Norman Conquest Timeline
RALLYING TO THE STANDARD
London, 5 October 1066
King Harold is riding south with 1,000 to 1,500 royal and household troops. Along the way, they are picking up fyrds in the midlands and East Anglia who assembled too late to fight the Vikings. His army is expected in London tomorrow. Meanwhile, the call has gone out in London and the surrounding shires for more volunteers.
Others are being mustered in the west, but they will take some days to arrive. And the forces of Mercia and , devastated by their defeat by the Vikings at the Battle of Gate Fulford on 20 September, are now being mustered afresh for the new battle in the South.
The thegns, or landowning warriors, have already been called to battle and the trained men - one from every five hides - have also been called up. But now England faces a national emergency and a general fyrd of all able bodied men between 15 and 60 is being mustered.
Thousands of men have been rallying to Harold's dragon standard , but few except t the thegns possess more than a stout leather jerkin and a knife by way of military equipment. Their superiors are bound to supply them with arms. Earls have to supply eight horses, eight spears, eight shields, four helmets, four mail shirts and four swords. Spears - both light spears for throwing and long, heavy ones for thrusting - are being handed out. Swords are, as always, rare and many men are supplied with axes instead.
But the average recruit is ill-prepared for war. England has been at peace for two generations now and only the older men remember the ravages of the Vikings. However, after the victory at Stamford Bridge morale among the new recruits is high. They know they are joining an élite of battle-hardened housecarls - the King's household guard who are more experienced soldiers. And there will be a vanguard of Danish mercenaries, who should take the bulk of the punishment in return for a large share in the spoils of war.
The reputation of the King is also running high. A formidable military leader, he suppressed the Welsh before coming to the throne. The Vikings, with their reputation for savagery, were seen as a far greater threat than the Normans. While William is known as a ruthless leader, he has won most of his battles by stealth. So far he has only taken the small market town of Pevensey and the fishing village of Hastings, and may yet be starved out by a siege of his stronghold.
The recruits' great fear is the rumour that the Norman army has more than 2,000 cavalry men. The English have not mastered the art of mounted warfare and inexperienced infantrymen are at a considerable disadvantage against well-trained, highly manoeuvrable cavalry formations. But Harold's commanders have poured scorn on the idea that William has brought cavalry with him. No European army has attempted to transport horses by sea. It is considered madness to try to carry horses by ship across the Channel this late in the year.
Article by Nigel Cawthorne