CAVALRY; The History of A Fighting Elite; 650BC-AD1914

V. Vuksic / Z. Grbasic © 1993


(Excerpts, 16th - 18th Centuries)

Let’s read these carefully, one-by-one, and open the floor for plenty of great discussions. Sorry about the lack of illustrations, they’re in the book, and I’m not yet set up to scan them. I just copied the texts; I didn’t debate/discuss them, that’s what we’re all here for. (The only personal input I made is under the Wallachian Cavalryman entry, regarding the gaits of their horses, which is debatable). I did bolden the measurements of various weaponry such as the arquebus and lances as it was this way in the book, and no doubt will give way to some great discussions regarding muskets vs. armor, such as we’ve had in the past. Part of the privilege of having such a large personal research library at my disposal,  is my pleasure to share its contents with the interested members of the group, when I can, as it will no doubt, be of some great value to everyone. Please forgive any typos; this is a LOT to proof-read. This was a LOT of typing, so enjoy, so now I’m going to rest my pinkies…Now, the floor is open, who’ll start the discussions…?...                                  –Rik Fox-



Spanish Ginete Beginning 16th Century (pg. 98)

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the island now known as Cuba, named it Hispaniola, and claimed it for the Spanish crown. Nineteen years later, Hernan Cortes, Spanish nobleman and officer, landed on Hispaniola, to serve in the local garrison. In 1518, with 570 men, 10 cannon and 16 horses, he invaded Mexico and began the conquest of a vast, hitherto unknown area, the Aztec Empire. The horses used had been brought across the Atlantic from Spain, from the southern province of Andalusia, known for raising breeds of mixed European, north African and Arabic origin. Cortes’s expedition had 11 studs (two of them pintos) and five mares.

     The horses belonged to some of the officers and the light horsemen known as ginetes of genitors, after their characteristic heart-shaped Moorish leather-covered shields. Their main weapons were swords and javelins, but some carried crossbows. Some had plate armor, but most used mail shirts or brigandines (armor consisting of small plates fastened to the inside of a fabric covering), a steel cap (morion or cabassette-type of Spanish kettle hat) and some leg and arm protection. Officers wore three-quarter armor and open helmets. Their horses were unprotected.

     By 1521, Cortes had broken resistance of the natives (whom he called Indians) by plunder, massacres and the cunning use of firearms and especially of the horses, which had been previously unknown to the Aztecs. The following year, with the help of reinforcements which brought his army to 850 men, 15 cannon and 86 horses, he conquered the territories of present-day Honduras and Guatemala, and was appointed governor of the newly acquired areas, which were named Nueva Espania (New Spain). The Spanish conquest did not stop there. In 1533 Francisco Pizarro, at the head of 180 men, two cannons and 27 horses brought down the Inca Empire in Peru, and in 1538 Gonzez de Jeliauesada conquered Columbia.

      Although they were constantly at war, the Spaniards and the Indians had one aim in common: the Spaniards wanted to raise as many horses as possible, the Indians to capture them and do the same. However carefully the Spaniards guarded their horses, the Mexican Indians were soon mounted. In 1598, the expedition led by Juan de Onante through the territory of modern New Mexico up to the present border of Kansas, sighted not a single horse in the area. Fifty years later, all the tribes of the western plains were mounted; the best known being the Apache and Comanche. The Indians especially prized pinto horses, so if a horse had no natural pattern, one was often painted on.



German Reiter Mid-16th Century (pg. 100)

Towards the middle of the sixteenth century, Thuringian Count Gunter of Schwartzburg created the Schwartzen Reitern (Black Horsemen). It was a modern cavalry unit, stressing firepower and agility. Reiter or ritter meant only ‘rider’, but it became the generic name for the mercenary, partly armored cavalrymen recruited in Germany in the 1550’s and later, during the Wars of Religion, in Spain, Italy and France.

     These reiters (swarte rutters) to the English) were also hired by Henry VIII. They were armored cavalrymen, but rode unarmored horses. Their principal weapon was a boar-spear—a broad-bladed spear, 2-1/2-3m/8/9 ft. in length, with usually a small traverse bar below the blade. They also carried wheel-lock pistols, a German invention which soon replaced the spear, especially in the second half of the century, and became a symbol of the reiters. They played an important part in European warfare until the end of the sixteenth century.

     The formation most often used by the reiters was the squadron of 300 or 400 men. Their preferred battle formation was the closed-order block, with 20 to 30 ranks. This deep formation enabled the men in the rear to reload after having discharged their weapons at the enemy and filed off to the flank and rear, allowing the next group to do so. This procedure was repeated until their opponents were sufficiently weakened to create conditions for a charge, when thrusting swords and clubbed pistols came into action.

      The armor used by the reiters was not uniform and could vary form just a mail shirt or cape, through corselet (often with mail sleeves), to three-quarter armor. Helmets ranged from simple ‘iron-hats’ to burgonets or morions. They were armed with large pistols of the faustrohre type (faust-hand, rohre-barrel), thus named because they were well suited for clubbing as for shooting the enemy. It had a barrel length of about 50cm/20in., weighed about 3kg/6.5lb.,and fired a 30g/10z lead ball. The pistol could be aimed accurately from approximately 20 paces; unaimed fire could be effective up to 45m/50 yds. However, it was effective against the most heavily armored opponents only at a few paces.

     A reiter was usually armed with two or three pistols: two carried in holsters on his saddle bow, and a third, precariously, in his right boot. There were, however, mercenary companies where reiters had up to six pistols—four in holsters, and one in each boot. Their armor was often blackened; a common measure to fight rust. However, it was also the source of the name schwarz reiter, as well as of the French diables noirs.



Mounted Arquebusier 16th Century (pg102)

The arquebus was a firearm directly descended from fourteenth-century handguns. There are two theories about the name, which comes from the German hakenbuchsen (hook-gun n translation). The first arquebuses were about 2m/6.5 ft long and weighed up to 30kg/65 lb; as they were used mainly from fortress walls; they were hooked to the parapet at the front of the barrel, the better to take the recoil. The other explanation relies for evidence on lighter weapons (5-7kg/11-15 lb), which had hook-shaped butts.

     The lighter arquebuses from the beginning of the sixteenth century had wooden butts made from walnut, birch or maple. Barrel length was about 1.5m/5 ft, caliber 12-20 mm. At first they were made of bronze, but later of iron. The lock was simple: an S-shaped vice held the match (cord soaked in saltpeter solution), and dropped it into the firing-pan of the gun. Balls were at first stone, then lead, iron and, in the case of rifled arquebuses, iron covered with sheepskin or lead. Loading was complicated, and even the most skilled marksmen could get off only 40 shots an hour at best, but was simplified with the introduction of the bandolier, which had a number of wooden cases (usually 12;colloquially called the 12 apostles) hanging from it.

     Each case contained powder for one shot. Priming powder was carried in a horn of flask, and the bullets separately. At first, it took two men to service an arquebus; later, one man could do so.

     The best German weapons had a maximum range of about 400 paces. However, the effective range in battle was much smaller, let alone the range at which some semblance of accuracy could be achieved. The arquebus was popular, though because, despite being cumbersome, it had a greater penetrating power than the bow or crossbow.

     The same reasons that led to the creation of units of mounted archers or crossbowmen resulted in the appearance of mounted arquebusiers. Their weapons were of higher quality and smaller, to enable handling, and their roe in combat, whether mounted or on foot, was to prepare and support attacks with their fire.

    Arquebusiers usually fought from a distance, so they had no need of heavy armor. Initially, they used helmets, breast-and0backplates and protection for the arms and thighs. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these pieces of armor were discarded one by one, until only the helmet remained. They wore a long straight sword for personal defense, like the rest of the heavy cavalry. The arquebusiers of mercenary companies, however, were veritable arsenals on horseback: besides the arquebus, they carried up to six pistols in holsters and stuck into their belts.

The picture shows an arquebusier in the dress of the pferdschutzenharnisch. Breastplates, when worn, had a pointed medial ridge - the tauplbrust - to encourage shots to ricochet.



English Demi-Lancer c. 1550 (pg. 104)

In the period between the Hundred Years War (1339-1453) and the English Civil Wars (1642-8) the English army stagnated relative to the armed forces of the Continent. The technology of manufacture and quality of weapons lagged behind the European centers. Waging war was expensive, and this was reflected most in the cavalry. A contemporary wrote that in all of Wales only a few good horses could be found. In 1544, King Henry VIII (1509-47) organized a campaign in France, accompanied by 73 fully armored ‘gentleman pensioners’ of the Household Cavalry, and 121 heavily armored men-at-arms. The rest of the 4,000 English cavalry were English gentry who served as demi-lances on unbarded horses, light horsemen called ‘Light Staves’ and ‘Javelins’ and Scottish ‘Border Horse’. European kings of Henry’s rank could summon many thousand heavy cavalrymen compared to several hundred.

