The English Civil War
The armies of Charles I and his Parliamentarian opponents form the last chapter of this survey, not only because they are of especial interest to the English reader, but also because they do represent the 'standard' type of weaponry and organisation reached by European forces in the mid-17th Century, after the reforms of Maurice and Gustavus had had time to spread, but before the bayonet - already tentatively in use by the French - had brought to an end the pike and musket period. Though initially improvised and amateur forces, they had a large leavening of professional officers from Dutch and Swedish service, even at the outset, and by the end of the wars Parliament had produced, in the New Model, a force whose discipline, spirit, organisation and equipment were probably superior to any contemporary.
The New Model infantry (formed 1644) were intended to comprise 12 regiments, each of 1,200 men in ten companies (the Colonel's company 200 strong, Lieutenant- Colonel's 160, Major's 140 and the rest 100). One third were to be pikemen, the rest musketeers. This represents the 'ideal' strength and combination of arms of the contemporary infantry regiment. Probably based on later Dutch models, it bears a very close resemblance to later Swedish, French or even Imperial units of the time, as well as representing what both sides in the Civil Wars aimed at.
In practice, it proved difficult to bring even the New Model to full strength, and both Royalist and Parliamentary regiments could have as few as six companies, and were sometimes down to 200 men or so, while 800-900 was about the maximum strength. The gap between establishment and actual strength was even wider in the 16th and 17th Centuries than in later periods, as has already been shown, and in the Civil War the raising of troops was particularly local, personal and haphazard, especially on the King's side, while practices like the recruitment of prisoners of war (though common in Europe also), would be likely to mean many troops of limited enthusiasm, and a high rate of desertion. Nor was the 2:1 ratio of muskets to pikes always achieved: the Royalists in the early part of the war, in particular, were short of muskets and had some units with as many as half the men pike-armed.
Both Swedish and Dutch tactical formations were employed, the latter especially in the earlier stages, though for infantry Dutch formations were simpler and probably more practical than the rather complex Swedish-based formations advocated by contemporary drill books such as that of Robert Ward.
A regiment, according to strength, would form in the field one or two 'divisions'; some-times drawn up eight deep, more often six, with the musketeers flanking the pikes. Some musketeers would be detached ('commanded') to form a 'forlorn hope' screen, often lining a hedge or ditch, and others would often be found on the flanks giving fire support to the cavalry in Swedish fashion.
At first, fire was generally by counter-march, but in Parliamentary armies of the later war years, and in at least one Royalist force - Montrose's Scots-Irish army - the Swedish 'salvo' or simultaneous three-rank volley was used, the shot being reduced, from six ranks to three by 'doubling the files' before firing.
Weaponry was nearly standardised. Musketeers were equipped with Dutch-pattern matchlocks (though units with 'firelocks' - early flintlocks - were formed to guard the artillery and train, where lighted matches might have proved too great a hazard), and normally carried rests, though some firelocks and commanded musketeers may have dispensed with these. Bandoliers with the 'l2 apostles' - 12 cartouches with powder charges - dangling from them were usual, though, especially in the early days, a good many men had to use their pockets instead. A sword (costing four and sixpence) was carried, but the clubbed musket itself was usually preferred for hand-to-hand combat. Most musketeers wore no protection, but some may still have worn helmets or buff coats.
Pikes were at least 16 feet long on issue, but their bearers often shortened them to make them easier to handle (one way of detecting inexperience in an enemy unit was by spotting the wavering of their pike points in the breeze). Pikemen also had a cheap sword, and normally a helmet likely to be of open, brimmed, type, lobster-tail pots being normally reserved for cavalry use), and a corselet, the breastplate at least being 'shot-proof'. Tassetts to protect the thighs were worn by some, including the London Trained Bands, but both these and the gorget (except as a sign of rank) were on the way out. Again, especially at the beginning of the war, very many pikemen lacked any armour, and swords too were often in short supply. Indeed, some Royalists went to war with nothing but clubs or other improvised weapons. Under, or instead of, the corselet, a sleeveless, long-skirted buff coat was worn.
