Charge to horse and draw your sword, by Jacques de Gheyn, 1610

Have you ever stopped to consider what they thought about armour in the early 17th century, or why so many fines were levied for mustering without armour (and still remain unpaid). The frequent repetition of the requirements for armour may have been more observed in the breach than the observing. Let’s have a look at a small sample of contemporary authors to convey a little of the sort of thinking that was beginning to happen in England. The first few quotes below are from A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Longbows in 1628 by “A True Patriot”.

Their weight (I confess) is little to an able man… when slender fare, and hard lodgings abate men’s strength, and the shape of the body must be constrained within the Corslet (as commonly men see in service); and amongst trained soldiers (where Master to his servant or farther to his son deliver arm as they have made them for themselves, or for some other of more unequal stature) … the encumbrance is so great that hardly any patience can endure it long. They foul and fret men’s clothes and add extremities to the excess of cold and heat: so that in winter men are loath to put them on, and in summer they throw them off in spite of all command.

Logistical problems also arise:

The help is, on a march to put them into carts, where either much time must be spent (too precious) to pack them up in order; or they must (as they commonly are) be thrown together on heaps, that when they are taken off again upon occasion, they are so bruised, broken, and confusedly disjointed, that men which put them on seem restrained in irons than harnessed with an armour of defence.

This next one is particularly telling for the archers versus armour brigade, where he states the armour is resistant to arrows, but not bullets…

If armours were musket proof, and men well able to endure them, their use were excellent for many purposes… But light armours (as we now have them) though complete with head-piece, tassets, gauntlets, will be of no defence to an enemy that mingles bullets with his arrows…

So we have the situation where arrows work against unarmoured troops, but you need bullets if the enemy is armoured. John Smythe agrees 1, and gives an example, “But the Duke, at this time Lieutenant General … seeing many Captains and Officers of footman were armed at the proof against the Harquebus, he to the intent to frustrate the resistance of their armours, did increase the numbers of Muskets, the blows of the bullets of which, no armours wearable can resist.” Still, he argues armour has a place in ‘modern’ warfare to protect against bullets at some distance, if Sir Philip Sidney had “worn his cuisses, the bullet had not broken his thigh bone, by reason that the chief force of the bullet … was in a manner past.” Ill arming, he claims, is an encouragement to the enemy.

Maybe you should get that armour after all.

This is the point in the article where I find myself completely unable to resist a couple of diversions on the subject of ballistics: Benjamin Robbins, studying ballistics in the early 18th century, showed Smythe was right. In his tests, the round ball from a musket lost half its speed in the first 100 yards (five score yards), and was no longer lethal against an unarmoured man at not much greater distance. This research lead more or less directly to the design of the Minnie bullet.

Now a diversion on Smythe, who himself is an interesting character. While arguing mainly in favour of retaining archers in the ranks, he dispels the myths put about by proponents on both sides of the argument. He cautions musketeers, “But they must take heed that they do not give their volley… until [the enemy] come within eight, ten
or twelve paces and not eight, ten or twelve scores, as our such men of war do fondly talk and teach”. Later, when setting out the advantages and disadvantages of the musket, the longbow and the caliver, he demolishes the claims of William Neade and others of the pro-archery brigade who claim:

… Some number of archers being chosen, that could with their flights 2 shoot 24 or 20 scores (as there be many that can) may by the same reason fire volleys of flights at their enemies at 18 scores off, which both the one and the other are mockeries to be thought of, because there is no weapon in the field effectual, further than to a convenient and certain distance.

Smythe goes on to tell ‘em they’re dreaming: “…a verie mockerie and dreame to bee thought on.”.

Humfrey Barwick, in A Breefe Discourse (London, 1594) talks about soldiers having 30 arrows sticking out of their armour, where “one Harquebus or musket shot would have dispatched the matter”. Contradicting Robbins’ experimental results, Barwick gives theoretical effective ranges for muskets, “It will kill the armed of proof at ten score yards, the common armours at twenty score, and the unarmed at thirty score” qualifying that these results are conditional on being “well used in bullet and tried powder”. In other words, under lab conditions. Barwick taught musketry to gentlemen, so maybe this may just be a marketing ploy. Either way, both authors show there is no real reason to keep armour as it won’t stop a bullet at a reasonable distance.

