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J. Douglas




PostPosted: Sat 18 Mar, 2017 6:30 am    Post subject: Halberds, pikes, and spears.         Reply with quote

It's common knowledge among poeple that the spear was the primary weapon of the medieval battlefield, and all (if not most) normal infantry would be spearmen. (Not including greatswordsmen, dismounted Knights, longbows, crossbows, etc.)

But what did the infantry carry?

In the

-early Middle Ages (10-12 hundred AD)
-the high Middle Ages (about 12-14 hundred AD)
And
-the late Middle Ages (14-15 hundred or so AD)
-and the Renaissance.

But what did the men carry? Would an army carry

One handed Spears (or glaves or what not) with shields?
Halberds (or comparable two handed cutting/thrusting arms)
Or pikes?

What would an army in the high-late Middle Ages be using?

A few blocks of pike men with the rest spear (or other one handed pole arm) and shield men?
All pikes?
All spear?
All halberds?
A block or two of halberds and the rest spear ( or other pole arm) and shield?

Or did it just depend on the army?

Please tell me if I haven't explained my question well and I will re-phrase it. Big Grin

~JD (James)
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J. Douglas




PostPosted: Sun 19 Mar, 2017 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just realising that, upon reflection, this was a bit of a stupid question. Happy
~JD (James)
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Mar, 2017 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are no stupid questions...only stupid answers. That's why I won't try to give you any! Laughing Out Loud ....McM
''Life is like a box of chocolates...'' --- F. Gump
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Mar, 2017 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You just want everything, don't you? Wink

Unfortunately, the answer to any of your questions is likely to be "It depends!" The year, the location, whether the troops are levies or mercenaries or household retainers, how quickly the army was raised, etc.

And while I'm big on the concept of the spear as the Queen of the Battlefield, that's only true up to a certain point in time. Even as early as the 12th century, the English Assize of Arms doesn't mention a shield for most men, so I suspect those "spears" may actually be used 2-handed as pikes. Certainly there are later references to spears or long spears that we are pretty sure are pikes, so we have to be aware of gray areas.

Otherwise, halberds and most other polearms don't seem to really show up before the 14th century, while one-handed spears used with shields are going away by then. Not *always* or *everywhere*, of course! And there really aren't any "one-handed pole arms", that I know of, unless you mean simple axes.

No point in quibbling that some of us start the "Early middle ages" a few centuries earlier than 1000 AD, ha!

Anyway, it's not a stupid question at all, I don't think, but it's certainly a BIG one!

Matthew
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Tue 21 Mar, 2017 1:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's definitely an interesting question, just sort of a broad one that's difficult to answer fully.

For the later period:

The 15th and 16th century are the period which saw the rising dominance of pikes over other melee weapons, largely stemming from the Swiss. According to Bert Hall, the Swiss infantry initially relied on massed halberds, but were then forced to switch to much longer pikes after these proved insufficient against heavy French knights. The rest of the 15th century saw Swiss victories and reputation steadily increasing. Notably Charles the Bold managed to put together a large, innovative army combining good quality cavalry, crossbowmen, and even a fairly large proportion of handgunners, but still had his forces utterly smashed by the advance of the Swiss pike squares.

The success of the Swiss lead to imitation, particularly by the German Landsknechts. Both the pike was copied and the Swiss tactic of arranging infantry in deep squares rather than long thin lines. These squares could maintain their cohesion better and fulfill a much more aggressive role than lines of infantry typically could in the past. In addition disciplined infantry with long pikes were considered the only thing that could reliably counter heavy Gendarmes, and on open ground nothing but pikes could stand against an opposing push of pike.

When the Italian wars began at the end of the 15th century, the Spanish army was primarily comprised of light cavalry and sword and shield infantry that had proved effective at fighting against the Moors. But at the battle of Fornovo in 1495 both were utterly crushed by French Gendarmes and Swiss Pikemen respectively, forcing a major restructuring of the Spanish army. This involved incorporating incorporating larger and larger numbers of pikemen, as well as incorporating larger and larger proportions of arquebuses and muskets. The Spanish found that massed firearms could be very effective against pikemen and armored cavalry at short range, provided they could be protected. This was initially accomplished by trenches and field fortifications, then later by close coordination with friendly pike squares and drilled volley fire, hailing the beginning of the "pike and shot" era.

Non pike weapons didn't completely disappear during this period. England in particular was relatively slow to modernize and it's armies continued to be mostly composed of county levies armed with bows and billhooks up until the middle of the sixteenth century. English Billmen even won a major victory over the Scottish pikemen at flodden in 1513. By the second half of the century though, many english veterans and writers were growing to despise the bow and bill as weapons which were outdated and not very useful. They stressed the importance of having a much larger proportion of pikes and a number suggested that even in situations where a pike wasn't suited it would be better to field halberds or targeteers than billhooks. Towards the end of the century, the typical recommended composition of the infantry was around 50% shot, 40% pikes, and 10% "short weapons" (billmen, halberdiers, swordsmen, targeteers, or whatever else was available). The idea being that the shorter weapons could be used to help back up the shot in a skirmish, or back up the pikes on rough terrain.

