What is a Huscarl of Calontir?

Written by Sir Halvgrim Aðálraðarson. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 10, 2004

(Note: Though there are Archery Huscarls (The Boga-Hirth), I have not had much interaction with members of the Order and have also heard less of their opinions on what they think a Huscarl is. This article mainly refers to the fighting order as that is where my experience and point of reference comes from. In no way is the lack of information on Boga-Hirth meant as a slight, I just don’t have any basis to go on what their opinions might be. I was able to get the opinions of one their members and one of the members of the Boga Fyrd,but alas even though I do use some of their words in the below article both of their  words apply to both orders and not just the Boga orders. Any Boga-Hirth (or anyone else for that matter) that feels compelled to submit an addendum to this article is more that welcome to do so!  –Halvgrimr)

Wow, that may seem like and easy question to answer but so far in my limited experience as a Huscarl I haven’t been able to pin down a precise answer.

When I wrote What is a Fyrdman of Calontir? I had been a Fyrdman for some time and thought I had an idea of how to answer that question, so I tried but its worth mentioning that even since then some of my views have changed on that subject;)

Anyway, I have less experience as a Huscarl but I will try to answer the question to the best of my knowledge. This time around I will be using more points made by others than the last time thought. Over the months that I have been a Huscarl I have tried to listen very carefully to the message when this subject is brought up. From various emails and personal conversations I hope to convey the things that I gained from those interactions.

Lets get the easy stuff out of the way first. When asked this question most folks fall back to Kingdom Law. Kingdom law states:

II-201      THE HIRTH OF CALONTIR

There shall exist within the Kingdom of Calontir a system by which recognition is given to fighters and archers through titles that reflect their skill as fighters or archers, and as representatives of Calontir. The higher rank is that of Huscarl of the Hirth of Calontir. The Hirth shall be composed of two equal but separate branches:  the fighters, called the Iren-Hirth, and the archers, called the Boga-Hirth. An individual may qualify and be granted membership by the Crown in both branches of the Hirth.

Elevation to the Hirth rests with the Sovereign, after consultation with such members of the appropriate branch of the Hirth as the Sovereign shall  desire. Any such elevation shall be proclaimed by the Crown to the populace at an official Court of the Kingdom of Calontir or upon the field of honor.

Elevation to the Hirth shall confer upon the recipient a Grant of Arms and shall entitle such individual to all rights, privileges, and ensigns, attendant thereto. HUSCARLS may be styled and announced in the Calontir Order of Precedence as such. The Hirth shall be ranked equally in the Order of Precedence with the Orders of the Cross of Calontir, the Silver Hammer, and the Calon Lily.  Membership in the Hirth shall assure the recipient, according to seniority, of a position in the Calontir Order of Precedence before those Grants of Arms not given with any Order, but after the Kingdom Great Officers 

The Hirth may adopt, by approval of the Crown and by mutual consent, such rules for its internal governance as the Hirth may find useful, such bylaws not being in conflict with the Laws and Traditions of Calontir.

IREN-HIRTH:  Elevation to the Iren-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The fighter must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts. Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Iren-Hirth may bear the badge of the Iren-Hirth, emblazoned: Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two battle-axes in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

BOGA-HIRTH: Elevation to the Boga-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The archer must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts.  Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Boga-Hirth may bear the badge of the Boga-Hirth, emblazoned:  Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two longbows in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

Ok, that’s what Kingdom law says about what it takes to become a Huscarl but that doesn’t really answer the question at hand though, at least IMO.

A Huscarl is so much more that a set of prerequisites (as are members of any others order), what we are seeking is above a list of prereq’s I think.

Perhaps we could look to the origins of the Order to see if that helps. Since most of that was covered in Master Brummbar von Schwarzberg I won’t go into much of it but I highly recommend it to those that have never read it.

Unfortunately, as I stated in my previous article about the Fyrd, though Master Brummbar’s words are wise, many (including Brummbar himself) are quick to point out, the ideals set forth in the beginning of the orders are from a time long ago. Calontir has grown and changed since then, the Order has evolved since then too so looking to the Origins of the Order might not be a productive route.

