Cavalry Operations: Why horse supply matters

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 13 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: Peter Gaunt cited this blog post in his review of my book in War in History to show how my thinking had changed, which was nice.]

Over the last three posts, I’ve shown that early modern armies couldn’t move without an adequate cavalry screen, that what was adequate depended on objectives and balance of forces, and that the balance between cavalry in field armies could be affected by small-scale raids. Now I’ll bring it all together, in a post that could be titled ‘how horses won the English Civil War’. (more…)

Cavalry Operations: It’s a raid!

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 11 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: The map has gone because I deleted my old Google account and I don’t have time to recreate it.]

One of the many problems with concentrating only on big battles is that it distracts attention from small-scale operations that were more common and can tell us interesting things about how war worked in practice. But studying small wars for their own sake can also obscure links with bigger issues. This post will try to explain why small cavalry raids happened and how they could affect operational decisions. (more…)

Cavalry Operations: A question of balance

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 9 October 2013]

In the previous post, we saw that having enough cavalry was vital for an army to be able to move safely. But how many is enough? (more…)

Cavalry Operations: Moving an army is difficult and dangerous

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 7 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: I no longer think these cavalry operations posts are the best thing I’ve written anywhere, but they are the best blog posts I’ve ever written. I was just sketching out a hypothesis here which still needs throroughly testing against evidence (which I’m going to do in my next project, especially if my current funding application is successful).]

At last I’ve written the series of posts on cavalry operations that I’ve been promising for a long time. There are lots of details I haven’t gone into, especially to do with geography and fodder, but the main point I’ll be trying to make is that the number of cavalry available has a big influence on where, how and whether armies can move. This series will be four posts, all about the First Civil War in England, mostly in the South. I’ll be concentrating on the Earl of Essex’s army because that’s the one I know best, it’s been under researched and often misunderstood, and its campaigns give some great examples of how important cavalry were. Along the way, I’ll keep challenging the myth that Essex’s cavalry were useless ‘decayed serving men and tapsters’. The basic facts of the movements of armies in the civil war aren’t disputed much, or at least I won’t be disputing them the way I have with the received wisdom about tactics. I’m mostly relying on Wanklyn and Jones for these facts, and a few other secondary works for more details of certain campaigns. These posts will try to explain why armies moved the way that they did, and how cavalry or lack of it could limit their options. A lot of this is hypothetical and can’t be strongly proved using the traditional method of picking anecdotes from narrative sources (but what can?), but it works for me. (more…)

Henry Marten’s horse regiment part 3: the end

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:42 am, 24 July 2013]

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, Henry Marten caused conflicts between the two houses of Parliament by requisitioning horses for the regiment he was supposed to be raising by the Earl of Essex’s commission. This suddenly came to an end on 16 August 1643, when Marten was expelled from the Commons and sent to the Tower of London. But why?


Henry Marten’s horse regiment part 2: more trouble

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:32 am, 17 July 2013]

Last week (well, actually in 1643), Henry Marten started raising a cavalry regiment and caused some trouble by taking the King’s horses from the royal mews. This week, he takes more horses from some other people, with controversial consequences. This might get a bit repetitive as I’ve tried to include every example I know of. In academic publications I usually pick a few examples and don’t lay out all the evidence in detail, but with a blog post I can do it differently.


Henry Marten’s horse regiment

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:37 am, 10 July 2013]

I’ve previously shown that radical MP Henry Marten caused some trouble by criticising Parliament’s Lord General, the Earl of Essex, in December 1642 (see Winter in Windsor series). Marten went on to cause even more trouble in 1643 by requisitioning horses from various influential people, ostensibly to help him raise a cavalry regiment. I looked at some of these incidents in my book and my War in History article, but this post is the start of a more detailed catalogue of all the evidence I’ve found so far. (more…)

Early Modern Documents: Indemnity for Horses

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:06 am, 14 May 2013]

