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Old November 7th, 2015, 03:51 AM   #1

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Saxon Royal Huscarl Vs Norse Viking


Snorri Sturluson writes:

"They were called the Kings Huscarls. They were men who were so valiant that one was a better soldier than two of the best of Harald's men."

Where is the evidence for this? The Norse and Danes had ample opportunity to prove their worth over many battlefields over many years, but other than in a recent Welsh war, where did the Saxon Kings Huscarls gain this reputation?

Either Snorri was 'bigging up' the Saxon opposition in order to explain the Norse defeat at Stamford Bridge, or he knew something that we don't!

Any ideas?


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Old November 7th, 2015, 04:49 AM   #2
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Snorri seems to gets mixed up between the battles of hastings and Stamford bridge and wrote a good while after the battle.
" Norse viking"isn't a military term. Only a small proportion of viking men(and Saxons) were full time fighters with sword,mail etc. Most were less well equipped, with spear,axe and shield.

The battle of maldon appears to have been fought with a"select" Anglo Saxon army but it got beat.

There's no reason a viking warrior with mail,sword,helmet,spear and shield and who had practice in handling his weapons should be less efficient that a Saxon of the same status. On top of which many "Saxons" of all ranks were not saxons at all.

So in this case snorri was just being dramatic. Saxon and Scandinavian mercenaries fought side by side in the same units effectively.

That's not to say the huscarl was not a great fighter.
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Old November 7th, 2015, 08:58 AM   #3
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The speculation is on the English "Royal Huscarles". I've read claims of 3,000 or 4,000 strong. I've also come across claims of specific taxes raised to support them.
Relative to the Germanic world these a paid body of retainers so within that context were professional warriors. Being "professional" meant more regular training. Receiving a wage meant picking and choosing men who could demonstrate quality as warriors. They could be anybody that was good enough, Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons, Irish, even Slavs. It was the old time custom that the Lord would supply his retainers with the implements of battle. So one could expect them to be relatively well equipped.
In peacetime their role was to strongarm the kings laws. In war, well I guess they were useful. The different AS Earles would maintain bodies of men 240 or 120 strong. Whether these were synchronized with the Royal Huscarles I don't know.
By this late stage England is regarded as becoming perhaps one of the most sophisticated states in Europe outside the Byzantines. With a centralized government and an array of taxes and levies to support royal endeavors. Most of this due to the continous state of emergency in dealing with the Vikings.
I guess the English crown was taking half the fees of wergild. So unlike Norway, English government had cartloads of silver to work with. I suspect the Norwegian king had hardly the funds to support anything like the Royal Huscarles on such a scale.
I suspect Snorri's claim should not be dismissed too easily.
It is best remembered than the select Fyrd was only expected to serve with good equipment and supplies. The skill is using them is another matter entirely. A body of "professional warriors" might provide training in times of war.
In saying they were worth two of Harald's Norsemen, probably refers to their nature as paid "professional" warriors.
Generally the better warriors fought in the front rank supported by a line of phalanx of lesser warriors behind them.
This became a problem on the continent as the better warriors became cavalry. This meant bodies like the Fyrd losing their hard edge and becoming almost useless.

Quote:
There's no reason a viking warrior with mail,sword,helmet,spear and shield
No, not maile. This was a very expensive armor. From the 9th century was produced as an export from somewhere in Germany. The price was 100 shillings or 5 pounds of silver. Worth 5 swords which was itself an expensive weapon. Due to the high price, expensive in labor and iron metal, I wouldn't expect it to be as common as people imagine.
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Old November 7th, 2015, 09:53 AM   #4
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Actually Mr Higson mail was produced all over Europe and beyond,although its true certain areas made more,and I did go out of my way in my first post to make it clear the majority of Saxon/viking warriors had only spears,sheilds and axes. I actually wrote that. Why,oh why don't people actually READ a post before commenting.

Go ahead,read(and pay attention this time)to what I actually wrote. Its in the first paragraph where I point out most Saxon/viking fighting men had only spears,shields and axes. I can only think either you don't pay attention or have trouble reading.