Alrighty then, now that we got the law and our origins out of the way, lets look at some of the more common stereo types that Huscarls get labeled with:

  • Pipe Swinging Monkeys
  • Thugs
  • Machine’s/Implements of Mother F’ing destruction
  • The guys I’d want with me at a real bar fight
  • others that I am sure I am missing

(I have personally have always hated that damn bar fight thing but I understand the comparison. I’d like to think that we are more than a bunch of Thugs that swing a big stick but to some that is what we are.)
>I think Kaz summed all of these up when he sent me this:

“I believe that there should be a comradeship among Huscarls, that is bred of a common vision of being a ‘F’ing mo-sheen of dee-strukshun’ in loyal service to the Crown. I believe that there is a certain attitude that a Huscarl is not only permitted to cop, but should be expected to have. A Huscarl should stride the land in size 22 boots with the attitude of dangerous greatness – and it should not necessarily be expected to see high culture or civility in them (though they should be expected to possess chivalry, most definitely). These, after all, are not the graceful masters of the deadly dance, they are more like the Bradley armored vehicle of the medieval army – style to hell, but gets the job done every time without need for concern.”

While this belief is great an expresses how many of us feel, there surely has to be more and while I am more than willing to accept any of the above monikers I am also wanting to dig deeper for a connection to our Historical counterparts. Some may not need to do so but I have a desire to do so and I know others do too.

So can we look to the Huscarls historical counterparts (Housecarls or just Coerls in some cases) for some help in figuring out “What a Huscarl of Calontir” is?

Perhaps.

Lets look at Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of Huscarl (or the closest thing to it):

housecarl

also spelled huscarl , Old Norse húskarl (“house man”) , Danish and Norwegian hird (“household,” or “household member”) member of the personal or household troops or bodyguard of Scandinavian kings and chieftains in the Viking and medieval periods.

Well we are often called the Kings Men but rarely (if ever) have I heard the Order called the Kings Bodyguard1so that doesn’t seem to help our efforts in a search for this answer much.

As with the Historical Fyrd, the historical Huscarls evolved as time passed, so I guess the biggest hurdle to overcome is to determine whether we are talking about the Old Norse meaning of the word or the meaning as applied to how it was used by the English Military thanks to Cnut, who introduced them to England.

My idea of what a Huscarl is embodies a little of both (with a dash of a few extra things throw in there;)

In Old Norse a housecarl was thought to have been both loyal servants/household members attached to a predominant house of the time or members of the local dróttins comitatus (warband.)

It is from its Old English meaning that we gets the vision of the grizzled seasoned veteran serving his liege lord. These were the Kings Men and with their weapons and skill they along with the ‘Gestir’ (the ‘Royal Police’) enforced his will/law during times of peace.  They were the ones who carried unpopular edicts or messages to (or collected taxes from) the population. I suppose somewhere between an FBI agent and an IRS inspector. They could over-rule the local Jarl in the King’s name, and woe betide anyone who went against them, as they would have to explain their actions to the King. They were supposed to be courteous and protective towards loyal subjects but ruthless towards his enemies.

In war their function was as bodyguards, but given the Norse tradition of leading from the front, they, and the King, would be first into action and last to leave it. At Maldon, Brytnoth’s Hearth-troop die rather than leave his body, an incident extolled in the great poem. At Hastings some of the fiercest fighting apparently took place after Harold’s death and again, centered on the remains of his Huscarls fighting to defend their Lords body. (BTW some have suggested that Harold’s decision to deploy his Huscarls along the whole front line was a serious tactical mistake that deprived his army of it’s most dangerous and aggressive body of troops.) These are the professional soldiers that we so easily identify with today and as said before it is Cnut that we owe thanks to this visage.

No matter what visage of Huscarl (either ON or OE) the common over-riding quality seems to have been loyalty. Without land to defend of their own (until retirement) or other landowners with whom to plot, their personal loyalty to their King seems to have been higher than that often expressed by knights during the ‘high’ medieval period (more on this later also). Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature also has many examples of the love expressed by a Lords household troops for their Lord, and though this sort of comradely love is difficult to express in today’s cynical, materialistic world I believe we in Calontir do well at recreating this atmosphere.

On a whimsical note, some people have even suggested that the Huscarls were organized in a similar manner as the Jomsvikings. Personally I hope not, and for several reasons the main one being that even thought in every random mention of them I hear they were the ‘bad asses’ of their time, a simple search thru the sagas reveals that in every battle they were part of the side they supported LOST! I assume that’s karmic retribution for their their reputation for changing sides half way thru a battle! Add these things to their treatment of women as non-equals and you see that nothing is gained by comparing the Order to them!

