TRADITION AND INVENTION IN THE EARLY STUART
ART OF WAR
MARK CHARLES FISSEL
In the late
1620s English military men experienced a crisis of confidence. The new King, Charles I, had launched in 1625
an expedition against the Spanish
problem of modern military science is the reconciliation of successful
traditions with technological innovations.
The first great modern military scientist, NiccolÓ Machiavelli, synthesized the military
models of classical antiquity, particularly the Macedonian phalanx and the
Roman legion, with the realities of Italian Renaissance warfare. Steeped in knowledge of the classics,
Machiavelli combined Roman tactical orgainization with the infantry practices
of the age of gunpowder. So pervasive
was the notion that 16th century infantry practice mirrored the
On historical and legendary
grounds the bow was par excellence the Englishman’s weapon. With it he had toppled the pride of
Given the expense of powder, shot and the firearms themselves, the bewildering and tedious firing procedure of the matchlock, the mechanical unreliability of the wheellock, the novelty and the cost of the firelock, it seemed reasonable to revive the longbow through integration with the technology of contemporary warfare. Could not English military theorists of the 1620s do what Machiavelli had done and synthesize traditional and modern military practice. Two Englishmen took up the challenge and fashioned new inventions: William Neade’s The Double-Armed Man, By the New Invention (1625) and the anonymous author of A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Long-Bowes (1628). In spite of their bizarre appearance, these works are imaginative attempts to synthesize past and present within the art of war. They were backward-looking insofar as they applied the traditional weapon of the English with the military technology of the 1600s. However, Neade and the author of Shooting Fire-Shafts were forward-looking (unconsciously, of course) in combining missile and shock in the hands of the infantryman (in Neade’s case), hence anticipating the bayonet, and in the case of the “fire-shaft,” incendiary projectiles.
Neade’s “double-armed man” was actually triple-armed. Equipped with a longbow, pike, and
short-sword, he could launch arrows at a distant enemy, repel a charge with his
pike, and engage in hand-to-hand combat with his blade. He wore corselet and helmet, the standard
armour of the pikeman. The bow was
fastened to the pikeshaft when not in use, with a quiver of arrows belted to
the hip, on the opposite side of sword and scabbard. The addition of a bow and quiver to the
accoutrements of an infantryman amounted to no great burden. However, the accurate discharge of an arrow
while sloping the pike must have been difficult, especially for the left hand,
which simultaneously grasped the pikeshaft and aimed the bow. In 1624, at the outset of the “war years,”
the then Prince Charles ordered a demonstration of Neade’s bow and pike device
at St. James’s Park before 300 spectators and the royal presence. Subsequently, the device was tested at the
Artillery Yard on several occasions. The
weapon must not have recommended itself for expeditionary service, for it was
only after the “war years” had ended that Neade’s invention was adopted by the
Crown, and then as a supplement to the “perfect militia,” the reinvigorated
trained bands. Why was the double-armed
man adopted in peacetime and ignored during the military activity of the
1620s? Neade had demonstrated his weapon
repeatedly since its trial in 1624. A
parliamentary committee had debated and approved of the invention in 1625, but
to no avail for its adoption. In July
1633 he petitioned the Privy Council to authorize the acceptance of the device
within the ranks of the militia through a proclamation. Lord Chief Justice Heath had drafted such a
proposal when he was Attorney General but the proclamation and commission had
been stayed “because the Lord Keeper is unwilling to give his approbation
without the concurrence of the rest of their lordships.” The next month, August, saw the “Proclamation
for use of the Bowe and Pike together in Military Discipline.” Neade’s request was granted, and the “warlike
invention” was to be adopted by the trained bands, who were to muster and
receive instruction from Neade himself, his son, or their assistants. Bows and arrows were expected to be available
since local authorities throughout the early 1600s had insisted that the
keeping bows in readiness was more practical than their replacement with
cumbersome, complicated, and expensive muskets.
The deputy lieutenants of
reason for the delay in utilizing the “double-armed man” was that in 1624, when
the device was demonstrated by royal command, English arms had not yet been
tried. By 1633 English confidence had
been shaken by the disastrous campaigns against
A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Long Bowes was, as the title proclaims, an new invention. “Fire-Shafts” were explosive arrow, or more accurately, airborne incendiaries. An ordinary arrow was “fitted with a pipe of latten [extremely thin metal], ten inches long or more.” A blend of gunpowder, saltpeter, sulphur, and camphor was packed tightly into the pipe. The arrowhead was made of bearded iron, so that it might imbed itself firmly prior to explosion. Like a matchlock musket, the pipe had a touch-hole, located at the end nearest the arrowhead, and was ignited by a matchcord.
