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Ben P.

Location: Mountainous Terrain
Joined: 10 Jan 2009
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PostPosted: Wed 21 Oct, 2009 9:22 pm    Post subject: Cuirassier questions         Reply with quote

First off I'm curious as the how much their armour weighed (on average) from whenever the cuirassiers came to be, to when they were dropped out of use so mid?-1500s-late 1600s and how did it perform (If anyone has some accounts and the like and could share them I'd be very grateful Happy )

Second why didn't cuirassiers combine the lance and pistol? Instead of firing their pistols and then charging at trot to close with swords why not fire off the pistols and then charge at full gallop with couched lances?

-Thanks Happy
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Tom L.

Location: Toronto, Canada
Joined: 20 Jun 2008

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PostPosted: Thu 22 Oct, 2009 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you allow the term curassier to mean someone in a cuirass and a helmet, then they still exist (e.g. the British Life Guards).

As to how effective cuirassiers could be: the English gave up on cuirassiers during the Englsih Civil War because they were too expensive to equip. They were also somewhat cumbersome when compared to those that were equiped with a simple cuirass and a lobster pot helmet and perhaps a buff coat.

At the battle of Roundway Down, Sir Arthur Haslerigge led the only full cuirassier unit of the English Civil war. He was singled out by a more lightly equipped Royalist horseman who chased him down and shot him in the head twice. Both times, the Royalist made sure that he touched Haselrigge's helmet before firing and both shots did nothing except to cause Haslerigge to sway in his saddle (and perhaps suffer a headache and to change his pants). In the end, Haslerigge was tired out from trying to outride his pursuer (heat exhaustion?), and surrendered only to be rescued by fellow PArliamentarian troopers.

Judging by how Haslerigge survived two shots at point blank to the head, you can understand why firing pistols then charging with a lance would not work. You would be too far for the pistols to be effective and too close to build up enough momentum in your charge to use a lance.

Charging with the sword was preferred because it was effective. Prince Rupert proved this at the start of the English Civil War and Gustavus Adolphus preferred it to charges carried out with pistols. Pistols were short ranged, innacurate and lacked stopping power unless up close so this meant that massed pistol volleys had to be timed with great care to be effective. There was a chance of the shot rolling out whilst in its holster due to the jostling movement from the horse. Pistols were also expensive and the preferred wheellock pistols of the time were delicate and good luck to reloading and firing one if you dropped the key that needed to be used to wind the mechanism. Also, the tactic of having mounted men firing and retiring to load in successive ranks looked good on paper but proved too complex to maintain. Imagine being charged by guys with drawn swords while you and your men are too busy trying to load your pistols.

Cuirassiers lingered on but not in the 16th/17th century form. All that was worn was now a cuirass and a open faced helmet. Gone were the tassets/cuisses, the armour for the arms and closed helmets. Frederick the Great had cuirassiers and so did Napoleon. Cuirassiers were still part of the French army in WW1 and they still exist in some European countries today as ceremonial guards.

I hope I answered some of your questions.

I have a cunning plan Mr. B.
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Glen A Cleeton

Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

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PostPosted: Thu 22 Oct, 2009 8:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The French dragons and carabiniers as well were still wearing these armour.



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2nd Empire Carabinier
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Adam D. Kent-Isaac

Location: Indiana
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PostPosted: Thu 22 Oct, 2009 10:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wrote a long article for the Features section of this website about the cuirassier and his armour, which will tell you everything you could possibly want to know about cuirassiers. It may be many months before it is put up on the site, but it will feature many, many images, and a lot of detail.

It was during the mid to late 1500s that cuirassiers as the word is commonly used started to evolve (in other words, fully-armoured cavalrymen with pistols.) The cuirassier was the successor to the lancer; thus, he was really most effective as a shock troop. The early use of mounted gunfire in 16th century Europe took the form of the "caracole" formation, which was basically this: a square of cuirassiers would advance towards the enemy and then the first row would ride to within 20 or 30 yards of the enemy and fire one pistol and then the other, then ride to the back of the formation to reload; the next row would do the same; and so on and so on.

The caracole was an attempt to treat cuirassiers as musketeers on horseback, and they were not effective in this role. It was a hesitant experiment in cavalry warfare, one that was already in severe decline by the beginning of the 17th century. Regular musketeers or arquebusiers could deliver far more powerful firepower, in a more steady and controlled way, than a row of cuirassiers on horseback with pistols. The cuirassier's function then shifted over to that of a melee shock troop whose job was to charge straight into the enemy infantry, use the pistols at extremely close range and then hack away with the sword. This tactic could rout even a seasoned group of infantrymen; try to imagine being a foot soldier and having 50 fully-armored men on horseback charge into you. In a way, it was a form of psychological warfare, and some of the cuirassiers' helmets from the 1600s like the "Death's Head" burgonet were probably designed to be frightening, as a part of the shock effect, to rattle the enemy's courage. Certainly examples like this were created with intimidation in mind.

The armoured curiassier fell out of favor because battlefields had become saturated with cheaply-equipped musketeers who could punch through the armour easily. Despite the "proof marks" on these armours, actual research has shown that they did not hold up all that well to musket fire, and current research has shown that the proof was usually shot with a pistol and not a musket (and usually with an underpowered round.) They could be very protective, as Hasselrigge's experience showed, but ultimately they were too expensive to equip large numbers of men with, and the armour was so encumbering that some of the cuirassiers themselves discarded parts of it, especially the helmets.

As for the cuirassier-style armour - in a context removed from actual battlefield tactics, it remained a staple of portraiture well into the 1700s. Kings and military leaders continued to be painted in portraits wearing full plate harnesses of the 17th century style long after the use of it had faded from the battlefield. I have a book with a portrait of King George III - yes, King George the third - dressed in a cuirassier's armour.

Pastime With Good Company
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