The acts of the Jomsvikings  were so far removed from the normal concept of the days they were written about that some have suggested that the whole Jomsviking story is one of fiction, written by later period authors to illustrate the unavoidable disgrace and failure that will attend those who go ‘pirate’ and do not swear allegiance to God’s anointed representative – the King.

OK, back on topic, we have determine that the Historical Huscarls were known for their loyalty, I think this aspect is also a key factor in the Huscarls of Calontir also so we do gain from comparing the two.

I personally see the Order as a combination of the two (ON and OE) (but with a few extras to boot, more on that later.)  Normally by the time that you have become a Huscarl of Calontir you have shown without a doubt that you are both loyal to Calontir (and her ideals), an member of “The Tribe” (our household) and are a seasoned veteran of war. So I guess we are getting closer to an answer but I think we are still needing more to round this picture out.

So in the interest of comparisons I have heard and been part of several conversation which compared Huscarls with Knights.

As both were in various ways Kings Men they inevitable carried out some of same duties and responsibilities.

When asked what he thought a Huscarl was,  Lord Eric St. Ledger replied:

“Not being a huscarl, I cannot say what it is, or should be, to be one. I can say what you appear to be to others (at least some others). The Hus, at least to some of us, are sort of like elder brothers. To fail in the eyes of your king or to be found wanting in any matter is a fate unwanted and largely dreaded by every true gentleman or noble. It is like failing your father. To some extent, the Huscarls carry with them the king’s physical presence. They are our comrades in arms, but more. The Huscarls are a projection of the king’s visage, closer to the crown than we are, like an elder brother is often seen to be somewhat closer to your father than yourself. He is trusted more, he has been at the father’s side longer, and therefore you feel that in his approval also rests the parent’s sanction to some extent. Like wise, his disappointment in you carries with it more unpleasant sensations.”

When posed the same question,  Lord Gwalchmai “Saeth” Saethydd replied:

“A huscarl IMHO is someone who puts their kings honour and glory before own, a person who will selflessly serve their king and kingdom. A teacher, someone who will take Joe Newbie to the side and say hey, your doing a great job, but, you might wanna try this or that. A leader, someone who will take control of the situation should his/her king fall and lead troops to victory for the glory of Calontir. A Huscarl should be cocky enough to know they are good, but humble enough not to say so. IMHO a Huscarl should act as though they are a member of the Chivalry, even though they are not…..yet.”

I have heard many others make similar statements but the best comparison I have yet to hear is that of His Grace Valens. The following was his input from a discussion on the Huscarl list:

“I view the difference between huscarls and the chivalry in light of the ages they represent.  The huscarls are a 10th century group who’s greatest virtues were loyalty, and skill at arms.  Chivalry, at least the SCA’s romantic construct for that group is much more aimed toward a 13th or 14th century ideal.  Different times focused on very different virtues.  No doubt a 10th century huscarl would have been laughed at by the knights of 300 years later.  I haven’t found anywhere that implies that noble birth was a requirement or even a general quality of the huscarls serving the Saxon kings.  Three centuries later your parentage was one of the overriding requirements for knighthood.

I think the two different orders represent the different qualities of the different ages.”

In that same thread Gaius posted what I found to be a profound statement, I will remember it always and so that others may also I would share part of that thread with you now:


“And this is why, when the Norman noble makes his claim on Harold’s throne, your fingers grasp tight the axe and kite, and your will bends iron chain and human souls around our good King’s feet.  You are a Huscarl.  Your spirit, axe and blood stand between your King and His foe.  Your thoughts are your own, but your actions are His.  Your virtues are your King’s virtues, and your vices His vices, for you are His arm, His will, and His men.  When the world looks upon you, it is His reflection that stares back at them through reputation and deed.  You defend and further that by the weight of your axe.

The Fyrd protect the Land, the Chivalry protect our Kingdom, the Huscarls, however, protect a  man…. who is our King.  As long as there are people to till the earth, there will be Fyrdman to defend it.  As long as there remains even the idea of a kingdom, their must be Chivalry to defend it.  But should our King ever fall in battle, his last breath given up to the wind, then at that moment, there can be no more Huscarls, for they must all have fallen around Him.