Putting this all together, if the arrows can’t pierce armour, and have no effect at longer range, why argue for the keeping of bows? Could it be that there was an expectation that the buggers on the other team weren’t wearing their armour? I’ll give the last words to Smythe. 3

…Archers reduced into their convenient forms, being in so great numbers … do dim the light of the sun, darken the air and cover the earth with their volleys of arrows, eight, nine, ten and eleven scores from them…no numbers of [Horsemen and footmen], being so ill armed as in these days they are, shall be found able to abide the incredible terror of the shot of such infinite numbers 4 of arrows.


1 Smythe, J. Brief Discourses, London, 1590.

2 Light streamlined arrows designed for long distance shooting, mostly used in as an irritant to drive the enemy away, or towards you. Then you use the heavier shafts when you can see the reds of their eyes.

3 Curiously echoed in chapter 1 of Markham’s The Art of Archerie, the only chapter not plagiarised from Ascham’s Toxopholis, the Schoole of Shooting.

4 Infinite, meaning a very large number. I’ve just encountered the same sort of use in my network studies where the phrase “count to infinity” in a network loop means “increment a counter to a very large number, typically between 6 and 15”.

an updated article from The International Routier of 2005 by Wayne Robinson

There is a considerable body of evidence for the use of half-pikes, gaining honourable mention in Barriffe’s The Young Artilleryman, where he comments, “a serviceable Half-pike may be had for 2s.6d. which exceeds not much the price of a Rest.”[1]

The half-pike is a different weapon to a pike, not just a scale model of one. The waist (like on most of us, the thickest point) is still the same distance from the butt as on a pike; (this distance to the waist are dictated by the length of the arm, plus the width across the shoulders of the user) the positions of the hands at the charge are the same with either weapon. The head and langets are the same size as on a pike only the distance from the waist to the head is different, which makes a significant change to move the balance of the weapon towards the head.

There is some argument about the length of the half-pike, Barriffe says “7, 8 feet in length” or “being complete 10 feet”[2], Silver is a bit more scientific about the length. Here’s the Silver section in full:

“To know the perfect length of your short staff, or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage and perfect lengths, you shall stand upright, holding the staff upright close by your body, with your left hand, reaching with your right hand your staff as high as you can, and then allow to that length a space to set both your hands, when you come to fight, wherein you may conveniently strike, thrust, and ward, & that is the just length to be made according to your stature. And this note, that these lengths will commonly fall out to be eight or nine foot long, and will fit, although not just, the statures of all men without any hindrance at all unto them in their fight, because in any weapon wherein the hands may be removed, and at liberty, to make the weapon longer of shorter in fight at his pleasure, a foot of the staff being behind the backmost hand does no harm.”[3]

The perfect length of your half pike… Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, p30

The perfect length of your half pike… Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, p30

Silver discusses the “short staff fight” and “the short staff fight against the long staff” provides a number of principles principles. For example, “Of the short staff fight, being of convenient length, against the like weapon.  The short staff has 4 wards, that is 2 with the point up, & 2 with the point down. …”[4]

He considered the half-pike to be the best weapon of “all other… by reason of its nimbleness swift motions”[5]

Barriffe goes as far as to suggest half-pikes be used in the manner of a rest for muskets mainly so musketeers are able to withstand horse without need of pikemen, dedicating three chapters to the subject.[6] Chapter CXIII begins, “Of the Half-pike, how it may be serviceable on all forms…”. This was one of the Double Armed Man experiments by the Honourable Artillery Company, which eventually lead to the development of the bayonet.

George Hale, writing in 1614 adds a note of caution “…as I have seene upon the publique Stage, a single Rapier most shamefully foyle both Halberd and halfe Pike.”[7]

Construction more or less follows that in Andrew Brew’s excellent DIY pike article from a few years back and reproduced in the 3rd edition Standards Manuel. The advantage in this case is that a half-pike can be made from a commercially available length of wood. We used a 3m length of 35mm diameter Mountain Ash dowel/curtain rod. The shorter length makes using hand tools a more realistic proposition.

Ascertain the centre of the butt end by dead reckoning or some other more scientific or arcane means and draw a circle the same size as the outside diameter as the butt ring (fnarr!).

Plane a step about 400mm from the butt of the pike. Rotate a quarter turn and plane another step, repeat, then take the high points off. When you have removed about 1/3 of the waste (that’s the other kind of waste) timber, move another 400mm down the pike and repeat as before, then a third time, removing timber down to the line. Do the same from the head end, using 800mm steps instead.  You can use more steps, but remember to remove proportionally less timber for each step. Round with rasp, file and sandpaper. Fit the head and butt ring as per pages 26-7 of the Standards Emanuel.

