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Jason O C





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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.





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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




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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




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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





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PostPosted: Mon 20 Nov, 2017 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





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PostPosted: Mon 20 Nov, 2017 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

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2017 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've talked a good bit on this thread about how I imagine a fight between a battalion of gallowglass and a battalion of billmen might have looked. Well lately I've been trying to verify if my understanding of how billmen fought is correct and I came across this thread: http://www.livinghistory.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=14013

Up untill now I relied on Google image searches (see attached images below) modern re-enactors and my knowledge of continental halberdiers to inform my opinion on English billmen, but the link above discusses why these are not very reliable sources. So it looks like I'll have to re-evaluate some of the statements I made earlier.



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Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Sun 03 Dec, 2017 5:12 am; edited 1 time in total
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2017 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Perhaps this is true of the black bill as used in the late 16th century, but what of the bills used during the wars of the roses or during the reign of Henry VIII? I could be mistaken but I was under the impression that, before the widespread adoption of the pike, English billmen did indeed fight in orderly formations.


So it seems that I was completely wrong here. The idea of orderly lines of billmen comes from modern re-enactors, who apparently based a lot of what they do on 17th century pike drill.

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.


Wrong again, at least for the Tudor period. An inventory taken after the death of Henry VIII states that there were 6700 black bills in the Tower of London, this is the most numerous type of polearm listed after pikes. Also I've found statutes from 1558 (re-issued in 1562) which specify halberds or black bills as a requirement for men of a set wealth.

I never noticed this the first time it came up but Smythe seems to suggest that Elizabethan battle axes had points: "short Halbards, or Battleaxes of fiue foote and a halfe long, with strong short poynts, short staues, and long edges". This leads me to think that Lafayette was correct when he said that Silver's battle axe was what we would call a pollaxe. Now as Silver says that battle axes, black bills, and halberds were all used in the same way, perhaps we should look at treatises which deal with the pollaxe to get an idea of how English billmen fought?

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2017 6:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Stephen, very interesting! My own research tends to focus more on the second half of the sixteenth century so admittedly I'm not as familiar with the specifics of billmen from the earlier part half or the 1400s. Do we know if the person recording the tower inventories defined a "black bill" the same way George Silver did 50 years later though?

Here's a illustration of Henry VIII's siege of Boulogne in 1544 (The bulk of his English troops during the expedition would have still been armed with bows and bills, shored up by pike and shot mercenaries from the continent). It's the highest resolution I could find, but if you zoom in with ctrl+ there seems to be a variety of bills in use, some closer to the height of a man and some longer.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/94/The_Siege_of_Boulogne_by_King_Henry_VIII_black-and-white.jpg

Regarding whether billmen ever fought in lines, according to the sources in the English Heritage report on flodden they did. English infantry was originally arranged into two lines in the center, a vanguard and a rearguard, and one on each wing while the Scotts advanced in 4 or 5 german-inspired pike squares with a couple-hundred yard gap between each one. After seeing this the english troops were rearranged into 4 lines side-by-side to meet them.

The thing is though a line doesn't necessarily imply a lot of discipline, according to Clifford Rogers the line was the typical formation of medieval infantry. It's not too hard to put levies armed with spears, pikes, halberds, or even a random assortment of weapons into a defensive line, what's difficult is getting them go on the offensive or fight for a lengthy period of time without losing cohesion. Cohesion being especially important for pikemen.

The Scots had only just adopted the pike square earlier that year under the instruction of French advisors and still weren't very experienced with it. Initially, a charge by one of the squares was able to drive back the English wing under the command of Edmund Howard, which had advanced forward to meet them. But when this failed to route the whole English army right away, the scots started to lose cohesion. The other Scot formations tried to follow up on the rest of the english line, but unexpectedly ran into bad terrain and similarly started to lose cohesion, allowing the english to come to close quarters.

Quote:
The said Scots were so surely harnessed with complete harness, German jacks, rivets, splents, pavises, and other habilments, that shot of arrows in regard did them no harm; and when it came to hand strokes of bills and halberds, they were so mighty, large, strong, and great men that they would not fall when four or five bills struck on one of them at once. Howbeit our bills quitted them very well, and did more good that day than bows, for they shortly disappointed the Scots of their long spears wherein was their greatest trust; and when they came to hand stroke, though the Scots fought sore and valiantly with their swords, yet they could not resist the bills that lighted so thick and sore upon them.


This seems consistent with what later 16th century authors called the "pell mell" or the disorganized fighting which could happen when troops got inside the reach of each others' pikes and cohesion fell apart. It might be that both longer bills and shorter bills were more useful than a pike in this situation, but Smythe, Silver, and a couple of other writers seemed to think that a short bill or battleaxe was best of the three. The plan Smythe laid out for countering pike squares was to try and force a pell mell. The charge would be lead by ranks of pikemen who would each give just a single, powerful thrust to soften up the enemy while ranks of men armed with 5.5 foot bills.battleaxes followed close behind to get inside of the enemy formation where they could do the most damage.

