Pre-Conquest Northumbria 1031-1066

Siward and the eve of Conquest

In the years before the Norman Conquest, the North East was administered by Earl Siward who died in 1055. Siward was succeeded by Tostig, brother of Harold who became king in January 1066. Tostig was so unpopular in the region that he was forced into exile. He returned in September 1066 as part of a Norwegian invasion of Yorkshire, but his brother, now King Harold, defeated him and the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge near York. Harold, though, had to immediately return south to deal with yet another invasion, this time from the Normans in Sussex. On October 14, 1066, he was killed at the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror became king.

Old postcard showing Low Petergate
Old postcard showing Low Petergate, York

👈 Cnut era | TimelineNorman Conquest 👉

1031 – Siward is Earl of York

Siward has become the Earl of York. Appointed by Cnut his powers in Yorkshire are almost that of a king. He is a Dane of recent arrival who will marry into the Northumbrian royal house. Siward’s wife (from an uncertain date) is Ælfflæd, grand-daughter of the late Northumbrian earl, Uhtred.  She is the daughter of Earl Ealdred of Bamburgh. As a warrior Siward has won the admiration of the Northumbrians. He has been encouraged to settle disputes between, Carl the Hold of York and Ealdred, Earl of Bamburgh. Ealdred has been earl (or ealdorman) north of the Tees since the death of his uncle Eadulf Cudel sometime after 1019 and has powers north of the Tees similar to that of Siward in Yorkshire though Siward nominally holds the senior role.

York, St Mary's Abbey
St Olave’s church in York near St Mary’s Abbey. The dedication of the church to the Scandinavian saint, Olave demonstrates the important Viking heritage of York. St Olave (Ólafr Haraldsson) was the King of Norway from 1015-1030. Many street-names in York also have Viking roots © David Simpson

Nov 12, 1035 – HAROLD HAREFOOT

King Cnut, the Danish King of England (and Denmark) dies at Shaftesbury and is buried at Winchester. He is succeeded as King of England by his illegitimate son Harold, known as Harold Harefoot, though the rightful heir is Harold’s half-brother Harthacnut who is away in Denmark defending against the Norwegians. Harefoot’s power-base is in the south of England. In Northern England power effectively rests with Earl Siward at York and Earl Ealdred of Bamburgh. Harefoot does have a slim connection to the North. His Mercian noblewoman mother was Ælfgifu of Northampton. She was daughter of Ælfhelm an ealdorman of York.

1038 – North East earl killed in dispute

Ealdred of Bamburgh, the Earl of the North-East, is killed by Carl the Hold of York following a long standing dispute. He is succeeded by Eadulf, the second earl of this name. It is possible that Siward was somehow behind the murder.

1038 – Scots repelled from Durham

King Duncan of Scotland besieges Durham City but is repelled. Situated within a steep sided loop of the River Wear with a fortification at its narrow neck, the city is well-defended.

Durham Cathedral viewed from the South Street / Crossgate area
Durham © David Simpson


Harthacnut, the son of the late King Cnut arrives in England from Denmark, landing in Kent along with his mother, Emma of Normandy (Cnut’s second wife). Harthacnut becomes King of England. His half-brother, King Harold Harefoot had died in March. In the north of England power effectively rests with Earl Siward who supports the new king.

1041 – Bamburgh ruler killed

Eadulf of Bamburgh, the Earl of the North-East, is killed. The assailant was probably Siward who becomes Earl of all Northumbria. It follows the killing of Ealdred the previous Earl of Bamburgh by Carl the Hold in 1038. Siward is thought to have been acting on behalf of King Harthacnut. Eadulf of Bamburgh had perhaps rebelled against the Danish regime.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh © David Simpson


Edward the Confessor becomes King of England. For the last 25 years he has lived in Normandy. Edward’s mother was Emma of Normandy. Edward succeeds his half-brother, Harthacnut who recently died – perhaps by poisoning – at a royal court in Denmark.

1050 – Darlington is Dearthington

At this time Darlington was known as Dearthington. The place is situated in the lower Skerne valley not far from that river’s junction with the River Tees.

St Cuthberts Church Darlington
St Cuthbert’s Church Darlington © David  Simpson

1051 – Godwinson is Wessex earl

Harold Godwinson becomes Earl of Wessex but Edward the Confessor is still king. Godwinson is one of the most powerful me in England, though is power base is in the south.

