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Soldiers Drill
Drillbooks 1660-1715
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From the restoration until the end of the War of the Spanish Succession was a time of great change for the British army, both in terms of equipment and drill. It saw the end of the use of the pike and the widespread introduction of the bayonet, the arrival of grenadiers and the replacement of the matchlock musket by the flintlock. This led to changes in the drill used.

Not surprisingly the Army of Charles II looked back much more than forward since most of its officers were veterans of the English Civil Wars, as were many of the rank and file. The fashionable cut of the new army's uniform may have distinguished it from that of Cromwell's New Model Army, but the organisation and drill was identical to that of their predecessors. With a ratio of 2:1 in musket and pike the regiments were little changed from those of the Civil Wars. The musketeers were mostly equipped with matchlock muskets and drilled to manuals that were straight reprints of those used in the days of Charles I. Over the next forty years the flintlock and bayonet gradually replaced the matchlock and pike.

No official drill manuals were produced in the 1660's and it was up to individual officers to decide on the drill of their regiments. However, in 1661 a sixth edition of William Barriffe's 1635 drillbook was produced, and this probably formed the basis of most regiment's drill during the 1660's. In 1668 Richard Elton's 1650 drillbook was also reprinted. These manuals, based largely on the Dutch system of the early seventeenth century were familiar to veteran commanders such as George Monck and Prince Rupert.

In 1671 George Monck's 'Observations upon Military and Political Affairs' was published. He had written this book in 1644 whilst a prisoner of Parliament, and the ideas he put forward were based on his experience in the 1630's Dutch Army and with the English forces in Ireland. It is unknown how widely his ideas were actually adopted.

In 1672 'The English Military Discipline' was published. This was basically just a reprint of the 1638 'Directions for Musters.' The language of the text was slightly updated, but the content was unchanged, it even reprinted the original forty plates illustrating the movements for handling matchlock musket and pike.

The first evidence for a new system coming into actual use came with Charles II's first official drill manual, "An Abridgement of the English Military Discipline.' This was first published in 1675 and then with slight amendments and additions, it was reprinted in 1676, 1678 and 1682. This manual was originally produced for the Duke of Monmouth's troops who were fighting alongside the French from 1672-1678, and may well have reflected French practice, although it included a simple platoon firing system referred to as the 'Swede's Way', suggesting perhaps the inspiration for the new drill was Sweden. Over the next decade little changed with the 1676 and 1678 Abridgment's being essentially carbon copies of the 1675 abridgement. When it was again reprinted in 1682 a number of new illustrations were added, but the text remained effectively unchanged.

The next manual was the 1685 'An Abridgment of the English Military Discipline.' Although it was longer than its 1682 predecessor, the basic drill and formations were largely unchanged, although the 'Swede's Way' was now omitted. It is interesting to note that although Grenadiers were officially introduced into the English Army in 1677, it was not until the 1685 Abridgment that a specific separate handling and loading drill for their flintlocks was included. All previous manuals spoke only of matchlocks despite the fact that many regiments had included flintlocks alongside the matchlocks from 1661 onwards.

Bayonets (or daggers as they are referred to) also make their first appearance in the 1685 Abridgment, again in respect of Grenadiers, who, if under attack and having given fire were to place 'daggers into their Firelocks. Considering the Dunkirk and Tangiers Garrisons had been issued with flintlocks and bayonets from 1658 and 1661 respectively, and grenadier companies had been introduced in 1677, it had taken over twenty years for them to make an official appearance in the drill manuals. It is interesting to note that the first specific bayonet drill for combat was in fact the previous pike drill, the bayonet tipped musket simply replacing the pike in handling.

The 1685 Abridgment was reprinted unchanged in 1686 with only the addition of a 35 page 'Rules and Articles of War.' However, within five years there was to be a radical change for the 'Glorious Revolution' brought not only a political coup, but also the arrival of the most up to date Dutch platoon firing systems.

The 'Exercise of the Foot with Evolutions' differed little from the 1685 Abridgment. However, a letter of the 29th May 1689 from the future Duke of Marlborough, then commanding troops in the Low Countries, to the Secretary of War, William Blathwayt, makes it clear a new drill had arrived: 'I desire that you will know the King's pleasure, whether he will have the Regiments of foot lern the Dutch Exercise or else to continue the English, for if he will I must have it translated into English.'

Drill references and contemporary accounts of battlefield practice show that this did occur. In 1690 a short three-page booklet was published called 'Commands for the Exercisis of Foot, Arm'd with Firelock-Muskets and Pikes; with the Evolutions. Not only did it illustrate that both matchlocks and flintlocks were in service together, but it finished with the direction, 'You are Referr'd for particular Directions to King William's Exercise.' (In fact it was a regular comment in manuals up to 1727 for them to refer as their authority to 'King Wm's Book of Exercise.') In fact, the first surviving version of this new drill is the 1693 edition of 'The Exercise' published in Scotland and now in the British Library. This addition had e revolutionary twelve page addition at the end: the 'Rules of War for the Infantry,' written by General Mackay, whose own account of the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 shows the basic platoon firing system had already arrived.

During the next decade the platoon firing system was developed into the sophisticated form found in 'The Duke of Marlborough's New Exercise of Firelocks and Bayonets' first published in 1708. This short booklet simply detailed the basic manual and platoon exercise which was to be the foundation of the British Redcoats' linear, staggered fire tactics for the next one hundred and fifty years. The actual evolutions and drill continued to be that published in 'King Wm's Book of Exercise.'


Justice & Discipline | Tangier Social Life | Raising a Regiment | Soldiers Drill 1660-1715
Battle of Blenheim 1704 | Storming of Schellenberg 1704 | War of the Spanish Succession 1701-14
Military Galleries
Gallery 1660s | Gallery 1670s | Gallery 1680s | Gallery 1690s | Gallery 1700s

Graphics Copyright © N. Kipar 2003.
Contents Copyright © Ben Levick 1998. With permission by the author.