Swordbelts on the Bayeux Tapestry

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During one of my recent revisits to the Bayeux Tapestry, I became suddenly aware of a certain point of detail which, although I previously acknowledged, chose to ignore for convenience sake. Like many other features of the Bayeux Tapestry, the fact that most of the armoured men depicted do not wear (at least externally) sword belts, has largely been ignored by Regia, the exception being "Wiffy" from Ledecestrescire, who from the start has modelled his kit accordingly. It would appear that the sword belt (or baldric) is worn inside the hauberk, and that the sword is placed into the scabbard via a small slit in the hauberk itself.

As I was making a new hauberk at the time, I decided at once to, at least temporarily, adopt this method myself.

Results far surpassed expectations. Firstly, I expected tremendous burden on the shoulders on account of the "drag" which had hitherto been transferred to the hips by the belt. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the burden on the shoulders is not increased nearly as significantly as I would have thought, and that the hauberk actually sits more comfortably on the shoulders.

Secondly, I expected the sword to become entangled with the legs making walking difficult, but instead, not only does the sword stay still, it is totally immobilised, and one can in fact run about and jump without the sword moving at all.

As you may have guessed, I liked this method so much that I have decided to keep it.

To return to an earlier point, it has long been known that this method was employed in the 11th Century, but for some odd reason in re-enactment it has been regarded as so rare as to be insignificant, as any look at the average Norman Miles or Anglo-Danish Huscarl will demonstrate. Now, just for fun, I will give a few statistics, based on numbers of armoured men shown on the tapestry.

Number of Knights/Huscarls without external sword belts 81 with external sword belts 5 uncertain 72 total 158
According to these statistics, over 60% of armoured Knights/Huscarls definitely wore their sword belts under their hauberks, in the way described. Only 4% of them wore belts over their hauberks - in the manner currently employed, almost to a man, by our Knights/Huscarls at present. If we decide the uncertain figures equally between the two methods, it still works out as follows;
Internal sword belts 80% External sword belts 20% There are of course, problems over this, the main one being that the Bayeux Tapestry is my only source. In addition, the lack of a belt to put a pouch on does pose problems for re-enactors, such as where to put your cheque book or keys! But in all fairness, the 11th Century warriors did not really regard this as a problem.
Based on this quite elementary research, I would say that it is reasonable to expect at least half of any Knights or Huscarls to adopt this method of dress in order to appear collectively authentic. It is just the kind of attention to detail that in the past has earned Regia its good name.

Last updated 28 March, 2005 . Article by Neil Harrison 1992.


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