Who Was Ansgar? What part did Ansgar Play in The Battle of London Bridge 1066?


King Canute, or to give him his proper name, Cnut, came to England in 1016 AD from Scandinavia to take the vacant Crown. The vacancy was caused by the death of Ethelred. Although Cnut had good claim to it, he still took the precaution of bringing a decent sized Army with him. One of his men was his Standard Bearer, Tovi – known as ‘Tofig The Proud’. As it was the custom in those days to reward such loyalty, once he was safely on the throne, Cnut gave Tovi large tracts of land in the Thames Valley, including the Manor of Northolt and a village called Greenford Parva or “Little Greenford” in the Latin, which today we know as Perivale. Tovi probably had several heirs, but one of them was his grandson Ansgar. This young man, who would today have been the equivalent of a Lord, acquired not only the vast lands owned by Tovi but also his position at Court, including the offices of “Shire Reeve” (Sheriff) of Middlesex, Port Reeve of London, “Staller” or High Constable and Master of the King’s Horse.

The importance of this family was demonstrated when Tovi remarried on 10th June 1042 to the daughter of Osgod, another very notable figure. Guest of honour at the wedding was none other than King Harthacnut, son of Cnut. Regrettably Harthacnut spoiled the occasion somewhat by drinking too much; he died of alcoholic poisoning at the reception.

He was succeeded as King by Edward the Confessor, who reigned until 1066 and died without issue, thus presenting the Kingdom with a serious problem; who was to succeed him? The Crown was claimed by Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, but two other claimants were Harold Hadrada, King of Norway and William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy. Both of these Royal personages immediately formed up their respective armies and set off to invade England to wrest the throne from King Harold.

It was at this point in our country’s history that the name of Ansgar achieved such prominence and the events of the next few months deserve close scrutiny, since they so decisively shaped the future of England, as we know it today.

Harold Hadrada, known as one of the greatest military figures of his time, landed in the mouth of the Ouse early in September 1066, captured York and then encamped at Stamford Bridge on 24th September to await the decisive battle with the English under King Harold. This was not slow in coming for Harold was also quite a warrior and had surrounded himself with his own elite fighting troops known as the House Carls — a sort of early Special Air Service. Harold knew that William’s fleet was bottled up in harbour in Normandy by the same North Easterly winds that had enabled the Norsemen to make fair passage to the East Coast, so he marched north to face the threat from Harold Hadrada.

There was no standing army in those days; instead the King would use his bodyguard, the House Carls, to form the nucleus of any army with the remaining troops being pressed from the local populace. With the army thus formed he attacked Hadrada’s men. The invaders were driven back to the sea with dreadful losses — only 24 of the fleet of 300 ships, which had landed, were needed to take the vanquished soldiers home to Norway. King Harold stood down his local troops and rested the House Carls to await the other battle he knew must come.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place on Monday 25th September 1066. Unfortunately for the Anglo Saxons, on Thursday 28th September the winds moved round to the south and William was able to land at Pevensey Bay in Sussex with his Normans fresh for the coming fight. Despite the fact that his elite fighting men had just fought an heroic battle, King Harold, on receiving the news on Sunday 1st October of the second invasion, immediately made a forced march south to London. He completed the journey with his tired men in just five days — an amazing average of nearly forty miles a day!

Arriving in London on Friday 6th October the King set about forming another army. Naturally he turned to the men of Middlesex as well as the other Home Counties and thus it was that Ansgar was called upon to serve his King and Country. The army being formed on Thursday 12th October, the Anglo Saxons set off to defend the Kingdom from a foreign foe for the second time in a month. The 7,000 troops marched over London Bridge and down through the Sussex Weald, arriving at a hill known as Senlac Ridge at dusk on the evening of, ominously for them, Friday 13th October.

At dawn the next day William advanced his several thousand archers and cavalry to the summit of Teiham Hill, the highest point between Hastings and the village now called Battle, in memory of the fight shortly to take place. On the ridge opposite his position he saw Harold’s banners fluttering in the morning breeze. He advanced down the slope and formed his battle lines at the bottom of the hill — archers in front, infantry behind, cavalry at the rear. Harold responded by forming the well tried Anglo Saxon defence line, known as the Shield Wall — forerunner of the British Square of Napoleonic times.

The battle lasted all that day and as it progressed it seemed that Harold’s men would emerge the victors. The House Carls, a truly epic band of warriors, mounted infantry armed with double-headed battle axes, was unbeatable and the Shield Wall around Harold held firm. Then William’s French archers did to the Anglo Saxon troops what their English descendants would do to the French Knights at Crecy and Agincourt hundreds of years in the future — they aimed high over the top of the impregnable Shield Wall and killed the House Carls and infantry where they stood. Harold’s defensive position collapsed and they were overrun by the Norman cavalry who had been waiting all day for the chance to attack. Of the twelve army commanders under Harold, only Ansgar and one other survived and Ansgar himself was so badly wounded that he had to be carried hack to London on a stretcher by the remnants of his men. The site of the last stand of the Anglo Saxon King, killed in the final assault, is believed to be the actual ground covered by the High Altar of Battle Abbey, which stands on Senlac Ridge.

While William rested his victorious army at Canterbury, a 13 year old boy Prince called Edgar Atheling was declared King by the Anglo Saxon Witan, or Parliament and Ansgar, despite his dreadful injuries, was appointed Army Commander for the defence of London. He rallied the Londoners to such effect that when William sent a probing force of 500 men to attack Southwark and Camberwell, Ansgar defeated them easily at London Bridge. Realising he would not succeed in a frontal assault on the stronghold of the Anglo Saxons, William then began laying waste to the countryside in a wide sweep round the south and west, crossing the River Thames at Wallingford and heading for Hertford.

William had heard of the crippled Sheriff who had survived the battle and sent word to him that if he would persuade the Witan to surrender London to the Normans, he would spare the country from further bloodshed and even offered to allow Ansgar to retain his office. Ansgar put this to the Witan, who agreed to the terms of the peace treaty and a deputation consisting of Edgar the Atheling, the Archbishop of York, Ansgar and other members of the Government met William at Little Berkhamstead in December 1066 to formally surrender the Kingdom to him. William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

William did not keep his promise to Ansgar, which no doubt Ansgar had anticipated. The injured old warrior was thrown into prison along with many other people dangerous to the new regime and was never heard of again. His manor of Northolt was given to one of William’s Lieutenants, exactly as Tovi had received it. Geoffrey de Mandeville became the new Sheriff of Middlesex and the name of Ansgar faded into history until the Lodge that proudly commemorates his name was founded in 1931 — just under 900 years after he died a hero’s death in the cause of his King, his Country and his Province of Middlesex.

The above notes were compiled from various sources by W Bro John Loader PPrJGW , with grateful thanks to the unknown authors. No claim is made as to their historical accuracy. j1_, 1995.

Also see – Battle of London 1066