The Fyrd

The Fyrd

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The fyrd were working men who were called up to fight for Anglo-Saxon kings in times of danger. The leaders of the fyrd, the thegns, had sword and spears but the rest of the men were inexperienced fighters and carried weapons such as iron clubs, slings, axes, scythes, sickles and haymaking forks.


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Militia, military organization of citizens with limited military training, which is available for emergency service, usually for local defense. In many countries the militia is of ancient origin Macedonia under Philip II (d. 336 bc ), for example, had a militia of clansmen in border regions who could be called to arms to repel invaders. Among the Anglo-Saxon peoples of early medieval Europe, the militia was institutionalized in the fyrd, in which every able-bodied free male was required to give military service. Similar arrangements evolved in other countries. In general, however, the emergence in the Middle Ages of a quasi-professional military aristocracy, which performed military service in return for the right to control land and servile labour, tended to cause the militia to decay, particularly as political power became increasingly centralized and life became more secure. The institution persisted nevertheless and, with the rise of national monarchies, served in some measure to provide a manpower pool for the expanding standing armies. In France in the 18th century, one-eighteenth of the militia was required to enter the regular army each year.

In colonial America the militia, based on the tradition of the fyrd, was the only defense against hostile Indians during the long periods when regular British forces were not available. During the American Revolution, the militia provided the bulk of the American forces as well as a pool for recruiting or drafting of regulars. The militia played a similar role in the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. After that conflict, however, the militia fell into disuse. State-controlled volunteer units, referred to as the National Guard, were formed in most states and came to serve a quasi-social function. Many of these volunteers were veterans of the Civil War, and many were from the middle classes. In the 1870s and ’80s, such units were called upon by state governors to break strikes. At that time these state units constituted the nation’s only trained reserve. In the 20th century, despite the parallel growth of designated reserve forces, the National Guard was called into federal service in both world wars and continued to be used in emergencies by both the state and the federal government.

In Great Britain the Territorial Force, a militia-like reserve organization for home defense, was created in 1908. It became the Territorial Army in 1921, and overseas service was required. During World War II the militia principle was followed in the establishment of the Home Guard. Militia forces—conscripts who undergo periodic military training until retired to an inactive reserve in middle age—constitute today the bulk of the armed forces available for emergency service in Switzerland, Israel, Sweden, and several other countries. China and various other countries that maintain large standing forces and conscript reserves also support huge militia forces as territorial reserves for local defense.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

The hearth

The basic building block of the system was the hearth. On his land, the Lord owned a hearth-hall, within which he housed his retinue of warriors. His tenants brought their produce to this hall, feeding and maintaining the retinue. In return, the Lord provided all on his land with security. It was when he was unable to provide that security that the lord got worried: lack of security was the defining trait of 'bad' lordship.

This is best exemplified in the epic Saxon poem Beowulf, in which the adventurer Beowulf is drawn to the hearth of the Danish king Hrothgar by the king's famed generosity. There, he rids Hrothgar of the monsters which are threatening the security of his hearth and is generously rewarded. Beowulf finally dies trying to win a treasure hoard from a dragon threatening his own land - a potent combination of security and gold, the two driving forces of lordship in his time.


Ancient history Edit

This tactic was known to be used by many ancient armies including the Persian Sparabara, Greek phalanx, and Roman legion, though its origin and spread is unknown. It may have developed independently more than once.

Although little is recorded about their military tactics, the Stele of the Vultures depicts Sumerian soldiers in a shield wall formation during the third millennium BC.

By the seventh century BC, shield walls in ancient Greece are well-documented. The soldiers in these shield wall formations were called hoplites, so named for their shields (hopla, "ὅπλα"). Hoplon ("Όπλον") shields were three feet in diameter, sometimes covered in bronze. Instead of fighting individual battles in large skirmishes, hoplites fought as cohesive units in this tight formation with their shields pushing forward against the man in front (to use weight of numbers). The left half of the shield was designed to cover the unprotected right side of the hoplite next to them. The worst, or newest, fighters would be placed in the middle front of the formation to provide both physical and psychological security. [2]

In a phalanx, the man at the right hand of each warrior had an important role he covered the right side of the warrior next to him with his shield. This made it so that all the shields overlap each other and thus formed a solid battle line. The second row's purpose was to kill the soldiers of the first line of an enemy shield wall, and thus break the line. All the other rows were weight for the pushing match that always occurred when each side tried to break the other's wall. When a wall was broken, the battle turned into a single-combat melee in which the side whose wall collapsed had a serious disadvantage. [ citation needed ]

The Roman scutum was a large shield designed to fit with others to form a shield wall, though not overlap. Roman legions used an extreme type of shield wall called a testudo formation that covered front, sides and above. In this formation, the outside ranks formed a dense vertical shield wall and inside ranks held shields over their heads, thus forming a tortoise-like defense, well-protected from missile weapons. Although highly effective against missiles, this formation was slow, and vulnerable to being isolated and surrounded by swarms of enemy soldiers. Caesar, in De Bello Gallico, describes the Germans as fighting in a tight phalanx-like formation with long spears jutting out over their shields.

