Everything you ever wanted to know about Pikes but were afraid to ask...
Copyright © 2004, 2011, D. Matthew Kelty
Along my travels, I had scoured the world low and high to find definitive treatments for pikes in the 16th century. How long? How big? How are they made? How are they held? Tapered or essentially straight*? Below are the most useful primary references I have found, and to the right are two samples with most of the common configuration elements present. I hope they are useful.
* - To be addressed in a later article.
Certain Discourses Concerning Formes And Effects Of Weapons
Sir John Smythe, 1590
"I would wish that all the piques throghout England (that are for the field) shold be reduced into one uniformitie of legth, that is,
either to seventeene foote long by the rule, or else to eighteene foote, and not above, which are two foote longer tha the Spaniardes do use in their milicia, & therewithall, I wold have them to be made so light & of very good wood that they shold be both portable and maniable, which many of our piques at this present are not."
Approoved Order Of Martial Discipline, Gyles Clayton, 1591
"They must have Morions Swordes and Daggers, their Pikes of usuall length, sharpe pointed, and well nayled: and cause them in time of marching, to lay their Pikes on theyr shoulders, and their thums under the same, the but ende on the outside of his leades Legge. After this sorte to march to Muster, to retyre, and Imbattaile as aforesayd: having a great care and regarde, that no Souldiour of spite or negligence doe cut the same, or any way impayre it, for the greatest strength of the battaile consisteth therein."
Art Of Warre, Thomas Garrard, 1591
"…because I will not be over prolite upon every particular point, I will onelie say thus much more concerning the pikeman, that he ought to have his Pyke at the point and middest trimmed with handsome tassels, and a handle, not so much for ornament as to defend the Souldiers bodie from water, which in raine doth runne downe alongst the wood."
Certain Instruction Of Orders Militarie, Sir John Smythe, 1594
"...that because the longest piques that are in these daies used by
any nation are not above 18. foot long…"
"Their piques also I would wish them all to bee of the length of 18 foote, and neither longer nor shorter for the causes in my former instructions and discourses mentioned, as also conteined in my Booke of certen Discourses printed 1590. and that they shoulde have verie good and foure square heads of good temper, and lowe armed with long cheeks, and in the midst covered or armed with black lether or black vellure, or with some other such thing, and y they should not be too great nor heavie in wood, that thereby the souldiors may carrie them and manage them with ease."
"Also I would that the staves of the picques should bee of a tite and stiffe ashe, and not of ashe that dooth sagge, and bend when the piquers doo carrie their piques breasthigh before hand couched, because that such sagging and bending ashe, although it be verie tough yet it is more heavie then the other ashe; besides that the piquers cannot carry the piques of such sagging, and bending piques so even and straight in their Enemies faces, as they may carrie the other piques that doo not bend nor sagge, but are tite and straight."
Soldier's Accidence, Gervase Markham, 1625
"These shall have strong, straight, yet nimble Pikes of Ash-wood, well headed Steele, and armed with plates downward from the head, at least foure foote, and the full size or length of every Pike shall be fifteene foote, beside his head. "
Instructions for Musters, Charles I, 1631
"It is required, that the Muskets be all of a Bore, the Pikes of a length: But to the end this course may not by a sudden alteration turne to a generall charge and burrthen upon the people, the Lords Lieutenants, and the Deputy Lieutenants are rather to use the way of advise and encouragement, as a matter which will be very acceptable to his Majestie, who will take notice of the affection of such as shall most readily provide Armes according to this order, then to enforce a present generall observation thereof. But in case where the Armes shall be decayed, and must bee renewed, this order is to be strictly observed."
Directions For Musters Wherein is shewed the order of drilling for the Musket and Pike, 1638
"The Pikeman must be armed with a Pike seventeen foot long head and all; (the diameter of the staff to be one inch 3/4, the head to be well steeled, 8 inches long, broad, strong, and sword-pointed; the cheeks 2 foot long, well riveted; the butt-end bound with a ring of iron."