The idea of fastening combustible materials to arrow in order to produce airborne incendiaries had been circulating since the middle ages. In the 1620s several authors seized upon the device in their treatises. For example, Robert Norton’s The Gunner’s Dialogue (1628) proposed that one “cover or coat” arrows with flammable chemicals or attach canvas pouches filled with explosives to arrows. In The Gunner, Showing The Whole Practise of Artillerie (1628), Norton included drawings of “Fire Arrows.” However, the description of the weapon was relegated to the penultimate page of the book, in a section devoted largely to manufacturing fireworks to celebrate triumphs. Clearly, Robert Norton did not regard “Fire Arrow” as a major weapon in the artilleryman’s arsenal. Francis Malthus’s A Treatise of Artificial Fire-Works Both For Warres and Recreation, published the year after Norton’s two works on gunnery and Shooting Fire-Shafts appeared also discussed fire arrows. But Malthus, like his rival Norton, favoured cannon, and was credited with initiating the use of mortars by the Frency army around 1634. Neither Norton nor Malthus developed possibilities of longbow-launched explosive as did the author of Shooting Fire-Shafts. Whereas William Neade had combined the bow and pike, the author of Shooting Fire-Shafts went further, and allied the old rivals of the gun and the longbow. The author accepted musketeers and encouraged exploitation of gunpowder: “…I seek not to perswade the sue of Bowes in steed of Guns, but that by due accouplement of both, more hands might in lesse roome bee brought to fight at once.” The treatise accepted that the future of the art of war lay with gunpowder, especially the heavy large-bore musket, the carbine of the dragoonier, and the wheellock pistol. The author criticized reliance upon body armour, such as the corselet. Here Neade and the anonymous author of Fire-Shafts agreed wholeheartedly. Both observed the increasing vulnerability of pikemen in 17th century warfare. Their intent was two-fold: to rehabilitate the bow and the pikeman. Pikemen had dominated European battlefields in the late 15th and 16th centuries when the bow was in retrograde and firearms had not yet gained ascendancy due to the imperfections of gunlocks. The proportion of musketeers amongst the foot increased rapidly in the late 1620s, battles rarely saw massive collisions of armoured pikemen in serried formations, as had been the case in the 1500s. Infantry formations evolved from density to linearity, becoming more flexible for the movements of musketeers. The caliver was superseded by the musket, with its greater range and striking power. Being at the mercy of the gun, pikemen more often protected musketeers from enemy cavalry charges, rather than coming to “push of pike.” Many discarded their corselets for buff-coats, making them more agile, a quality requisite for the mobility of the linear tactics of the mid-Thirty Years’ War. Corselets were expensive, difficult to maintain (requiring regular oiling for rust prevention, and the repair of belts and buckles), troublesome to transport, retained cold in winter, broiled the soldier in summer, and gave little protection against the musket ball. As the number and velocity of firearms increased, the usefulness of corselets declined correspondingly: “…if Corselets hold no proportion with the weapons of modern war; if Muskets, Carrabine, Pistols, all predomine, then are they now no instruments of self defence, but mere impediments.” The utility of pikemen atrophied because the new tactics of firearms had rendered them largely a defensive arm. Interspersed with squadrons of musketeers, pikemen remained in battle so that musketeers might shelter behind them during a cavalry onslaught or the sudden advance of enemy pike. Yet during battle, especially skirmishing, they were dangerously exposed to enemy sharpshooting and quite unable to retaliate. As the author put it, “…the Corselets are but so many idle handles, yet stand exposed to great mortality during the skirmish of the Musquettiers: for Corselets are not musquetproofe.” Even in warding off cavalry the pike had become outmoded. The practice of the “Carico” or “carricole,” whereby horsemen trotted within pistol range of the enemy and unleashed a volley pointblank, made pikemen little more than stationary targets. The cavalry galloped off before the musketeers could fire more than a couple of rounds in defense of the pike.