In the late Roman and Byzantine armies, similar formations of locked shields and projecting spears were called fulcum (φοῦλκον, phoulkon in Greek), and were first described in the late 6th-century Strategikon. Roman legions were typically well-trained, and often used short stabbing-swords (such as the gladius) in the close-quarters combat that inevitably resulted when their shield-walls contacted the enemy. As Auxiliaries were often less well-armed, a shield-wall with spearmen was commonly used to provide a better defence.

The Daylamite infantrymen used solid shield walls while advancing against their enemies, and used their two-pronged short spears and battle-axes from behind. [3]

Early medieval Edit

Tactics Edit

The shield-wall was commonly used in many parts of Northern Europe, such as England and Scandinavia.

In the battles between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes in England, most of the Saxon army would have consisted of the inexperienced Fyrd — a militia composed of free peasants. The shield-wall tactic suited such soldiers, as it did not require extraordinary skill, being essentially a shoving and fencing match with weapons.

The first three ranks of the main wall would have been made up of select warriors, such as Huscarls and Thegns, who carried heavier weapons and consistently wore armour. There would also have been nobles, such as Thegns and Earls, who would have had their own armoured retainers and bodyguards. [ citation needed ] However, the vast majority of opponents in such battles were armed with spears, which they used against the unprotected legs or faces of their opponents. Often, soldiers would use their weapons to support each other by stabbing and slashing to the left or the right, rather than just ahead. Short weapons, such as the ubiquitous seax, could also be used in the tight quarters of the wall. Limited use of archery and thrown missile weapons occurred in opening stages of shield-wall battles, but were rarely decisive to the outcome.

The drawback of the shield-wall tactic was that, once breached, the whole affair tended to fall apart rather quickly. Relatively lightly trained fyrdmen gained morale from being shoulder-to-shoulder with their comrades, but often fled once this was compromised. Once the wall was breached, it could prove difficult or impossible to re-establish a defensive line, and panic might well set in among the defenders.

Although the importance of cavalry in the Battle of Hastings portended the end of the shield-wall tactic, massed shield-walls would continue to be employed right up to the end of the 12th century, especially in areas that were unsuitable for large scale mounted warfare, such as Scandinavia, the Swiss Alps and Scotland.

Examples Edit

The tactic was used at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where the relatively well-armed Saxon army hit the Viking army of King Harald Sigurdsson of Norway unaware. The Vikings were not wearing as much armour, having left their mail behind on the ships and wearing only their helmets, and after a bloody shield-wall-versus-shield-wall battle, fled in panic. Both sides lost 5–6000 each, but the numerical superiority of the English won the battle.

Both sides at the Battle of Hastings are depicted using the tactic in the Bayeux Tapestry, [4] although the battle was ultimately won through a combination of Norman mounted cavalry and the impetuousness of less experienced Saxon warriors.

Decline Edit

The shield-wall as a tactic has declined and has been resurrected a number of times. For example, in the Greek phalanges (the plural form of phalanx), as the dory gave way to the sarissa, it became impossible to carry a large shield and so it was abandoned (smaller shields were used).

Likewise, in the Late Middle Ages, the shield was abandoned in favor of polearms carried with both hands (and often partial plate armor), giving rise to pike square tactics.

Although obsolete as a military tactic due to firearms and explosives, a wall of riot shields remains a common formation for police worldwide for protection against large groups using improvised weapons, punches, kicks, and thrown objects such as bricks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails.

What happened to the fyrd and huscarls?

As I understand it, the fyrd continued pretty much as it was, and served under their new Norman lords. It was a perfectly good force, comparable to any other militia system in Europe. Over time their organization and equipment changed, but that would have happened if the Normans had never arrived, in any case.

I also heard about huscarls joining the Varangians, probably some of the Saxon nobility, too. The rest may have signed up with Norman lords as household retainers, or taken up mercenary work, or maybe just retired to farming or shopkeeping? It would be interesting to know!


As I understand it, the fyrd continued pretty much as it was, and served under their new Norman lords. It was a perfectly good force, comparable to any other militia system in Europe. Over time their organization and equipment changed, but that would have happened if the Normans had never arrived, in any case.

I also heard about huscarls joining the Varangians, probably some of the Saxon nobility, too. The rest may have signed up with Norman lords as household retainers, or taken up mercenary work, or maybe just retired to farming or shopkeeping? It would be interesting to know!

The Saxons Had Initial Success

On 14 October, at around 9 am, the defeating sound of Norman war trumpets signalled the start of the battle. Archers and crossbowmen moved towards the hill that the Anglo-Saxons were on before unleashing a barrage of missiles.

As they were shooting uphill, the arrows often missed, and the tightly packed shield wall made the volley relatively ineffective. The Normans then sent their heavy infantry uphill, except this time, the Anglo-Saxons could fire their own missiles downwards. Rocks, axes, and even planks of wood hurled down on the slow-moving Norman force whittling down their numbers.

The close-quarter fighting was brutal, and each time the Normans were pushed back, the Anglo Saxons would yell ‘Out out out!’

Within half an hour, the Norman infantry began buckling under the pressure and was forced back down the hill. In response, William commanded the entirety of his cavalry force to charge the Anglo-Saxons.

However, this wasn’t an ordinary cavalry force these were heavy Norman knights, some of the best in Europe. Unfortunately for them, the charge uphill lacked any momentum, and the impact was relatively light.

Although some fyrd troops panicked, this was the moment for the housecarls to shine. It was said that one powerful swing from an axe could bring down both horse and rider like a hot knife through butter.

By 2 pm, the situation worsened for the Breton left, and panic set in, causing a mass route. The Norman forces started barreling back down the hill, all while chased by the Saxon fyrd soldiers. Harold had explicitly told his men to hold their ground and not give chase, but fuelled by bloodlust, they pursued their Norman enemy, cleaving them as they fled.

In an effort to support them, Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, led the Saxon line down the hill. Unfortunately, this attempt failed, and both nobles were slain, causing the troops to return to the ridge leaving the fyrd men at the bottom to their fate.

This was the turning point. With two valuable leaders killed and the fyrd militia exposed on the valley, William took several hundred knights from the centre and charged the undisciplined troops annihilating whatever had remained of the Saxon left flank.

The Anglo-Saxon Fyrd c.400-878 AD

The Old English word fyrd is used by many modern writers to describe the Anglo-Saxon army, and indeed this is one of its meanings, although the word here is equally valid. In its oldest form the word fyrd had meant "a journey or expedition". However, the exact meaning of the word, like the nature of the armies it is used to describe, changed a great deal between the times the first Germanic settlers left their homelands and the time of the battle of Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon period was a violent one. Warfare dominated its history and shaped the nature of its governance. Indeed, war was the natural state in the Germanic homelands and the patchwork of tribal kingdoms that composed pre-Viking England. Chieftains engaged in a seemingly endless struggle against foreign enemies and rival kinsmen for authority, power and tribute. Even after Christianity had supplied them with an ideology of kingship that did not depend on success in battle these petty wars continued until they were ended by the Viking invasions. From 793AD until the last years of William the Conqueror"s rule, England was under constant threat, and often attack, from the Northmen.

In order to understand the nature of the armies that fought in these battles, many historians in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century looked to classical authors, particularly the 1st century Roman Author Tacitus. Tacitus, in his book Germania, gives much detail of how the German tribes organised their military forces, and many historians used the fact that the tribes Tacitus was writing about were the forebears of the early Germanic invaders to explain the nature of the Anglo-Saxon fyrd. But are the tribal customs of barbarian people really a good basis for the nature of a nation removed by almost 1000 years? More recent research has shown that the nature of the fyrd changed a great deal in the 969 years between the time of Tacitus" writing and the battle of Hastings.

For many years there was much debate amongst scholars as to whether the fyrd consisted of nobleman warriors who fought for the king in return for land and privileges (peasants farmed and aristocrats fought), or whether the fyrd consisted of a general levy of all able bodied men in a ceorl (peasant) based economy. In 1962 C.W. Hollister proposed an ingenious solution: there had been not one but two types of fyrd. There had been a "select fyrd", a force of professional, noble land-owning warriors, and a second levy, the "great fyrd" - the nation in arms. This view, because of its elegant simplicity, soon achieved the status of orthodoxy amongst most historians, and is the view put forward in many of the more general books on the period published today. However, continued research has shown this view to be incorrect. Hollister coined the terms "great fyrd" and "select fyrd" because there was no equivalent terminology in contemporary Old English or Latin. Current research shows that the Anglo-Saxon fyrd was a constantly developing organisation, and its nature changes as you go through the Anglo-Saxon period.

From what little we know of the customs and nature of the early German settlers in this country, we can be fairly sure that much of what Tacitus wrote about the first century Germans still applied to their fourth, fifth and early sixth century descendants. The early tribes were military in nature, consisting mainly of free warrior families and tenant farmers, free and unfree, ruled by a tribal chief or king. These tribes were often grouped together in nations, sometimes under the rule of a "high-king".