By the end of the 16th century however, the heyday of melee infantry could probably be considered past. Writers were already starting to note that it was becoming relatively uncommon for infantry to come to handblows, and even then the vast majority of the killing tended to be done by the shot, not the pikes. While pikemen were still important, their role as "the strength of the battle" had become largely psychological, to ward off cavalry and to give the shot courage and staying power when out in the open.

Some reading:

Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe

Taylor, The Art of War in Italy 1494-1529

Mallett, The Italian Wars 1495-1559

Webb, Elizabethan Military Science

Tallet, European Warfare 1350-1750
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J. Douglas




PostPosted: Tue 21 Mar, 2017 1:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow, great information, you two! I don't know much about the early renaissance, but it's a period I have been interested to learn about for a while now! Big Grin

Just wondering, what would the English and French infantry of the one Hundred Years' War (especially crecy and agincourt) be using? Spears, bills, halberds, glaves? I have tried to narrow this part of the question down a bit, but I feel I know enough already about the other eras. Big Grin (especcailly after your great moments! Happy )

~JD (James)
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Tue 21 Mar, 2017 6:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J. Douglas wrote:
Wow, great information, you two! I don't know much about the early renaissance, but it's a period I have been interested to learn about for a while now! Big Grin

Just wondering, what would the English and French infantry of the one Hundred Years' War (especially crecy and agincourt) be using? Spears, bills, halberds, glaves? I have tried to narrow this part of the question down a bit, but I feel I know enough already about the other eras. Big Grin (especcailly after your great moments! Happy )


That I know fewer specifics about, sorry. As I understand it two-handed weapons were generally becoming more popular than spear and shield, with lots of exceptions (Italian militias were still using spears and shields even at the start of the Italian wars). The Hundred Years War in particular also saw a growing preference for English and French knights to fight on foot with shortened lances or poleaxes, but after the war ended the focus seems to have generally returned to mounted combat instead.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Apr, 2017 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not very well referenced but might do for a general overview: http://l-clausewitz.livejournal.com/526289.html
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 27 May, 2017 11:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:
They stressed the importance of having a much larger proportion of pikes and a number suggested that even in situations where a pike wasn't suited it would be better to field halberds or targeteers than billhooks.


What is the reason given for lifting "halberd" above "bill"? Shape aside, I was under the impression that they were functionally the same weapon, just from different regions. Was the halberd maybe longer?

M.

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sun 28 May, 2017 1:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
What is the reason given for lifting "halberd" above "bill"? Shape aside, I was under the impression that they were functionally the same weapon, just from different regions. Was the halberd maybe longer?

M.


Good question, and it's not entirely clear why.

According to Sir Roger Williams the main issue was that brown bills tended to be commonly made of iron or lower quality metal than halberds were, and that when bills were used they ought to be made with longer spikes and longer langets like continental halberds had. Humfrey Barwick came to the conclusion the halberd was a good weapon, but that bills were easier to learn how to use. Therefore halberds should be limited to officers and well-trained soldiers, while "our common countrie men" should continue to use bills. But you're right in that functionally they seem pretty similar, and that military writers who have an opinion one way or the other tend to use the phrase "bills and halberds" more often than they talk about the weapons independently. A large part of it just seems to be that bills were seen as old-fashioned relics in an era where most people wanted to carry sleek, modern arms and armor.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sun 28 May, 2017 11:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I could buy off on ascetic, though a more rugged construction likely factors in heavily. A weapon with langets is liable to hold up to successive combats than a socketed one, I'd imagine.

The only bill I have any hands-on contact with is the Cold Steel one, unfortunately!

M.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 29 May, 2017 11:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sir Roger Williams described both common English bills and common French halberds as made of poor-quality metal:

Quote:
I Perswade my selfe there ought to bee amongst one 1000. Pikes, 200. short weapons, as Holberts or Bills; but the Bills must be of good stuffe, not like our common browne Bills, which are lightlie for the most part all yron, with a little steele or none at all; but they ought to be made of good yron and steele, with long strong pikes at the least of 12. inches long, armed with yron to the midds of the staffe, like the Holberts: for example. like vnto those which the Earle of Leicester, and Sir William Pelham had in the Low Countries for their guards: being made thus, no doubt but it is a necessarie weapon to guard Ensignes in the field, trenches or townes, and a good weapon to execute, but no better tha~ the halberd. 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.


They were interchangeable weapons, differing slightly in details of construction and both covering a range of shapes, sizes, weights, etc. Some halberds were designed for the thrust only or primarily, while I'll never heard of the same for English bills.

