1066 and the Conquest of England

The Defence of England

Harold’s army was built around the warriors, or ‘housecarles’, belonging to his own household and to the households of his earls. In addition, he could call on other landholders around the country to provide men from their estates. The English warrior’s main weapon was a sword which usually had a high quality steel-edged blade. He might also have a spear and battle axe. Harold’s fleet was composed of ships propelled by a sail and oars based on the Viking model.

Anglo-Saxon tower of St Michael's church Oxford which stood at the north gate of the town and formed part of the defences [Photo: Patrick Ottaway]There were no castles in late Anglo-Saxon England like those developed in early 11th century France. Some landowners had small enclosures surrounded by banks and ditches, but they could not withstand a siege. The principal towns were defended sometimes, as at Winchester and York, re-using their Roman walls. Towns founded since Roman times, like Wallingford, usually had ditches and earthen ramparts to which, in a few places, like Oxford, stone walls were added. These defences were manned by local men.

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