Horse men at arms are back in the ranks

Life Guards Cavalry Regiment, one of the units of the Royal Guard of Great Britain

And he prepared for them Uzziah, for the whole army, shields and spears, and helmets and armor, and bows and sling stones.
2 Chronicles 26:14

Military affairs at the turn of the eras. We again return to the topic of equestrian men at arms, and all because in 1700 their history did not end at all. It’s just that this one became a kind of milestone in the history of military affairs. The changes, naturally, began long before this date, but accumulated gradually. And then all at once and manifested itself, and at once in many countries. In addition, this year was the beginning of the Northern War, which lasted 21 years, while the last major war in Europe, the Thirty Years, lasted 30 years.

The cuirasses of Ancient Greece were mainly of anatomical shape and demonstrated not only the protection, but also the physical strength of their owner. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Helmets for such cuirasses very often had face masks! Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


To begin with, let us recall that already in Tudor England the traditional weaponry of a soldier was a bourguignot helmet, a cuirass with legguards and plate “pipes” for arms. The armor covered the rider’s body up to the knees, so they were called “three-quarter armor”! The Dutch cuirassiers, “black reitars”, the men at arms of Emperor Maximilian I, and, in fact, practically all the heavy cavalry of Europe were armed in a similar way.

British cavalryman “demi-lancer” (“half-spearman”) 1550 Bourgionot helmet, armors, cuirass, short legguards. Armor decoration – stripes of polished metal on a black background, blued or painted. Fig. from the book: V. Vuksic, Z. Grbasic. Cavalry. The history of fighting elite 650BC – AD1914. L .: Cassell, 1994. P.105

Full equipment of a plate British cavalryman in 1588 Such armor was considered the middle version of equestrian vestments worn by riders of light cavalry (!). They had chain sleeves and could also be used in the infantry. The breastplate of the cuirass is double, that is, already then spaced armor was used! Together with the bourguignot, a “folding buff” or “folding buff” is used, a backward-leaning front. Some pistols were up to half a meter long, and their firepower was simply amazing. On the other hand, they also armed themselves with short pistols, from which they had to shoot at close range, seeing the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Fig. Graham Turner


The middle of the next, XVII century, was marked by a sharp relief from the heavy cavalry. The “pot” helmet (pot) no longer covered the face entirely, although it had a “visor” of three rods. Felt hats with a metal frame, a breastplate on a torus and a metal bracer on the left hand were used. The most heavily armed horsemen of this era were the Polish winged hussars, who distinguished themselves especially near Vienna in 1683.

Cuirassier 1618. Miniature from Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms. New York Public Library


Meanwhile, their time was drawing to a close. The fact is that all this equestrian plate weapons were designed for battle with two types of infantry: musketeers and pikemen. But the bayonet-baguette, which appeared in the middle of the 17th century, made this division unnecessary. Now the musketeers could already defend themselves against cavalry attacks. The French army was equipped with bayonets in 1689, Brandenburg-Prussia followed the example of France in the same year, and Denmark armed the infantry with bayonets in 1690. In Russia, baguettes inserted into the barrel appeared in 1694, and French-style bayonets with a tube-nozzle in 1702 in the guards, and by 1709 in the entire army.

Cuirassiers of Pappenheim 1632. Miniature from the Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms. New York Public Library


Now the infantry met the attacking cavalry with both fire and bayonets, so the tactics of its action changed in the most serious way. Shooting from a horse from pistols was replaced by a blow with melee weapons, and pistols, although they were left to the cavalry, were more used for self-defense than for exterminating enemy infantry on the battlefield. There was no question of any caracolatization now. The attack, as a rule, was carried out in two-legged formation, knee to knee (which is why high, hard boots became an obligatory element of the uniform for the heavy cavalry) and at full gallop to reduce the time spent under fire. Again, a helmet on the head was now needed not so much to protect against enemy weapons as to protect it from horseshoes flying off the hooves! In the horse lava, horseshoes also flew off and were mortally dangerous for riders, but … immediately the riders rushed in ranks one after another, and the risk of getting a horseshoe on the head increased many times over.

Lithuanian army of Janusz Radziwill, around 1650 Fig. Angus McBride


The rate of fire of the new guns, from which they fired without a stand, also increased and reached two rounds per minute. An interesting test was carried out in Austria with weapons from museum collections made between 1571 and 1700. The target was a mannequin of a human figure of average height. The dummy was fired at from distances of 30 and 100 m. About 20 smooth-bore arquebus, wheel and flintlock guns were tested. The results showed that the probability of hitting at a distance of 100 m from the gun attached to the test bench was 40 to 50 percent. At the same time, a 17 mm bullet at a distance of 30 m could penetrate armor with a thickness of 3-4 mm, and at 100 m – armor with a thickness of 1-2 mm (for comparison: the Belgian FN assault rifle can penetrate 12 mm of armor at a distance of 100 m). Moreover, the only difference between weapons of the 17th and 18th centuries. was only that later models were lighter and had a higher rate of fire. Three pistols were also tested, one of which was made in 1620 and the other two in 1700. Their accuracy at a distance of 30 m (also attached to the test bench) was much higher: from 85 to 95 percent. All three pistols were able to penetrate the 2mm armor plate.