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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Graham Shearlaw





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PostPosted: Wed 31 May, 2017 2:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the use of pike, I feel that it's important to note that pikemen where meant to carry a shorter personal weapon for actual combat.

As of the compensation of a high-late Middle Ages army it really depends, while there often a set minimum kit for each role, having more or better kit was common for professionals.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 31 May, 2017 9:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Graham Shearlaw wrote:
On the use of pike, I feel that it's important to note that pikemen where meant to carry a shorter personal weapon for actual combat.


Indeed; the manual that my living history group has sourced their pike drill from doesn't even include any advice on how to best thrust with them - just a reference to "push pike". From what I gather, period advice was just a simple thrust forward, and you drop it in favor of a hand weapon.

M.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Jun, 2017 11:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pike usage in battle varied. Some manuals and battlefield accounts do talk about repeating thrusting and parrying with the pike, more or less as you would in single combat. Sir John Smythe claimed that was ridiculous when one pike formation encountered another. He instructed exactly the one powerful thrust from each soldier as the unit advanced. If this didn't break the opposing formation, then the pikers in the front rank were to drop or throw their pikes, draw their swords and daggers, and went in for close combat, cutting or thrusting with their swords at the opposing counterpart's face and attempting to stab up under their armor with their daggers in the left hand.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any Swiss manuals that cover the same, but Blaise de Monluc claimed the Swiss like to hold their pikes in the middle and charge in to penetrate opposing formations rather than fight at the length of the pike like the Germans. Holding the pike in the middle seems curious, though it does appear in other sources as well, but otherwise this approach resembles Smythe's method. And from artwork we know Swiss pikers often wore longswords. They presumably drew these longswords and fought with them in the press once thrusting with the pike became impractical.

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!


Last edited by Benjamin H. Abbott on Fri 02 Jun, 2017 10:12 am; edited 1 time in total
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jun, 2017 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This matches what I've been told so far; what manuals cover pike "fencing"? I will need to make some time to read into Smythe more, as he seems to be frequently cited for English pike.

It makes sense to me that the pike would be held "midway" on a charge, as I'd assume it would let you keep control of it much better. I'm not much able to run, but I would imagine bringing a 12'-18' pole to bear to be rather difficult, especially with other people around trying to do the same.

M.

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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jun, 2017 1:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear M. Eversberg,

On Friday 2 June 2017, you wrote:
This matches what I've been told so far; what manuals cover pike "fencing"?

Fencing treatises that cover pike fencing include Paulus Hector Mair, Joachim Meyer, Giacomo di Grassi, George Silver, and Joseph Swetnam. At least, those are the ones that occur immediately to me; there may be more. I suspect that in general military manuals will not give instruction in pike fencing any more than they do in sword fencing; the two types of book have, as I'm sure you know, different purposes. But there are plenty of military manuals from the seventeenth century that describe pike drills for companies and larger units.

Quote:
I will need to make some time to read into Smythe more, as he seems to be frequently cited for English pike.

It makes sense to me that the pike would be held "midway" on a charge, as I'd assume it would let you keep control of it much better. I'm not much able to run, but I would imagine bringing a 12'-18' pole to bear to be rather difficult, especially with other people around trying to do the same.

You don't run when charging with a pike. You advance, in fact, very slowly, one step per second--not even one pace (i.e., two foot movements) per second. In the step, you advance the front foot, and then bring the rear foot up after to recover the original stance, as you do in, for example, modern fencing. The action is described in Thoinot Arbeau's Orchésographie, but not elsewhere as far as I'm aware.

If you hold the pike midway, rather than at the butt, you'll be very unhappy. Your adversaries will outreach you, and you'll lose the other key benefit of the standard pike grip: You don't need to use your muscles to brace the pike; all the force is transmitted into your skeleton, which means you use much less energy and are effectively much stronger.

Quote:
M.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jun, 2017 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are accounts of pikers running or at least moving very quickly when attacking with the pike. Blaise de Monluc mentioned this.
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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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jun, 2017 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure Smythe intended that the pikers thrust only once and then drop their weapons, rather he was saying that it the ranks would inevitably close together during the press. This is why he and Barret both stressed the importance of short swords and short daggers which could be easily drawn once that happened. It's also why Smythe favored a very close order formation, since the rear ranks could thrust over the shoulders of the ranks in front as the enemy got close.

I know Barwick thought that holding the pike at the middle of the shaft was a bad idea against cavalry, since if the horseman's lance strikes the pikeman before the pike strikes the horse then the footman is likely to drop his weapon or else jerk it back into the air before it does any damage.

As I understand it the difference between the Swiss and Landsknechts in the early 16th century was that the Swiss liked to hold their pikes low with the point sloped upwards while the Germans liked to hold their pikes above their shoulder with the point sloped downwards.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jun, 2017 8:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

See the quotation from Smythe in the link above. He was explicit about how a close formation gave pikers no room to pull their arms back for a second thrust.
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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