Saxon England: the first English mercenaries

Weapons and Warfare

Breton Light Cavalry

The Saxons had conquered England from the Romano-British in the fifth and sixth centuries, effectively eliminating them as a factor in language, religion and government, leaving behind only the semi-mythical stories of King Arthur to commemorate the long and bitter struggle. The Saxons in their turn fell victim to the Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, but with less dire results; when Danes and Norwegians overran most of the British Isles, they only forced the Saxons, Scots and Irish to pay tribute.

The most important Viking physical presence was in eastern and central England, in the Danelaw, where they gave new vigour to the economy, especially to the town of York. Saxon resistance to the Vikings in the west led to a union of the petty kingdoms under King Alfred (871–99), who hired the first English mercenaries, Frisian sailors who had their own reasons for disliking…

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