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An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


This figure is from the Tapestry. A description in Florence of Worcester of the equipment of warriors given with a ship to Edward the Confessor by Earl Godwin in 1040 matches the Tapestry depictions almost perfectly, and these were fairly certainly Huscarls too (Godwin's most probably) since a mercenary was the only such well-equipped warrior that could realistically be 'given away'.

Being Danish in origin the Huscarl's principal weapon was the double-handed axe with a shaft between 4 and 5 feet long. Wace records this weapon to have been capable of felling a horse and rider with one blow and speaks of one such weapon with a blade a foot broad. In all but one instance the Tapestry shows it swung from the left shoulder, presumably to catch the opponent on his unshielded side. Its one disadvantage was that the shield had to be slung behind the back since both hands were needed, leaving the man defenceless against missiles, a fact noted by contemporary Norman chroniclers. When not in use the axe could be hung from the left shoulder or held behind the shield.

He wears a knee-length byrnie with coif of mail or leather and three-quarter length sleeves. The coif may be separate. Helmets were beaten from one piece of iron, constructed from several pieces with a framework of strengtheners, or were even of leather. The Tapestry shows them with vari-coloured panels, which may indicate the leather was dyed. Wace even records a wooden helmet with a string chin-strap.

Other weapons were sword, and javelins of a type called aetgar. Sword-belts were worn either over the byrnie, or under it with a special slit for the hilt. Helmet, sword-hilt, shield and axe could all be partly gilded, and gold-decorated axes and hilts were part of the regulation equipment of Cnut's huscarls.
[Based on the Bayeux Tapestry]

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