1054 – Siward defeats Macbeth

Siward, Earl of Northumbria, defeats the Scots under King Macbeth and installs his nephew Malcolm Canmore as Lord of Strathclyde and Lothian. The battle is at Dunsinane near Scone in Perthshire.

1055 – Siward dies

Siward dies at York and is buried at St Olave’s church in York. The Earldom of Northumbria is given to Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold, the Earl of Wessex who has no northern connection. His appointment will prove unpopular.

1056 – New bishop at Durham

Æthelwine becomes the last Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Durham.

1056 – Chester-le-Street church rebuilt

Chester-le-Street church, a former Saxon minster, has been rebuilt in stone.

Church spire, Chester-le-Street
Church spire of St Cuthbert’s church, Chester-le-Street © David Simpson

1058 – King Malcolm Canmore

Malcolm Canmore, a nephew of the late Northumbrian Earl Siward, becomes King Malcolm III of Scotland after King Macbeth is killed in battle. Malcolm gives allegiance to Edward the Confessor at York.

1061 – Scots attack Lindisfarne

This year Earl Tostig of Northumbria and Ealdred, the Archbishop of York went on an embassy to Rome.  Despite a pledge of allegiance, King Malcolm of Scotland ravages Lindisfarne and north Northumbria and captures Cumberland. It is a major defeat for Tostig.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle © David Simpson

1064 – Bamburgh noble murdered

Cospatric, a respected noble of Bamburgh, is murdered in Wessex by Tostig, the unpopular Earl of Northumbria.

1065 – North rebels against Tostig

Rebellion breaks out against Earl Tostig in the north following the murder of Cospatric. Tostig who has no family connections to the north is unpopular. He has also imposed high taxes and murdered local noblemen, including Cospatric. Tostig lies safe in Wiltshire.

1065 – Morcar replaces exiled Tostig

Edwin, Earl of Mercia, joins northern rebels against Tostig. King Edward is forced to exile Tostig to keep the peace. Morcar, a Mercian, is appointed Earl of York served by Osulf of Bamburgh, the earl north of the Tees.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh © David Simpson

Jan 6, 1066 – KING HAROLD

Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwinson is crowned King of England. William of Normandy claims that he is heir to the English throne.

Easter 1066 – Harold keeps brother exiled

King Harold visits York and promises to keep his brother Tostig in exile in Flanders.

Aug 1066 – Norwegian king attacks North

Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, attacks the coast of Northumberland and prepares to invade Yorkshire from the Humber. Tostig, the exiled Earl of Northumbria, also plans an invasion.

Sep 1066 – Tostig joins Norwegians

Tostig attacks the south coast from Flanders and then attempts to invade Yorkshire where he is repelled before heading to Scotland for reinforcements. He then joins the raiding fleet of Harald Hardrada of Norway in the River Tyne in what may, or may not, be a pre-arranged meeting. Hardrada’s men harry the Cleveland coast and Scarborough before entering the River Humber with Tostig.

The Cleveland Coast at Saltburn
The Cleveland Coast, harried by Hardrada © David Simpson.

Sep  20, 1066 – Battle of Fulford Gate

The Norwegians under Hardrada defeat Morcar and his brother Edwin in a great battle at Gate Fulford on the outskirts of York. The citizens of York give their support to the Norwegian King.

Sep 25, 1066 – Battle of Stamford Bridge

Norwegian King Harald Hardrada encamps at Stamford Bridge on the River Derwent near York but is defeated in battle by Harold King of England, who has marched from the south. During the battle the crossing of the wooden bridge was blocked by a fierce Viking axeman, possibly a berserker. An English soldier floated beneath the bridge in a barrel and thrust his spear through the planks of the bridge killing the warrior. The King of Norway is killed in the subsequent battle by an arrow through the throat. Tostig is also killed.

Sep 28, 1066 – Normans invade England

A huge force of Normans under Duke William landed in Sussex on the morning of September 28. The Normans set up a base near Hastings. On October 1, Harold, celebrating his recent victory over the Norwegians, receives news of the Norman invasion at York. He takes his tired army south to fight the Normans.

Oct 14, 1066 – Harold killed at Hastings

William of Normandy has been victorious at the Battle of Hastings. King Harold has been shot dead reputedly with an arrow in the eye. William will be crowned King on Christmas Day.

👈 Cnut eraNorman Conquest 👉




North East England History and Culture