Why didn't large shields make a comeback in the early gunpowder era?

Aug 2016
977
US&A
#1
I know that when gunpowder weapons started becoming common in Europe full plate armor started being replaced with thicker breastplates and helmets. I'm curious why larger and thicker shields also didn't make a comeback. It seems like, even if they were fairly heavy, they could be discarded when in melee and would provide an easier way for infantry to close with musketeers.
 
Oct 2013
6,330
Planet Nine, Oregon
#2
I suspect the impact of a musket ball could hurt your arm if it did not penetrate the shield, which would have to be of thick metal. Pavises were used.
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
#4
Not entirely sure, but maybe it could've had something to do with cannons? A dense formation of slow-moving shieldbearers would be an easy and meaty target for cannon-fire.
I feel like they wouldn't have to be a dense formation until they closed with the enemy, also it seems like if they could run in breastplates they could run with shields.
 
Jan 2015
2,931
MD, USA
#5
Coupla things. For starters, it was possible to close with musketeers even without armor--other musketeers did it all the time. Didn't *always* work, of course! So, since armor was already an option, it was the simplest solution without depriving the soldier of whatever weapon he was going to fight with.

Next, what happens to all those "discarded" shields? Lemme tell ya--you TRIP over them! I'm pretty sure the enemy would appreciate a self-disrupting formation...

Finally, a bullet-resistant shield is going to be heavy, and *expensive*. No one wanted to pay for them, and no one wanted to carry them. Usually! Such shields *did* exist, and targeteers of some kind were known in most areas. They just weren't usually the main troop type.

Matthew
 
Aug 2014
4,563
Australia
#6
As Matt said, a musket-proof shield was heavy. The only way to make one practical is to shrink the size so that it provided virtually no cover. Larger ones were so heavy that they had to be put on wheels. Shields didn't disappear during the age of gunpowder, they evolved into mantlets.
 
Aug 2014
4,563
Australia
#7
also it seems like if they could run in breastplates they could run with shields.
They couldn't run with them. The thickest infantry breastplates were around 4mm and this isn't enough to stop a musket except at long range. A proper musketproof breastplate was 6-9mm thick and they were so heavy that only cavalry wore them.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
280
USA
#8
Schlacht_Schoenberg.jpg

So, as i mentioned in the shields and armor thread they kind of were making sort of a comeback during the 15th century among some armies. I suspect their final decline by and large has two parts. First, as artillery and more powerful handguns became more common the protection they offered, especially at shorter ranges, to the point that you'd either need to make the shield so heavy that it essentially becomes a stationary object, or make it smaller so that it provides less coverage. Second, as the swiss pike columns demonstrated, the other good way to minimize damage from enemy gunfire and artillery was to just close the distance and overrun the enemy as quickly as possible, which isn't helped at all by carrying a big, heavy shield.

If you're staying in defensive positions big heavy shields might help, but if you aren't planning to move much anyways you might as well rely on a wagon laager, digging ditches, filling gabions, or other field fortifications. Conversely if you're planning to go on the offensive you don't want to be encumbered by any unnecessary weight if you can help it, and as the increasing range of muskets and artillery kept increasing the "danger zone" that you might need to sprint across it might have been reaching the point where even a moderate-rate shield was getting too tiring.
 
Aug 2014
4,563
Australia
#9
So where are all the firearms in that illustration? It is pretty simple; a shield can't stop a gun so they stopped using them. They switched to mantlets, earthworks, and new tactics.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2014
1,199
Queens, NYC
#10
There are firearms shown in the picture. Most are towards the top, the men behind the shields on the top right show some arqubusiers, going around the front of the formation. On top left, a few arquebuses. Facing the shield wall, on the left of the picture, some firearms.
Probably early 1500s to mid 1520s.