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  Topic: Rev. Dr. Lenny Flank, Huscarls.< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,15:13   

I have a question for you. Did the Vikings have Huscarls in the same sense as the pre-conquest English?

I know this has nothing whatsoever to do with evolution. Sorry, but I am interested.

My perception was that circa 1066 the only Huscarls in western europe belonged to Harorld Godwinson (the English King defeated by William the conquorer @ the battle of Hastings 1066). I think the remnants went on to provide an elite cadre to the Byzantine ruler.

By Huscarls I am reffering to a military elite of professional soldiers.

  
guthrie



Posts: 696
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,15:44   

A quick check in the book "Wiking weapons and warfare", by J Kim Siddorn, (one of the founders of Regia Anglorum, probably the largest UK dark ages re-enactment society) says that the right to bear arms etc was held by free men in Viking society, and naturally jeaslously guarded.  No mention of Huscarls.

The books "The English warrior, from the earliest times to 1066" by Stephen Pollington, only mentions HUscarls once, talking about how Cnut had them, "household men".  this is the traditional view.  However, I quote:

"Sadly, the traditional view has proven to be greatly overstated, and there is little that was once accepted as fact about the huscarls that would now go unchallenged.  Much of the substance of the huscarl concept is derived from later Scandinavian accounts about another warrio-sciety from the Baltic, the Jomsvikingar, allegedly based around Wollin in Poland.  Much that was taken on trust about these Jomsvikings has since been shown to be both sspecious and spurious, and the source document jomsvikingarsaga is now largely discredited; with the fall of the jomsvikings from history into romance, the only real parallel to the huscarls is no longer of service.  Wherefore, while teh huscarls doubtless existed as the kings personal following, they were probably in fact 'stipendiary troops' (ie men paid a wage to fight), and so closer to our idea of 'professional sodlier' than anything else."


Plus, as far as I am aware, the term viking is actually an activity, meaning roughly to go off and wander about finding stuff.  But by the period of the Conquest, "Vikings" were actually organised into socieies and countries.  You can hardly say that Cnut, who at one time ruled much of England, Denmark and somewhere else (I dont know much about this period off the top of my head) had been going a Viking.  He had been carrying out deliberate imperialist expansion of his rule.  Hence I think you cant really say that the Vikings had Huscarls, but you can say that some parts of Germanic society had them.

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,16:00   

Thanks. I already knew some of that. Viking did originally mean to go on an adventure (within the people now known as Vikings).

What I am asking is about the term "Huscarl". Around 1066 a Huscarl in "England" was a professional soldier (possibly the only professional sodiers in western Europe).

Within "Viking" language it (Huscarl) may also aply to any (employed) member of a household. Including personal servants.

Both Harold (the "Viking" leader) and William (the conquerer) where reported as being worried about the Huscarls as they had nothing to match them.

  
"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank



Posts: 2560
Joined: Feb. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,16:44   

Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 13 2007,15:13)
I have a question for you. Did the Vikings have Huscarls in the same sense as the pre-conquest English?

Yep.  The concept of a small coterie of personal guards who were loyal to the leader is a deep-rooted one in all the Germanic tribes (it is referred to in "Beowulf", which describes events of the early 7th century).  Scholars refer to it as the "comitatus".  They were provided with weapons and armor by the leader, and in return they gave him loyalty and protection.  The Viking and Saxon huscarls were a direct descendent of that.  

Pre-Conquest England was, to a large extent, Scandinavian in culture and orientation (several Danish and Norwegians served as Kings of England, including Canut and Svein Forkbeard).  At least until the Norman invasion, when England was turned decisively towards the Continent instead of Scandinavia.

--------------
Editor, Red and Black Publishers
www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

  
"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank



Posts: 2560
Joined: Feb. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,16:48   

Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 13 2007,16:00)
What I am asking is about the term "Huscarl". Around 1066 a Huscarl in "England" was a professional soldier (possibly the only professional sodiers in western Europe).