     One of Henry’s first undertakings had been the reorganization and replenishing of the national arsenal. In 1512, 2,000 complete harnesses of the almayne ryvettes type were bought from Florentine merchant Guido Portinari. These were similar to the armor worn by the German Landsknecht. Each set included a helmet (sallet), throat protector (gorget), backplate, breastplate and a pair of arm harnesses. All this was obtained at the favorable price of 16 shillings a set, and a further 5,000 sets were bought in Milan the following year.

     After special armor for the infantry was introduced, similar protection for medium and light cavalry became the norm. Medium cavalry in England were known as lances, or demi-lances, and used a lighter type of lance which did not require the use of a lance-rest. In modern parlance, their armor was of the three-quarters type (German harnash), because it extended to the knees only. From the mid-sixteenth century, the demi-lances started using the morion helmet, previously popular among the infantry.

     After 1550, the term ‘light horse’ seems to have been widespread, but it did not refer to the demi-lances. It seems that the light horse troops wore a cuirass with no lance-rest, an open helmet, and optional mail sleeves. On occasion, the cuirass was replaced with only a mail shirt. Gauntlets and an oval shield were also in use. The English demi-lances were used heavier horses (another reason why they were not included in the light horse), and their chief role was in a set battle, making them a cheaper substitute for battle cavalry.

      In the 1660’s, the demi-lances, who made up about one-fifth of the English cavalry, increasingly rejected the lance and started using firearms – pistols, arquebuses and petronels (sixteenth-century cavalry gun of medium size).



Hungarian Hussar 15th-16th Century (pg.106)

Hungarian archives contain a pay list from the second half of the fifteenth century, covering men whom military officials recruited for the army of King Matthias I Corvinus (1458-90). It describes a light horseman armed with a long lance, sword, and composite bow, riding on a high eastern saddle (taken from the Avars), dressed in colorful Renaissance costume with plumes and bearing a teardrop-shaped shield in his left hand. The legend is ‘hussar’.


Riders fitted out like the hussar were around even earlier, not only in Hungary but in Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia, and other eastern countries, although nowhere else were these men referred to by a special name. In Hungary, the name hussar was probably also applied to any soldier called up under feudal rule by the Hungarian king. However, during the rule of Matthias Corvinus, hussar meant one particular and easily recognizable type of horseman, organized in units called hussar units. The name later spread to neighboring states.

     There are several hypotheses about the origin of the name hussar. One attributes it to the Avars, another to the name used to denote soldiers in Byzantium. Many historians, however, believe that the root of the name is in the Hungarian word husz, meaning twenty. When the king called, the nobility had to equip one soldier for every twenty able-bodied serfs. The same applied to the free royal cities, and to the fishermen on the Danube, who provided men for the royal navy.

     Later on, Matthias replaced the unreliable feudal army with a more loyal mercenary force. Together with the Bohemian infantry and German armored cavalry, the most numerous were the Hungarian light horsemen, so the former name from the feudal obligation was transferred to the Hungarian light cavalry, the hussars.

     There was not another country in Europe whose history and destiny were so closely tied to horses and riders as ancient Hungary. This territory, now known as the Pannonian valley (and once called the Portal of Europe) saw the westward passage of the Huns, Avars, Magyars, Tatars and Cumans, all of whom left many traces of their warrior and riding skills. Hungary, without any major natural obstacles, could be conquered or defended on horseback only, so, life in those parts was linked with equestrian skills. This strongly influenced the appearance and behavior of the Hussars.


Stradiotti Light Cavalryman 16th Century (pg.108)

In the fifteenth century, Venice was a rich city-republic, and gained control of the eastern shores of the Adriatic thanks to its position and to powerful merchant and battle navies. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 and the consequent fall of the Byzantine Empire, Venice captured many islands in the Aegean and consolidated its hold in the eastern Adriatic. Being rich, it could maintain a professional army which kept its neighbors at bay. At the height of its power, the republic had 200,000 citizens, and ruled an area inhabited by 2.5 million people.

     As the Ottomans drove further west, Venice was faced with raids by Akinci, Deli and Tartar light horsemen which it could not successfully combat. In 1470, the services of Greek and Albanian stradiotti or estradiotti light horsemen (stradiotos-Greek for soldier) were engaged.

These men knew the tactics of the Turkish riders, because they fought the same way themselves.

     They were organized into units of between 100 and 300 men, detailed to garrison towns which lay on possible routes of Turkish incursions. The stradiotti were mobile and fast and acted decisively, so they carried out reconnaissance as well as border protection.

     Later on, under the name stradiots, Venice and other Italian states (Milan, Siena, and Genoa), took into service Croats and Hungarians. Hunyadi Janos and Miklos Zriny and their troops were mercenaries in wars on Italian soil. At the Battle of Fornovo (1495), 2,000 stradiots attacked from the rear and destroyed the supply train of the French army. At Agandello (1509), the largest cavalry unit was 3,000 stradiots, and at Pavia (1525), 500 stradiots attacked the French position from the left wing and contributed to victory.

     Italian states which could not afford their services had to compensate in other ways-for example, in 14870, Naples hires 1,500 Turkish light horsemen- and the Spaniards employed ginetes of Moorish origin, although in 1507 they too engaged the services of 1,000 stradiots.

     Their equipment and armament was a mixture of eastern and western. Only the Croats wore a local type of broadsword called a sciavona. Full armament consisted of a long lance, eastern composite bow and saber or sword. Use of a shield and other protective hear was optional and helmets, mail coif and some parts of body-armor was not unknown.

     A large number of light horsemen, known as hussars in Eastern Europe, took part in the Italian wars of the sixteenth century, although they were rarely mentioned by this name. It seems that the term stradiot had become a synonym for eastern mercenary light cavalry in Italy.



Turkish Sipahi 15th-16th Century (pg.112)

In the military structure of the Ottoman Empire, feudal cavalrymen were granted fiefs, with the proviso that they were personally obligated to answer a call to war, bringing their own equipment and horse, or to send a stand-in with a certain number of men, depending on the size of the fief and the income derived from it. The sipahi who did not fulfill his military obligations lost his fief.

     Smaller fiefs, providing incomes from 1,000 to 20,000 akchy (Turkish silver currency), were called timar, while those producing from 20,000 to 100,000 were called zeamete; their lords were called timargi or zaim respectively. A completely armed horseman (gebeli) had to be provided for every 3,000 akchy by a timargi or every 5,000 by a zaim. The gebeli were recruited mainly from slaves and prisoners, or were bought by the Sipahi like the Mamelukes in Egypt. Because of the personal gain they derived from campaigns, sipahis were known to equip more gebelis than they needed. After the death of a Sipahi, part of his fief was inherited by his sons, and part could be inherited by his gebelis, who thus became sipahis in their own right.

     From the fifteenth century, in countries under Turkish rule, there were Christian feudals who became Turkish sipahis. In the Bosnian sancak (an administrative unit of the Empire), there were 111 Christian timars in 1469. In 1476, in the Smeredevo sancak, there were more Christian than Muslim sipahis, and there were about 3,000 in Herzegovina at the beginning of the sixteenth century. This number continued to grow, and the sipahis from these areas played prominent roles on the battlefields of Europe, Asia and Africa. When Ottoman feudalism grew stronger, most of these had to convert to Islam to preserve their timars; those who did not were edged out, and finally disappeared completely.

     Sipahis were the mainstay of the provincial army (elayet), and the most numerous of the Ottoman forces; there were about 40,000 of them in the sixteenth century. Their units were called alay, each with 1,000 men, and they were commanded by an alay-bey, who reviewed his sipahis before going to wart according to a register (defter) of feudal holdings. Every tenth sipahi remained home to keep the peace and do the work of those who had gone to war.

     The cavalry elite of the Ottoman army-about 6,000 men-was in the six sipahi units of the sultan’s household cavalry (alti boluk); the left wing and right wing salaried men (ulufeciyan), the left wing and right wing poor foreigners (querba), the weapon bearers (silathar), and the elite of the elite, the sipahi children (sipahi oglan). Units had differently colored pennants on their lances.



Muscovite Boyar Late 16th Century (pg.116)

From the second half of the fifteenth century, a growing role in the Russian army was assigned to the nobility (boyars), who were bound to service by possession of fiefs. This system in the armed forces became particularly strong during the rule of Ivan IV (the Terrible’, 1530-84). Reforms carried out in the mid-sixteenth century tied the small nobility to the emperor (tsar) by the granting of fiefs. These men were the foundation for the increasing absolutism. As early as 1550, a special caste of nobles under military obligation was formed; 1,078 of them given land around Moscow, and these were the ‘chosen one thousand’, landowners directly dependent on the emperor. Army officers were recruited from among their ranks; nobles under military obligation from other parts of the country, who were the majority, held subordinate positions and were called ‘city obligators’.

