Soldiers in the English Civil War

Soldiers in the English Civil War

When the English Civil War started in 1642, any notion that soldiers on either side would or should be professional would have been rejected out of hand. However, by the time the war ended, the idea of a well-trained army that nodded towards professionalism and led by able officers had taken root. The historian Martyn Bennett has stated that the soldiers in the New Model Army were the precursors of modern professional soldiers.

 

When the war started it was accepted that any local force would be commanded by a local member of the gentry. The funding of these forces was entirely local – those who owned land or larger estates but who could not fight were expected to make a sizeable contribution to the upkeep of these forces. However this financing was haphazard at best and frequently fell short of what was required. Soldiers on either side had to pay for their equipment and usually their uniform. Those who commanded these soldiers chose their ‘colours’, which was usually a sash worn around the body – all in one unit would wear the same colour. However, certain colour dyes were cheaper than others and were frequently used by both sides at the same time. For example, red was a reasonably cheap dye and could be worn at the same time in battle by both sides. Only one unit – Lord Brooke’s foot was distinctive as an individual unit as it wore purple. The creation of the New Model Army changed this approach as they all wore Venice red uniforms.

 

During the heat of battle it would have been very difficult to know who was on your side or not. Colours could be obscured during close quarter fighting. Even if two different coloured sashes were used, the bulk of a ‘uniform’ would have been very similar for someone who had to make a split-second decision involving their life.

 

The most common type of soldier was in the foot regiments. Each regiment contained musketeers and pikemen. In theory, each regiment contained 1,300 men and was divided into ten companies. Each company was meant to have two muskets for every pike. However, during the civil war desertion was an issue and these would have been the ideal figures but many regiments failed to reach their expected numbers. Also muskets were a lot more expensive than pikes so many men made do with a pike as a regiment’s finances would not stretch to the required number of muskets.

 

Soldiers wore a jerkin of buffalo hide – known as a buff coat – over their clothing. This would have given some protection against a glancing blow from a sword but not a lot else. Pikemen were also issued with a set of armour, which consisted of a corselet (a back and breast plate) and tassets (thigh guards). Their pike was about eighteen feet long and made of a hard wood. The final four feet of the pike was protected by metal bracings. Pikes were heavy and unwieldy and it required a strong man to use one correctly.

 

Musketeers did not wear armour. The most common weapon used by a musketeer was a matchlock. A good and well-trained musketeer could fire three rounds a minute. However, he would be rendered useless if his gunpowder had become damp. He was also issued with a sword for close quarter combat. 

 

In theory horse regiments consisted of 600 men. This was further divided into six troops of 100 men. However, the sheer cost of maintaining a horse regiment invariably meant that regiments were frequently no greater than 100 men. Those who did have a horse were armed with a heavy sword and possibly two pistols and were issued with a back and breastplates and a buff coat. Prince Rupert is credited with changing the way horse regiments fought in battle. He developed the tactic of changing at the gallop into the enemy’s front rank in an effort to create shock and confusion. However, a well-drilled rank of pikemen had a good defence against this – holding their pike at 30 degrees with the base of the pike planted firmly against the instep. If a front rank held firm, it presented a horse attack with a formidable obstacle. Rupert had to refine his charge and took to attacking the flanks of the enemy where this tactic could not be used against his horse.

 

Dragoons were a mixture of horse and foot soldiers. They rode to where they were required to fight (usually against the flanks of the enemy) but dismounted and attacked on foot.

 

Artillery was used in the English Civil War. Smaller guns were manoeuvrable enough to follow an advancing army while heavier guns were used in siege warfare and were too heavy and cumbersome to move around. However, the artillery that was used in battles was dispersed and not used in mass batteries and their impact in battles was likely to have been minimal.






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