The huscarls were the household troops of the English king. The traditional meaning of the term in Old Norse meant simply a household servant. The term later evolved to reference the personal bodyguard of the king. It is believed the huscarls were firmly established in England under the reign of Cnut in the early 11th century. This institution of household troops had existed in Scandinavia before this time, and it is thought that Cnut adopted this same practice in his English kingdom. When Edward the Confessor became king three reigns after Cnut, he still kept the huscarls intact and even gave some of them land, though most of them lived and served at the king’s court.
The huscarls equipped themselves with the best arms and armor: a sword, mail-shirt, helmet, shield, spear, and the two-handed war axe. They also rode horses into battle but dismounted to fight, as evidenced at the Battle of Hastings.
Fighting for the king, however, was not the only duty of the huscarls. They also collected taxes, witnessed royal charters, donated lands, and received land grants.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the organization of the huscarls seemingly disappeared. It is thought those huscarls who survived the battle migrated to the European continent and became mercenaries.
Regia Anglorum: Who were the Huscarls?
- Richard Abels – “Household Men, Mercenaries and Vikings in Anglo-Saxon England” (article within book)
- Nicholas Hooper – “The Housecarls in England in the Eleventh Century” (article within book)
- Timothy Bolton – The Empire of Cnut the Great