A few rifled sporting guns were employed in the war, and proved so effective in the hands of ex-keepers and others, that General Monck suggested each company should ideally have half-a-dozen such snipers. This idea, however, seems never to have been adopted.
Finally, partisans were still carried as a sign of commissioned rank, while NCOs and colour-guards could have halberds.
The proportion of cavalry in a Civil War army could vary a great deal: the New Model approached Monck's ideal ratio of one cavalryman to every two infantry, having 11 600 man regiments of horse, and again this might be taken as about that usual, but the Royalists in particular could have up to half a field army of cavalry.
In theory, cavalry regiments were of six troops, and the troops usually 71 strong, giving an overall strength of about 420-500 men. In practice, a few units, especially those of commanders, were stronger than this (for example, Rupert's own regiment had ten troops, Cromwell's 14). Many were smaller, and their troops also understrength, especially in the Royalist army. Parliamentarian troops were sometimes overstrength, and in the New Model were to be of 100 men.
In battle, cavalry regiments were formed into tactical units, squadrons, normally of two troops each.
The great majority of horse were of the 'light cavalry' pattern standardised by the Swedes during the 30 Years' War: that is, they were protected by corselet (breastplate shot-proof, backplate pistol-proof), buff coat, and very voluminous floppy leather boots, whose tops would reach the thigh if turned up (which they seldom were). A helmet would normally be worn. This could be a 'lobstertail' or 'Dutch' pot - the English versions usually having a more elaborate three-bar facial protection than earlier Continental models (which normally had a single adjustable nasal, or none); alternatively a 'secret' or steel skull-cap worn beneath a broad-brimmed felt.
They were armed with a long straight 'tuck' suitable for both cutting and thrusting (though some 'Pappenheimers' and other rapiers were also carried), and a pair of wheel-lock pistols firing bullets weighing about 34 to the pound. Though such cavalry were sometimes still referred to as 'Harquebusiers' or 'Carbineers', carbines were occasionally carried by officers, but not by troopers. Light 'poll-axes' or 'horseman's axes' like those of the Poles and Imperialists could also be carried, slung by a ribbon from the wrist so as to leave the hands free for the pistols.
The Swedish model was most clearly followed in the case of cavalry, who were normally drawn up in squadrons, three ranks deep, and finished their charge at the gallop, relying upon the sword for shock and employing pistols only at the last moment, or in the melee. Such tactics were the most successful but earlier in the war were primarily employed by the dashing cavalry provided by Royalist gentry and their servants and retainers and trained on these lines by Prince Rupert. The 'decayed serving-men and tapsters' of the early Parliamentary horse (and even some early Royalists too) used deeper 'Dutch' formations and tended to advance at the trot, relying on pistol fire. Occasionally charges were received at the halt, with the disastrous results to be expected, though this is probably to be attributed to inexperience, not any particular tactical system. The 'Cuirassiers', with three-quarter armour and closed helmets, a few units of which were used by Parliament (Essex's Life Guard and Sir Arthur Haselrig's 'Lobsters') also used Dutch tactics: as Captain Rudd stated in 1663, the Cuirassier 'is commonly to give the charge upon a trot, and seldom gallopeth, but upon a Pursuit. Having spent both his pistols, and having no opportunity to load again, he must then betake himself to the last refuge - his sword'.
Even in the later stages of the war, the Parliamentarians quite often formed six deep, and gave the charge at 'a good round trot' rather than a gallop, though relying on the sword; this may be related to the success of Cromwell and others in keeping their men in hand and rallying them ready for further action, whereas victorious Cavaliers were likely to be spread all over the surrounding countryside; often a decisive factor, as it was, for example, at Marston Moor in 1644. However, in the earlier part of the war both sides' cavalry frequently vanished from the field in rout or pursuit, leaving the infantry to fight it out alone, while, to be fair, there are instances of Royalist units which rallied and charged for a second or even third time in a single action - something which could hardly be said of the British heavy cavalry of Napoleonic times, for instance.