     Noblemen made up the cavalry, which numbered about 25,000 towards the end of the sixteenth century; in times of war this could increase to 40-50,000. In appearance, Russian cavalry followed the eastern pattern. Mail or plate armor was worn, with eastern type helmets and forearm vambraces; retainers did not have this protective equipment, but wore padded clothes which could stop an arrow. Fur and silk and jewels were worn, while the armor was richly ornamented with inlays; sometimes, the mail was made of silver. Weapons included lances, javelins, scimitars, maces, and, in the late sixteenth century, pistols. The principal weapon, however, was the composite bow.

      Russian cavalrymen rode jockey-style, with knees drawn up, which largely determined their tactics. This position was ideal for the archer, but unsuited to receive a lance blow. Russian horses were wiry, but small, and this was another reason for the avoidance of frontal charges. Tactics were surprise and numerical superiority, which enabled them to surround the enemy and fire from a distance, avoiding close combat. Discipline was somewhat lacking, but the men were loosely organized into squadrons (100) and regiments (1000). Several regiments made up a division (polk), of which there were six: Van (perodovoi polk), Left (levoi polk), and right (pravoi polk), wings, main body (bolsoi polk), reserve (smorozevoi polk) and a kind of light cavalry unit detached forward for skirmishing and reconnaissance (ermaulni polk). Each division had its own pennant of St. George.



Wallachian Cavalryman c.1575 (pg.118)

The original occupants of what is now known as Romania called themselves Vlachs (not to be confused with a similar word used in Serbia and Bulgaria for cattle-raisers), and formed three independent states: Wallachia about 1324, Moldavia in 1359 and Transylvania at the beginning of the fifteenth century. At first they were vassals of Hungary, later battlegrounds for the interests of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Turkey. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Turks appeared on the borders of Wallachia, which finally fell under their rule in 1526, after the Battle of Mohacs. Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler (1418-56-also known as Count Dracula) gained notoriety through his cruelty in the struggle against the Turks, and it was from him that the Turks learned to impale their prisoners on stakes without killing them at once, a skill they were later to use extensively. After the Turkish occupation, the Vlachs shared the fate of all occupied peoples. The local feudal lords (hospodars) often rose against the Turks, and took to the mountains and woods with their armed bands.

     In equipment and appearance, the Vlachs were similar to the Hungarians and Russians; they wore large fur capes decorated with feathers, and sported the characteristic long, rounded beards. After their victory over the Turks at Calugareni in 1595, Vlach armies became almost completely cavalry forces. Several contemporary engravings by de Bruyn, made between 1575 and 1581, help us to reconstruct the appearance of Wallachian cavalrymen.

     They belonged, for the most part, to a type of light cavalry (calarasi), who acquires much of their equipment and equestrian skills from the Ottomans. Besides training their horses to walk, trot and gallop, the Vlachs taught them to walk like camels, moving both legs on one side at the same time. Today one can find horses walking that way, but it is considered a bad trait.*

     From the end of the sixteenth century, Wallachians served as mercenary horsemen to both the Ottoman Empire and its enemies—Poland, Hungary and Russia. They were organized into squadrons (sotnia, from the Russian word for 100) of about one hundred men. At one time there were 20 sotnias in Polish service in the Ukraine, and one of the frequent motifs on their flags was a bull’s head. Like the Ottomans, they refused to use firearms for a long time; their main weapons were spear, saber and composite bow. For protection, they wore mail shirts and used a light round shield.

* (This is not necessarily true as a ‘bad trait’. Horses that walk this way were what became known in North America, as the ‘Tennessee Walking Horses and Missouri Foxtrotters. Essentially, the Vlachs were teaching their horses to gait and pace like Walking horses and Foxtrotters, known for their smoother rides at any speed -Rik Fox-).



Imperialist Cuirassier c.1630 (pg.120)

After 41 years of war, peace was made between Spain and the Netherlands in 1609. Part of the rich Dutch provinces had liberated themselves from Spanish rule and gained independence: the small professional Dutch army, commanded by Maurice of Nassau, stood against a world power. The most significant changes in the Dutch War of Independence were implemented in the cavalry. In 1597, out of a total of 11 ensigns of lancers (1,200 men in all), eight were converted to pistol-armed cuirassiers, and three to arquebusiers.

     The heaviest cavalry units rejected the lance in favor of firearms. The same year, at the Battle of Turnhout, the Dutch cavalry, practically on their own, routed Spanish cuirassiers armed with lances and infantry with long pikes. From the Dutch border to Poland on the west, and Turkey to the south were the semi-independent states dominated by the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty.

This whole area of central Europe, known for centuries as the Holy Roman Empire, was ruled from Vienna by the Austrian emperor, and the soldiers in his service were called simply ‘imperialists’.

To distinguish themselves from other soldiers, they wore a fed sash around their waists or over their shoulder and an oak twig in their helmets or hats.

     At the turn of the century, imitating their Dutch counterparts, the imperial cuirassiers abandoned the heavy lance and began to use a pair of pistols. More reliable and lighter firearms were one factor which would shape their future strategy; another was the formation of infantry units several thousand men strong, half armed with muskets and arquebuses, the rest protecting them from heavy cavalry attacks with six-meter pikes.

     In the early seventeenth century, the imperial works began producing armor which discarded superfluous parts but strengthened the back and breastplates and headgear. Because of the materials used, cavalry armor became heavier and more massive. The heaviest models extant today are on show in the Landeszeughaus Museum in Graz; they weigh 42kg/90 lb.

Their surface is unornamented, and their form not as refined as in previous phases: protection of the wearer against improved firearms was paramount.

     Cuirassiers played a prominent role in the Thirty Years War, commanded by Field Marshal Gottfried Pappenheim (1594-1632), and Albrecht Wallenstein (1583-1634). Pappenheim formed up his cuirassier regiments, about 1,000 men strong, in ten files of 100 men, stressing depth and narrowing the front. Wallenstein, on the other hand, disposed his units, of about the same strength, in six ranks emphasizing the initial strike over a wide front; his method was more successful.



Dragoon c.1630 (pg.122)

In one of the numerous Italian wars between 1552 and 1559 the French army occupied Piedmont. Threatened by Spanish troops, French Marshal de Brissac ordered his bravest infantry arqebusiers and musketeers on to horseback. He thus achieved a kind of mechanized infantry, which used horses only for transport, and fought on foot, like ordinary infantry. In the seventeenth century, other states followed this example and formed mounted infantry units, naming them dragoons. One story of he name’s origin has the French giving one of these new units a dragon pennant, frequently used in Byzantium and the Carolingian state. Another theory traces it to the word for a short-barreled musket-bore firelock: the dragon.

     The first dragoon regiments were organized during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) although the Dutch had dragoons as early as 1606 and the Swedes in 1611. Their organization and armament were practically identical to infantry units. In cavalry units, the men, called troopers, were divided into squadrons, each having a standard-bearer and trumpeter; dragoon privates served in companies and battalions with guidon-bearers and drumboys. In the beginning, the first three companies of a regiment were named in the same way as in the infantry—Colonel’s, Lieutenant-Colonel’s and Major’s.

     Dragoon regiments usually had 10 to 15 companies, each with approximately 100 men, which made them stronger than their real cavalry namesakes, which rarely had more than 500 troopers.

In the first decades of the seventeenth century, dragoon uniforms were little different from those of infantry musketeers. The shoes and stockings were replaced by boots and spurs, and a helmet sometimes substituted for the hat, but that hardly equipped them for a cavalry battle; in addition, only the officers had pistols, while the men had firelock muskets, unsuited to fighting on horseback. Every dragoon carried a sword, and his equipment included a small pick which could be used for tethering his horse when they operated on foot.

     It is interesting to note that the Austrian imperial dragoons had armored pikemen and officers with halberds until 1625. Dragoon’s mounts were small and cheap, and could not stand up to real cavalry horses. Occasionally, dragoons were trained to shoot from horseback; even less frequently, they mounted charges. The Swedish dragoons seem to have been exceptional: their main role was providing fire support for the cavalry, and they rarely dismounted in battle.



Croat 1630 (pg.124)

The Ottoman onslaught on Europe lost momentum towards the end of the sixteenth century, and came to a halt in upper Hungary and Croatia, in the area known as militargranze (military border), the rulers in Vienna having reorganized their external line of defense on the territory of Croatia towards the end of the fifteenth century. When Turkish incursions became more frequent, the Croatian nobility moved into the fortified towns on the border and began strengthening them.

     In 1527, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand I was elected Croatian king, and pledged to the Croatian sabor (assembly) that he would station 1,000 cavalrymen and 200 infantry in Croatia, the first standing forces to be permanently stationed there. The incessant Turkish raids were ruining the border areas: their populations were being taken into slavery, and whole regions were suffering economic collapse. Austria resettled these areas with people who had fled the Turks—Serbs, Hungarians, Romanians and Wallachians—who assumed an obligation of permanent military service by all males from 18 to 60. Some served in permanent military units of the vojna krajina (military border), others in the people’s militia. In return for their service, they were given houses and land, and were exempt from paying taxes. The standing army of the krajina was made up of Croatian nobles and the rest of the population.

