The Arms and Armour of The English Civil War


Welcome to the Royal Armouries
my name is David and I’m part of the education team and today I’m going to be taking you
along to our Civil War gallery where I’ll be conducting a tour. Looking at some
of the soldiers we find on the English Civil War battlefield we’re going to
start off by looking at our cavalrymen, the men that charged in on horseback. Now, we’re going to start off by looking at the heavy cavalry which is over here. The heavy cavalry was known as the cuirassier and they look a lot like medieval knights and you’d be right in
thinking that. It’s very very similar in armour styles however there are some big
differences. The biggest difference being this armour here is in fact musket ball
proof, unlike that of the medieval knight. How do we know it’s musket ball proof?
Well they write it down for us, it’s very helpful, it’s in all their books and letters but if you need to see the evidence yourself you can even see the dent upon the armour. Now, on this one over here, there are two dents upon the breastplate but
interestingly enough there’s one on here as well. A dent on the breastplate and
one on either tasset. Now, true this could be the result of some remarkable
marksmanship by some savvy musketeer on the battlefield
however we think is from a process known as proofing. What is proofing? Well
proofing is when your armour is put to it’s test. You see this stuff here costs you
to a great deal of money – a huge investment and well, you want to know that it works before you hand over your cash so you ask the armourer to prove it. To do this he’ll bring
the armour out in front of you, he’d draw his pistol, point it point-blank at
the armour he’s just made you and bang he’ll shoot that armour. Now if it bounces off, fantastic, hand over the cash, march off to battle knowing that you’re well
protected. If it goes through, ask for a discount I suppose. I mean, if you’re
lugging this stuff around and it’s not protecting you it’s really a lot of dead
weight. Most of these armours will weigh anywhere between 5 to 7 stone an incredible weight to be lugging around the battlefield. Now there’s a fantastic story about how unstoppable a
cuirassier could be on the battlefield. This comes from a man known as Richard Atkins. Now Richard Atkins was a Royalist cavalryman and he’s charging
towards the Parliamentarian cuirassiers and he spots the enemy general of cavalry. So as
he charges towards the cavalryman, the general draws his first pistol and shoots at Richard and misses. So the general draws his
second pistol, shoots at Richard again he misses again. Now Richard, being clever, waits until the very last moment. He charges into the general,
places the pistol against the chest and fires point-blank into him. Then he pulls the pistol away and rides off thinking that he’s got his man. However
when he turns around, oh, he finds the general is completely
unharmed so of course he takes his second pistol, he draws it. Bang, the musket ball bounces clean off, So if this armour is so unstoppable, why is it disappearing within a few years of the civil war? Well, it’s two reasons really and we’ve touched upon both. Far few men could afford it. Far fewer men could wear it. It’s
incredibly heavy, it’s incredibly expensive and it just falls out of favour really. Now, this leads to them making changes to their armour. They decide to make it cheaper and lighter by removing the arms, removing the tassets, redesigning the helmet and we end up with light cavalry otherwise known as the harquebusier. So, the harquebusier has a
breastplate, still musket ball proof just a lot less of it. There’s a new type of
helmet known as a three-bar pot because of the one two three bars on the
face, and it’s also introducing what is known as a buff coat. Now, the buff coat is a very thick leather jacket. It’s superb against swords, you cannot cut through it
but it is not very good against a musket ball, in fact you get hit by a
musket ball, it will go into you, out of you and drag half the coat through you,
it’s really unpleasant. However you are cheaper, you are lighter, you are more
maneuverable and this became the far more popular type of armour that you
would find on the Civil War battlefield So we spoke about a lot of the armour
here but two of my favorite pieces of armour in this cabinet are these two
things down here. We’ve got a dome there and a disc there and you’d be forgiven to have walked
past those without even looking at them, they’re very boring looking. However,
they’re very interesting. They are both known as secrets and their job is for
one thing and one thing alone and that is to look good you. See, if you want to
look your best on the English Civil War battlefield, you must take your largest
and featheriest hat. As you can imagine, not very good against the
sword, even worse against the musket. So what you do is you take your secret made
out iron or steel, you place it upon your head and place your hat upon the secret
and voila You can ride into battle looking absolutely
gorgeous but knowing that you got a little bit of head protection as well. And
it is strictly a fashion item. That three-bar pot is going to protect you far
better than that secret, but you wont look half as good in the portraits. Now, we’ve
spoken about the armour, what about the weapons? Well, the cavalrymen were
riding in using pistols and carbines and blunderbusses. These were the new lance
