Tostig Godwinson

Tostig Godwinson
Earl of Northumbria
Reign 1055-1065
Predecessor Siward
Successor Morcar
Died 25 September 1066
Battle of Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire, England
Burial York Minster
Spouse Judith of Flanders
Issue Skuli Tostisson Kongsfostre
Ketil Tostisson
House House of Godwin
Father Godwin, Earl of Wessex
Mother Gytha

Tostig Godwinson (circa 1026 -25 September 1066) was an Anglo-Saxon Earl of Northumbria and brother of King Harold Godwinson.[1]


Tostig was the third son of the Anglo-Saxon nobleman Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, the daughter of Danish chieftain Thorgil Sprakling. In 1051, he married Judith of Flanders the only child of Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders by his second wife, Eleanor of Normandy. The Domesday Book recorded twenty-six vills or townships as being held by Earl Tostig forming the Manor of Hougun which now forms part of the county of Cumbria in north-west England.[2] [3]

Earl of Northumbria

The Kirkdale Sundial, with Earl Tostig's name in the dedication
(in Earl Tostig's day)

In September 1051, Godwin and his sons were banished from England by king Edward the Confessor. Godwin, Gytha and Tostig, together with Sweyn and Gyrth, sought refuge with the Count of Flanders. They returned to England the following year with armed forces, gaining support and compelling Edward to restore his earldom. Three years later in 1055, Tostig became the Earl of Northumbria upon the death of Earl Siward.[4]

Tostig appears to have governed in Northumbria with some difficulty. He was never popular with the Northumbrian ruling class, a mix of Danish invaders and Anglo Saxon survivors of the last Norse invasion. Tostig was said to have been heavy-handed with those who resisted his rule, including the murder of several members of leading Northumbrian families. In late 1063 or early 1064, Tostig had Gamal, son of Orm and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated when they visited him under safe conduct.[5] Also, the Vita Edwardi, otherwise sympathetic to Tostig, states that he had 'repressed [the Northumbrians] with the heavy yoke of his rule'.

He was also frequently absent at the court of King Edward in the south, and possibly showed a lack of leadership against the raiding Scots. Their king was a personal friend of Tostig, and Tostig's unpopularity made it difficult to raise local levies to combat them. He resorted to using a strong force of Danish mercenaries (housecarles) as his main force, an expensive and resented policy (the housecarls' leaders were later slaughtered by rebels). Local biases probably also played a part. Tostig was from the south of England, a distinctly different culture from the north, which had not had a southern earl in several lifetimes. In 1063, still immersed in the confused local politics of Northumbria, his popularity apparently plummeted. Many of the inhabitants of Northumbria were Danes, who had enjoyed lesser taxation than in other parts of England. Yet the wars in Wales, of which Tostig's constituents were principal beneficiaries, needed to be paid for. Tostig had been a major commander in these wars attacking in the north while his brother Harold Godwinson marched up from the south.

Deposition by his brother Harold and the thegns of Northumbria

On 3 October 1065, the thegns of York and the rest of Yorkshire descended on York and occupied the city. They killed Tostig's officials and supporters, then declared Tostig outlawed for his unlawful actions and sent for Morcar, younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. The northern rebels marched south to press their case with King Edward. They were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin and his forces. There, they were met by Earl Harold, who had been sent by King Edward to negotiate with them and thus did not bring his forces. After Harold, by then the king's right-hand man, had spoken with the rebels at Northampton, he likely realized that Tostig would not be able to retain Northumbria. When he returned to Oxford, where the royal council was to meet on 28 October, he had probably already made up his mind.

Exile and rebellion

Harold Godwinson persuaded the King Edward the Confessor to agree to the demands of the rebels. Tostig was outlawed a short time later, possibly early in November, because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward. This led to the fatal confrontation and enmity between the two Godwinsons. At a meeting of the king and his council, Tostig publicly accused Harold of fomenting the rebellion. Harold was keen to unify England in the face of the grave threat from William of Normandy, who had openly declared his intention to take the English throne. It was likely that Harold had exiled his brother to ensure peace and loyalty in the north. Tostig, however, remained unconvinced and plotted vengeance.

