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The Pikemen
Published by SiteBoss on 2004/4/6 (583 reads)
Describes the role of the pikemen.

Walton's Pike, fighting 'at point'

The Pikemen

by Mark Goodman & Julian Tilbury

A pike is 16ft long ( typically ash ) tipped with a steel head.

Gentlemen Of the Pike

In the 17C, pike is seen in 'educated' circles as the more gentlemanly weapon ( this is partly due to it being a classical weapon, used by the Greeks - in C17th the Classics meant a lot !, and partly because of the belief that 'honourable' weapons were simple, lacking in 'trickery' -
'The pike is the most plain, most honourable and most noble weapon of all the rest ( after the sword ) ... because it is as well void of deceite'
De Graci 1594 ). However the pikeman was not necessarily a gentleman.

All gentleman volunteers who were looking for a commission would fight as pikeman, because of its association with the classics, but also that is where the senior officer is.

It is not true that all the large, strong men were put into the pike, soldiers were allocated as and when needed, obviously it was preferable to put the stronger ( stout of stature ) into the pike. If there were a choice to whether a soldier should be pikeman or musketeer, the common advice in the period was that, 'if he is light of foot' then he should be a musketeer.

Armour

The pikeman typically wears a Morion and a Corselet ( Cuirass or Back & Breast ). Earlier in the war some also wore Tassetts, however they became unpopular due to there bulk. Indeed as the war progressed emphasis was increasing on mobility therefore some pikemen were even losing their Corselet ( particularly as it was an ineffective defense against muskets ).

Tactics

On the battlefield the pikeman was typically viewed as the 'bastion' or defensive 'stand' within the centre of the unit.

Prior to and on the outset of the war, when charged by horse the pike would perform the charge for horse manouver. This would employ the helmet, corselet & tassetts in their full defensive capability, being pistol proof. Hopefully the riders would lose control of startled horses and they would be cast under the pikes and be, before they could recover their senses, dispatched by the pikemens swords. The riders that maintained control would close to a safe distance and then discharge their pistols at the stand of pikes. Most pistol balls would not penetrate the armour, the only exposed point being the pikeman's arms, shins and feet. however if they were lucky , sufficient pikemen would go down to allow the cavalry into a gap in which to exploit an opening. If this failed the cavalry would retire to a safe distance, reload their pistols and have another go !.

The more practical tactic recommended by experienced soldiers was to advanced towards the cavalry with pikes charged, hopefully not allowing them the opportunity to discharge their firearms -
"This way of charging to the Horse, I have set down, as being practiced sometimes amongst us in our private meetings, but I conceive it to be of little use to receive a desperate charge of the Horse, for by their charges the soldiers are in so lame and weal posture, that the horse cannot choose if they come on with a full career, but beare the pikes and pikemen down to the ground. Therefore in my opinion the best way of opposing the horse charge is that which we learned of our ever honoured Captain, Major Henry Tillier, in the Military Gardens, which was, Files close to the modst to their closest order, insomuch that there was not above half a foot interval of ground between file, the pikes porting, and after closing their ranks forwards to close, that they locked themselves one within another, and then charged on. Which in my judgement is so secure a way from routing, that it is impossible for any body of horse to enter therein and further, to my best rememberance, (I never could meet with any soldier that hath been abroad upon any service that ever saw any charging of the pikes at the foot, therefore I will proceed."
Elton, Richard, "The Complete Body of the Art Military", London, 1650, pp.2-3.

As an offensive block pikemen could be effective as in 4 or 6 ranks a hedge of points is difficult to penetrate unless you are armed with a similar weapon, clearly unloaded musketeers would be lost.

Bibliography

This Information has been taken from various publications including :- Cromwell's Armies; Going To The Wars; Everyone A Witness; Bariffe (Young Artilleryman); Directions For Musters, Elizabethan Militia (Boynton), Military Illustrated, Pallas Armata (Turner), Bibliography of Military Book to 1642, Elizabethan Military Science.

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