Friday, May 20, 2011

Dutch cavalry circa 1596-1600

I found this interesting description of the Dutch cavalry around the time when last units of lancers were fazed out from the Western European armies. Dutch were fighting the Spanish Empire and its armies, and one must say that they did fight with valour, bravery and skill, using every possible innovation they could find. The odds were overwhelming and yet they finally won, and in process there was plenty of military art was produced on both sides, from paintings and drawings to prints, showing horses and riders...
The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions, 1588-1688‬ By Olaf Van Nimwegen

p.97 -99
''Dutch cavalry was initially composed of lancers, cuirassiers and mounted arquebusiers.

Lancers were armed with a lance approximately four meters long, and lancer himself had to a an outstanding horseman, seeing as he made his attack at full gallop.

This limited the employability if lancers, who could only develop their strength – an attack at speed – on flat, hard ground. Cuirassiers, on the other hand, could be deployed both offensively and defensively on terrain that was more difficult to negotiate, and their style of combat required less practice and horses of lesser quality. Cuirassiers attacked only at trot. In January 1597 the Dutch lancers were transformed into cuirassiers. This change was effected almost simultatneously in the Spanish army (comment, who about the battle of the Dunes 1600). The Ordre of 1596 (repeated in 1599 Ordre) prescribed that these cuirassiers had to ride 'strong, stallion-like' horses (that is stallions and geldings perhaps) and be furnished with 'bullet-proof' cuirasses, a visored helmet, arms guards, a bridle gauntlet, a short sword fit for cutting and thrusting, and a pair of wheel-lock pistols [... ] Match (of Matchlock gun) scared the animals and it was difficult to reload the pistol while holding a smouldering match in one's fingers on a nervous horse.
In each company of one hundred cuirassiers, twenty fire of the best horsemen were armoured with heavy cuirasses and with knee plates (he means thighs and  leg armour?). 

To compensate for the extra weight they were not required to carry their baggage on the back of their own steeds. This was the task of the 'bidets', servants mounted on small packhorses (bidet being the French for a 'nag') who were also responsible for gathering the forage. These bidets were expected to take part in battle, but in practice were 'usually a hindrance and detrimental when one has to fight because of running and fleeing of the boys' . Simon Stevin therefore advocated replacing the bidets with dragoons, 'these being foot-soldiers on horseback.' These lightly could transport the baggage of the cuirassiers and fetch forage for the horses just as well.

Stevin's recommendation to establish the regiments of dragoons remained 

unheeded until the 2nd half of the XVII century, but their task was in part performed by the arquebusiers. These were mounted infantry equipped with a visorless helmet (morion), a cuirass, a sword and a wheel-lock carbine. A carbine was a firearm with a length of 'three big men's feet' (c.90cm) and a calibre of 17mm. The relatively short barrel made it possible to load and fire a carbine while in the saddle.''

The attached images are from the late XVI century, or the early to mid period of the 80 years war, as the Dutch-Spanish conflict was known.


Ray Rousell said...

Interesting post!!

Kadrinazi said...

Hmm, who are guys on 6th and 7th picture?

Rampjaar said...

On the 7th it's Prince Maurice

Kadrinazi said...

Damn, my maths if awful ;) it should be 5th and 6th picture

Dario T. W. said...

thanks guys for the comments -
Michale, the 5th picutre comes from a set of engravings showing Dutch horsemen, as the engraving of the lancer here, I think I got it from the NYPL site, and the picture of a arquebusier (most likely) on a daple-grey horse comes from the painting showing Duke Maurice at the battle of Nieuwport Ad 1600
the engraving showing pistoliers charging comes from this picture of battle 1568 of Heiligerlee

Kadrinazi said...

Those helmets looks quite odd, that's why I asked.