The author of Shooting Fire-Shafts commended the “double-armed man,” referring to it as that “ingenious device scruing [screwing] both [pike and bow] together.” Neade gave the pikemen greater offensive capability; the “fire-shaft” though, made better use of infantry, for it was more adaptable tactically. The combination of bow and pike, and gunpowder with longbow, was not as unrealistic as might seem. The longbow was still regarded as a legitimate weapon in the 1620s. When troops were levied for service abroad in autumn 1627, the Privy Council directed the lieutenancy of the counties to include archers among their contingents. Of fifty soldiers pressed in Nottinghamshipre, a dozen were to be bowmen, destined to reinforce the troops at the Ile de Ré. Because they were sent does not necessarily prove they were needed: Sir William Becher, who was responsible for reinforcing and supplying the expeditionary force, informed Secretary Nicholas that archers were not needed during the siege.
contrast between the school of military thought characterized by advocates of
archery like William Neade and Sir John Smythe, and the more experimental,
technologically-innovative men like the author of Shooting Fire-Shafts,
is the question of certitude in military science. As stated above, many writers of the 1620s
conceived the art of war as timeless, that certain ancient techniques and
weapons retained their value. Tradition
shaped the development of military science.
The similarities between ancient and modern infantry had inspired
Machiavelli, for example. When The
Tactiks of Aelian was published in English by John Bingham in 1616, the
title page depicted Alexander the Great proffering his sword to a modern
captain. The meaning was clear: the weapons and tactics
which had served Alexander so well were there for the taking. The cyclical view of military science, based
upon the conviction that war, like art and literature, could be revived from a
classical Golden Age, was mirrored in more than the arrangement of infantry or
the deployment of short-sword and buckler men.
The very fashion of military dress and imagery displayed the Renaissance
sense of revived antiquity. For example,
Titians’ Allocution of Alfonso d’Avalos (c.1540-1), portrayed the
Maruqis of Milan, a veteran of the wars against the Turk, addressing his
soldiers in a classical pose, inspired by Roman coins and reliefs. Titian’s Charles V on Horseback (1548)
also harkened back to classical military motifs, being an imperial equestrian
portrait commemorating the Emperor’s victory at Mühlberg. More explicit was the Roman armour al’antica
of Charles V, with muscled-cuirass and legionary-style sandals. This “ancient” armor, used for parading in
“triumphs,” another classically inspired preoccupation of 16th and
early 17th century commanders, demonstrated the cyclical
timelessness of the art of war. An
Emperor triumphed Mühlberg and Nordlingen just as he had triumphed
“By the end of the seventeenth Century, most English thinkers, no matter what their field of inquiry, had ceased to believe that their labours would produce the certitude or “science” that had for centuries been the goal of philosopher.”
The neo-platonist might crib a few lines from classical authors, or the artist use a classical motif, but he who would make the art of war into a “science” needed to exercise greater care. The practice of war changed rapidly. Tradition laid the foundations of military science, but invention was the new edifice which housed the art of war. “Innovation” may have been regarded as wicked political concept by Members of Parliament in 1620, but it was through “innovation” that war was being waged on the Continent. In fact, the utilization of tradition under new circumstances was a type of innovation and gave way to invention: Neade’s “double-armed man” and the “fire-shaft” exemplified this.
One must take note of Professor Hale’s remark that the revival of the bow, manifested in “new inventions,” was “increasingly artificial and compromising. For the new inventions were also impractical and expensive, given the organization and training of the militia. Trained band soldiers were amateurs, whose civilian responsibilities disinclined them to devote weeks to mastering weapons, old or new. The King’s resolution to improve the trained bands prompted him to send professional soldiers, often times disabled veterans of continental wars, into the counties to supervise and drill the militiamen at their semi-annual musterings. These old soldiers bore the brunt of local resentment towards military charges. Professor Barnes has written, “The opposition of the county at large to all things military fell with greatest force upon the muster master.” If new inventions were to be placed in the hands of the militia-men, they would have to be distributed by the much-maligned, under-paid sergeants. They were unpopular enough without introducing expensive and unfamiliar military gadgets to the trained bands. With their pay in arrears, lacking statutory authority for their actions, and enduring allegations of “extorcion” and violations of the Petition of Right, the sergeants were in no position to undertake a program of innovation in the weaponry of the militia. In some counties, too, the muster-masters were so lax and inexperienced that the “new inventions” would not receive a fair trial. In 1629, the central government enacted legislation to ensure the county muster-masters were knowledgeable veterans, which by implication admitted that some sergeants were lacking in sufficient military expertise. The powerlessness and unreliability of the muster-master obliged the military writers of the 1620s to look elsewhere for patronage, approval, and recommendation.
