Friday, 7 October 2016

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Next week on 15th October it is the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings.  I can't believe it's 10 years since I put on the last commemoration!

So, last night we played Stamford Bridge (25th September 1066) as a practice for next week.  Phil played the Vikings under Harold Hardrada and Russ took on the Saxons under Harold Godwinson.

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Fully armoured Vikings with the Raven Banner.

Harold Hardrada is a very interesting character.  Former captain of the elite Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, he married a Kievan princess and returned to Norway as probably the richest man in northern Europe; so he killed the Norwegian king and took the job on himself!  Fearless in battle he was also a famous poet who would often compose before going into battle.

Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold Godwinson, has been forced out of his earldom of Northumberland by his brother and has gone to Hardrada to seek revenge.  Both are in cahoots with Duke William of Normandy and agree a two pronged invasion of England.

Hardrada invades first banking on support through Tostig in the north and probably banking on the Saxons and Normans weakening each other in battle before he marches south and takes the whole kingdom for himself.

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Saxon shield wall and the Banner of Wessex

Our battle begins at Stamford Bridge near York shortly after the Saxon army of the North has been defeated by the Vikings at the battle of Fulford Gap.  Hardrada and Tostig are waiting for a deputation from York that has agreed to meet them with a ransom and hostages for the protection of the city.  The Vikings are lounging around the meeting field without armour and looking forward to a celebration once the supplicants arrive.

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Berserker on the bridge.  Apparently he was killed with a spear up the jacksie!  Look to the bottom right.

However, it's Harold Godwinson that has turned up determined to destroy the Viking threat before the Normans invade.  In a bold move, he has force marched his core troops north but he must force his way across a bridge and defeat Hardrada before Viking reinforcements arrive.
York to the left, the Humber to the right of the river.  Vikings randomly rolled for around the right bank, Saxons storming from the left.  On the bridge is a lone Viking berserker (honest!)

Phil's Vikings are placed randomly around the right bank of the river.  He desperately rolled to rally them onto the bridge and prevent the Saxons overwhelming him.  The berserker on the bridge held the Saxons up for 40 minutes before Russ stormed across with a command base.  However, Tostig killed the Saxon Lord and took a stand on the Bridge before he too was killed by a renewed Saxon assault.

We used variable time to judge when the Viking reinforcements would arrive and Phil tried hard to shore up the defence of the bridge and hold on.  Tostigs death robbed him of his only other commander and Hardada just didn't have enough command rolls to move all his troops into position.  Over a couple of hours of game time Russ built up a bridge head until Phil was forced to fall back Hardrada onto the hill with his few remaining followers.

Hardrada supported only by bows holds off Godwinson on the hill.  Viking reinforcements arrive from the bottom but they are tired from the forced march and all have 1 level of disorder.
Uphill and with only bowmen in support, Hardrada does just enough to delay Harold Godwinson from wiping him out.  Viking reinforcements arrive, tired but desperate to help her their threatened King.  Russ senses that a crisis point has arrived but struggles to organise his shield wall under the barrage of arrows.  Phil also knows the battle is on a knife edge and tries to rally his reinforcements before charging them into the Saxons.  Russ acts first sending a lone contingent of Huscarls into the Viking reinforcements, further disordering their formation.  However, the Viking bowmen on the hill are proving deadly and Harold Godwinson is very nearly a victim.  Russ decides to pull back his shield wall out of range of the arrows and reorder his troops.

Meanwhile, Russ is also trying to get his remaining army across the bridge whilst
Phil is rolling to recover disorder points from his battered reinforcements.  A pause in the battle is being used by both sides to reorganise before a final reckoning.

End point.  Russ has attempted to outflank and charge the disordered Vikings but Phil has managed to manoeuvre this force onto the hill and combine it with Hardrada's bowmen.

The Saxon reserves eventually march across the bridge and form line against the Viking flank.  Harold Godwinson reorganises his main force whilst weathering the storm of viking arrows when disaster strikes - he gets one in the eye and the Saxons are reduced to one leader.  Unable to initiate a combined final charge Russ is forced to watch Phil extricate his troops and place them in a powerful position on the hill.  As dusk descends the Saxons are unwilling to attack the Vikings and both sides accept a stand off.

Maybe the Vikings withdraw in the night and the Saxons elect a new leader to fight the Normans.  Maybe the Saxons accept Hardrada as their new King, combine and march south to battle William, or maybe both sides are so weakened that there is no battle of Hastings and Duke William merely marches on London and takes the vacant crown.  This is a campaign that could have had many different outcomes and proves how pivotal 1066 is in our history.

An excellent game, very well played by Phil and Russ, who both got to grips with the tactical subtleties of the rules very quickly.  Looking forward to Hastings next week.  I'll put the game on at my house - Jon, Mark can you confirm whether you will be there?


  1. I thought Phil managed the situation very well. I was torn between pushing the attack on the hill and sending my forces around to outflank the Vikings but prudence got the better of me and I made what I thought to be the best move which was to hold and not press forward after Phil organised himself on the hill.

    Enough blood was spilt on the evening.