The Battle of Hastings 1066 - Harolds Battle Force.
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he men, arms and armaments available to Harold to fight the Battle of Hastings.
 
Kin and Country


o mount any military exercise in medieval times was easier said than done. There was always a dichotomy between country and kinfolk, especially during harvest time. Alfred the Great knew this only too well. To combat this annual problem, he devised a system that took into account the prospective soldiers family and agricultural commitments. He also realised that an army really does march on its stomach and if the harvest is ignored, engagements cannot be fought. In fact many battles seemed to have a unsaid gentlemanly agreement attached to them in that they would only be fought at the "right time of year". Alfred, to maintain a fighting force all year round, introduced a system that was still in use during the Battle of Hastings.

The Fyrd


he problem Alfred had was how to maintain a fighting force ready for action 365 days a year. Desertion back to their farms or not just turning up at all were something Alfred had to address. He therefore devised the fyrd or militia into two separate groups. Each group would be required to be ready at short notice to serve the king for one month with the next two off. By having your kinfolk away whilst you were at home would ensure the harvest would be reaped. The king had the option to modify this in times on national emergency. This system was devised to operate generally on a shire basis for its own protection. The rules Alfred set down were quite specific. A ceorl ( churl ) would be given the right of thegnship and the privileges that the position commanded. It was the thegns position to organise the shire and maintain the fighting force. To become a thegn it was necessary to be a landowner, usually with tenants and of about 5 hides or more. The thegn would be given a horse a mail suit and sword and to use his king given power to protect the shire from infiltrators and bandits. The distinction between the wealthy thegn and those that remained ceorls grew wider. The thegn was responsible to the ealdorman of that shire who in turn was responsible to the king. A thegn was required to attend Witan meetings. The system worked well until Canute became king. He preferred the use of housecarls or elite troops. These were used to protect the king and as professional soldiers who were trained to peak efficiency. They were maintained by a modified tax called danegeld ( not to be confused with the Viking danegeld). this was unpopular but afforded the country a trained fighting force. To be a housecarl was considered a honour and Harold would rely heavily on them during his final battle with William.

Harold's Men


any lessons had been learnt when fighting the Vikings over the years. The housecarls still existed even when the Viking line of kings ended. It was seen that their existence was the protection this country needed against attack. In fact most of the systems that were used to fight the Norse men were copied from them. Such as the fortified towns or burrs. During the battle of Stamford Bridge, the housecarls were used to good effect to destroy Harald Hardrada and Tostig. the exact number of housecarls used was unknown but would have been between 2500 and 3000 men. Taking into account the dead and injured, Harold would have had about 2000 available for Hastings. It is likely that some were lost, arrived late for the battle or went home on the march back to London, so a figure of about 1000 seems reasonable. Gyrth and Leofwin, Harold's brothers would each have had a body guard of housecarls . Including their contribution, plus their fyrd, would increase the number by about 1500 to 2000 men. the rest were from the fyrd who had fought at Stamford Bridge or who were recruited on the way back. Harold would have lost a number through desertion during his stay in London before marching to Caldbec Hill. When he finally did march towards the south coast, his forces who would have eventually made it in time for battle has been estimated to be about 7500 to 8000. Also involved were a number of naturalized Danes. By the time of Harold, the fyrd commitment was two months service per year but was still using the five hide system. It was the duty of the these people to raise enough money to pay for that soldiers food and pay and could be as much as 20 to 30 shillings, which was a lot of money in those days. Using this system, considering the male population of 1.5 to 2 million, this would enable Harold to raise about 25000 men. Communication was the biggest problem. so to raise as many as he did to fight this battle after Stamford Bridge was quite an achievement.
 

Strangely enough, we know less about who fought with Harold than we do about William. Below, is a list of those we do know were involved.


Harold II

King of England.
 

Leofwin

Brother of Harold and Earl of Kent.
 

