Thursday, 13 October 2016

Just for a change - Diana listens to! Diana listens to Paula Lofting and Regia Anglorum: Building a shield wall

Photos c/o Rich Price

For over a quarter of a century, Regia Anglorum has been re-creating history for audiences around the world. They are skilled, properly equipped and highly motivated men and women of all ages who bring the dull and dead past back to brilliant life, celebrating the very best of life in the round a thousand years ago! They have a fleet of seven full-scale ship replicas. They have a secluded permanent site with a reconstruction of an old mead hall*. The best re-enactment society in the world

– probably...

and here at The Review, we are all fortunate to feel that we have one very special Regia Anglorum member as a friend, the 'Boss Lady' of the group,
Paula Lofting .

Regia Anglorum is a founder member of the
National Association of Re-enactment Societies (NAReS) and were sponsored by DHH Literary to speak about the formation of the shield wall at the Historical Novel Society conference at Oxford this year (HNS16).

The talk was by four colourful characters in full mediaeval garb,
An anonymous Mediaeval warrior showing the leg garb of the time.
Paula Lofting, Roland Williamson, Mike Harris and young thegn, Tom Barrett. I wouldn't have wanted to get on the wrong side  of any of them, (particularly that Paula Lofting!)

Shields seem to have been used universally by all warriors. From the first to the tenth century round shields seem to have been normal, being either flat or 'watchglass' shaped in cross-section. They are always shown with a boss and often have wooden or metal bands on the back to strengthen them. All the examples found have been of planked construction although there is some evidence to suggest a plyed construction would make the 'watchglass' shape easier to make. Some shields were edged with a rim of sewn thick leather or hide to strengthen them whilst others were possibly faced with leather or rawhide. Traditionally, shields were made of linden (Lime) wood although alder and poplar and other woods that do not tend to split may have also been used. 

Round shields seem to have varied in size from around 45 - 120cm (18" - 48") in diameter but the smaller and more manageable 75 - 90cm (30" - 36") is by far the most common.
Typically, a shield should cover your whole torso © Regia Anglorum
The formation of a shield wall (Scildweall or Bordweall in Old English, Skjaldborg in Old Norse) is a military tactic that was common in many cultures in the Pre-Early Modern warfare age. There were many slight variations of this tactic among these cultures, but in general, a shield wall was a "wall of shields" formed by soldiers standing in formation shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they abut or overlap. Each soldier benefits from the protection of their neighbours' shields as well as their own.

In the battles between the
Anglo-Saxons and the Danes in England, most of the Saxon army would have consisted of the Fyrd — a less-experienced militia composed of middle class freemen. The shield-wall tactic suited such soldiers, as it did not require extraordinary skill, being essentially a shoving and fencing match with weapons. The first three ranks of the main wall would have been made up of select warriors, such as Huscarls and Thegns, who carried heavier weapons and consistently wore armour.

Warfare was to a great degree ritualised and a sword is all about symbology. An axe, however, is very good for posing! Imagine the might Huscarl with his axe. A frightening sight, designed to drive terror into the foe.

Despite swords being shiny in modern minds, they were rusty and strong and were soaked in the morning.

The drawback of the shield-wall tactic was that, once breached, the whole affair tended to fall apart rather quickly. Relatively lightly trained fyrdmen gained morale from being shoulder-to-shoulder with their comrades, but often fled once this was compromised. Once the wall was breached, it could prove difficult or impossible to re-establish a defensive line, and panic might well set in among the defenders.

Although the importance of cavalry in the Battle of Hastings
portended the end of the shield-wall tactic, massed shield-walls would continue to be employed right up to the end of the 12th century, especially in areas that were unsuitable for large scale mounted warfare, such as Scotland.

