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The Business of Yorkshire - Armies and Soldiers

With no standing army to draw upon, both sides had to rely on local militias or “trained bands”.  The quality of these varied enormously. These units were reinforced by new recruits and conscripts as the wars progressed.

Both armies had a core of experienced commanders and officers returned from the wars in Europe. Many more had to learn their new profession as the conflict developed. A surprising number of mercenaries were recruited by both sides and were mostly trained officers. Some of these were specialist artillery and engineers. In the circumstances it is remarkable how well the armies of both sides performed.

Armies were divided into Infantry ( the “Foote”), Cavalry ( the “Horse”), Dragoons, and Artillery (the “Trayne”).

The Foote were organised into regiments and then companies, each divided into musketeers and pike men.

Above - Musketeer firing. Below - Sergeant of Foote.

Infantry regiments in the English Civil Wars were theoretically about 1,200 men strong, although many were under strength due to casualties, sickness, desertion or lack of recruiting. These would be divided into companies. Roughly speaking, there were 10 companies of 120 men each, but each regiment tended to have its own structure.

Each regiment would contain both musketeers and pike men. Usually these were divided in a rough ratio of 2:1 pike to musket at the start of the war. By the end of the war, this ratio had reversed, as most commanders preferred the versatility of the musket.

In addition to these main weapons, most men would carry a secondary weapon, such as a sword or axe for close-quarters fighting.

When on the field of battle, the pike would be positioned in the centre, with musketeers on either side.

In a major engagement three or more regiments would join to make a brigade. In this case the brigade’s pike would be in the middle, and the musketeers would be divided on both sides, companies would be kept together, but the regiment would be split.

Tactics usually involved the musketeers firing a few volleys into the enemy ranks, and then the opposing formations advancing to meet each other at “push of pike”, where each attempted to push the other back physically.

When engaged in “push of pike”, there was no room to make use of a weapon, so after the initial contact was made, very few casualties occurred. However, if one side turned and ran, or collapsed upon itself, then large casualties could result.

Push of pike

“Push of pike” was not always reached. Sometimes the morale of one side would be such that it would withdraw or flee before contact was made. At other times, both sides might be wary, and stand apart, jabbing with the pikes as best they could.

If attacked by cavalry then the pike men would protect the musketeers, forming the equivalent of a square. The pikes would protrude, keeping the Horse away, and musketeers would take opportunities to fire at any target that presented itself.


The Horse made up as much as half each army and were often the decisive factor on the battlefield.

Cavalry regiments were about 400 men strong, although there was much variety between regiments. These would have been divided into six troops of 60-70 men each.

Cavalry troopers usually wore armour in the form of back and breast plates, and a helmet. Often a buff leather coat would be worn underneath this, and some kind of thigh protection, perhaps just long leather boots.

A few regiments wore heavier full plate armour. This was expensive so it was limited in use to the few who could afford it and it was also found to be impracticable in the field as it was just too heavy so fell into disuse as the war progressed.

    Cavalry Trooper

Cavalry weapons consisted of 2 pistols, and perhaps a carbine, plus a sword or sabre. The pistols would probably be fired only once in the battle, since they were difficult to reload.

There were two main tactics used by cavalry, the Dutch and the Swedish styles.

The Dutch tactic, used by the Parliamentarians at the start of the war, was to advance at a trot. The pistols would be fired at the enemy infantry when in range, and then the cavalry would wheel away. Then they would return with drawn swords and initiate a melee.

The Swedish tactic, introduced by Prince Rupert and widely used by the Royalists, involved charging at the gallop. Pistols would be fired at the last moment before contact was made, and then a melee would ensue. This became the preferred tactic for both sides.

During the English Civil Wars, the cavalry tended to fight their own battle. Only when the opposing cavalry had been driven off would the remainder turn and help their infantry.  The Royalists were notorious for pursuing a beaten cavalry force for miles, leaving the infantry unprotected on the battlefield.

Once the pistols were fired, cavalry were very ineffective against infantry with pike support. Casualties amongst horses were severe, and some troopers got through two or three horses in a single engagement.


The Dragoons were effectively infantrymen mounted on inexpensive horses, who would ride into battle but dismount to fight with their muskets in support of the Horse on the flanks or as skirmishers in their own right. On a few occasions however they were used as cavalry in their own right.


The Trayne.  Artillery pieces varied in size from the big siege guns to very light cannon used by the infantry.

Cannon firing at night.

The big siege guns were not battlefield weapons. They were far too heavy and difficult to transport and position and were used to batter down the walls of towns and cities under siege. During the Civil Wars there were many such sieges all over the country. Heavier cannon were usually positioned before or at the start of a battle and remained in position throughout the engagement. Lighter pieces were used in direct support of infantry and positioned between regiments or brigades, and could be loaded with ball or shrapnel which was very effective against enemy formations at close range.


The final type of “soldiery” that saw some service the conflicts in and around the West Riding at this time were The Club-men who were not part of the formal armies.

The Club-men from the Bradford area were local men, committed Parliamentarians, who attached themselves to the Lord Fairfax’s Northern Association Army during 1642 and 1643. They received no pay, no formal training and were engaged on a short term basis as the situation required. They were armed with all manner of weapons, mainly agricultural and including clubs. Drawn from the poorer classes of the clothing districts they were used to reinforce the small Yorkshire Parliamentary army.


As in all wars, 17th century campaigning was generally hard, rough and dirty. Supplies of ammunition, food and clothing could be difficult to obtain and regular pay infrequent.

Life for the soldiers was generally harsh, with disease and exposure carrying off large numbers and killing far more soldiers than battlefield injuries. To make matters worse, the climate was unusually wet throughout the war, adding to the general suffering of both soldier and civilian alike. Recruiting became more difficult as the war continued. Some home comforts however could be provided by “camp followers” - female - who enjoyed the company of the soldiery and attached themselves to one army or another as and when the situation presented itself.

Courtesy of the Royal Armouries. with some additions and amendments of my own


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