Guizer Jarl And Jarl Squad

The Guizer Jarl

2004 Guizer Jarl Stanley Manson. Photo courtesy of John Coutts Photography.

The Guizer Jarl is the Chief Guizer, the leader of the Jarl Squad who are the Vikings for the day.

The first Up Helly Aa leader was elected by his fellow guizers away back in 1882 and was given the title of Worthy Chief Guizer. His role was increasingly seen as one of substance and importance, so much so that, in 1906, it was decided to purchase a Viking suit of armour and other accoutrements for the chief, and to call him from then onwards, the Guizer Jarl.

The first Jarl’s outfit was described as follows: “He wore a silver helmet, with raven’s wings rising high on either side, a corselet with sleeves of silver mail was worn over a jerkin, fastened round the neck and hung loosely from the shoulders. On the legs were thigh length black stockings and on the feet were rawhide sandals fastened with tan leather thongs which criss-crossed over the instep and all the way up the thighs. He carried a round silver shield on which was engraved a raven, a large silver-headed battle axe and dagger hung from his belt.

The 2009 Guizer Jarl Stephen Mouat leads his squad through the town. Photo by Andrew Shearer.

In 1931 considerable improvements was made to the outfit. A new helmet, shield, axe and dagger were provided. The helmet was chromium plated and was an anonymous present to the Committee while the axe blade, the shield and the dagger were made by Magnus Nicolson. Tom Henry designed the axe, and Magnus Pearson made the haft. Shield, axe and dagger were all electroplated. In the following year, with Peter Moar Jarl, J. R. Sutherland designed a heraldic raven for the shield, in black and red, sunk in white metal and edged with brass.

Over the years parts of the suit have been worn or damaged and have been replaced by the committee, keeping the same design which originated in the early 1930’s.

Each year the suit of armour (the helmet, breastplate, shield, axe, dagger and belt) are passed down to the next Jarl. He will choose his own design for his kirtle and cloak in colours that will both contrast and highlight him from his squad.

Jarl Squad

The 2003 Jarl Squad at West Sandwick beach, Yell. Photo by John Coutts.

The Jarl Squad consists of the Guizer Jarls squad who are the same group of men that normally participate in the festival amongst the other 45 squads. Normally squad numbers range in size from 16 up to a maximum 25 guizers. The Jarl Squad can range in size from 50 towards 70. As well as the Guizer Jarls normal squad members guests are invited into the squad. This is a great privilege and can be a once in a lifetime chance to many folk.

2007 Jarl Squad in full voice at the Market Cross during the morning marching. Photo courtesy of Millgaet Media.

The Guizer Jarl and his squad have to design and make their own suit. Each year the suit is different which poses a challenge ensuring uniqueness each time. Preparations begin approximately 2 years in advance when designs are drafted and ideas thought through. The manufacturing of the suit begins in the February before Up Helly Aa, by this time the Jarl Squad suit design is well progressed. As it is made and adjusted the final product should be available in the late Autumn to ensure all can e completed for the following January.


Since the birth of the Jarl’s squad in 1920 each year a new shield is designed and manufactured to match in with the costume or highlight the theme which the squad has chosen to represent.

A variety of methods and design have been used, each squad producing a unique shied each year.


Each year the Jarl Squad make weapons to accompany the suit and shield. This varies year on year and it is the choice of the Jarl and his squad. Over the years a wide selection has been created including axes, swords, spears, daggers, bows and crossbows.