On the Push of Pike

21 Oct

The Switzer cannot strike with his pike an enemy close to him, on account of the length of the shaft, but must take his sword, which is useless to him, since he is unarmored and is opposing an enemy who is fully armored. Hence he who considers the advantage and the disadvantage of both will see that the unarmored man has no way of escape; and to overcome the first push of the pikes and to pass their extended points is not very difficult, when those opposing them are well armored. For the battalions move (you will understand better when I show how they are drawn up), and when they move, of necessity they draw near one another in such a way that they clash breast to breast; and if the pikes kill some or throw them to the ground, those who remain on foot are so many that they are enough for the victory.

Niccolò Machiavelli, Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, Volume II, 600.

And who so would consider of the force of this order, shall finde that euerye sort of armes shall doo his office throughlye; for the Pikes are profitable against the Horssemen: and when the footmen doe meete Batailon against Batailon, the ferue to a good vse before that the rankes are throng together, but after that they are once at the close, the Pikes can doe no more seruice. Wherefore the Switzers, to auoide this inconueuience, after euerye three rankes of Pikes do place one ranke of Halbardes, which they doo to the intent giue their Pikemen space and place to fight in a prease; but yet this is not ynough, but as for vs, we will haue our Pikemen both before the Ensigne and behinde to carrye Targets: and there shall be Halbards in the middest, by meanes of this order, to resist bothe Horssemen and footmen, to breake into the enemie: for you know that Pikes may serue no turne after that the rankes are preassed together, because that the Souldiers are then as it were one in anothers necke: and therefore if the Pikemen had nothing but their Pikes and Swordes the Pike being abandoned they should be naked: for which cause I have giuen them Targets to couer themselues from blowes, and to fight in all places, what unease soeuer there were. Moreouer the Halbardiers maye also fight better in a prease then the Pikemen, which Halbardiers are expressely appointted for this purpose, and likewise they may followe the sayde Targets at the heeles, who are heauily laden, to reskue them with their Halbards. And as for the Target men, I would haue them but onely to thrust at the face and legges, or at any other parte that were vnarmed.

Raimond de Beccarie de Pavie, baron de Fourquevaux, Instructions for the Warres (1548; 1589 English translation), 73.

`Gentlemen, it may be that there are not many here who have been in battle before, and therefore let me tell you that if we take our pikes by the hinder end and fight at the length of the pike, we shall be defeated; for the Germans are more dexterous at that kind of fight than we are. But you must take your pikes in the middle as the Swiss do and run headlong to force and penetrate into the midst of them, and you shall see how confounded they will be.’

The Germans came up to us at a very round rate, insomuch that their battle being very great, they could not possibly follow, so that we saw great windows in their body and several ensigns a good way behind, and all on a sudden rushed in among them, a good many of us at least, for as well on their side as ours all the first ranks, either with the push of pikes or the shock at the encounter, were overturned, neither is it possible amongst foot to see greater fury. The second rank and the third were the cause of our victory, for the last so pushed them on that they fell in upon the heels of one another, and as ours pressed in the enemy was still driven back. I was never in my life so active and light as that day and it stood me well so to be, for above three times was beaten down to my knees.

Blaise de Monluc, writing about the Battle of Cerisoles in 1544, The Hapsburg-Valois Wars and the French Wars of Religion (London; Longman Group Limted, 1971), 107-8.

