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D. Rosen





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Nov, 2005 8:41 pm    Post subject: Ineffectiveness of the "Brown" Bill?         Reply with quote

Hi there. I purchased the Osprey Elite Armada 1588 book and throughout it, it stated that the "brown" bill was an ineffective weapon. It is most understandable that it was cheap and easy to produce (from farm tools), but it would seem to me to be a very lethal and useful weapon, having a long point, hook, and back spike. I'm not terribly familiar with the bill, so any input is appreciated. Thanks![/img]


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Ryan A. C.





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Nov, 2005 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a pole arm a bill is going to hit harder and keep you out of the reach of shorter weapons and as you mentioned it is a versatile design. I can't see why anybody would think it an 'ineffective weapon'. These things weren't just converted from farm tools either, many surviving examples, and those seen in period artworks, are clearly designed for combat. A lot of bill designs just don't seem like they would be that great for pruning trees with or are to fancy to imagine them being used for such a chore. Bills were used in battle for a long time and I think that alone says these weapons were effective. Regardless of how cheap something would be to produce it wouldn't make sense to use it if it isn't going to give the wielder a good chance of survival
cool video showing what that hook can do:
https://mywebspace.wisc.edu/celast/ren_warfare/


Last edited by Ryan A. C. on Sat 12 Nov, 2005 9:35 pm; edited 1 time in total
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D. Rosen





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Nov, 2005 9:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The videos on that page wouldn't work for some reason.

Here are a couple of quotes from the book on the Bill.

"...it was only its relative cheapness that allowed it to continue in use for so long..." (Page 46, Under the Header "Bills."

"The Bill was cheap to produce and easy to use, the customary weapon of the mass feudal levy. As soldiers became harder to recruit, however, its ineffectiveness outweighed its economy." (Page 57, Picture caption)

"...the bill was regarded by many experienced soldiers as useless...In 1590, Sir George Carew said that the best use he had for "brown bills" was to sell them to farmers of the Dublin Pale." (Page 59, Comment on Plate E, Figure 2, 'Billman.')


I have also seen a great video that the Bristol Renaissance Faire's Guild of Saint Micheal shot of one of them gutting a melon with the hook. They had a whole set of videos using different weapons. I wish they'd respost them.
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Ryan A. C.





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Nov, 2005 9:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Rosen wrote:
I have also seen a great video that the Bristol Renaissance Faire's Guild of Saint Micheal shot of one of them gutting a melon with the hook. They had a whole set of videos using different weapons. I wish they'd respost them.
That is where the link would have taken you. Big Grin They have added some cool clips since then, it is a pity that didn't work for you.

George Silver had this to say on the bill:
The Welch hook or forest bill, has advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever. Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offense and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill. The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler.

Back then just as it is today difference of opinion obviously occurred. A bill doesn't have the length of pike to keep men and horse at a distance and depending on the example it may not hit with the authority of a halberd, but it does give you the chose between a thrust, chop, or pulling motion to pull a man to the ground or cut him off his horse.

The Italian bill often seen with elegant lines and details such as etching and different planes on the side of the head doesn't look like it would be any less expensive than an alternative style of pole arm.
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D. Rosen





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Nov, 2005 10:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is there a difference between the brown bill and the black bill? Or are they variations on the basic weapon?

I tried out the page in Internet Explorer ( I use Firefox now) and it worked. I hadn't seen all of those videos; they were fantastic! My friend was even in the Zweihander one! Thanks for posting that page!
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Chris Last




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 7:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ya sorry about them not working on Firefox or Apple formats. Still getting the hang of the whole video editing thing down.
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 7:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think brown and black bills are essentially what we know today as English bills, so named for being blued or browned and described by Silver as being much like a halberd. The welsh hook or forrest bill is probably more like the Italian bills as Silver described them being of greater length and having various hooks and extensions. Note that I am paraphrasing Silver from memory so hopefully someone else can supply any relevant quotes.
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 8:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Rosen wrote:
The videos on that page wouldn't work for some reason.

Here are a couple of quotes from the book on the Bill.

"...the bill was regarded by many experienced soldiers as useless...In 1590, Sir George Carew said that the best use he had for "brown bills" was to sell them to farmers of the Dublin Pale." (Page 59, Comment on Plate E, Figure 2, 'Billman.')


I haven't read that book but I am inclined to think the quote is taken out of context. That wouldn't be a surprise in an Osprey book. Eek!

IIRC, Carew had to contend with an insurrection and guerrilla warfare outside the Pale. He could not expect to face set piece battles where such weapons could be usefully deployed. Also, his troops threw away their breasts and backs on the endless trods through bogs and forests, presumably their polearms as well. The government in England wasn't sending him what he needed, just what they had available. Once light cavalry "prickers" from the Borders were sent over to Ireland, he had the means to deal with the problem. Wink

Apparently the problem isn't so much that the bill was a poor weapon. It was just not the best weapon for the circumstance. These weren't the same conditions in which the bill had proven itself like at Flodden and Pinkie a couple generations earlier.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The problem with the brown bill was that it was a shoddy weapon made of iron, not steel by the end of the 16th Century, the black bill was apparently better made. It was alos out of place on the evolved European battlefield, to short and weak to be effective against cavalry and with limited effectiveness against the pike-and-shot formations which dominated the infantry battles. Flodden was a victory brought on by the nature of the terrain and the unbalanced Scottish force mix, at Pinkie it was superior firepower which allowed the Egnlish to break up the pike blocks.
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D. Rosen





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 9:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all your help, you guys really put the bill in context. . For an Osprey, this one was really unspecific as to why the bill was so iffective. A surplus of awesome color plates though. Great videos Chris, keep up the good work!

-Daniel
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Tyler Weaver




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 12:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, if you think about it, the Italian bill, while it would probably be a great weapon for poor footsoldiers to can-open armored knights with, it's not all that great a weapon for said poor footsoldiers to fight each other using. The hook is going to be pretty-much useless, and the spike isn't going to do much damage compared to a blade. It'll be outclassed by any simple spear in a thrusting fight, too.

IIRC, the English bill has a big 'ol chopping blade instead of that hook, which I suspect would make it a lot more useful in an age when armor was on the decline.

Aku. Soku. Zan.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't see why the bill should be considered any more or less effective than the halberd on average. They're generally considered to be interchangable. We know from Sir Roger Williams that both weapons were often poorly made, at least in the late 16th century. But if well made he considered it useful to have a few of them around, though he certainly favored the pike. I think the ratio was something like five pikes to one bill. Silver and Smythe probably wanted to see a somewhat higher number of bills in use.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2005 3:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

English bills tended to be substantially heavier than the weapon shown above, which I think may be of Italian origin. See: http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole030.html

Also, the Osprey text has to be taken with the date into account: 1588. Some weapons were obsolete by that time, for example the trebuchet. The fact that a trebuchet would be ineffective in the context of 1588 says nothing about its use in 1288 or 1388. Cannon replaced the trebuchet. The bill wasn't replaced, but its tactical role diminished as infantry tended to specialize in either pike or musket. Billmen were, however, still included in a tactical battleplan of 1547, drawn up in the Anglo-Scots wars.
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Jon Terris




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2005 6:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all, I hope no-one will mind if I just join?

As always, we must remember that the names we use for anything from any period may not be the same or even remotely close to the name our ancestors would have used.

The only explanation that I have ever heard for the difference in Brown or Black bills is that the Brown bill is the original "home-made-agricultural-tool-turned-into-a-weapon" and that the Black bill is the "mass-produced-with killing-in-mind" later version.

That makes as much sense as any other idea, but do we know for sure that our ancestors who used these weapons knew or cared about either name specifically?

As for useless, my wife uses one of these on the re-enactment battle-field and I can say that either on her own or in a block she is very handy.

Jon Terris.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2005 6:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just taking a wild guess here, but the colours could refer to the metals used. Brown Iron vs Black steel...
"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2005 6:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

England apparently had mothballed its bills by the 1620s. The Crown sent lots of these weapons and other outmoded arms and armour to the colonists in Virginia. They may have been of slightly more use there. In any case, it does seem that these arms, along with halberds, were obsolete by this time. As for "ineffective", it seems that the author of the book in question is referring only to the specific martial context of the late 16th c., in which case he's probably correct. Pikes, muskets and artillery were far more important than traditional edged weapons. That's not to say, however, that bills and halberds were not effective weapons on their own and in their own day. I would argue that a bill remains an extremely effective weapon when faced with a sword-wielding opponent. But the bill would be laughably ineffective on a modern battlefield. I think the author should have written that the bill was of little strategic value rather than ineffective.
-Sean

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David Black Mastro




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2005 1:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tyler Weaver wrote:
Well, if you think about it, the Italian bill, while it would probably be a great weapon for poor footsoldiers to can-open armored knights with, it's not all that great a weapon for said poor footsoldiers to fight each other using.