British cavalryman of the mid-17th century. Fig. Graham Turner


For a while, armored cavalry tried to fight back infantry using armor that protects against muskets and armor that protects against pistols, but together they weighed more than 15 kg, and this protection did not justify their high cost or significant inconvenience. As a result, already at the beginning of the 18th century, France, Bavaria, Austria, Saxony, Brandenburg, Denmark and Holland left to their cuirassiers only cuirassiers and hats, under which they wore steel comforters. In 1698, Britain officially abolished the use of armor in the cavalry regiments, but in 1707 reintroduced the breastplate worn under the uniform (!) During the War of Austrian Succession. Cuirass was not worn until the coronation of George IV (1821), and then used only in the Horse Guards.

The weight of the cuirass was about 5 kg, and the thickness was about 2-3 mm. That is, such a shell was intended primarily to protect the rider from chopping and stabbing weapons, but its effectiveness against firearms depended on the distance from which the shot was fired. Until the middle of the 18th century, cuirasses were forged from hot metal plates on massive castings of a special shape. The first series of cold-pressed bibs was made in Prussia only in 1755. This new technology made it possible to produce large quantities of cuirasses of standard quality.

Broadsword of the English cavalry of the 17th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


However, let’s return to England, where in 1660 Charles II again began to rule. He disbanded the existing army and created a new one. In particular, from the 600 nobles who followed him into exile, three companies were formed: His Majesty’s Detachment, the Duke of York’s Detachment and the Duke of Albemarle’s Detachment (General Monk, who did a lot to restore royal power in England. The fourth detachment appeared in Scotland, shortly after Restoration of the monarchy.

The same broadsword is a handle. Due to its characteristic shape, it was named “basketball” – “basket”


In 1685, James II replaced Charles II, but three years later he was overthrown in the so-called bloodless revolution (“Glorious Revolution”). During his reign, the English cavalry was the most equipped, best trained, and most highly paid regular cavalry force in Europe. Seven cavalry regiments, five were formed in 1685 and two more in 1688.

English horse guard at the beginning of the 18th century. Fig. from the book: V. Vuksic, Z. Grbasic. Cavalry. The history of fighting elite 650BC – AD1914. L .: Cassell, 1994. P.159


In 1746, for reasons of economy, the 3rd and 4th companies in each regiment were disbanded, and the first three regiments were transformed into cheaper dragoons, although they continued to be listed as guards. In 1678, the Guards Horse Grenadier Detachment was also formed, and horse grenadiers appeared in all other divisions. The second, or Scottish, Squad of Mounted Grenadiers was created in 1702. In 1746, when the horse-grenadier troops began to be divided not into four, but into two parts, they were respectively given the names of the First and Second detachments.

In 1788, the First Horse Guards and First Horse Grenadiers became the First and Second Regiments of the Life Guard. Before that, they were called the Horse Guards, but now they have received this official name. They existed as such until 1922, when both of these regiments were united into one.

Officer of the Royal Dragoons Regiment 1685 In the 1670s, cuirasses, which had previously been widely used in the British cavalry, fell out of use and were not officially used until 1707, when they were used in the Netherlands by the Duke of Marlborough’s cavalry. They were also used by the British cavalry in Tangier. There are several portraits painted in the 1680s, in which cavalry (and infantry!) Officers are depicted in cuirass, so this does not mean anything, since the cuirasses in the portraits were considered a symbol of masculinity, although it is quite possible that they wore them in parades … In 1751, the regiment’s name was changed to the 1st Royal Dragoon Regiment. Fig. from the book: V. Vuksic, Z. Grbasic. Cavalry. The history of fighting elite 650BC – AD1914. L .: Cassell, 1994. P.145


The British Life Guards first entered the battle at Maastricht in 1673. She played the main role in the defeat of the army of the rebellious Duke of Monmouth at Sedgemur in 1685. At the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, she fought against the forces of the former Jacob II, and at the Battle of Landen in 1695, under the command of William III, she first clashed with the French palace cavalry. This was followed by the War of the Austrian Succession, Dettingen and Fontenoy, as well as participation in the Napoleonic Wars and the famous Battle of Waterloo. In 1882, the combined Life Guards and First Dragoon Regiment fought in Egypt in one of the battles known as the Battle of Cassassin.

But these units did not wear cuirasses for a long time, although they do wear them today. True, the cuirass of the current form belongs to the reign of George IV. The second Life Guardsman wore black lacquered cuirasses at a royal review in 1814, but there is no evidence that they were used in battles later than the end of the 17th century. That was the level of distrust of the defensive armament at that time among the British cavalry!

To be continued…

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