What exactly is a fyrd? And why is it 40 days? Well my young squire, saddle up your trusty hunter, ready your ashwood spear, and prepare for a tilting! I’ve much to speak of with you.
Bullet Points for Lame Asses that Don’t Like Reading
- Based on the Anglo-Saxon conscription period of medieval England.
- 40 days of service rendered to the king for warfare.
- Essentially conscripting myself into this.
- I want to fight Vikings.
The Full Scoop
In Anglo-Saxon England, before the conquest of 1066, a king was quite limited in how he could possess an army. Mind you, the power of Imperial Rome was long gone, and as such, it was rather difficult to maintain a kingdom without the structure of a working empire. Subsequently, a professional standing army was an almost unheard of anomaly in the Medieval world (exceptions exist of course). In times of war, particularly Viking raids, the Anglo-Saxon kings (themselves descendants of Nordic peoples) would summon the fyrd, or National Guard if you will, to do battle. The fyrd wasn’t restricted to England; almost every medieval kingdom had a similar system in place. Fyrd is simply the name this conscription service was given in England.
The fyrd was compromised of at least one able-bodied man from each family; in times of duress, the old and infirm could be impressed into service, typically as bowmen. Conscripts were responsible for their own arms and provisions, so most of them fought as simple infantry. Contrary to Victorian belief, the fyrd wasn’t made up of slack-jawed peasants armed with farming tools. It was made up of slack-jawed peasants bedecked in chainmail and adept at swordplay.
The fyrd could only be held in the field for around 40 days. Of course, this is dependent entirely upon a variety of factors, but 40 days seemed to be the average. As such, kings and lords had to do battle swiftly or risk losing their conscript army to harvest season. King Harold II faced such a predicament when he had to battle both the Vikings of King Harald and then the Norman invaders of William the Conqueror within several days of one another. If he moved too slowly, he would be legally obligated to let his men return to their homes, and thus lose his army before battle was even joined. Didn’t seem to matter anyway because his army was subsequently destroyed at Hastings and Harold himself took an arrow to the face for his troubles.
But why a fyrd? And why 40 days? Well, because I am forcing myself to do this. I don’t want to work out. I hate working out. But I am conscripting myself to take up my metaphorical shield and broadsword and do battle against my own bad habits and fat body. I will be subjecting my body to physical abuse that normal people call exercise. It’s for the best, and I can have a little fun with it by pretending to be a historical warrior. And by the time I’m done, maybe I’ll be fit enough to actually be a warrior. As for the 40 days bit, well symbolism and history, really. Lots of things in the Bible are 40 days. Lots of things in other religions are 40 days. I’m a huge fan of symbolism and the like. And as mentioned prior, a fyrd typically lasted 40 days.
That’s why I’ve called this the 40-Day Fyrd. It’s a battle I’ve been conscripted for, and it’s either fight and die with sword in hand, or live out my life as a fatty who can’t even hold his own in a shieldwall. And who wants that?