Tostig, the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex, and brother of Harold and Gyrth, was born in about 1025. Tostig, like his father, supported the king, Edward the Confessor. However, after the Godwins complained about the growing influence of Edward's Norman advisers they were sent into exile.
In 1051 Tostig married Judith, daughter of Baldwin IV, the count of Flanders. The following year Earl Godwin and his sons, landed in the south of England. The army and navy gave its support to Godwin and Edward the Confessor was forced to reinstate the family estates.
On the death of Earl Siward in 1055, King Edward made Tostig the earl of Northumbria, Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire. At this time Northumbria was in a lawless state and men were forced to travel in parties of twenty to protect themselves from the attacks of robbers. Tostig imposed new laws and all captured robbers were punished with mutilation or death. This strategy was successful and Northumbria came under his firm control.
In 1061 Tostig and his wife Judith, and Gyrth went as pilgrims to Rome, where they were received by Pope Nicholas II. On the way home Tostig's party was attacked by robbers and all their possessions were taken. Tostig returned to Rome and complained about the state of order in the country. After being compensated for his losses, Tostig left for England.
Tostig's rule became increasingly tyrannical. In 1064 he had a meeting with two important thegns, Gamel and Ulf, who wanted to complain about his heavy taxes. During the meeting Tostig ordered their arrest and execution. Later that year he arranged the murder of a noble named Gospatric.
On 3rd October 1065, over 200 senior thegns met in York and chose Morcar, the brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia, to become their new leader. After plundering Tostig's treasury and killing more than 200 of his followers, the army headed south.
When Edward the Confessor heard the news he called a meeting of his nobles at Britford. Several made complaints about Tostig's rule claiming that his desire for wealth had made him unduly severe. The king sent Harold to put down the rebellion. Harold disagreed with this policy as he was convinced it would result in a disastrous civil war. At a meeting at Oxford on 28th October, Harold yielded to their demands. Tostig was banished from the country and Morcar, Harold's brother-in-law, became the new Earl of Northumbria.
Tostig and his family went to live in Flanders. When Harold succeeded to the throne in 1066, Tostig went to Normandy and met William the Conqueror. Tostig offered to help William against his brother and it was agreed that his army would sail to England. In May 1066 Tostig landed in the Isle of Wight and forced the inhabitants to give him money and provisions. He then sailed north with sixty ships and entered the Humber before being driven away by Morcar.
After spending time in Scotland Tostig went to Denmark and asked his cousin, King Sweyn, to help him against Harold. He refused and so Tostig went to Norway to meet King Hardrada. He agreed to join the campaign and in early September Tostig and 300 ships sailed along the coast and did some plundering, including the burning of Scarborough. They then entered the Humber and on 20th September defeated Morcar's army at Gate Fulford. Four days later the invaders took York.
When Harold was told by a messenger that Hardrada of Norway had invaded with the intentions of conquering all of England, it is said that the king replied: "I will give him just six feet of English soil; or, since they say he is a tall man, I will give him seven feet!"
On 25th September Harold's army arrived in Yorkshire. He took Tostig and Hardrada by surprise at a place called Stamford Bridge. It was a hot day and the Norwegians had taken off their byrnies (leather jerkins with sewn-on metal rings). Harold and his English troops devastated the Norwegians. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed. The Norwegian losses were considerable. Of the 300 ships that arrived, less than 25 returned to Norway.