ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Peripheries of the Military Revolution, 1500
The British Isles, locked in internecine conflicts in the latter half of the 15th century, were apparently on the peripheries of the military revolution. England's armies generally clung to the old dismounted "bill and bow" formations that had worked so well at Agincourt in 1415. Scotland, threatened by a powerful and aggressive neighbor, relied on peasant levies armed with bow, spear and two-handed sword for defense. The Wars of the Roses, however, had not entirely isolated England from developments on the Continent. Foreign mercenaries had brought pikes and handguns to English battlefields (with little success against native bows and bills), and English men-at-arms, despite their traditions of dismounted combat, had fought once more from the saddle to play a decisive part in the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Light cavalry--referred to as "prickers" by the Yorkists--had also played a vital role for the rival armies, gathering intelligence, carrying out feints, and skirmishing with their enemy counterparts. The cream of English light cavalry were Northerners--reivers from the volatile Anglo-Scots frontier who served in all of King Henry VIII's campaigns in France.
English infantry, too, had not been untouched by modern developments. Under Henry VIII, the English had experimented widely with gunpowder weapons, particularly for naval use, as the ordnance recovered from the sunken warship Mary Rose has indicated. In terms of "professionalization," England maintained small numbers of garrison troops in the Calais Pale and at Berwick, but Henry's most important standing units were afloat. According to the Calendar of Scottish Papers, 1, 1547&endash;63, the armada that accompanied England's land forces northward in 1547 was crewed by 9,222 mariner-soldiers. Those men, along with the men-at-arms and "Gentlemen Pensioners" of the Royal Bodyguard, are an indication that Henry took greater steps to create large-scale, standing forces than has been recognized in the past.

One important feature of the military revolution was the increased size of armies. To fill out their armies, princes competed for the services of large bodies of international mercenaries, the most highly prized of which were Swiss and German (Landsknecht) pikemen. The 42,000 men amassed by Henry VIII in 1544 for his so-called Enterprise of Boulogne included 4,836 foreign horse and 5,392 foreign infantry. The 16,000-man army that Somerset would lead across the Tweed River into Scotland in 1547 also contained a significant proportion of foreign specialists, most notably a complement of mounted harquebusiers under a Spanish captain, Sir Pedro de Gamboa.

The majority of Somerset's troops were armed in the old style, with bow and bill--an archaic combination perhaps, but one that had not yet been rendered obsolete. Firearm development had been slow, and only 600 of Somerset's soldiers carried such weapons. The handgun and the harquebus that had supplanted the crossbow on the Continent had operated from the peripheries of the battlefield, from behind walls and entrenchments. English bowmen did not operate on the peripheries, and the light arrows they fired at distant targets were designed to gall, not kill. Their rate of fire, which the harquebus could never match, disordered their enemy and, as at Agincourt, could provoke him into a premature attack. When the enemy closed he would be met, at shorter range, by heavier, deadlier arrows. Using a secondary weapon, such as a bill or maul, bowmen were then expected to melee with their enemy, be he high-born knight or lowly peasant. To exchange the longbow for the harquebus would have involved abandoning a tested tactical doctrine in return for a missile weapon with only moderately greater range and penetrative power.

While some English equipment was archaic, more modern technology was also employed, including an impressively large artillery train, under a master gunner appointed directly by the king. Under Henry VIII's enthusiastic patronage, artillery tactics had become surprisingly sophisticated. At Pinkie Cleugh, the guns accompanying the army would be manhandled into action speedily and with devastating effect. The warships of Somerset's accompanying naval force, commanded by Lord Edward Clinton, were very effective floating gun platforms, capable of battering enemy ships into submission, or sinking them, with long-range gunfire rather than by ramming or boarding, as had been the traditional practice. From positions in the Firth of Forth, they would support the English land forces at Pinkie with a timely and effective shore bombardment.

Despite the oft-quoted view of the English as primarily infantry oriented, Somerset had amassed some 4,000 cavalry, under the overall command of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland, for his invasion of Scotland. That considerable mounted arm included the light cavalry, Northern Horse and Gamboa's mounted harquebusiers ("hackbutters" to the English). Among the heavy cavalry were 500 "Bullerners"--men-at-arms from the garrison of Boulogne--the Gentlemen Pensioners of the Royal Bodyguard and a force of "demi-lancers." The latter were lance-armed cavalry whose horses were unarmored and who had replaced their own leg armor with stout, thigh-length boots, a compromise of protection for increased speed, mobility and flexibility.

Article submitted by Neil Ritchie

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