This is the second part of our series on Elite Warriors of the Dark Ages. In the wake of the Danish conquest of England, the last kings of Anglo-Saxon England had at their service a fearsome band of disciplined warriors: the Huscarls!
Founded by Canute the Great, the Danish ruler of England in the early 11th century, the Huscarls were modeled upon the Jomsvikings; another elite Viking military society of the age. In fact the original Huscarls were built around a nucleus of Jomsvikings who had come to England years earlier under the famous Viking leader, Thorkell the Tall.
Canute established them as a permanent body of professional warriors, originally between 3,000 and 4,000 strong. They attended the king, and were maintained in 3 corps: two stationed around London, the third in the north near York. They were further divided into crews to man the 40 longships maintained from Canute onward, as a royal navy. Thus the Huscarls formed a nucleus for any English national force, both on land and sea.
The corps was maintained by a special tax, on each “hide” of land. In later days, individual Huscarls were granted land of their own, which they lived upon and oversaw. Feudalism was spreading to England from the continent; and had the Norman Conquest not interrupted their evolution, in time the Huscarls would likely have assumed most aspects of the feudal chivalry found elsewhere; becoming England’s version of the Feudal knight.
Each Huscarl was armed as an elite Viking warrior of the time: mail shirt, conical helmet (without horns!!!!), shield, sword, spear, and axe. Their sword hilts and axe blades were famously gilded with gold; a symbol of their elite status! Like the Jomsvikings, the Huscarls maintained a rigorous code of conduct; and kept strict discipline both in camp and in the field.
In battle, they usually fought around the king or earl’s banner…