Last edited by petergoose; November 7th, 2015 at 09:58 AM.
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Old November 7th, 2015, 09:55 AM   #5

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Not much imho. the English and the Norse had similar battle tactics/military philosophies, largely since they had the same ultimate Germanic roots. Offa was fighting in shield walls, and he was King of Mercia long before the Viking Age or a united England existed.
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Old November 7th, 2015, 12:21 PM   #6

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Huscarls were introduced to England by King Cnut,

The Royal Huscarls manned the 50 ship standing army of the King, Florence describes them when Godwin had to give a longship manned with 80 huscarls to Harthacnut, to regain his favour.

This would give a standing army for Harold of about 4,000 paid for by the Danegeld tax.

"Everyone had on each arm a golden bracelet, weighing sixteen ounces, and wore a triple coat of mail and a helmet partly gilt, and a sword with gilded hilt, having a Danish battle-axe adorned with silver and gold hanging from his left shoulder; whilst in his left hand he held a shield, the nails and boss were also gilded, and in his right hand a lance, in the English tongue called"ategar".
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Old November 7th, 2015, 02:04 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by petergoose View Post
Actually Mr Higson mail was produced all over Europe and beyond,although its true certain areas made more,and I did go out of my way in my first post to make it clear the majority of Saxon/viking warriors had only spears,sheilds and axes. I actually wrote that. Why,oh why don't people actually READ a post before commenting.

Go ahead,read(and pay attention this time)to what I actually wrote. Its in the first paragraph where I point out most Saxon/viking fighting men had only spears,shields and axes. I can only think either you don't pay attention or have trouble reading.
Well not actually my point.

The English levy system indicates the poverty of arms that might exist amongst the classes. Although it remain the obligation of all free men to serve in the warrior levy. There was distinction made between men who owned property, typically called Thanes who own 5 hides, usually equivalent to a square mile. And the vast bulk of landless freemen. It came about as the Anglo-Saxons went on the offensive against the Vikings, It was the Thanes who typically made up the levy. These latter were expected to serve with the common implements of war, a horse and food supplies for a few months. It was only these men that had the resources to supply the necessary goods. It was these men who had something to lose if they failed to serve. The very word evolved from Thing-men, men who had things, or men of means. Since latter day England is 50,000 square miles. The very maximum of Thanes would be 50,000 and perhaps in reality much less than this. The lesser Fyrdmen might only be expected to serve a few days in a non combat capacity and only called out in the immediate vicinity of their homes.
The question would be what would be the quality of the arms of landed men.
After that we have personal armed retainers of important men. It seems these men received arms from their lord. One could expect expensive equipment amongst these latter who might be Huscarles or the equivalent.
Back in those days, iron was an expensive good. And was needed for tools as well as arms. The quality of tools making a great difference to all forms of productivity. There indeed might have been a great temptation to beat there arms into "ploughs" so they got to eat better. Poverty and famine were ever present companions for the majority.
A good sword was an expensive thing, a plain one worth a pound of silver. That cost a kilogram of iron. (exceptional blades of renown could go for as much as thirty pounds) A full iron helmet, was probably more expensive than a sword and could use up to 2 kilos of iron. Indeed many of the helmets made sparing use of iron with raw hide supported by a few bands of iron.
A light axe might be used in place of sword at half a kilo of iron. Or even a club. The ever present and personal tool of pride were the long knives called seax. These were so highly valued that they had inscriptions.
The most important weapon was the thrusting spear and these might use half a kilo of iron. As for throwing spears they would have to be careful with iron. Indeed there are references to cheaply made stone "hammers" being the common throwing weapon.
But all this is dwarfed by the amount of iron required for a maile shirt that might approach 9 kilos in weight. We know the price of 5 pounds of silver from later in the middle ages. There were 240 pence to a pound, and 12 pence to a shilling. A penny of the time weighed a tad under 1.5 grams. A penny was the common day wage of a peasant and there were only so many months of the year he would receive a wage. A craftsman might receive two pence a day and be employed more consistently throughout the year. Even if a peasant was consistently employed throughout the year, one could expect a mail shirt was worth 5 years of his life at a minimum. And this was a time when adult years of life were generally short.
In my opinion the common torso armor was rawhide which cost a fraction of what maile did. The shields themselves were light weight flexible things of rawhide with linden added for rigidity.
Sorry I didn't mean to offend you. But the economics of these times is an interest of mine. But I remember table top miniatures having whole armies decked out in maile shirts. We live in a time when goods are produced on the mass scale with the aid of machines. We are complacent about having goods. Even the poorest man can be a "man of things" today.
This wasn't the case in the dark ages, even well off men were busy scratching a living from the land. And not much land yielded iron, they would have acquire most of it via trade.
Iron tools were often borrowed and received day long employment and must have quickly worn out. Just because it was the iron age doesn't men every tool was iron, they were most likely still scarce.
Norman England produced 6,000 knights. And not even all this wealthier class of men had maile.
Another factor in iron production was the requirement for charcoal, which could cost its weight in grain. With demands leading to widespread defoliation. An obvious factor in these times with laws to protect timber resources. Generally the manufacture of iron goods on the larger scale was limited to regions that could supply both the ore and the charcoal.
Things changed with the modern age. From 1350 to 1720 the price of iron fell seven times in price in Sweden. In 18th century England the invention of the steam pump enabled mining to go deeper underground. Liberating vast amounts of coal and ore for iron making. The Bessemer process of the 1850's saw graded steel available in great quantity. Meaning the shops could turn out vast quantities of new goods. A few years later and we have the petrol engine.
But back to the dark ages, it was a different world.
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Old November 8th, 2015, 12:02 AM   #8