     The cavalry units consisted of foreigners and large numbers of the domestic nobility. Even though it had become poor and had lost large parts of its territory, Croatia devoted significant resources to the defense of its borders, and the populace were permanently armed. Raids, ambushes, pillage and continuous war had hardened these border warriors into merciless fighters devoted to the court of Vienna. Regardless of their origins, they were all known as Croats (German-Croaten).

     They took part in wars all over Europe as part of the Austrian army, and fought as mercenaries in the Thirty Years War. Several regiments of Croats and Croat arqebusiers were organized, totaling about 10,000 riders, mostly carrying firearms. In central and western Europe, the name became synonymous with light cavalry units consisting of Croats, Serbs and Hungarians, and even Poles, because by 1638, the number of Croat cavalry regiments had grown to 19, with 25,000-30,000 men, well beyond what Croatia alone could offer.

     The Croats became famous in Europe for their skill, speed, and bravery, but because of the tasks they were assigned (security, reconnaissance and diversions in the enemy’s rear), they had to live off the land, and acquired a reputation as plunderers. In 1635, Louis XIII formed several regiments of Croats—the Royal Cravats. 



Swedish Medium Cavalryman 1632 (pg.126)

The Thirty Years War started in Germany in 1618; it was to bring imperial power and Catholic reaction to their zenith. The appearance of imperial troops on the south shores of the Baltic and the aggressive Catholicism of Emperor Ferdinand II threatened Protestant Sweden. In July 1630, the Swedish warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus, landed in Pomerania with a national army of 15,000 men and in two years had cleared most of Germany of imperial troops. At the moment of his death in the Battle of Lutzen, in 1632, nearly 150,000 troops were fighting under the Swedish flag.

     According to Clausewitz, Gustavus was a skilled military commander, inclined to cautious combinations, maneuvers and systematic warfare; he was certainly a better organizer and tactician than strategist. Prior to the war with Germany, he honed his skills in the conflict with the Poles and their dangerous husaria cavalry (1617-29). Following his rational views on warfare and tactics, he restructured the Swedish army to become the premier fighting force of the Continent, and a model for reforms in other armed forces.

     In this period, the battlefields of Europe were dominated by the four types of horsemen, not counting the light oriental riders. The heaviest were the cuirassiers in three-quarter armor, whom Gustavus considered expensive relative to their performance; next were the light cavalry, partially armored horsemen, who had a secondary role in combat and whom he considered unjustly neglected; he found the arquebusiers, with their fire support for cuirassiers and general gunnery action from horseback not offensive enough; and he thought that dragoons, the ‘mounted infantry’, could be put to better use.

     The logical consequence of these opinions was a decision to make do with two types of horsemen: dragoons, who would take over the arquebusiers’ role of fire support, and the light horsemen, who would become his offensive cavalry. A few smaller cavalry units, mostly consisting of Swedish nobility, were equipped with three-quarter cuirassier armor, but they did not affect the military operations and character of the king’s cavalry.

     In time, the standard Swedish cavalryman turned out to be of the so-called ‘medium’ type. He wore a corselet and a pot helm (or large with skullcap), and was armed with a pair of pistols and a sword somewhat longer than in other European armies. Tactics involved charging with drawn swords; only the first rank used firearms, and the salvo was delivered at point-blank range. On paper, the strength of a regiment was eight companies of 125 men each; in reality, regiments could have a few as four and as many as 12 companies.

     Some of the best cavalrymen in the Swedish army were Finnish riders known as hakkapelis, a name derived from their war-cry, which meant, ‘Chop them down!’.


Royalist (Cavalier) 1642 (pg. 128)

The immediate excuse for the beginning of the English Civil War between the feudal and bourgeois classes was a disagreement over royal prerogatives and the rights of Parliament. The conflict between King Charles I (1600-49) and Parliament escalated because of the king’s attempt to squeeze more money by levying new taxes without the approval of Parliament. There were also conflicts of interest over foreign and church policy.

     In defense of his ‘divine rights’, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642. Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-82) offered him eight troops of his Own Regiment of Horse, a total of about 500 men. Charles commissioned Prince Rupert as General of Horse.

     Since 1618, the Thirty Years War had been blazing on the Continent, and Gustavus Adolphus had initiated a modern model of cavalry warfare, which had shown itself superior. Prince Rupert had served in the Swedish army, and brought these battle-tested ideas to England. The first clash took place on 23 September 1642 at Powick Bridge. At the head of his eight troops of horse and ten companies of dragoons, Rupert defeated ten troops of horse and five companies of dragoons of Essex’s advance guard, inflicting 150 casualties. His cavaliers charged in the Swedish style, making use of the shock value and power of horses, and holding their fire until the mêlée.

     Their qualities notwithstanding, the royalist cavaliers had a tendency to slip from their officer’s control once the battle had started, and be distracted from pursuit of the enemy by pursuit of the enemy’s unprotected freight wagons. This proved fatal at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, which sunk all Charles’s hopes for victory. The English nobility, superb riders with military experience, were excellent material for Rupert’s cavalry. After the Battle of Edgehill, in which the parliamentary cavalry were defeated, Oliver Cromwell, Colonel of horse and Member of Parliament, wrote to Colonel John Hampden: ‘The royalists’ troopers are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons and persons of quality; do you think that the spirits of such base and mean fellows [the parliamentary cavalry] will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honor and courage and resolution in them…?’

     Most of the royalist riders were equipped as light horsemen, according to Continental standards. Their basic weapon was a long sword (‘tuck’), but rapiers (for example ‘Pappenheimers’) were also carried; two pistols – flintlocks or wheel-locks – were packed in saddle holsters. A buff coat was standard wear; armour consisted of a cuirass (corselet) and steel skull-cap worn underneath a hat. Royalists wore red or rose sashes. Their regiments had six to eight troops, with a total of about 300 cavaliers. On paper, the regiments were supposed to have 500 men, but this was so only with elite units, such as those of the Earl of Forth, Lord Percy and Prince Maurice.


Ironside (Parliamentary Roundhead) 1645 (pg.130)

In the English Civil War, the northern and western counties, mainly agricultural and dominated by the nobility, sided with the king, while the southern and eastern counties, where trade and industry had developed, backed Parliament. However, the cities in the north and west were for Parliament and the nobility in the south and east supported the king. In total six-sevenths of the population backed Parliament, which, supported by the bourgeoisie, had more money at its disposal and could afford a more effective mercenary army.

     In his letter to Colonel Hampden after defeat at Edgehill (see previous entry), Cromwell went on to say: ‘Your troopers are most of them old decayed servicemen and tapsters and such kind of fellows…You must get men of spirit that is likely to go as far as gentlemen will go, or else I am sure you will be beaten still…’  

     In the winter of 1644-5, Cromwell who had become lieutenant-general of horse, began a reorganization of the army. Besides local county forces, new troops were recruited – infantry and, 7,000 cavalry, in 11 regiments of the New Model Army. Every regiment of horse had six troops of 100 men. Cromwell’s army belonged to the type generally known as arquebusiers, which was misleading: the arquebus or carbine had almost been abandoned by this time. The men wore blackened breastplates over a buff leather coat and a helmet (the lobster ‘pot’), and were armed with swords and, sometimes a small pole-axe. They carried only pistols, although it has been suggested that officers may have carried carbines in addition to the sword and pistols.

(Essentially a watered-down version of what Polish hussars and Pancerni had been using).

     A trooper’s pay was 2/-a day, in theory at least. However, he was expected to pay for food for himself and his mount, as well as for lodgings, clothing and horseshoes. A Colonel’s daily pay was 22/-, a Major’s 15/8d, a Captain’s 10/- and a Lieutenant’s 5/4d. Good discipline was characteristic of the Ironsides; this nickname did not refer to their armor, but to their steadfastness and reliability in action. As individuals, they could not stand up to cavaliers, but they were more effective as a fighting body. In battle, Cromwell kept his men under tight control, and did not let them disperse afterwards.



French Mounted Musketeer 1660 (pg.132)

The musket was a hand-held firearm which first appeared in 1521, in Spain and in 1525 in France. It had a larger caliber than the arquebus (22-25mm to 13-20mm), a slightly longer barrel (up to 2m/ 6.5 ft for the largest muskets) and weighed more – up to 10kg/ 22lb. The musket had greater penetration, but was more cumbersome and difficult to use. Two men were needed to operate Spanish muskets, which had to be braced on a forked rest. At the end of the sixteenth century, a musket could kill a man in ‘shot-proof’ armor at 10 paces, and a ‘common armed man’ at 20. A musket produced in 1580 in Styria (Austria) could fire a 50g/1.8 oz, 20mm-calibre ball at an angle of 60 degrees and to a distance of 1,500m/1,600 yds; an accidental hit at several hundred paces could easily kill a man.