Fire-Shafts began with a dedication to the “Martiall Societies of the
Artillarie Yard and
and invention complimented and encouraged each other, innovations being spurred
on by antique revivals.
the “new inventions” were characteristic of the restless searching of the 1620s
and 1630s, when war played a major role in European affairs and changed
continually in theory and practice.
There was a victory to be won in the restoration of the
How seriously should one take these “new inventions”? Were they merely fantastical schemes or can the genesis of modern military innovations, such as airborne incendiary projectiles and the bayonet, be ascribed to them? Neither, really. They do tell us something about the nature of the culture of war and the character of Charles I. Early modern culture was characterized by hopeless anachronism alongside incipient modernity. The term itself, “early modern,” exemplifies this, as has been recognized. Clearly, however, the culture of war was more closely integrated with “high culture” in this period than during the age of Matthew Arnold, afterwards. The reader of a Tudor or Stuart military treatise was expected to be familiar with a variety of classical authors and yet also comprehend the brutality of battle. Rarely does an author ask so much of a reader, assuming an appreciation of Plato along with a willingness to commit homicide. Culture, at least for professional military men, was not socially compartmentalized. The all-embracing culture of war, a reflection of the impact of the “military revolution” upon European society, included the “highest” and “lowest” elements in its literature. The captain who at one moment needed a sure grasp of geometry in planning seigeworks might within minutes be forced to discipline mutinous troops. The wide-ranging concerns of the military treatise, along with the flights of fancy in invention and innovation, have encouraged some scholars to dismiss the literature of the culture of war as “amateurish” and close to useless. But in fact they demonstrate the “integrated culture” of the military 1560-1660. The concern with reconciliation of tradition and invention is likewise a reflection of “cultural integration.” Finally, in addition to what they disclose about the culture of the early Stuart military, William Neade and the anonymous author also shed some light on the character of Charles I. We should recall that the double-armed man was actually adopted by the Crown, and that Shooting Fire-Shafts was proposed in dead seriousness. If the cultural scope of the “new inventions” was rather wide, the myopia of Charles I was terribly restrictive. As was argued above, the means for perfecting these devices was wholly lacking. The resources needed to introduce and perfect the “new inventions” would not and could not be supplied by the counties. The King’s advocacy of the double-armed man resulted from his narrow understanding of the realities of mounting a war and the condition of his kingdom. Charles desired an invention, an innovation, which would deliver him from his difficulties.
The concept of the ‘military revolution’ was proposed by Michael Roberts in his
inaugural lecture at the Queen’s
John X. Evan’s edition of The Works of Sir Roger Williams (
Quoted by J.R. Hale in ‘Armies, Navies and the Art of War,’ The New
Cambridge Modern History vol. 3, chapter 7 (
 Professor Sir John Hale’s introduction to the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Sir John Smythe’s Certain Discourses Military (Ithaca,N.Y., 1964) p. xliv. Professor Hale graciously took time to answer an inquiry regarding the preparation of this article. The interpretation set forth here, however, is entirely my own, and am responsible for any errors.
The ‘double-armed man’ was illustrated in the second volume of The Journal
of the Society for Army Historical Research (1923) pp. 102-104, item
36. See also, M. J. D. Cockle, A
Bibliography of Military Books up to 1642 (
 Calendar of State Papers Domestic Charles I, 1633, vol. ccxliii no. 70 [p. 163]. Herein after, the Calendar of State Papers Domestic Charles I will be abbreviated CSPD.
 J.F. Larkin, ed., Stuart Royal Proclamations, Volume II, Royal Proclamations of King Charles I, 1625-1646 (Oxford, 1983) pp. 385-387, item 172; also printed in CSPD 1633, docquet of August 17,
[p. 185]; and The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 1 (1921) p. 222, item 51.
