11TH CENTURY NORMAN, FRENCH OR BRETON HEAVY CAVALRYMEN

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


[Based on the Bayeux Tapestry]Perhaps based on Beatus de Saint-Sever, Southwestern France, 1028-1072AD]
124 & 125.      11TH CENTURY NORMAN, FRENCH OR BRETON HEAVY CAVALRYMEN

Arms consisted of a sword and an ash spear a maximum of 8-9 feet long. The spear was either couched as a lance, used overarm as a thrusting spear, or hurled as a javelin, especially by Bretons, in which case more than one may have been carried. The sword was preferred in close combat. Sometimes 2 or even 3 swords might be carried, spares being suspended from the saddle.

The odd 'trouser' effect used by the artist of the Bayeux Tapestry for the mail hauberks of both Normans and Saxon Huscarls may be explained by the skirt being tied close around the leg with tapes on the inside. Whatever the explanation, the hauberk was certainly not 'trousered' as is sometimes suggested, since several figures are shown pulling hauberks off over the head. Anna Comnena remarks of the Norman hauberk that it was fully capable of resisting arrows and made the wearer 'almost if not completely invulnerable'; however, she is probably referring to the light arrows of the Turks. 125, from a French ms. of c. 1050, wears a shorter hauberk with long sleeves.

The kite-shield, with a bronze or iron boss, was hung round the neck and against the left shoulder by a strap. 124 and 127 show 2 methods of holding it by a further arrangement of straps, while 124a and b show other alternatives from the Tapestry. Other sources show shields held by the Byzantine-style grip of figure 22. In the Tapestry these shields appear to be flat, though other 11th century sources certainly speak of kite-shields as convex or slightly curved. They were of wood, but could apparently be pierced by a strong lance thrust. Anna describes the face as 'smooth and shining' and says that it could repel any arrow fired against it, a description which suggests that by the late-11th century at least some may have been faced with a thin sheet of metal.

Both figures wear nasal helmets. 124d shows an alternative with nape-guard from the Tapestry, here worn with a fabric or leather coif. 124e and f are other helmet types in use at about this date.

124c is a type of flanged mace shown held by Duke William in the Tapestry. The mace may have been a symbol of rank for officers, as in Byzantium. It hung at the right side when not in use, probably from the saddle.



Next: 11TH CENTURY NORMAN, FRENCH OR BRETON STANDARDS in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath
See also a Capetian knight in the Corbie Gospel, 11th century, France. Folio 5v, Bibliotèque Municipale Amiens Ms. 172.