Behind every Great Man there’s another Great Man who is supposed to have inspired him, even though he’s a unique genius. Whiggish narratives of progress in cavalry tactics often say that Prince Rupert and/or Oliver Cromwell got his brilliant ideas from Gustavus Adolphus. Back in the caracole post we saw how Michael Roberts credited Gustavus Adolphus with getting rid of the caracole and bringing back proper, vigorous, manly shock charges. These assumptions have had knock-on effects for historians of the English Civil Wars, who have often tried to classify various tactics as either Dutch (old and rubbish – how quickly they forgot that Maurice of Nassau was a Great Man) or Swedish (new and good). I’ve already discussed how Rupert and Cromwell weren’t necessarily doing anything new, when we can tell what they were doing at all. This week, see how their tactics don’t relate to national stereotypes.
It’s fairly well documented that two different schools of infantry drill were known in England in the 1640s, and that these were called ‘Dutch’ and ‘Swedish’. I’m not assuming that they had anything to do with Maurice of Nassau or Gustavus Adolphus. It’s just what they were called. The drill known as Dutch became well-known in England through Jacob De Gheyn’s drill book (Wapenhandelinghe in Dutch or The Exercise of Arms in English), which was first published in the Netherlands in 1607 and was widely copied in England, although the ‘new’ ‘Dutch’ drill may have been influenced by English practices in the late 16th century (Lawrence, Complete Soldier, pp. 138-41). This book was only for infantry and said nothing about cavalry. From 1637 to 1640, Henry Hexham published a three-part treatise entitled Principles of the Art Military Practised in the Warres of the United Provinces. This was very explicitly based on Dutch practices as experienced by Hexham during his own military career in the Netherlands. It covered infantry and sieges, but again said nothing about cavalry tactics.
Gustavus Adolphus died in 1632, but a new infantry formation known as the ‘Swedish brigade’ didn’t start appearing in military books in Britain until 1637, when Scottish soldier Robert Monro published his memoirs of his service with the Danish and Swedish armies in the Thirty Years War (Lawrence, Complete Soldier, pp. 225-26). Wherever the ‘Swedish brigade’ came from, William Barriffe used it in 1639 in the second edition of his drill book Military Discipline: Or, The Yong Artilleryman, whereas the first edition in 1635 had only described ‘Dutch’ drill (Lawrence, Complete Soldier, p. 224). Barriffe’s book didn’t include any instructions for cavalry drill until the sixth edition in 1661.
At the start of the First Civil War in 1642, ‘Dutch’ drill was still widely practised in England while the ‘Swedish’ tactics still weren’t very well-known. Royalist commanders had a big argument about which to use at the battle of Edgehill. According to Clarendon, the Earl of Lindsey wanted to use, ‘the order which he had learned under Prince Morrice and Prince Harry, with whom he had served’, but James II later wrote that ‘the foot was drawn up that day much differing from the manner now in use, but according to the Swedish Brigade as they then called it, and the horse in two wings’, because the Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, who had served with the Swedish army, preferred it (Young, Edgehill, pp. 79, 263; Clarendon said that Prince Rupert also insisted on the Swedish formation). In James’s account it seems to be only the infantry who are in Swedish brigades. His description of the cavalry is much more vague. John Belasyse’s biography (written by his secretary much later, but possibly dictated by the man himself) says he advanced to Edgehill, ‘where was met the whole [royalist] army, and discovered in the valley below that of the Parliaments, standing in battalia. Ours then defended [sic, but possibly an error for descended] the hill and were drawn up in that order which had been formerly designed by General Ruthin, Sir Arthur Aston and Sir Jacob Ashley, which was into several brigades, after the Swedish way’ (Young, Edgehill, p. 277). This is ambiguous but it seems to me that it’s more about the foot than the horse. None of the other 18 eyewitness accounts printed in Young’s book on Edgehill explicitly mentions any Dutch or Swedish tactics.