Whatever happened, the success or failure of the horse, and in particular its reappearance on the field in time to affect the infantry fight, was still commonly the decisive factor in battle.
The New Model had one Dragoon Regiment, with ten 100 man companies, and in most major encounters of the Civil War each side had one or two Dragoon regiments. Monck recommended that an army have as many troops of dragoons as regiments of horse (ie from one-fifth to one-quarter the strength of the horse), and in fact it seems that a single dragoon troop or company was sometimes incorporated into a cavalry regiment, though separate regiments, usually of five or six troops or companies, were probably more usual. Dragoons were trained to 'give fire on horseback' and very occasionally did deliver mounted charges, but they were still essentially mounted infantry and had not yet managed to assimilate themselves into the cavalry.
Their dress appears to have been that of the infantry musketeer, save that boots and spurs replaced shoes and stockings and a helmet was sometimes worn, so they were ill-protected for a cavalry fight. They had swords, but only the officers carried pistols, the rest having either a 'dragon' (a musket-bore firelock with a 16 inch barrel) or a shortened but wide-bore firelock musket, neither, again, well suited to a mounted melee (both were normally slung from a swivel on a broad leather shoulder-belt). Their mounts were also small and cheap, unfit to stand against cavalry chargers.
Lacking pikes, they would have had a hard time trying to stand against attack on foot either, and their true tasks were mainly of a skirmishing nature, screening flanks or retreats, seizing strategically placed patches of cover ahead of the main army, or giving mobile fire support to the cavalry. Not surprisingly, dismounted behind a hedge was their favourite battlefield station.
Parliament in general were better supplied here - Essex, for example, surrendering 49 guns in Cornwall in 1644. The Royalists captured plenty of guns, but perhaps lacked the funds to bring many of them into the field - the artillery train, said Clarendon 'is commonly a spunge which can never be filled or satisfied'. All field armies of both sides included artillery, however. The largest guns used in the field were demi-cannon, while the 'standard' size would be around that of the Saker (about 3 ¼ inch bore, 5 ¼ pounder). Parliament in particular employed some lighter guns attached, in pairs, to infantry units, in the Swedish manner, and apparently used some battery-guns also.
Gun teams would be of hired civilian drivers and farm horses (or occasionally oxen in the West country); field guns requiring from one to nine horses, and crews from three to nine for a demi-cannon (three gunners and six matrosses, or gunners' mates). Gunners and matrosses were sometimes equipped with poleaxes. The Royalist train of 1643 had 575 men, including 69 gunners, 88 matrosses, 200 pioneers and 44 conductors, plus 275 civilian carters.
The infantry used the usual large (but light) standards of the period (about six foot six inches square in England); there was one for each company, and they normally followed the system illustrated, in both armies, though there were exceptions, such as the black and white flags of Prince Rupert's Regiment. Colonel's company flags, though supposed to be plain, frequently bore some device.
Cavalry flags were of the small square (two foot by two foot) variety with a fringe; each troop had one and they seem to have had an extraordinary variety of slogans, devices, political cartoons and so forth upon them, including for example a Royalist example bearing a trooper with a sword in one hand and a 'less martial instrument' in the other, with the motto 'Ready with either weapon', or the green flag said to have been taken from the Cavaliers at Marston Moor, bearing a pair of horns and the inscription 'Cuckolds we come'. Dragoons had fringed guidons with two rounded tails, following the infantry system, but of similar size to the cavalry standards. Infantry standard colours often, but by no means always, matched the regiment's coat-colour.
The two sides were distinguished by sash colours, Royalist officers, cavalry and pikes wearing red or rose, Parliamentarians generally orange-tawny. However, there are instances of Parliamentarians wearing red sashes, and senior officers are sometimes shown wearing blue. Infantry regiments seem in many cases to have worn coats (and sometimes also trousers and caps) of a regimental colour (see table), but both armies had their units in red, in blue and so on, so this would be of limited use for recognising one's own side in battle. Distinctions such as plumes and hat-bands in the sash colours are sometimes mentioned but again weren't universal, so it was still necessary to adopt a field-word and field-sign, such as the white bands or white papers in their hats employed by the Parliamentarians at Marston Moor.
