The Weapons of Norman Knights and Saxons at the time of the Conquest
by Regan Walker
We know from the Bayeux Tapestry that the Norman knights who sailed for England in September 1066 wore knee-length chain mail hauberks with elbow length sleeves, much lighter in weight than the heavy ones that followed many years later. On their heads, they wore conical helmets with a nasal bar. Under their mail, they wore a tunic to their knees with hosen and leather shoes to which they affixed simple spurs. They carried long, kite shaped shields, often decorated.
For offensive weapons, the Normans carried a sword (longer than those the Saxons used) and a lance. They had archers, too, which became important in the Battle of Hastings. And they rode warhorses, the powerful destriers they reserved for battle, trained to kick and bite, weapons in themselves.
The Saxons, on the other hand, wielded shorter swords (about 3 feet in length), and carried spears, and battle-axes. They also carried smaller, round shields. They wore a woolen tunic and linen braies (reaching to the ankle) along with woolen hosen. Over their tunic, they might have worn a chain-mail hauberk (though none is pictured here). And they wore a cloak fastened at the neck with a brooch. Of course, the wealth of the Saxon would determine what they wore, too.
The Saxons/English were famous throughout the dark ages for the quality of their metal work, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their swords. Both edges were sharpened down at least two-thirds of the blade, giving it a tapered ultra sharp point. The finished sword would be light but strong with the flexibility to bend the blade past 60 degrees.
The Normans’ longer swords were necessary because of the way they fought. Unlike the Saxons who rode their horses to battle and then fought on foot, the Normans were primarily a mounted force. They introduced a slightly longer sword with a heavier, less flexible blade to allow them to fight from horseback. The most common sword stroke of a mounted man is the over arm downward slash onto the head and shoulders of an opponent. Hence, they needed a heavier blade and longer lighter handle.
The Saxons being a foot force and fighting in a shield wall (a densely packed battle tactic) with no space for swinging, needed a blade capable of delivering a thrust from the elbow over the rim of the shield directly into the face of their enemy.
In my new medieval romance, The Red Wolf’s Prize, there is an exchange of swords in the wedding scene:
He turned and, with his palms outstretched, accepted from Mathieu the long Norman sword of his family, the hilt carved with intricate designs and decorated with rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Looking into Serena’s eyes, more violet because of the cloak she wore, he said, “I give you this sword to hold for our sons.”
She solemnly thanked him and accepted the sword onto her own palms and handed it to the tall blond Theodric, who now served Renaud. Since Exeter the English guard had cut his hair in the Norman style and now looked like one of them.
Serena faced Jamie who held in his palms the same sword Renaud had seen him holding earlier, a shorter Saxon weapon.
Laying it carefully across Renaud’s welcoming palms, with tear filled eyes, Serena said, “This was the sword of my father. It represents the honor of the thegn and that of the people he loved. With this sword, keep our home safe.”
Meeting her gaze, he promised, “I will.”
With the words spoken, Renaud handed the sword she had given him to Geoff. Then he took her hand and led her from the church back to the manor. Along the way, they were greeted by the smiles of the people of Talisand who were pleased with the marriage. He snatched glimpses of her smiling at the villagers and his men and rejoiced that his beautiful bride loved the people of Talisand, now his people.
If he could only trust her, she would be a worthy helpmate.
You can see the Norman and Saxon weapons employed in this re-enactment scene from the Battle of Hastings:
While my story is set in 1068, two years after the Conquest, it does include two significant battles that occurred that year: the Siege of Exeter and the Battle of York. And, of course, my hero, Sir Renaud (“the Red Wolf”) is at both. His reluctant English bride, a famed archer, shows up in York for an exciting scene near the end.
Here's more about Regan's novel...
Here's more about Regan's novel...
Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed Lady Serena, the heiress that goes with them.
SHE WOULD LOVE HIM AGAINST HER WILL
Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord.
Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans.
As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?
Regan’s website: http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/
Regan’s blog: http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @RegansReview (https://twitter.com/RegansReview)
As a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
Saxon - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Hastings_5.JPG?uselang=en-gb
Norman - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NormanKnight_Best.jpg?uselang=en-gb
Thank you, Regan, for sharing such an interesting post with us - the time of the Norman Conquest is such a great era to write about. I wish you the very best with 'The Red Wolf's Prize.
Look out for more posts on 'Weapons through the Ages'...coming very soon.