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fyrd

fyrd. In theory all freemen of Anglo-Saxon England were under an obligation to serve in the fyrd (army) when called upon. In practice communications were so difficult, crises so sudden, piratical or Viking raids so mobile, and the problems of supply so acute that the national militia was rarely summoned. A major invasion, like that of William of Normandy, was an unusual thing. Local raids were dealt with normally by the fyrd in the shires concerned, led by their ealdormen. Alfred in the Athelney marshes called upon the assistance of ‘all the men of Somerset and Wiltshire and that part of Hampshire on this side of the sea’, and Byrhtnoth ‘with his levies’ fought against the Danes at the battle of Maldon in 991. In 1066 Edwin and Morcar, the local earls, tried to deal with the Norse invasion, but were defeated at Fulford before Harold could come to their assistance. The local levies would be strengthened if possible by the king and his family, ealdormen, thegns, and in the 11th cent. housecarls, with whatever mercenaries were at hand. Hence it has been suggested that there was a great fyrd and a select fyrd, the latter based on the 5-hide unit, and better trained and armed. Though after the Conquest military provision was reorganized on the basis of knight service, the fyrd remained in existence and was called upon by William I and Rufus. In 1138 the local fyrd was a component in the army which defeated the Scottish invasion at the battle of the Standard. Henry II's Assize of Arms in 1181 gave instructions for its equipment. The growing sophistication of weapons made local forces increasingly ineffective and it is perhaps fortunate that the fyrd's later manifestations, the trained bands, militia, or Home Guard, did not have to face a major invasion.

Sandra M. Dunkin

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fyrd

fyrd the English militia before 1066.

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