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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 7:07 am    Post subject: Mounted Crossbowmen in the Italian Wars?         Reply with quote

Does anyone have any good sources on how Italian "Mounted Crossbowmen" fought in the 15th-16th century? I know that there's evidence that some soldiers shot crossbows from horseback (for instance this illustration: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Schlacht_bei_Dorneck.jpg) but I only ever seem to find them depicted in very small numbers fighting alongside lancers. Would the Italian light cavalry really have been armed entirely with crossbows fighting like horse archers, or were they more like the French ordinance "Archers" who typically carried a lance or spear instead, despite the name?
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Peter Spätling




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No idea. But the text beneath this guy, who is a mounted crossbowman, (look at his feet to see the remnants of a crossbow), states that he fought in the Italian Wars. (Vendische Kriege = Venecian Wars, no idea if those are the same) He is from South Germany, and the dating I have is 1481. He got hit by a gun and because he prayed to the Holy mother and her child he survived and had this painting made for the church in his hometown. So that everyone can see gods grace etc. pp. usw. you know the drill


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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A crossbowman on horseback? That's about the strangest thing I've heard of on this site. WTF?! I can't see it being a 'functional thing'---especially if they had to use a crank to arm the bow. Maybe so, but I can't get my head around it. Worried .....McM
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Peter Spätling




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 8:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That 's another German source, scenes from the old Testament, 1470-75, Bamberg.


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Henrik Zoltan Toth




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have seen several depictions of mounted crossbowmen and there are sources about hungarian and czech units.

This one is from the Thuróczy Chronicle:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-guCpO7yyefw/UvHRGpC...3%A1ny.png
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Okay, I'll admit this may have been an actual historical event....but HOW? You are on a horse, reigns in hand, and you have a crossbow on your saddle. Say it's even cocked and ready...it's a one-shot deal and you will probably be dead in the next few seconds. I recon crossbowmen to modern-day snipers. You hide out and pick your shot. A crossbow, -especially a high draw-weight- is a whole different thing from a long bow or a horseman's bow. Sorry...just don't see it. Confused .......McM
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mounted crossbowers who shot from the saddle go back to at least the 13th century if not earlier. They appear in James I of Aragon's book of deeds, for example. The appear in art and even at least one Talhoffer treatise.

David Potter in Renaissance France at War mentions some accounts of the French archers using their bows/crossbows.

I don't know of any sources on the Italian mounted crossbowers specifically, but I bet they shot from the saddle like their peers across Western Europe.

Near the end of the 16th century, Sir John Smythe wanted to resurrect the European tradition of mounted crossbowers, and he was very explicit that they were supposed to shoot while riding in similar fashion to mounted archers (which he also wanted). Smythe indicated the goat's-foot lever as the spanning device.

Paul Dolnstein's sketchbook contains a few images of mounted crossbowers from 1502, during the era of the Italian Wars but in a different location.

Mounted crossbowers were an established unit type until the arquebus, carbine, and pistol replaced the crossbow for mounted use.

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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Of the regular crossbow spanning devices, the only one you can't really use on horseback is the belt and the windlass. Goats foot levers, cranequins, gaffe levers and latchet type bows should all be usable. You can possibly even use a spanning belt by pushing down with the foot instead of standing up. Sure, it's not the quickest thing to reload, but it works fine.

Ride along, shoot (either stationary or while moving), then ride off and reload. If you do get in close, the bow can be used as a parrying device while you counter with your sword. Talhoffer even shows a method to shoot the crossbow backwards over your own shoulder when being pursued.

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Henrik Zoltan Toth




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2018 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Prince Maximilian. I don't see a spanning belt, but who knows if his majesty Big Grin had to span his crossbow by himself or not

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-OYxSw0qyh0U/U67mrIl...Kunig2.jpg
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Feb, 2018 3:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max is *hunting*---not engaged in heated warfare. This, I can see as a real use of crossbow from the saddle.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Wed 14 Feb, 2018 7:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Mounted crossbowers who shot from the saddle go back to at least the 13th century if not earlier. They appear in James I of Aragon's book of deeds, for example. The appear in art and even at least one Talhoffer treatise.

