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But Harald and his Vikings reached England first. Sailing down the coast to Northumbria, they swarmed ashore at Riccall, joined forces with Tostig, and then set out to capture York. Harald easily defeated York's outmanned defenders just outside the city. Hoping to avoid useless bloodshed, Tostig persuaded those who remained in the garrison to surrender. During these negotiations, both parties agreed the victorious Vikings would take possession of the castle the next day. Returning to their ships, the Vikings celebrated. On the morrow Harald and his men started out for York to finalize the terms of its surrender. That September day began hot and sunny. So, according to one chronicle, "they left their mailshirts behind and went ashore with shields and helmets and spears and wore their swords and many had bows and arrows. They were very happy, with no thought of any attack, and when they were getting near the town they saw a great cloud of dust and under it bright shields and shining mail."58
Tostig advised Harald to retreat to the ships. Harald, who had never been defeated in battle, refused. He deployed his forces at Stamford Bridge and waited for the forces of Harold Godwinson, King of England, to draw up. As the English arranged their battle lines, twenty of their armored knights rode forward. A like number from the Viking side advanced to meet them.
One of the English knights asked: "Where is Tostig in the host?"
"It is not to be concealed that you may find him here," Tostig replied.
The horseman then said: "Harald your brother sends you greeting, and the message that you shall have peace, and get Northumbria, and he will give you one-third of all his realm."
Tostig answered: "Then something else is offered than the enmity and disgrace of last winter; if this had been offered then, many who now are dead would be alive, and the realm of the King of England would stand more firm. Now if I accept these terms, what will my brother Harold offer to the King of Norway for his trouble?"
The smaller horseman carefully appraised the oversized, majestic-looking, auburn-haired, full-bearded, well-muscled Norwegian king, who looked down on him with one eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other. Then he replied: "He has said what he will grant King Harald Sigurdsson: it is a space of seven feet, or as much more as he may be taller than other men."
Tostig responded: "Go and tell my brother, King Harold, to prepare for battle. It shall not be said among Northmen that Tostig jarl left Harald, King of Norway, and went into the host of his foes when he made warfare in England; rather will we all resolve to die with honor, or win England with a victory."
As the English knights returned to their lines, Harald asked Tostig: "Who was that eloquent man?"
"It was my brother, Harold."
The Viking giant then advised Tostig that if he had known this Harold of England would now be a dead man.
"It is true, lord, that he acted incautiously, and I saw that it might have been as you said; but when he came to offer me peace and great power, I should have been his slayer if I had betrayed who he was. I acted thus because I will rather suffer death from my brother, than be his slayer, if I may choose."
After this the two sides joined in battle. With characteristic recklessness, the English charged the wall of Viking shields. Spears and swords on both sides soon reddened with gore. Finally the English were repulsed. The exultant Vikings broke their wall to pursue. Having on no coats of mail, however, the Northmen now became easy targets for the deadly accurate English archers. Seeing so many of his Vikings falling around him, King Harald went berserk. As the English commenced another head-on attack, he charged like an enraged Ajax in advance of his men. Fighting two-handed, he cut with wide sweeps of his sword a path through the English ranks. Inspired by such boldness, his men rallied. Now the English began to fall back. But just then an English arrow whizzed through the air and sank its shaft deep in the giant's unprotected throat.
"The remaining Norwegians," declares the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ' "were put to flight, while the English fiercely assailed their rear until some of them reached their ships; some were drowned, others burnt to death... ."59
Harold of England had no time to celebrate his great triumph. On September 28,1066, William of Normandy landed near Pevensey in Sussex with his sixty-five thousand Viking warriors. With his depleted, battle-weary army, Harold rushed to meet him. A few days later, at the famous Battle of Hastings, an arrow struck Harold through his eye. As the blinded king wandered about the battlefield, the Normans hacked him to death.
A few days before his audience with the king, Joyce astonished a large crowd at Hamstead by pulling a tree out of the ground by its roots. The roots measured near a yard and a half in circumference, while the tree itself was "modestly computed to weigh nearly 2,000 weight."62
In July, 1752, when he came to Cork to receive saltwater treatments to alleviate his growing pains, large crowds of curious people pressed around the young man, for he already stood about seven feet tall. While at Cork, some persuaded the lad from the County of Tipperary to show himself for pay. So he came to London to launch his career.
In the January 31, 1753, issue of the Daily Advertiser, his sponsors ran the following notice: "Just arrived in this city, from Ireland, the youth, mentioned lately in the newspapers, as the most extraordinary production in nature. He is allowed by the nobility and gentry, who daily resort to see him, to have the most stupendous and gigantic form (altho' a boy), and is the only representation in the world of the ancient and magnificent giants of that kingdom. He is seven feet three inches in height, without shoes. His wrist measures a quarter of a yard and an inch. He greatly surpasses Cajanus the Swede, in the just proportions of his limbs; and is the truest and best proportioned figure ever seen. He was sixteen years of age the 10th of last March and is to be seen at the Peacock, at Charing Cross, from eight in the morning, till ten at night."
MacGrath afterward traveled to Paris and then spent several years touring Europe's great cities. But in Flanders a deadly fever attacked him and forced him to return, in failing health, to his native Ireland where he soon after died. Though he had befriended the students at nearby Trinity College, where he would playfully pick up a small-sized student named Hare and hold him at arm's length, they on the day of the giant's wake stole his body. After dissecting him, they preserved his skeleton, now seven feet eight inches long, as a college showpiece.' (For other accounts of surgeons or anatomists stealing the bodies of deceased giants, see Byrne, Charles; Longmore, Edward)