Pike - a brief history
A pike is a long pole weapon made of out of strong wood (usually seasoned ash) with a long iron or steel spear attached to the end. Having been used by infantry in European warfare since the early Middle Ages, lengths typically range from 16-18 ft, although some have been recorded at a whopping 25ft! The end of the pole is tapered to prevent sagging on the ends, although drooping or slight flection of the shaft is still experienced. The weight of an individual pike could be anywhere between 2.5-6kg (5.5-13.2 lb). The shaft near the head was often reinforced with metal strips called ‘cheeks’ or langets.
In the Sealed Knot, to have metal tips would obviously be dangerous - we are only re-enacting after all! To this end, the end spears are made from wood and painted to look metallic for a show of authenticity (although our ceremonial pikes do have metal screw in ends commonly known as ‘sharps’). Historically pikemen would have also carried a 'pikeman's hanger' - a sword smaller than the standard fighting sword of the day. In the SK, these are optional and only used for parade, never on the field.
In the Middle Ages, the pike was predominantly used by urban militia troops such as the Flemings or the peasant array of the lowland Scots. The Scots at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297), for example, utilised the momentum of their pike charge to overrun an English army while the Englishmen were crossing a narrow bridge. Furthermore, in several battles during the Wars of Scottish Independence (including the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314), the Scots used a shorter spear formation known as the schiltron which brought some success when they operated in an aggressive fashion [Their attempt to adopt the longer Continental pike had been dropped for general use after its ineffective use led to humiliating defeat at the Battle of Flodden].
However, blocks of pikes are difficult to maneuver. With such a committed forward-facing advance, the side and rear flanks are vulnerable to attack. As a result, associate troops of musket were assigned to cover their flanks. The pike block returned the support by being able to protect fellow foot soldiers from advance charges from horse through forming a highly effect defensive wall of outward-facing spikes to deter the would-be attackers.
The usage of pike as weapon was still very much in deployed during the English Civil war. However as the century progressed and improvements were made to the musket and artillery together with the introduction of the bayonet and other changes to military tactics, the pike fell out of favour. A common end date for the use of the pike in infantry formations is usually cited at being 1700.
Special skills or training required:
Unlike with musket or sword, there is no formal test that needs to be passed. Sign up for pike and you will be straight into action! There is however regular drill to practice how to hold the pike in the various positions needed and to learn how to move safely.
- push of pike (rugby tackle)
- charge (advance with pikes held straight out)
- charge for horse (butt grounded in a 'hedgehog'
There is no height requirement and both men and women can become pikemen. A pikeman should be physically robust as it is high contact - often referred to as 'a rugby scrum with armour'!
Cost of kit (excluding standard clothing):
Please note that the following costs are approximate for basic level kit. Costs vary dependant upon supplier so the ones quoted below are intended as a guideline only.
Helmet (MANDATORY): £60-150. Regiments may be able to supply these. It is also permitted to wear either the Scots bonnet or a Monmouth cap underneath the helmet for comfort.
Armour (optional but recommended): £150-250 consists of back and breast plate.
Startup boots: £100. Start-ups are more protective than latchets as extend up and over ankle so also don't fall off. You will need hobnails at least on the heels.
Pike: £0 as these are supplied by the regiment
Clothing: Normal breeches. Scots may also wear trews. For Gordon's, Number 1 kit of Plaid is not permitted as too cumbersome.
No of pike in Scots Brigade:
Pike is a tough, physical activity. At present we have around a dozen-ish pike across the Scots Brigade as a whole - O'Cahans Regiment traditionally fielding the greater number of Pike. This is a key area all Scots Regiments are looking to recruit for.
A pike block consists of a minimum of nine but ideally twelve individuals. On occasion when the Scots Brigade does not have sufficient pikemen at a muster to form our own block, our members join other regiments on the respective side which we are representing for that particular battle.
i) In troop line-up: Either behind the musket block or sandwiched between two musket blocks if numbers allow.
ii) On field: In vicinity of the musket block(s) but set aside for safety reasons. During a charge of horse, pike form a protective outer ring around the musket, drums, colours, officers and water carriers, with the pikes pointing outwards to create a spiky barrier.