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Henry O.

Joined: 18 Jun 2016

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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2017 11:40 am    Post subject: Trade-offs in halberd design         Reply with quote

In George Silver's Parodoxes of Defence he differentiates between the "Black Bill", which is 5-6 feet long, heavy, and best suited for an armored melee, and the "Forest Bill", which is 8-9 feet long, relatively light, and best suited for one on one combat.

I wonder if there was a similar trade-off for other complex polearms like halberds. Ie. lighter and longer to optimize a weapon for one on one combat, and shorter and heavier to optomize a weapon for fighting in a "pell mell".

Sir John Smythe seems to match Silver's opinion most closely. Certain Discourses:

Halbards of the Italian fashion, with long poynts, short edges, and long staues, to bee placed within a squadron of piques, they doo better allow of, than of Halbards, or Battleaxes with short poynts, long edges, and short staues. In the which they shewe that they doo verie little consider or knowe, that when two squadrons doo encounter, and that the first thrush of piques being past, they doo presentlie come to ioyne with short weapons, as with Swords, Battleaxes, and daggers, and that then, weapons that are with long poynts, long staues, and short edges doo worke no ef∣fect, by reason that the rancks being so close, and nere by frunt and flankes in their distances, and the presse on both sides so great, as in such actions it is, they can haue no roume, to stand thrusting, and foyning with long Halbards, nor Piques, as our such men of warre doo imagine: but then is the time that the ranckes of short Halbards, or Battleaxes of fiue foote and a halfe long, with strong short poynts, short staues, and long edges in the hands of lustie soldiers that doo followe the first ranckes of Piquers at the heeles, both with blowe at the head, and thrust at the face, doo with pu∣issant and mightie hand, work wonderfull effect, and carrie all to the ground.

Humphrey Barwick seems to think the longer halberd is good but requires more skill to use and was developed to defeat greatswords. A Breefe Discourse:

I wish no Halbards into the hands of any that hath no skill to vse the same, for it is a weapon that can abide no blowes, as the Bill wil do, but yet in the hands of officers, & such as hath skill how to vse the same, it is a very good weapon, but the same must be handled delicately with the push onely, and quickly drawne backe: the cause that the French officers do vse them with such long staues and pykes, is to encounter with the Lance-knights [Landsknechts], who do vse being Sargiants of foote-bandes, to carrie verie good long swordes or Slaugh swordes.

But for our common countrie men, not vsed to handle a halbard as aforesaid: I woulde wish him to haue a good strong black Bill wide in the socket, to receiue a strong Staffe, the heade thicke in the backe, with a strong pyke in the backe and point sharpe edged:

Sir Roger Williams doesn't mention length but wants halberds to be heavier. A breife discourse of warre:

Because the Frenchmen make their halberds with long neckt pikes, and of naughtie stuffe like our common browne bills, diuers of our Nation condemnes the Halberdes: but let the Halberds bee of good stuffe and stronglie made after the Millaine fashion, with large heads to cut, and broad strong pikes both to cut and to thrust, then no doubt the Halberd is nothing behinde the bill for all manner of seruice, and armes a souldier fairer than the bill.

Di Grassi complains about a new kind of halberd being too light:

These men by these means framed the ancient weapon called the Halberd, out of the which, men of our age have derived and made another kind of Halberd and Bill. . .

Where I gather, that the Bill is the most perfect weapon of all others, because it strikes and hurts in every of these six motions, and his defenses both cut and prick: which the new kind of Halberd does not perform, because framed after the said fashion, and rather for lightness aptness and bravery, then for that it carries any great profit with it: for the edge is not so apt to strike, and the point thereof is so weak, that hitting any hard thing, either it bows or breaks: neither is it much regarded in the wars, the Harquebus and the Pike being now adays the strength of all armies.
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Benjamin H. Abbott

Location: New Mexico
Joined: 28 Feb 2004

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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2017 10:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Smythe also wanted longer and lighter halberds for his extraordinary halberdiers that accompanied the shot:

Smythe, 1594 wrote:
But the staues of the halbards of such halbarders extraordinarie, I would wish to be longer by a foote, or a foote and a halfe or more, then the armed and ordinarie halbardes that are to enter into squadron, that is of 7. foote and a halfe long, or more, because that they being to succor troupes and societies of loose shot, or to do execution vppon diuers accidents as aforesaid, and often times to fight with the enemy hand to hand, and sometimes to encounter with two, or three against one, it is requisite that their halbards for their aduauntage in fight should be longer then the ordinarie halbardes that are to enter into squadron; And incase that those halbards were lighter also then the others that are for the squadron, being of good strength, it weare not amisse.

Raimond de Fourquevaux in his 1548 manual complained about halberds being too light:

Fourquevaux wrote:
The Halbards are armes newly inuented as I thinke by the Switzers, which are very good, so that they be strong and sharpe, and not light, as those that the Italians do carry, more to make a faire shewe (as I thinke) then for any goodnesse that is in them, because they are too weake, and so likewise are the Pertisans, which being stronger and better stéeled, might do good seruice against naked men, but against men that are well armed, they can do no great deede.

It's easy to see why a longer, lighter halberd would grant advantage for combat in loose formation while a shorter, heavier halberd would prove better in a tight melee.
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Henry O.

Joined: 18 Jun 2016

Posts: 189

PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2017 11:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks! I missed those ones.

On the subject of halberds, one curious aspect of their design is that during the 16th century they start often incorporating an odd, concave shape to the blade sloping slightly downwards. I wonder if this is due to the blending of the design with elements from certain types of bills.


"Forest bill"

"English bill"
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