I love your site, even though I've only just started to skim it.
There were two basic types of ship in the 11th cent, the warship and the
merchant ship. The warship was essentially expendable, often made of
unseasoned timber and normally un-decked, with a length to breadth ratio of 4 or 5 to 1.
Viking snekrs are classic northern warships, and had straight keels so as to be easily
beached. Merchant ships such as the knarr were much tubbier, 2:1 or 3:1, and at least
half-decked. Knarrs carried a crew of about 10, I think. Best source of ship descriptions
I know is Heimskringla. A warship was about 60 feet long, had 20 rowing benches, and had
could carry 80 men or 40 men and 2 horses. Both types had a single square sail, and
reconstructions of both types sail fast ... a replica of the Gokstad Ship sailed at over
10 knots in the 1890's. Neither type could sail into the wind, bowlines hadn't been
invented in the 11th cent. Judging by the illustrations the ships in the Tapestry are all
"warship" types, and I suspect they could be made very quickly, though roughly.
Clinker-built boats are very quick to build because plank widths can be very inexact. Some
warships weren't nailed or pegged, but had planking sewn on with leather laces. So
provided there was plenty of easily split timber around (larch or pine) no real problem in
building a lot of ships fast. It took 20 men a year to build an 18th century frigate of
about 700 tons, but we are talking about a precision build here. For an expendable
warship, say 2 or 3 man-weeks per ship. For 7500 men you need 94 ships; for 2,000 horses
you need 500 ships. So we're talking about 600 ships for William's fleet, with the horses
distributed, as it were. So, that's about 1,500 man-weeks to build them, or30 man-years.
So, assuming that they were built in 4 months about 100 shipwrights would have been
All these numbers feel about right to me; I just can't believe that there
were that many warships just lying around waiting to be bought or
commandeered, though I'm sure that William bought all those he could find.
The English fleet had been disbanded just before the invasion, I seem to
recollect, and in any case it would have been small, since Edward the
Confessor had disbanded the permanent professional fleet in about 1056. In any case it
would have been windbound in port; same goes for the ships of the Cinque Ports. And I
don't see anyone being particularly keen on attacking beached ships containing nothing of
Actually, the English Fleet was remarkably ineffective at intercepting
hostile fleets throughout its history, except during the reign of Alfred
when there were so may incoming fleets it might have been difficult to miss them. It was
probably of more use as a deterrent, since the English ships were made much larger than
the viking ships of the day, perhaps up to 120 feet long and fastened with iron. But even
long after Alfred many hundreds were grouped in threes as ship-sokes, each of which had to
produce a ship and armour for its crew on demand. The English never seemed to have any
problem in raising ships and money whenever required; it was by far the most prosperous
Hope this is of interest
I just looked up the
question of WHERE the English ships were; some had been laid up in the Thames, and some
had eluded the Norwegian fleet, being small in number and unable to face 300 ships, had
taken refuge in the Wharfe river, where they were bottled up by the Norwegians. It was
late in the year, after the start of the equinoctial gales, and that's why Harold was so
unprepared; hadn't expected either invasion. I am about to add a section to my website
which has some chunks on Norman warfare; I'll give you the url when I do that.