The Pikeman

Read about the pikeman during the English Civil War and what's involved in being a pikeman in our group

Posted on April 12, 2022

The Pike were the main defensive, and in the early part of the war, the offensive arms of the infantry. Closely ranked together in large bodies or "Pikeblocks" they presented a formidable thicket of thrusting spearheads, a well trained and disciplined pike division could hopefully withstand enemy infantry attacks and repel cavalry charges.

The Role

As a pikeman within the Regiment, you will wield a 16-foot pike and wear armour, typical of the English Civil Wars. This will include a helmet, and possibly, back and breast armour. You will be trained to use the pike, using postures, taken from period drill manuals. This will prepare you for taking part in any events that the Regiment attends. The Regiment will provide this equipment.

At small events, pikemen will join in the drill displays for the public, and in the Living History area, help support the Living History display.

At larger events the pikemen may still be involved in the above, but in addition will take the field with musketeers, artillery and cavalry, and engage in a scripted skirmish or battle. This is when physical contact will occur, especially between the pikemen of the two opposing forces.

The Pike

The pike itself was usually made of ash and was between sixteen and eighteen feet long, often shortened by the soldiers who carried them to make them lighter and easier to handle. The pike was tipped with a steel spearhead. This was socketed on to the pike shaft and was held in place by langettes, these were two strips of steel running a several inches down the side of the pike shaft . These langettes had a dual function; as well as securing the pike head, they strengthened it to help prevent it from being severed by a stroke from a cavalry mans sword just behind the point, which would have rendered the weapon useless.

The Armour

When the Civil War began a well-equipped Pikeman would have had a set of armour usually consisting of three main parts; the breastplate, the back plate and usually a set of tassets. Because they had this protection they were the 'heavy' part of the infantry and as the heavy troops, they could be used at weak points of the enemy's line to try and force a break or route hopefully turning the tide of the battle.

The breastplate and back plate were used to, as the names suggest, to protect the front and back of the Pikeman's torso. Made from from shaped steel theoretically, the armour would protect the wearer from a musket ball. Armourers used to 'proof' their wares by firing a pistol at the armour at close range, this left a small dent on the breastplate and it would be "certified" as "Pistol proof". However, it is believed that many such proof marks were made by striking the plate with a hammer.

The Pikeman secured his armour by using two short leather straps across the shoulders. These straps had metal plates riveted to them to protect them. A belt was then used around the waist to secure the bottom of the armour . The tassets were two curved steel plates usually attached by hinges to the bottom of the breastplate, designed to protect the upper thighs.

During the early parts of the Wars the pikemen found that these tassets were uncomfortable whilst on the march, and soon 'lost' them in the hedgerows, ditches and campsites. As the war continued and the muskets of the enemy became more effective the rest of his armour went the way of the tassets.

The Helmet

To protect his head the Pikeman would usually wear a steel helmet these were commonly of two designs - either the morion or 'pikemans pot'. These had slightly different designs and were usually made to the Spanish or English pattern.

They were designed to deflect a sword blow or musket ball away from the wearer without it being able to bite'into the steel. This was done by curving the main body upwards almost to a point and by using rounded sides. The morions also had a wide brim around the edge, which also curved upwards at the front and back. These were designed to deflect any enemy weapon away from the face and neck.

The Tuck

Both types of soldier would often be also issued with a short sword known as a tuck. These weapons were mass-produced and were very poor in quality; the blades were scarcely able to hold an edge. The length of the weapon was kept short as the soldier needed to be able to draw the sword from the scabbard with one hand, whilst still controlling his other weapon with the other. These weapons were of such poor quality that unless used against an un-armoured opponent they were virtually useless, in fact musketeers would often use the butt end of their musket rather than the tuck. Reports did say however that the troops found them useful for chopping wood for their fires.

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