Did English Billhook triumph of the Scottish Pike?

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,611
USA
#1
Overall what weapon is more effective? The Scottish system won early battles however by Flodden the Billhook had the upper hand.

Pikes were superior in the pike and shot type battles using to guard arquebusers against demi-lancers.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,604
Stockport Cheshire UK
#2
Overall what weapon is more effective? The Scottish system won early battles however by Flodden the Billhook had the upper hand.

Pikes were superior in the pike and shot type battles using to guard arquebusers against demi-lancers.
At Flodden the Scottish pike formation became disorganised due to them advancing over boggy terrain allowing the English billmen to penetrate the formation.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,018
Australia
#3
The respective weapons had little influence over the outcome of the battle. They rarely do. Most battles are determined by tactics, terrain, logistics, resources, commander ability, moral, numbers, discipline, training, intelligence, weather, political will, and so on. As a hoplologist, it has taken several decades to realise that my area of interest really hasn't had much affect on historical events. If you list all of the factors that determine the outcome of a battle, technological differences between the armaments of the two sides is way down near the bottom in terms of importance.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
274
USA
#4
Just to reinforce what Dan said somewhat, it's worth noting that the battle of Flodden doesn't seem to have done anything to damper Scotland's enthusiasm towards the pike nor did it prevent England from eventually beginning to phase out their bills for pikes as well. During Elizabeth's reign english military writers generally agreed on the pike being the "most honorable" weapon for an infantryman to carry and in most situations overall 'better' than the bill was, however even to them it was well understood that having the better weapons and armor was nowhere near a guarantee of victory.

Regarding the outcome of Flodden, the most common explanation tends to put the blame on Scottish soldiers and leadership still being inexperienced with the new continental pike tactics they were using. Though the scots did use long spears a lot in the past, at flodden their formations and manner of fighting definitely seem to have been something new. In contrast to the battle lines drawn up by the English, the Scots were divided into 4 or 5 "quadrants" (squares) each seperated by the distance of a bowshot and were described advancing towards the English "in good order, after the Almayne's manner". These tactics were apparently being taught by some 40 french captains which were invited to scotland just a couple of months before this battle. In addition the large bulk of the scottish army for the campaign, both common and wealthy soldiers alike, raised using the national levy system which could only require a maximum of forty days' service each year, leaving even less time for proper training in addition to encouraging King James to be more aggressive and decisive. They weren't anywhere near on par with for instance the swiss who had adopted frequent, communal pike drills/wargames on essentially a cultural level. Going on the offensive with very deep formations like that could be very dangerous without a decent level of discipline to prevent the troops from becoming either too spread out or pressed too close together that they could no longer fight effectively.

The English army at the battle was also made up of quickly raised levies and wasn't really any better in terms of training. However they had the advantage of their "bows and bills" at least being weapons that they were already very familiar with and didn't require nearly as much coordination/cohesion. The scottish pikes initially did see some success driving back the english vanguard early on in the battle, but when that failed to rout the English army completely and the fighting moved on to less favorable terrain the scottish formations soon got bogged down and lost cohesion, allowing the English to gain the upper hand.
 

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