The Thingmen (also known as Þingalið (IPA: [θiŋalið]) was a standing army in the service of the Kings of England during the period 1013-1066. It consisted mostly of Scandinavians and it had an initial strength of 3,000 housecarls and a fleet of 40 ships.
In the 11th century, there were three European courts that recruited Scandinavians: Novgorod-Kiev (Kievan Rus') c. 980-1060, Constantinople (the Varangian Guard) 988-1204, and London 1018-1066. Scandinavia was however also a recruiting area for attacks against England and this is why a defence needed to be organized by the Danish king Canute the Great. The Assembly retinue attracted Swedish mercenaries, and probably some Norwegian as well.
It was a great honour to be a member of this retinue, which consisted of highly skilled and well-educated warriors.
Formation and structure
In 1013, with Danish attacks ongoing against the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of England, King Æthelred the Unready of England paid a force of 3000 Jómvikings under Thorkin the Tall to serve the Kingdom of England as a standing army. For this service Thorkin was paid the large sum of 48,000 pounds of silver, though somewhat ironically Thorkin's defection is said to have been used as a reason for King Sweyn, acommpanied by his younger son Canute, to invade and depose Æthelred. Later in 1015, after the restoration of Æthelred in 1014, the English people, discontented with the alleged misrule of Æthelred, murdered the Thingmen garrisons at London and Slessick. This attack, on what the Danes still saw as Danish forces, resulted in Canute mustering a war fleet and reinvading the English isles, ultimatly conquering them.
The 12th century Danish chronicler Sven Aggesen told the story of how the Thingmen were re-created by Canute after his conquest, and possibly an alternative story for the origins of the unit. Canute the Great had attracted a large number of men and many had not had the opportunity to distinguish themselves in battle. Consequently, Canute decided to select those that were the most prominent in origin or wealth in order to form a royal bodyguard. Therefore, he had a herald proclaim that only those who had especially valuable weapons would have the distinction of counting themselves among the king's housecarls. After this proclamation, those who were less affluent retired while the successful warriors, who had gathered considerable amounts of spoils of war, used their wealth to embellish their weaponry with gold and silver. He selected 3,000 men who were thenceforth the Þingalið. The Thingmen had their own laws, which enforced quality within the unit, even going so far as to make the men equal to the king.
After having defeated the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold Godwinson, with his retinue and war host, had to march southwards in order to meet the invasion force of William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings. The huscarl and retinue of the King fought to the last man, despite Harold's mortal wounding and the eventual routing of the fyrd, against William's Normans, who were also of Scandinavian stock.
Several of its members are commemorated on runestones, such as the Viking Runestones and the England Runestones. One example is the Komstad Runestone which was raised in memory the marshall Vrái, who had served in England with his brother Gunni, something that Vrái reported himself on the Sävsjö Runestone. Other examples are the Kålsta Runestone, where two sons report that their father was a member of the Assembly Retinue, and the Gåsinge Runestone which was raised in memory of a warrior who served Canute the Great.
- Pritsak 1981:410
- Enoksen 1998:117
- Pritsak 1981:386
- Although after 1066, the Varangian Guard mostly consisted of Englishmen, see Pritsak 1981:386
- Pritsak 1981:411
- Pritsak 1981:410 refers here to the runestone U 617.
- Jansson 1980:34
- Ronay, Gabriel (2007). The Lost King of England: The East European Adventures of Edward the Exile. Boydell and Brewer. pp. 3–7. ISBN 0851157858.
- Enoksen 1998:118
- Enoksen, Lars Magnar. (1998). Runor : historia, tydning, tolkning. Historiska Media, Falun. ISBN 91-88930-32-7
- Jansson, Sven B. (1980). Runstenar. STF, Stockholm. ISBN 91-7156-015-7
- Morgan, Kenneth O. (1984, 1997). The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. ISBN 0-19-285174-8
- Pritsak, Omeljan. (1981). The origin of Rus'. Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. ISBN 0-674-64465-4