     Ninety-nine separate operations were required just for loading and preparation to fire this musket; a well-trained infantryman had to know a total of 143. The best marksmen of this period could hit a barn door at 200 paces. French infantry was armed with lighter muskets from 1573, but arquebuses remained dominant after the Thirty Years War. From 1620, smaller caliber muskets weighing up to 6kg/13lb were introduced.

     King Henry of Navarre established France’s regular army in 1597. In the 1600’s reforms, he founded a company of his personal guard. These were gentlemen armed with carbines, and they were called Carabiniers du Roi. In 1622, Louis XII changed their carbines to lighter muskets, and their name also changed, to Mousquetaires du Roi.

     Louis XIV ascended the throne of France in 1643, when he was only five; until his coming of age, the country was ruled by Cardinal Mazarin, who had the musketeers under his patronage. In 1661, after the Cardinal’s death, Louis formed another company of 300 musketeers. The older ones were called the Mousquetaires Gris (grey), and the new troop the Mousquetaires Noirs (black), the colors corresponding to those of the horses’ saddlecloths.

     The musketeers were described in Dumas’s popular novel, The Three Musketeers. It’s hero, D’Artagnan, was modeled on a real person, one Charles de Batz, who was killed during the Siege of Maastricht in 1673, at the age of fifty, leading a charge of the Mousquetaires Gris.



 Polish Winged Hussar 2nd half of 17th Century (pg.134)

A participant at the Battle of Vienna (1683) witnessed the charge of 3,000 Polish winged hussars down the slopes of Khalenberg against the Turkish army, and described it thus: ‘The hussars attacked the Godless Turks like angels from heaven’. He was alluding to the wings fixed to the backs of the hussars’ armor. The charge, which broke the Turkish resistance, partly explains the wings’ function: combined with ornamented three-quarter armor, covered with leopard, tiger and bear skins, made of eagle, swan, and wild goose feathers, worn by men wielding long lances, with multi-colored pennants on the tip, these appendages impressed and intimidated the enemy. Many observers wrote that they were the most beautiful riders in the world: the armor, skins, flags and noble and fiery horses must have been an awe-inspiring sight.

     Many drawings, prints and written sources from the sixteenth century depict or describe winged horsemen. According to one source, this habit of ornamentation came from Asia, and was adopted by the peoples who became part of the Turkish Empire. Another locates it in medieval Serbia. Besides their ornamental function, the wings had a ritual one—giving the rider ‘the ease and speed of a bird carried by the wind’, and, supposedly, a protective function too. The nomadic peoples of the Steppes used lassoes to snare horses, and these could also be used for capturing the riders. The wings were supposed to hinder the use of a lasso.

     The winged horsemen are most identified with seventeenth-century hussars because for nearly one hundred years Polish cavalry dominated the spaces of north-eastern and central Europe. Under their motto: “Najpierw polijemy a potem policzemy” (‘First we kill the enemy, then we count them’), they vanquished the Swedes at Kokenhaussen (1601), and Kircholm (1605), the Russians at Kushino (1610), the Cossacks at Beresteczko (1651), and the Turks at Chocim in 1621 and 1673, Kamienec Podolski (1653), and Vienna and Parkany (1683). These battles, and winged hussars, were not forgotten.

     The hussar’s breast armor, made on the basis of the Italian anima armor, could withstand a musket shot from 20 paces, while the armor back-plate was impervious to a pistol shot from point-blank range. The most frequent gilt ornaments on the breastplate were the Virgin Mary on the left side and a rounded knights’ cross on the right, or just a centrally located knights’ cross.

Besides a heavy (hollow) lance 5 m/16ft. long, the hussars had a type of combat saber (karabela boyova), a straight sword 170 cm/70 in. for piercing mail coif (koncerz) and two pistols carried in saddle holsters.

     The hussar units (choragiew) consisted of up to 150 men, who were either recruited on the territorial principal, or were owned by a Polish magnate: Radziwill, Sobieski, Potocki, Sienawski, Lubomirski, Pac, and so on. Each unit had a distinctive pennant for recognition on the battlefield, and each man was attended during campaign by one or two servants. As the hussars always carried everything necessary for at least two months, each man had one (or more) baggage wagon in the supply train.



Polish Pancerni 17th Century (pg.136)

The end of the Thirty Years War, dubbed the ‘first world war’ by many historians, also marked the end of a long period where weapons’ manufacturers competed with makers of armor. Firearms now prevailed over armor in land warfare, and the rivalry was not to be renewed until the coming of the first tanks in 1917.

     However, in the east, the development of protection for riders lagged a century behind western Europe. In the second half of the seventeenth century, mail-clad horsemen whose equipment had not changed in a thousand years cruised the expanses of Russia, Poland, Ukraine Hungary and the Turkish Territories.  There were several reasons why this type of protective equipment was retained in the east but abandoned in the west.

     In 1600, the workshops of Graz still produced mail short shirts, aprons, collars, and sleeves as protection for parts of the body left vulnerable by a suit of armor. However, a pair of sleeves cost 10 guilders and a shirt 25, while a complete suit of armor was only 6.6 guilders. Armor offered much better protection, and the technology of forging was more advanced and cheaper than the welding or riveting of small iron rings. Because of its high price and insufficient protection offered, mail was abandoned in the west at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

     In the east things were quite different. Every village blacksmith knew how to cut iron rings and turn them into mail armor. The cost of this labor was much lower, as nor special qualifications, complicated tools or furnaces were needed for working plates. Until almost the end of the nineteenth century, mail shirts were produced in Afghanistan and Iran, and worn practically as a national costume.

     In western armies, the ratio of infantry to cavalry was about three to one. In the east, it was the other way around: the horseman was still the backbone of the army, and his main weapons were the spear, saber, long thrusting sword for piercing mail, and the composite bow. Against these weapons mail and a round shield offered adequate protection.

     In Poland, the mail-clad riders were called Pancerni (from the German panzer—armor). At reviews held before the battle of Vienna (1683), 8,874 Pancerni rode past under 84 flags; this was more than half of Poland’s total cavalrymen at the time. They were heavy cavalry, organized in units of about 100, and the men serving them belonged mainly to the middle and lower nobility. They were armed with a 3m/10ft. spear (rohatyna), a saber (szabla), a long straight sword (koncerz) up to 170cm/70 in. long usually worn on the left side of the saddle, a saber (karabela), a composite bow and a round shield (kalkan). Part of the pancerni who fought at Vienna also had a pair of pistols in ornamented saddle holsters.



Master of the Horse c.1660 (pg.138)

In the early fourth century, the Athenian, Xenophon wrote two books devoted to the art of horsemanship, Hippike and Hipparchikos. Many of the precepts he offered are still valid today: a rider should gain a horse’s confidence; training should be based on rewards and not on punishment, and so on. It was not until a thousand years later after Xenophon that stirrups came to Europe from Asia Minor and the art of riding could advance in several directions, including cross-country and hawking, where fast riding and the ability to overcome obstacles were required, as well as skills for warfare and tournaments.

     In the Middle Ages, or Charlemagne’s Age of Chivalry, knights rode long-leg, with their feet pushed forward, and used reins with curb bits and their legs to control their mounts. Riders in the east preferred a forward seat, and rode light horses with a loose rein.

     An interest in horses and horsemanship surfaced again in northern Italy in the fifteenth century. Leonardo de Vinci published The Proportions of a Horse, in which its measurements were first expressed in ‘hands’. In 1550, Frederico Grisone published Ordine di Cavalcare, a work patterned upon Xenophon’s, in which he also advocated the use of heavy curb bits.

     This soon became popular, and on the orders of Queen Elizabeth his work was translated into English. Grisone’s influence contributed to the founding of the famous Neapolitan School of Riding and later the Spanish School of Riding, which in 1572 was moved to Vienna, where it is today.

     Grisone was replaced at the head of the Riding School in Naples by Giovanni Baptista Pignatelli, whose best disciples became masters as the courts of Louis XIII and Louis XIV in France and James I in England. The best known was Antoine de Pluvinel, who published L’Instruction du Roy in 1623, in which he pleaded for patience and gentleness when working with horses, and recommended saddles adapted to the anatomy of the animal as not to harm it.

     One of the illustrious students of the Naples School was William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676). While in exile in Antwerp in 1657, he published La Methode et Invention Nouvelle de Dresser les Chevaux, illustrated by Abraham van Diepenbeke. Upon restoration of the monarchy, he returned to England and headed the riding school at Bolsover Castle. He believed that a horse executed its rider’s commands out of fear more than respect, and would learn everything expected of it by constant repetition. His best-known students were King Charles II and Prince Rupert.