Gyrth

Brother of Harold and Earl of Essex.
 

Harkon

Nephew of Harold who was held hostage by William from 1052 to 1064.
 

Aelfwig 

Harold's uncle and Abbot of Winchester. 
 

Leofric

Abbot of Peterborough.
 

Godric

Sheriff of Fyfield, which is in Berkshire.
 

Aelfric

A Huntingdonshire thegn.
 

Breme

Possibly one of Gyrth's thegns.
 

Esegar

Sheriff of Middlesex.
 

Thurkill

From Berkshire ( status unknown).
 
 

Weapons, Armour and Logistics.


Let Nothing Go To Waste

fter fighting a successful conflict at Stamford bridge a few days earlier, The amount of captured weapons and equipment available for transfer to the south would have been considerable. If you remember how many boats Harald Hardrada arrived in and how many his defeated army required to return home, gives some impression of the stockpile of weapons that must have been available to Harold. It would not only have been weapons, but clothing, wagons, horses and stores. In fact everything that would have been needed by a campaigning army such as the Vikings. It was usual Saxon practice to share out the booty amongst themselves. After Stamford Bridge, Harold made a decision to collect it up for future use. This decision may have been prompted by his thought that William of Normandy was preparing to attack, and would do so the following spring or summer. Harold at this time had no idea that William was about to land on the English shore very soon. 

Protection


he protection of the body and head was of prime importance. The Saxon housecarl or thegn would wear armour. To resist the thrust and swipe of the sword, the hauberk was developed. The hauberk consisted of a leather or possibly cloth undergarment to which rings were attached or may possibly be an oversuit stretching to below the waist and sometimes to below the knee. It would have a slit in the left hand side where the sword would be positioned, especially when mounted on a horse. The legs would be protected by leather long johns or straps of leather wrapped around the legs to the knees. shoes would be of leather but would afford little protection. The head would be protected by a metal helmet with a nose extension piece. Shields were usually circular, made of wood with iron reinforcement rings. The Bayeux tapestry indicates that kite shape shields were used quite commonly, especially in the shield wall tactic. These shields had the ability to protect the lower parts of the body. The fyrd men were not quite so lucky. The housecarl armour was extremely expensive to make and only the richest could adorn themselves with it. Fyrd would normally come as they were or wear a minimum of protection. This may amount to a leather overcoat or tunic. Archers were not used during Hastings on Harold's side. Archers would be the least protected. Employed for their skill rather than close up combat. If the fyrd were protected during Hastings, it would have been with the war booty from Stamford Bridge. It is very likely. That the hauberks from fallen Saxon housecarls would have been reclaimed. So as far as protection is concerned, Harold's men should have been as well catered for as they could possibly have been.

Weapons


he housecarl would have his own sword. This was a personal attachment that he would be used to using and would be like an extension to his body. Developments in sword making came from the Danes. It was the process of forging twisted bars of iron together to give a more durable implement. The terror weapon used by the Saxons was the Danish battle axe. this was a large axe whose honed edge was about 30 cm long. Swung from side to side, it had the ability to cut down a mounted soldier and his horse in a single blow. The blade was mounted on a handle at least 1 metre long. Smaller axes were used but were generally for agricultural purposes. Archers would use a long bow of about 1.5 metres in length with a range of about 100 to 200 metres. there is no evidence that Saxon archers were involved in the battle however. Spears of different lengths were used. The long ones mounted on poles were to stop cavalry charges in their tracks and short ones for stabbing. Swords and daggers were suspended around the waist with a leather strap called a baldrick. Various other implements such as maces and javelins were possibly used. There is no evidence that Saxon cavalry was used at Hastings, or that it was used in any battle, or that such a thing ever existed. The use of horses were purely for getting from a to b and as beasts of burden. During the battle they would be removed from the area and the soldiers fight on foot.
 

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© copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom .
Submitted 10th January 1998 .
1998 - 2005