Why?

Quote:
The hook is going to be pretty-much useless, and the spike isn't going to do much damage compared to a blade.


The hook features a concave edge, which can be used for a variety of purposes.

The Italian bill also features a long cutting edge.

Quote:
It'll be outclassed by any simple spear in a thrusting fight, too.


Again, why?

Quote:
IIRC, the English bill has a big 'ol chopping blade instead of that hook, which I suspect would make it a lot more useful in an age when armor was on the decline.


All bills have a hook--that's what makes a bill a bill. The difference is that the blade of the English type is typically much broader, and the topspike and shaft are shorter.

In addition, what Silver refers to as the "brown bill" and "black bill" should not be confused with the forest bill/Welsh hook. The two former weapons are "weapons of weight", whereas the forest bill/Welsh hook features a much lighter blade and longer shaft.

"Why meddle with us--you are not strong enough to break us--you know that you have won the battle and slaughtered our army--be content with your honor, and leave us alone, for by God's good will only have we escaped from this business" --unknown Spanish captain to the Chevalier Bayard, at the Battle of Ravenna, 1512
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Boris Bedrosov
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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2005 2:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello!

I haven't read that book, but it looks very strange to me to consider the bill as an ineffective weapon.
Actually, what "ineffective" means? The simple fact that it had been used for about 400 hundred years (maybe more) all over in Europe tells enough, on my opinion, about its effectiveness.
As all you know, in the history of weapons' development each weapon has its own evolution and evolvement. And the reason is simple - to improve its capabilities (respectively the effectiveness). So, when each particular weapon isn't any longer effective it's replaced with another - better one. This is the simple logic.
About a month and a half ago I had the honour and pleasure to visit Slovakian History Museum in Bratislava, Slovakia and Jagd- und Rustkamera (let's say - "Weaponry section") in Museum of History of Arts in Vienna, Austria. In the both places you can find a huge amount of bills from different years, countries of origin and forms. So, if they had been "ineffective", why they are so many?
From the other point of view, I can tell you at least one battle, in which they had proved their effectiveness. This is the Battle of Adrianople (14 April 1205), where the knights of the Latin Empire suffered very heavy defeat from Bulgarians. If we trust in the chronicles (Byzantian, Latin and Bulgarian) at that time, we will see that at the tactic level the battle had been actually won by Bulgarian billmen (about one fourth - one third of the total Bulgarian infantry, participating in the battle). On the other hand the Bulgarian bills had been even more simple than the one showed on Mr. Rosen's attachment (they miss the back spike).
So, Mr. Wang is absolutely right in his statement. Once the muskets and the pikes started to dominate the battlefield, then the time for the bill to disappear came. On my opinion, to comment the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of a particular weapon out of its historical and/or tactical environment is not very correct.
And at the end, if I should comment the quality of the "brown" bill, I would like to say the following. As I understood this bill is a pre-war production. If "Yes", in every pre-war and wartime period we can see decreasing of the weapons' quality and increasing of the quantity. Simply speaking, the army needs more, and more, and more...

Boris
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2005 2:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

But since the book in question only covers the 1588 aka Armada campaign it's comments on the "inefficiency" of the brown bill should only be taken to apply to that time frame. And from that period there is ample evidence that the bill was regarded as an ineffective weapon by the proffesional soldiers of the day. That doesn't change that 100 years before the bill was still an effective weapon on the battlefield because the force mix it was faced with was diffrent and it's users possesed a diffrent level of equipment and training.
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Boris Bedrosov
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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2005 2:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is right, again!
The period second half of the XVIth century - about the end of the Thirty Years' War is probably one the most dynamic tactics/equipment/training changing and developing period in European military history. Strictly speaking this is the bill's last hour (tactical environment is changed).

Boris
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