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Sir John Smythe on Pike Fighting

Extracts from Certain Discourses Military, 1590

…Wherein they do little consider, or not understand, that a squadron of armed men in the field, being ready to encounter with another squadron, their enemies, ought to straighten and close themselves by front and flanks; and thst after they have given their first thrust with their pikes and being come to join with their enemies front to front and face to face, and therefore the use and execution of the pikes of the foremost ranks being past, they must presently betake themselves to use of their swords and daggers, which they cannot with any celerity draw if the blades of their swords be so long. For in troth armed men in such actions, being in their ranks so close one to another by flanks cannot draw their swords if the blades of them be above the length of three quarters of a yard or a little more. Besides that, swords being so long do work in a manner no effect, either with blows nor thrusts, where the press is so great as in such actions it is. And the rapier blades being so narrow and of so small substance, and made of a very hard temper to fight in private frays, in lighting with any blow upon armour do presently break and so become unprofitable.

Extract from Instructions, Observations and orders Mylitarie, 1591

…and that the Sergeant Major or Captains would have their piquers to charge or to receave a charge of another square of piquers their Enemies, then are they to say to the first ranks of piquers. `Strainghten and close your ranks, couch your piques and charge’: which being pronounced, all the piquers of the first ranke must joine and close themselves in frunt, letting fall the points of their piques and carying them close breast high with both their hands steadilie and firmely, the points full in the faces of their Enemies: And the second ranke likewise straightening and closing themselves by flanke and frunt, and joyning themselves to the backe of the first ranke, and following them steppe with steppe carrying their piques above-hand over the shoulders of the first ranke the points of their piques likewise towards the faces of their Enemies. And the third ranke closing and straightening themselves in flanke and frunt, and joyning themselves to the back of the second ranke; And the fourth ranke likewise straightening and closing themselves to the backes and shoulders of the third ranke, and carrying their piques firmlie with both their hands over ye sholdiers of all the ranks before them, the points of their piques likewise towards the faces of their enemies approaching. And all the rest of the ranks of piquers following step with step each one at the heeles of the other must carry their piques still upright in the palmes of their handes, and in boults of their armes as above said, but yet bending the pointes of them somewhat towards their enemies, that they may be seen ready in an instant to let fall the points of their piques towards their enemies, and to succor the ranke before them upon any necessitie, or heard incounter of their Enemies to charge them, to shak and clatter their piques, as some newe phantastical Captains and officers of this time do teach their soldiers to do; as though they would make their enemies afraid before they come at them: which is more like unto such as do plaie the Soldans and Sarazines upon a stage, than like soldiers piquers in the field, who should at an approach and charge, carie their piques as steadie and firme as they can possiblie, the points full in the faces of their enemies as is aforesaid.

But in this place I thinke good further to notefie unto the Readers of these mine instructions that in the yeare, 1588, I did heare some two or three of our Nation of principall officers and charge militarie hold an opinion, that when two squadrons of Enemies all piquers should come to incounter and confrount the one with the other, that then the formost ranks of them should lie at the push of the pique and so should annoie the one the other, with thrusts and foines (as they terme it) at all the length of their Armes and piques, according to the use of single Combattes either in sport or earnest betwixt piquer and piquer by which kinde of fighting of squadrons at the push of the piques, I say, that none of the ranks can fight but only the first ranke, because that if they observe their proportionate distance according to order and discipline, the piques of the second ranke are too short to reach with their points the first rank of their enemies squadron likewise standing still joining at all length of their Armes and piques, as they vainlie imagine: Thea although to the trouble and disorder of the first ranke before them they do thrust and joine over their shoulders; During which time of the pushing and foyning of the two first rankes of the two squadrons of enemies, all the rest of the rankes of both the squadrons must by such an unskilfull kind of fighting stand still and looke on and cry aime, untill the first ranke of each squadron hath fought their bellies full, or untill they can fight no longer: which is a very scorne and mockerie myhtarie to be either spoken or thought of by any men of warre that doo pretend to have seene any action effectuallie performed betwixt any great numbers of piquers reduced into form of squadrons in the field. For in throth according to all reason and true experience, such a squadron as should thinke it their greatest advantage to fight in that sort, much (contrarie to discipline) inlarge themselves in their ranks and distances both in front and by flankes, to the intent that they may have elbow roome enough without and impediment by the nearness of the ranks behind them, to pul backe their armes, and to thrust at their enemies approaching them at all the length they can of their armes and piques, and again with dexteritie to pull backe, and retire them to give new thrusts: which opening and enlargement of ranks being perceived by the contrarie squadron (who if they be skilful men of warre) doe come closed in their rankes both in front and by flankes, as close as they can possiblie march pace with pace and step with step, as if they were one entire body, carrying their piques with both their hands breasthigh, all the points of the piques of the first rank of one evennesse and equality not any one preceeding the other: And so likewise the points of all the piques of the second, third and fourth ranks, carrying the like equalitic and evennesse; but yet the points of everie ranke of piques, shorter and further distant almost by a yard from their enemies faces, then the pointes of the ranke that do preceed them; And all those fower ranks marching or moving forward together pace with pace and step with step, carrying their piques firmly with both their hands brest high as aforesaid their points full in their enemies faces, they doe altogether give a puissant thrust, the points of the first ranke of piques, first lighting upon the faces of the first ranks or rankes of their enemies; and the points of the second, third and fourth rankes, subsequently in a manner all in an instant, doe all one after another insuch terrible sort light upon the faces, breasts and bodies of the formost rankes of the enemies that do stand still pushing and foining with their piques in their ranks opened and inlarged, that they never give them any leysure and waies to pull backe and recover the use of their piques to give any new thrustes, nor yet to close their ranks inlarged, but do overthrow, disorder and brake them with a great facilitie, as if they were but a flocke of geese; as all men of right consideration and judgement may easilie consider and see.

But after all this it may be, that some very curious and not skilfull in actions of Armes, may demand what the foremost rankes of this well ordered and practised squadron before mentioned shall doo after they have given their aforesaid puissant blows and thrusts with their piques incase that they doo not at first incountry overthrow and break the contrary squadron of their enemies: therunto I say, that the foremost rankes of the squadron having with the points of their piques lighted upon the bare faces of the formost ranks of their enemies, or upon their Collers, pouldrons, quirasses, tasses, or disarmed parts of their thighes; by which blowes given they have either slaine, overthrown, or wounded those that they have lighted upon, or that the point of their piques lightin upon their armours have glanced off, and beyond them; in such sort as by the nearness of the formost ranks of their enemies before them, they have not space enough againe to thrust; nor thatby the nearness of their fellowes ranks next behind them, they have any convenient elbow roome to pull backe their piques to give a new thrust; by meanes wherof they have utterly loste the use of their piques, they therefore must either presentlie let them fall to the ground as unprofitable; or else may with both their hands dart, and throw them as farre forward into and amongst the ranks of their enemies as they can, to intent by the length of them to trouble their ranks, and presently in the twinkling of an eye or instant, must draw their short arming swordes and daggers, and give a blow and thrust (termed a halfe reverse, and thrust) all at, and in one time at their faces: And therewithall must presentlie in an instant, with their daggers in their left hands, thrust at the bottome of their enemies bellies under the lammes of their Cuyrasses, or at any other disarmed parts: In such sort as then all the ranks of the whole squadron one at the heeles of the other pressing in order forward, doo with short weapons, and with the force of their ranks closed, seeke to wound, open, or beare over the rankes of their enemies to thier utter ruine: ……By all which particularities before alleaged and declared, I thinke it may be apparant to all such as are not obstinatelie ignorant, that battles and squadrons of piques in the field when they do incounter and charge one another, are not by reason or experience mylitarie to stand all day thrusting, pushing, and foining one at another, as some do most vainlie imagine, but ought according to all experiance with one puissant charge and thrust to enter and disorder, wound, open, and break the one the other, as is before at large declared.