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
Spanish Ginete Beginning 16th Century (pg. 98)
In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the island now known
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
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
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
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
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
After special armor for the infantry was introduced, similar protection
for medium and light cavalry became the norm. Medium cavalry in
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.
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
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
Stradiotti Light Cavalryman 16th Century (pg.108)
In the fifteenth century,
As the Ottomans drove further west,
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,
Italian states which could not afford their services had to compensate in
other ways-for example, in 14870,
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
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
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
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
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
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—
* (This is not
necessarily true as a ‘bad trait’. Horses that walk this way were what became
known in North America, as the ‘
Imperialist Cuirassier c.1630 (pg.120)
After 41 years of war, peace was made between
The heaviest cavalry units rejected the lance in favor of firearms. The
same year, at the
This whole area of central Europe, known for centuries as the
Holy Roman Empire, was ruled from
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
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
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
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.
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
They took part in wars all over
The Croats became famous in
Swedish Medium Cavalryman 1632 (pg.126)
The Thirty Years War started in
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
In this period, the battlefields of
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
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.
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
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
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
Louis XIV ascended the throne of
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 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
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
In 1600, the workshops of
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
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.
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
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
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
Grisone was replaced at the head of the
One of the illustrious students of the
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
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
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
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
Officer, Royal British Dragoons 1685 (pg. 144)
The administrator of
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
During the 1670’s, breastplates, which had been in common use in all line
cavalry units in
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),
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
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
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
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
the end of the seventeenth century
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.
1697, Charles XII became king of
Russian Dragoon 1709 (pg. 156)
The accession of peter the Great (1682-1725) to the throne of
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
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
Reputedly, in a conversation between Charles XII of
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)
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
Cuirassier 1710 (pg. 160)
An interesting test was recently conducted in
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.
the beginning of the eighteenth century,
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
Prussian Bosniak Lancer 1760 (pg. 168)
In what was, until recently,
1740, the War of the Austrian
Succession began. Prussian King
Frederick wanted to annex the rich
their arrival, Prussian emissaries in Saxony offered the Bosniaks more, so they
marched off again, from Saxony to
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,
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
the end of the eighteenth century,
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
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
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.
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
Polish émigrés in the army of General Dabrowski, which fought
as a part of the French army in
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
After the partition of
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.”