The Battle of Northam 1069
In June 1069 Godwine and Edmund returned from Ireland with at least 64 ships and landed in Appledore on the north coast of Devon. Using contemporary sources and tide and dusk data we can reconstruct the events of that fateful day. All times are approximate…
9 am – The fleet beaches at Appledore around high tide
10 am – Small groups of lightly armed men plunder and burn farms and settlements in the manor of Northam.
11.30 am – The largest group are attacked by Brian’s army. Brian of Brittany was second cousin to King William and he led an army of Breton knights. With him was William de Vauville, commander of the Norman garrison of Exeter with an army of local Devon levies known as the fyrd.
12 noon – The raiders are driven back towards Appledore. They rally on the far side of a marsh and are joined by the rest of their army. Their ships are stranded by the tide and the raiders must hold their position until the tide returns.
9 pm – Brian’s Anglo-French army has made repeated attacks on the shield wall of the raiding army. The battle resembles the Battle of Hastings. Apart from Hastings itself, battles of this duration are unknown in the eleventh century.
9.20 pm – It is growing dark and now the tide is in the surviving raiders retreat to their ships and sail away. Brian’s army do not pursue them, most probably due to exhaustion. The sons of Harold have suffered a catastrophic defeat – 1,700 of their army and most of its leaders are dead.
Assuming that Brian’s army suffered proportionate losses, there are perhaps 3,000 corpses on the battlefield. After Hastings this is certainly the largest and bloodiest battle of the Norman Conquest.