seaxe left Anglo Saxon History

seaxe right

Battle of Hastings - Warriors and Weapons

The Huscarl's(also known as Housecarl) were the paid warriors that were the core of the Saxon Military system, the payments they received for their service could either be in gold or in land..
The Huscarls were the Kings or Eorl's(modern Earl) guards and were highly trained, the name is a norse term húscarl meaning house man, but at this time was used as a term for bodyguard.

Generally they were well armed with the long handled axe and sword and protected by chain mail, iron helmets and shields.

They rode to battle on horseback but dismounted to fight with their axe's, and when the battle came too close would revert to shield and sword.
In this photo to the right the Huscarl is wearing an early chain mail tunic generally described as a corselet, but the later manufactured chain mail was worn down to the knees to protect the upper leg The Huscarls would have used either form depending on their wealth and personal preferences.

Their shields could either be the early rounded wooden shield, or the kite shaped one that the Normans designed for protecting their horsemen's left side while their weapons were used in the right hand. The Huscarls tended to attach their shields to their backs to protect themselves when using their two handed axe, as this would have been a very vulnerable area and a kite shaped shield would have protected more of their body.

The long handled axes also known as Dane Axes were reported to have been capable of cutting off both men and horses heads, and of cleaving helmets and chain mail, but were light enough to have been held one handed for close fighting.

These fighting axes weighed about 1.5Kg(3lb) and were about 1.8 metres(6 ft) long, so were extremely effective weapons if there was space around a wielder. In close quarters these axes would have been less useful so the Huscarls would have used swords.

A contemporary axe possibly from the Battle together with a modern reproduction can be seen at 'Battle Museum' in Battle High Street - please check the opening times before visiting.

An account from the battle of Stamford Bridge by Henry of Huntingdon gives you some idea of its effectiveness in the right hands:-
Here a single Norwegian, whose name ought to have been preserved, took post on a bridge, and hewing down more than forty of the English with a battleaxe, his country's weapon, stayed the advance of the whole English army till the ninth horn

The bayeux tapestry appears to show Huscarls wielding their axes from the left to hit the unshielded sides of the Norman horsemen.
Battle Museum of Local History has the only example of a contemporary battle axe head in the UK.

They also have a modern reproduction of the axe, together with video's showing its manufacture using smithing skills from the period, and how it was used in warfare.

If you click on the picture a pop up window showing the museum web site will be opened.

The Museum is open to the public from April to the end of October from 10:00 until 16:30 Monday to Friday

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:45:30
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