Written by Viscount Ternon de Caerleon. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.
The Fyrd was a response to a couple of factors in early Calontir. First was our geographic isolation from the center of activity for the Middle Kingdom. The second factor was our initial experience fighting wars.
On the first point, one must remember that there were no chivalry in early Calontir, and not many Midrealm Knights that had the inclination to travel westward to the frontier of the Kingdom. Squires were rare in Calontir, and squirehood was the most common prerequisite for Knighting. We needed another structure for advancement in skill and recognition that fit our circumstances better than the standard paradigm. Thus, Brumbar set up a two tiered system based on Anglo Saxon culture. The Fyrd was modeled after the A-S freeman levy, where every village were expected to equip a specific number of warriors based on the size of its agricultural product. Fyrdmen were expected to report for a fixed period of time with spear and shield, thus standardizing the composition of the army.
In our situation, standardization was more about one body of consistent training in leadership of small units as it was a uniform weaponry. That was true until the introduction of the scutum shield. In an early paper preceding the war college, Pavel Iosevitch introduced the advantage of fixed position defensive fighting as a solution to the twin problems we were experiencing with being outnumbered and with reforming after attack. With this idea clearly in mind, several of us seemed to hit on the idea of combined weapons formations as the logical support for the grounded scutum shield. Initially Fyrd were often the primary shield commanders, but as the combined weapons methodologies continued to evolve, they assumed other weapons systems as well.
This system was tested in several wars over the following year and found to be highly effective, at the rained out Ansteorra War in Fayetteville, we outnumbered the far more experienced Ansteorran forces, but they formed an assault column to penetrate what they assumed was the least experienced part of our line under Shadan and Lars. But due to good training, and good command, the only Ansteorran to actually breach the line was the Sir Lloyd, the King, who fell in the process. One thing that helped here was the ability of adjacent units to envelope the column and subject it to fire. This, was particularly satisfying to those of us who were disheartened by our first experience fighting Ansteorra, who punished us by reforming faster than we could.
By the time of the Pennsic XII Bridge battle there were enough Fyrd to integrate more fully into the formation, putting a larger share of the command on the Huscarls. Things that we were doing as a matter of course, other armies found entirely radical, such as holding a formation muster drill to see our army in the formation we would use in the next days battle. The Fyrd as an order, and a part of the command structure was equally alien to other Kingdoms. It was a highly polarizing phenomenon, and was both praised and condemned by its victims.
Socially, the original Fyrd were a fairly close knit group with significantly different views of the SCA in general, but the unifying theme was a desire to improve and be recognized as fighters. We all wanted to improve the state of the art in melee combat. Because there was no default military leadership via Chivalry, there was a unique opportunity in Calontir. While a lot of the rituals and folkways of the Fyrd developed in the second or third wave of Fyrdmen, the original Fyrd celebrated their ability to challenge and defeat fighters of higher rank.
The Fyrd of today is not the Fyrd of yore, nor should it be. Today’s Fyrd can capture the best of the old when it remembers to challenge experience, inspire the novice, and defeat the wrong colored tape. That is the core of our heritage.