"They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. As for the leaders, it is their example rather than their authority that wins them special admiration - for their energy, their distinction, or their presence in the van of fight.
"No business, public or private, is transacted except in arms. But it is the rule that no-one shall take up arms until the tribe has attested that he is likely to make good. When the time comes, one of the chiefs or the father or a kinsman equips the young warrior with shield and spear in the public council. This with the Germans is the equivalent of our toga - the first public distinction of youth. They cease to rank merely as members of the household and are now members of the tribe. Conspicuous ancestry or great services rendered by their fathers can win the rank of chief for boys still in their teens. They are attached to the other chiefs, who are more mature and approved, and no one blushes to be seen thus in the ranks of the companions. This order of companions has even its different grades, as determined by the leader, and there is intense rivalry among the companions for the first place by the chief, amongst the chiefs for the most numerous and enthusiastic companions. Dignity and power alike consist in being continually attended by a corps of chosen youths. This gives you consideration in peace time and security in war. Nor is it only in a man's own nation that he can win fame by the superior number and quality of his companions, but in neighbouring states as well. Chiefs are courted by embassies and complimented by gifts, and they often virtually decide wars by the mere weight of their reputation.
"On the field of battle it is a disgrace to the chief to be surpassed in valour by his companions, to the companions not to come up to the valour of their chief. As for leaving a battle alive after your chief has fallen, that means lifelong infamy and shame. To defend and protect him, to put down one's own acts of heroism to his credit - that is what they really mean by "allegiance"'. The chiefs fight for victory, the companions for their chief. Many noble youths, if the land of their birth is stagnating in a protracted peace, deliberately seek out other tribes, where some war is afoot. The Germans have no taste for peace renown is easier won among perils, and you cannot maintain a large body of companions except by violence and war. The companions are prodigal in their demands on the generosity of their chiefs. It is always "give me that war-horse" or "give me that bloody and vicious spear". As for meals with their plentiful, if homely, fare, they count simply as pay. Such open-handedness must have war and plunder to feed it."

We know from other parts of Tacitus" writings that the tribes farmers supported chief and his warriors in return for protection from the depravations of enemy tribes. At need, the chief was able to call out all able bodied freemen in defence of the tribes lands, although usually he relied only on his warrior "companions". These companions were fed and housed by the chief, and would receive payment in war-gear and food (the only use of precious metals by the Germans in Tacitus"s time was for trading with the Roman Empire).

Manuscript Cotton.Claudius.B.IV from the British Library. This was drawn around 1000AD, and is a translation of the Old Testament that was partly translated by Ælfric. Another illustration from the same work is in the chapter on Anglo-Saxon law. It displays some rather odd pieces of equipment such as the 'Phrygian Hats' as helmets and only the King wears mail, which is unrealistic

How were these companions equipped? Again Tacitus can help us here:

"Only a very few use swords or lances. The spears that they carry - frameae is the native word - have short and narrow heads, but are so sharp and easy to handle, that the same weapon serves at need for close or distant fighting. The horseman asks no more than his shield and spear, but the infantry have also javelins to shower, several per man, and they can hurl them to a great distance for they are either naked or only lightly clad in their cloaks. There is nothing ostentatious in their turn out. Only the shields are picked out with carefully selected colours. Few have body armour only here and there will you see a helmet of metal or hide. Their horses are not distinguished either for beauty or for speed, nor are they trained in Roman fashion to execute various turns. They ride them straight ahead or with a single swing to the right, keeping the wheeling line so perfect that no one drops behind the rest. On general survey, their strength is seen to lie rather in their infantry, and that is why they combine the two arms in battle. The men who they select from the whole force and station in the van are fleet of foot and fit admirably into cavalry action. The number of these chosen men is exactly fixed. A hundred are drawn from each district, and 'the hundred' is the name they bear at home."

This seems to be a misunderstanding by Tacitus because, although the hundred was a land division, it is unlikely, given the size of armies at the time, that each would send 100 warriors. However, from this description it would seem that the warriors were primarily infantry with a small amount of cavalry support. They would generally be armed only with spear(s) and shield, although a few of the greatest/most well off might possess a sword, helm or, rarely, body armour. Archaeology bears this out, and probably most of the swords, helms and mailshirts originated within the Roman Empire, reaching the Germans either by trade or as spoils of war. The relative commonness and scarcity of the various types of arms and armour is well borne out by finds from sacrificial bogs where votive offerings of the arms and armour of defeated enemies were often made. In these finds shields and spears (and surprisingly often bows and arrows) are by far the most common, with swords, helms and armour all being much rarer. Up until the fourth century most of these swords, helms and mailshirts are of Roman type, although from the fifth century onwards distinctly German type swords become more common.

By the time of the invasion of Britain in the fifth century the Germans had become so heavily dependant on their infantry that one British writer tells us that "they know not the use of cavalry." The armies coming to this country were usually far smaller than their Roman predecessors. Most of the accounts tell of the armies arriving in only two or three ships, and as ships of this time generally carried no more than 50-60 men, most of these armies probably only numbered 100-200 men. Despite the small size of these armies, the Germans were able to carve themselves out many small kingdoms, killing, driving off or enslaving the native population as they went, but it should be remembered that they did not always have things their own way. This was the time of Arthur who, through his use of Roman cavalry tactics against the Germanic infantry, was able to defeat the invaders so heavily, they were unable to advance any further for almost fifty years. However, by the end of the sixth century the Germanic, or as they were then starting to call themselves, Anglo-Saxon invaders had taken over much of lowland Britain and carved out many small Kingdoms of varying strengths and hierarchies much as they had had in Germany.