A pike order from 1657 specified “3500 pike to be furnished at 3s 4d a piece; to be made of good ash 16 feet long, bars to be strong and serviceable in length to be 2 feet or 22 inches. The staves to be coloured with Aquafortes.”[8] Aquafortis (nitric acid) is used to dye wood by burning the timber black when heated over a fire. Too much acid will promote rusting of the head and butt.

Why a half-pike?  W. Wood gives one explanation, “…For there is no man there that bears a head, but that bears military arms; even boys of fourteen years of age are practiced with men in military discipline, every three weeks.”[9] Cooke agrees, “Let young men be exercised betimes, for it is readiness gotten by former practice that maketh a Souldier.”[10]

[1] Barriffe, W., Militarie Discipline, or the Young Artillery-Man, London, 5th Ed, 1648, p 148

[2] Barriffe, p145

[3] Silver, G., Paradoxes of Defence, 5.1 On the Length of Weapons

[4] Silver, G., Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence, ch11

[5] Paradoxes, p43

[6] Barriffe, p145–154

[7] Hale, G., The Priuate Schoole of Defence. Or The Defects of Publique Teachers, exactly diſcouered, by way of Obiection and Reſolution. Together VVith the true practiſe of the Science, ſet downe in iudicious Rules and Obſeruances; in a Method neuer before expreſſed, London, 1614.

[8] Military Illustrated Issue 128 p28

[9] Wood, W., New-England’s Prospect, being a true, lively and experimental Description of that part of America commonly called New-England, London 1639

[10] Cooke, E., The Character of Warre, or The Image of Martiall Discipline. London, 1626, Ch III

The Historical Exact Militia Program

The ‘historical’ Exact Militia Program was the government policy by which the only true armed forces of the kingdome were re-established after the doldrums of James I reign, re-structured and invigorated and to an extent re-armed with modern standardised weapons.

These quotes are taken from Lindsay Boynton’s The Elizabethan Militia: 1558-1638, London, 1967

“The terms ‘exact’ or ‘perfect’ militia were used synonymously in referring to the ambitious programme of military reform undertaken by King Charles I.”

“Its outlines were simple: a well-disciplined militia was highly desirable both to ensure security at home and to win prestige abroad. Therefore, the King called on his subjects to learn the best modern drill, with the most up-to-date weapons.”

“The drill, as laid down in the 1623 drillbooks, was to be practiced on holidays and at other convenient times, under the eye of experts who were shortly to be seconded from the Low Countries.”

“The programme of the Exact Militia was straightforward enough: its ambitiousness lay in the swift and comprehensive implementation which the government desired.”

“A markedly more intense approach is evident from 1625 under a younger king and a government bent on following a war policy.”


The Current Exact Militia Program

The EMP now encompasses three important elements:

  • How we are organised into division and files, and the responsibilities of the individual field commands,
  • How we are trained and muster, and
  • How we are equipped with weapons and armour, clothing and other accoutrements.

Most importantly it will set the parameters together with the Standing Orders for our portrayal of individuals and a group of 1642.

Training and mustering are explained in the booklet Directions for Musters. This website, together with the linked documents tells what patterns and materials are appropriate, together with handy hints on construction, through to how to legally become a pikeman or musketeer.

The requirements of the Current Exact Militia Program

All arms

THE SWORDDirections for Musters recommends:

 “A good sword of three foot long, cutting and stiff-pointed, with girdle and hangers”.

Judging from the illustrations in Directions for Musters and other sources such as the Great Vellum Book, the style of sword worn by trained bandsmen was a fairly sturdy weapon with a basic hilt and guard and a double edged blade approximately 30 inches long. While the Great Vellum Book shows a couple of members of the Artillery Garden wearing falchions, it is safe to assume that, given the social status of the bands, the majority would had swords and maybe a few rapiers amongst the officers and wealthier members. Hangers, tucks and other cheaply made swords are more likely to have been found amongst the field armies. My advice is, stick to the description in Directions for Musters and select an appropriate hilt type.

SWORD-BELTS & SCABBARDS — While Directions for Musters mentions girdle and hangers i.e. a waist-belt with frogs for the sword, contemporary pictures show that shoulder belts, or baldrics were more common. They should have a belt of 1 – 2 inches in breadth and use either sliders or sewn leather ‘sockets’ to secure the weapon. The scabbards should be either wood covered with leather or leather lined with felt, linen or some other rust inhibiting fabric.

