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
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
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
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
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.
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