Some of the tactics employed by the English shield wall consisted of round shields together in the form of a 'foulcon', otherwise known as cauldron. This was described in Roman times as the Testudo as it resembled the shell of a tortoise or turtle.
The shield was used to cover the body in close quarter fighting, and to push or bludgeon one's opponent.The arrows coming towards them would be moving at about 60 mph plus, an unheard of speed when the fastest thing most people saw was a galloping horse, the speed of which, in that era, would be about 20 to 25 miles per hour. A sharp spear would travel about 30 mph and of course can be thrown back! although getting the point caught in the shield wastes time and led to the euphemism, the 'spear net'.
The latest type was the narrow, tapering shield (kite shield),  The other type is like a target, round and heavier, with a central iron boss.  Both kinds of shields were used in the Battle of Hastings by the English.
The kite (long or fish-shaped) shield gives your opponent little to strike at © Regia Anglorum

The differences between the two types of shield were greater than just the shape. The kite shield is large almond shaped shield, rounded at the top and curving down to a point at the bottom and it  was cross gripped. It was developed for mounted cavalry and it's dimensions correlate roughly to the space between a horse's neck and it's rider's thigh.  When standing it  ran down the length of the body from neck to ankle, and, in effect, was an extension of body armour. Round shield were generally large and designed for 'bashing' and shield wall tactics  and were centre gripped and usually had a central iron boss.
One of these fierce warriors is left handed. Guess which one!

The Normans rode exceptionally fierce and aggressive war horses, trained in battle and savage with tooth and hoof. The Norman Horse had to be extremely strong and resilient. During the Battle of Hastings, it would have required the rider to remain mounted and vigilant for up to ten hours. This put a tremendous strain on both horse and rider. William had to march his force 10Km north before he even met Harold. The weight of the armour, sword and saddle increased the burden by 30 or 40 kg. The Norman saddle had a high pommel and cantle, similar to a Hungarian Hussar saddle, and the rider had fierce spurs that to our modern sensibilities are very cruel.

Iron stirrups were very heavy and cumbersome

The following pictures will show a shield wall formation and it will be possible to see how effective these would have been.
Photos c/o Rich Price

Photos c/o Rich Price

Picture on the left shows the men forming the Foulcon - Photos c/o Rich Price

Photos c/o Rich Price

Photos c/o Rich Price

The Battle of Hastings in brief.

(If you don't want to know the scores, looks away now.)

Regrettably, in case you do not already know, despite their shield walls and despite having Paula Lofting on their side, England lost the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Here is some actual footage embroidered hastily whilst the battle was in progress by the war correspondents of the day, the ladies of Bayeux - live from the front line.

Oh dear (sad face).


* With regard to the Mead Hall, it was pointed out to the audience at the talk that mead in the Mediaeval period was not a strong liquor as is created from honey today but a beer, a honey beer. To become a distilled product it would have needed anaerobic fermentation, a process not discovered until later.

Written, compiled and plagiarised from the below sources

by Diana Milne  -  letterpress seller extraordinaire - with help and source material from Paula Lofting.

Paula Lofting was born in Middlesex and grew up in South Australia, returning to the country of her birth when she was sixteen. She currently works as a psychiatric nurse as well as writing in her spare time. She now lives in Sussex with two of her three children and is an active member of Regia Anglorum re-enactment society. It was always her ambition to write a novel but found that life lead her on other paths until, in her forties, she began on the journey that has led her to her first book. Sons of the Wolf is Paula's debut novel and the first in a series of books about the Norman conquest of England.
Paula's second book, The Wolf Banner is also now available   and promises to be every bit as good as the first.          


Homework help                                                                                

The Norman Cavalry                                                                                                      
Regia Anglorum 

Many thanks to Rich Price for supplying the photos of the Regia shieldwall in action                  


  1. Loved reading this blog. It's always so interesting to read about 1066.

  2. Loved reading this blog. It's always so interesting to read about 1066.

  3. Fabulous Diana! I look really good!

  4. I really enjoyed the talk, researching and writing this.
    (As I have commented, am I in with a chance of winning my very own Paula Lofting?)

  5. I really enjoyed the talk, researching and writing this.
    (As I have commented, am I in with a chance of winning my very own Paula Lofting?)