But in this place I think good further to notefie vnto the Readers of these mine instructions that in the year. 1588. I heare some two or three of our Nation of principall offices and charge Militarie hold an opinion, that when two squadrons of Enemies all piquers should come to incounter and confrunt the one with the other, with thrusts and foines (as they terme it) at all the length of their Armes and piques, according to the vse of single combattes either in sport or earnest betwixt piquer and piquer. By which kinde of fighting of squadrons at the push of the pique, I say, that none of the rankes can fight but only the first ranke, because that if they obserue their proportionate distances according to order and discipline, the piques in the second rank are too short to reach with their points the first rank of their enemies squadron like standing still foining at all the length of their Armes and piques, as they vainelie imagine: Yea although to the trouble and disorder of the first ranke before them they do thrust and foine ouer their shoulders; During which time of the pushing and foyning of the two first ranke; of the two squadrons of enemies, all the rest of the rankes of both the squadrons must by such an vnskilfull kind of fighting stand still and looke on and cry aime, vntill the first ranke of each squadron hath fought their bellies full, vntill they can fight no longer: which is a very scorne and mockerie mylitarie to be either spoken or thought of by any men of warre that doo pretend to haue seene any action effectuallie performed betwixt any great numbers of piquers reduced into form of squadrons in the field. For in troth according to all reason and true experience, such a squadron as should think it their advantage to fight in that sort, must (contrarie to discipline) inlarge themselues in their ranks and distances both in frunt and by flankes, to the intent that they may haue elbow roome enough without any impediment by the nearnesse of the ranks behind them, to pull backe their armes, and to thrust at their enemies approaching them at all the length they can of their and piques, and againe with dexeritie to pull back, & retire them giue new thrusts: which opening & enlargment of ranks being perceiued by the contrarie squadron (who if they be skilfull men of warre) doe come closed in their rankes both in frunt and by flankes, as close as they can possiblie march pace with pace and step with step, as if they were one entire body, carrying their piques with both their hands breasthigh, all the points of the piques of the first rank of one evennesse & equality not any one preceeding the othere. And so likewise the points of al the piques of the second, third and fourth rankes, carrying the like equalitie and euennesse; but yet the pointes of euerie ranke of piques, shorter and further distant almost by a yard from their enemies faces, then the pointes of the ranke that doo preceed them; And all those fower ranks marching or moouing forward together pace with pace and step with step, carrying aforsaid their points full in their enemies faces, they doe altogether giue a puissant thrush, the points of the first ranke of piques, first lighting vpon the faces of the first ranke or rankes of their enemies; and the points of the second, third, and fourth rankes, subsequently in a manner all in an instant, doe all one after another in such terrible sort light vpon the faces, breasts and bodies of the formost rankes of the enemies that do stand still pushing and foining with their piques in their rankes opened and inlarged, that they neuer giue them any leysure any waies to pull backe and recouer the vse of their piques to giue any new thrustes, nor yet to close their ranks inlarged, but doo ouerthrow, disorder and breake them with as great facilitie, as if they were but a flocke of geese; as all men of right consideration and iudgement may easilie consider and see.

But after all this it may be, that some very curious and not skilfull in actions of Armes, may demand what the formost rankes of this well ordered and practised squadron before mentioned shall doo after they haue giuen their aforesaid puissant blows & thrusts with their piques incase that they doo not at the first incountry ouerthrow and breake the contrary squadron of their enemies: thervnto I say, that the foremoft rankes of the squadron hauing with the points of their piques light vppon the bare faces of the formost ranks of their enemies, or vpon their Collers, pouldrons, quirasses, tasses, of disarmed parts of their thighes; by which blowes giuen they haue either slaine, ouerthrown, or wounded those that they haue lighted vpon, or that the points of their piques lighting vppon their armours haue glanced off, and beyond them; in such fort as by the nearnes of the formost ranks of their enemies before them, they haue not space enough againe to thrust; nor that by the nearnes of their fellowes ranks next behind them, they haue any conuenient elbowe roome to pull backe their piques to giue a new thrust; by meanes whereof they haue vtterly loste the vse of their pieques, they therefore must either presentlie let them fall to the ground as vnprofitable, or else may with both their hands dart, and throw them as farre forward into & amongst the ranks of their enemies as they can, to the intent by the length of them to trouble their ranks, and presently in the twinkling of an eie or instant, must draw their short arming swordes and daggers, and giue a blow and thrust(tearmed a half reuerse, & thrust) all at, and in one time at their faces: A therewithall must presentlie in an instant, with their daggers in their left hands, thrust at the bottome of their enmeies bellies vnder the lammes of their Cuyrasses, or at any other disarmed parts.

Sir John Smythe, Instructions, Obseruations, and Orders Mylitarie (1595), 24-7.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Pike


One response to “On the Push of Pike

  1. Samuel Beňa

    March 20, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Interesting blog Benjamin. I do hope you still plan to continue in your endeavor. There were several relevant discussion on the interpretation of the “push” of pike back on TMP forum:

    I highly recommend checking them out.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: