Anglo-Saxon Military Institutions on the Eve of the Norman Conquest

By C. Warren Hollister | Go to book overview

VI
THE LATE-SAXON NAVY

I

THE genesis of the English navy is heralded by a well-known passage from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

Then King Alfred ordered that warships be built to meet the Danish ships. They were nearly twice as long as the others; some had sixty oars; some more, and they were both swifter and steadier and had more freeboard than the others. They were built neither after the Frisian design nor after the Danish, but as it seemed to him that they could be most serviceable.1

With this act King Alfred provided an essential ingredient to the defence of his island kingdom. The evolution of the English navy runs continuously from his reign onward. It is interesting to note that before the Norman Conquest the dukes of Normandy did not command a navy. The chroniclers agree that the fleet which carried the Conqueror's army across the English Channel was raised on a volunteer basis.2 But when William established control over England, he inherited an active maritime force and a complex of rights which permitted him to order new ships to be built and to summon men to duty in the fleet.

The exact nature of the mid- eleventh-century fleet and of the naval obligations which rested upon Englishmen is obscure. The source material is both scattered and thin, and it would be presumptuous, under the circumstances, to suggest that the problem can be fully clarified. I will say little on the subject of naval mercenaries, since they were discussed in Chapter I. It will perhaps be sufficient merely to repeat that these mercenaries were of great importance

____________________
1
A.S.C., A, A.D. 897 [ 896].
2
On this subject, see F. W. Brooks, The English Naval Forces, 1199-1272 ( London, n.d.), p. 160.

-103-

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Anglo-Saxon Military Institutions on the Eve of the Norman Conquest
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Mercenaries and War Finance 9
  • II - The Nation in Arms 25
  • III - The Select Fyrd and the Five-Hide Unit 38
  • IV - The Personnel of the Select Fyrd 59
  • V - Special Aspects of the Select-Fyrd Obligation 85
  • VI - The Late-Saxon Navy 103
  • VII - Tactics and Strategy 127
  • Bibliography 153
  • Index 163
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