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The Anglo-Saxon Shires were divided into "hundreds" (100 hides) - each 5 hides had to supply a full armed soldier for the levy, plus up keep for a certain period, paid to the fyrdman not the king. So contingents of 20 were under the command of the hundred man/šegn (retainer)'

Bookland (church) was not exempt but could pay in kind, Ely Abbey supplied eels for example.

The shire levy was led by an Ealdorman, Byrhtnoth of Maldon fame for example.
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Old November 8th, 2015, 01:09 AM   #9

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Thanks for the replies thus far,

It seems (and going back to my original question) that there are a few theories concerning Snorri’s statement.

1. That he was hopelessly confused, mixing up Stamford Bridge with Senlac.
2. That there was no appreciable difference between the two sets of Huscarls anyway.
3. That due to England’s immense wealth, the best and most experienced fighters (Saxon or otherwise) would have gravitated to the English Royal bodyguard as a matter of course.

My own theories are (if Snorri was right) that in Norway and Denmark, the best warriors may have sought out work at the English Court as that would provide the best income and reward. A bit like the best football players wanting to play for Real Madrid Rather than Millwall (apologies to Millwall supporters) but you get my drift.

Perhaps for seasoned tried and proven warriors, the English Kings Huscarls may have been seen as the place to go to, the new Varangian guard perhaps…thereby getting a reputation in the Northern Lands that Snorri was later able to refer to.

Not too sure about this, but it’s another theory to go with the rest!

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Old November 8th, 2015, 07:44 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Haesten View Post
The Anglo-Saxon Shires were divided into "hundreds" (100 hides) - each 5 hides had to supply a full armed soldier for the levy, plus up keep for a certain period, paid to the fyrdman not the king. So contingents of 20 were under the command of the hundred man/šegn (retainer)'

Bookland (church) was not exempt but could pay in kind, Ely Abbey supplied eels for example.

The shire levy was led by an Ealdorman, Byrhtnoth of Maldon fame for example.
By the 11th century the shire fyrd levy could be led by a bishop,

"Wulfstan and the Worcestershire levy put down the rebellion known as 'The Bridal of Norwich' of Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norfolk, Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford and the Saxon Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, against William the Conqueror."

The Abbot of Peterborough was wounded at Hastings and died later, presumably leading the Peterborough contingent.

Eadnoth the Staller (Harold's standard bearer) was killed leading the Somerset fyrd against Harold's sons, 1068.
Eadnoth held thirty manors in Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire, under Edward/Harold.
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