---

In contrast to all that though, here is how Smythe describes his "extraordinary" halberdiers:

Quote:
Also I would haue certen other halbardes that should be incorporated in euerie band of archers and likewise of harquebuziers, who should ser•e vpon diuers occasions, to doo execution vpon the enemie: And those Halbarders I would haue them called extraordinarie be∣cause they are not for the squadron; And those I would haue to be armed only with burgonets with collers, verie light Cuirasses and backes, and without any tasses, and in stead of pouldrons; vambrases, and gauntlets, the sleeues of their dou¦blets I meane within the fustian striped with certen narrow stripes of serecloth, or of maile, to defend the Cutt of a sword, and if that some of those extraordina∣rie battleaxes, or halbarders, were armed but only with burgonets and with short skirted Ierkins of buffe, with a double buffe vpon their brests, and the sleeues of their dou blets with stripes of maile or serecloth as aforesaid, and their swordes and daggers worne after th•same sort, as the piquers before mentioned, I thinke it allowable: 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 so∣cieties of loose shot, or to do execution vppon diuers acci∣dents 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 fig•t should be longer then the ordinarie halbardes that are to enter into squadron; And incase that those halbards were lighter also thē the others that are for the squadron, being of good strength, it weare not amisse.


So compared to the short weapons troops which make up the bulk of one of Smythe's infantry squadrons, these men are lightly armored, fight alongside ranged skirmishers, and need to carry light halberds 7.5 feet long or more in case they ever find themselves fighting two or three enemies at once.

Bringing this all the way back to the the topic of Gallowglass, Their axes still don't make sense to me. From how elizabethan authors describe it, it sounds like a short, weighty sparth axe would have been great for bashing on the heavily armored Scots in the melee at Flodden, but surely when fighting in small irish skirmishes and cattle raids alongside lightly armored Kerns it would have been better to carry a 7.5 foot halberd with a long point for thrusting!

Oh well. :P
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 02 Dec, 2017 6:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On a mostly unrelated note.

In 1512 at the battle of Ravenna, a column of landsknect mercenaries armed with pikes, halberds, and two-handed swords were counter-attacked by Spanish Rodeleros while crossing a ditch, who proceeded to hack their way into the German formation, inflicting heavy casualties. Afterwords, this incident has been presented by many (cough, Charles Oman) as "proof" that sword and shield men were still much stronger than the aforementioned two-handed pikes, polearms, and swords.

One year later though at Flodden, english troops armed with two-handed bills were able to decisively defeat the scottish, many of whom were carrying swords and targets for close combat.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2017 2:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O wrote:
Do we know if the person recording the tower inventories defined a "black bill" the same way George Silver did 50 years later though?


No we don't know for sure, but 50 years is a short enough time that I'm reasonably confident that it meant the same thing. There is a reference on the livinghistory.co.uk thread I linked to for black bills being shipped to France in 1475, but I didn't include this in my previous post because, as you pointed out, the meaning of black bill could have changed over time.

Henry O wrote:
Regarding whether billmen ever fought in lines, according to the sources in the English Heritage report on flodden they did.


Oh I'm not saying that English billmen didn't fight in lines, of course they did. What I'm saying is that I now agree with you that they probably weren't that well drilled or disciplined, and so might not have fought in the style that I thought earlier. From what I've been able to gather billmen were basically like a cheaper version of dismounted men-at-arms. I'm sure that your well aware that late medieval English men-at-arms usually fought in a line on foot with cut down lances and pollaxes. I now think that billmen (usually called armed-men in pre Tudor times) were probably mostly used as reserve forces, to stand in for men-at-arms when they were needed. Flodden is a good example of this. Most of the best troops were sent to France with Henry, so local archers and billmen were levied to deal with the Scots.

Also the English heritage report is also another place that lead me to think that the English typically used longer bills (it mentions that bills were 8 foot long). Unfortunately it glances over this information without giving a reference.

Henry O wrote:
The thing is though a line doesn't necessarily imply a lot of discipline, according to Clifford Rogers the line was the typical formation of medieval infantry. It's not too hard to put levies armed with spears, pikes, halberds, or even a random assortment of weapons into a defensive line, what's difficult is getting them go on the offensive or fight for a lengthy period of time without losing cohesion. Cohesion being especially important for pikemen.


I agree.

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 03 Dec, 2017 5:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O wrote:
Bringing this all the way back to the topic of Gallowglass, Their axes still don't make sense to me. From how elizabethan authors describe it, it sounds like a short, weighty sparth axe would have been great for bashing on the heavily armored Scots in the melee at Flodden, but surely when fighting in small irish skirmishes and cattle raids alongside lightly armored Kerns it would have been better to carry a 7.5 foot halberd with a long point for thrusting!


Well perhaps gallowglass didn't skirmish in the same way as Smythe's extraordinary halberdiers were expected to. It could be that gallowglass left the skirmishing to the cavalry and kern, and maintained a defensive line for these other men to fall back behind if they got into trouble.

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