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The Anglo-Saxons And The Vikings

( Originally Published 1928 )


THE Saxons were in England after 450 and established a monarchy which lasted six hundred years.


The Trousers.—These were long, loose, and strapped to the leg by a cross-gartering of cloth, linen or leather which sometimes extended to the thigh. They gradually assumed a closer form until tights were evolved in the tenth century. Cross gartering, however, was retained until the thirteenth.

The Tunic.—This was usually knee length and opened downward from each hip for freer movement. The edges were embroidered or woven in colored thread to form a border. Very long sleeves formed a series of rolls above the wrist, where a bracelet kept them from slipping over the hand. Girdles were worn with both long and short tunics. The former were for men of dignity, all edges being decorated with embroidery or fur.

The word "gunna" (called Saxon by some, but probably Norman, as "gune" is old French for gown) is sup-posed to apply to the long full tunic of both sexes. The "cyrtle" or kirtle is generally understood to mean the inner gown or tunic.

The Mantle.—One variety had an opening for the head and was looped up over the arms with a section falling in folds somewhat like a chasuble. Others clasped in front or on the shoulder.

Footgear.—Low leather shoes were slashed over the instep like sandals and sometimes attached to the cross-gartering. Socks were worn inside the shoes over stockings with ornamental bands about the tops.

Hair.—The Anglo-Saxon beard was full and cut in two points, the hair hanging to the collar line. Specimens of very large double combs have been found.

Armor of chains, rings or scales formed a garment called a coat of mail; the Saxon boss on the shield rose six or seven inches in height.


The girdle was placed rather high under the bust with the gown pulled up through it in front, allowing the kirtle to show. This gave a thick, bunchy appearance not so noticeable several centuries later when the same trick was used with a girdle placed low about the hips.

The Wimple.—The hair was worn loose, or in braids, bound by a fillet about the brow, that for an unmarried girl being known as a snood. The wimple, which became an established mode in the ninth century, was a large square of white linen or colored cloth laid over the head with one end thrown around the neck in such a manner as to completely hide all hair from view. It was some-times broad enough to drape the shoulders like a wrap, or to hang as a veil with a gold or jeweled band holding it about the brow.

Large, circular earrings were worn. Women's shoes were tied or buckled about the ankles.


The Anglo-Saxons were skillful in the spinning of flax; they also understood the art of dyeing. A strong cloth of superior quality was called "stamfortis." The furs in use were sable, beaver, fox, cat and lamb.


In the times of Sweyn, King of Denmark, 981, and of Canute, 1027, also of the Norsemen, the costume for the men was at once picturesque and barbaric. Buskins of leather were strapped on bare legs or over gray woolen stockings. The knees were always bare. Coats of mail were worn over short-sleeved, knee-length tunics of dull color. The skins of wild animals draped the whole : a leopard skin over one shoulder with the head close to the ear, or a gray wolf skin with its head hanging down the back. Armlets of copper or brass on bare arms, and helmets of shining metal in striking designs decorated with bull's horns or surmounted by towering eagle wings completed the costume.

For Canute, a helmet of silver bound round by a golden band and crested by a golden dragon is correct. A gold-bordered red mantle should be suspended from the shoulders and cut to sweep the ground. A corselet of leather, completely studded with gold plates, is worn over a short tunic. According to the sagas, also old MSS., Canute wore over his tunic a long mantle fastened with cords and tassels. His shoes are described as being high with embroidered bands about the top, a form of buskin. His body when exhumed in 1766 was found decorated with gold and silver bands, one encircling his head, a jeweled ring on one finger. In the Knyghtlinga Saga, his hair is described as luxuriant.

The mustaches worn by the Norsemen should hang to the chest. Saxon beards were very common.

Women.—The women wore the wimple and a gown like the Saxon.

Hamlet.—The dress of the Dane in the tenth and eleventh centuries, according to Strutt, resembled the Anglo-Saxon's. Black was a favorite color, although one writer in 1127 states that they had become wearers of "scarlet, purple and fine linen." Another speaks of them as "effeminately gay in their dress," spending much time caring for their hair, which hung in flowing ringlets. Scarlet was the color originally worn by royalty. Hamlet as prince of the blood should have been robed in it, which, according to Charles Knight, accounts for the objections of the Queen and Claudius to his dressing in black. This, al-though a popular color, did not represent mourning, as the Danes wore none. Blanche Yurka, playing the Queen to John Barrymore's Hamlet, was a stunning figure garbed in royal scarlet.

Besides the coat of mail, the Danes used a tunic of quilted cloth called a panzar (this was later of metal), made to protect the lower part of the body and especially the abdomen. The national weapon was the bipennis, or double-headed axe. The helmet had a nose guard to which the collar of the mail hood could be hooked; only the eyes were left unguarded.

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