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.