 26, 2016:
His actions shall forever go down in history.
Øyvind on March 11, 2016:
And his name was Tjodulfr "the strong one" let his name be known forever after!!
qq on September 24, 2015:
He's feasting up in Valhalla for that.
CM Sullivan (author) from California on December 08, 2013:
None of it was exaggerated.
Cynic on August 08, 2013:
I wonder how much of this story has been exaggerated.
Minnesota man on June 13, 2012:
How many more would he have taken down I wonder if he had not been taken from beneath
somebody on June 10, 2012:
Imagine how scared the Saxons must've been of this one man holding them back
CM Sullivan (author) from California on August 04, 2011:
Thanks, DD, That's how I imagined it would be, :)
David Sproull from Toronto on July 28, 2011:
Very interesting.. and maybe exciting and brutal to imagine.