David Potter in Renaissance France at War mentions some accounts of the French archers using their bows/crossbows.

I don't know of any sources on the Italian mounted crossbowers specifically, but I bet they shot from the saddle like their peers across Western Europe.

Near the end of the 16th century, Sir John Smythe wanted to resurrect the European tradition of mounted crossbowers, and he was very explicit that they were supposed to shoot while riding in similar fashion to mounted archers (which he also wanted). Smythe indicated the goat's-foot lever as the spanning device.

Paul Dolnstein's sketchbook contains a few images of mounted crossbowers from 1502, during the era of the Italian Wars but in a different location.

Mounted crossbowers were an established unit type until the arquebus, carbine, and pistol replaced the crossbow for mounted use.


I'm pretty sure that at least some of them shot from the saddle. Actually talhoffer includes quite a few illustrations detailing techniques for a duel between a lance and a crossbow on horseback.

What I'm curious about is if there were ever entire units armed exclusively with crossbows on horseback and no lances, sort of like the german Reiters later were with firearms. Or would a skirmish between italian light cavalry look more like this, where some have crossbows, some have lances, and they're all sort of mixed together:



This illustration from the wolfegg housebook supposedly depicting an army on the march shows cavalry similar to the ones in Talhoffer's illustrations, and while some have crossbows it's only a small number and they're still shown riding alongside light cavalry with lances. Even among the small groups of horsemen around the army who are presumably supposed to be scouting/screening forces most are still carrying lances instead of crossbows:

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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Feb, 2018 2:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In 16th century Poland and Lithuania there apparently were no 'pure' units of shooters, or else, at least.

'Shooting' unit meant that, say 100 men in them were shooters, 30 were lancers and 20 hussars.

Similarly, 'lancer' retinue would have majority of lancers.

It would determine the tactical use of unit, but all of them would have some shooting and heavy melee capabilities.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Feb, 2018 9:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:


What I'm curious about is if there were ever entire units armed exclusively with crossbows on horseback and no lances, sort of like the german Reiters later were with firearms. Or would a skirmish between italian light cavalry look more like this, where some have crossbows, some have lances, and they're all sort of mixed together:

Reiters were actually mixed formations as well for about two decades or so. If you read surviving muster rolls you find that they were a mix of fully armoured lancers ("Kurisser")s, a sort of "medium" lancers/demi-lancers ("Speisser") and the "shooters" ("Schützen"). It is only in 1570 that the lance is dropped form the formal regulations though in practice many units had gotten rid of it earlier on.

Units of "pure" mounted crossbowmen did exist though they tended to be rather small in most armies as they served in a fairly specialised light cavalry role. There were exceptions though, for example in Scandinavia the German style of mounted crossbowmen seems to have become a very common type of mounted soldier as he was cheap compared to the heavy lancer and well suited to fight both mounted and dismounted as needed. Equipped with half-armour, crossbow and sword this type of mounted crossbowman remained in use until the introduction of firearms. At times they also carried a light lance though it seems to have disappeared during the early 16th Century.

But I would say that mixed formations were probably more common i.e the German mixed them with both heavy and light lancers, the ratio between the two varied, one example I know of called for a split of 80 lancers and 20 crossbowmen in every 100 men. The Bohemians were famous for their mix of mounted crossbow and pavise equipped foot which allowed these mercenaries to carry out raids and the like as light cavalry but could transform into an effective infantry force for battle.

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 15 Feb, 2018 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Staberg wrote:
Henry O. wrote:


What I'm curious about is if there were ever entire units armed exclusively with crossbows on horseback and no lances, sort of like the german Reiters later were with firearms. Or would a skirmish between italian light cavalry look more like this, where some have crossbows, some have lances, and they're all sort of mixed together:

Reiters were actually mixed formations as well for about two decades or so. If you read surviving muster rolls you find that they were a mix of fully armoured lancers ("Kurisser")s, a sort of "medium" lancers/demi-lancers ("Speisser") and the "shooters" ("Schützen"). It is only in 1570 that the lance is dropped form the formal regulations though in practice many units had gotten rid of it earlier on.

