Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1042 Anglo-Sax. huscarle

Subjecthuscarle 'housecarl' warrior
Culture: Anglo-Saxon
Setting: Danish, Norman wars, England 11thc
Evolution508 Anglo-Saxon hearthweru > 878 Anglo-Saxon thegn > 1042 Anglo-Saxon huscarle

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Harrison ill. Embleton 1993 p10
"In the final 50 years of Anglo-Saxon England a new and powerful military institution was introduced -- the huscarles.  The huscarles were of Scandinavian origin, the term meaning 'household-men' -- warriors making up the household troops of a ruler.  In all probability, the huscarles were similar to the hearthweru of the Anglo-Saxon courts: both had their ultimate origin in the bodyguard units of Germanic kings and their roles were virtually identical.  ...  Cnut had ruled England since 1014, and his huscarles, as trusted men, naturally took over the positions earlier held by Anglo-Saxons in the royal household.  In later years, Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons were recruited into the huscarles without distinction of race -- the Old Norse and Old English languages being close enough for the operation of mixed units.
​    "Huscarles performed much the same duties as the king's thegns.  They could be allocated administrative tasks by the king, and cold even be landholders much like provincial thegns.  Huscarles were also found in the households of great lords such as the brothers of Harold Godwinson -- Leofwyn and Gyrth.  These would have served in the royal army when required and can be seen making their last stand alongside Leofwyn and Gryth in the Bayeux Tapestry.  The Domesday Book records the huscarles as landholders after they ceased to be a military force."


* Carey, Allfree, & Cairns 2006 p69
"The core of Godwinson's rapid deployment force was the huscarles, made up of Danish volunteers, Saxon household troops and professionally trained and equipped relations of the king and earls.  Protected like their Viking forebears in ring-reinforced leather lerkins or mail, these soldiers wore conical helms and carried large 3 foot round shields or kite shields."

* Harrison ill. Embleton 1993 p57-58 (reconstructing a Saxon huscarle of Earle Ralph the Timid, c. 1055)
"The equipment of the huscarles reflected contemporary Scandinavian fashion.  The Lex Catrensis of the Danish writer Saxo Grammaticius says that helmets, mail shirts and gold-plated swords were the required basic equipment of a huscarle. [...]
​    "The helmet is a one-piece forging similar to that from the treasury of Olomouc (Olmütz) Cathedral in the Czech Republic.  The long mail shirt and coif are of native manufacture.  The skirt is divided to facilitate riding.  Leather binding protects the edges of the garment from wear and reduces chafing."


* Carey, Allfree, & Cairns 2006 p69
"As secondary weapons, the huscarles used short spears and javelins, thrust overarm or thrown."


* Hill 2012 p162
"There are precious few literary references to the axe in a military context in Anglo-Saxon hands until the second Viking age, when it suddenly becomes a widely acknowledged weapon of war developed from those used by the Scandinavians themselves, or in most cases directly wielded by the Scandinavians.  This latter type of axe is known as the Dane-Axe, or Broad-Axe.  Wielded in two hands, its shape, design and usage was very different than the francisca of the old days.  It was more of a primary weapon than a sidearm.  Thin sectioned blades with cutting edges up to at least 18in long were hafted onto what are presumed to be ash shafts. In fact, some of the blades were so thin in the centre that they have clearly corroded right through at this point.  These weapons were the domain of the Viking houscarl, or later period Anglo-Saxon king's thegns and other noblemen." 

* Withers 2010 p25 = Withers & Capwell 2010 p273
    "Anglo-Saxon warriors inherited the two-handed 'bearded' battle-axe from earlier generations of Danish Viking invaders who had employed it with great effect to board enemy ships.  The Anglo-Saxons soon became extremely proficient at using the battle-axe.  With its 1.2m (3.9ft) haft and large honed axehead of around 30cm (11.8in), it had the capacity to shatter shields and inflict grievous wounds. Swung from side to side, it could cut down a mounted soldier and his horse in a single blow.
​    "These long axes were wielded by the huscarls (King Harold's personal bodyguards) and described as cleaving 'both man and horse in two'.  One of the drawbacks of using the two-handed axe is that while raised above the head it momentarily left the user dangerously exposed at the front to sword or lance thrusts.  Despite this, the sight of a mass of axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warriors approaching the enemy's ranks normally had the desired psychological effect, with many contemporary accounts noting that the opposition simply fled from the battlefield."

* Harrison ill. Embleton 1993 p58
"The broad-bladed axe with a haft about 4 feet in length became virtually the trademark of the huscarle."

* Carey, Allfree, & Cairns 2006 p69
"The huscarles' primary offensive arm was the large Viking broad axe, with its characteristic 5 foot haft, swung with both hands in an overarm motion from the left side in order to hit the opponent on the unshielded side."


* Harrison ill. Embleton 1993 p58 (reconstructing a Saxon huscarle of Earle Ralph the Timid, c. 1055)
"Shields, as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, could be either circular or kite-shaped."

* Hill 2012 p182
"Here [in the Bayeux Tapestry], there are noticeable differences in shield design between the English and the Norman.  For example, many, but by no means all, of the English still have the more traditional style rounded convex shields so common in depictions from manuscripts in the early eleventh century.  However, there is an impressive array of interlocked kite-shaped shields in the main English shield wall, each with a variant of spiral designs or simply plain in colour.  There is visual evidence here for studs of some sort which seem to hold the rear side strapping into place." 


* Owen-Crocker 2004 p254
"Men engaged in manual labour, or other activities in which the skirt would be an encumbrance, are often shown in what could be a loin-cloth, but what seems to me to be the ordinary tunic tucked up into the girdle at each side.  The material falls into a V-shape at the front and at the back either makes a similar V or clings round the buttocks.  The thighs are exposed at the sides.  Men dressed in this way usually have bare legs and feet.  Some observers may think that breeches are being represented here but I do not.  The shape made by the tunic skirt is certainly similar to the appearance of the loose breeches which were worn in the later Middle Ages, but the bodice of the garment and the cloak which is often worn over it are exactly the same as those of men with normal skirted tunics.  Perhaps the later breeches evolved from an ad hoc arrangement in which the skirts were tucked out of the way."