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Jason O C





Joined: 20 Oct 2012

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PostPosted: Tue 14 Nov, 2017 5:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Seeing Josh Davis' lovely reproductions of a Gaelic style sword and axe got me reading through this topic again, so you can blame him for the thread resurrection Wink

Henry O wrote:
The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.


Not to distract from the main topic of discussion, but I doubt the discipline was a issue with the average English levy. These same levies also produced some of the best archers in Europe, and I don't think that I've every heard anyone say that English archers were poorly trained or lacked discipline.

Henry O wrote:
Is there any primary evidence to support the idea that sparth axes needed to be used in a loose formation though? Sure it's limited to overhand strikes and jabs with the point in close quarters, but so is the bill in that situation, abiet one is slightly more optimized for cutting and the other is slightly more optimized for thrusting (assuming the bill's soft iron point doesn't get bent first).


If I was fighting in a tight infantry formation and so limited to vertical blows and thrusts, the most obvious move to make after delivering a downward cut, would be to thrust before my enemy can capitalize on my lowered weapon. Although I agree that you can thrust with a sparth, its design screams chopper! If thrusts were a mainstay in the usage of sparths (as they would be if fighting in tight formations) then surely they would have development a spike, just like on all other cut and thrust polearms. This to me suggests that a looser formation was employed by sparth wielding gallowglass. You do make a good point that that the spikes on lower quality polearms, typically used by billmen, could break off. Still I think that I'd prefer have a potentially crappy spike than none at all.

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Incidentally am I wrong in thinking that English billmen, from let's say from about 1450 to 1550 mostly used the longer type (about 8 foot on average) of bills? If this is wrong then I may have to change my thoughts on the matter


What makes you think that the English billmen used longer polearms rather than shorter ones? I don't know which type they used, perhaps there was a mixture, or there might have been a shift in preference over time, I'm just curious why you think that the longer bill was preferred. Also while we're at it, what exactly was the billmens role on the battlefield? Didn't men-at-arms, with full plate armour and pollaxes occupy the front rank of English infantry formations?

Jason
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Henry O.





Joined: 18 Jun 2016

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PostPosted: Wed 15 Nov, 2017 8:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason O C wrote:
Not to distract from the main topic of discussion, but I doubt the discipline was a issue with the average English levy. These same levies also produced some of the best archers in Europe, and I don't think that I've every heard anyone say that English archers were poorly trained or lacked discipline.


I meant disciplined in the way that the swiss were known for. Ie able to move and fight as a group without losing cohesion or crowding out the man next to you. If billmen had to go on the offensive and charge the enemy, i doubt they would be able to keep their formation very well.

Jason O C wrote:
If I was fighting in a tight infantry formation and so limited to vertical blows and thrusts, the most obvious move to make after delivering a downward cut, would be to thrust before my enemy can capitalize on my lowered weapon. Although I agree that you can thrust with a sparth, its design screams chopper! If thrusts were a mainstay in the usage of sparths (as they would be if fighting in tight formations) then surely they would have development a spike, just like on all other cut and thrust polearms. This to me suggests that a looser formation was employed by sparth wielding gallowglass. You do make a good point that that the spikes on lower quality polearms, typically used by billmen, could break off. Still I think that I'd prefer have a potentially crappy spike than none at all.


The downside of a spike is that can potentially catch on things. If you bring the blade down in a chop there is a chance that you accidentally strike something with the spike instead of the blade. Similarly if you need to bring the weapon back up for another chop there's a chance for the spike to catch something on the way up. If friendlies are crowding into your back and sides in the chaos then pulling your arms back for a thrust might not even be an option.

You might prefer having the point anyways, but i think the Irish may have had valid reasons not to.

Conversely, what would be the advantage of a sparth axe in a skirmish or loose formation compared to a long, 2-handed spear or other long, cut and thrust polearm? 16th century sources seem convinced that a shorter, heavier polearm more optimized for cutting is most useful in a close quarters "pell-mell" with many men crowded together while a longer, lighter polearm more optimized for thrusting is better in a duel or skirmish where you have lots of room to move around.

https://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=323380
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 5:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason O C wrote:
Seeing Josh Davis' lovely reproductions of a Gaelic style sword and axe got me reading through this topic again, so you can blame him for the thread resurrection Wink

Henry O wrote:
The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.


Not to distract from the main topic of discussion, but I doubt the discipline was a issue with the average English levy. These same levies also produced some of the best archers in Europe, and I don't think that I've every heard anyone say that English archers were poorly trained or lacked discipline.


