25 January 2011

The "fleeing" Fyrdsmen?

The fyrdsmen that fatally broke rank from the English shieldwall at Senlac, 14th October 1066, chasing the 'broken' Norman-French-Breton army, weakened the English defence and frittered away a victory for Harold, who was slain that day.

Was it really this simple? Or were they later arrivals who had not been present to hear King Harold's strict orders to hold formation at all costs? And why was it only the right flank who broke the 'shieldwall'?

We know from the sources that more Anglo-Saxons came trickling in from the southern shires throughout the day, as their king had bade them days before. We suspect that the length of the violent battle suggests that the English were not easily overcome, and that the emphasis on the fleeing fyrdsmen may be exaggerated?

The entire front rank (half a mile long if we accept Santlache hill top as the site?) was armed by the king's/earl's 1,500-3,000 huscarls, so anyone breaking through them had to had to either;-

a) Outnumber them heavily enough not to be halted, more so than the left and centre.
b) The Huscarls may have thinned out in that sector, maybe due to a General advance which failed, and the right copped for it for some reason?

We are told of successive Norman 'retreats' (this time deliberate?) but not which part of the English line broke this time?

So, were the men who fatally broke rank due to their over-zealousness, 'late arrivals', or simply indisciplined amateurs whom the huscarls in front of them, couldn't halt?

It's impossible for us today really to get into the mindset and the fighting ethos of medieval man? I accept the battle-fury and 'victory' zealousness, but surely all of the wall would have been noted as 'fleeing' downhill, not just the right flank? And weren't these fyrdsmen hemmed in behind the front rank huscarls?

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