War was endemic to the kingdoms of sixth, seventh and eighth century Britain. An Anglo-Saxon ruler of this period was above all else a warlord, a dryhten, as the Old-English sources put it. His primary duty was to protect his people against the depredations of their neighbours and to lead them on expeditions ( fyrds) of plunder and conquest. As we hear in Beowulf (who lived at this time) about Scyld (literally 'shield'), the mythical founder of the Danish royal line:

"Scyld Sceafing often deprived his enemies, many tribes of men, of their mead-benches. He terrified his foes yet he, as a boy, had been found as a waif fate made amends for that. He prospered under heaven, won praise and honour, until the men of every neighbouring tribe, across the whale's way, were obliged to obey him and pay him tribute. He was a good king!"

Scyld was a good king because he was lord of a mighty war-band that profited from his leadership. As long as he lived, his people were safe and he enjoyed tribute from the surrounding tribes. This portrait is no mere convention of a heroic genre. Even the early Anglo-Saxon monks, when writing about the Anglo-Saxon kings of this time, show that this was not an heroic ideal, but the way a king ruled.

It is noteworthy that the early sources use the language of personal lordship to express the obligations owed a king. When Wiglaf followed Beowulf into combat against the dragon, he did not speak of his duty to "king and country," but of the responsibility of a retainer to serve and protect his lord. In fact, amongst the early Anglo-Saxons a king was simply the lord of the nobles. Even the term cyning [king] literally only means "of the kin" and denoted a member of the royal line, while the office of king was expressed by the titles hlaford [loaf- or land-lord] and dryhten [war-lord]. The æþeling who was chosen for the office of king was merely the member of the royal line who could command the largest war-band. This fact helps to explain the many "civil wars" which took place in the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and why a king who gained his position by force could so quickly be accepted by his subjects.

A scene depicting Psalm 27 in the Harley Psalter, showing an army and their camp

A seventh or eighth century king most often came to his throne through violence or through the threat of violence, and kept his crown by warding off domestic and foreign rivals. Peace was simply the aftermath of one war and the prelude to another. In violent times such as these, it was necessary that a king secure (in the words of the Beowulf poet) "beloved companions to stand by him, people to serve him when war comes." But what obliged men in seventh century England to attend a king"s army, and what sort of men were they? As the kingdoms developed in England the ceorl (peasant) had come to receive a more important position than in the Germanic homelands, but did he replace the nobleman in forming the bulk of the king"s army (a view held by many nineteenth and early twentieth century historians). Careful study of contemporary sources has shown that although the ceorl, as a freeman, had the right to bear arms, he would rarely have joined the king"s fyrd. The word fyrd had, by this time, acquired a distinctly martial connotation, and had come to mean "armed expedition or force."

It is clear that the king"s companions or, to use the Old English term, Gesiþas were still drawn from aristocratic warrior families, but now the gift-giving seen in earlier times had undergone something of a change. Now, in addition to war-gear, gifts of valuable items (a lord is often referred to as a "giver of rings" in literature) were given too, or most sought after of all, land. In Anglo-Saxon England a gift was not given freely, and a gift was expected in return in the form of service. When a warrior took up service with a lord he was required to "love all that his lord loved, and to hate all that he hated." Neither gift was "complete" - gift and counter-gift sustained one another. For example, although it was customary for a warrior to receive an estate for life (either his own or his lord"s), it was not a certainty. If one failed in his duty to the king the royal grant could be forfeited. Thus the king"s gift was as open-ended as his retainers counter-gift of service the former was continually renewed and confirmed by the latter.

To receive land from one"s lord was a sign of special favour. A landed estate was a symbolic as well as an economic gift. It differed from other gifts in that its possession signified a new, higher status for the warrior within the king"s retinue. Consequently, by the seventh century we see the emergence of different classes of warrior noble - the geoguþ (youth) and duguþ (proven warrior). The former were young, unmarried warriors, often the sons of duguþ, who, having as yet no land of their own, resided with their lord, attending and accompanying him as he progressed through his estates, much as the "companions" of Tacitus" day had done. The well known settlement of West Stow near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk may well have represented an estate of the type which would have been granted to a duguþ. When a gesiþ of this sort had proved himself to his lord"s satisfaction, he received from him a suitable endowment of land, perhaps even the land his father had held from the lord. This made him into a duguþþ. He ceased to dwell in his lord"s household, although he still attended his councils rather, he lived upon the donated estate, married, raised a family, and maintained a household of his own. In order to improve his standing the duguþ would often raise military retainers of his own, probably from amongst the more prosperous ceorls on his estates (this is how the name geneat [companion] originated to describe men from the top portion of the cierlisc class) and other geoguþ who had not yet sworn themselves to some other lord. These estates are often referred to a scir (shire) in the early records. This military following was known as the lord"s hearþweru or hirþ [household or "hearth" troops].

