THE PIKE















History

Imagine facing a mass of 200 fearsome soldiers in armour, charging at you with 18 foot long spears pointed at your face and chest. If you are lucky enough to avoid the initial thrust and get past the points, you then come face to face with a bloodthirsty warrior intent on chopping you in two with a short sword, or just pummelling you into the dirt under the weight of men pressing on behind him. Welcome to Pike fighting in the 17th century!

The Pike had a notable history in warfare for over 2000 years, until the bayonet was added to the musket toward the end of the 17th century. Pikemen built the empire of Alexander the Great, and in 216BC Hannibal�s Carthaginian pikemen massacred 62000 Romans out of a force of 65000 at the battle of Canae, the Romans� worst defeat ever. In Europe in the Middle Ages, armoured knights disappeared from battlefields as peasant soldiers learned how to bring down a mounted knight with a pike. The English adopted the pike during the 16th century, and through experience of European wars learned to combine its potential with that of the musket.

English pikemen carried an 18-foot long Ash pike, wore a basic helmet called a Morion, Back-and-Breast armour with thigh plates, and often carried short swords and daggers. Pikes were used to defend musketeers from cavalry, but they would also attack enemy musket or pike divisions at close quarters. The pike was considered the Gentleman�s Arm, because the pike was considered more skilful to learn than the musket; thus any self-respecting gentleman would take the pike as their weapon of choice.

In major battles pikemen formed divisions typically at least 8 men deep and 20 men wide. When attacking, the front few ranks would �charge� their pikes, that is, point them in front, and like this the division would march on their enemy. After the initial thrust of the points the division would push on their enemy, each man pressing with all his weight on the man in front, while those at the front would struggle to keep their footing while fighting hand to hand with their opposition. There were relatively few direct casualties of pike-on-pike attacks; often one side would break and run on contact, suffering most damage on the rout. In general pikemen tended to be outnumbered by musketeers 2 to 1, and even more so by cavalry troops.

For further information about the history of Pike warfare CLICK HERE!

Pike in the Sealed Knot

In the Sealed Knot, pike companies form the backbone of most regiments, usually numbering between 10 and 30 people. SK pikemen carry an untipped pike of between 12 and 16 foot, and some have swords. A Morion style helmet is required by all pikemen for safety reasons, but body armour is optional. Pike fighting is hard, energetic work! It requires a reasonable level of fitness, as you will be very active for at least an hour. But that hour can go far too quickly, as once the adrenalin kicks in (which it inevitably will) your brain will be working extremely fast!

Pike fighting usually takes two forms: Push and Point. In a Push the pikes are elevated and one company of pikemen will slam into another company in a tight press, the aim being to literally push the enemy back and gain their ground. At Point, pikemen form a tight wall with pikes charged at their enemy (either pikemen or musketeers), and attempt to drive them back by thrusting the points into the enemy. This sounds easy, but needs strong arms and a lot of practice to get the hang of!

Swords are permitted only when at Point, as a handy secondary weapon when the enemy gets past your pike point. But be prepared to shed your sword to the Baggage at a moment�s notice for safety reasons to engage in a big Push. Generally being a pikeman is a safe hobby, albeit frenzied. Serious injuries are very rare, but you can expect to take home some colourful bruises and the odd scratch. You will usually find pikemen in the beer tent after a battle comparing bruises!�

Earl Spencer Compton's Company of Pike

Earl Spencer Compton�s Company of Pike are a fun-loving, diverse group of men and women from age 16 to 50, with an eclectic mix of students, teachers, doctors, policemen, factory workers, tradesmen and musicians in our ranks! We take great pride in the bond between us, developed through training, playing and partying hard. We like to drink of course, and our favourites are good ale, fine tequila, and Mount Gay rum, often followed by campfire folk songs or comedy numbers! But don�t get too drunk, as you need to be up for an hour�s training the next morning.

We train at most events, and a hangover is no excuse for skipping training. Wimp out of it and you can expect to miss the battle too. But we have plenty of experienced people willing to help you in your training, and plenty more who will take the mick when you get it wrong! The commands used for drill and postures are the original 17th Century orders, giving us an added level of authenticity. Our group preference is to fight pike in the Point style, and you will be encouraged to obtain a sword and learn to use it, but many members are willing to engage in Pushes where necessary, so you will be trained in all styles. But the most wonderful thing about our Pike Company, and the Regiment as a whole, is just how quickly everyone will become new-found brothers and sisters to you, forged through an amazing shared experience!

Contact

If you are interested in joining Earl Spencer Compton's Company of Pike please contact the Company Commander:
Danny Hancock
Tel. 07779 630951

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Above: Pikeman wearing morion, back-and-breast armour, and sword.


Above: Replica pikeman armour based on a set from the Tower Hamlets Trained Band now in the Royal Armouries. This pre-war set is a much more elaborate design than mass-produced sets created at the height of war.


Above and below: Pikemen wearing extra campaign gear. When not billeted in a garrison, soldiers would have to carry all their personal possessions with them. A bag often referred to as a snap-sack could hold spare clothing, food, cooking items such as a knife and spoon, plus personal items such as a bible or prayer book, and games like dice or cards. The bag would be slung across the back, and extra items would be tied to it or hung separately, such as a sheepskin, cloak, blanket-roll, water bottle, tankard and axe.


Above: The action always comes to hand-to-hand, and is frenzied. Sometimes even the Ensign gets caught up in it, to defend the flag that the enemy may be trying to steal. This usually only happens by prior arrangement though, as everyone respects that the flags are precious to each regiment.