Gutierre Diaz de Gamez' biography of Dom Pero Nino detailed some incidents during his raids on the English coast where his crossbowmen outshot the local English levy archers, so it's obvious that the quality of English archers varied and not all of them were quite as good as the one brought to Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. In fact, it makes more sense that the archers in the field armies would have been considerably better than the average since the recruiters would have tried to hand-pick the better archers. We also see this in the Wars of the Roses, where the better archers got concentrated in the noble and royal retinues while the remaining contingents -- stripped of these better men -- performed rather worse. I'm pretty sure the same would have been the case with the billmen. Not all would have been of the best quality and local militia forces might have been particularly mediocre after more "professional" forces had skimmed off the best men into retinue forces.
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Stephen Curtin




Location: Cork, Ireland
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason O C wrote:
Seeing Josh Davis' lovely reproductions of a Gaelic style sword and axe got me reading through this topic again, so you can blame him for the thread resurrection Wink


The only thing I'll blame on Josh is teasing me with stuff I can't afford Big Grin

Jason O C wrote:
What makes you think that the English billmen used longer polearms rather than shorter ones? I don't know which type they used, perhaps there was a mixture, or there might have been a shift in preference over time, I'm just curious why you think that the longer bill was preferred.


Well this isn't something that I have researched very heavily, so as I said somebody please correct me if I'm wrong. To tell you the truth I can't remember why I have this impression. Maybe it was something that I seen in an Osprey title or at a reenactment event.

Jason O C wrote:
Also while we're at it, what exactly was the billmens role on the battlefield? Didn't men-at-arms, with full plate armour and pollaxes occupy the front rank of English infantry formations?


Perhaps the topic of English billmen deserves its own thread. I might start one at some point when I get around to reading up on the topic.

Henry O wrote:
You might prefer having the point anyways, but i think the Irish may have had valid reasons not to.


Exactly. It may seem counterintuitive to have a polearm without a dedicated thrusting point, but I agree that there probably was a good reason for the Gaels using sparths rather than halberds or bills.

Éirinn go Brách
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Jason O C





Joined: 20 Oct 2012

Posts: 114

PostPosted: Today at 3:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
quality of English archers varied and not all of them were quite as good as the one brought to CrecyPoitiers, and Agincourt. In fact, it makes more sense that the archers in the field armies would have been considerably better than the average since the recruiters would have tried to hand-pick the better archers...... I'm pretty sure the same would have been the case with the billmen


Ok so the average levy might not have been the ones chosen to go on campaign, fair enough I can see that. Still I'm sure that some billmen were well trained and disciplined. Although I suppose that if and when a battalion of gallowglass actually did fight against a battalion of billmen, these men would probably not be the cream of the crop, just average men defending their lands (as they saw it anyway, the Irish might have a thing or two to say about the "their lands" part but we won't get into that).

Henry O wrote:
I meant disciplined in the way that the swiss were known for. Ie able to move and fight as a group without losing cohesion or crowding out the man next to you. If billmen had to go on the offensive and charge the enemy, i doubt they would be able to keep their formation very well.


Ok I see what you're saying.

Henry O wrote:
You might prefer having the point anyways, but i think the Irish may have had valid reasons not to.


I'm sure they had a good reason, that's why I'm following this thread. Personally I find it baffling, but hey I'm far removed from any kind of combat experience that might inform this opinion.

Henry O wrote:
If friendlies are crowding into your back and sides in the chaos then pulling your arms back for a thrust might not even be an option.


In this situation, wouldn't it be best to drop your polearm and draw your sword or dagger?

Henry O wrote:
what would be the advantage of a sparth axe in a skirmish or loose formation compared to a long, 2-handed spear or other long, cut and thrust polearm?


Well in a skirmish your more likely to be faced with foes on multiple sides. In this situation the fencing masters of the day recommended using two handed swords with wide sweeping blows rather than thrusts. I imagine a gallowglass could use his sparth in the same manner when fighting in a skirmish. However when fighting in formation, loose or tight, I think thrusts probably played an equal role to cuts, so as I said I would prefer a more versatile cut and thrust polearm.

I know that you have pointed out the possible drawbacks to having a spike on your polearm, but I think that the pros outweigh the cons, and although some late 16th century writers spoke negatively about the spikes on some styles of halberds, as far as I know none of them recommended abandoning spikes on halberds, rather they suggested ways in which these spikes could be improved.

Jason
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Jason O C





Joined: 20 Oct 2012

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PostPosted: Today at 5:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Jason O C wrote:
Also while we're at it, what exactly was the billmens role on the battlefield? Didn't men-at-arms, with full plate armour and pollaxes occupy the front rank of English infantry formations?


Perhaps the topic of English billmen deserves its own thread. I might start one at some point when I get around to reading up on the topic.


No need, I found another thread that's more suitable for my question:

https://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=324565

Jason
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