When a king assembled his army, the duguþ were expected to answer his summons at the head of their retinues, much as they would attend his court in time of peace. The fyrd would thus have been the king"s household warriors (gesiþ) augmented by the followings of his landed retainers (duguþ). If a warrior did not answer the king"s summons, he could be penalised, as King Ine"s laws show:

51. If a gesiþcund mon [nobleman] who holds land neglects military service, he shall pay 120 shillings and forfeit his land [a nobleman] who holds no land shall pay 60 shillings a cierlisc [peasant] shall pay 30 shillings as penalty for neglecting the fyrd.

This clause does not prove that the early Anglo-Saxon fyrd was made up of peasant warriors, as some historians argue. Rather, it shows that some peasants fought alongside the nobility when the king summoned his army. These ceorls were the peasants in the service of the king, or in the service of one of his duguþ. When an Anglo-Saxon king of the sixth to eighth century chose to war, his retainers would follow him into battle, not out of duty to defend the "nation" or the "folk," but because he was their lord. Similarly, their own men, also obliged by the bond of lordship, fought under them.

The size of these armies was quite small King Ine defined the size of an army in his law code:

13. §1. We use the term "thieves" if the number of men does not exceed seven, "band of marauders" [or "war-band"] for a number between seven and thirty-five. Anything beyond this is an "army" [here]

Although the exact size of armies of this time remain unknown, even the most powerful kings could probably not call upon warriors numbering more than the low hundreds. Certainly in the late eighth century the æþeling (prince) Cyneherd considered his army of eighty-four men sufficiently large to attempt to seize the throne of Wessex.

When Centwine became king of the West Saxons in 676AD, he drove his rival kinsman, Cædwalla, into exile. The exiled nobleman sought refuge in the "desert places of Chiltern and the Weald" and gathered about himself a war-band. In time his following grew so large that he was able to plunder the lands of the South Saxons, and kill their king in the process. After nine years of brigandage, he turned back to Wessex and began to "contend for the kingdom." The king"s resources were no match for Cædwalla"s, and when they met in battle the West Saxon fyrd was decisively defeated. It seems most likely that Cædwalla"s victory was the triumph of one war-band over another, rather than the conquest of a "nation."

Time and again we are told in the sources that a new king had to defend his kingdom with tiny armies. Later in their reigns, these same kings having survived these attacks made "while their kingdoms were still weak," are found leading great armies. After all, victory meant tribute and land, and these in turn meant that a king could attract more warriors into his service.

How were these warriors equipped? Unfortunately, our only written sources for this period are the heroic tales such as Beowulf and the Finnesburh Fragment, etc., but these are remarkably consistent in their descriptions. From the Finnesburh Fragment we hear:

"…Birds of battle screech, the grey wolf howls, spears rattle, shield answers shaft. …Then many a thegn, laden in gold, buckled on his sword-belt. …The hollow shield called for bold men"s hands, helmets burst …Then Guþere withdrew, a wounded man he said that his armour was almost useless, his byrnie [mail-shirt] broken, his helmet burst open."

In Beowulf we hear many references to arms and armour such as:

"Then Hrothgar"s thane leaped onto his horse and, brandishing a spear, galloped down to the shore there, he asked at once: "Warriors! Who are you, in your coats of mail, who have steered your tall ship over the sea-lanes to these shores? . Never have warriors, carrying their shields, come to this country in a more open manner. Nor were you assured of my leader"s approval, my kinsmen"s consent. I have never set eyes on a more noble man, a warrior in armour, than one among your band he"s no mere retainer, so ennobled by his weapons." . The boar crest, brightly gleaming, stood over their helmets: superbly tempered, plated with glowing gold, it guarded the lives of those grim warriors. . Their byrnies were gleaming, the strong links of shining chain-mail chinked together. When the sea-stained travellers had reached the hall itself in their fearsome armour, they placed their broad shields (worked so skilfully) against Heorot"s wall. Then they sat on a bench the brave men"s armour sang. The seafarer"s gear stood all together, a grey tipped forest of ash spears that armed troop was well equipped with weapons. . in common we all share sword, helmet, byrnie, the trappings of war."