 CSPD 1627-8 Vol. LXXV no. 74 [p. 325]
 CSPD 1628-9, Coll. Sign Manual Car. I, Vol. VII no. 7 [p. 43]
This theme has been developed in regards to the effects of epidemics and
governmental responses. See Paul Slack’s
comments on experimental precautionary measures in The Impact of Plague in
Tudor and Stuart England (
 Stephen J. Stearns, The Caroline Military System: The Expedition to Cadiz and Ré, unpublished doctoral dissertation (University of California at Berkeley, 1967).
 CSPD 1635 Vol. CCCX no. 76, undated petition to the King [pp. 75-76].
 Public Record Office, State papers Domestic, Charles I, SP 16/381/73.
Robert Norton, The Gunner’s Dialogue.
With the Art of Great Artillery (
Robert Norton, The Gunner, Shewing the Whole Practise of Artillerie (
 On Francis Malthus, See Cockle’s Bibliography pp. 93-94.
 Shooting Fire-Shafts p. 3.
 Ibid, p. 4.
 Ibid, pp. 6-7.
 Ibid, p. 5; Cockle, Bibliography p. 93; J. R. Hale, introduction to Smythe’s Certain Discourses Military p. liv.
 CSPD 1627-8 Vol LXXIV nos. 90, 91, 92 [p.309].
 Ibid, vol. LXXXVI no. 9, 2 September, Viscount Mansfield to the Privy Council, [p.328].
Vol. LXXXV no. 58,
 J.R. Hale, The Art of War and Renaissance England pp. 34-35; J.B. Kist, A Commentary on Jacob De Gheyn, The Exercise of Armes (New York, 1971) pp. 6-8; Cockle, Bibliography pp. 70-71.
Interestingly, the painting once belonged to Charles I, but is now in the
 As is well known, equestrian motifs represented imperial authority. In the Titian portrait, Charles V conflates Holy Roman Emperor with his identity as an ‘Augustus Caesar’ type. See also Fergus Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC-AD 337) (Ithaca, New York, 1977).
Preserved in the Real
Executed circa 1528-1530, the painting is in the Pinakothek,
 The Tactiks of Aelian, or the Art of Emabattailing an Army After the Grecian Manner (London, 1616, reprinted Amsterdam, 1968) pp. 25-27.
 Barbara J. Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England, A Study of The Relationships between Natural Science, Religion, History, Law, and Literature (Princeton, 1983) p. 4.
 J.R. Hale, introduction to Smythe’s Certain Discourses Military p. lv.
On the predicament of the muster-master, see Ibid pp. 60, 73, 87, 118-20,
260-266, 273; also C.L. Hamilton, ‘The Shropshire Muster-Master’s Fee,’ Albion
Vol.2, no. 1 (1970) pp. 26-34; Hamilton later edited Gervase Markham’s
manuscript treatise, ‘The Muster-Master,’ which was printed in The Camden
Miscellany Vol. 26 (1975).
 J.R. Hale, ‘Gunpowder and the Renaissance: An Essay in the History of Ideas,” From the Renaissance to the Counter Reformation: Essays in Honor of Garrett Mattingly (New York, 1965) p. 116.
 R. S. Wolper, ‘The Rhetoric of Gunpowder and the Idea of Progress,’ Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 31 no. 4 (October-December 1970) pp. 589-598.
 A note on the longbow by J. H. Leslie, in The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research Vol. 1 (1921) item 20, p. 228.
owe this point to Professor Richard Aquila, author of The Iroquois
R. J. Jones, Ancients and Moderns: a Study of the Rise of the Scientific
Movement in Seventeenth Century England (second edition,
 Hans Baron, ‘The Querelle of the Ancients and the Moderns as a Problem for Renaissance Historiography’, Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 20. no. 1 (January 1959) p. 18.
A. B. Ferguson, Clio Unbound: Perception of the social and cultural past in
 Shooting Fire-Shafts p. A2.
H. J. Webb, Elizabethan Military Science, the Books and the Practice (
For a thorough account of the Petition of Right see Conrad Russell, Parliaments
and English Politics 1621-1629 (
 Ibid, p. 323.
Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments. English History 1509-1660 (
 Conrad Russell, Parliaments and English Politics 1621-1629, pp. 417-418.
 The author wishes to thank the following for facilitating the preparation of this article: Professor John E. Weakland and Anthony O. Edmonds, Mrs. Virginia Bowers, and Mr. James Schroring.