The Pike and Shot Thread - European Military History and Developments, c.1550 to c.1680

Jul 2009
People have asked me why I have such an odd screen name :). The pikeshot1600 name reflects my own interests (and bias?) in a fascinating periodization of military history. When I was at school, Professor Michel Roberts's thesis of a military revolution, 1560-1660, was still an academic fad. It has lost some steam in the last two decades, but it still interests some history nerds. In any event, the time frame above is pretty interesting, and extends very far into the XVII century, a century when there were very few years in Europe when there were not wars involving multiple important states - both monarchies and republics.

Since the Military History Forum might crowd out any attention such a thread could achieve, I decided to start it in Early Modern History. There is no intention that this become an academic topic. War gamers and others are most welcome to contribute.

As a beginning, here is a very short Osprey title which should be readily available to most readers:

Keith Roberts, Pike and Shot Tactics, 1590-1660 (2010)

All military aspects are welcome: Infantry, cavalry, artillery, fortification and siege craft, and anything else regarding European warfare from the mid XVI century to the late XVII century.

I intend to post something soon and see if there is (hopefully) enough interest to keep it going.

Bellum se ipsum alet!
Mar 2018
I'm not sure I see the point of posting the intent to post something later, but I'm interested to see how this develops. If I can ask a simple question for now: How much was the bayonet responsible for the end of pike-and-shot?
Jul 2009
I'm not sure I see the point of posting the intent to post something later, but I'm interested to see how this develops. If I can ask a simple question for now: How much was the bayonet responsible for the end of pike-and-shot?
^^ @Olleus,
Sorry if it looks like a teaser :). I wanted to get something started, and I have a busy week coming up - and also a pretty full weekend going now.

As far as the bayonet, in general, that weapon began to be used more around the mid 1680s. As a small factoid about it, the Bavarian army abolished the pike in 1686, the infantry being equipped with a plug bayonet that fit into the musket barrel. That was a problematic approach as it rendered the firearm temporarily useless, and it could damage the musket. The decade of the 1680s is just an approximate time frame. The plug bayonet appears to have been in use since the 1660s. By around 1700 the ring/socket bayonet had been developed (no one seems certain by whom [Vauban?], or which army introduced it).

In the early XVIII century the Swedish and Russian, and even in some cases in the French, armies were still using pikes although in far fewer numbers than previously.

From several things I have read, improvements in both muskets and in tactics rendered the pike an obsolescent weapon. The volume of firepower from more dependable muskets (better gun making techniques and flintlock mechanisms, etc.) became more effective in defense than having one third of infantry armed with other than firearms. Just my read.

From the mid XVI century to the later XVII, the pike was still necessary as a defense against cavalry. For the first example (when I have enough time) we can look at the experience of the Swedish army in the Livonian-Polish war of 1600-1611. I can try to get something up later this afternoon or evening.

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Jul 2009
The Swedish army's troubles in the Polish War 1600-1611.

At the beginning of the XVII century, Sweden was still heavily forested, even the southern most part, Scania, which at that time was part of Denmark. Sweden had never been a feudal society, and although the kingdom had a nobility, few if any of the nobles would have been considered armored gens d'armes as in France or Germany.

Free peasants were permitted to hunt, and, if they could afford one, they would prefer a firearm. A small caliber snaplock or caliver was what some peasant farmers understood, and with these firearms they became familiar. Not having much terrain suitable for cavalry, and the forests not being conducive to the use of the pike, that weapon was mostly unfamiliar to Swedish soldiery.

In spring, 1601, The Swedish regent, Charles, Duke of Sodermanland (From 1604 King Charles IX) landed across the Baltic Sea from Sweden near Riga in Livonia (present day Latvia). With him came an army of about 11,000 men; roughly 7,000 foot and 4,000 horse. This sizable force was ill equipped to fight in Livonia where their enemy was primarily Polish-Lithuanian heavy cavalry, armored and well experienced. In advancing inland a Swedish army of about 5,000 was destroyed by 2,700 Polish cavalry at Kokenhausen. The lack of enough pikes was a large contributor to this Swedish disaster.

