The Last Viking book on how Yorkshire's Battle of Stamford Bridge was 'pivotal' to Battle of Hastings and English history

There was a clash of enemies in Yorkshire two weeks before the Battle of Hastings – and a new book by US author Don Hollway describes it as pivotal. John Blow reports.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge memorial. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge memorial. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Say 1066 and to most people it means the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror and King Harold with an eyeful of arrow as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. But go back couple of weeks earlier and it was Norway’s king – the Viking warrior Harald Hardrada – who likely had a pivotal role to play in the eventual Norman invasion.

There is, of course, a link to Yorkshire in all this.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As American author Don Hollway explains in his new book, The Last Viking, the Harald Hardrada’s men fought the English during the Battle of Stamford Bridge, in East Yorkshire, one which the natives won but which left them exhausted before the clash at Hastings on October 14.

Don Hollway, author of The Last Viking.

The book has come out weeks ahead of the Battle of Stamford Bridge’s 955th anniversary on September 25.

Hollway, who lives in the state of Pennsylvania (the nearest city is called York, itself around 30 miles from a certain Lancaster), says: “He fought a battle outside of [the English] York at Fulford, which is a little bit south of there, and York surrendered to him.

"And then, famously, when he went to collect hostages to guarantee his conquest at Stamford Bridge on the 25th, he was defeated by King Harold II of Godwinson, which is a pivotal battle in history. Because if the English Harold had not marched north to meet the Norwegian Herald, and fought the battle there, and then had to hurry back down to the south to meet William the Conqueror, he might not have been defeated.

"He was ready to receive William the Conqueror but he was distracted by this fight with Harald Hardrada, so it was really a pivotal couple of weeks in English history.”

King Harold's brother Tostig Godwinson also fought against his sibling and died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Read More

Read More
Battle of Stamford Bridge: Yorkshire's 'Bayeux Tapestry' tells story of battle w...

Harald Sigurdsson burst into history as a teenaged youth in a Viking battle from which he escaped with little more than his life and a thirst for vengeance.

He became one of Norway’s legendary kings, and The Last Viking aims to read like a novel, a fast-moving story of his life as he journeyed across the medieval world as far as Constantinople and the Holy Land.

Harald sought to expand his kingdom into an empire and fought to seize both the Danish and English crowns. Ultimately unsuccessful, he died, sword in hand, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Hollway’s story combines Norse sagas, Byzantine accounts, Anglo-Saxon chronicles, and even King Harald’s own verse and prose. The author, 62, has worked in advertising, so knew how to write, and decided as time was getting on that he would take the plunge – and Osprey Publishing recognised its potential.

“I got my advanced copies the other week and I can honestly say it’s one of the greatest thrills of my life,” says Hollway. “I always pictured this, and I’m very thrilled and grateful to Osprey for giving me the chance.”

It comes as there has been an upswing in films and small screen interpretations of this sort of subject recently – including Vikings on Prime.

He is part of The Twisted Knot Company of Pike & Shot, a re-enactment group based on a unit in the time of the English Civil War.

He says: “I think my re-enacting is an important aspect. I bring something to the story that you’re not going to get from a historian who’s sitting in an ivory tower with a typewriter.

“I’ve worn the armour, I fought with swords, I’m an experienced fencer, I’ve slept on cold ground and, you know, I’ve gotten drunk with buddies around campfires.

“It’s not like I wrote this behind the desk. The Last Viking comes from life experience and I’ve tried to build that realism into the story.”

The Last Viking is out now.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.