Ahhh, I see what you're asking --- whether the Scandinavian huscarls were PAID as professional soldiers.  No, they weren't.  They were provided with their weapons and armor by the ruler, and they lived with him in his fortress, but the only pay they got was by dividing whatever spoils of war they captured.

--------------
Editor, Red and Black Publishers
www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

  
Stephen Elliott



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Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,16:53   

Quote ("Rev Dr" Lenny Flank @ Jan. 13 2007,16:44)
Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 13 2007,15:13)
I have a question for you. Did the Vikings have Huscarls in the same sense as the pre-conquest English?

Yep.  The concept of a small coterie of personal guards who were loyal to the leader is a deep-rooted one in all the Germanic tribes (it is referred to in "Beowulf", which describes events of the early 7th century).  Scholars refer to it as the "comitatus".  They were provided with weapons and armor by the leader, and in return they gave him loyalty and protection.  The Viking and Saxon huscarls were a direct descendent of that.  

Pre-Conquest England was, to a large extent, Scandinavian in culture and orientation (several Danish and Norwegians served as Kings of England, including Canut and Svein Forkbeard).  At least until the Norman invasion, when England was turned decisively towards the Continent instead of Scandinavia.

Canut IIRC introduced the idea of the Huscarl into pre-conquest England. IOW he (Canut) was the first English king to have them.

But did the Normans who invaded in 1066 have an equivalent? I think they had them earlier but not in the 11th century.

Yes I know they was "Vikings". I had granted the "Normans" as being the first to  use "heavy" cavalry. ie the lance and armour that became Knights. I was under the impression that in 1066 the Huscarls on Harolds side where the only professional soldiers in western europe.

Oh, BTW, I do like your site.

  
guthrie



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Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,16:55   

Hang on, are you defining professional as getting paid money, or as having nothing else to do except hang around waiting for a fight?

  
Stephen Elliott



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Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,17:00   

Quote (guthrie @ Jan. 13 2007,16:55)
Hang on, are you defining professional as getting paid money, or as having nothing else to do except hang around waiting for a fight?

I may be completely wrong here (and Lenny answered me while I was posting). But IIRC the Huscarls that Harold (the English Harold) had where the most feared oponents of any force circa 1066.

They aparently had other peacetime duties, but their main task was fighting.

  
"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank



Posts: 2560
Joined: Feb. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 13 2007,18:00   

Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 13 2007,17:00)
They aparently had other peacetime duties, but their main task was fighting.

Not exactly --- they were primarily the king's "bodyguard", in peacetime and in wartime.  They also acted as the king's heavies and bully-boys, kinda like Mafia enforcers.  Their primary task in a battle was to surround and protect the leader so no one chopped his head off.  When Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings (by an arrow, according to popular tradition), the huscarls had failed in their duty, and the only honorable thing for them to do then was to die alongside their leader.  And most of them did.

Then, as now, it was the Poor Bloody Infanty who did most of the fighting and dying.  The typical battle formation during this time was the "shield wall", in which two or three rows of men stood in a row with shields interlocked to form a defensive wall -- other infantry with spears stood behind them, and they were able to thrust their spears over the shoulders of the shield-men in front of them.  The bigshots all waited at the rear, ready to take pursuit if the enemy broke formation and ran, but remaining behind the protection of the shield wall.  If you managed to get around the shield wall, then you had to get through the huscarls in order to get at your opponent's leader.  And since the huscarls were very well-armed and trained, that wasn't easy to do.  So the king usually managed to get away, even if he lost the battle.

I've done a few re-enactment shield walls, mostly as a shield-man (where your only job, basically, is to stand your ground and avoid getting killed.)

It takes an awful lot of force to get through a shield wall.  The best way to beat it is to go around one end of it and get behind the lines.  The only way to prevent this was for the defender to stretch out his line to a length equal to that of his opponent.  Thus, the more men you had, the thicker your line could be, the harder it was to get through it or around it, and the easier it was to stretch your own line beyond your opponent's and thus get behind them.  So, generally, the side with the most men, won.  Once you got through or around your opponent's shield wall, you could strike at their undefended backs, and when they broke ranks and ran for it, they were pretty easy to run down and pick off.  So, most of the casualties in a battle actually happened after the wall broke, and, without the protection of a shield wall, the side that broke would often be virtually wiped out.

--------------
Editor, Red and Black Publishers
www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 14 2007,10:02   

Quote ("Rev Dr" Lenny Flank @ Jan. 13 2007,18:00)
Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 13 2007,17:00)
They aparently had other peacetime duties, but their main task was fighting.

Not exactly --- they were primarily the king's "bodyguard", in peacetime and in wartime.  They also acted as the king's heavies and bully-boys, kinda like Mafia enforcers.  Their primary task in a battle was to surround and protect the leader so no one chopped his head off.  When Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings (by an arrow, according to popular tradition), the huscarls had failed in their duty, and the only honorable thing for them to do then was to die alongside their leader.  And most of them did.

Good point sir,
At Hastings a large contingent of Huscarls seems to have died protecting Harold. But there also seems to be indications that the majority of them played a part in the main fight. IIRC there where suposed to be instances of Norman cacalry being hacked by men using two-handed axes. Am I wrong in believing these weapons to be used exclusively by Huscarls at that time?

It would seem that some of the blows went through a cavalryman and into the horse he was riding. AFAIK only the huscarls had the weapons to do such a thing.

The arrow through the eye is the popular version of Harolds death. Some evidence seems to indicate that the actual death blow was administered by hand weapons (possibly after he had been hit in the face or eye by an arrow he pulled out). The Norman bows were not particularly powerful. The standard bow being nowhere near the power of the later longbow and the crossbows of the Normans where handpulled rather than the later winched ones.

  
"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank



Posts: 2560
Joined: Feb. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 14 2007,17:41   

Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 14 2007,10:02)
At Hastings a large contingent of Huscarls seems to have died protecting Harold. But there also seems to be indications that the majority of them played a part in the main fight. IIRC there where suposed to be instances of Norman cacalry being hacked by men using two-handed axes. Am I wrong in believing these weapons to be used exclusively by Huscarls at that time?

I'd expect that happened after the Normans penetrated Harold's shield wall.  At that point, all #### breaks loose.

I don't really know if the daneaxe was exclusive to the huscarls, and I'm inclined to doubt it -- though it certainly was their preferred weapon.  Lots of ordinary soldiers on the line used axes (though the spear was by far the most common battlefield weapon) -- the axe was after all a typical wood-chopping farm implement that could easily be picked up by any farmer and used as a military weapon (the axe was a favored Viking weapon for just that reason).  Certainly none of the ordinary soldiers were as well-trained or as well-armored as the huscarls, though.

--------------
Editor, Red and Black Publishers
www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 14 2007,18:26   

The huscarls that died defending Harold would almost certainly be the ones designatated with his defence.

I do think that there is evidence of other huscarls working in the main battle line though.

I am talking about the English/Saxon huscarls exclusively here BTW.

IIRC every Noble/Eorl had their own huscarls. I also doubt that the "normal" soldiery used the 2 handed axe. I think the spear shield combination was most likely along with a big knife/short sword.

  
deadman_932



Posts: 3094
Joined: May 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 14 2007,23:14   

Here's a book some of you might want to read: "The Long Ships" by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson, which draws on the sagas and other sources to present a tale of the Viking age.

I still like it as good rollicking fun, although the most recent editions have a horrible cover illustration. It's well-worth the read, I think...enough that I bought a first edition. Amazon reviews and book here.

A depiction of the winter feast at King Harald Bluetooth's hall, with attendant Jarls and duels, is a nifty vignette in it. Also the imagery of Styrbjorn and travels to Byzantium and Moorish Spain.

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AtBC Award for Thoroughness in the Face of Creationism

  
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