The Duke of Newcastle is also credited with the invention of the double bridle. One (the curb bit) presses on the horse’s tongue, preventing it from lifting its head and running; the second (the snaffle bit) presses on the edges of the horse’s lips, and a slight action is enough to turn a horse’s head to right or left, giving the rider control of the direction of movement. At the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, many riding schools opened throughout Europe.



Turkish Faris Bajrektar - End of the 17th Century (pg.140)

Local Muslims were recruited into mercenary units (dzema’at—Arabic for gathering) in the border areas of the Ottoman Empire towards Austria and Hungary. These units (faris) numbered between 20 and 50 men; their task was to protect the border and make up the numbers in the operational army in case of war. Dzema’ats were organized territorially in fortresses and townships in smaller administrative units (nahys) and one or more were commanded by an agha.

A smaller unit (oda) was commanded by an odabasa. In 1701, in the Gradacac dzema’at on the Austrian border, the commander, Bairam-agha, had 48 men at his disposal: his deputy (cehay), the ensign (Bajrektar), quartermaster (gulaguz), scribe (kyatib), four officers (odabasas) and 40 riders (farsis). Their daily pay was: agha 40 akchy, cehay 20, Bajrektar 15, gulaguz and kyatib 13 odbasa 12 and faris 11.

     In war, several dzema’ats, with 500-1,000 men, made up a higher unit (alay) commanded by an alay-bey. The bey was the lowest-ranking officer in the Ottoman army permitted to bear one horse-tail (tug); a bey of beys (beylerbey) was allowed two, a vizier, three, and the sultan had four tugs.

   In the Asian steppes, nomads first tied horse-tails to their lances for signal purposes, transmitting messages as far as the eye could see. As this was a means of issuing orders in war, the horse-tail became associated with those who gave the orders—commanders and chieftains.

If there were several tugs in the field, they had to be recognized, and their importance assessed. The more horse-tails, the more important the man issuing the order and therefore the order itself.

     In time, the tug became a war flag, which the Turks brought into central Asia and on their conquests. In the seventeenth century, they were partially replaced by standards in the regular army, but semi-regular and irregular light cavalry units went on using them until the end of the nineteenth century.

    The Illustration shows a faris Bajrektar in parade uniform from about the time of the Turkish Siege of Vienna (1683). Muslim craftsmen responsible for the traditionally ornate decoration of warriors’ equipment could not use representations of people or animals, but achieved perfection in geometric and floral motifs. Turkish riding equipment—saddles, sabers and shields—were especially valued in Hungary, Poland and Russia, and despite wars and a Papal ban, trade with Muslim craftsmen continued.



Officer, Royal British Dragoons 1685 (pg. 144)

The administrator of Scotland, George Monck, captured London on 8 February 1660, facilitating the restoration of the monarchy and the accession of Charles II (1660-85). While Charles was living in exile in the Low Countries, the gentlemen of his court formed a horse guard. At the same time the king’s brother, the Duke of York, formed his own troop of horse guards, and the king was accompanied by these two units when he returned to England.

   The king dissolved the existing army, and formed a regiment of Life Guards from 600 gentlemen of his retinue. From the men of the regiment of horse commanded by General Crook he formed the Royal Horse Guards. The third regiment, created in 1661, was the Tangier Horse.

   Catherine of Braganza brought Tangier as her dowry when she married Charles, and he raised a troop of horse numbering 109 men to serve in Tangier. After a parade on St. George’s Field, they embarked for Tangier, but after evacuation of the Tangier garrison in 1683, the troop returned to England. Two more were added to it, and they constituted the King’s Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons. Some years earlier, a dragoon regiment had been founded in Scotland, but it did not cross the border until the death of Charles II. Until the rule of James II, these were the only dragoon troops in the British Isles.

    During the 1670’s, breastplates, which had been in common use in all line cavalry units in Britain, fell into disuse. They were not officially used again until 1707 in the Low Countries, by cavalry commanded by the Duke of Marlborough, and then only the regiments of horse. The Royal Dragoons were also called the Tangier Cuirassiers, perhaps because the breastplates and helmets available after the disbanding of the protector’s army were loaded onto the same ship as the Tangier Horse, or perhaps as a tribute to their service as the only regular English cavalry in Morocco. There are several portraits of cavalry (and infantry) officers in the 1680’s where the subjects are shown wearing breastplates. At that time breastplates in portraits were considered a symbol of manliness, so they cannot be taken at face value, though it is possible that officers wore breastplates at parades and reviews. The illustration of the Royal Dragoons officer is based on a contemporary painting. In 1751, the regiment’s name was changed to 1st Royal Dragoons.



Austrian Hussar 1688 (pg. 146)

In 1526, the Hungarian army was defeated by the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs. The king and the cream of the nobility died in this battle, and Hungary broke up into three parts: one was occupied by Turks, who installed their administration; another acknowledged the rule of Vienna, hoping to gain protection from the Turks; the third proclaimed its own king and converted to Protestantism, so that feudal lords could take over the church’s rich lands. These divisions led to constant conflict over the next 300 years: part of the Hungarian nobility acknowledged the rule of the Hapsburgs, part fought against them alongside the Turks, and part with the Hapsburgs against the Turks. Alliances depended on circumstances and estimates of where the greater evil lurked.

     In the Turkish Great March on Vienna (1683), Austria was devastated by Tatars, Akincis and Hungarian light horsemen – the hussars. They were led by Imre Thokoly, a Hungarian lord who headed the uprising against the Hapsburgs. With the help of allied forces from Poland, and the German statelets, the Austrians succeeded in defending Vienna and then undertook an offensive against Turkey. In 1686, the Austrian army was reorganized and the same year Budim fell to Austrian forces. Preparing for further thrusts east, Austrian Emperor Leopold I founded the first regular Austrian hussar regiment.

     The Austrian army had seasonal units of light horsemen which could number up to 3,000 men. These were led by Hungarian and Croatian noblemen, who could change allegiance overnight, especially if the Viennese court tried to make them pay their feudal obligations. Leopold ordered Count Adam Czobor to select 1,000 men and form an imperial hussar regiment which could be paid from the imperial treasury, and be loyal to the crown. It was to consist of men aged 24 to 35, and have horses between 14 and 15 hands tall and 5 to 7 years old.

     On its formation, the regiment had a staff and ten companies of 100 hussars each. The officers of the other Austrian regular cavalry units did not have a high opinion of the hussars, considering them ‘little better than bandits on horse’. However, they were very effective in war, and a second regiment under command of Colonel Deak was formed in 1696, a third, commanded by Colonel Forgach, in 1702.

The year 1688 is taken as the date of the first regular hussar regiment. At slightly earlier dates, occasional regular companies of hussars, consisting of Hungarian emigrants opposed to the Hapsburgs, could be found at European courts. However, regular hussar regiments wee not founded until 1692 in France and 1695 in Spain.


Iranian Lancer 18th Century (pg.148)

At about the time of the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, in the area now spread over the parts of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the southern republics of the former Soviet Union and the north of India, cavalry armies could be found several times the size of those cruising the battlefield of Europe.

     During the rule of Shah Hussein (1694-1722), the Glizay Afghan tribe rebelled in Kandahar against Persian rule and declared its independence. Mir Mahmoud, the Afghan leader, captured Kerman and Isfahan in 1722, overthrew Hussein, and proclaimed himself emperor of Persia, but his state soon fell apart. Using the weakness of Persia, Turkey captured parts of western Iran, and Russia took the western and southern shores of the Caspian Sea. The new Persian ruler, the capable and energetic Nadir Shah (1736-47), put the state in order and raised a disciplined army, consisting for the most part of cavalry. In a single thrust, he defeated the Turkey, then Russia, which left him free to deal with Afghanistan, whence a new threat was looming. In 1738, he launched a large military campaign from Isfahan, in which his army, over several years, covered 6,000 km/3,000 miles in constant battles and skirmishes. He captured Basra at the north of the Persian Gulf, Kerman on the Iranian plateau, Kandahar, entered Afghanistan and took Kabul. He went on to capture Lahore and Delhi, down the Ind valley to the Arabian Sea, then north, again by way of Kandahar, through Turkistan, and captured Buhura and Hiva.

     On this campaign the Persian army consisted of mounted nobility, most of them members of the quizilbashes religious-military order, light nomadic cavalry, infantry and artillery. From the end of the seventeenth century, Persian infantry and artillery units had firearms and had been trained by European instructors. The tactics and equipment of the cavalry, however, had remained decidedly obsolescent, with only the quality and beauty of the armor, mail and sabers reaching their pinnacle in the eighteenth century. The basic weapons of upper-class Persians were the light lance, composite bow and saber. They often carried a mace and short steel javelins in a case. The chair aina (four-mirrors) armor was so named because of it consisted of four plates: breastplate, backplate, and one under each arm, and it was worn over a fine mail shirt.