Units of "pure" mounted crossbowmen did exist though they tended to be rather small in most armies as they served in a fairly specialised light cavalry role. There were exceptions though, for example in Scandinavia the German style of mounted crossbowmen seems to have become a very common type of mounted soldier as he was cheap compared to the heavy lancer and well suited to fight both mounted and dismounted as needed. Equipped with half-armour, crossbow and sword this type of mounted crossbowman remained in use until the introduction of firearms. At times they also carried a light lance though it seems to have disappeared during the early 16th Century.

But I would say that mixed formations were probably more common i.e the German mixed them with both heavy and light lancers, the ratio between the two varied, one example I know of called for a split of 80 lancers and 20 crossbowmen in every 100 men. The Bohemians were famous for their mix of mounted crossbow and pavise equipped foot which allowed these mercenaries to carry out raids and the like as light cavalry but could transform into an effective infantry force for battle.


Thanks. Do you think that the Italians were another exception? Machiavelli stated that he ideally wanted all of his light cavalry to be "crossbowmen", some of which would carry arquebuses instead, and a lot of history books just seem to call all native Italian light cavalry "crossbowmen". Yet the best light cavalry used during the Italian wars were the stradiot mercenaries who are usually described or depicted fighting with light Lances. Perhaps the Italians just preferred mounted crossbowmen because they didn't have skilled light horsemen of their own?

There's also the contrary example of France, where each Gendarme was initially supposed to be accompanied by a couple of mounted "archers" armed with either bows or crossbows, but it's generally accepted that these troops were quickly turned into light lancers themselves for the most part (although I think La Noue gives the impression that the archers would be armed with a variety of weapons and armor, essentially whatever they had available).

In 1548 Fourquevaux felt that "Hargolets", light horsemen armed with a lance or 12-foot double pointed spear, were a superior sort of light cavalry compared to mounted harquebusiers and doesn't mention mounted crossbowmen at all. Decades later this additude seems to have completely reversed, presumably due to the growing availability of wheellocks and snaphaunces, and even hargolets started to be armed with arquebuses almost exclusively.

It's risky to jump to conclusions about how mounted crossbowmen were used and what their tactics were, but do you think they were essentially just a primitive form of the mounted arquebusiers which later became the most popular cavalry in Europe? Or were they something completely different?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 16 Feb, 2018 3:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As mentioned above, both accounts and regulations indicate that at least some French archers used their crossbows/bows during the Italian Wars into the early 16th century.
Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Sat 17 Feb, 2018 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry's first picture shows a fellow with a frog mouth helm using a bow and arrow (upper left). I have another proud addition to my album illustrating why period art can't be taken at face value. In fact, it's the best yet! Thanks, Henry!! Laughing Out Loud
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Feb, 2018 11:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Arlen Gillaspie wrote:
Henry's first picture shows a fellow with a frog mouth helm using a bow and arrow (upper left). I have another proud addition to my album illustrating why period art can't be taken at face value. In fact, it's the best yet! Thanks, Henry!! Laughing Out Loud


That is pretty hard to swallow. WTF?! .....McM

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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Feb, 2018 9:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cavalry Crossbowmen is factual and confirmed by numerous evidence, though it was unknown in some places, like British Isles, and more common in others, like the Swiss Confederation. Note from the image posted above that he's wearing a good set of three-quarter armor with a brigandine+plackart cuirass. Probably it was better to have lighter or more flexible armor in this position than the bulky fullplate. However, the french cavalry culverineers of 15th century had full plate armor (perhaps with the exception of heavier shoulder pieces), since they would expose themselves too much during their roles.

I'm not aware of how the were used in the various states of Europe in late middle ages (mounted crossbowmen exists since 12th century), but in the Swiss Armies their role was that of scouting when the army was marching; or skirmishing, whether before the infantry entered into combat or while the infantry formation was in motion to meet its enemies in battle.

In Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese were the first to create a unit of Cavalry Crossbowmen, the so-called "Besteiros de Montada" created by King João I of Avis, in the first half of the 15th century. However, according to what I have researched and discussed, they never reached more than 500-600 men; probably they were recruited in specific places: in the primary sources for Lisbon's military ordinances (see "Lisboa e a Guerra"), the Aquantiados (name relates to people who were required to arm themselves accordingly to their revenue; like in King Edward Ordinance of 1290's) would jump from the crossbowmen class directly to the men-at-arms class.

In Castille and Aragon, for instance, they seem to have been introduced only in the Spanish Involvement at the Italian Wars, when El Grán Capitán had units of mounted crossbowmen and harquebusiers; perhaps they were actually mounted infantry, but it's likely to be contrary.

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 7:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So I've been looking a bit more into how ranged and melee cavalry may have coordinated and I came up with this in another thread describing cavalry tactics in the late 16th century-early 17th century:

http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=328364#328364

Henry O. wrote:
Anyways, I've been looking the reason there was so much interest in the "caracole" a bit more and it seems that it has to do with the fact that pistolers were sometimes light cavalry and sometimes heavy cavalry (even writers the time seemed to get confused about this). In the late 16th century the theory was that in a battle or skirmish you would ideally combat enemy cavalry by combining both light cavalry (typically armed with pistols or arquebuses) and heavy cavalry (typically lancers or men at arms) of your own. The light cavalry would lead the attack while the squadron of heavy cavalry would remain in place some distance behind, perhaps 100 or 200 yards. Once the light horsemen were repulsed they would fall back behind the reserve while the presence of the heavy lancers kept the enemy from pursuing further, giving the light cavalry time to reform and attack again. With this in mind, if performed well the caracole makes perfect sense, a relatively small or loose formation of pistoliers or arquebusiers could charge forward, deliver a lot of fire in a very short period of time and then have plenty of room to retreat, reform and reload their weapons without having the enemy right on their heels.

As the lance fell out of use, however, the pistoliers were shifted into the heavy cavalry role while mounted arquebusiers/carbiners remained as light cavalry. So when an army's cavalry consisted entirely of arquebusiers and pistoliers, the arquebusiers would lead the attack, skirmishing from a distance or performing caracoles while the pistoliers remained behind in good order to act as a reserve and didn't caracole at all (or at least weren't supposed to). This is why for example Mendoza argued that a combination of mounted arquebusiers, who had greater range and penetration, and lancers, who he felt were stronger during the initial shock and could carry pistols as sidearms, had the advantage over pistoliers alone. Many treatises make things even more complex and describe arranging cavalry with arquebusiers in front, pistoliers behind, lancers behind them, and Men at arms in the rear, and then recommend mixing and matching if not all those are available. So if you only have arquebusiers and pistoliers you should use the arquebusiers to lead the attack and leave the pistoliers behind to second them. If you only have lancers and men-at arms then you should treat the lancers as your skirmishers/light cavalry and the men at arms as your heavy cavalry. etc.

In either case, most in western Europe seem to have reached the conclusion that carrying both a lance and a pistol added too much weight and hassle and offered little to no advantages over a pistol alone, even for heavy cavalry. You also see the training and equipment of pistoliers becoming more and more specialized to fit a heavy cavalry role. The arquebusiers were given extremely light armor and horses that were small, fast and nimble, while the pistoliers were given increasingly heavy armor and very large, strong horses to support their weight and the shock of the charge, but because their swords and pistols were just as effective when charging at a trot or a cantor as a gallop (unlike lances) their horses didn't need to be quite as fast. This is the point where the traditional "caracole", among cuirassers at least, becomes well and truly dead and is presumably why John Cruso only describes mounted arquebusers being taught to fire by rank, not cuirassers.

---

Anyways as a thought, perhaps part of the reason the lance continued to be used in Poland for so much longer than the west is that they encountered groups of enemy cavalry in wide open areas much more often, and as a result a reserve of heavy lancers was useful to second their mounted marksmen and prevent the enemy cavalry from pursuing during a skirmish.


Henry O. wrote:
Using "caracole" as just a general term for firing one rank at a time, even those who were critical of it in the 16th century claimed that it was a common sight in skirmishes and battles at the time and typically were only critical of a certain variation of the tactic or when it was used in certain situations and, for example, still wanted their "forlorn hope" of harquebusiers to lead the way.