This, to me, is the essence of what it is to be a Huscarl.  To set your feet squarely in the historic idea of it.  Understanding the difference between a Huscarl and a member of the Chivalry, begins by understanding the difference between duty to a man, who is a king, and duty to an entire kingdom, which happens to be ruled by a man.  Within our structure, these lines often blur, but were this life and death, our job descriptions would be significantly different, I believe, than what we assume now.”

Another close non-Calontir friend with an interest in historical perspectives suggested that the word of an 11th century Huscarl could be worth more than that of a 14th century knight since the Huscarl has only his word to give or defend. Whereas the knight has more interests to protect and might do so anyway he could. (I can imagine some in the SCA would have a problem with that but this is not meant to offend anyone just to offer an opinion.)

While these are great observations and could be close to the truth, in our quest to determine “What is a Huscarl of Calontir”, it doesn’t help. We have two separate orders for a reason. For a Hus to proclaim that he is the same as a Knight would be at best …unwise;)

I think it is fair to say that both the Hus and the Order of the Chiv share alot of the same important attributes. It has been suggested that these attributes include honor, leadership, mentoring, skill, and knowledge.  In a perfect world, they would all be at equal levels, but this is by far a perfect world.  It should be noted that mentoring, although is important, is not necessary considered important to some people.

Although the attributes mentioned above are shared attributes between the orders, obviously there is a differing  level of skill in each of the attribute between the orders (ie, a knight has higher levels of each than say a Hus) but this isn’t always the case. I think that this is what makes the journey from Hus to Knight a natural progression. Note that I do firmly believe that it is a progression but not everyone completes the journey. This is natural IMO as not everyone wants or is able to do so.

We all know that the orders share similar traits but we also know that they are different. So we are still no closer to a good answer that we were.

What next?

Where do we go from here?

I can’t say, I can tell you what I believe but as sure as it will be hot in Hades tomorrow, someone will have a different opinion. I guess that’s one of the cool things about our quest for an answer, as far as I can tell there is not a right or wrong answer to this question!

Anyway, it is sometimes said that Calontir’s most devoted/loyal subjects bleed purple. I think that for a Huscarl nothing less is expectable.<. Aside from the prereq’s to be a Huscarl I firmly believe that the Huscarls are the Defenders (the last line of defense if you will) of Calontir and her ways.

I believe we are the ones that are responsible for the future of Calontir’s Army (if not Calontir herself). We are the ones that will determine what will become of our current customs and practices, we are the ones held accountable for what The Falcon Army will become in the future. Some may say “NO!, those things are the responsibility of the Chiv” and maybe they are right but if so it should at least begin in this Order, the more deep seeded the better IMO.

I believe to be made a Huscarl of Calontir is one of the most fulfilling things there can be for fighters in Calontir, I know it was for me. Sure its gotta be great to be Knighted but I have on more than one occasion heard it said “I don’t care if I ever get knighted, I am a Huscarl and thats enough for me, its all I have ever wanted.” Whether the Chiv approve of this is another question, but I know its said. Hearing your name called when the order is assembled is an uplifting experience, one that so far in my 30 years of existence has only topped by three things (those being getting marred, holding my daughter for the first time and hearing her tell me she loved me for the first time, but I digress;)

So, here we are at the end of our journey thru trying to figure out “What is a Huscarl of Calontir.” I would thank you for joining me on this journey but I must apologize for the fact that we are really no closer to an answer that when we started.

Maybe we weren’t meant to find one solid, exclusive answer.

Maybe as with alot of other things in life, there is no answer, just the journey……….OK that was corny, even for me!;)

But just consider that there really is no answer, alot of things with the SCA were written loosely so that many different people can interpret the writings to suit different situations. My ideas of a Huscarl may correspond with the guy to my right but be considered radical by the fellow on my left.

So to go back and rephrase my earlier corny statement, I guess that in truth, there is no answer to this question, only varying opinions.

1) Actually after consulting Master Craig’s The Chronicles of Calontir”, Volume I, Foundations, page 11, paragraph 2 I found a reference to this:

“The Hird would be the guard of the warlord (and later prince) and the Fyrd would be the militia.”

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