     Also part of the protective equipment was a helmet (sisak), traditionally ornamented with bird feathers, a round shield with four bosses, and a right-hand guard (majsur). It is interesting that soldiers of the Grande Armee, in Napoleon’s march on Moscow in 1812, encountered horsemen from the southern border regions of Russia who wore mail shirts and armor of the type used in Persia several centuries earlier.



Swedish Trabant 1709 (pg.154)

After the end of the Thirty Years War, in which the Swedish army, led by King Gustavus Adolphus and the commanders Baner, Hurn and Tosterson, scored a series of victories over imperial armies, Sweden’s role in continental affairs was restricted to the Baltic area.

In 1675, Charles XI ascended the throne of Sweden, and instituted a series of significant military reforms.

    At the end of the seventeenth century Sweden had 2.5 million inhabitants, barely 5 per cent of whom lived in the cities. Its most important rival, Russia, had ten times as many people, and therefore much vaster resources for recruiting an army. Keeping a large number of men constantly under arms would disrupt the Swedish economy, so Charles introduced an administrative organization, the indelningsverkt, under which soldiers and officers of the regular army had the right to work the royal land on which farms were allocated to them.

     There were type projects for the construction of the farms, depending on the rank of the owner. The men from one county belonged to the same unit, so they knew each other, and morale was higher; however, if a unit suffered severe losses, a county would be devastated.

The basic organization of a regiment was four squadrons of 125 men. In peacetime, the troopers worked the land and took part in occasional exercises. In wartime the regiment’s full force would converge at the gathering point and marched off to the main army camp, where they underwent continuous training.

      At the time of Charles XI, uniforms modeled on the French ones of the period of Louis XIV were introduced. Cavalry was divided into national horse and dragoon regiments, with one squadron of Trabant Garde (Royal Yeomanry Guards) and a corps of nobles (adelsfanan). In 1685, a royal decree specified a special test for the blades of cavalry swords: they were bent in both directions, and the flat was struck hard against a pinewood plank. The blade was stamped only if it passed this test.

    In 1697, Charles XII became king of Sweden. He continued the military reforms, and turned the cavalry into a powerful fighting force, which proved itself against the Danes, Saxons, Poles and Russians during the Great Northern War (1700-21). How dangerous these battles were is illustrated by the Royal Yeomanry Guards; of 147 troopers who went to war in 1700, only 14 returned in 1716.



Russian Dragoon 1709 (pg. 156)

The accession of peter the Great (1682-1725) to the throne of Russia marked a turning point in its history. At the beginning of his rule, he realized that Russia could not become a strong country economically unless it had access to the sea. His first aim was a foot hold on the black Sea coast, which meant war with Turkey, and the first clashes showed that the Russian army was not up to Peter’s nationalistic ambitions. He therefore reorganized it, modeling it largely on the west European armies, especially in matters of recruitment, administration, armaments and training. In 1689, he ruthlessly crushed an uprising by the Streltzi regulars, and disbanded their units.

    In 1699 the order was issued for the creation of a new Russian standing army, and eligible men aged between 17 and 32 were recruited for life-long military service. Twenty-seven infantry and two dragoon regiments were created. The Russian army was traditionally cavalry-oriented; the reason why Peter recruited only two regular dragoon regiments was that he was counting on numerous yeomanry militia (dvoriani) who reported for war with their own horses, armament and equipment, and formed cavalry units. However, after the serious defeat by the Swedes at Narva in 1700, Peter gave up the concept of irregular units and during his rule raised 32 dragoon regiments.

     The first were called Schneewanz and Goltz, after their colonels. After 1708, regiments were named for their places of formation and recruitment. They were organized according to the infantry model, in 10 companies of 120 men. Every regiment also had a 3-pound cannon. IN 1704, an additional company of 140 grenadiers was added to the dragoon regiments; in 1711, these were organized in three regiments of mounted grenadiers.

    Until the mid-eighteenth century, Russian cavalry rules envisaged units dismounting and fighting in infantry squares; this was a throwback to the dragoons’ infantry training. The reason for this was that Russia lacked large numbers of heavy horses, which were later bought from Germany for the forming of cuirassier regiments.

    During the Great Northern War (1700-21), Peter introduced two large dragoon formations: one under General Menschikov, consisting of 11 regiments, the other under General Golitzen, 10 regiments strong. The king thus had at his disposal large corps of mounted infantry armed with artillery and all that was needed for independent action in Russia’s vast expanses.

    Reputedly, in a conversation between Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great, Charles had enumerated the virtues of his army, its many successes and captured standards. Peter retorted that Russia was a large country, and that his dragoons could sleep in their saddles. It is a fact that the Russian dragoons and their horses were tough, and that they suffered remarkably small losses from exhaustion, illness or cold during military operations and long marches.




Of Special Notable Mention:


Bavarian Prince Philip Carabinier 1704 (pg.152)

To make the arquebus more accurate, the Viennese gunsmith Caspar Zoller devised in 1498 a method of cutting four straight grooves into its barrel. This ensured a more stable trajectory for the ball, and therefore greater accuracy. It also made possible the shortening of the barrel, so that the weapon was lighter and less cumbersome. The French called this an arme carabine (rifled weapon). Also towards the end of the fifteenth century, Arab horsemen called carabins were armed with similar weapons. Their name supposedly came from the Arabic karab (weapon), also the possible source of the Turkish karrabul (marksman).

    Whatever the origin of the word, the new weapon was named the carbine, and was issued to troops for whom the arquebus or the musket would have been impractical because of their weight or length; in combat, it was used for targets at close range. As it was a muzzle-loading weapon, carbines which required greater loading speed were manufactured with smooth barrels, and although the main reason for the name-rifled barrel-was thus eliminated, the name stuck. In time, carbine came to be used for shortened versions of infantry muskets or rifles, whether rifled or not.

    In 1679, Louis XIV (1643-1715) ordered carbines to be issued to the two best marksmen in each cavalry troop of his line regiments. After the superior effectiveness of horsemen armed with long-range carbines (whose main targets were enemy officers) to those armed with pistols had been demonstrated, Louis decided, in 1693, to form a whole regiment and honored it with the name of Royal Carabiniers.

    Bavarian Elector Maximilian II Emanuel, who had good political and family connections with the French court, formed a squadron of Carabiniers in 1696, and the term ‘carabiniers’ became customary in the Bavarian army.

     In the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) Bavaria joined Louis XIV, but the Franco-Bavarian army was routed in 1704 at Blenheim. The Bavarians retreated across the Rhine and because of heavy losses, the elector disbanded his three dragoon regiments (considered light cavalry at the time), and used [art of their manpower to bring three cuirassier regiments up to strength. The remainder (34 men) formed a regiment of light cavalry, with six troops, which he named n honor of his six-year-old son: The Prince Philip Carabiniers.

    As fate would have it, in their first campaign, during the Battle of Elixem (1705), the Prince Philip Carabiniers bore the full brunt of the British attack led by Wyndham’s Horse, also known as ‘Carabiniers’. There were heavy casualties on both sides, and the Bavarians lost their troop standard to the British. It was captured in a counter-attack by the Arco-Cuirassiers from Cologne, and returned to the Bavarians. Because of a weak inflow of recruits, the regiment was disbanded in 1711, and its men used to supplement other units.



Cuirassier 1710 (pg. 160)

An interesting test was recently conducted in Austria with original firearms from museum collections, manufactured between 1571 and 1700. A target the shape and height of an average human figure was shot at from 30m/100 ft and 100m/330 ft. About 20 smooth-bore arquebus, matchlock and wheel-lock muskets were tested, and the results showed that the probability of a hit at 100m/330 ft from a weapon fastened to the test table was 40 to 50 per cent; at 30m/100 ft, the ball could pierce armor 3-4 mm thick, and at 100m/330 ft armor 1-2 mm thick (for comparison, a modern Belgian FN assault rifle can pierce 12 mm of armor at 100m/330 ft).

   The only real difference among the weapons was that the later models were lighter and had a greater rate of fire. Three pistols were also tested, one made in 1620 and the other two in 1700. The probability of scoring a hit from them at 30m/100 ft (also fastened to the test table) was much higher: 85 to 95 per cent. All three could pierce 2mm of armor.

    The firepower of infantry and cavalry forced armored riders from the battlefields towards the end of the seventeenth century. The rate of fire was also increased, while the cost of firearms manufacturing went steadily down. For a while, armored cavalry tried to fight back with the use of musket-proof breastplates and pistol-proof backplates; together, these weighed over 15kg/33lb, and the protection provided did not justify its high price or inconvenience.

    At the beginning of the eighteenth century, France, Bavaria Austria, Saxony, Brandenburg, Denmark and Holland equipped their cuirassiers with breastplates and backplates which were similar, and with hats under which steel skull-caps were worn. In1698, Britain officially abolished the use of armor in regiments of horse, but reintroduced a breastplate worn under the coat in 1707, at the time of the War of the Austrian Succession. Armor was not seen again until the coronation of George IV (1821), and then only for the Household Cavalry.