This month we have another indemnity case. The last one was about sequestration, which seems to be the most common type of case. Another very common complaint is that the petitioner is being sued for a horse, which occurs in about 10% of the surviving cases. This is not because there was a shortage of horses in England during the civil wars (Ian Gentles and John Shedd suggested that it was, but Peter Edwards has disproved it: see Gentles, New Model Army, p. 130; Shedd, ‘Legalism‘, p. 1096; Edwards, ‘Supply of Horses‘, pp. 55, 57). Although there were theoretically enough horses in England, soldiers often took them by force, sometimes because Parliament couldn’t provide them any other way, sometimes just because it was more convenient. Horses were valuable, and stealing them was usually taken very seriously. Despite this, the absolute number of horses involved in indemnity cases was quite small. Most horse seizure didn’t result in a court case. When it did, the soldiers who originally took the horses weren’t always directly involved. Horses could change hands many times, and under the Common Law, anyone in possession of a horse that was alleged to be stolen could be sued, even if they were not guilty of stealing it in the first place. This made horse cases very different from sequestration cases. Sequestration was very closely linked to allegiance: petitioners were under pressure to show that they had been loyal to Parliament and that the sequestered defendant hadn’t. Anne Hughes identified this as a general trend in indemnity cases, but horse cases are a significant exception (Hughes, ‘Parliamentary Tyranny‘, pp. 67–9; see my book, pp. 140–45, for a more detailed argument than I’ve given here). The horse might have passed through so many owners that it was a long way removed from the issues that the King and Parliament were fighting over. The crucial point for the Indemnity Committee to consider was whether the horse had been in the service of Parliament, not whether the petitioner had. This month’s petition is an example of this kind of case, where a long chain of ownership led to complicated court actions and then an appeal for indemnity. (more…)

Early Modern Documents: Horse Casualties

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:35 am, 15 January 2013]

In discussions about early-modern cavalry tactics, some people have asked me how many horses were killed in battles. This is the answer. Actually only a partial answer, but it’s the best one I’ve got. Narratives of English Civil War battles are usually very vague about casualties, if they mention them at all. Financial records are usually a better source for numbers. For a few parliamentary cavalry units, I’ve found detailed lists of horses lost in service. In 1644, Parliament set up  the Committee for Taking Accounts of the Whole Kingdom to audit the war effort (you can read the ordinance for appointing the committee at British History Online). One of the committee’s jobs was to certify arrears of pay due to soldiers and officers (Ian Gentles estimated that these ran into millions of pounds). If the commanding officer of a unit couldn’t satisfactorily account for money, horses and equipment he had received, the value would be knocked off his arrears. Losses by enemy action during a battle were usually allowed, giving officers a strong incentive to exaggerate battle casualties in their accounts. This is obviously a problem because the figures they give could be too high, but it also pretty much guarantees that they won’t be too low. The committee concluded that Lionel Copley, a captain of horse in the Earl of Essex’s army, had defrauded the state of lots of money and horses, and overstated his losses at First Newbury to cover it up, but some members of his troop testified against him. I haven’t included his accounts here because they’re incredibly complicated as well as unreliable. Below I’ve put extracts from three other officers’ accounts that give details of horse losses. Doing this made me realise how bad the transcripts I made for my PhD were, but it also shows that I’ve got much better at palaeography. The quoted text is all in Crown Copyright and released under Open Government Licence. Click the links in the document references to see page images on Flickr (non-commercial use only).


Cavalry Tactics: The physics of horse collisions

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 11 August 2012]

My arguments about cavalry charges are increasingly relying on physics. I briefly did this in my Journal of Military History article but here I’m going to explain it in much more detail. My main source for physics stuff is David Halliday, Robert Resnick and Jearl Walker, Fundamentals of Physics (6th ed., Wiley, 2001). All page references refer to this unless otherwise stated (and thanks to Brett Holman for recommending it).

In practice the movements of horses are so complicated that I can’t understand the physics of them, but for now I’m just trying to explain some basic points so I’m treating horses as particle-like objects even though they aren’t really. Despite that limitation, I’ll be able to show that some common assumptions about cavalry charges look really stupid once you do the maths.