Had Earl Harold not 'abandoned' his own brother, earl Tostig, in 1065, would England have been so divided and vulnerable?
October 1065. Earl Tostig Godwinson of Northumbria- was ousted from his earldom after ten years of harsh or ineffective rule- depending upon the source- in a huge revolt (in his absence- he was in the south of England) begun by a powerful coalition of mighty nobles and thegns who marched southwards towards London, creating havoc en route.
They had replaced him with Morcar Leofwinson, brother of Edwin, earl of Mercia. The Leofwinsons and the Godwinsons had a history of bad blood.
They said that they had many grievances against Tostig;
- He was not local to Northumbria, but a southerner, always distrusted and disliked by resolute northerners.
- He had had many minor Northumbrian nobles, the relatives of the rebels, assassinated
- They complained that his rule was harsh- crime punishments and heavy taxes
- He was rumoured to have covertly filled his own coffers unjustly
- Whenever the Scottish king, Malcolm III (raised as an exile by the English king Edward's court) raided Northumbria, Tostig did nothing militarily.
Tostig's older brother, Harold, earl of Wessex, one of the most powerful and wealthy nobles in the land after the ailing King Edward, was despatched as Royal ambassador to negotiate with the rebel army who were now at Oxford.
Edward, who was fond of Tostig, was all for civil war, but wiser heads advised that England would be weakened to her enemies if so (ie. Scotland or Normandy). Tostig railed that Harold wasn't arguing hard enough to win back his earldom, and this seemed to confirm the suspicion to him when the rebels and Harold, acting for the dying king, agreed with the rebels that Tostig be exiled from England. Tostig was furious and swore revenge against his brother, Harold.
King Edward was apoplectic with rage and sorrow, but was forced to relent. His queen - Harold's own sister- was unhappy with the situation, but Harold/Tostig's younger brothers, earls Leofwine and Gyrth, stood by Harold. Edward's health declined rapidly and he died on January 5th, 1066.
The next day, two things happened- Edward was buried at his new Abbey, Westminster, and also Harold was crowned there by Archbishop Ealdred, whose piety was unimpeachable (unlike Archbishop Stigand, the pluralist, whom the Normans say crowned the earl)
We know that the exiled Tostig led doomed raids along the south and eastern English coast before seeking military aid from various sources, which include King Swein of Denmark (his kinsman) and even duke William, also furious that his ambitions for England had been snubbed, and was then building an invasion fleet. Both declined to aid Tostig, but another King didn't - the world-renowned warrior, King Harald 'Hardaara' ('Hard Ruler') Sigurdsson of Norway.
Tostig persuaded Hardraada to invade England and on the 20th September together their 300 shipfuls of veteran warriors slaughtered a northern English army, led by brother earls Morcar and Edwin, at the battle of Fulford Gate,York. A stunned King Harold, ready for a Norman invasion 250 miles to the south, immediately led a large, mounted army of elite huscarls and thegns northwards in a fast dash.
On 25th September, Harold surprised Hardraada's Norsemen/Tostig and in an all day bloodbath, the English finally slew over 90% of the invaders, so that "only 24 out of 300" ships were needed to sail them home after the English king spared the battered survivors.
A shattered and sorely depleted English elite rested and celebrated their stunning victory, but only four days later, Harold got news that Duke William had landed on the southern English coast. He dashed his men southwards again, giving word that any infantry trickling south when they could from York and the midlands and south. Pausing a few days at London, Harold awaited the gathering of his summoned forces.
At daybreak on Saturday, October 14th, Harold met William's Norman-French-Breton army 50-odd miles south of London, at what the English called 'Santlache' and the Normans called 'Senlac'...we know it as 'Hastings