These descriptions are borne out by archaeology. Male burials in the pagan period were often accompanied by war gear. On average around 47% of male burials from the pagan period contain weapons of some sort. This figure has often been used to argue for the idea of a "nation in arms", but has conveniently overlooked the fact that although spears were found in just over 86% of the accompanied burials, shields were found in only 44%. As we have seen earlier, and as the literary evidence bears out, spear and shield made up the basic war-gear of an Anglo-Saxon warrior. It should be borne in mind that, although the spear was used in battle, it was also a tool of the hunt. Many of the interred spears probably represent hunting tools rather than weapons. As we start to look at other types of weapon, we find they are far less common than the spear and shield. Swords are found in only about 12% of accompanied burials, axes in about 2% and seaxes (traditionally, the knife from which the Saxons derive their name.) only about 4%. This makes for an interesting comparison with the Saxons" continental homelands where some 50 - 70% contained seaxes. Armour and helmets, whilst not unknown are decidedly rare and are usually only found in the richest of burials. Certainly in archaeology they seem to be far rarer than in literature, although the few examples we have agree remarkably well with the literary descriptions. This apparent rarity of armour and helmets may have more to do with burial customs than the scarcity of these items at the time. It appears that the pagan Anglo-Saxons believed in some warrior heaven, similar in nature to the Viking Valhalla. The grave goods were what they would need in this afterlife, and in order to fight the warrior needed weapons, but if death was only a "temporary setback", why give them armour that could be far better used by their mortal counterparts?

It would seem likely from these sources that the kings and more important noblemen would possess a coat-of-mail and a crested helmet, a sword, shield and spear(s). Noblemen of middling rank may have possessed a helm, perhaps a sword, and a shield and spear(s). The lowest ranking warriors would have been equipped with just a shield and spear(s), and perhaps a secondary weapon such as an axe or seax.

The advent of Christianity in the seventh century was to bring about a change in the fyrd which would totally change its nature by the middle of the ninth century. As Christianity spread the monasteries needed land on which to build, and as we have already seen land tended to be given only for the lifetime of the king. However, the monasteries needed a more secure arrangement than just the hope that the king"s successor would maintain the donation. This was achieved through the introduction of a Roman system known as ius perpetuum, or as the Anglo-Saxons called it bocland [bookland]. Under this system the king gave the land to the Church in eternity, and the grant was recorded in writing [the book] and witnessed by important noblemen and churchmen so that the land could not be taken back in future. Although book-land was foreign in origin, it flourished in England because the notion a man gave so that he might receive was anything but foreign to the pagan English. Book-land must have struck early Christian kings as a reasonable demand on the part of the Church. A Christian king gave a free gift to God in hope of receiving from Him an eternal gift - salvation. Whilst nothing that he could give to the Lord would be sufficient, for no man could be God"s equal, just as no retainer could hope to be the equal of his lord, a king could at least respond with an eternal terrestrial gift, a perpetual grant of land and the rights over it. This exchange of gifts confirmed the relationship of lordship that existed between a king and his Lord God in the same way as the relationship between a gesiþ and his lord.

How did book-land impinge upon the early fyrd arrangement? On the simplest level, what was given to the Church could not be used to endow warriors. As time went by more and more land was booked to the church, and many of the kings noblemen became disgruntled. Some of the noblemen offered to build abbeys and become the abbot on their land in return for the book-right, and this was often granted even if the noblemen did not keep his end of the bargain. The holders of these early books, both genuine and spurious, enjoyed their tenures free from all service, including military service. And by giving the land in book-right, the king had removed it permanently from his control.

The kings faced a dilemma. This dilemma was first solved by the Mercian kings of the mid-eighth century, when King Æþelbald decreed that all the churches and monasteries in his realm were to be free from "all public renders, works and charges, reserving only two things: the construction of bridges and the defence of fortifications against enemies."

By the latter part of the eighth century book-right was being granted to secular as well as ecclesiastical men. In order to maintain his fyrd, King Offa of Mercia further refined Æþthelbald"s decree by giving land free of all service "except for matters pertaining to expeditions [fyrd], and the construction of bridges and fortifications, which is necessary for the whole people and from which none ought to be excused." By the mid ninth century these "common burdens" (as they were often referred to) were being demanded in all the kingdoms.

In short the idea of military service as a condition of land tenure was a consequence of book-right. Under the traditional land-holding arrangement a stipulation of this sort would have been unnecessary - a holder of loanland from the king was by definition a king"s man, and his acceptance of an estate obliged him to respond with fidelity and service to his royal lord. Book-land tenure, a hereditary possession, was quite a different matter, for such a grant permanently removed the land from the king"s control without assuring that future generations who owned the property would recognise the king or his successors as their lord. By imposing the "common burdens", the king guaranteed military service from book-land and tied the holders of the book securely to the ruler of the tribe. By this time the terms geoguþ and duguþ were being replaced by dreng (young warrior) and thegn (one who serves). The dreng still attended the king directly, whilst the thegn was usually the holder of book-land. By now, the term scir usually denoted more than just a single estate, and the thegn who held the scir was usually referred to as an ealdorman. Many of the lesser thegns within the scir would have held their land from the ealdorman in addition to those who held land directly from the king.

