Panel One (Panel 1 - Scarborough)
King Harald of Norway lands at Scarborough.
The background story
King Harald of Norway had made his first landfall in the mouth of the river Forth in Scotland, where Tostig, brother of King Harold of England, had joined the invasion force to attack his own land and doubtless reported on events further south. Tostig has spent the summer raiding along some remoter parts of the east coast of England to distract and tire the English army. Leaving the river Forth, the Norsemen sailed south to the mouth of the Tyne. Previous generations had pillaged the famous monasteries at Tynemouth and Jarrow. The invaders were on a familiar route.
The long, sandy beaches around the mouth of the river Tyne remain popular with summer visitors today. This would have been a good place to park up a fleet of 300+ longships plus all the associated traders and supply vessels that had tagged along. But this time they did not stop. They just waited for the wind and tide to carry them south. The next day they would be ready for their trip to Scarborough.
The panel shows Harald on the long beach at Scarborough while bands of warriors go into action. King Harald is not attired for war. He is pointing at what he wants done. After a few weeks of travel it is time to let his lieutenants take their men ashore for some raiding.
King Harald is described in the sagas as
The individual acts of heroism by the defenders would have been futile given the number and skill of the attackers. The older, experienced and better-armed men had already left to join the Earl’s army in York. One young man represents the courageous but futile resistance.
The chroniclers say the locals put up a good defence of their homes, which were on the slope leading up to the modern castle between the north and south bays at Scarborough. The invaders capture the old Roman signal tower that dominates the rocky promontory dividing the two bays. With the advantage of height, the attackers hurl fire down on the houses below setting fire to the thatch. There was probably no military necessity to destroy this town, which probably contained less than fifty cottages. The destruction might provoke Earl Morcar in York into a hasty response. Burning the houses would send a message that the attackers now dominated the land.
The women flee with the children and babies. The message conveyed is that the attackers were not set on wanton destruction. They could have killed the civilians but instead they let most of them flee. This shows the invaders want to punish the people but not to destroy them completely.
The group of warriors shown attacking the town are led by their Earl. The Earl has a moustache. A moustache is an icon to indicate a senior Saxon. The small force supplied by Earl Tostig had to prove their courage to their new allies. Tostig had a lot to prove. In particular he wanted to demonstrate that he was willing to fight other Englishmen. So King Harald is standing back while Tostig sacks the town that had been part of his land as Earl of Northumbria until the year before.
At the other end of the beach, Earl Tostig again is seen leading his force south towards Holderness. This was the base of a powerful family that had taken part in the bloody coup that ousted Tostig as the Earl of Northumbria. The events in Holderness are described in the next panel. The message is that Tostig works for King Harald who is making him prove he can be trusted.
In the background some longships are seen beached and at the right of the panel some of the fleet sets out along the coast. The progress of the longships would have been dictated by the wind and the tide. We know there was a good wind from the north that had filled the square sails and brought the fleet south. At that time of year, for two six-hour periods each day, the tidal current flowed down the coast, rather than just flowing in and out, speeding the invaders on their way.
The longships would have left the beach together to sail along the coast to their next landfall near the mouth of the river Humber. They made this journey without all of the troops on board. By the skilful use of the coastal tide and the onshore and offshore winds they would be able to make good progress.
The basis for all the images in the first panel can be found in the Bayeux Tapestry. These central images have been developed from various warriors for the new setting, as neither King Harald nor Earl Tostig feature in the Bayeux. Harald was known to be of exceptional stature, which allows him to be given prominence every time he appears.
Meanwhile, in the top border, the powerful wind that blew the fleet from Norway to England is shown. The same, strong wind was pushing William’s fleet back towards the coast of France. Without that wind England might have been assaulted north and south simultaneously. This image is derived from one of the first maps to show the trade winds. No contemporary imagery for the winds could be located.
The Roman signal tower is based on the reconstruction at Colchester. The image invaded the border to add to the impression of height. The fire is rained down as symbolic bolts of lightning as if this was an act of the pagan Norse gods who had only been replaced by Christianity during Harald’s lifetime.
The goose is a well known ‘watch keeper’ whose cackling warns of approaching strangers. These are common in the Bayeux border. The goose is trying to give early warning of the approach of strangers. But the posture is also the threatening stance that ganders adopt when hissing to frighten an opponent. The symbol of the goose is repeated in the next panel.
The image of the witch feeding a bloody limb to a wolf reflects one of the dreams or omens that King Harald encountered before he left on his expedition. This was one of three ill omens he experienced before his departure.
The hammer of the war god, Thor, is above King Harald’s head. The people of Norway had been led to Christianity by Haralds’s half-brother Olaf. The pagan symbol of the arch god, Thor, is still appropriate for a mighty leader such as Harald. The English chroniclers referred to the Viking raider as ‘the hammer from the north’. The symbolic shape of Thor’s hammer appears on many carvings and amulets of the time.
Another omen received by Harald before his departure, has a witch watching as longships sail away, each with a raven perched on the sternpost. Shortly before the fleet sailed from Norway, Harald visited the tomb of his half-brother, Olaf. This was a place of pilgrimage as the body was supposed to have survived without corruption. Olaf was recognised as a saint by the church a century later. Harald had thrown the key to the sanctuary into the fjord after this final visit. That night Harald received the omen of the witch who stood on an island watching the ships sail out. The raven fed on carrion so the omen was symbolic of impending death. The raven also provided the centrepiece of Harald’s banner, the Landwaster, so this omen was doubly prophetic.
A Valkyrie leads the warriors along the coast. These heavenly bodies were similar to angels and were the guardians of the pagan heaven of the Norse pantheon. The Valkyrie bears a cup to refresh the warriors on their quest.
The bottom border is derived from medieval psalters (prayer books). The illustrations are all derived from the Luttrell Psalter and show the rural economy in action. The book was owned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell of Irnham in Lincolnshire, although he owned villages and manors throughout England. It was the work of many scribes and artists. It dates from after 1325 so is much later than the events in the preface. Some of the garments and agricultural technology have been adjusted to the technology of pre-conquest England. This psalter provides a unique record of rural activity.
This was an agriculturally productive area. The Romans developed the growing of grain crops on the rich limestone soil of the Yorkshire Wolds. This soil did not lose its fertility over time. Lime and the animal manure produced growing conditions that produced consistently good crops. The images are designed to convey the domestic tranquillity and productivity, which the invaders were attacking.
September, the time when this scene is set, would have seen the harvest in full swing. Egg-laying would have been reaching its peak. All the spilled grain would have fattened the chickens for the winter pots.
Oxen at this time were believed to be employed as teams of 2, 4 or 6 to till the soil ready for sowing. The harness required to couple horses to a plough had not yet been developed. For oxen, the load went via a yoke onto their broad shoulders. However, ploughing would have been a springtime activity and is portrayed to show the wealth of the land. The team of oxen shown numbers four, which was probably a significant team for that time.
One of the ox handlers has a rod to prod the front beast. This rod developed into a unit of measure. An area one ‘rod’ wide and a furrow–long (furlong), became known as an acre. But that was in the future. At the time of the tapestry, the ‘hide’ was the main unit of measure for ploughing. A hide was the area needed to support one extended family and its size varied depending on the type of land, so it provided a useful measure of wealth for taxation and military duties rather than just the area.
One sinister figure has a bow which he is preparing to fire towards King Harald. Every time Harald appears, there is an archer aiming in his direction. A week later, at Stamford Bridge, an archer would kill Harald with an arrow through his throat. This archer is a copy of an English archer in the Bayeux Tapestry.