A Saxon huscarl in full armour. © BBCHistory
Huscarls were ruled by their oath of allegiance, however, it was not absolute for the full term of their lives. Each year they would renew their oath to their lord but they retained the right to end their service at their own choice. Members of the fyrd, the Saxon army raised by limited conscription, never had this choice; they had to serve as a matter of obedience to the king’s law.
Life for a huscarl was one of danger and adventure. They would be responsible not just for their lord’s immediate security but also for enforcing his law, which was derived from the king. For good or brave service they could expect to be rewarded with gold, traditionally in the form of circlet to be worn about the head, but later prizes measured in land as well. They were expected to be loyal and would demonstrate this by following their lord into exile if he were to suffer such a fate at the decree of the king, as many of the nobility actually did.
As a result of their elite status there were never very many huscarls. The need to possess a degree of wealth to begin with was a barrier to most people in the Saxon world but it was not an impossible one to overcome. The Saxons valued ability over class and people of skill and ambition could rise through the classes with a little good fortune. If a peasant man was brave enough and lucky to have the opportunity he could be rewarded by his theign for deeds enacted on the field of battle. From there he could become a butescarl, a mercenary soldier, and hire his sword to lords not rich enough to hire huscarls of their own. If he kept his rewards he could in time invest his wealth in the trappings of a huscarl and seek employment with someone blessed with the appropriate wealth; this was the path taken by Thrydwulf in The Sorrow Song Trilogy. No matter how a man won his gold decorated sword it was a badge of his rank and his membership to a brotherhood that was an elite fighting force of the early medieval period.
What is a huscarl?
A huscarl was a Saxon warrior. They were generally rich men in that they had to be
able to afford to equip themselves with at least two horses, steel mail armour, a
steel helmet, weapons such as a fighting spear, throwing spears, a Dane-
As they were professional warriors they could not have a trade like the peasant classes or a farm like the theigns as these would require too much of their time. They had to be free spend to spend hours honing their martial skills by constant training; they were an elite fighting force as a result. They could and did own estates that brought them in money but these would be run by trusted vassals of the theign class.
The term ‘huscarl’ meant ‘hearth companion’ and this reflects one of the chief aspects
of the post. Originally it was the king who would be attended by such men as he was
rich enough to pay them. The Viking kings of the Dane-
The Saxon huscarl was not just a companion but also a bodyguard to their lord. They
swore a death-
The Sorrow Song Trilogy © 2013 Peter C. Whitaker. All Rights Reserved.