for the cavalrymen of the English Civil War. Now, the pistol they were using is quite simple but quite long-winded when it
comes to explaining how it works. So the first thing to do with a flintlock
pistol of the time period is to load it and to load it you need to first pull
back the hammer to half cock, which is where the saying comes from going off
half-cocked, and that enables you to load the pistol without the trigger being
sensitive, it means that you’ll never ever fire it in this position. Now that
exposes your pan, which is this bit here. Now the pan, you’ll fill with your
priming powder. Once you’ve done that you close your pan cover and now that protects your powder from getting blown away by the wind, stops it getting wet in the rain, stops it falling out when you do this. And you’ve got to do this to carry
on reloading your weapon. Now once you’ve done that, you’re going to take your charge, place it down the barrel, take a musket ball which is about the size of
malteaser made out of lead, put that down the barrel and then last but not least
take a bit of wadding or a bit of cloth and you place that down the barrel too. Now
you remove the scouring stick, spin it around, pop it in the barrel and ram the
charge home. Do it with the thumb and the finger not with the fists, if you do it with the fist and thing goes off you end up with the stick through your hand. So remove it
as well, that’s a very important part of the whole process because you can fire the
pistol with the scouring stick in there – you will skewer a guy spectacularly –
however you won’t be able to reload your weapon and quite frankly if this didn’t
belong to you, which more often than not it didn’t, you might be asked to go and get your scouring stick back and there’s not a job you want. So put it back where you
found it underneath the barrel and now the weapon is pretty much ready to fire. There’s only one last thing you to do and that is pull the hammer back to full
cock. There we go! Now of course there’s no gunpowder,
there’s no explosive, so hopefully we won’t get anything more than a spark if
we do, sorry. There we go, so that spark was caused by the flint striking the frizzen
which is that tall piece of steel there and it’s the spark that will
ignite your priming powder, it burns through a tiny hole known as a touch
hole and then it will ignite your charge and bang, you’ve shot your man, hopefully. Now
if I was to take this pistol and I was to stand all the way over here And try and hit that buff coat in that cabinet from this distance, I’d almost certainly miss. That’s
not because I’m a bad shot, ignore the front-of-house staff, they spread nasty
rumors okay, it’s because this thing here is only affective to ten yards at best. That’s why in our story, Richard places it against the man’s chest because it’s the
only way to guarantee a hit. Now once they’re shot, they’re shot. You might have
a couple of them stored on your saddle, maybe one tucked in your boot but
there’s only one thing left to do once you run out of pistols and that is to
draw your sword. We have two types of sword during the English Civil War. We
have rapier which is the tall slender sword at the top there and we have our
back sword which is the chunkier sword at the bottom. By my side I’ve got a back
sword. Now the back sword is a hacking slashing weapon. It’s very weighted in the blade. and it has a very thick spine or back to it
enabling you to get a great deal of weight and inertia when you come
crashing down upon your opponent’s from the back of a horse. It’s got a basket
hilt upon it which enables your hand to be very well protected but it does stop
you from using the blade in any other direction which is another reason why
we’ve only got that single blade to it rather than the earlier medieval sword which had two edges to them. Now this sword, like I said, is designed for slicing
through your opponent and that is very good because it’s got a large surface area which means you’re more likely to hit your mark. The problem is you’re dealing with buff
coats, you’re dealing with armour which is designed to stop cutting weapons. Now you
might be able to cut into that buff coat but you won’t cut through it. You might break
the man’s bones underneath it but he’s still gonna be attached and that three bar pot, well those three bars are designed to stop blades coming across the face
and well quite frankly you could hack and slash at a currassier and they’d laugh at you There’s no way you’re
chopping your way through them. That’s where the rapier comes in. Now the
rapier is much more slender, more delicate of a sword however, with the
correct training you can use it very accurately and is designed not for the
cut but for the thrust. That means you can easily get into the three bar pot you
can even, with enough skill, bypass the visor of a currassier, maybe going for
the elbow or in between legs. Not very chivalrous but it works. Now, the downside of
the rapier is that it’s quite a slender, delicate sword and if you are sparring
with the back sword you will struggle to parry the blows. The back sword is a
little bit heavier but we’re right amount of skill you should be able to
get past all that. Another thing to note is that the rapier is far more
fashionable so if you want to look your best for that beautiful portrait that you’ve had commissioned, wear your secret, wear
your hat take your rapier and you will look
fabulous for years to come

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