Low, laced shoes of brown or black were worn by the infantry. Stockings were usually grey (and sometimes with an outer pair hanging baggily round the angle). Very voluminous breeches, usually secured at the knee with a ribbon, and sometimes of regimental colour, were often decorated with a coloured strip with contrasting edging and a row of buttons, at each side. Coats too could be decorated with ribbons or striped rolls at the shoulder, or with bands of 'lace' edging at border, button holes or on sleeves (thus, some Royalist whitecoats at Marston Moor had red and blue lace in a cross on their sleeves), and often had a contrasting lining, though this would not show much, as lapels, skirts and cuffs were not usually turned back at this time. Nearly all troops would show large white cuffs and turn-down collars (often lace for officers), and headgear included broad-brimmed felt hats (usually grey or black, with plumes most often in black or white), knitted 'Monmouth caps', and the rather mysterious 'Montero'.
Officers were distinguished as usual in the period, by more ornate clothing, including lace collars and cuffs, gold lace bands on hats and clothing, and inlaid armour. Musicians, as in Europe, often wore coats with hanging sleeves. Armour, for cavalry and pikemen, was often blackened.
English Civil War coat colours
Red - King's Life Guard, Queen's Life Guard, Sir Alien Apsley, Sir William Saville and Rupert's Train Guard (Firelocks).
Blue - Prince Charles' Regt (Col Woodhouse); Prince Rupert's Regt (Col Sir Thomas Lunsford), Lord Hopton, Charles Gerard and Sir William Pennyman.
Green - Earl of Northampton, Robert Broughton and Henry Tillier (last two from Ireland).
Yellow - Sir John Paulet, Colonel Talbot, Sir Charles Vavasour and Sir Francis Gamul.
Black - Sir Thomas Blackwall.
Grey - Sir Henry Bard, Colonel Pallard and Thomas Pinchbeck.
White - Earl of Newcastle, Lord Percy's Regt (Firelock Train Guard), Colonel Hawkins, Sir Ralph Dutton and John Lamplugh.
Red - New Model Army Infantry Regiments (Different facings- for Fairfax's Regt blue), most Eastern Association Regiments (Essex Regts - lined blue), Lord Montagu (white facings), Lord Robartes, Denzil Holles, Sir Michael Liversey (Horse: blue facings), Ralph Weldon and New Model Dragoon Regt (probably).
Blue - Sir Henry Cholmley, Sir William Constable, Sir Arthur Haselrig, Colonel Mandeville, Lord Saye and Sale, Earl of Stamford's Regt (Col Massey), Lord Hastings (Horse) and Waller's Train Guard (Firelocks).
Grey - Thomas Ballard, Earl of Denbigh (Horse), Lord Fielding (Horse), Sir John Gall, Sir John Merrick and Simon Rugeley.
Green - John Hampden, Colonel Byng, Samuel Jones and Earl of Manchester (red linings).
Tawny - New Model Train Guard Regt (Firelock).
Orange - Earl of Essex.
Purple - Lord Brook.
(Note: both 'grey' and 'white' may simply indicate undyed woollen cloth, and be of similar hue.)
All are Regiments of Foot unless otherwise stated.
Regiment - Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel (Royalists only) and Major.
Troop - Captain, Lieutenant, Cornet (officer, carried standard), Quartermaster, three Corporals, two Trumpeters, Saddler, Farrier and 60 Troopers.
Regiment - Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Chaplain, Quartermaster, Provost (discipline), Surgeon (and mate), Carriage master and Drum Major.
Company - Captain, Lieutenant, Ensign (officer, carried standard), Gentleman of the Arms (Royalists only), two Sergeants, five Corporals, two Drummers and 100 men.
Dragoon Regiments varied, but were closer to infantry than cavalry. They had drums. The New Model Regiment had the officers of a cavalry regiment, the NCOs of a foot regiment.
a Typical cavalryman showing equipment and harness for an officer. A trooper would have plain holsters, saddle cloth and sword belt. The rather square-crowned hat is one of the various types which could be worn at this time. b Cavalry trumpeter. Note hanging sleeves trimmed with lace, usual for musicians. He has a typical low-crowned, curly brimmed hat with three plumes. The trumpet banner would probably carry a similar device to the troop standard. c Drummer wearing what is probably a Montero cap, a short jacket and rather long, narrow breeches, both decorated with strips of lace as well as large bunches of ribbon at shoulder and knee. If he was a Royalist the drum might bear the Royal arms. d Rear view of a typical musketeer showing the back of the buff coat and probable appearance of Monmouth cap.
e Royalist infantry officer wearing a sleeveless buff coat decorated with a fringe and knots of ribbon, and fashionable loose, open-bottomed tubular breeches with several bands, perhaps of gold lace, and ribbon knots at the bottom. Red sash around waist. Gorget, partisan and boots and spurs indicate his commissioned rank.
f Parliamentarian musketeer, possibly of the New Model Army. He wears a plumed helmet rather than the more usual hat, and a sleeveless jerkin.
Infantry flags: a John Hampden's Regiment (Parliament): probably green. Colonel's Colour (normally plain, but could carry motto, as here). b Colonel Apsley's Red Coats (Royalist). Lt-Colonel's Colour (is plain, but with St George's cross) Black.
c New Model Army - Red Regiment. Major's Colour (as Lt-Colonel, plus 'stream'). Red, white stream. d Colonel Talbot's Regiment (Royalist). 1st Captain's Colour (one device, in this case a dog, on the field). Yellow. e Colonel John Lamplugh's Regiment (Royalist). 2nd Captain's Colour (two devices). Yellow, black crosses.
f Lord Saye and Sele's Regiment (Parliament). 3rd Captain's Colour (three devices). Blue, gold lions. g 2nd Regiment of London Trained Bands (Colonel Pennington) and New Model Army, White Regiment. 4th Captain's Colour (four devices). White, rose lozenges. h Sir John Gell's Regiment (Parliament). 5th Captain's Colour (five devices). Yellow, blue stars. i Tower Hamlets Regiment, London Trained Bands. 6th Captain's Colour (six devices). Red, white discs. j Lord Brook's Regiment (Parliament). 7th Captain's Colour (seven devices). Purple. k King's Life Guard. Captain's Colour. Red, gold lion etc. In all these cases, the St George's cross is red on white. It should be noted that nearly all these flags are based on written descriptions, some incomplete, and while colour and type of device are correct, there may be errors in detail or arrangement. l Dragoons - 2nd Captain's guidon. Dragoons had fringed guidons like this, but generally following the standard infantry system. Cavalry flags: m Earl of Essex (Parliament). Cornet. Orange-tawny. Bore this motto only, but not necessarily arranged in exactly this way. n Lord Capel (Royalist). Cornet. Sceptre and crown gold, on a blue flag. o Cornet. A Royalist Captain of Horse. Very suitable for wargamers! p A Company colour of Rupert's Bluecoats. Black and white. All had varying numbers of black rings placed diagonally running downward from the staff, and black triangles in varying arrangements. This looks as though it might be the lst Captain's Colour. q Major Guntier (Parliament). Top yellow, flag probably red. Armour grey and gold, sword silver, hilt gold, hand flesh. r Earl of Stamford (Parliament). Blue, motto black on white. s Colonel Lambert (Parliament). Blue. Column and sleeves yellow, crown gold and red, hand flesh, motto black on white, land brown. t Major Ludlow (Parliament). Probably green. Bible white, other devices gold. u Lord Lucas (Royalist). v Royalist Cornet 1644. White, red cross, blue and white fringe (reconstructed). w Royalist Cornet. 1644. Black with black and yellow fringe (reconstructed). x Marquis of Winchester (Royalist).
y Royal Standard. Fleur de lys and harp gold on blue. Scots lion and border red on gold. English leopards gold on red. Tails, if present, were probably red.
English cavalry trooper's equipment circa 1645 and English pikeman's armour circa 1620 (Tower of London).
Return to Contents