Battle of Northam

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The Battle of Northam[1] was fought in Northam, Devon in 1069 between a Norman force led by Brian of Brittany against anAnglo Saxon army commanded by Godwin, son of Godwin and Edmund, son of Edmund, two sons of the late English king Harold Godwinson. The Normans inflicted heavy casualties on the Saxons and forced them to retreat from Devon.


English King Harold Godwinson was defeated and killed in the Battle of Hastings by the Norman William the Conqueror, who subsequently took control of most of southern England. However much of the west and north remained only nominally in or completely out of William’s control. This allowed many members of Harold’s family to continue operating with power[2], such as his mother Gytha and his sons by Edith, his unofficial wife, who were called Godwin, Edmund and Magnus.


In January 1068 King William personally led an army to Siege of Exeter (1068)|besiege Exeter, the biggest city in Devon, which was Gytha’s main power base. After a short 18 day siege the city surrendered and Gytha fled[3]. Godwin, Edmund and Magnus, who were likely at the siege, fled to Ireland to seek help fromDiarmait, High King of Ireland. Diarmait had previously helped their father in 1052. Diarmat gave the brothers a fleet of 52 ships and a small army to resist the Normans and they returned to Devon and began raiding. By now William had left but he kept a large force to garrison the area led by Eadnoth the Staller, who engaged the brothers at the Battle of Bleadon[4]. The exact outcome of the battle is unknown but it is recorded that Eadnoth was killed, though it was the Saxons who retreated to their ships. Magnus is not mentioned after this battle, so it is speculated he also died. The battle was clearly not decisive as the Saxon force continued raiding the coast of Devon and Cornwall with their fleet before eventually returning to Ireland. Here Diarmat supplied them with more forces, bolstering their number to 64 ships and a large enough force to fully challenge the Normans in the southwest.


In June 1069 the brothers returned with their army, landing at a small village called Appledore in Devon. Here they advanced to Northam and began raiding the area. The Norman army, now under command of the king’s second cousin Brian of Brittany and the noble William De Vauville, quickly arrived in the area and began attacking the Saxons. The size of their armies are unknown, though they were both roughly a few thousand. The Normans however had the superior troops, with Brian commanding a large force of knights. The scattered raiders were quickly pushed back to Appledore where they joined up with the rest of the army. However they found their ships stranded as the tide had move out. Now the Saxons were in a difficult situation, they had already suffered casualties and were left to deal with superior Norman knights. For many hours the Normans launch repeated attacks against the Anglo Saxon shield wall, almost exactly like how the early stages of Hastings had also played out. The Saxon line never broke but they took heavy casualties. As night came the tide finally returned and the Saxons escaped to sea, ending the battle[5].


The Saxons had took 1,700 casualties, possibly more than half their army and so were unable to continue to their campaign. They returned to Ireland where Diarmat either told them he could not or would not supply them with more forces. The brothers moved to Denmark, possibly hoping to receive new help from Sweyn II Estridsson. However that help clearly didn’t come as the brothers soon disappear from history[6]. Thus, the Battle of Northam marks the end of the attempts of Harold’s successors to reclaim the throne of England


  1. "About the Battle – Battle of Northam". Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  2. Connolly, Sharon Bennett (2018-10-14). "The Wives and Family of King Harold II". History... the interesting bits!. Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  3. "Exeter Memories - William I besieges Exeter". Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  4. "Countdown to Battle – Battle of Northam". Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  5. "The Battle 1069 – Battle of Northam". Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  6. "The Leaders and the Manor – Battle of Northam". Retrieved 2020-12-13.

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