Sir Richard Bulstrode glossed over the dispute between Lindsey and Forth, and didn’t explicitly describe anything as Dutch or Swedish. All he wrote about the deployment was that ‘Our whole Army was drawn up in a Body, the Horse Three deep in each Wing, and the Foot in the Center Six deep’ (Young, Edgehill, p. 257). Modern historians have often used this as evidence of Swedish cavalry tactics, because three-deep is supposed to be associated with Gustavus Adolphus, but I think they’re just assuming the conclusion. I don’t see any explicit contemporary evidence that this was perceived as a particularly Swedish thing. Richard Atkyns’s account of Roundway Down says that the royalist cavalry were three deep and that Heselrig’s lobsters were five or six deep, but doesn’t identify these formations as Dutch or Swedish (Young, ‘Praying Captain‘, p. 58). I’ve already shown that what Rupert ordered Bulstrode and the rest of the cavalry to do at Edgehill was known in the 16th century. Since it was associated with reiters then, it could have been invented by Germans (or maybe it wasn’t – I really don’t know). One of its biggest advocates (La Noue) was French, and Edward Aggas’s translation made La Noue’s work available to English speakers in 1588. La Noue’s arguments were disputed by Mendoza, but we should be careful not to generalize that there was a ‘French school’ of cavalry tactics (reiters using pistols) and a ‘Spanish school’ (men-at-arms using lances). The issue was contested within France, not just in writing but on the battlefields of the Wars of Religion.
In previous posts I’ve shown that both sides used a variety of cavalry tactics in other English Civil War battles, probably depending on circumstances. Eyewitness accounts don’t usually describe any of these as Dutch or Swedish, and rarely even mention the depth of the formation. The drill books published before the war by Gervase Markham, John Cruso and Robert Ward aren’t reliable guides to actual practice, but they copied other books from several different countries and don’t claim to present one coherent system based on contemporary Dutch or Swedish practice. John Vernon’s The Young Horseman (1644) contains directions for how to charge which aren’t obviously copied from anywhere else: the cavalry should advance, fire one volley of pistols, and then charge at a full gallop in close order (more detailed quote coming up in a future post). A keyword search of EEBO’s full text version of this book suggests that it doesn’t mention Sweden or Gustavus Adolphus at all. There’s only one mention of practice in the Netherlands, which relates to the position of the quartermaster in the troop.
Since I wrote the caracole post I’ve found a reference to a manuscript source which suggests that some English militia cavalry practised firing in formation in the 1620s, and that they learnt it from the Netherlands. John Scudamore was a deputy-lieutenant in Herefordshire, and his brother Barnabas was serving with the Dutch at the same time. Barnabas sent home information about Dutch tactics for John to use in training his militia troop; instructions included that the troop should be ‘drawne there out by fyles, to give fire against a mark’ (Lawrence, Complete Soldier, pp. 284-85; original MS: BL Add. 11050, f. 233r). I’d like to check the original manuscript to see the quote in context and make sure I’m not just seeing someone else’s confirmation bias, but this seems to be the best evidence of something like a caracole, and the best evidence of Dutch practice being imported to England. It’s still very early and doesn’t tell us anything about the 1640s, so I think it’s still safe to say that if there was a caracole it had already gone before the civil wars. There’s also a chance that it’s intended to be a training exercise only and not tactics for use in war. Firing a pistol on horseback was a basic skill required by most varieties of cavalry tactics in the civil wars.
[Edited 13 June 2013: I have looked at the original Scudamore manuscript now but I've also realised that I misread what Lawrence was saying. He didn't claim that the example of advancing and firing was in a letter from Barnabas, that it was Dutch practice or that it was a caracole. He does say that it's very similar to John Bingham. The original MS is actually f. 176r and is one page of unsigned and undated notes on cavalry organisation and training. This example will probably deserve its own post once I've done more digging on it - which could take some time.]
I don’t see of any definite evidence that there were distinct ‘Dutch’ and ‘Swedish’ styles of cavalry tactics in England in the 1640s. Each side’s tactics varied according to circumstances, and overall the tactics of both sides were similar. The connections that can be made with foreign influences seem to be older, more diverse and less certain than the traditional canon of Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus. I hope that people with better language skills than me will (or already have) tackle this question from other directions. It would be interesting to know what Dutch and Swedes were actually doing, even if they didn’t directly influence England.