    The weight of a breastplate was about 5kg/11lb, and it was about 2-3 mm thick. It was primarily meant to protect the rider from cutting and thrusting weapons, although it was effective against firearms too, up to a certain distance. Until the mid-eighteenth century, armor was made up by the forging of hot metal plates on specially shaped casts. The first series of breastplates made by cold pressing was manufactured in Prussia in 175. This new technology made possible the production of larger batches of armor of standard quality.



Prussian Bosniak Lancer 1760 (pg. 168)

In what was, until recently, Yugoslavia there was a republic, now a state, called Bosnia which occupies the same place as a medieval state of that name. Its inhabitants of the Muslim faith are called Bosniaks. They were originally Christians who converted to Islam after Bosnia came under Turkish rule, at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, to preserve their holdings and privileges. In feudal Turkey, anyone who owned land had the obligation of military service in case of war, so Bosniaks were found in all Turkish armies of that time.

    In 1740, the War of the Austrian Succession began. Prussian King Frederick wanted to annex the rich province of Silesia, but Austria opposed this, which was deemed sufficient cause for war. In the early part of the war, known as the First Silesian War, Saxony was on the side of Prussia, but decided to switch allegiance. In preparation for a possible continuation of the war, military emissaries were sent to the Ukraine in 1744 to recruit men for the Saxony cavalry. The response of the Cossacks was disappointing, but Saxony managed to lure from the Turkish army about 100 Bosniaks-light horsemen armed with lances, who were guarding the Turkish border in the Ukraine. The Bosniaks left for Dresden.

    On their arrival, Prussian emissaries in Saxony offered the Bosniaks more, so they marched off again, from Saxony to Prussia. In 1745, Frederick founded a regular Bosniaken Korps, one troop in strength, which became part of the 5th Hussars, also known as the Black Hussars (Totenkopf), their symbol being a ‘death’s head’.

   Hostilities continued as the Second Silesian War, and ended in 178, but the Bosniaks remained in service. In the same area, and for similar reasons, another war soon started. In 1756, Prussia occupied Saxony, triggering the Seven Years War. The magnitude of operations and insufficient Prussian human resources forced Frederick to recruit soldiers outside his borders.

    Light horsemen from the east – Poles, Lithuanians, Tatars and Muslims – were incorporated into the Bosniak units, which, by 1760, had grown to 10 squadrons. That same year, the Bosniaks became regular light cavalry regiment, number 9 on the army list.

    After the end of the war in 1763 the regiment was disbanded, only one squadron being kept for ceremonial purposes. In 1778, another war broke out between Prussia and Austria, this time over Bavaria. The Bosniaken Korps was again filled out to 10 squadrons, mainly with recruits from the Ukraine and Poland. In this war, which had no major battles, the Bosniaks suffered heavy losses in surprise attacks by the Austrian hussars.

   Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe: one part was annexed by Russia, another part by Austria and a third by Prussia. Prussia recruited 15 squadrons of light horsemen from its part of Poland; but these troops were Bosniaks in name only. As Poles made up the majority, the units were renamed the Korps Towarczys in 1799.

After the Prussian defeat by Napoleon in 1806, the Towarczys were disbanded.


Polish National Cavalryman 1794 (pg. 178)

Opposing the creation of a capitalist, bourgeois society, and fearing that events would develop as they had in the French Revolution, in 1792 the Polish Catholic church and feudal magnates called upon Russia, Austria and Prussia to intervene in Poland. The weak Polish army could not stand up to the superior enemy troops, and the king himself contributed to the general treason by ordering them to surrender. Poland was occupied, and nearly half of its territory was annexed by Russia and Prussia. This state of affairs could not last for long, and in 1794 there was an uprising under the leadership of Tadeusz Kosciuszko. At first the national army was successful, inflicting several defeats on the enemy, the severest being that of the Russians at Raclawice. However, the insurrection was put down by the end of the year.

    The bases of the Polish army were the national infantry and cavalry. In 1792, the royal army had 17,500 infantry and 17,600 cavalry organized in light regiments (lekkiej kawalerii). This unusual ratio between infantry and cavalry troops was a reminder of the glorious past of Poland’s mounted forces. The Polis cavalry, the pride of the army, was organized in people’s brigades (brygada kawalerii narodowej). Two belonged to the Wielkopolski, Ukrainski and Malopolski counties, and one to Litewski county. Each consisted of two regiments with three or four squadrons, and its full complement was between 1,200 and 1,800 men. Besides the people’s brigades, there were so-called royal regiments, one of the guards – the Gwardia Konna Koronny, with 487 men, and six Pulki Przedniej Strazy Koronny, of about 1,000 men each. A regiment of lancers, the Pulk 5 Ulanow, had 390 men.

    During the 1794 uprising, all the regiments became part of the people’s army, with their old organization and names but barely half of their manpower. A large number of volunteer cavalry regiments and independent squadrons were formed, usually numbering between 100 and 700 men. Besides national names, they were also called after their colonels, for example, Gorzynski (620 men), Zakarzewski (600 men), Moskorzewski (640 men), Kwasniewski (300 men), Dabrowski (522 men), and so on. Major Krasicki formed a hussar regiment of 203 men; in all, the cavalry numbered about 20,000.

    Red and dark blue were the dominant colors in Polish cavalry uniforms, characterized by the national jacket (kurtka), and the czapka cap, later, the model for the Uhlan czapka adopted by nearly all European armies. The czapka has roots in the ancient past. The oldest drawings date from 1560 and 1565, showing respectively, the caps of a professor and a Cracow merchant.

Polish émigrés in the army of General Dabrowski, which fought as a part of the French army in Italy in 1796-1800, arrived dressed in uniforms which soon became officially accepted in the French army.


Austrian Uhlan 1809 (pg.184)

The term Uhlan was supposedly derived from the Turkish oglan, meaning child (the term infantryman was derived in a similar way from the Italian infante). Horsemen with spears and sabers were to be found in the forces of the Saljuq Turks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the sultan’s cavalry guard, 1,000 chosen noblemen were in the Sipahi Oglan unit and in the sixteenth century, light horsemen called uhlans appeared in Poland and Lithuania.

    After the partition of Poland among Russia, Prussia and Austria in the eighteenth century, it was in these states that the first regular uhlan regiments organized and dressed according to the Polish model were formed. The first three in Russia, formed in 1805, were called Lithuanian, Tatar, and Polish, clearly indicating their origin.

    In 1791, Austria engaged the services of several companies of Ulanow in the border region of Galicia. Joseph II had formed them in 1784 as a squadron of Galizischen Adelsgarde (in Polish gwardia galicyjska). One of its members was Joseph Poniatowski, later to become a marshal in Napoleon’s army. In 1791, during the reign of Leopold II, the existing divisions were transformed into squadrons, two of them armed with lances (241cm/95 in shaft, 21cm/8in blade), and two with carbines only. The uhlans with carbines were supposed to break the enemy with their gunfire, thus laying the ground for attack with spears.

    The Uhlan uniform copied the polish cap (czapka) and jacket (kurtka). The horse equipment was the same as for the hussars, but from 1798 the shabraques had rounded rear corners. In 1801, the new cap was introduced with a height of 23cm/9in and a square top.

In 1798, the 2nd regiment of uhlans was formed from Degelman’s Frei Korps; the 3rd was raised in 1801, and the 4th in 1813. From 1805, uhlan regiments had eight squadrons, each with 150 men, plus 90 dismounted troops in a reserve squadron. Counting staff, it comprised 1,360 men and 1,212 horses.

   The organization of the regiments was not changed after 1809, but before the war with Napoleon the complement was raised to 1,481 men and 1,414 horses. After the campaign and defeat in 1809, the number of squadrons was decreased to six. In the wake of the Battle of Wagram, Polish troops serving in the French army gathered lances discarded by Austrian uhlans, foreshadowing the 1810 decision to make this their official weapon. The Austrian army list of 1813 gave the regiments according to the names of their proprietors (inhabers): one, Herzog zu Sachsen-Coburg-Saafeld; two, Furst Schwarzenburg; three, Erzherzog Carl Ludwig, and four, Kaiser Franz.



Mexican Lancer 1848: (pg.198)

(Edited for brevity) “…The Mexican command envisaged raising whole series of irregular companies armed with lances in case of war. The tasks of these units were to be reconnaissance, patrol and attacks on enemy lines of communication. In 1843, the Jalisco Lancers was formed. It had two squadrons, and its men were dressed in the Polish mode, with czapkas instead of helmets. The Mexicans were born equestrians, and rode high-quality mounts, 15 hands tall, with a lot of Arab and Spanish blood. Horses of this breed are still found today, under the name of Native Mexican.”