According to historian Robert Frost [The Northern Wars, 1558-1721 (2000)], Duke Charles urgently ordered 8,000 pikes to be acquired for the army, but training soldiers in their use, and in combination with soldiers using firearms needed to be addressed. Subsequent to the defeat at Kokenhausen, Charles engaged Count John of Nassau-Siegen, an officer in the Dutch service, and a relative of Count Maurice of Nassau, to reform the army and train Swedish soldiers in the Dutch methods of pike and shot. John of Nassau-Siegen's observations on the Swedish army were as follows:

"The Swedish cavalry in general is badly equipped, having no armor; the foot is badly clothed and armed, in fact not having a single pike in use or in possession..." Richard Brzezinski, The Army of Gustavus Adolphus, v. 1 (1991/2000)

Count John of Nassau entered Swedish service after Kokenhausen and left it in 1602, frustrated by the obstinate soldiers and the obstruction of their officers. The soldiers resisted abandoning their calivers for pikes, or to wear armor, and Count John concluded that they "will not be persuaded otherwise." The Swedish army in the Livonian War remained unreformed and unprepared as it lost a catastrophic battle in 1605 when 3,000 Poles annihilated a Swedish army of 11,000 at Kircholm. Polish problems on other fronts and financial shortcomings prevented a victory over Sweden and the war was interrupted by a truce in 1611. That year marked the death of King Charles IX, and the accession of King Gustavus Adolphus.

After a poor showing in Livonia the Swedish army was fortunate to be able to remain there, but after Kircholm some Swedish officers took service in the Netherlands under Maurice of Nassau and his cousin William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg. These officers, including Jacob de la Gardie, Gustav Horn, perhaps Alexander Leslie, and later including Dodo von Knyphausen, became agents of transfer, introducing into the Swedish army the Dutch-Nassauer practices of pike and shot, and also, importantly, of field fortifications.

While the experience these officers gained in the Netherlands was important, the influence of the young king, Gustav Adolf, and the reforms that he based in large measure on Dutch 'best practice,' would transform the over matched army of 1601-1611 into one of the most famous armies of the XVII century.
Likes: Yôḥānān

deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
Would you assert that there was no connection, DT?
No, I wouldn't assert anything, as I know too little. It's only that I never heard anything connecting Vaubamn and baionet.

I think that baionet was introduced in French infantry a bit before Vauban's advise.

I'll try to see in French sources and I'll come back if I find something.
Dec 2011
Here's a list of readings relating to this topic that I found very useful back when I was engaging in intense research on Early Modern warfare:

David Eltis - The Military Revolution in Sixteenth-Century Europe

David Parrott - two works: Richelieu's Army, and The Business of War

Clifford Rogers [Editor] - The Military Revolution Debate; sample: THE MILITARY REVOLUTION DEBATE

Geoffrey Parker - three works: The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659, Military Revolution, 1560-1660 - A Myth?, and The Dutch Revolt

Christopher Duffy - Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660, Vol. 1

Tonio Andrade - An Accelerating Divergence? The Revisionist Model Of World History And The Question Of Eurasian Military Parity: Data From East Asia; you can download it for free from here: An Accelerating Divergence? The Revisionist Model of World History and the Question of Eurasian Military Parity: Data from East Asia | Andrade | Canadian Journal of Sociology

Jeremy Black - A Military Revolution?: Military Change and European Society 1550–1800

Fernando Gonzalez de Leon – The Road to Rocroi: Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567-1659

These works were at the cutting edge of academic inquiry on this back around 2012 or so, but I imagine a lot of new content has been produced since then. Nevertheless, they provide both acute analysis and interesting information on the subject, and I recommend them highly to anyone willing to tackle some of the more advanced literature in this field, especially David Eltis's book, which I consider the definitive take on the whole Military Revolution debate.

Also, you can probably find more from the same authors. I remember Jeremy Black, in particular, being rather prolific. There's also Jamel Ostwald's works, though those tend to focus more on the War of the Spanish Succession and are thus no longer situated within the Pike and Shot period proper.

As something of a side note, Charles Oman's A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, despite being quite old, held up very well as a general military history of at least part of the EM period, even in 2012, and is solid enough as a secondary source on the operations of the century. I am not sure if better accounts have come out since then, or even if some slipped under my radar back in the day, but I very much recommend it nonetheless. Hans Delbruck's History of the Art of War, Vol. 4: The Dawn of Modern Warfare is another classic that still holds up decently today.
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