Thursday, 13 December 2012

Infantry tactics at the Battle of Wrotham, Kent 1554

Warfare was changing rapidly in the mid 16th century when the Battle of Wrotham was fought. For the past two centuries firearms had been large, cumbersome, unreliable and inaccurate. From around 1510 improvements in gunpowder and gun barrel manufacture was changing all that. Wrotham was one of the first battles on English soil where the new guns and new tactics developed to support them were put into practice.

The key weapon was the harquebus, a firearm that shot a ball weighing around 2 ounces over a distance of about 100 yards, though it was accurate over only half that distance. The weapon was fired with a fuse that remained alight even in damp weather. A trigger plunged this into a firing hole, which was covered by a small lid that pulling the trigger moved aside. These two key technical innovations combined with more reliable powder meant that the weapon could be loaded aimed and fired with some expectation that it would actually go off. This may not sound much, but compared to earlier firearms it was a great improvement.

Reloading the harquebus was a lengthy affair, taking over a minute. Commanders therefore drew their men up five or more ranks deep and had the ranks fire in turn, timing the volleys so that the first had reloaded by the time the last had fired. Even so the harquebusiers were vulnerable to sudden charges by cavalry or infantry armed with edged weapons. To protect them numbers of men with halbards were mixed in with the harquebusiers. By 1550 it had become conventional for the men to drawn up in squares with the halbardiers grouped in the corners. This formation was called a hedgehog.

Marching over a battlefield in a tightly formed squared called for a high degree of training. Only professional, or at least semi-professional, regiments and militias could hope to carry out these new tactics successfully. Warfare was becoming more a task for full time soldiers than amateur warriors, though this was not always appreciated at the time.

from "Battlefield Walks of Kent and Sussex" by Rupert Matthews
Buy your copy HERE

Book Description

1 April 2008 Battlefield Walks
As the closest areas of England to the continent, Kent and Sussex have been a route favoured by invaders. The Romans came this way, as did the English, the Normans and the French. But the area has also seen its share of civil strife, in medieval baronial conflicts, the Wars of the Roses and Tudor religious uprisings.

Rupert Matthews, ‘the History Man’, presents fifteen guided walks around the battlefields of Kent and Sussex. He provides an account of events as they unfolded on the ground along with full background and context. His expertise, descriptive powers and lively enthusiasm bring the drama of history vividly to life.

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