Ford History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The name Ford has been recorded in British history since the time when the Anglo-Saxons ruled over the region. The name is assumed to have been given to someone who was a keeper of the ford or river crossing. [1]

Set of 4 Coffee Mugs and Keychains

$69.95 $48.95

Early Origins of the Ford family

The surname Ford was first found in Devon where they held a family seat from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of Duke William at Hastings in 1066 A.D.

Coat of Arms and Surname History Package

$24.95 $21.20

Early History of the Ford family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Ford research. Another 116 words (8 lines of text) covering the years 1804, 1640, 1642, 1586, 1640, 1559, 1616, 1594, 1615, 1598, 1674, 1662, 1619, 1699, 1619, 1684, 1660, 1664, 1669, 1826, 1905, 1846, 1847, 1863, 1947 and are included under the topic Early Ford History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Unisex Coat of Arms Hooded Sweatshirt

Ford Spelling Variations

The first dictionaries that appeared in the last few hundred years did much to standardize the English language. Before that time, spelling variations in names were a common occurrence. The language was changing, incorporating pieces of other languages, and the spelling of names changed with it. Ford has been spelled many different ways, including Forde, Ford, Alford and others.

Early Notables of the Ford family (pre 1700)

Notables of this surname at this time include: William Ford or Foord (c.1559-1616?), Church of England clergyman, he may have been the same William Ford who became Rector of Thurleigh, Bedfordshire in 1594 or the William Ford who became Vicar of Bristow, Herefordshire in 1615 Thomas Ford (1598-1674), an English.
Another 49 words (4 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Ford Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Migration of the Ford family to Ireland

Some of the Ford family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 126 words (9 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Ford migration +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Ford Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Mrs. Ford, who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 [2]
  • Widow Ford, who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 [2]
  • Martha Ford, who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 [2]
  • Joanna Ford, who arrived in Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1630 [2]
  • Abigail Ford, who landed in Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1630 [2]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
Ford Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Reuben Ford, who landed in Pennsylvania in 1703 [2]
  • Christopher Ford, who arrived in Virginia in 1711 [2]
  • Ale Ford, who arrived in Virginia in 1714 [2]
  • Matthew Ford, who arrived in Virginia in 1717 [2]
  • Richard Ford, who arrived in Maryland in 1740 [2]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
Ford Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • William Ford, who arrived in America in 1803 [2]
  • Robert Ford, who landed in Allegany (Allegheny) County, Pennsylvania in 1812 [2]
  • George Ford, aged 25, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1812 [2]
  • Benjamin Ford, who landed in Allegany (Allegheny) County, Pennsylvania in 1832 [2]
  • Sam Ford, who arrived in North America in 1832 [2]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Ford migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Ford Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • Henry Ford, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1749
  • Jeremiah Ford, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1749
  • James Ford, who landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1749
  • Joseph Ford, who landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1749
  • William Ford, who landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1749
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
Ford Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • Margaret Ford, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1827
  • David Ford, who arrived in Canada in 1828
  • Ira Ford, who landed in Canada in 1828
  • David B Ogden Ford, who arrived in Canada in 1832
  • Edmund Ford, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1833
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Ford migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Ford Settlers in Australia in the 18th Century
  • Mrs. Mary Ford, English convict who was convicted in Somerset, England for 7 years for house breaking, transported aboard the "Britannia III" on 18th July 1798, arriving in New South Wales, Australia[3]
Ford Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Thomas Ford, English convict from Middlesex, who was transported aboard the "Ann" on August 1809, settling in New South Wales, Australia[4]
  • Mr. Charles Ford, (b. 1792), aged 24, English Sailor who was convicted in Devon, England for 14 years for faculige (felony), transported aboard the "Atlas" on 16th January 1816, arriving in New South Wales, Australia, he died in 1832 [5]
  • Francis Ford, English convict from Leicester, who was transported aboard the "Almorah" on April 1817, settling in New South Wales, Australia[6]
  • Mr. John Ford, English convict who was convicted in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England for 7 years, transported aboard the "Asiatic" on 5th June 1819, arriving in New South Wales, Australia[5]
  • Richard Ford, English convict from Shropshire, who was transported aboard the "Agamemnon" on April 22, 1820, settling in New South Wales, Australia[7]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Ford migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:


The desecration of the Saxon graves

Afterwards, Brida led her men in desecrating the Christian gravesites around Winchester, hoping that this blatant sacrilege would encourage the Saxons to attack Winchester. When King Edward was informed at Kingsclere by Father Pyrlig of the fall of Winchester and the capture of two of his young sons, he demanded that the West Saxon and Mercian fyrds be raised and that Winchester be retaken.

Watch the video: Military Equipment of the Anglo Saxons and Vikings (August 2022).