Military Manuals and Battlefield Interpretation: Warwick Louth

Illustration depicting a drill posture from Jacob de Gheyn's 'Exercise of Arms'

Illustration depicting a drill posture from Jacob de Gheyn’s ‘Exercise of Arms’

Moving interpretation of the typical battlefield from the blank field to a space where a number of ephemeral actions take place… 

This research project was a result of my Masters Dissertation undertaken with the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. The expanding of the major theme focuses upon subject areas and issues that the original document did not have the space or time to cover. The Duke of Wellington – talking about the Battle of Waterloo – said: “One can better tell the progress of a ball than a battle”.

In one sense we know he was talking about the chaos of a battlefield. In another he could just as easily have been talking about the development of military professionalism around the military manual and its ability to impart simple choreography of drill to combined arms soldiers to react to a tactical situation.

When we look at a battlefield we often see a normal blank field. We cannot easily understand how far it extends nor the extraordinary events that took place on it. It is stuck in the present timeframe. My hypothesis for this research project is that military manuals limit the extent – both physically and as a massed body – of the possible actions and space to which particular tasks can be undertaken by a group of soldiers.

This can be mirrored archaeologically (to an extent) by the artefact yield and site formation on the battlefield. This should therefore aid ease of mapping individual battlefield actions topographically – creating boundaries interpretationally and bringing meaning and movement to a blank field. The positive site formation process can be applied to a range of sites.

If this is the case, then its applications are widespread – moving the potential of conflict archaeology clearly away from the battlefield; modelling defensive works around towns; lines of fortification and thus creating militaristic landscapes through geographical information systems packages. This would limit the financial outlay on future battlefield surveys, further research and work – providing additional factors for further periods for this model to be used.

But tis can be applied to all military manuals. In 1640 it was believed that only four men in England could fire a mortar. Into this obvious deficiency dozens of writers threw themselves. Some of them like Ward, Bryon, Bariffe Vernon and Cruso who had served on the continent knew the needs of their soldiery and thus applied their easy personal and army drill to a small treatise, resplendent with diagrammatical examples.

Others like Hexham, Fisher and Venn (very much the hack writer of the 17th century) overcomplicated their orders and provided idealistic drill movements such as ‘The Wheel’, which involved 5,000 men turning on the spot to no avail. Therefore the scope of these books is relatively small. Those that are useful can be seen clearly applied on the field.

Indeed Sir John Gell – the Parliamentarian Commander at Hopton Heath – had Ward’s Animad-versions of Warre in his pocket when he was shot.  By looking at artefact morphology these manuals form a goldmine. They show the exact drill by which such finds were lost and provide us with the action being undertaken that can be compared to the historical material to provide context to the battlefield area. Just as individuals could be identified through individual weapon characteristics on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it is only now becoming a possibility on English battlefields.

At an army-level models such as Ward’s soldiers spacing (1m2 for infantry 2m2 for cavalry) have proved to be physically enacted across a range of archaeological assemblages from Edgehill to Lutzen. However, it is often the case that this does not match reconstructed historic landscapes and therefore a historiographical understanding of limitations placed on the varying armies – along with period enclosure systems – is vital.

Map showing the deployment of the armies at the Battle of Naseby after Streeter

Map showing the deployment of the armies at the Battle of Naseby after Streeter

Equally, breaking down archaeological assemblages by calibre, morphology and deformation further raises the frequency by which we can pin certain events. The level of perfectly defined balls of Royalist calibre (believed to represent the King’s firing line) shows the level of raw recruits within his forces as the likely reason for this mode shape firing too high.

Ultimately, if anything, the current research project is merely limited by the lack of current battlefield surveys merely concerned with highlighting the actual site of battle. With continuing strides in artefact modelling, geographical overlaying and topographical mapping, the ability to combine proposed deployments, metal detector surveys and drill manual schematics would be a logical step forward. This method of battlefield investigation has the scope to move interpretation of the typical battlefield from the blank field to a space where a number of ephemeral actions take place.

Warwick’s book The Arte Militaire: Applying 17th Century Military Manuals to Conflict Archaeology will be published as part of Century of The Soldier 1618-1721 series by Helion & Company Ltd.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *