|"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank
Joined: Feb. 2005
|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.
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