CLOTHING — Trained band musketeers served in their civilian clothing. This should be good quality, middle-class outdoor wear and should consist of a linen shirt, linen drawers, a woollen doublet, woollen breeches, woollen or linen stockings, a pair of shoes and a hat or cap. For cold weather a cassock, coat or cloak is recommended. Your hat should be of felt with a good, stiff brim not too wide. The statuettes in Highgate House suggest hat brims of about three or four inches breadth. Musketeers, whose income permits, are encouraged to wear buffcoats, as these appear to have been very much a feature of London Infantry.

HAVERSACKS — Haversacks are not mentioned in any known documents relating to the London Militia. However, they must have carried their food and spare clothing in some type of bag when out on campaign. Two types of travel bag are known to have been used at this time. Type one was a large square shaped bag worn on the hip with a strap passing over the shoulder. Type two was a sausage bag worn on the back with a strap passing over the shoulder. The latter type appears to have been more popular with soldiers as it does not interfere with the hang and handling of sword and bandelier. The recommended size for these bags is a piece of leather or waxed canvas 3 feet by 2 feet. This is sewn into a tube with a 1 or 1.5 inch strap passing through it. The bottom end of the tube is bound with twine and the top end is opened or closed with a cord, which passes through punched holes rather like a dufflebag.


Directions for Musters, published in 1638, described a musketeer’s principle equipment as follows:

“The musketier must be armed with a good musket (the barrel of 4 foot long, the bore of 12 bullets in the pound rowling in), a rest, bandelier, head-piece, a good sword, girdle & hangers.”

In practise there was considerable variation. Stores of the 1638 pattern Tower Musket held in the Royal Armouries, show that barrel length varied from 41 to 49 inches. The experience of war revealed a preference for muskets with barrels of about 42 inches.

THE MUSKET — Muskets supplied to or purchased by members of the Pike and Musket Society shall be henceforth all of 12 gauge.  The maximum length of the barrel shall be 48 inches. The minimum length shall be 42 inches.  It shall be octagonal.

THE STOCK — The stock style is recommended to be that of the 1638 Tower Musket illustrated on the following page. However, as we are a trained band unit, other English, Dutch or French styles will be permitted provided primary evidence for the design can be supplied.

THE LOCK — Similarly, although matchlocks are preferred, doglocks or wheellocks shall be permitted.

THE BANDOLIER —  The bandolier is to have a strap two inches wide. There is to be a minimum of 12 wooden charges slung from linen cords with leather or brass separator rings, a priming flask, a bullet bag with draw string and button flap large enough to carry 12 bullets plus wadding. The wooden charges are to be: soaked in linseed oil; stained then oiled in linseed or; painted for their protection.  The whole ensemble shall conform to patterns held by the Committee of the Militia.

THE HELMET — This shall be a ‘combed headpiece’ of morion, cabaset of, preferably, English or Dutch pot style. It will be lined, with cheek guards and a strap for securing. It will have a plume holder at the back and is recommended to be of 18-gauge steel. The helmet as with all equipment, must be based on known surviving examples of the period.


THE BREAST and BACK — The breastplate of pikemen’s armour has a strong medial ridge, and the neckline is cut low, as a gorget is worn over the top to protect the throat.  The breast and back are attached together by shoulder straps of leather covered in plate, which fit over a pin on the breast and are fixed in place by swivel-hooks.  The flange at the bottom of the breastplate supports the attachment of the tassets.  These are attached either by rivets or by swivel-hooks through a pin on the flange.

THE TASSETS  — The tassets themselves are large, single plates decorated with simulated lames and patterns of rivets.  The left hand tasset overlaps the right, in order to achieve maximum protection during battle when the pikeman is mostly left foot forward.

THE HEADPIECE — The pikeman’s helmet, or pott, is of a two-piece construction, joined like the lobster pot at the comb, but with a brim all the way round.  It is a very simple form of helmet, with single piece cheek pieces, and usually a plume holder at the back.

THE GORGET  — The gorget consists of two plates which are pivoted on the left-hand side and fastened on the right by means of a keyhole slot and mushroom-headed stud.  These are frequently very simple and plain pieces of armour, but some are designed to be worn alone, perhaps over a buffcoat and can be very fine pieces.