Tostig took ship with his family and some loyal thegns and took refuge with his brother-in-law, Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. He even attempted to form an alliance with William. Baldwin provided him with a fleet and he landed in the Isle of Wight in May 1066, where he collected money and provisions. He raided the coast as far as Sandwich but was forced to retreat when King Harold called out land and naval forces. He moved north and after an unsuccessful attempt to get his brother Gyrth to join him, he raided Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The Earls Edwin and Morcar defeated him decisively. Deserted by his men, he fled to his sworn brother, King Malcolm III of Scotland. Tostig spent the summer of 1066 in Scotland.

He made contact with King Harald III Hardrada of Norway and persuaded him to invade England. One of the sagas claims that he sailed for Norway, and greatly impressed the Norwegian king and his court, managing to sway a decidedly unenthusiastic Harald, who had just concluded a long and inconclusive war with Denmark, into raising a levy to take the throne of England. With Hardrada's aid, Tostig sailed up the Humber and defeated Morcar and Edwin at Gate Fulford.[6]

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Hardrada's army invaded York, taking hostages after a peaceful surrender, and likely agreed with the local inhabitants to gather commandeered supplies at Stamford Bridge, near York, a conveniently central spot, well fed by streams and roads. King Harold Godwinson raced northward with an English army from London and, on 25 September 1066, surprised his brother Tostig and about 6,000 of his men, basking in the sun and awaiting supplies. The Norwegians and the Flemish mercenaries hired by Tostig were largely without armour and carried only personal weapons. The day was very hot and no resistance was expected. The remainder of the 11,000-man force remained guarding the Norse ships, beached miles away at Riccall. Tostig and most of his men were killed.


After his death at Stamford Bridge, it is believed that his body was taken to France and then buried at York Minster. Tostig's two sons took refuge in Norway, while his wife Judith married Duke Welf of Bavaria.[7] The victorious Harold, at the head of troops, still exhausted by their previous fight with Tostig and Hardrada, would go to confront and suffer defeat at the hands of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings nineteen days later.

His two sons with Judith:

Portrayal in books and films

In non-fiction books

Popular (as opposed to scholarly) non-fiction books that cover Tostig's life and role in history include:

In fiction

Tostig features in the novels The Last English King (2000), by Julian Rathbone (where he is depicted as Edward the Confessor's catamite), Harold, The Last of the Saxon Kings, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The King's Shadow, by Elizabeth Alder, The Interim King, by J. Colman McMillan, Lord of Sunset, by Parke Godwin, Warriors of the Dragon Gold, by Ray Bryant, and God's Concubine book 2 of The Troy Game series by Sara Douglass, The Bastard King by Jean Plaidy.

On screen, Tostig was portrayed by actor Frederick Jaeger in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), part of the series Theatre 625.

Tostig also appeared in the Channel 4 documentary, 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth.

Tostig is one of the main characters in 1066: What Fates Impose by G K Holloway (2013).

See also


  1. "Tostig Godwinson". Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  2. Bibbs, Hugh (1999). "The Rise of Godwine, Earl of Wessex". Northwest & Pacific Publishing. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  3. Cumberland: Hougun (The Domesday Book On-Line)
  4. MacLean, Mark (1999). "History of Ireleth and Askam-in-Furness". Bruderlin MacLean Publishing Services. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  5. Walker, Ian W. (1997) Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King (Alan Sutton Publishing, Ltd.) ISBN 0-7509-1388-6
  6. Claus Krag. "Harald 3 Hardråde, Konge". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  7. Francis Drake (1790) An Accurate Description of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter; 3rd ed. York: printed by G. Peacock, sold by W. Tesseyman [et al.]

Other sources

External links

Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Northumbria
Succeeded by

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