The two variations of the tactic which are described most often and most favorably I think are perfectly suited for skirmishes so long as the horsemen are light and fast and have some way to keep the enemy from pursuing them too far:

The first one involved the main body of cavalry remaining stationary some distance away while the first rank galloped forward anywhere from 30 yards to just outside of the enemy pikes' reach, fired their weapons, and then retreated to the rear to reload while the second rank launched their attack. The irony is that this method isn't really specific to firearms in the first place and could be used by light cavalry armed with swords or lances just as easily to make probing attacks. In many ways it's much closer to the old medieval technique of attacking "in haie" than the large squadron formations which gave the reiters their strength. La Noue spent a whole chapter discussing the advantages of attacking in squadrons vs attacking in single lines, but he still ended by mentioning the situations where he thought the old method was still useful:

Quote:
Let vs now see whether the auncient order bee in these dayes no whit to be practised. I think it may be vsed in two occasions. First when we send forth twentie or thirtie speares, for that troupe being so small may better fight in haie, where it maketh most shew. Se∣condly, when wee come to charge the footmen, it is good to diuide a squadron into many small troupes in file, which may assayle in sundrie places. But except these two occasions, I would wish the horse alwayes to keepe this order of squadrons.


The second method and the one that seems to have been associated with the reiters in particular was essentially just fire and retreat. The squadron would all charge forward, then when they got near the enemy each man would rapidly wheel about to the right or left allowing every rank to fire and retreat in quick succession until they have made it back to safety and can reform and reload all at the same time. As you've mentioned in some cases this may have just been a failed charge where the horsemen panicked and fired into the air before running away, but fire-and-retreat was an essential part of light cavalry tactics, especially harquebusiers, and could easily be done in a fairly small or loose formation. Writers who still see pistoliers as subordinate to lancers state outright that they should be trained to fire their pistols at an approaching enemy and run away, and this would work perfectly fine as long as they were could perform the maneuver quickly enough and had a squadron of heavy cavalry to keep the enemy from pursuing while they stop to reload and get ready to attack again.

Edit: so again I think the problem is that this tactic was only intended to be used by reiters who were "light cavalry" and not reiters who were "heavy cavalry" if that makes sense.


Any quibbles about the exact definition of a "caracole" aside, perhaps mounted crossbowmen were used in a similar way? i.e. they would be sent ahead to skirmish in small groups and wear down the enemy and then retreat back behind heavy cavalry if they are threatened or if they needed to reload? While the italian light cavalry were typically "Mounted crossbowmen" as far as I can tell, the italian armies also relied a lot on very heavily armored men-at-arms equipped with lances.

Alternatively, Sir Roger Williams mentions that two wings of mounted harquebusiers could be placed on either side of a squadron of heavy cuirassers or lancers and treated like a literal pike and shot formation, but on horseback:

Quote:
if troupes of armed curaces, launtiers, or others, chance to meete by fortune with the like enemies in a champion, the Har∣gulatiers vnarmed march on both sides of their squa∣dron, like wings of shot about a squadron of pikes; vntil the launtiers or curaces charge, diuers of their Hargula∣tiers march skirmishing before the squadrons, like fore∣lorne men after the Almaine phrase; when the squa∣drons charge, they flye on both sides to their fellowes They place their armed Hargulatiers behinde the squa∣drons, they execute more than the Launtiers, after the Launtiers, break into the enemies squadrons:


Or, sometimes mounted harquebusiers are described simply charging into melee alongside heavier cavalry like lancers, firing their arquebuses in the process. For instance in this Hogenburg illustration of the battle of Mokerheide. Perhaps mounted crossbowmen would just shoot while charging into melee like this, and then start shooting again at the horses of fleeing enemies?

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 04 Mar, 2018 1:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The only specific evidence we have for the tactics of late-medieval mounted crossbowmen and handgunners -- in Philipp von Seldeneck's Kriegsbuch -- shows them loosing/firing only one volley at close range and then charging in alongside the lancers. No stupid suicidal rank-rotation shooting schemes.
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