King Harold prepares for battle against the Normans
King Harold was well aware of the threats to his kingdom from the Normans. These were dangerous times and King Harold had heard the news of the gathering forces of Duke William and his 'crusaders'.
Skilful measures were put into place by King Harold in order to halt Duke William's expected invasion force from Normandy, which was seen as the most immediate threat to his Kingdom. King Harold expected an imminent Norman attack and it was essential that an army was in place to meet the enemy.
To obtain troops to fight the Normans he called in his 'levies' to help him fight the enemies of England! The 'levies' were free men who who owed two months of military service each year. The 'levies' were generally used as non-mounted infantry, their main weapons being the spear and the longbow.
The English force was initially 7000-8000 strong, and consisted entirely of infantry. The infantry force comprised of the local peasant levies (also called fyrd) along with the English men-at-arms (housecarls).
After two months of waiting for the Normans in the South of England, the levies terms of duty were complete and food reserves had become low. What was delaying the Normans?
Harold was forced, albeit reluctantly, to release the levied men from service and stand down his Navy for the coming winter. This left him only with his professional mounted infantry, the house-carls. Housecarl was the term used to describe members of the bodyguard or household troops of a Danish or Anglo-Saxon king or noble.
The English men-at-arms, or housecarls, were well-trained, full-time Anglo-Saxon soldiers who were paid for their services. They wore a soldier's uniform consisting of a short mail-coat and pointed helmets. Their main weapons were the Danish battle-axe (a two-handed, long-handled battle axe with a heavy chopping head) and a long double-edged sword. The Danish battle axe had been used as a standard equipment since 1016 when they were introduced by King Canute (the Danish King who also ruled England). Housecarls owned their own horses which they used for mobility, not for fighting as a Knight might have. (Hence the description mounted infantry) The number of housecarls available to Harold was believed to total 3000 - a totally loyal fighting force whose Code of Conduct, should their leader be killed, was to fight to the death - retreat or surrender ceased to be an option. Housecarls were therefore greatly feared by all enemies.
The Vikings Invade!!
After waiting for sight of the Normans and losing his levies the desperate news then came of a Viking landing on a lightly defended part of the North East coast. There had been a defeat at York. The Viking forces were even greater than those expected from the Normans. Harold had no alternative but to move his army to defend his Kingdom from the Vikings.
He force-marched his Army to the North of England, on the old Roman road called "Watling Street". This destroyed King Harold's plans to deal with Duke William's invading force from Normandy. What had provoked the Viking attack?